Technology has become so integrated into everyday modern life that it’s easy to brush over the cost when thinking about going abroad. Here are five ways to stay connected without burning a hole in your pocket.
1. Get on the Local Network
If your network provider allows for you to GSM unlock your device without voiding any warranties, you may be able to get a local prepaid SIM card to use while you’re abroad that will save you a lot of money in comparison to an international plan back home. The minute I touched down in London I found a booth that sold SIM cards on the UK’s 3 Network that would work in my device. For £35 I purchased a plan that included 500 calling minutes, 300 texts, and “All-You-Can-Eat” data for 30 days.
Since I was on a multi-country traveling program with AIFS, I was also able to use my plan with no roaming charges in almost every country we went through (I didn’t have data while in the Netherlands, but I could still call and text). Where there wasn’t data, I could still connect to WiFi wherever it was available and could extend or change my plan from their website without international charges to my credit card. Many US plans outside of North America include limited data and charge twice the normal rate on an international networks, on top of what you’re already paying for your standard service.
2. Download an App to Call and Text for Free
Skype, Whatsapp, GroupMe, WeChat — the list goes on and on for free web-based calling and texting that makes a network calling plan almost completely unneeded. Having a local phone number came in handy if I needed to call or text my tour manager or professor for help with directions or meet up locations, but for communicating with classmates, friends, and family, I found the best way to stay in touch was Whatsapp, Skype, and GroupMe. Since I was only on a month long program, I took full advantage of Skype’s 30-Day free trial of their premium service to be able to video chat with my parents and boyfriend back home, and used Whatsapp and Groupme to coordinate with classmates and stay in touch with friends back home.
3. Don’t Rely Too Much on WiFi
When it comes to the internet here in America, the faster, the better. One of the first things I learned after landing in London was that net speeds in Europe tended to be a lot slower, especially in the hotels, hostels, and other tourist-heavy areas. It was much harder to multi-task online, stream television shows, and find directions on the go with the reduced network and internet speeds, so the most important things took priority and the constant photo uploads to Instagram found themselves having to wait until the end of the day to make their appearance.
4. Get a VPN for Your Phone and Computer
Despite being able to connect to the same internet, many devices such as laptop computers and smartphones have difficulty connecting to international websites and services due to region locking on the device level. This can cause connectivity issues when it comes to streaming on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon, or using American currency when online shopping. Using the right Virtual Private Network, or VPN, will allow you to connect to the right servers so that you can stay spoiler free on your favorite shows, or check out some cool new ones that may not be available back home. Keep in mind, however, that many countries have banned the use of VPNs for any use, and that no Netflix binge is worth any legal trouble. Take that as a hint to get out there and explore instead of experiencing it through your screen!
5. Use Online Tourism Guides to their Full Potential
When you study abroad in several locations, it can be hard to keep up with all the suggestions of places to go and things to see. Tourism sites such as TripAdvisor are wonderful sources to not only find new things to do and see, but also keep track of where you’ve been and help contribute to exposing some of the best kept local secrets. Think of it like an online journal and the perfect place to store all of those Insta-worthy food pics! When you’re out and about and immersing yourself in a new culture, keep an eye out for the logos of such sites in shop windows and storefront displays; this lets you know what places locals use to promote what’s great in the area and where to leave your five-star review.
This post was contributed by AIFS Study Abroad Alumni Ambassador, Brittney Schrader, who studied abroad during the summer on a multi-country Study and Travel program that focused on European Art and Architecture.