How to Use Communications to Manage Life and Work on the Road
Phone, Mail and the Web Abroad
Managing your life back home while traveling
requires a few tools.
Managing communication tools like phone, mail, and Internet is usually quite easy in the comfort of home. But it’s a different story when you travel long-term or full-time. How do you know when you received mail from the tax-man? Where will your next Internet connection come from? And what is the most cost-effective way to make and receive phone calls? If you work while traveling, having these communication essentials figured out becomes even more important. In this article, we will explore how to manage life and work on the road easily and inexpensively.
Phone—Making Calls Abroad
There are a number of ways you can make calls from the road, depending on where you are and what amenities are at your disposal. Skype and Google Voice are examples of Internet-based phone carriers that allow you to make phone calls with your computer and an internet connection. The calls are free if both parties are online simultaneously, and there is a charge if you are online and place a call to a landline or cell phone.
Luckily the long-distance rates aren’t very expensive at approximately two cents per minute to call a land line (cell phone rates vary by country) with no connection fees. Calls to toll-free numbers are free even if you are in a different country; I’ve found this handy on many occasions, as it’s not always possible with a telephone to place overseas calls to toll-free numbers.
I am a fan of Skype and I find that a $25 recharge (check current costs) can last months, despite making regular calls (for business and pleasure) to numbers around the world.
Alternately if you don’t have an internet connection available for making calls, you can purchase a long-distance phone card and use a local phone to make calls. Availability and costs vary, but long-distance rates are usually a few cents per minute and phone cards are quite common—often available at convenience stores.
Phone—Receiving Calls Abroad
Receiving phone calls while traveling takes a little more ingenuity (or planning). If you pre-plan your calls so you are online at the same time as your caller, both parties can perform the call for free (or for the cost of an internet connection) with Skype or other instant messaging or conference services.
But sometimes (especially for work), you need to be available for calls but are unable to sit online to wait for them. For a small monthly fee, Skype allows you to have a phone number (available in many countries) and voicemail. For example, if you are American, you could set up a phone number in your home state, so people who want to call you can simply dial a local number to reach your online SkypeIn number.
If you happen to be online at the time, you can receive this call free of charge by answering it online. If you’re offline and want to be accessible, you can forward your Skype number to any phone around the world, and you pay the standard Skype fees to call phones (2 cents per minute for most landlines, and various charges for cell phones). If you run a business with international clients, you can even create Skype numbers around the world for easy customer access.
Phone: Having a Local Cell Number Wherever You Go
Many international cell phone plans are prohibitively expensive, with outrageous roaming fees and long distance calling charges. If you are traveling for a long period of time in foreign countries, it is usually more convenient to have a local phone number. You can use it to make and receive local calls, as well as receive calls forwarded from your SkypeIn number or other long-distance calls.
To do this, you need an unlocked cell phone into which you can insert SIM cards purchased in each country or region you visit. Depending on where you are, SIM cards can be purchased at cellular service outlets, or even convenience stores.
Having automated all my bills, I don’t receive much mail. However the mail I do receive is usually pretty important; being drivers’ license renewals, checks from clients who don’t make electronic payments, voting information, and (gasp) — communication from the tax-man.
The easiest way to receive this mail is to set your address to that of a friend or family member at home who is your designated representative (read more about designating a representative in this article on organizing your official documents and affairs for travel. They can open your mail for you, and notify you (via email or phone) if there’s something that needs your attention. Depending on the item and action required, they can then scan and send it to you electronically, or forward it to a physical mailing address.
But sometimes relying on a friend or family member isn’t easy or feasible; you may receive more mail than you’re comfortable saddling somebody with, or you may simply not know anybody in a position to help you in this fashion.
In this case, you may want to use a virtual mailbox service, which acts as your mailing address. This service scans your unopened envelope and emails you notification of its arrival. You can then decide whether the letter is to be recycled, mailed to a forwarding address, or opened, scanned, and emailed to you. Some virtual mailbox services also have provisions for depositing checks into your bank account, even renewing your driver’s license and addressing other legal matters.
Internet Access Abroad
The Internet is increasingly becoming a necessity (or at least a staunch preference) for many travelers — on business or otherwise. Depending on where you are, finding decent connections can be onerous if you don’t have the right tools.
Depending upon the length of your stay in a given region and your Internet needs, you can often purchase a USB wireless Internet service. After the initial USB purchase, some carriers will allow you to use it on a pay-as-you-go basis without signing up for monthly plans or getting tied up into contracts. If you own multiple devices that require Internet connectivity, this can be useful as you can create your own “hotspot”.
Other people are happy to rely on public Wi-Fi hotspots and Internet Cafes. Although the security of the connection is sometimes questionable, you can protect your laptop and data with
prudent use of these services. Skype fans can use the many Skype
features to tap into wireless connections around the world on a per-minute basis, and also call land-lines at a low cost if necessary.
If you are resourceful, you can increase access to free Wi-Fi connections with some extra tools, patience, and ingenuity. A USB antenna will increase your laptop’s Wi-Fi range, and programs like NetStumber can help you find hidden wireless networks in public places like airports and bus stations. However be aware that accessing some of these hidden networks isn’t always legal, so proceed with caution.
Sending and Receiving Faxes
Although faxes have become somewhat antiquated, there are still times when you need to fill out official paperwork and send it quickly over a long distance. In most cases you can simply scan (or take a picture of) the required document and email it to the recipient. In the few cases when a standard fax is required, standalone services like FaxZero.com or membership programs like eFax.com can take care of your faxing needs.
You don’t need much more than the techniques described above to manage your life and work while traveling. For more tips on finessing technology and finances on the road, please check out the resources below.