Skip to main content

Staying In Touch on the Road: Part 1




This is part 1 of a 4-part report on communication for travelers. 



Years ago, traveling meant being out of touch with home, and struggling with unfamiliar pay phones for local calls for reservations and so forth.

Fast forward a little, and e-mail appears, but whether on your laptop or at an internet cafe it wasn't exactly portable. In the age of cellphones, and especially smartphones, though, that's all changed.


But it still doesn’t mean that it’s as easy as stepping off the plane and turning on your phone. But no fear—Gumbo has been there, done that, and looked up some more. While this piece is mostly focused on Europe, most of it applies elsewhere as well—and we look forward to hearing even more useful info from you!


You may have heard from others about how hard or expensive it is to use a cellphone overseas, and heard horror tales about huge roaming data bills. Not to worry…not only have more options opened up for you, but most of those tales came from people who didn’t get good advice, or any at all.


Follow Gumbo as we lead you through the basics:

  • Should I use my own phone, or do I need to buy one for overseas?
  • If I use my own phone, should I stick with my home carrier?
  • How do I know what service to choose and buy?
  • Is doing this really as easy as you’re telling me?
  • And a bonus question: Are there special ways to call home really cheap?


The short answers to the five questions are:
“Maybe…read on.” “Probably not.” “Read on.” “Yes.” and “Definitely yes.”


But, before you get to those answers, you’ll need to think about yourself and what you do, because your best choices depend on knowing your own needs and plans. Think through the answers to these questions, and they’ll help you make good choices.

  • Are you planning to call home? If so, will you be checking in frequently, or just a call to make sure someone’s watering the plants or meeting you at the airport? Will you be having a longish chat, or just a quick check-in?
  • What kind of local calling will you be doing on your trip? The most common kinds of local calling are for reservations, transportation and information about hours at attractions—but couples or families traveling together are finding local calls or texts an easy way to make separate plans and then meet up later.
  • How addicted are you to mobile data? Among the most common uses for travelers are, of course, a GPS app to find your way; the web browser for more information about what you’re seeing and a translation app for checking what’s on the menu before it’s on your plate. and e-mail. Those are fairly light on data…but if you can’t keep your thumbs off the e-mail, Facebook and streaming media, you’ll have to plan on a bigger “byte” when you buy data.


No matter what your answers, there’s a solution that’s right for you.

If you’re going to be calling home a lot, you’ll want to consider a service that gives you a lower rate on calls home—but they won’t be very low, and you should really consider the special tricks we’ll cover in the last part.


Local calling and texting may be a big part of your plans; local SIMs vary in how many minutes are included in your purchase, or if you’re paying by the minute, how much each costs. You’ll be able to find that information on the websites we’ll list later on.


These days, data has become a really big part of the mobile business model—have you noticed how many U.S. carriers are practically giving away talk and text as long as you’re forking over serious money for the data plan? But if you shop carefully, you can get all the data you need for a week or three of vacation quite reasonably, and maybe even free.


In the next parts of this report, we’ll look at the answers about your phone and carrier, and about prepaid calling and data plans. Links to other parts of the report:

PART 2     PART 3     PART 4




Images (1)
  • communicate

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

Add Comment

Comments (8)

Newest · Oldest · Popular

It's a nightmare! A fair chunk of my packing now includes various chargers, connection cables and mains power adaptors for phones, iPads, Kindles. cameras.... Oh, plus a universal backup power supply battery (RAVPOWER - good value) in case I cannot get to a mains socket - just to keep in touch!


I have to say that the Euro proposal to have ONE single charger for all devices has some merit!!


PS - watch out that chargers that are sold as suitable for iPhones are often not powerful enough to change iPads.

No, Mac, that doesn't cross any sort of policy.  We want to help travelers get good honest feedback about products that might be helpful to them on the road (or conversely that aren't worth the money).  What's not tolerated is people paid to promote products on our website and providing dishonest information.


Ravpower is exactly the kind of unit I'm looking for.  Need to go order it soon.

In the Duel of the Devices, I'm going to declare the RAVPower unit the winner.


Both of these devices are essentially external batteries, something that's becoming more popular as more phones come with non-removable batteries. There are two critical differences, however: capacity and output.


The PowerStick has a capacity of 750mAh (about half the power held by an average cellphone battery) and a maximum output current of 700mA (phone chargers usually supply 1000mA).


The RAVpower device has a capacity of 10,400mAh, enough to charge several phones or a couple of really hungry devices. Its outputs are 1000mA and 2100mA. As Mac noted, iPads have higher power needs than phones; anything under 2000mA (2300 recommended) will charge very slowly, and likely show you the "Not Charging" indicator even though it is.


The RAVpower also includes a line (mains to you, Mac!) cord to recharge, while the PowerStick only charges from a USB port.


And, to top it off, the cheapest PowerStick is $49; the RAVPower unit is under $36 on Amazon.

By the's my solution to the other charger issue (plugging in at home). It's a 5-port USB host that has a short cord to plug in (no brick to get in the way at the outlet) and takes 5 standard USB cords for your devices...the kind that come with your device, although more are available cheaply.


The five outputs include 2 2100mA for iPad, 2 1000mA for most phones, and 1 1300mA for Samsung. All can be used for any device up to the designated output (that is, you can plug your phone into the 2100mA if you harm). The total output available is 5000mA, so if you plug in 2 iPads, don't expect fast charge for the rest...but we've used it happily with an iPad, two phones and a Kindle. One for the road, always in the suitcase, and another plugged in as home base.


At Amazon for $19.99

PowerStick only charges from a USB port. The PowerStick has a capacity of 750mAh


Perfect !  That is all that I need for my modest travel needs - just a little juice for a camera or my old flip (!) phone, if needed during a day of sightseeing.  The PowerStick is only about the size of a pen, takes no thought to use and does not involve batteries.  My kind of tool.    Travelers who carry a lot more toys have greater needs than little me.

Last edited by Former Member

Well, I understand the urge for simplicity and not getting tied down...but both the PowerStick and the RAVPower are batteries. The RAVPower isn't big; about the size of a cellphone. But it costs 30% less, and will actually put a full charge on a phone, which the other won't. In fact, it will put a full charge on about 6 phones.

Link copied to your clipboard.