Phones & Technology

Phones and other smart devices can be huge time-savers…or expensive distractions.

Use your device to enhance your trip as well as a means of keeping in touch while on the go.

One of the most common questions is, “How can I stay connected?” The short answer is: more easily and cheaply than you might think.

These days, traveling abroad with a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop (or some combination of the three), makes it easier than ever for you to inexpensively communicate on the run and keep in touch with friends and family back home. Plus, having a mobile device on hand can help you make the most of your travel time. You can pull up maps when you’re lost, enhance sightseeing with audio tours and podcasts, call a restaurant for reservations while riding the bus, or buy advance tickets for a blockbuster museum and have them sent right to your phone.

You can connect in other countries without paying a bundle. Choose the best option for you, after considering how you plan to use your device.

Bring at least a phone. Even with near-universal Internet access, smart travelers still use the telephone. Call museums to see if an English tour is scheduled, restaurants to check if they’re open or to book a table, hotels and car-rental agencies to confirm reservations, and so on. Having a phone on hand is also useful when you’re traveling with a group. It’s comforting to know you can make a quick phone call or send a text if you get separated, need to make plans, or if there’s an emergency.

Bring your own phone and sign up for an international/global plan. For most travelers, who don’t travel frequently or for long, it’s easiest to set up your own mobile phone with a basic international calling and/or data plan that’s customized to your needs — and it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. You get to travel with all of your contact information and your home phone number, making it easy to connect with folks back home. With the cost of international plans dropping, more and more travelers are willing to pay for the freedom to call, text, and go online anytime, anywhere.

You can buy a SIM card before you leave. Amazon, for example, sells SIM cards, typically for 30 days of use. (Before you buy, research the most used networks in the country you’re visiting and buy that brand of SIM card. The cards vary based on the amount of data, minutes, and texts, and the number of countries where you can use it. You can install it after you land by following instructions that are included with the card.

Bring your own phone and do everything over Wi-Fi. More budget-conscious travelers can forego their carrier’s international plans altogether and do everything over Wi-Fi. Not only can you use Wi-Fi to get online, but you can also make phone calls and send text messages at no charge. Sounds great — but you’ve got to find a hotspot first.

Some phones and apps automatically download data when the phone is on and connected, leading to charges — even if you aren’t using the phone for calls. To make calls, use apps such as WhatsApp, FaceTime, Skype, Google Voice, Viber and Facebook Messenger.

Buy a local SIM card at your destination — such as from a mobile provider at the airport or a local department store. The upside of buying it when you arrive: A store employee can you help you choose the right plan, install the card and make sure it’s the right one for your phone.

This gives you a local number — and the same local rates locals enjoy.

Leave the devices at home. Of course, you can still travel abroad without any of your mobile devices. You can check email or browse websites using public computers and Internet cafés, and make calls from your hotel room and/or public phones.

Bad-Value Options: Many car-rental companies, mobile-phone companies, and even some hotels offer the option to rent a mobile phone with a local number. This is a terrible value, as hidden fees (such as high per-minute charges) can add up.

Don’t be ashamed to walk into McDonald’s Starbucks Libraries, and most cafés they nearly always have Wi-Fi

Sometimes familiarity is comforting these places have free Wi-Fi and public restrooms you can use.

If you need to check emails, get directions, or do anything online, you’ll find them in practically every city around the world. They’re almost guaranteed to have free usable internet.