Stay connected while traveling abroad
Want to stay connected while traveling? Here are some ways to keep in touch with friends and family back home on the cheap.
Open Wi-Fi connections are common in most cities around the globe. In case your hostel or hotel comes up short, head for the local McDonalds or KFC (these chains really are everywhere); chances are they have open Wi-Fi service.
Once you've established a link to the Internet, you have several options for staying connected while traveling. Email is ever popular, but a favorite app among travelers is WhatsApp (99 cents for iPhone users; free download for other devices and an annual 99-cent subscription after the first year). Once installed, WhatsApp lets you send texts, pictures, videos, and voice messages at no cost. A Fulbright scholar who spent several years in Russia suggests a free alternative to WhatsApp called Viber. The one drawback to each of these apps is that the recipient must use the same platform.
Staying connected in-country while traveling calls for a triband GSM phone. Swapping prepaid SIM cards into a phone is fairly common in much of the world. Rates are reasonable for local calls and in some places you'll only pay for outgoing calls and texts. You may already own a "world phone" such as the iPhone 5 or Galaxy S III, but you'll need to contact your carrier before heading overseas to unlock the phone so it can accept international SIM cards.
- Create a Dropbox account to store photo images. You can upload pictures directly from your phone into a gallery folder so that folks at home can view, but not edit or copy them.
- Skype maintains a fee-based Wi-Fi service that provides access to hotspots around the world.
- Download any of the free "Wi-Fi finder" apps to point you toward the nearest hotspot.
- The Google Translate app converts text or speech from one language to another, a handy device that lets you communicate (sort of) with locals. The Google Goggles app can be used to snap pictures of signs or menus and translate them into English.
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