It’s only natural to want to stay connected with someone while you are in Europe. Your spouse, a parent or child, your best friend – someone will want to be assured that you are okay. You may also want to make local calls or use data services while you are traveling.
Unfortunately, calling home and making local calls can be ridiculously expensive if you don’t have a plan. You may use your provider’s calling plan or have an alternative plan. Here are some options:
Staying in Touch. Staying in touch with friends or relatives at home is probably the most important reason you’d like to use your phone. Talk to your service provider before you leave to find out the cost of international calling plans. Paying a monthly fee will reduce the per minute cost.
There are other ways to greatly reduce this cost, though. If you and the person you are calling have iPhones, iPads or Mac computers, you can connect via Facetime. This free app, included with Apple products, gives the option to make video calls from anywhere in the world if you have Wi-Fi or a data connection.
Skype can be set up in a similar way, in that you can use it to make video calls from device to device. Skype can be used on Android, PC or iOS based devices. In addition, for a small monthly fee ($2.99 at this time), you can make calls from your computer to a landline back home.
Texting is an easy way to keep in touch, but regular international texting is not usually included in phone plans. With Wi-Fi or a data connection, you can text for free via iMessage (Apple products), Skype and the popular WhatsApp (free as of yesterday).
Local Calling. Many hotels provide a phone in the room. If you are unsure how to use it, ask at the front desk. You can also ask the concierge to help you make locals calls for reservations at events and restaurants. Even small hotels will have a desk person that can help.
At a B&B, you can ask your host to make a call for you. If you are in an apartment, there will probably be a phone available for you to use.
Although there may be a charge to use the phone in a hotel or apartment, many times there is not. Be sure to check what is included before you make a call. We have even seen free calls to land lines in the states included with hotel rooms and apartments. (Just be careful about the time difference).
Using Data and Internet. Data packages can be purchased from your cell phone provider. The AT&T plan that is available now includes 120mb for $30 per month or 300mb for $60 per month. If you are going on a trip that lasts shorter than 30 days, you can sign up for a plan that charges a one-time fee and does not renew. If you travel often, you can set up the plan to renew automatically.
If you plan to use an international data plan, there are a few ways to keep your data use in check. Only download large files while you are using Wi-Fi – these files can eat up your data allowance quickly. Be sure your email and other accounts are set to “fetch” rather than “push.” If your phone pushes or downloads your email on a schedule, it may use data, while you could chose to fetch it while you are on Wi-Fi.
Be sure your apps aren’t set to continually update – each time they do, they use more data. Only turn your data on when you plan to use it. If you quickly check email, the weather, or the hours of the museum you plan to visit, you will be able to keep your usage at a reasonable rate.
My Solution. Although I may try to add an international data plan the next time I travel, my plan of choice has been to use only Wi-Fi. Most lodging includes Wi-Fi – usually at no extra cost. If you wait until you get back to your hotel, apartment or hostel, you can connect to the Wi-Fi and be able to surf the internet or connect to people at home.
If you want to try to get by with just Wi-Fi, you need to be sure your phone is set up correctly. In order to switch off all data roaming, put your phone on “airplane mode.” Next, turn on Wi-Fi. This way your phone will search for a connection without using data. In order to keep your account secure, turn your Wi-Fi off when you are not using it.
In addition to the Wi-Fi where you are staying, many cities have free Wi-Fi hotspots where you can connect. We found one on the back side of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Be aware, though, that some connections are not as strong as others. Also, remember that any Wi-Fi connection you use may not be as secure as your connection at home. Do not access your bank and credit card accounts with a shared account or one that is not password protected.
It is great, and sometimes necessary, to be able to connect with people at home while you are away. Remember though, that you travel to get away from work and your everyday life. Keep internet use to a minimum so you can focus on your surroundings. Enjoy the escape!