Skype: Call for free
Using Skype to make free (or cheap) phone calls on vacation
I suggest using a service like Skype to call anywhere in the world from your computer for as little as 2.3¢ per minute.
That's the cost to dial a landline in most of Europe (some parts of southeastern Europe cost 5¢–6¢, and for some reason Italy is 7¢) and parts of Asia (they call it Pay As You Go, or PAYG—used to be "Skype Out"). Add to that a 4.9¢ connection fee per call.
Even better, all calls to other Skype users are free. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Niente. It costs exactly $0.00 to make a Skype-to-Skype call.
Skype calling plans
If you plan to be a heavy user—for a longer trip or semester abroad—and don't want to pay 2.3¢ per minute for PAYG, you can also sign up for a unlimited monthly plan.
The $2.99/month plan for U.S. and Canada obviously won't work for travel abroad, but you could get:
• $4.99–$6.99/month unlimited plan to a single country
• $8.99/month unlimited to all of Europe
• $13.99/month unlimited plan to up to 60 countries
• Incremental plans: cheapskates can also buy monthly minutes to a single country. This varies by country; for example, for Italy it's $1.19/month for 120 min., $3.99 for 400 min.
It also couldn't be simpler to use. You just download the software, install it, open an account and put a little bit of money into it via PayPal or a credit card, and you're off.
(I find I have to top it off with $10 only every 6–8 months or so—and I call abroad a lot for my work.)
Another idea: get a local cellphone and have your friends and family back home use Skype to call you (though that will bump you up to the fees for calling a mobile phone, which range from 8¢ to 27¢ per minute, plus a 8.9¢ connection fee).
Use Skype to call home for free (if "home" has a computer; otherwise, again: only 2.3¢ per minute to call a landline)
I used to spend hundreds of dollars a year on international calling plans and phone cards, which, for a monthly fee of around $10, would allow me to call home for 5¢ per minute (plus a $5 connection fee on each call).
Now I make video calls home as often as I want—and it doesn't cost me a single penny.
Your intrepid reporter Skypes home using his laptop and a stray WiFi signal by a canal in Venice .I use Skype on my laptop and WiFi (either free-ranging hotspots, with a rented MiFi, or at my hotels) to make free video calls back home.
This has been a lifesaver, especially now that I have a young son (we can see and talk to each other almost every day, even when Daddy is overseas working.)
So if you are using Skype—either on your laptop or handheld, or from an Internet cafe, many of which have stations with earphone/mic headsets set aside for just this purpose—and your loved ones at home also have Skype installed on their computers, all "calls" are free.
If you use Skype to call a landline (regular phone) back home, again it only incurs that 2.3¢ per minute charge.
I love Skype.