The pleasures of safari are many… and the absence of a ringing, buzzing, beeping phone is one such. The interruptions on safari are far more interesting: a distant lion roar, the sight of an elephant quietly feeding property few yards from your hammock…you get the idea. The collective natural song of the bush has long survived without brassy ringtones.
That said, many travellers do desire a way to keep in touch with family and friends—even business contacts—while in the bush. So, although being “off the grid” is an appeal for safari travellers, we’d like to offer some handy tips for those of you who want to stay connected, but don’t want to be blindsided by astronomical phone and data charges after you arrive home.
1) Consider your needs: Do you want to able to both make and receive calls? Do you only want to text? Do you need internet? What about GPS? Make a list of all the things you want to be able to do or have access to while in the bush, and then…
2) Contact your cell phone provider: Policies and fees vary by provider, and it’s essential to know what works for your particular phone. You can research online— visit AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon or Virgin to find handy, detailed webpages for travellers—or call your company to find out what your options are (phone numbers will be on the website, and often vary depending on where you live.) Remember: even if your service plan includes international roaming, that doesn’t mean that it is the most reasonable option.
3) You have options. If taking your current phone on safari just doesn’t seem like a viable option (if your everyday phone doesn’t have its own international card or the capacity to be fitted with one, it’s probably already a non-starter) there are many other options for staying in touch. You can buy a calling card or rent an international phone. If you have a laptop that you want to bring for other purposes, you can very easily talk to friends and family via Skype or Google Voice.
In the bush:
1) Know how to turn off “data roaming.” Unfortunately, just because you’re not using it doesn’t mean your phone isn’t active. It’s a good idea to turn off “data roaming” and “data synchronization” on your phone whenever you’re not using the internet or an application. You can usually find these options under “settings” on your phone. Find out how to do this before you leave.
2) Monitor your mobile data usage. Smartphone apps for Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry can track your data usage, which is incredibly handy. If you have internet access, you can also visit the website of your provider, log into your account, and check your data usage this way.
3) Consider Airplane Mode. If you just want to use the internet and don’t need to make calls or use apps, Airplane Mode is ideal. It turns off the cellular and data radio but leaves your Wi-Fi receptor on. This solution only works if you’re at a lodge, hotel or camp with Wi-Fi, so ask your Safari Director or Guide first. Just using Wi-Fi, you can use services like Skype and Google Voice to call friends and family overseas for a fraction of the cost—or free!
Your last option, of course, is to skip all the hassle and leave the phone at home. It’s a daring move, in this day and age, but the benefits of essentially being incommunicado stretch far beyond mere financial savings—something that hits home when you’re lying in a hammock overlooking a gently flowing river, listening to hippos chortle and bubble below and birds singing in the trees. A butler brings you a refreshing cocktail, and a gentle breeze whispers in the acacia trees, bringing scents or eucalyptus and sweet wild mint. At these moments, email should be the last thing on your mind…