Travel connections with home are easier than ever. New calling cards, cell-phones, e-mail, satelite phones, and better phone lines everywhere are making it a smaller world. Here are some suggestions on how you can stay in touch – when you want to.
E-Mail: The Travel Connections Champ
Most libraries in the United States now have internet access. When traveling the country, we often stop in small towns to use this free service. We check e-mail and even check our bank accounts. In other countries, finding internet accesss is even easier. When computers are too expensive for most people, there’s demand for cheap internet access. The result is that, in places like Quito, Ecuador, there’s an internet cafe on almost every corner.
Hotmail and Yahoo still offer free e-mail accounts. Sign up now, if you haven’t already. Then, wherever you are in the world, your friends and family have a way to contact you and you have a way to contact them. For some reason, even though the internet largely operates by way of the same phone lines, it’s more reliable than phone service in many countries.
You’ll may still use the Post Office when you travel. Pre-address and stamp your envelopes if you’ll be writing family, friends, or whoever. Usually, it’s easy to find a mail box, but a hassle to find stamps and envelopes. When you need something sent to you while on a trip (in the U.S.) have it addressed to your name, then “general delivery,” and the city and zip code where you’ll be in a few days. The package should be waiting at the post office when you arrive.
Phone cards are a great help when traveling in the United States. The best are not even cards, but accounts that you recharge on the internet. The one we use costs just 2.9 cents per minute to call anywhere in the U.S., with no connection charge. It’s only 15 cents to call my wife’s family in Ecuador (It cost me over $2 per minute just 4 years ago). The only extra charge is 50 cents for pay phone use, which is mandated by law for all cards now.
You use these accounts by funding them on the internet, using any credit card. With most, you can open an account for $20. You get a toll-free number to call, an account number (usually your home phone number), and a 4-digit PIN. To place a call, you dial the toll free number, then enter your account number, PIN, and number you’re calling. Many buttons to push, but then you can call Paris, France for 3 cents per minute. That’s cheap! Recharge your account from anywhere there is internet access, and you’ll never have a phone bill, since you pay in advance.
Other Travel Connections Tips
E-mail a list of important information and numbers to yourself, like the one to call if your credit card is stolen, or the number of the U.S. Embassy where you’re going. E-mail yourself a copy of your passport, and other important documents. When you need these things, they’ll be available in any internet cafe in the world.
Staying in touch is a mixed blessing. I find it less than comforting to have the protection of a cell phone when my brothers and I go into the Canadian wilderness. It means constant calls, and worries that could have been forgotten until the trip was over. My final tip then, is to call friends and family when they’re not home, and leave nice messages on their machines. Then they’ll know you’re okay, and if they need to contact you, they can e-mail you.