Communication Issues

What’s the best way to phone home, or anywhere, from Outer Space A?  Ever changing mobile plans, technology, and system compatibility issues can make this simple question very complicated to answer! However, Lady Cat 6 is about to attempt to provide some insight – you’re welcome!

Before getting started with possibilities to compare, one option I would NOT consider is renting a special phone to use overseas. If you are thinking about doing this, be sure to check with your own carrier, and price the options listed below before making any commitment. Phone rental is almost never a good bargain.

All right…let’s begin…

When traveling abroad, you have four basic options: Use your own phone with your US carrier, use your own (unlocked) phone with a local SIM chip, purchase a cheap (unlocked) phone and local SIM chip, or use one of the Wi-Fi options such as Facetime or Skype, from either your phone or other mobile device.

If considering using your own phone, you first need to determine whether it is compatible with the system of the areas you will be visiting. Most of the world uses the GSM system; some US carriers (especially for older, “dumb” phones) – Verizon, Sprint, and US Cellular – and some Asian/African countries use CDMA. If your phone is not compatible with the system, it will not work on the cellular network. You can find more information about network/phone types here: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407896,00.asp  

We ran into problems while visiting Japan last year because our phone was incompatible with the CDMA system there. We ended up just making Wi-Fi calls from our room or coffee shop or wherever. It was a little clunky, but it worked.

Once you determine compatibility, you will need to decide whether to use your US carrier or purchase a local SIM chip when you arrive.  Price can be an issue if using your home carrier. Some have “special” overseas supplemental plans, but these can be quite expensive. We happen to have T-Mobile as our US carrier, and when we travel, unlimited text and data are free, and calls are 20 cents per minute in about 150 countries – no other additional charges. None of our calls are very long, so we just keep on using our phone with our US carrier. Check with your carrier for their plans – and be very careful about data! Those costs can add up quick! Normally we use our phone for calling, email and navigation, and save data-intensive functions for our tablet with our hotel or other Wi-Fi.

Before T-Mobile’s plan, we used to purchase local, pre-paid SIM chips when we traveled. We did not have a smart phone at the time, so it was pretty simple to just buy the chip (about 10 euro, with 5 euro of time included) and recharge with funds as we went along. The only glitch in that system was that, since we were not (and still are not!) European Union (EU) residents, it was impossible to recharge the chip when outside the country we purchased in. We had to be careful to load it up before we left the country to ensure we had sufficient funds to make our phone calls. The other option would be to just buy a new chip wherever we were when we ran out of time/money.

Pre-paid chips usually expire after 6 months if not used or recharged. We had friends who visited Italy (where our chip was purchased) on the opposite season from us (Fall, VS Spring), so for years we took turns recharging each other’s phone chips. We managed to keep the same Italian mobile number for years!

Please note that, especially if you have an older phone, you may need to get your phone “unlocked” by your US carrier in order for another SIM chip to work. This usually involves contacting your carrier and getting a code that you enter into your phone to open it up to other SIMs. The unlocking procedure can – by design, I believe – be quite intimidating!

If you don’t want to mess with your US phone, you can purchase a cheap dumb phone, or even a smart phone, from almost any phone store (or online before you depart). At a phone store, it will usually come with a pre-paid SIM chip. If you choose this option, you just need to recharge your SIM chip as funds run low, as noted above.

Finally, with the prevalence of Wi-Fi today, it is possible to ditch the phone entirely and just use applications like Skype, Facetime, or Google to make calls. This option is probably the least expensive for outgoing calls – essentially free – but if someone needed to contact you, it could be problematic.

Everyone’s needs are different when orbiting outer space a, so it’s important to find the best phone fit for you. We like sticking with our US carrier because the rates are reasonable, there are no extra costs except the per-minute charge for calls, and we don’t have to do anything special – just use our phones like always. We also like this option because family and friends don’t have to keep track of any other phone numbers in case they need to reach us. We have some elderly relatives, so sticking with our carrier and number really simplifies contact should it be necessary.

 What works for you might be different. Explore the options and determine what’s best, and then you will be able to phone home from wherever in the space a universe you happen to find yourself!

Let Your Sponsor Go!

Lady Cat 6 is relaxing in her little perch above the bay, sipping coffee, and reveling in the quiet and the fact that she is fancy free for the next couple of weeks!

Why is this?

Because my sponsor took off this morning on a solo space a adventure!

