Before heading off for what would be three years of travel, Mike and I had to decide if we were going to keep our American cell phone number. In order to do that we had to pay for minutes and then we had to leave the phone with someone here in the US who had to use the phone at least once in every three month period. If a cell phone number is not used for an extended period of time the phone company deactivates it and the phone number can be assigned to someone else. We knew we were not going to take the silly thing with us and pay the roaming fees for using the phone internationally, so our American cell phone was history.
You might wonder if you even need a cell phone while traveling. We needed one to contact landlords and rental agencies since we were looking for a place to live. We weren’t using it to find the closest restaurants, read the latest news or find out what time the local bar opened. In the three years we traveled and lived abroad, we may have used a cell phone only a handful of times to connect with friends who happened to be in the country that we were in. Having a cell phone was simply not a necessity.
In every Latin American and European country the cost of a phone is minimal, like $5 minimal. Getting minutes was often as cheap as $5 or $10 for 200 minutes. Often the cell phone sat in a drawer and was turned off.
Not all the phones were usable in the next country but they were all unlocked and if the chip from the next country was compatible we just changed the SIM card and bought more minutes and used the phone wherever we were. There are two types of SIM cards that travelers can get; an International SIM and a country specific SIM. We had both while traveling.
While we were away traveling the US started offering ‘go’ phones. We had kept our original phone in a box here in the US so we now pay $10 a month for cell phone minutes. You see we have an old fashioned landline in our home with an answering machine. This is the only phone number we give out.
Mike and I are not quite sure what the whole smartphone thing is about. What is so important that we need to know about it immediately? Do we need to know that someone had a fight with someone else, or have someone call us to see if we saw the latest episode of a TV show, and do I honestly need to know that someone is calling some government agency to talk about their benefits not having arrived because they are homeless? (This was an actual phone call I had to listen too while on a bus recently.)
While we were away, the craze became for everyone to have a smartphone (yes that is one word). A smartphone is defined as a cellular phone that performs many of the functions of a computer, typically having a touchscreen interface, Internet access, and an operating system capable of running downloaded applications.
What shocks me the most is the cost of even getting one of these phones and then making them do all the features mentioned above. Having a smartphone is not cheap. Since I have a computer at home and I am already paying for internet access why would I pay for all of those things twice? Do I need to be on a computer 24-7?
Mike and I researched getting a more modern cell phone when we returned to the US and when I saw the costs to even just buy the phone I was in shock. These same phones were so affordable in most other countries that every family member had one. Personally, I could use that money to buy airlines tickets to some fun place or to book a ships passage to Alaska or something way more enjoyable, so we left the sales counter laughing that anyone in the US would spend that kind of money on a phone.
Perhaps my life is not that exciting, because I do not feel the need to talk to someone immediately when they call. I can leave my home and run my errands and meet and talk to strangers face to face. I can build relationships with people. I can stop and smell the roses instead of walking with some contraption on my ear and not evening noticing my surroundings. I can keep all the money I would be wasting on a cell phone and use it to travel more.
In a nutshell if you want to chat with me, and you have my number, I will chat with you and give you my undivided attention. If I don’t answer my phone and you have to leave a message you know that I’m out of the house, enjoying whatever life has to send my way. You won’t find me on a smartphone calling someone to talk about the latest episode of Game of Thrones. I’ll be the one traveling to Croatia to see the country where they film the series instead.