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How To Stay Connected On The Cheap While Out Of The Country

I don’t travel out of the country very much. But when I do, being able to make calls and send texts back home can be rather confusing. It seems I always needed to be super careful when I was calling, texting and web surfing from a WiFi area with our former carrier. That’s because if I stepped out of the WiFi zone for even a second, I saw it show up on my bill as a roaming charge. And when we tried using that carrier’s international calling plan for any particular day, it automatically billed us for the entire time we were away. Which was pricey.

But we recently switched to Mint Mobile. And we finally were able to celebrate a milestone anniversary – three years late, due to Covid – in Europe. So before we left, I bought some international calling and data credit through Mint for my wife’s phone. The representative warned me to turn off the cell network after making calls and sending texts overseas, because the data could be caught in a needless roaming situation on some of her apps. And because she’s often on — putting it nicely — chatty group text chains with her friends, we would blow through her data in like an hour. So we set her phone to “Do Not Disturb” mode out in public, where only family could get through to us.

And on my phone, I tapped the econnect24h eSIM service that I’ve heard so much about. Essentially I took my phone and added an electronic SIM card from airalo, activated it, and then set my phone to only work from that eSIM rather than my regular Mint SIM out in public. Thus, I could make phone calls, send texts, surf the web, access Google Translate, etc. at will. Plus airalo is one of the least-expensive options out there for international calling. Yes, there’s one large downside: When I call or text someone back in the States, they see it show up as an Austrian phone number. So they don’t know who it is calling, unless I’ve told them up front to expect that. More restricting is that most people cannot respond to my messages because then it’s an international call or text for them. So I only used it to call my family, and of course I gave everyone my short-term phone number up front.

But the benefits of airalo were enormous. Every day, I accessed the data so that I could use Google Maps to navigate the streets of foreign cities. Yeah, I downloaded Google Maps to use offline up front but it was often useless. It gives you live walking directions only if you initiate it in a WiFi zone. Otherwise, you’re just following a dot on a map. And it’s horrible. But with airalo on, I was always able to access a live map showing me exact directions and distances. It was a lifesaver. Especially in Venice, where there are no street signs and mostly alleyways to walk through. I also used it daily to chat with family back home on WhatsApp – instead of using the Austrian phone number – and to look up restaurants, cooking classes and tourist places near us.

The service was easy to set up and use – it comes with excellent instructions. I did have one minor hiccup during setup and contacted customer support through the chat feature on its website. After about 10 minutes, I figured out the issue on my own and disconnected. I soon received an email from airalo asking me to jump back on the chat. So give them credit for following up. The sound quality was great.

Together, these two services were fine. We still relied on using WiFi at our hotels to stay connected with home – through WiFi calling. But it was comforting wandering a foreign land in another language, and not feeling totally clueless.

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