While the appeal of avoiding group messages and emails can be alluring, if you’re going away from home for over a week or two, it’s not going to happen. Your family and friends will want to know if you’re ok and receive regular updates on your travels. It is important to stay connected to people at home, especially if you feel a bit anxious or home-sick on arrival. Hearing their voices or seeing their faces will instantly make you feel better.
So the good news is that you don’t have to spend huge amounts of money while you’re at SCSU to stay in touch with the folks at home. For the majority of communication techniques you of course need wifi or internet data, but Southern have free wifi on campus so this shouldn’t be an issue if you have your phone or tablet. It’s a really good idea to prepare your parents and friends (but especially your parents!) for long distance communication, by practicing Skype, or whatever you like to use, with them before you leave. If you’ve decide just to rely on wifi, make sure you turn off 3/4G and data roaming, to avoid getting stung on your next monthly bill.
You’re going to need good battery percentage to stay in touch. It may be worth investing in a portable charger, to charge overnight then take out and about with you. That way, you can replenish your battery without needing a plug socket and adaptor. You can get cheap ones for £6+ from Maplin, or I can recommend a more reliable and long lasting power bank for £15 from Amazon. It may also be useful to take a power strip in case there aren’t enough sockets, and of course you will need adapters to use your UK plugs in America.
Standard social media sites are an easy way to keep you in touch with friends while you’re away: try Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat (you don’t need me to tell you this!) Again, it’ll be much easier if these are operational before you leave home, so you can start sharing messages and pictures with family and friends as soon as you arrive in the US. These sites are also good for getting recommendations from friends and family that know your likes and your budget. It’s also good to search for local attractions on social media to give you an idea if they’re worth your precious money.
If your parents and friends have Apple products (iPhones, iPods, iPads or MacBooks), there are many ways to connect. iMessage allows you to send messages through an internet connection, so does not add to your UK phone bill, if you’re on wifi. You could also FaceTime them or FaceTime audio, which I found to be the best at connecting with slower wifi speeds.
Skype is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to speak to people at home, and to see those familiar faces you’re missing. It is easy to download on most mobile devices and laptops, but will definitely need practice before you leave to set up your important contacts.
A good app to download on majority of mobile devices, is Whatsapp, which provides a messaging platform, that you can also use to make phone calls and send pictures, videos and voice notes. These messages send very quickly, even on limited wifi, so I’d advise this as the best form of communication with home whilst at SCSU. While Skype and iMessage are good, this app has everything all together. Though you need to remember, you can only use it for people who also have the app, so it can’t be used for emergency services, such as 911.
Using these internet facilities to stay connected, you may also find yourself needing to call or message someone when you cannot get internet connection. It is good to have a plan in place so that you don’t run up a huge bill. Firstly, speak to your network provider and see what they charge for a plan of international calls and texts. Some providers are now doing VIP internet plans where you can download an app or dongle and pay monthly for a certain amount of international calls via their internet connection, so you don’t need to connect to an extra source. My research suggested T Mobile are offering the best-looking deals with international calls, especially UK to USA, so you might check with them for a pre-paid plan before leaving.
Another popular option for travellers is to buy a SIM card when you get to America and either put it in your usual phone, or buy a cheap phone solely for international calls on. You will have a different number that way, of course, and you’ll have to carry two phones about, but it is probably the cheapest way to make international calls. The campus store offers a range of SIM cards to make international calls and texts with international data, so you can head there on campus and scan the barcode with your phone camera to see if your device and carrier is compatible. JFK airport and lots of large stations also have SIM vending machines that will offer various packages that may suit your needs.
And just to complete this technology round-up, here are some travel apps that may be interesting to download on your trip are:
PocketEarth (an offline map and gps, but currently only available on iOS)
Peek (an activity suggestion app determined on a photo- based travel personality quiz)
Touchnote (allows you to send actual postcards using your own pictures)