How to avoid a $700 phone bill

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Once nearly a decade ago, I traveled abroad without Mr. Smitten. It was shortly after we’d started dating—you know, the time early in a relationship when being away from someone for 24 hours feels like 240 days.

To make matters worse, my destination was remote. This meant staying connected via the Internet through Facebook and email wasn’t really an option. Lucky for me, though, my parents—who had been a little nervous about my first solo jaunt to Europe—had rented me a special cellphone that could be used to call internationally. For emergencies, of course.

If you’ve ever been young and found yourself falling in love with a person who is suddenly thousands of miles away, well, you know this situation felt like a full-on sound-the-alarm EMERGENCY.

My little cellphone rental was a lifeline.

That is until a few weeks later, when, after returning home, the phone bill arrived: $700.

Gulp.

Now I had a real emergency.

In the end, I learned that when people say calling internationally is expensive, they’re not kidding. So, when you need to reach someone while abroad, what can you do to avoid such a high price?

Here are some ways to avoid exorbitant costs.

Skype

If you’re already a Skype user, then you likely know that Skype-to-Skype calls are free—including international dialing. As long as you have an Internet connection, and the person you need to reach also has Skype, you can talk sans any hefty charges. That said, if the person you want to update on your amazing travel adventures doesn’t have Skype, there are some fees charged by the minute. You can learn more about the rates here.

Really, though, since most travelers have a select few people they may need to reach while abroad, it’s easy enough to ask this group of family and friends to download the app, if even just for the few weeks you’ll be jet-setting around the world.

Messenger

For travelers who may need to simply provide an occasional update, using Facebook messenger or another Internet-based messenger app may suffice. It’s free. It’s instant. It’s easy. Enough said.

Calling cards

This option feels a little antiquated to me, but buying a calling card (SIM card) before your departure can be another way to ensure you’re able to affordably reach home. (I took one of these to Europe with me in high school and called my parents from a payphone at the Eiffel Tower—I think THIS is why calling cards feel like a blast from the past…) I didn’t use a calling card when I racked up my $700 phone bill, because at that time my cellphone wasn’t even capable of calling internationally! Yeah, phones have come a long way.

You can buy these little prepaid relics all over—including online, at stores like Target, and sometimes even from vending machines at airports. They usually come with a personal PIN number to protect the card’s funds, which you’re prompted to enter when making a call. Rest assured, they come with easily navigable instructions.

Upgraded phone plan

If you’re someone who needs to make a lot of calls to many different people while traveling, it may be worth upgrading your phone plan to include international calling and data. (Ahem—honeymooners reading this, I hope this scenario does NOT apply to you!)  Rates and policies differ between carriers, so I’d start by perusing your service provider’s website or picking up the phone to talk to somebody who can get you set up.

Travel tip: When making phone calls abroad, you’ll likely need the code for the country you’re trying to reach. For example, for the United States it’s 1 followed by the area code and phone number. If you’re calling somewhere other than to the U.S., be sure to research the country’s code prior to your departure—or ask your travel consultant for help!

How do you stay connected while abroad?