Saturday, December 5, 2015

Keeping Connected

** See the update at the bottom!**  Up to now we've been cruising mostly the US Coast, with a shakedown cruise to the Bahamas of just over four and a half months.  Space that once seemed huge in our minds has now shrunk considerably with the added bonus of widening our horizons.  While we are limiting our cruising range to the Caribbean, we hope to be outside the US for the next 2-4 years...  Yes, we will be stopping in the US territories of Puerto Rico and the USVIs... where our long-time AT&T cell phone plan will work... but we've had to take a long hard look at our communication needs.

Goodbye Bimmer... you've been a great car... (sniffle)
Although we still own a home back in Texas, we recently let go of one of the last few links to our former lives... we sold our beloved BMW.  We had been keeping it at our daughter's house, which was nice for us, but maybe not so much for her.  We used the car all last summer in Charleston, and again this summer in Gulfport, FL.  We noticed some deterioration in the car in these past two years and just couldn't see leaving it sitting there for the next 2-4 years...  It just didn't seem wise.  So, we let it go... for a pittance...

Now as we prepare to leave the US once again, we have to let go of another long-time friend...  Our AT&T cellphone account.  We have had the same cell phone number and the same account for YEARS... We've been out of contract and unlocked for a long time and even have one of the older "grandfathered" accounts that includes unlimited data.  Un. Limited. Data!!!  For this reason we have been reluctant to close the account out and were lucky to find that AT&T will let you "suspend" your service for some months if you are traveling outside the US.  We did that when we were in the Bahamas this year.  But there is a limit to how long and how often AT&T will allow an account to be suspended, so that option isn't an option for us anymore.

I had to do some research to figure out just how we would stay connected and not spend $$$ doing it???  How do we remain connected while traveling in foreign countries... and for added safety and security... while we outside of cell tower range???  I remembered an email from Active Captain that mentioned Skype... I also remembered that friends used the Delorme inReach (also recently reviewed by Active Captain) as a position tracker that comes with the added benefit of text via satellite... my mind started putting all the pieces together and I came up with the plan.

Our tracks so far... on Delorme inReach SE
We've been using a SPOT tracker which was donated to our cause by friends from home... I realized that I was just days from our yearly renewal so I went online and cancelled our SPOT tracker account... a savings of $197 per year.  We purchased the Delorme inReach SE from West Marine for $299.  I heard there would possibly be holiday discounts but I bought it anyway since we were leaving and would have limited access to shore.  I'm glad I did because a friend told me that they were on backorder now due to popularity and the holiday shopping explosion.  Spoiler Alert:  If you're a cruising sailor, you're probably getting the Delorme inReach in your stocking this year!!!

There are several different plans you can pick from which offer limited and unlimited usage.  (Plus $19.99 initial one-time startup fee)  We chose the Expedition plan with annual contract which costs us about $55 (with all the little taxes) per month.  This is replacing our texting ability on our cell phone.  We can send and receive texts with family and friends whenever we have the device turned on... via satellite.  No longer will we need to be within cell tower range or pay exorbitant fees for text outside the US.  It also includes unlimited tracks and real-time SOS communications with rescuers should we need that... (It could replace our EPIRB when the battery dies this next year)

I love that the inReach has a free companion app that allows me to control the device, including starting and stopping tracks, sharing our map or location and texting our loved ones using the iPad instead of having to do it all on the tiny device.

(We are also considering the option of purchasing medical evacuation coverage through our inReach plan but haven't yet.)

OK so where does that leave us with the phone???  We chose to expand our current free SKYPE account to include both a Skype Number ($52.26 for 12 months) for incoming calls, and the Skype Unlimited US & Canada $30.50 for 12 months for calls we make to mobile and land lines in the US and territories. (including Guam where our youngest daughter lives) I still have one question unanswered... What happens when I try to use my Skype Unlimited US & Canada from OUTSIDE the US? This will remain to be seen, but I assume that I can pay the additional per minute price... will update when I find out.

What does this get us?  We need to have a phone number to use for all of our personal business purposes, most importantly our credit card and banking.  I had concerns that they would not accept a Skype number, but Bank of America and Schwab do... So I've updated our account info with our new Skype Number.  It works just like a regular phone.  We chose a local number (Corpus Christi) and the number has both call forwarding and Voicemail included in the price.  So when we arrive to a place where we have data or wi-fi, I can just check my voicemail and make any return calls necessary.

Another nice feature is that when we receive a Skype call, it rings on the cellphone (within wi-fi range), the iPad (wi-fi or data) and the Mac (within wi-fi). You can also use Skype for text by adding prepayment to your account for a very low fee per text.

