You're overseas and you want to keep everyone in touch with what you're doing. What are the most cost-effective ways to keep accessing Twitter?
Picture by noeltanner
Twitter has many practical uses, and one of the more obvious is providing on the spot updates when you're travelling. It's not for everybody — some people worry about the security implications — but if you do want to keep friends, relatives and the broader Twitter stream in the loop with what you're doing, you need to think about the cheapest way to do it.
In your everyday life, you're probably updating Twitter either from a desktop PC or from a client on your smart phone. Both options are effectively no-cost, since you (or your boss) has paid for the connection already. But when you hit the road — particularly if you go overseas — regular Twitter usage can be an expensive prospect. Here's some options you can consider.
Keep using your existing phone
The simplest option is to keep using your existing phone in roaming mode, but this can be very expensive. For instance, casual data access on Vodafone postpaid plans (which is one of the cheaper alternatives) costs 1 cent per kilobyte with a minimum charge of 10 cents — something that can mount up if you send and read a lot of tweets. If you do want to pursue this route, check if your provider has a discount roaming option for data. And if you choose this option, make sure you ring your provider to check roaming is enabled before you leave the country.
Use a mobile dongle
You can use a 3G broadband dongle overseas, but as with phones, the rates can be pretty expensive.
Purchase an overseas SIM
A common solution to roaming woes for both Twitter and phone calls is to purchase a cheap SIM in your destination country and use that rather than your at-home number. This can be a useful approach, but it pays to research the fine print carefully. Many casual use pay-as-you-go SIM plans don't include good data options, so you may not save much money.
Update via SMS
Twitter allows you to send updates via SMS to local numbers in the US, Canada, UK, Sweden and Germany. The UK number can be used to send updates from phones anywhere in the world, and you can get similar results locally with the Chime service.
This can be a very cheap option if you have the right kind of plan (or get the right kind of plan with an overseas SIM as suggested above). If your provider offers a bundle of free texts (and especially if it allows international texts), then updating via SMS will likely be cheaper than the data option, and less reliant on the vagaries of data network coverage. You can't track other people's tweets as effectively this way if you're outside the covered countries, but that may well be less of a priority when you're travelling anyway.
Rely on Wi-Fi and cafes
If you travel with a netbook, then you can save your Twitter frenzies for when you've located some free Wi-Fi. If you're gadget-free, there's always Internet cafes. The big disadvantage of this approach is you can't tweet about events in real time — once you've got 30 minutes to sit down, writing a blog post or uploading photos will seem more appealing.
What are your own tactics for on-the-road tweeting? Share them in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is trying to cut down on how often he tweets. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.