My New “Old-School” Cell Phone: The Search for Affordable International Communication

I got my first cell phone as a fourteen-year-old. Back then, cell phones had not quite hit the equivalent of a vital body part as it is today, but most people I knew had one. That old Nokia could do just about anything a cell phone could do: display a tiny color screen, make calls, receive text messages, play games, loudly announce awesome ringtones, keep charged for days on end, and be virtually indestructible.

Ten years and countless cell phones later, times have changed. My current Android is nothing like my very first phone, and it’s pretty outdated by today’s standards, but with its WiFi and data capabilities, it is more advanced than the technology used to power the moon landing. However, I recently got a new phone. And it has more in common with my Nokia than my Android.

Why?

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When American Phones Go Abroad

I don’t entirely understand the technology of what goes on inside cellular devices. All I know is that technology that is used in cell phones within the US is different from the cell phone technology in other countries. Basically, my phone won’t work in Europe.

Many people pay to have their phones unlocked, but not all cell phones have the capabilities to be unlocked. Either way, obtaining an unlocked phone can be an expensive endeavor.

Considering the Alternatives

Unless your goal is to completely cut off everyone you’ve ever known or want to know while traveling, it’s important to consider the communication options of your destination. Even the iconic British phone booths don’t contain telephones anymore, so definitely don’t expect pay phones to be available, especially if you want to make an international call.

I first considered downloading an app on my current phone so that I could use WiFi to make and receive phone calls. This would be a good idea, but there are a few downsides. For one, these apps do not come free. Even if you find one that doesn’t have a downloading cost, they do charge by the minute. That wouldn’t be so bad, if it was not for the second downside: you need to be on the internet! WiFi seems like it’s everywhere, except those places where you need it most. I looked into getting a mobile WiFi hotspot, but whether I rented or purchased one, it would be expensive. Plus, if anything went wrong or it didn’t work, I don’t think any warranty would cover shipping to Europe.

Yes, the best option seemed to be getting an unlocked cell phone. Most unlocked phones I found cost dozens to hundreds of dollars more than their locked counterparts. Couldn’t there just be some cheap phone out there that happened to also be unlocked? Through my online research, I found out that in order for an unlocked cell phone to work in Europe, I would need a SIM card specified for Europe. Most of the travel experts said to pick up one of these at the destination airport. While that made sense, I was concerned about it. What if I couldn’t find one at the airport? What if the unlocked phone I bought ended up not being compatible with them? What if I wanted to comfort my family by calling them as soon as I landed? Isn’t everything at the airport overpriced anyway?

Finding a Plan… and My Old-School Cell Phone

I thought that I must be able to find a European SIM card in some online store. Surely someone on eBay or Amazon wanted to make a few extra bucks from it. Instead, I found something much, much better.

I found Telestial!

Telestial is the perfect online shop for people who want to plan ahead with their overseas communication. They sell all kinds of unlocked cell phones, from top-of-the-line smart phones to ones that resemble my very first phone. If you already have an unlocked cell phone but just need that tiny, but necessary chip, they sell all kinds of SIM cards to cover just about any destination. All of the SIM cards are prepaid, which means no surprise bills to ruin your trip.

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So Why Did I Pick This One?

When I first began looking through the cell phones that Telestial offers, I knew that I wanted something basic. I ended up with the JT Travel Buddy. Right now, I can hear the cellie-obsessed around the world gasp. It’s almost as if I just announced I am willingly amputating my perfectly good arm in exchange for a immobile plastic prosthetic. If you can’t live without a phone that’s smarter than you, then no worries. Telestial has over a dozen options for smart phones- and even tablets! But here are my reasons for choosing this phone:

  • It’s Smaller! Taking up less space means I’ll have more room in my bag for other essentials (or souvenirs). This is especially important for those doing extended trips carry-on only.
  • It’s Harder to Damage! People still joke about how the Nokia phones akin to the one I had ten years ago were virtually indestructible. If I hadn’t donated mine, I’m sure it would still be running! These sorts of screens are more durable than touch screens. Plus, if a touch screen gets damaged, it could mean the whole phone stops working. I once had a touch screen phone where the screen sensors started to go crazy. That meant I couldn’t send outgoing calls or messages, and it was really hard to receive them! It will take some getting used to returning to button numbers, but they seem to be more reliable.
  • It Holds Its Charge! Let’s face it: part of your bedtime routine includes plugging your phone into your charger, right? When staying in hostels or other budget accommodation, nightly charging isn’t always practical. Without data and programs constantly sucking up energy, this phone will keep working, even after being unplugged for days. I guess that makes this a more environmentally-friendly option too, right?
  • It’s Theft-Resistant! Okay, so there isn’t any sort of special guard on this phone, but think about it: what would YOU rather steal: this, or an iPhone?
  • It’s Temporary! This will be my phone for three months, not my whole life. When I return, it will go into storage until the next time I take an international trip. All I’ll have to do is get a new SIM card. And if for whatever reason I lose it on my trip, it won’t be a big deal.
  • I Can Still Get WiFi and Apps! Not having internet access or the ability to get into my travel apps did cross my mind when I was considering phones. But the good news is, I can still access WiFi… as long as I bring my Android, that is! A WiFi-enabled device can still surf the web overseas. This new device is specifically for phone calls and text messages.

And like all the products from Telestial, if in the rare chance you experience any problems, their customer service can help you, even while you’re abroad!

This is my story so far in the search for affordable international communication. It began to help provide some peace of mind for those concerned about my trip, but honestly, I also think that having a working phone with me will give me a greater sense of confidence as I conquer the world. I can’t wait to tell you about my experiences with the JT Travel Buddy and European SIM card once I begin to use them, and I’d love to hear your stories of how you stayed in contact while traveling as well!

This post was made possible by Telestial, which provided me with the mentioned unlocked phone and SIM card for review purposes. I was planning to purchase these items from them before this negotiation, and my stated opinions have not been swayed. 

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