And what about that iPad???  Just before we left the US for the Bahamas last February... our old iPad 2 died (due to upgrade to iOS 8).  This turned out to be quite serendipitous as the new iPad Air we purchased has a sim card.  Our old iPad did not.  I wasn't even aware at the time that we would not have had iPad data outside the US...

So, when we enter a new country, we make a B-line to the nearest cell service provider and purchase sim cards for our iPhone and iPad.  We pay local rates for pre-paid plans and although it is a bit of a PITA at times, what ELSE do we have to do with our time???  So, the Skype will work with the iPad using cellular date when we aren't near a wi-fi connection.

I might also mention here that we are using a wi-fi booster onboard.  The Rogue Wave was simple to install and less expensive than many of those on the market at the time we bought it.  Still loving it.

Before:  Total monthly $156.41

$90 Cell phone, data and text
$50 iPad Data (5GB)
$16.41 SPOT (monthly)

Now:  Total monthly $111.89

$6.89 (monthly but paid for 1 year) Skype
$50 iPad Data (Bahamas for 5GB but this will change for each country)
$55 inReach SE

Obviously these do not include data renewal before the month is out, so we have control over possible usage overage.  But this is our plan.  If you have other ideas on how to stay connected, please let us know in comments and we may take a look at changing next year.

Little by little, we are severing those secure and cozy ties to land life.  But still, using the modern conveniences of our time, we are able to keep connected.

** Update**  January 6, 2016  A comment posted to this blog sent me in search of information.  I had heard of "porting" my cell phone number to Google Voice but had not realized that it was a way of actually moving our cell phone number to Google Voice.

You can actually KEEP your longtime phone number as a Google Voice number and forward it to all devices.  The catch is that Google Voice is not a "carrier" and you need a phone number to forward Google Voice calls TO.  The good news is that I can use my Skype Number to receive calls!!!  This is HUGE!!!

Once we got data on the iPad here in the Bahamas, I began the process.  Because I was outside of the US, it would not let me do it.  So I enlisted the help of my daughter back in the States.  She logged into my Google account and began the process.

A few days later, I was able to go online here and add my Skype number as my forwarding address... the process was tested and approved.  It did not allow me to complete the voicemail process as Skype wasn't on their approved list.  But, Skype has it's own voicemail function.

Today, my daughter called our old cell number and it rang through to the Bahamas on my Skype! Success!

Another update:  When I wrote this I wasn't sure if I would be able to place calls to the US and Guam using my Skype Out, while I was outside of the US.  Using date on my Bahamas sim card through the iPad... I am able to place and receive calls as if they were local, using only my Skype number.  If I don't have a data card on the iPad, I can still use Skype on wi-fi whenever it is available.


  1. Great info that we'll definitely need next year .. thanks!

  2. Hi Guys,

    If you have an Android phone, you might want to look into a free Google App called Hangouts. It will let you use you phone to call any US number for free when on wi-fi. You can use you cell phone just like normal but using the local wi-fi.

    If you have a Google voice number, you can connect the two together. If you do not have a Google voce number, you should get one. You can receive calls and text from the USA and have voice mail transcribed and forward to email. All this is free.

    You may also want to check out MrSimCard dot com - We purchased our BTC SIM card while in the USA and avoided the trip to the BTC store upon arrival in the Bahamas.

    We are still hoping to bump into you one day. Get you butts back on the other side of the gulf steam :)

    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff
    Currently cruising the Bahamas

    1. Oh thanks for that! We have some friends with Google voice and I wasn't really impressed with it. Seems like it didn't work well from the receiving end, they never knew who the phone call was from nor did I know it was them calling. And with no plans to return any time soon, it's less expensive to just let our plan go. I'm hoping that we can find an alternative to the high cost of cell/data service when we do return. I wish I had known that you could get your sim card before leaving the US. I don't have time to get one in now. I was wondering if I could re-use the one from last time we were there.

  3. I'm fairly sure you can port your ATT # to Google Voice and then your number stays with you. Even if you get a new cell phone and number some day, just call forward the GV # to the new cell phone. That way you don't have to keep updating everyone with your newest #; you can just keep using the # you've always had. As you might know, it's supposed to be "one # for everything". Simply call forward it to your current phone. You'd need to do this before closing your ATT acct. which may have already been done since I'm reading this post a few days after it was created. Good luck and stay safe. I'm Loving your adventure !!!

  4. I'm a little late on this, but thank you for all of this information. We're getting ready to cross to the Bahamas and trying to figure out all this phone stuff. I think we'll probably port our current numbers to Google Voice and either get a Skype number (didn't know you could do that!) or connect our Google Voice numbers to the number associated with our new SIM card.