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Stay Connected While Traveling

Staying connected while traveling internationally is a lot easier than it used to be.

Now any traveler with a smart phone who wants (or needs) to stay in touch with those at home has many very easy, and often economical, options.

Plan ahead, do a little homework before you leave, and you can stay connected almost anywhere you go. Here are a few helpful tips:

Know your cell phone
Know what type of phone you have and if it's set up to work internationally.

There are two formats for cell phones—CDMA and GSM. CDMA is prevalent with carriers in the U.S. (like Verizon), while GSM is the standard for much of the rest of the world, though it's also used by some U.S. providers (like AT&T).

A GSM phone can be “unlocked” by your carrier, allowing for its U.S.-based SIM card (memory card) to be swapped out for a local SIM card once you reach your destination.

The process can be complicated, however, and is probably only needed by those who travel overseas extensively. For the average traveler, a quick conversation with your carrier to ensure your cell phone plan allows for service overseas is all that is needed. As long as your phone can be used internationally, you have many options to choose from.

Know your options
In most of the world, texting, talking, and using the internet while traveling can often be as simple as connecting to the free local Wi-Fi.

Most international hotels, airports, and public transportation systems offer free Wi-Fi, as well as many cafés, tourist attractions, and local hang-outs. Even pretty remote locations have embraced the idea of public Wi-Fi, and while the speeds may not be as lightening fast as we are used to at home, they are more than sufficient for basic uses.

Use Facetime (if you have an iPhone), Skype or Google Hangouts, or apps like WhatsApp to text or call, whichever one works best you for and your phone.

When surfing the internet, remember that most public Wi-Fi networks, even those with passwords, are NOT secure, so activities like banking or shopping on websites that use your personal information are usually not a good idea.

Remember to turn off unneeded data/call options when you leave the U.S. so your phone does not try to connect to local services. Keeping your phone in airplane mode even after you de-plane is an easy way to achieve this, and you can still use Wi-Fi.

If you do need a talk/text data plan
Check with your U.S. carrier before you travel, there are many affordable options available. You can usually find deals that charge by the day or data package. And be aware of how many minutes you use, things add up quickly and you don’t want an expensive surprise when you get your bill later.

Plans purchased ahead of time from your local carrier are a much better option than offers you will receive when you connect to a foreign network upon arrival.

Don’t forget your charger!
Don’t forget your phone charger and a converter/adapter that will work for the countries you plan to visit.

A great travel hack to remember—most newer TVs have a USB port in the back— just plug your phone right in and you can charge it easily.

And if you will be away from a power source for a while, consider one of the many external battery rechargers. Charge the power pack while near a power source, then use it to charge your phone. Some stronger models are even good for two or three charges.

Some great uses for your phone while traveling
• Keep a photo of the front page of your passport on your phone, just in case.
• Use the app for your airline to keep track of your itinerary (and any delays), check in for your flight and load your electronic boarding pass.
• Take photos of your hotel and its address, in case you need to tell a cab driver where you are staying and there is a language barrier.
• Google Translate is amazing!
• The maps function can be very helpful if you get turned around (read, lost). It can also show you local bus routes etc.
• Many museums, tourist spots have an app to help visitors.

Plan ahead, stay connected, and have a wonderful trip!