Staying in Touch

So you’ve been traveling around Europe for a couple months now, I bet your loved ones at home miss you terribly. Let them know you’re all right, and show them what fun you’ve been up to. These days you can still keep in touch with everyone at home while you’re on the road.

Calling

International calling can be extremely expensive, but there are ways that you can talk to the folks back at home without blowing the budget.

Mobiles Phones in Europe

One option is to use your current phone abroad. Many phone these days are capable of being used throughout Europe. Contact your carrier for how to activate your phone for international use and for exact international roaming rates.

While this is probably the easier option, it’s not the cheapest. Expect to pay between $1-$2 a minute to use your phone internationally. Most carriers offer add-on plans that will give you a discount on the international rate for a set monthly fee.

Probably the most cost efficient method of having phone access is to get a local SIM card and use that in your current phone. With a SIM card you’ll get a European phone number (which your friends and family at home can call) as well as paying much cheaper rates for talk, text and data within Europe. There are a number of resources online that discuss how to buy local SIM cards, but generally if you go to a mobile store (in any major city) the staff should be able to help you purchase and setup a cheap prepaid plan.

If your current phone doesn’t use SIM cards, you can buy a used phone or prepaid unlocked phone pretty cheaply from places like Amazon or eBay.

Rental Phones

Getting a rental cell phone or SIM card for your trip is a third option you might want to consider. A number of companies offer rental phones geared from international students or travelers. For a monthly fee (plus usually some initial setup fees), they’ll provide you with a phone or SIM card that you can use.

PicCell Wireless offers both rental phones and international SIM cards geared towards students studying abroad. Their cellular plans are mostly based around having one “home area,” so if you’re going to be traveling throughout Europe, this may not be the ideal plan for you.

Skype

Skype is a Voice Over IP (VoIP) program that allows you to call both land lines and other computers equipped with Skype for low/no cost. Skype has become very popular lately and can be found in most internet cafes around Europe.

Skype is a really cheap alternative to mobile phones or calling cards, as you can call home for as little as $0.02 a minute. Almost every internet cafe is equipped with cameras and headsets so you can video call from it.

Calling Cards

Ten, or even five years ago, before the explosion in mobile phones, calling cards were the main way of cheaply contacting friends and family at home. These days, many people are bringing or buying cell phones for use while backpacking.

However, it still can be wise to have a calling card available as a backup, or for emergencies. There are tons of different calling cards out there, many of which you can pick up locally in whatever country you’re visiting. There are also a number of online retailers that offer international calling cards.

ZapTel has tons of different low-cost calling cards so you can pick one that fits your trip.

CallingCards.com also offers a number of cheap pre-paid calling cards.

Internet

These days keeping in touch through the internet has become the norm. People back home love getting emails and photos from your trips, and it’s usually a lot cheaper than calling home.

The easiest way to get access is to bring a Wi-Fi enabled device and take advantage of the free wireless that many businesses provide. A lot of hostels are now also offering free wifi. Some places may require a small purchase to get an access code, but this is usually very cheap and often might be something you’d buy anyway.

Additionally, a large number of hostels, especially in larger cities offer free computers that you can use to check your email, book your next hostel and upload photos.

If those two fail, there are internet cafes are all over Europe, so you probably won’t have too much difficulty find one. Just ask your the staff at your Hostel and they can point you in the right direction.

Cybercafes.com seems pretty out-dated at this point, but you might be able to find an internet cafe in its database.

Photos

After a few weeks (if that), you’re definitely going to be running out of space on your digital camera. So what do you do when you can’t take any more pictures and you’re going to Paris tomorrow?

Good thing for you, there are a number of site where you can upload your pictures. You can free up space on your camera, and show the folks at home what you’ve been up to in one fell swoop. There are countless more ways now to upload and share photos compared to 5 or 10 years ago.

Take advantage of social media sites, upload directly to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google Picasa etc.

Dropbox offers 5GB of free space. Set up a shared folder and upload your photos to there.

Similar to Dropbox, Box.com also offers 5GB of free backup space. If you run through your dropbox, setup a box.com account and upload some of your photos there.