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Beware of Darkness - Cell Phones

Take care, beware and don't take it were they should not go.

Public phone? Photo by beerman

Public phone? Photo by beerman

Welcome to the Travel Unravelled Q&A Series. To find the rules of the game, please check the link to your left (or above depending on how this aligns in the end) or the revised General Talk thread.

This particular TU question addresses the use of cell phones while traveling. On your mark. Get set. Let's go!


Cell phones, SIM cards, calling plans, minute cards, roaming charges and all of the things that accompany "phoning home" (or anywhere else) can be confusing to many travelers. What is the best way for someone to stay connected without getting a $3000 cell phone bill? (Oops, there went the funds for that trip to the next destination.)

Katherine Drop (Wonkerer)

My opinion, don't use your phone. Take it along for emergencies if you like, but that’s it. There are tons of options for communicating via computer and you can likely find a solution that suits you. Skype and Gmail Chat offer good options for allowing you to call directly to phones or computers. If you want to make a real phone call, purchase a phone "card" locally. They may have high surcharges (aka you use 20 "minutes" of those you have to start a call) but you know up front what you are paying. Traveling with a phone card is not a bad idea, but you will generally get the best rates if you buy it where you are using it.

If you are traveling somewhere for an extended period it may be worth buying a cheap phone there. Just do your research. Be sure to take into account things like charges for incoming and outgoing calls, long distance, and roaming, as these can vary greatly from country to country.
Also, get creative. Due to the charge setup in Ireland, my friends and I would “missed call” each other when we were ready to meet back up, costing us nothing.

Peter Daams (Peter)

Things are changing so fast at the moment, that how I imagine my next trip to be is totally different to my last one. I would fully intend to rely on my iPhone a lot.

I'd be using Skype as much as possible to avoid any phone costs and I'd be looking at getting a local SIM card. Always been a fan of that anyway. I'd also consider buying a global type sim card before I go though to have all that worked out in advance. Depends on where I'm headed I guess. I've had quite a few trips where I've spent too much time looking around for SIM cards when really I should have just been enjoying the sights Ok, it's actually a pretty funny memory trying to negotiate SIM card in Russia, but other than that, it's usually just a drag.

Tina Wayland (tway)

Don't lend your phone to your husband. That'll save you tons!

Don't lend your phone to your husband. That'll save you tons!

I'm semi-old-fashioned and send a text home every few days. Then I get a few texts back and the whole thing costs me a few dollars. When we went to South Africa, I'd turn my phone on every few days, check for new texts, send a few off home, and shut the phone off again. It took just a few minutes and meant I didn't have to keep charging the phone as we went along.

Kris Kalav (beerman)

I don't have a cell phone, iPad, iPhone, smartphone... Just an antique Dell laptop and 2 tin cans with string tied between them.

Boy, this is a toughie... I tend to not stay connected while away. I don't have a cell phone, iPad, iPhone, smartphone... Just an antique Dell laptop and 2 tin cans with string tied between them. Makes it kind of difficult if I'm overseas - different countries tend to have different tin can frequencies.

Ultimately, I'll use email, though that's pretty slow for getting responses. Skype could work better. Public telephones work for me, though they can be a bit expensive. If I were to move into the 20th century and buy a mobile, I would buy a SIM card for wherever I was. Hard to fit a SIM into the string between the tin cans though.....

Stay disconnected, that's my advice.

Nikki Leigh (Rraven)

I made the mistake a few years ago of taking my phone with me while I was away without adjusting the package I was on, this did indeed mean a large bill and a cut off service in the end.

If you do insist on taking your phone, many people can't part with it, then its always best to check what other network packages are available. For example, some networks have roaming internet for 2 euro a day which is a large discount, also your phone can be handy for free wi fi locations to log in and check your email.

In general, since my original error and expense, I now keep a cheap phone ( think bucket and out of date) for travelling, its sim free so I can buy sim cards in new locations. Many have deals where, if the sim is for example 10 or 20 euro, then you get half that back in call credit when you register the number. This is normally my solution if I really do need a phone and the other person has no skype or regular internet connections.
Otherwise, I keep in touch via blogs and other social media.

Zindy Noertamtomo (zags)

I always take my cell phone with me. Can't leave home without it.

Depends on the situation - e.g. if I will be staying for a pretty long time (say, more than a week) or if I'll be using it a lot, then I'll find a local SIM card. Most cell phones in my country are sold separate from the SIM card so I can change the card freely.

Today mobile Internet is getting cheaper so I might find a local SIM card with good Internet package/plan which I'll use to get in touch with home via instant messaging such as YM/GTalk and Facebook Otherwise I'll use an Internet cafe. Or, I might find cell phone rental. Will compare between buying a local SIM card. But if my trip will just be a few days, I'll just send text messages home using SMS. A few days won't hurt...(so far that I experienced).

Katie (Katie2209)

I'm planning on going travelling January, 2012. I was advised to take a crappy old phone, that I wouldn't mind losing/damaging, with me for emergencies and an ipod touch (its virtually the same as an iphone without the phone part). You can download a skype app. for free calls which seemed like a good idea to me!

Kate Kendall (katekendall)

Staying connected is extremely important to me while I'm on the road – especially since I'm often working and travelling. I take my unlocked iPhone 4 with me everywhere and get a pay-as-you-go micro-sim from of the more competitive carriers in whichever country I'm in. I tend to rely a lot on Google Maps so getting a data-focused package works best. I then use Viber, WhatsApp and Skype to make calls or text messages. Although, due to varying time zones, I tend to communicate mostly through social media platforms rather than making voice calls. I use Twitter for short form messages (like SMS), Instagram for photo sharing and Facebook for finding old friends. I used to do international roaming with my home carrier but after having a horrifying bill from a few weeks in Fiji and New Zealand, am scarred for life. Do not turn your data roaming on, ever!

But having said all this, as we live such digitally-connected existences - one of the reasons we should travel is to disconnect. To feel alone and free.

But having said all this, as we live such digitally-connected existences - one of the reasons we should travel is to disconnect. To feel alone and free. I've had a rewarding few experiences of late where the WiFi's been down and I've had no bars of reception on my phone. A rare peace.

Gretchen Wilson-Kalav (Isadora)

After reading all of these submissions, the consensus is - take a phone along, deal with local SIM cards and generally turn it off to enjoy your travels.

Beerman lied about the cell phone. We have one. I use minute cards and it's for emergencies only. I do not take it out of country. It sits in a drawer, turned off, and waits for me to find it again once a week. I'm the dinosaur as I've done 99% of my traveling without modern technology by my side. I remember having to use public phones - try to find one of those these days... (Ooohhh, we found one in New York! See above photo.)

We took a trip recently. I was getting random voice mails dated from 2009 and not even meant for me. (I've had the phone number since 2006.) Between my best friend playing with the phone and Beerman using it to make calls, somehow the ring tone and vibrate functions were put on mute. I had 20 people all committed to a dinner one night (Beerman's birthday bash) and was surprised no one had sent a text or left a voice mail or called to verify the details. Lo and behold - they had. I just didn't get them until 2 weeks ago. (Did I mention dinosaur?!) Needless to say, all but 1 person showed up regardless of the situation. All in all, the phone is not your true connection.

Yes, take it along. But, sometimes 'being off the grid' isn't a bad thing. Use it wisely, not just for everything. Instead, enjoy your adventure. That's what travel is all about - seriously.


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Posted by Isadora 10:17

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That pic of K made me spit breakfast at the screen. HA!!!!! Great article, guys!

by tway

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