Staying Connected While Abroad + Helpful Travel Apps

A big question I still get is “What is the best way to stay connected while traveling abroad?”

Technology has really come a long way. So far so that I’ve completely given up my ‘2 year contract’ crap with one of those major money-grubbing cell phone companies in the US and turned to data and apps. There are some great calling/messaging apps that can easily be used over 4G data or wifi, which eliminates the need for any kind of traditional long-term contract.

Here are my personal suggestions for the best way to stay connected when traveling abroad for short or long periods of time. Also read til the very end for my favorite travel apps!IMG_4866

– Short, 1 to 2 Week Vacation –

WIFI : My number one suggestion for a short vacation is wifi. Stay away from SIM cards all together and just check in occasionally on free wifi. If you’re popping around Europe or staying in pretty well developed cities, chances are they’ll have wifi in every other cafe and at hostels/hotels. Give up the phone for a while and just check in occasionally when you get back to your hotel or when you stop for coffee. If you need to meet with friends along your travels, work out plans ahead of time and arrange meeting points and times at places that do have wifi so you can connect easier.

– One Country OR Europe for 3 Weeks or Longer –

SIM Card : When you’re taking a slighter longer trip, traveling solo, or even traveling with multiple people that you need to stay in touch with, it’s nice to have that extra comfort of knowing you can make a call or contact someone if you get stuck. I recommend getting a SIM card from a major carrier if you’re in the EU for a while or in a more remote country for a longer period of time. In the EU, companies like Vodafone, 3, and 0² have service spanning across multiple countries, so your SIM will work across borders. Also, they offer top-up and pay-as-you-go options so you don’t have to commit to a contract. I think 3 out of the UK offers the best pay-as-you-go option, plus coverage throughout all of Europe

In more remote countries in Africa or Asia, your SIM card may not carry over to a neighboring country and the service may not be as good, but the probably of finding wifi is slimmer, so having that option of making an off-wifi call is nice.

Another thing to make note of is getting a data-only SIM. Now, there are apps that work over 4G that you can keep in touch with people without needing add-on minutes and text messages. [breakdown of the best messaging & calling apps below]DSC_0838

-Voice/Messaging –

WhatsApp : Far and away my #1 method for messaging – WhatsApp allows you to send messages and make calls to other WhatsApp users over wifi (or 3/4G) for free. You can have group messages, send photos/videos, and even send your location so the receiver can click the map and see exactly where you are. Thee only 2 downsides when comparing it with regular text messaging is that the receiver needs to have the app as well and you need a smartphone to use it. This isn’t much of a problem internationally because I’ve found that nearly everyone, including businesses, have WhatsApp and offer that as their main contact. Most hotels I’ve booked into even suggest to be called and messaged for reservations through WhatsApp. Free

MagicApp : This app is a new branch-off of the older MagicJack. Back in the day, it was a cable that connected to your computer which you connected a landline in order to make calls over internet back to the US. Now, you can simply download the free app and make calls to any US number over wifi or 4G from anywhere in the world. Think of it as a little piece of the US and no matter where you are, you’re making a domestic call to just down the street back home. Want a designated phone number for a certain state? For $9.99 a year, you can pick any area code and from a wide selection of phone numbers. Downsides: you can only upload that designated phone number to 5 devices; so if you use it as a work number (as I do), keep in mind that once you load the number on the max amount of devices, you’re done. Also, since you’re calling from a US number and it’s techincally “domestic” to call to the US, you will incur roaming charges to call anywhere else in the world, even if you’re calling your neighbor in Spain. Like Skype, you can load credit to your account and make international calls if need be. App: Free. Assigned number: $9.99/year

Viber : Similar to WhatsApp, Viber allows you to make calls and message other Viber members over wifi or 3/4G. I’m not quite sure how old it is, but I did give it a try a few years ago. I personally think it was neck and neck with WhatsApp and the latter won out in popularity. Free

iMessage : A free app that comes standard with apple products, this method of messaging is great for connecting with other Apple users. The downside: it’s only Apple to Apple. Free

T-Mobile : If you spend equal time in the states and abroad, receive discounts on phone plans, and just like the idea of one phone number/one global SIM, switching to T-mobile is probably best for you. They offer a global unlimited data/messaging plan for 95$/month, amongst smaller denominational plans. This way, you can access your plans data and messaging in 140+ countries for one monthly price and no switching SIMs. While T-mobile’s reception in the US is questionable in some areas, their presence stretches throughout Europe, Asia, and other locations making them very widely accessible.

