Helpful hints for the occasional traveler
Some readers are neither very wealthy nor traveling on their company’s generous dime. If this includes you, we have some helpful hints.
Mobile phone hints
For a start, using your cellular phone abroad can be very costly. As an example, on a recent trip to Turkey, all calls (local and to the U.S.) made on our American phone cost $1.99 a minute. Calls on our Turkish SIM cost between a penny and half a buck a minute within Turkey, and a buck a minute back to the U.S. Incoming calls are free, so if you need to call to the U.S., you should get a callback service. With a callback service you phone a number in the U.S., let it ring once, and hang up. It will then call you back (a free incoming call from your perspective) and ask for the number you want in the U.S. You will pay thirty-three cents a minute using the callback service.
In order to make use of a local SIM you obviously need to have an appropriate UNLOCKED handset. If your service provider won’t unlock your handset, get it unlocked by a third party (or change service providers), or get an unlocked second phone that has the appropriate frequencies. In Europe and Asia (excepting Japan and South Korea, which only have 3G) this means a 900/1800 MHz GSM device. In Latin America and the Caribbean all four frequencies are used, with some countries using one frequency, some using two frequencies, some using three frequencies, and some even throwing all caution to the wind and using all four frequencies!
If you don’t want to leave a message on your voicemail telling people to call your overseas phone number, people will call you on your U.S. handset. For this to work you need to have international roaming activated AND WORKING on your U.S. handset. You may think you have it, but it may either not be enabled or incorrectly enabled. When you arrive overseas and discover that your handset doesn’t work, you need to call the non-800 number for the international roaming group of your service provider, which you should get before skipping the country. These folks deal with these problems every day, and should be able get your phone working quickly if something is wrong with the setup of your handset on their end.
Credit card hints
By the same token, you may think you can use your credit card abroad, but we can assure you that presenting your American Express or Visa card, and having it not work (both of which have happened to us), can be a problem. To avoid this you need to call your credit card company before leaving and tell them that while you are in the U.S. today, you will mysteriously be somewhere else tomorrow. And, just in case, get the non-toll free number of the credit card company’s fraud department.
Also, find out if someone is there to answer the phone 24 hours a day. We recently went to check out of our hotel in Asia. When they swiped our First Equity credit card, a “call the bank” showed up on their terminal. We made an international call to First Equity and got their “Hi, we’re not in the office now, so call back during normal business hours” recording. Fortunately we had other credit cards and sufficient cash.
Finally, keep in mind that some places have new and exciting microbes that you may not have previously encountered. Rather than make their intimate acquaintance, it is prudent to get all the inoculations you might need. While the likelihood of your catching anything is slight, it is prudent to have at least your tetanus, typhoid, polio, yellow fever, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and rabies shots current. Hepatitis A and hepatitis B each require two shots, six months apart for Hep A, and one month apart for Hep B. If you will be traveling in a malarial area find out what you need to do, and do it.
Most other shots are for travel to specific areas: You probably don’t need a meningococcal disease shot if you are not going to Mecca. Cholera shots don’t work all that well (we have contracted cholera in spite of the shot) and aren’t usually recommended today. And if they have dengue fever or plague there, you may wish to change your vacation plans….