Ever since becoming eligible to travel Cat 6, my sponsor has made a trip each year on his own. It gives us both a little break from nearly 24/7 retirement and travel togetherness. I get to lounge in my PJs all day, eat junk food at all hours, binge-watch movies, stay up late, sleep in late, and otherwise enjoy myself. He gets to have a new adventure to share, travel on his own terms, meet new people and make new friends, and serve as advance man to a location we will enjoy together on a future trip. We both get a little space and absence within which our hearts grow fonder.

And so, this trip, I will be “cheering” from the sidelines. Sponsor left early early this morning to be at the the terminal at NAS Whidbey Island for roll call. I am preparing to party tonight, then head off to a luxury hotel/spa with some girlfriends tomorrow. 

Cat 6 travel together is wonderful!  But sometimes, it’s not a bad idea to just sit back, stay home, and let your sponsor go! 

And The Juggling Act is Done!

Sometimes space a just doesn’t work out, and this is one of those times. Heading home from IAD (Dulles) on Southwest in an hour for $180 PP same day fare. We couldn’t do lodging, food, car rental and incidentals for the next few days for any less with nothing going to McChord or Whidbey on the 72 hour forecast radar, so this is the best choice.  We had a wonderful holiday and visits with nearly all our family, and now it’s time to go home.

Expecting the space a gods will be in a better mood for Italy in the spring! Arrivederci, East Coast!

 

 

Mulling…thoughts, not wine

With the holidays finished and family visits just about complete, Lady Cat 6 is weighing options for getting back to the beautiful Pacific Northwest! Sponsor and I rolled the dice and skipped a flight from Andrews to McChord this past Sunday because we had just arrived in Ohio Thursday afternoon. The flight showed up Friday morning, New Year’s Day. We would have had to turn right around to return in-laws’ car to Pittsburgh, rent a car before noon on Saturday (Andrews has Enterprise drop box in terminal) and then get on the road the rest of the day in order to arrive in time for roll call late Sunday morning. So, we decided to skip the rush and the flight.

And, as you’ve probably guessed by reading this far, there has been nothing else going our way since. Nothing on the 72 hour forecasts of Dover, McGuire, Andrews, or Norfolk. Nothing from Oceana until the end of next week. Nothing (as usual!) out of the Pittsburgh Reserve wing. We’ve even checked Pope and Charleston. Nada. Niente.

So. Juggling time. We can wait it out here in Pittsburgh until the weekend or next week, when there will almost certainly be more traffic returning from the spate of flights that headed over to Germany this week to return holiday travelers OCONUS. Or, we can give up and purchase a commercial ticket back to Seattle. We’ve been away since the 21st of December and although there really isn’t anything we need to get back home for, we’re about ready to go home. Decisions, decisions…

For now, we’ll sit tight and hope something turns up for Friday or Saturday. If not, I think it will be time to get out the credit card. 

Most of our space a adventures work out, but every once in awhile, the back up commercial plan comes in to play. Which is why it’s always necessary to have back up plans to be prepared to implement them!

Looking back; Planning ahead

As 2016 takes flight, Lady Cat 6 is taking a few moments to recall space a journeys from the year just past. It was a good one – 7 trips in all!

My sponsor and I wasted no time getting started in 2015, making our first trip of the year to Hawaii, in January.

March found us winging our way to Singapore, with a roundabout routing  for the journey home that began at Yokota, continued to Kadena, and then on to Hawaii, where we ended up getting “stuck” for several days before finally catching a hop through Travis home to McChord.

May was a busy month, beginning with space a to Alaska (commercial home), and ending with a visit to North Carolina (via Dover) including another extended tour – this time of the eastern seaboard – to get home.  We began our homeward journey by dropping our car at Pope, hopping to Charleston, hopping to Andrews (when their flight to McChord was canceled), and finally hopping to Norfolk for an overnight before at last catching a C 40 back to Whidbey.

In July, we flew to Oceana to visit east coast family for several weeks (commercial home).

August was our space a highlight of the year, with a FABulous flight to Hawaii with our son at the controls of a C 17 (commercial home)!

Our second overseas trip, a tour of Paris, Normandy, Brittany, the Loire Valley and Strasbourg began in September. On the return we enjoyed another visit with family before scoring cheap commercial tickets home, well into October.

Finally, to cap off the year, we flew commercial back to the east coast to spend the holidays with family, and are planning to inaugurate the New Year with a space a hop home to the beautiful Pacific Northwest sometime next week – we’re flexible about when and where from.

Whew!

Already looking forward to Hawaii in February, Italy in March or April, and additional family time throughout the coming year. Maybe we’ll squeeze in visits to San Diego or Guam in there somewhere, too!

2015 was a busy space a year, and I’m anticipating lots of exciting adventures in 2016! Hope to see you somewhere in outer space a!