Communicating: Cell phones, phone cards, and VOIP
An international cell phone can be extremely helpful, especially if you’re on a self-guided tour and need to reach the tour operator between towns. It’s also great peace of mind so that family can reach you in case of emergency. Or just call (or send a text, photo, or video!) to friends back home to remind them that you’re on an overseas bike tour and they’re not (or just to say “hi!”).
Bring your phone
Most cell phone service providers can extend your coverage to overseas destinations (depending on your phone model and plan) – but at a cost. Check with your service provider to find out your options and the rates so you don't have any surprises on your bill afterwards.
Text messaging internationally is sometimes cheaper than calling, so consider this as an option for communicating as well. Remember that even incoming calls and text messages can be quite expensive with some plans, so do the research beforehand. Data service can be particularly expensive, especially if you have a cell phone that automatically updates such as the iPhone.
Another option if you're planning to make or receive many calls is buying a SIM card for the country you’re visiting. Buying a local SIM card is also an extremely affordable solution to getting internet access, which you will need if you want to utilize an app such as Goolge Maps. You can buy this in advance through vendors in the United States or purchase one at a cell phone store at your destination.
We've also been quite happy buying SIM cards through Cellular Abroad - International Cell Phone Solutions. They offer international SIM cards, data SIM cards, cell phone rentals, and other solutions. Be sure to use promo code "BikeToursDirect" for a $10 discount!
If your phone isn’t going to work at your destination, or the cost is excessive, you have a couple of other options.
Rent a phone
We recommend the National Geographic Talk Abroad Travel Phone. In almost all European countries, this means free incoming calls (even on calls from the US) and outgoing rates to the US average less than a dollar a minute.
A great feature of the system is that all charges are pay-as-you-go; there are no bills to come home to at the end of your trip. The phone will come with some initial call credit to get you started and additional credit is easy to add by buying scratch-off recharge vouchers at newsstands and convenience stores in Europe or through Cellular Abroad.
Buy a phone
Again, we feel Cellular Abroad is a best bet.
Another option is the Mobal World Phone, which runs $49 and works in 140 countries. We haven’t used their service, but clients have and give positive reports. There are no minimums, fees or service charges, and you pay only for calls you make. Charges are per minute and debited from your credit card.
You can generally buy prepaid calling cards in most countries (in post offices, kiosks or stationery stores, depending on the country—ask your hotel host for assistance). Or you may wish to purchase a pre-paid card in advance to use while you’re abroad.
Use a VOIP service (like Skype)
If you're taking your laptop along, you can use use a Voice-Over IP (VOIP) service. These services (Skype is a popular one) allow you to make outgoing calls over the Internet to land line or cell phones around the world for a very low per-minute rate. Skype allows you to make calls to other Skype users for free.
These services can be convenient and cheap, but are only a good solution if it's not important that others be able to call you. Remember that you must have an Internet connection for this to work. Many cafes and other public places offer free wireless, but your hotel may charge you for use of their wireless network.