Tidewater Traveler - November 2007

Staying in Touch

by

George Sellers

    This time of year I can enjoy sitting on the back porch listening to a multitude of honks and squawks from geese coasting just above the treetops as they approach touch-down in the cove in front of the house. Though the sound seems like chaotic noise with no discernible pattern or message, I suspect the Creator has bestowed upon the Canada goose the ability to communicate with its family members and flying companions.
     I’m not an expert, not even a novice, with respect to goose-talk. Some folks of course have created instruments and gadgets intended to mimic the natural noises emitted from the throats and bills of the giant birds, practicing for hours to emulate goose-speak and raise its imitation to an art form. As I listen to the geese, two things seem evident: first, they are traveling; and second, they are staying in touch!
     Staying in touch while traveling is a concept that has fascinated me for some time, as I have the opportunity to travel myself and the privilege to plan travel arrangements for others.
     One of the elements of trip planning is advising people about how to stay in touch with those less fortunate family members and friends who remain at home. In a society such as ours where entrepreneurship and small business thrive, it is often very difficult for small business owners and managers to total divorce themselves from involvement in daily business decisions. Staying in touch while away from home has become important.
I must tell you, there are a few vacation destinations – very few – where one can travel and be totally incommunicado – no phones, no televisions, no Internet, no texting, no IM-ing, no pager signal – out of touch! Such places, though rare, do exist. But since most of the world is within the global communications network, staying in touch (or not) becomes a personal choice for travelers.
     If traveling within the good ole U.S. of A., mobile telephone technology has just about rendered communication a non-issue. Vast numbers of folks now have mobile wireless telephones; signal coverage areas have grown so dramatically, making travel almost anywhere within the United States just “one-ringy-dingy” away from family issues and work dilemmas. If you have the ‘right’ calling plan, staying in touch within the United States is neither costly nor difficult.
     To my understanding, methods for staying in touch outside the U.S. are not quite as clear and efficient. Apparently the Canada goose crosses the international border a couple of times each year without showing a passport or submitting to security screening. And, whether the goose honks in American English, the King’s English, or even French, it still seems to successfully communicate with its travel companions and family members. Even when the Canada goose crosses international borders it seems to have its communication plan well under control. I do not.
     Now I realize I am not supposed to admit weakness or lack of understanding when it comes to travel issues; I am not supposed to stop and ask for directions, but this is an area in which I have much to learn. So I am appealing to the readers of this column to contribute to my education with respect to effective methods for staying in touch when outside of the United States.
     I would like to know what works! If you have used, or observed first-hand, gadgets or services that have worked well, please tell me about it. Please send an e-mail to George@SellersTravel.com. Tell me where you traveled and how you stayed in touch with folks back at the ranch. It would also be helpful to hear some communications horror stories so that maybe we can help someone else avoid a pitfall. After I receive some feedback I’ll summarize it in a future article so that others may benefit.
     Relating your experience may be helpful to someone else. For example, a client told me recently that she went to the cyber café on a cruise ship to go online for about ten minutes and check her e-mail. When her shipboard account statement was delivered on the last day of the cruise she had been charged $270 for her single Internet session. It was corrected, but it could have been avoided. Another client has given me a phone number that is supposed to reach his “world phone” anywhere in the world. Very pricey, I bet!
     I am amazed at the number of times I have called a major mobile phone service provider to ask a specific question about their international service and accessibility in various countries. I get an answer to my question, call back later to clarify something and then from a different person get an entirely different answer.
     Speaking of Canada (the goose), several years ago I called my mobile phone service provider to ask if my existing plan and equipment would work during a 10-day stay in Canada. At the time I was no longer under the initial two-year contract; the contract had ended and I was on a month-to-month basis. I was told that I could change my America Plan to a North America Plan for a period of two weeks and then change it back. (Plan names changed to protect the not-so-innocent.)
     That sounded reasonable, so I said “Do it!” Wow! What a mess. When I reached Canada I had NO service. When I returned home it took a while to get the original service restored to what it had been; when it was restored, I learned months later, the only way it could be returned to the America Plan I had before the change was by issuing a brand new two-year contract. I bet you can guess how and when I learned that – yup, when I applied to change carriers six months later, I was slapped with an early termination of contract fee.
     I’m still fighting it – all because I wanted to use my cell phone in Canada for 10 days!
     This is not intended to be a ‘poor George’ story. My goal is to feature success. I want to hear about what works so that our readers and clients can duplicate success. But I also want to hear about the nightmares so that readers and clients can avoid disappointment.
     Since I’ve never before tried to make the Tidewater Traveler an interactive article I don’t know if this will work. But I bet it will; and whether I am at home listening to the Canada geese or somewhere else around the country, I will be watching my e-mail for your “Staying In Touch” experience.
     May all of your travels be happy and safe!

George Sellers and his wife Priscilla are Certified Travel Counselors and Accredited Cruise Counselors who own Travel Selections by Priscilla and George, Inc. and the popular travel Web site www.sellerstravel.com