YOU Magazine - June 2010 - Staying Connected Abroad Saving Money on Your Cell Phone and Internet Usage Overseas
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Staying Connected Abroad
Saving Money on Your Cell Phone and Internet Usage Overseas


Staying Connected Abroad - Saving Money on Your Cell Phone and Internet Usage Overseas

Technology is a wonderful thing.  Wonderful that is until it doesn't work, or ends up costing us money. This sentiment is never truer than when we travel overseas expecting to use our cell phone or computer. Join us for an informative conversation with travel expert Marianne Schwab on the do's and don'ts for staying connected while you're abroad.

As a television travel show producer for over 20 years, Marianne Schwab, has compiled a plethora of money savings tips when it comes to all things travel related. Lucky for us, she has begun sharing her knowledge with the masses via her website, Best-Travel-Deals-Tips.com.

"When I realized I'd acquired as much travel knowledge as some of the people I was producing, I knew I had to do something," states Schwab, who is quickly becoming a major voice on the Internet.

Considering Schwab's goal of showing people how to, "Discover a world of ways to see the world," we felt she was the perfect person to consult about a modern day travel dilemma – staying connected with your family, friends and business associates back home.

"We live in a 24/7 society," Schwab says, referring to the demand to stay in touch with both work and family. She claims this is especially true for people who own a business, or for anyone traveling alone. The problem, according to Schwab, is that many people believe they can use their phones and computers overseas the same way they do at home. This is a potential recipe for disaster.

The Problems with Cell Phones
The first issue, according to our expert, is that many phones are locked into specific providers. If an overseas connection to your provider doesn't exist, or if a global plan utilizing said provider is not set up, the phone is either not going to work, or you will incur astronomical charges when using it. It's important to know that the potential options for connectivity can be easily ascertained by simply contacting your provider PRIOR to departure.

The next issue is cost. Assuming your cell phone provider has a calling plan for your place of destination, charges can range up to $2 per minute! If you're on a cruise, which utilizes satellite for its connection, the price is closer to $3.50 per minute. Schwab says it doesn't take a travel expert or a mathematician to tell you this can easily turn into a major expense. Case in point is a friend of hers who returned home from a trip to Israel only to receive a cell phone bill for $1,600!

Schwab suggests researching your alternatives to phone calls prior to leaving for your trip. Texting is one such option, but it also carries additional charges, so make sure to consult your provider. One of the best options that many people don't consider, says Schwab, is the combination of a prepaid phone card and a prepaid phone. While it sounds like an expensive undertaking, it's actually much cheaper in the long run.

You can start by purchasing a prepaid phone card via the Internet prior to your trip. A simple Google search will turn up many choices, but one that our expert likes is Callingcards.com. Word to the wise, when purchasing your prepaid calling card, make sure it is for calls made from your destination to the US.

Once you arrive at your destination, you can then purchase a prepaid phone at virtually any cell phone store or kiosk. Schwab recommends researching store options before you leave, or consulting your hotel's concierge. She says you can expect to spend anywhere from $30 to $100 for your phone depending on your place of destination and the exchange rate. The good news, however, is you can hold onto your phone until a change in technology renders it useless. 

The trick she says is to leave the phone number to your prepaid phone on the voicemail of your cell phone. This way, anyone calling your cell phone will receive the necessary information in order to reach you.

"Skype is another great option," says Schwab, which she says is now available as an application on many smart phones. Once you download and activate the application, a Skype number can be purchased for roughly $60 a year. At that point, you can start making calls via Skype for approximately 2 to 5 cents per minute. But, doing so does require access to wireless Internet, an issue we'll address in a bit.

Lastly, if you do bring your cell phone along with you overseas, Ms. Schwab reminds you to also bring your charger and an electrical converter. Forgetting these items could very well result in a loss of connectivity.

Internet Issues
As with your cell phone, figuring out your Internet and email situation BEFORE you leave on your trip is paramount to your success.

