Travel smart with your cellphone

When heading abroad, be wary of outrageous phone usage fees

Smartphones can be handy tools for travelers. They can also be costly if you travel abroad and don’t take precautions. I have heard of people racking up thousands of dollars in extra phone-usage fees.

When I am out of the country, I keep my phone on airplane mode; this keeps me from getting charged for incoming calls and for roaming. When I’m in a known Wi-Fi spot, I use it for smartphone applications, maps and to check my call log.

I still add an international calling plan in case I need to use my phone in an emergency. The international calling plan lowers the per-minute cost of a call, but it will still cost at least 99 cents per minute, depending on where I’m traveling. You can also add an international data plan to your phone if you think you will need to use data when you are not in a free Wi-Fi spot.

It’s a good idea to check with your carrier before you leave to see what kind of plans it offers for international use.

MagicJack is an option: I do radio shows and media interviews when I am out of the country, and I love using MagicJack for these calls. I also use it to return any calls I have received. MagicJack is a small device that plugs into a USB port on your laptop. Plug a telephone handset into the device to make calls to the United States or Canada free, as long as you have an Internet connection. The clarity has been great. The device costs $40, which includes one free year, and it’s $20 per year after that.

Before I get on the airplane, I forward my cellphone number to my MagicJack number. I can also check voicemails on MagicJack if I am not at the hotel when the call comes in. This has allowed me to keep my extra phone fees down to $10-$15 when I have gone on trips to South America and Europe. MagicJack is available at local retailers, or through the website at magicjack.com.

MagicJack also has an app that allows you to make calls from your cellphone or iPad to the United States or Canada or to any MagicJack number. If you are traveling with someone, make sure you both have two different MagicJack numbers so you can use the MagicJack app to call each other free of charge.

There are other options such as Skype, which offers a phone plan to call the United States and Canada for $3 a month or $36 per year. It is a nice way to keep in touch with family members.

Other helpful apps: I’ve used many helpful apps while traveling. Google Translate can help you communicate while abroad by offering translation into 60 different languages. The app also allows you to speak the text instead of typing, in 23 languages including English, and you can have the translations spoken aloud in many different languages.

I use my phone for maps at home and abroad, and you can surf the Web or use an app for things like public transportation, travel guides and more.

I use a currency converter because it is a nice tool to help me figure out what I am actually spending on things. Google Voice allows you to text for free.

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