Staying in touch and online while abroad isn’t easy. In fact it’s one of the biggest stressors we deal with on a daily basis (second only to whether or not the Captain is going to get us thrown out of whatever establishment we are currently in due to his incessant screaming. MAN that kid has lungs).
I knew that my livelihood would literally depend on my ability to get online so I spent a lot of time making sure that I would be able to get online in at least some fashion. Secondarily were goals like being able to communicate with Charming when she was out spending our money in her endless flea markets, or calling home (more on that later).
Because the phone industry is filled with even more corruption, greed, and borderline-monopolies than most others, we found that information about whether or not we could use X phone model or Y phone service abroad from any phone company in the US was misleading and highly suspect. We eventually ended up throwing it all out and bought a couple of these:
The Nexus 5 Android from Google comes off-contract, relatively cheap (compared to other off-contract phones), carrier unlocked, and is quad band (meaning it will work almost anywhere). So for the rest of the time we were in the US we got a pay-as-you-go T-Mobile SIM and since then we have fallen in to a routine where the first day in any new location we hunt down a mobile phone seller and buy a month of service there too, usually Vodafone or Orange. We can generally get a couple of hundred minutes of talk time, unlimited texts, and then 1 to 1.5 Gb for about a 20 of local currency (pounds or euros or whatever).
It hasn’t been without risks of course; this method has us without service for 24-ish hours in a new place, so our most recent trip to Barcelona landed us so late that we couldn’t call our host. I happened to find a payphone and I had luckily had the presence of mind to jot down his number before we left London which was the only thing that saved our proverbial bacon.
But the benefits pretty much outweigh everything in our opinion. Amongst everything else we mentioned, the Nexus 5 has a fully functioning tether feature too. So should you find yourself without Wi-Fi for a brief time (or even a long time, as long as you have a lot of bandwidth left on your prepaid SIM), then you can always turn on tethering and connect your laptop to your phone via Wi-Fi.
Calling home has proven to be pretty easy too as long as you are on a proper Wi-Fi connection with the use of some modern conveniences. This setup is a bit complicated, but see if you can follow along. With this setup, we are able to call anyone in the US and have it show up as being our old cell phone numbers. They can call us too, though it doesn’t always ring through (it depends on if we have a program running). NOTE: I believe this only works for US based numbers. Sorry. 🙁
- You start by porting your old number to Google Voice. Instructions for how to do that are right here. Wait the full 3+ days to allow this to be finished.
- Next, get a Skype account and pay for a Skype Number. When prompted, set your Caller ID number to be your Google Voice number.
- Use your Skype Number as the number which Google Voice forwards to in your Google Voice dashboard (I had originally thought I could have Google Voice forward to my international numbers, but GV doesn’t play nice with those international numbers).
- So you now have the number sorted out so that people can call you in Skype. Now add some prepaid credit or buy even buy a subscription if you’re going to be talking a lot so that you can call them (though calling other Skype addresses is always free).
That’s all! Google Voice is totally free, and the Skype number is something like $6/month. I put $25 of Skype credit for calling out when I first started this trip and still haven’t used it all after several 30 to 60 minute conversations with family. As a bonus, when we come back we are going to be able to port our numbers back to our cell phones (if we decide to). The ever-marginally-helpful Google has even created a help article for that too here.