Technology is evolving every day and as it metamorphoses into a more sophisticated ‘creature’, it keeps churning out ever more robust and handy aides that just go that extra mile to make life all the more easier and bearable for the modern day traveller who needs to be in constant communication with family, friends and social media followers.
Travel abroad, sometimes to far-off places where you are cut of from basic communication infrastructure, can be a daunting affair for the 21st century traveller who needs to keep in touch and regularly update their social statuses.
Add in the ever nagging problem of roaming charges that mobile service providers slap on your voice and data services and travel abroad becomes a nightmare – from a communications perspective.
There are days I recall, when I would exhaust all my budgeted airtime for the week in a few minutes overseas while talking to family because of expensive roaming charges that almost felt like a punishement. This often meant I would remain cut-off from people I needed to communicate with for the rest of the time I would be abroad.
Today with the advent of the Android mobile operating system and a robust community of application developers on that platform, we are spoilt for choice on the array of cheap and, often times, free communication alternatives at our disposal.
From a personal experience, I recommend these 3 free mobile apps which have saved me on numerous occasions. All I needed was a good Wifi connection which almost never lacks in any hotel I stay.
WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. WhatsApp Messenger is available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia. Because WhatsApp Messenger uses the same internet data plan that you use for email and web browsing, there is no additional cost to message and stay in touch with your family and friends.
In addition to basic messaging, WhatsApp allows you to set up groups which you can use to send group members unlimited images, video and audio media messages of your travel exploits. WhatsApp currently boasts a whopping 300 million monthly active users (AllThingsD.com).
Viber, like Whatsapp, uses the internet to allow its more than 200 million active users across 193 countries (Viber.com) to send free messages and make free calls to other Viber users on any device and network.
Once you install Viber on your handset, it syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your device, so you can start the conversation on the Viber mobile application and continue from the comfort of your PC.
With Viber, you can send free text, photo and video messages and share your location with others on the network. You can also make free HD-quality calls to other Viber users on a number of supported devices and operating systems including iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Windows, Mac, Symbian, Nokia S40 and Bada devices over 3G/4G or WiFi connections.
Founded in 2003 and headquartered in Luxembourg, Skype, now owned by Microsoft, boasted a staggering 663 million registered users by the end of 2010 (Wikipedia). Skype, like the other 2, is a multi-platform application that also supports free Skype to Skype text, voice and video from anywhere as long as there is Internet.
The latest version of Skype supports group video and for a small fee, you can enjoy a whole range of extra features on this app such as the ability to call landlines, access WiFi or send text messages.
Armed with these 3 mobile apps, you can never go wrong with keeping in touch with those dear to you. I also thought I should mention a few preconditions to enable you maximise on these apps:
- A good Internet connection is a must. Since most internet bundles provided by mobile service providers in the country are subject to the same rules of roaming charges, I suggest you hook up to a Wifi service. Most hotels now provide free internet to their guests – you just need to ask for the password at the reception if it is secured.
- Both, or in case of groups, all parties communicating need to have the app installed in their device to enjoy the free service otherwise access fees may be charged, especially in the case of Skype which charges a small fee to call a non-skype number from skype.
Armed with such communication tools, keeping in touch while on the move becomes easier, making your adventures all the more exciting and you do not need to wait till you are back home to tell your holiday stories.
Tencent’s WeChat is also another upcoming mobile app causing ripples in the mobile application market and giving platforms like FaceBook sleepless nights. The Chinese-based company recently announced that WeChat’s users have almost tripled from the 85 million of the year before – that means 255 million users! This is definitely an app to watch and to have for any traveller needing to communicate on the go.
WeChat users using the messaging service can use the “hold-to-talk” feature and send free walkie-talkie style messages that bypass the need for voicemail.
It has some amazing discovery features that can connect users locally and across continents. For instance, by shaking your handset, you can be able to connect to other users worldwide who are shaking their handsets at the same time or as you walk around, it keeps popping up new users nearby you may want to connect with. Its awesome!
Thanks Thomas for this. Actually as of today (06/11/2013) on the Google Play Store, the app is reported to have 300 million users subscribed.