In order to maintain communication with people back home in the most affordable way, you need to be ready ahead of time. First, make sure you understand the telephone system in the country you're going to. Different countries use different types of mobile phone networks, so don't assume that your phone will work in a foreign country. And even if your phone does work for voice calling, some of its other functions – such as sending and receiving data or text messages – might not work. The most important thing is to check with your wireless provider before you leave for your trip. When in doubt, ask.
For most U.S. customers, the service plan that covers domestic usage does not cover usage while traveling abroad. And the rates may be much higher when you are abroad, because of the additional fees for "roaming" on a foreign mobile phone network. Roaming can be complicated, and charges may vary by country and mobile network. Again, it is best to check with your provider before you depart to find out the service arrangements that best fit your needs, and to find out all the rates and charges that will apply. Higher rates may apply to all features of your phone, including making or receiving voice calls, receiving or checking voice mail, sending or receiving texts, and uploading to or downloading from the Internet. Even if you have "unlimited" use of these features, you may still be charged per minute/text/etc. By knowing these charges ahead of time, you will be able to save money and avoid any surprises when you return home.
The bottom line: don't make any assumptions about your phone or calling plan. By researching your carrier's policies and charges, you can decide whether you should bring your own phone along or use one of many alternatives once you arrive in your destination country. Those alternative options will be discussed tomorrow!
Check out our tip sheet, Wireless World Travel Made Simple, for detailed tips and contact info for wireless providers.