Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Phoning home -- or not -- here are some tips for communicating abroad

From the moment  you arrive in a new airport, you'll experience myriad adjustment challenges, including getting acquainted with new technology involving phone, e-mail, texting, GPS and more.
Here in Barcelona, we used a mobile broadband connecting device to access GPS.

Many options await, so do a little

homework, take some time with a phone overseas


BEWARE OF ROAMING charges and other surprises if you're planning to use your phone abroad.
A mobile broadband connecting
 device can help you communicate.
After some crazy, high wireless bills, we've done some homework and find that for our needs, it is easier and cheaper to text and e-mail than to phone home while abroad. You can phone with your own device, but it's costly.
ON THIS LAST, most recent Europe trip the rental car agent in Barcelona suggested a device to give us internet service in our small, non-GPS foreign car. The device was 10 Euros, or about $14-$15 a day, but worth its weight in gold.  We connected our smart phone by wi-fi to the device and in turn to the internet, allowing GPS mapping and texting and e-mailing for our five days in Spain's Costa Brava.
We don't have global phone service where you can take any phone anywhere, navigating a dozen or more band widths.
If you're in the same boat, a good starting place for questions is with your carrier's web site.  Get a human being to explain what services they offer abroad, and how much you might expect to pay. You'll hear numbers and letters and bands and a language that sounds foreign.  Ask the tech person to "translate."
A pause to connect
in a foreign airport.
A GPS while abroad is a good idea, but there are options.
MOST US cell phones are either not GSM (quad band) phones, or they are locked GSM phones. So -- to avoid roaming charges, you must have an unlocked GSM phone so you can buy SIM cards for it for other countries (like using a local calling card in another country-- more SIM tips below). If you absolutely must have phone conversation, do your homework and make a plan before you touch the "send" button.
Otherwise, you might receive a bill that will knock your socks off.
Starting in 2006, mobile broadband access became increasingly available at the consumer level using "3G" and "4G" technologies -- HSPA, EV-DO, HSPA+ and LTE.
Check out your options
before you leave the U.S.
All the four major wireless operators in the U.S. can provide international roaming in parts of the world, but some carriers are more limited by where they can offer service based upon the available technology.
 *In the U.S., wireless operators use two main cellular technologies: GSM and CDMA.

*GSM, or global system for mobile communications, is used throughout much of the world, including in Europe where  There it is considered the norm.  Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as many parts of Asia and the Middle East also use this system. Japan and Korea are different; we address that below.
 In the U.S., AT&T and T-Mobile USA operate GSM networks. As a result AT&T and T-Mobile have the most extensive networks abroad.
*AT&T HAS roaming agreements in more than 190 countries throughout the world. Its triband and quadband phones work in most parts of the world, except in Japan and South Korea, where you'll need a special phone that either supports CDMA or uses the 3G standard UMTS in the 2100 MHz frequency band. Sony Ericsson, Nokia, and a few other phone manufacturers now offer multi-band GSM phones that also include support for UMTS 2100. This coverage also extends to some cruise ships. More about that....
 Sometimes you'll see 
a sign signalling cell
 phones aren't allowed.
 * WE SPENT a couple hours talking with Verizon, which is our carrier, before this recent trip.  They offer a few "world phones" that have both
Often, a remote port or mountain range can block cell reception.
CDMA and GSM radios built in. These include, the BlackBerry 8830 World Edition, BlackBerry Storm, and the Samsung Renown. The timing wasn't good for us because of our current contract.  But Verizon does offer an option for travelers who don't have a GSM/CDMA Verizon handset and who are traveling abroad to a country that does not use CDMA. This program, called Global Travel Program, is offered to current Verizon Wireless subscribers without a daily rental fee or security deposit.
THE PROGRAM is designed for customers traveling on short trips that last less than 21 days. Customers may call 800-711-8300 to speak with a Global Services Activation specialist to request a global phone.
Being on water, even in Seattle, can mean roaming charges. 
* IF YOU ARE satisfied with e-mailing and texting abroad, we recommend that.  Sure, you can talk to anybody anytime.  On a ship, though, you will go through the ship's satellite communications.  It will be expensive. We prefer to buy an internet package, sold by the minutes you expect to use.  Most ships are now set up so you can use your phone or laptop in your stateroom and nearly every line also offers a computer center now.
* Between our shipboard package, and our internet connectivity on land, we were connected via e-mail, text and GPS at a reasonable cost.
*OTHER OPTIONS for phoning abroad include buying your own cheap phone and some minutes, or taking your own phone and buying a SIM card. (A dizzying array of options await with SIM. Again, it depends on how "techy" you are. Our favorite travel warrior, writer Rick Steves, has a wonderful essay on mobile phone and SIM cards in Europe.  Google him and his travel communication tips.)
The trick is not to be a slave to technology, but to have communication enough to make you happy and relaxed and able to enjoy being far away without worry about home or office.

COMNG UP:  Okay, enough with technology.  We're pausing from phones and rental cars to take you to the Anza-Borrego Desert in southern California, for delightful sculpture. Remember to explore, learn and live.  We post Wednesdays and weekends, so please tell your friends about: www.whereiscookie.com

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