US citizens that regularly travel : With T-mobiles’ Global Plan, opt just for data and sign up for a MagicApp US number. This way, you can call the US and Canada for free from anywhere in the world over 4G and also make calls and send messages from WhatsApp.

– Video Calling –

Skype : A trusty method for video/phone calling, Skype is an oldie but goodie. You can have it on your computer or phone and apply credits to make calls from the app to any cell phone or landline. This is fantastic because, although the receiver needs Skype as well for video calling, you can call just about anywhere for regular phone calls.

Facebook : Facebook has come a long way in that messenger is its own app and it now allows you to make voice and video calls over wifi or 3/4G. It has a large following so your chances of getting in touch with someone back home this way are high. I resorted to this method when my phone was stolen and the only way to make calls was through my laptop (no WhatsApp or MagicApp there)

Still worried that most of these options don’t let you make local calls?

In my travels, one of the harder things to learn has been how to fend for myself and not rely on being connected all the time. Most often, a tough situation won’t be life threatening. I strongly suggest trying to work out ways to get by without fussing about checking your phone for the answer or calling someone right away. Of course, you never know when you’ll be in a sticky situation and how dire it’ll be, but the most effective way to overcome most situations and is to analyze, think for yourself, and work through the problem. When traveling abroad, try your best to figure things out on your own and engage with locals for help, rather than depending solely on your technology!

Regardless of how long you’re traveling, if you just don’t care about the money and don’t want to challenge yourself with just sticking to wifi, just buy a SIM everywhere you go 🙂

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Staying connected also means accessing helpful apps to find the best spots and get the best deals when you’re in a new and unfamiliar place…

– Additional Helpful Travel Apps –

{Some seen on my Necessities for a Car-Rental Road Trip post}

Xe Currency Converter : Absolutely amazing for converting currencies from every country. You can have 10 favorites that update whenever you’re on wifi and have the app loaded. Then, you can still convert offline and re-update when you’re on wifi next. Such a lifesaver for checking the exchage when taking out money and for bargaining at markets! Free

Google Translate : My favorite translator app that will speak the translation back, write it in the native alphabet, and translate to your native alphabet. One cool feature is the camera option that lets you put the camera over the foreign word and live translate through the lens and take a photo. It’s not always 100% accurate of course, but it’s handy for quick sign and menu translation. Free

Roadtrippers : This was a really sweet tool for planning my US road trip in November. You can check out numerous routes others have taken and filter them based on what you want to experience – nature, camping, monuments, foodie stops, parks, etc. For example, I’d create an itinerary with viewpoints, breweries & good local eateries, a couple camping sites, and maybe a few popular must-see monuments. Free

GoogleMaps : It’s a great standard map app and GPS for everyday life; but for international travel and road trips, it’s a commodity. You can download cities, use the map while offline, and save sites for each city. The best part is that you download the maps of the whole area you’re traveling in when you have data/wifi and then you can use the turn-by-turn directions for your road trip while you’re off data/wifi. The huge benefit of this is that if you make a wrong turn, you can still be redirected and your location is tracked. Genius! Free

Yelp : I’m a diehard fan of this app and will always be. I love it because you can filter what kinds of restaurants you want, if its opened and its hours, if it has wifi, and much more. It’s fantastic for services as well, but not every country is on the yelp train. Another downfall is that the rating is based on customers reviews and can have 5 stars just by one persons high review of the business.

CityMaps2Go : is a close runner up to GoogleMaps. It’s another great map app that allows you to download cities, save your favorite sites, and it’ll even track you offline. One really helpful feature is being able to search for restaurants and sites based on certain filters, like Yelp. The only downfall is that the file sizes are quite large. Free

Soundcloud Go : Music is the life blood of travel and having the perfect playlist to set the vibe is essential. This app allow you to create playlists and listen to them offline so you don’t need data. It has a 30day free trial, but it does require a subscription. I prefer Soundcloud because it generally offers more up-and-coming artists than Spotify and Pandora and it has a wide selection of the genres I enjoy.

And more…

  • Foodspotting
  • Uber
  • Skyscanner – airfare
  • Yelp
  • Spotify
  • Hotel Tonight – last minute accommodations
  • Snapchat
  • Time Out
  • Airbnb
  • Loungebuddy – See which airport lounges you’re eligible to use for free/small fee
  • Flashlight – seems ridiculous to suggest, but a flashlight app is so helpful in dorms and camping and many people forget they even have it preloaded on most phones
**This is not a sponsored post. I have not been paid by any of these apps or companies to give reviews. I’ve chosen to review the ones I’ve actually used and recommend.

That about sums it up. Are there any ways you stay connected while traveling abroad that I missed? Any cool travel apps I didn’t cover?

startplanning

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