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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to communicate with family and friends while traveling?

One of the biggest needs while traveling anywhere is to keep in touch with family and friends who are staying home and not traveling with you. In this era of a flat world and technology, there are a lot of options out there that can be used to communicate with your folks back home. Personally, I have tried all of them during my travel days and this post aims to put together their pros and cons. The idea is to find that mode of communication that allows you to communicate as you would if you were back home.

Skype
I think Skype is the traveler’s best buddy when it comes to communication. It is my go to choice and here are the reasons why.

Pros
1) You can make a call from Skype to any phone number, just like how you would do back home. All you need is to buy some Skype Credit or buy a subscription. To give you an example, I have a India subscription, which gives 120 minutes of talk time to India (mobile and fixed line) every month for 3 months for 5 US Dollars ($5). I choose a subscription as most of my family and friends are in India. If I need to call anyone outside India, I put some Skype Credit. This costs a bit more, but still works out cheaper than local mobile phones.

2) Skype calls cost as much or less than local calls (I am comparing this to telecom tariffs in India, which is very low)

3) Skype works with even low bandwidth. Personally, I have successfully made Skype calls even with the bandwidth being less than 128 kbps.

4) Skype works across devices (PC, tablet, phablet, phone)

5) Skype allows you to make video calls, though for this the other person has to have Skype installed on their smartphone or be next to their computer.

6) Skype allows you to send a SMS to any phone number across the world. Charges for this go from your Skype credit account.

7) In some countries, Skype allows you to get your own personal number, which means that it is a local call for your family and friends, but the call rings on your Skype application in whichever country you are. You need internet connectivity for this. Even data connectivity on mobile phones will work.

Cons
1) Skype needs internet connection

IM, Chat and Voice Applications
In today’s era, there are a whole bunch of apps like Google Talk, Google Hangouts, MSN Messenger, Whats App, and other IM,chat and voice applications through which we can stay in touch. While this is ideal for text messages, voice takes a bit of a back seat.

Pros
1) These applications are free and all we need to use them is a device and some internet/data connectivity.

2) Some of these applications allow making video calls.

Cons
1) These applications work only when my family or friend also have these apps installed and have data connectivity.

2) The voice features are good, but are not that effective on a low bandwidth.

Local Mobile Connection
This is the most sought after mode of communication. As soon as I land in a new country, I buy myself a sim card and plug it into my phone. I do this mainly to make local calls, for data connectivity on the move and as an emergency contact for friends and family.

Pros
1) Allows you to connect with local friends and contacts. Can also make those calls to hotels, travel agents, et al to make or confirm your bookings.

2) Allows you to avail data services on the move.

3) Can be used as an emergency for international calls. Works the other way too as people can reach you as long as there is network coverage.

Cons
1) International calls work out real expensive. To make it cheaper, you might have to buy or activate international call packages, which you are not aware of as you are new to that country and telecom tariff plan.

2) Most countries have a limit for their sim cards, which means that if they are not active for a given time period they expire and you will have to buy a new sim card for your next visit to that country.

3) You have to email, text or call your family or friends and update them about your new phone connection.

4) You need to do research to understand the costing model of this country and specifically this tariff plan.

International Roaming on Home Phone Connection
Personally, I haven’t activated international roaming on my phone, but I know a lot of travelers who do so. This method works out expensive, but can be used on a need-to basis and works out good especially in emergencies.

Pros
1) You are always connected and the phone number is the same as your home country.

2) You can make emergency phone calls.

3) Cost benefit analysis works in its favor for short trips.

Cons
1) Voice and data are both every expensive, when compared to the other options and more so during longer holidays.

International Calls from Hotels or Phone Booths
An archaic and time tested technique that still exists today even with so much ease of telecom access. I have hardly used them.

Pros
1) You can make a call to anywhere from the comfort of your hotel room.

Cons
1) Generally, they work out to be expensive



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