How to Make a Communications Plan

In this day and age it’s probably a good idea to add a communication strategy to your itinerary planning. Eventually you will settle on something that works for you and it may evolve over time. When I used to travel internationally a lot on business I made great use of webcams to talk to my children. They got more blasé than I ever did! Then I had the huge phone bill experience and that shocked me into figuring something out for me that worked. Now the kids are bigger and love their devices so it’s critical to have that pre-trip discussion about what is permitted and what isn’t. The big lesson is to remember that all of your devices overseas will incur charges, even for incoming texts and voicemails. Playing online games or watching videos on YouTube or CNN will kill your budget if you’re not careful.

Here’s my recommendations for what you should consider in your planning process.

  • Before You Go

    How are you going to be using your devices while on the trip?

    Will you be texting?   Call your cell carrier and ask about an international messaging plan.

    Will you be using email? Call your cell carrier and ask about an international data plan.

    Will you be making phone calls? Inquire about an international calling plan.

    If you are planning on watching any movies on the trip or playing any new games, download them locally onto your device before you go.  Watching movies filmed in the place you are is great fun!  You can’t stream movies in Europe like in the US so bring them with you.  And downloading them while you are gone will wipe out your data plan.  You can stream them from your Cloud if you have wifi but it can take a long time and be continually interrupted.  Never download a movie using a data plan … Having them on already on your device allows you to hook your device up to the TV and use the TV as your monitor so the whole family can enjoy watching!

    You get the idea. Providers can offer international plans at a flat rate but they are not for unlimited use. You get so much data download, for example a number of MB, and if you exceed that, you get into the expense zone again.  We are talking about 3G/4G internet anywhere … not the use of wifi.  You would need to learn how to monitor your usage which will depend on your provider.  The duration can be for a specified number of weeks with a specific start date. The particular plan for you can vary depending on where you are going, who you have as your cellular carrier and whether your device is GSM or CDMA. They don’t eliminate the calling charges, just makes them cheaper.

  • On the Trip

    To reduce the chance of incurring unintentional charges:

    Use WiFi. This is your best deal. Book into accommodations that offer free wifi or at a nominal cost. Find a café (Starbucks or similar) near your hotel that has free wifi.  You might need to ask for the wifi password for login when you order a coffee.

    Turn off Roaming.  Turn on Airplane mode. Make this mandatory for kids. They will only be able to use wifi.  It also gets expensive fast using it for map directions while in a car.

    Some cities in Europe have free city-wide wifi. (In Paris you can log in to Free Wifi.) Just be aware that coverage is uneven across the city.  Some locations have a better signal than others.  It’s also extremely slow. At peak times such as 3:00p-7:00p when everyone is on it, access can be challenging and frustrating.

    Turn off your iPhone’s “Fetch” and “Push” functions if you are on a data plan. These are email settings that you set to a specific time increment you want your device to automatically pull down new emails or send out emails. Instead of every 15 minutes set it to Manual. If Roaming is turned off, no problem.

    Monitor your usage from your device. All carriers provide a means for you to see how much data you have used so ask them how to do it.  Even if you don’t purchase a plan, you can check to be sure your kids are following instructions and have disabled roaming. It’s a good sanity check!

    Download Skype and put some money ($20 or so)  on your account before you leave home. Skype is easy to use and it will be a nice way for people to keep in touch with you if necessary. You will become acquainted with the app and how easy it is.

  • When You Return Home

    If you bought a data plan from your cell carrier, call them to be sure it’s cancelled.