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SOURCEBOOK 2007 | STAYING IN TOUCH

Stamp? Lick it. Send? Click it.

February 04, 2007|James Gilden | Special to The Times

WITH the number of ways to keep in touch today while traveling abroad, it's a wonder anyone managed to survive time away from home and hearth when postcards and telegrams were the only options. Here are 10 ways to stay in touch while abroad -- not all equally inexpensive or fast.

1. Hotel phones

These are perhaps the most expensive means of communicating. In July, I made a two-minute call from my room at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers to Los Angeles that was billed at $7.03 per minute. Expect to pay even more outside the country.

2. Cellphones

Cellphones are the most convenient way of keeping in touch while abroad but also can be expensive. Rates vary by country and carrier, but roaming charges are, for example, $1.29 per minute for Western Europe on Cingular. Make sure the type of phone you own works in the country to which you are traveling (call your carrier or go to its website) and ask your provider to enable international roaming.

3. Text messaging

You still need a cellphone enabled and outfitted as described above, but when you are traveling in Britain a text message using Cingular costs 20 cents per message to send to the U.S. and 10 cents to receive.

4. Cellphone rental

Before you go, you can rent a cellphone with a local number from companies such as Los Angeles-based Cellular Abroad (www.cellularabroad.com). For example, if you are traveling to Britain, a rental costs $29 for a week, plus $49 for a SIM card that includes up to 100 minutes of outgoing international calls and unlimited incoming calls.

5. SIM card

Buy a SIM card for your existing cellphone. You save the cost of a rental and pay only for airtime. The problem is your cellphone must be "unlocked" to use it. Depending on your carrier and how long you have been a customer, that can prove problematic.

6. Calling cards

Using a GPhone (www.gphone.com) card calling from London to the U.S., for example, costs 18 cents a minute. Downside: Friends and family won't have a phone number on which to reach you.

7. Voice Over Internet Protocol

Also known as VOIP, this refers to services such as Skype. You'll need access to a computer that has high-speed Internet access and Skype or another VOIP program. Free for calling other Skype members on their computers and just 2 1/2 cents per minute when calling the U.S. from Britain.

8. E-mail and instant messaging

What could be cheaper or easier? Use any Internet cafe, generally easy to find abroad (find a list at www.netcafeguide.com). Access fees vary from location to location.

9. Photo sharing websites

Many travelers like to keep a running photo journal of their travels at photo sharing websites such as Webshots (www.webshots.com), Yahoo Photos (photos.yahoo.com), Photobucket (www.photobucket.com), Kodak EasyShare Gallery (www.kodakgallery.com) or SmugMug (www.smugmug.com).

10. Postcards

They don't ring at inopportune times. They don't cost a fortune. And they are simple to operate.

Could it be possible that whatever we have to say to each other could wait a while?

Contact James Gilden at www.theinternettraveler.com.

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