Cell phone technology changes quickly, so make sure to do your research on your travel destination before going abroad. Many locations around the world use cell phone systems that won’t allow you to use your US cell phone while abroad. Many students buy or rent inexpensive cell phones upon arrival. Make sure to talk with your program coordinator or friends and acquaintances who’ve traveled to your location to find out cell phone availability and pricing.
A special note on SIM cards: Some students will opt to purchase a SIM card upon arrival in their host country, which can prove to be a very quick, convenient, and affordable way to get cell phone service. Oftentimes, however, SIM cards require an unlocked phone, so it's important to ensure the phone you bring with you from the United States is not only compatible with the cell phone system used in your host country (typically "GSM" outside of the US), but also unlocked and able to accept a SIM card. Once in country, SIM cards can usually be bought at airports, train/bus stations, supermarkets, and convenience stores. For information on purchasing and using a SIM card in Europe, click here.
Skype is a popular option that will allow you to call home for free from your computer. If you choose to use Skype while abroad, make sure your loved ones back at home know how to use it as well, and even consider setting it up for them. They’ll love the experience of getting to see and talk to you while you are abroad!
WhatsApp is an app you can download for free that works on iPhone, Android, and Windows phones. It allows users to send texts, pictures, and video to other WhatsApp users, just as you would at home with your US phone. Similar apps that are popular outside of the US include, but are not limited to Viber, LINE, and Facebook Messenger.
Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can provide you with the perfect platform to share your experience abroad with family and friends back home, however, it's also important to take advantage of your time abroad and not spend extensive amounts of time using social media. You're going to go abroad, take it all in, and don't waste precious time on social media. Your education abroad experience shouldn't be spent counting hashtags or the number of likes your latest post received, but something you do for you.
A blog can be a wonderful tool to keep your family and friends informed of all that you're seeing, learning, and doing abroad, but also a great way to keep track of all the memories you're creating. A "greener," and perhaps more manageable alternative to keeping a paper journal, blogging can be a very rewarding experience for both you and those you care about. Many students not only find that blogging while abroad gives them a way to reflect on their experience, but also helps them to "relive" their experience abroad upon their return back to the United States. Free blogging sites include Blogger and Wordpress.