Wi-Fi Calling and Messaging

Family using a tablet
With your device and a strong Internet connection, it's free to keep in touch with the people who miss you at home.
By Rick Steves

A cheap way to stay in touch while traveling is to use a mix of calling/messaging apps. Just join a Wi-Fi network, then connect with any of your friends, family members, and local contacts who are also online and signed into the same service. (Avoid using these apps over a cellular network if you are budgeting your data, especially if using video.)

Apps such as Skype, FaceTime, and Google Meet are great for making free or low-cost calls or sending texts over Wi-Fi worldwide. WhatsApp is especially popular with Europeans and is often the easiest way to message locals (such as guides, drivers, etc.) If you've never looked, check your phone — one or another app is often preloaded. Most apps also work on tablets and laptops.

The biggest hurdle travelers face with Wi-Fi calling is signal strength. With a solid signal, the sound quality is better than a standard phone connection; but with a weak signal, the video and audio can be choppy and freeze up. If you're struggling with your connection, try turning off the video and sticking with an audio-only call.

With some of these services, if you buy credit in advance, you can call anywhere outside the country for just pennies per minute. For example, I use Skype to call ahead from home and reserve hotels, or while I'm traveling to confirm tomorrow's reservation.