photo: Mauro Grigollo/Stocksy United

Communicating While Abroad

By Britney Hope

Travelling is a way to temporarily escape “everyday” life. We don’t want to constantly monitor what’s going on back home, but there’s peace of mind in being able to check in. Plus, who can resist sending a few travel photos to friends and family? These days, it’s easier than ever to do just that, provided you have the right technology and a little know-how. AMA members can save on lightweight, travel-friendly laptops and tablets at The Source. Most current models come equipped with a camera—perfect for making video calls with your favourite social-media app.

Most cellular carriers offer international calling and data packages, but they’re often one-size-fits-all for a set fee, and not always what you need. Without a package, the easiest way to avoid data-roaming fees is to disable mobile data on your phone (usually a one-step process in your phone’s settings). You’ll still be able to use Wi-Fi connections when they’re available.

If you’re fortunate enough to have an unlocked phone—that is, one that’s not under contract to a specific carrier—getting a prepaid international SIM card can be an ideal way to forgo roaming charges and surf the web. Most cards offer free incoming calls and competitive per-minute rates for outgoing calls, and can be pre-ordered online for delivery before your trip.

You may not need to call family and friends while on vacation, but it’s good to know you can. To call between countries on a cell phone or landline, first input the International Direct Dialing prefix of the country you’re calling from (00 or 011 for most countries). This is a standardized “exit code” that indicates to the network that you wish to place an international call. After the exit code, dial the country code for wherever you’re calling (e.g. 1 for Canada) plus the relevant area code and phone number. Note that you don’t need to dial an exit code for calls between the U.S. and Canada.

A decade ago, Skype introduced video and voice calling to the masses and it’s still hugely popular. The free app allows you to connect with other Skype users around the world at no cost, and place calls to non-users for a fee. There’s also a Skype To Go service that enables low-rate international calling without an Internet connection. Similarly, you can make free voice and video calls using Apple’s FaceTime, Google’s Hangouts and Duo, and Facebook’s Messenger—assuming the person you’re calling also uses those apps. Otherwise, all you need is a Wi-Fi connection.

So many apps rely on Wi-Fi, but you won’t always be near a coffee shop or hotel lobby’s open connection. Many travellers now opt to rent a portable Wi-Fi device to ensure seamless Internet access. Look online before your trip: Various companies will send the pocket-sized gadget to your destination. You simply use it (typically for a daily flat rate) then mail it back before you leave. Most of these “hotspots” allow for multiple simultaneous users, which is handy for family vacations.

There’s a phone number you’ll definitely want to know while abroad: that of your travel insurance provider. Depending on your level of coverage, travel insurance helps to ensure you’re protected against trip cancellation or interruption, baggage loss and medical problems. If such challenges arise, the first call you should make is to your insurer, who can assist with starting the claims process and finding the right service provider for your needs.

Have tech, will travel: The Source is AMA members’ source for laptop computers and tablets that make it easy to stay connected while abroad. Save up to 20% on the lowest-marked price on in-store products.