Staying in touch while you travel can be difficult – hotels view phone-calls as a source of revenue, “roaming” outside of your home country is expensive, and getting SIM cards in each country you visit is not practical.
In our experience a call-back service is the best answer. It should be one that you are billed for later rather than a pre-paid one.
How call-back works: you phone a designated number, let it ring once and put down. The service then calls you back automatically almost immediately. When you answer, you are prompted to dial the subscriber number and you are put through.
Most call-back services are based in the USA, which means that you get the more favourable US rates instead of the higher rate that the hotel would charge you.
Call-back with a mobile phone
In order to avoid the bother of having to access the Internet in order to keep changing the call-back number, it is convenient to use the call-back in combination with a mobile phone. That way the number stays constant even when you move between countries.
For this you need an “international” SIM card and a GSM phone. The SIM card can be obtained from the same service provider as the call-back service, and they frequently also rent or sell suitable GSM-compatible phones.
The number is usually Estonian because Estonia has a very liberal phone system (and is the country that Skype came from). Anyone phoning your number will pay the international call costs to Estonia. You will also be able to receive SMS text messages from anywhere in the world, which the sender pays for.
Check if the phone you intend using is compatible with your service provider. For instance, we found that a Nokia 95 could not send SMSes with a United World Telecom SIM card. The similar but older Nokia N70 is fully compatible, which we only found out by experiment after returning home. As a result we could not send text messages whilst travelling across Europe.
We suggest that you select a service provider that states phone compatibility on their web site. One such company is One SimCard, who have an exhaustive list of compatible GSM phones. (If you are aware of others please feel free to register and add a comment.)
For travel within the US different arrangements will have to be made as it is a stronghold of the CDMA phone system. Cheaper calls can be made with a mobile phone and direct dialling rather than call-back.