Expert Expat Advice
The ubiquitous they claim that "the devil is in the details." Traveling tends to prove their point, as the smallest oversight can quickly devastate the most well-researched plan.
Cell phones rank high on most travelers' necessity lists. They're indispensable for finding a job, an apartment, a car, and a social life. Unfortunately, they can also be a serious hassle. Renting a phone is one pricey option. Another is using your phone from home. However, while most American carriers offer international roaming plans, the charges are astronomical and many phones don't function internationally due to technical differences (the majority of the world operates on the GSM system, which only a few American carriers use.) If you are lucky enough to have a GSM phone, it's possible to get it unlocked so that you can insert a SIM card from the country of your choice. This will give you a local number, and save you heaps on roaming charges. Alternately, you can buy a phone, SIM card, and prepaid plan once you arrive in your destination. This is usually the cheapest and least complicated choice, and the path taken by most financially savvy travelers.
International Student ID, Youth or Backpacker ID/Discount Cards are often advertised as crucial, money-saving investments. In truth, they only make a dent if you already plan to spend quite a bit of money. Most of their affiliates knock off about ten percent on activities, or a few bucks a night in a hostel. Do the math; if membership is fifty bucks and you're definitely going skydiving for $500, you've paid it off straight away. On the other hand, if you're camping every night and living on the cheap, it's probably not worth your while.
Hostelling International, the mother company of the YHA chain, provides the most bang for your membership buck. They have flexible programs, decent discounts on practical things like phonecards and insurance, and the largest number of associate hostels.
Staying in touch with friends and family while working abroad has never been easier. In addition to your snazzy new cell phone, a phonecard with a reasonable rate will make sure that you won't miss your mother's birthday when you're on the road. They're surprisingly cheap and wonderfully versatile, but definitely read the fine print; some require different local access numbers, change their rates during certain times, or exclude particular numbers or regions. Email, too, allows you to stay connected without worrying about rates per minute and time zones. Internet cafes are everywhere, but also try out local libraries for cheaper online access. While you're surfing the net, consider keeping a blog or travelogue. Several different sites will host your virtual journey for free, and by updating your site, you can avoid sending a million emails saying the same thing. It will also make the folks at home really, really jealous.