"I love Internet cafés," states Schwab, "but they are limited."

For those unfamiliar, an Internet café is typically a storefront that holds a bank of computers, which allow you access to the Internet for a small per minute or hourly fee. These establishments also tend to serve coffee and food. While they are convenient in terms of location and price, they only allow you to surf the Internet and to check or send emails. If you are interested in downloading documents, you will be out of luck.

Free wireless café's are an alternative to Internet café's, but they do require you to bring your own computer. Schwab is not a fan of traveling with her laptop, as it can be an expensive proposition if lost. Instead, she recommends purchasing a far less expensive netbook, which looks and operates like a small laptop, but generally does not have a CD or DVD drive.

When it comes to having wireless access to the Internet in either your hotel or on board a cruise ship, there are several things Schwab would like you to know. The first is that 4 and 5-star hotels, as well as American brand hotels, will generally offer some form of wireless access. Many hotels will offer it for free, as a way to add value to your room cost, while others look to increase profit margin by charging for it. Once again, it's important to ask this question when booking your room.

Most cruise ships also offer wireless plans, but it is important to check on the prices, as they vary between cruise lines and ships. Running in the neighborhood of 50 cents per minute, online time is typically purchased in one-hour blocks. While the price does lower to about 35 cents per minute if you purchase your time in bulk, Schwab warns that if you don't use up the time during the cruise, you lose it!

According to our expert, the reason Internet time is so expensive on cruise ships is they use satellite to connect you. Something they don't tell you is that connecting while out at sea can be somewhat hit or miss. Because of this, Schwab cautions you to schedule any important Internet usage only during the times when you are in port, where the connection is normally fairly solid.

Lastly, Ms. Schwab advises you to check with your provider about any costs associated with Internet usage via your smart phone. She claims it can get you in just as much trouble as making phone calls from them.

When in Rome…
We asked Ms. Schwab if the details of staying connected change from country to country.

"Europe is developed and access is much broader there than in many other places," she claims, adding that you should not expect a lot if you plan on visiting a third world country. While Internet access should be fine if you are staying in a 4 or 5-star hotel, cell phones may not get any reception at all.

Then, as she puts it, "There's the great firewall of China," where you will be blocked from accessing any website marked as a "blog" or "media."  YouTube is also on their blocked list. She says there are websites such as VTunnel.com than can direct you around this firewall. These sites are typically not perfect, but do offer you somewhat of a chance for connecting to "off limit" websites.

When traveling with a laptop or netbook, Schwab recommends printing out hard copies of ALL your travel documents prior to departure, as you never know what could happen. As a Blackberry user, she also puts an encrypted PDF file of her passport on her phone. This, she says, can expedite the recovery process if her passport is ever lost or stolen.

As a parting shot, Schwab left us with a few important bits of advice.

"Failing to plan is planning to fail when it comes to staying connected abroad, so do your research for phone and Internet connectivity before you depart." In addition, make sure you pre-negotiate with your cell phone company for the calling package that suits YOU. And, if you are traveling to a US territory that is outside the continental United States, DO NOT assume you won't have additional charges.

From all of us at YOU Magazine, we urge you to heed Schwab's advice for staying connected at a reasonable price during your next trip abroad.

Bon voyage!

For over twenty years, Marianne Schwab has been collecting money saving travel tips as a travel producer for several high profile television programs. In addition to traveling around the world, she has flown all over the country to produce and direct videos and live television productions. She loves sharing her insider travel secrets on how to get the best travel deals, and helps her readers discover a world of ways to see the world on almost any budget at http://www.best-travel-deals-tips.com/index.html. In addition to her travel advice website, Marianne is Executive Producer at CMP Media Cafe in Los Angeles (http://www.cmpmediacafe.com/whoarewe.htm), where she specializes in getting her clients media exposure on television and radio news programs.  You can follow Marianne on Twitter: @TravelProducer




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