6 tips for staying connected while traveling abroad

While the idea of unplugging is romantic, whimsical and tickles all of our #wanderlust receptors, we will be the first to admit that one of the biggest issues with traveling abroad is suddenly and abruptly being disconnected.

Traveling without the hassles of email and group texts is definitely a great feeling, but when you find yourself lost in the bazaar in Marrakesh 10 minutes before your bus is scheduled to leave, having no service becomes more than just an inconvenience.

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We don’t all have the luxury of international data plans, but that doesn’t mean we should be left stranded once we cross a border. Luckily, we don’t have to be, thanks to a few loopholes in all of our smart devices.

Crossing borders doesn't mean crossing off your communication options. Photo courtesy of Ian Schneider/Unsplash.
Crossing borders doesn’t mean crossing off your communication options. Photo: Courtesy of Ian Schneider/Unsplash
So turn off your data, drop into airplane mode and check out a few of our favorite tips to keep world travelers connected no matter what.

Know your Wi-Fi zones

Wi-Fi is your bread and butter while traveling overseas, giving you internet access and messaging capability despite the international restrictions on your cellular plan. That’s why it’s important to know your surroundings and map out areas around you that might offer a wireless communication lifeline.

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Hotels always have Wi-Fi, but many are password protected. For a sure bet, find international chains like McDonald’s and Starbucks, which always offer free, consistent and reliable Wi-Fi. I know you swore off orange mocha Frappuccinos on this trip, but desperate texts call for desperate measures.

Make “calls” with apps

Messaging services like Whatsapp are now great options for phone calls overseas. Photo courtesy of Krystin Norman/@krystinnorman.
Messaging services like Whatsapp are now great options for phone calls overseas. Photo: Courtesy of Krystin Norman/@krystinnorman
The popular overseas texting app Whatsapp has a call feature that allows you to make and receive calls between other Whatsapp users without tapping into your phone’s cell plan. This means that anywhere you can get a Wi-Fi connection, you can make a quick call, free of charge — a super-handy feature for connecting with friends and travel companions while out on the road.

It’s worth noting that you cannot access 911 and other emergency numbers through Whatsapp, so have a different emergency-communication plan in place before leaving on your trip. Skype also works well, but Whatsapp has both messaging and calling in one easy-to-use package, making it my personal messaging app of choice.

Have an emergency plan

As mentioned earlier, “911” is not going to get you anywhere overseas, so it’s important to know the emergency protocol in your area of travel. Dial “112” for emergency services if you are in any of the European Union countries, and if you find yourself anywhere else in the world, consult the State Department for emergency numbers.

Regardless of your data plan, all smartphones should be able to dial out if data is turned on. You can worry about the charges later; this is an emergency, remember?

Download your map before leaving the hostel

With Google Maps, you can know where you are, even without bars. Photo courtesy of Krystin Norman/@krystinnorman.
With Google Maps, you can know where you are even without bars. Photo: Courtesy of Krystin Norman/@krystinnorman
Google Maps has figured out a way to keep us all on track, even when we’re out of country. Using Wi-Fi, travelers can download a map and directions from the comfort of their hotel or hostel and use them offline, making that map active even when they don’t have internet.

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That means your trusty blue dot will still lead to that tapas bar even if you don’t have service, keeping you on track and out of trouble.

Share media phone to phone

For those times when you are looking to share a file, contact or media with no Wi-Fi in sight, the Fasetto app is a game-changer. Using a QR code, Fasetto quickly, easily and securely transfers files from phone to phone — no Wi-Fi necessary. This is especially helpful when trying to share a map or picture on the fly, which could be the difference between a missed connection and an unforgettable afternoon.

Get a T-Mobile plan

OK, before you jump on me for this blatant plug, hear me out. Of the major U.S. cell carriers, T-Mobile is far and away the best for international travel. They offer a Simple Global plan that provides free international data, music streaming and Wi-Fi calling.

You can also do all this from your current mobile device, so there’s no need to jailbreak your phone or buy a cheap loaner (always good options for overseas travelers who can’t go without calling the office or, um, their mom every day). Calls will set you back $0.20 a minute.

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