Once upon a time it used to cost nearly a dollar a minute to speak to someone about 2 hours away. Now there are all sorts of plans and ways to do it for free. I laughed recently when I saw an ad for an expensive video telephone because I can do that for free on my iPad or smartphone. Besides just using Skype, I have discovered MagicJack (I think I may have read about it in National Geographic Traveler) which is an app to make free calls throughout North America. This has been very handy overseas as I can just find free wifi for my iPad and make unlimited calls home to the office, or to people like my mother who doesn’t have a cell phone.
This is a step above the previous advance in technology which was to buy a cheap phone and a pay as you go plan in the country you were visiting. I have a couple of UK mobile phones that cost £5 each which I’d recharge every trip for a few pounds to have enough phone calls to last my entire visit. And before the iPad I needed to find an internet café to check email and print boarding cards. Outside North America it is super cheap to just buy a SIM card with enough data as needed for the visit and one of the first things I do upon landing is to get my iPad set up with a data plan.
MagicJack only seems to dial North American telephone numbers but it is totally free and you don’t even need to sign up for it. The call quality is decent, and I am very happy that I found it. Skype works great with other people who use it, and I can make paid calls at a very low rate to non-North American numbers.