Saying “Sleep Tight” from 5,000 Miles Away
I’m going on a trip.
Far, far away.
I’m flying to Santiago, Chile.
Three worries have dominated my brain space, as I’ve prepared for this little adventure for my job.
- What shots do I need, so I don’t become Typhoid Mary?
- What can I eat, so I don’t get Montezuma’s Revenge?
- And how the heck do I stay in touch with my family without breaking the bank?
The Vaccination Plan
I had to visit the doctor’s office three times to fill up on all the shots I needed.
But I found an unexpected issue you might be interested in.
For all of you out there of a certain age, you probably need a Measles/Mumps/Rubella combo booster shot that apparently few of us got when we were kids. Even if you’re not planning an international trip, you might want to take care of this while here at home.
I’m just saying… Everyone else in America is covered.
I guess that vaccination box fell off the truck back in 1965.
Anyway, now I’m all set.
We all know- Don’t drink the water. Don’t eat anything uncooked that’s been washed with water. So that means no fruits and vegetables.
What a hardship. I’ll live.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
I don’t have to tell you that using your cell phone internationally is expensive.
I called AT&T last week, and the best wireless international deal they could offer that covers roaming charges is $1.99/minute plus the $6 monthly fee. And that’s just to use the phone. A data plan for email and web is a whole different story that starts at $30/month plus usage fees.
Apparently, some Americans have lost their life savings (slight exaggeration) taking a peek at Facebook on their smartphone overseas. (Come to think of it, there are other ways to lose money with Facebook these days.)
Something for Nothing?
You know, I’m not just interested in racking up big phone charges.
That’s so 1999.
In the good old days, you would just pick up the hotel phone and dial away with a cigarette and blindfold on.
Or, you had your expensive AT&T calling card. Remember that? You just sucked it up and paid big bucks to make a quick call to let mom know you’re still alive.
Or maybe you just disconnected for a week and went cold turkey.
(I shudder at the thought. Wait, I can’t tell if it’s with shock or glee.)
But we now live in more ‘evolved’ times, where technology has supposedly broken through the shackles of the old school wireless titans.
Just Turn It Off
I think the best way to ensure you don’t bleed money with your smart phone is to temporarily hobble it as a cell phone. You just turn off its wireless capability before you step on the plane. For my iPhone, that means activating the airplane mode and blocking the data function.
So what good is it then?
Well, you’ve still got its Wi-Fi functionality.
Turn it back on and use what you’ve got.
With the power of any international hotel’s Wi-Fi network, you can easily check email and surf the web without the assistance of a wireless carrier.
And with my iPhone, I can even do a video FaceTime chat with my wife and son at home before he goes ‘night night.’
Apple’s iMessage will also work over Wi-Fi. So now you’ve got your texting functionality back to communicate with other iMessage users.
But if anyone else wants to reach me, especially those who don’t know I’m away, my cell phone number and normal texting functions are trapped in my lobotomized iPhone.
I’m essentially unreachable.
Or am I?
Skype Online Number
I’ve always wondered how Skype does what it does.
Always for free or pennies on the dollar.
All these years, I thought there had to be a catch.
But now, I’m leaving the country, and the only communications lifeline I’m giving myself is Skype.
As you’re probably aware, Skype is best known as a free computer-to-computer voice tool anywhere in the world. That’s really nice. But who spends all their time at their computer? Especially when travelling?
Well, Skype has been busy expanding its offerings, and it now proudly lives on my iPhone. As long as I’m within range of a Wi-Fi network, I can receive calls from anyone back in the States for free. (almost)
I bought a Skype Online Number, which works like a regular telephone number using the area code of my choice.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be turning off the cell part of my iPhone by turning on its Airplane mode. Just to be safe, I’ll also turn off data roaming, which prevents my phone from surfing the web or receiving text messages with big international fees attached.
Now, when someone calls my new Online Number, and as long as my iPhone is active on a Wi-Fi network with Skype running, my phone will be back in business.
If I miss a call, no worries. I’ve also got Skype voicemail.
The cost to set this crazy idea up?
$12.06 for three months.
(Skype is currently running a sale for their Online Numbers.)
But what about the 95% of my contacts who won’t know to call my new number?
Are you ready?
I’ll just forward my regular cell phone number (which won’t work while my phone is in Airplane mode) to my fabulous Online Number.
(Light bubble goes off!)
And how do you complete the circuit to call someone back in the States?
Are you sitting down? This sounds even more absurd.
Buy a $2.99/month Unlimited US and Canada plan.
All your Skype calls to a US landline or mobile number are now free.
What?! That sounds impossible.
But I’ve done some research on this, and it seems to hold up.
And yes, this works if you call from anywhere in the world on a Wi-Fi connection.
This is all so simple and inexpensive, and ludicrous!
There’s got to be a catch, right?
I don’t think so.
(And if I’ve missed something, please let me know!)
Of course, remember, you’ve got to be tethered to a Wi-Fi network, which is the only major downside to this very disruptive concept. (I’m expecting several stealth Blackhawk helicopters to be hovering over my house any minute now.)
But I should be fine with my plan, because I’ll be working much of the time and close to the hotel’s Wi-Fi.
And when I leave the hotel’s Wi-Fi bubble, I also have another Skype app called Skype WiFi. This app allows you to find public hotspots that partner with Skype for a wicked cheap per-minute connection, which you pay with your Skype Credit.
So if you haven’t guessed, I’m going for it!
Wife IT Support
And after I explained my lengthy, ingenious solution to my wife, she offered me her own airtight plan that she took five nanoseconds to research for me:
When she wants to reach me at night, she will walk to the couch, sit down, and pick up our home phone. She will then call my hotel room using our Optimum Voice international plan, which has a low 17 cent/minute cost to Chile.
Well… I guess that works too.
(I’m not going to let my overlooking this obvious and very practical strategy spoil my joy.)
Wheels up in less than 8 hours. I’ll let you know how it goes…!