A cell phone can be a great asset when traveling abroad. You can make travel arrangements, check in with local friends or fellow travelers, and you can keep in touch with family back home. And as more U.S. residents continue to pack their phones for international trips, they face a variety of options for doing so. Customers of GSM carriers like T-Mobile or AT&T have the option of taking their own phones on their journeys, but CDMA users (think Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless) must rent a GSM phone for calling much of the world.
So what's a confused traveler to do? Well, oddly enough, the National Geographic Society has an answer. The organization that made a yellow rectangle a national icon has partnered with Cellular Abroad to offer the National Geographic Talk Abroad Travel Phone (now there's a mouthful). Though roaming rates are reasonable for most countries, and the phone comes with everything you should need in one package, the overall cost of the service is rather pricey. Also, the phone itself is nothing more than a very basic Motorola V180. While that was a decent phone when it was introduced almost four years ago, it's not what we were excepting from an organization that publishes some of the best photos ever.
Since travel is a temporary experience, Cellular Abroad's phone is available only on a rental basis. The company is promising additional options to buy one of its phones or rent a SIM card only, but those options were not available as of press time. You can rent the phone in five time blocks--from as short as from one day to long as 65 days with the rental cost increasing accordingly (more on that later). The handset phone comes with a United Kingdom phone number, but you can add an additional U.S. number for $15 per phone. That way, friends calling you from the United States won't have to pay international long distance rates just to give you a ring. You'll also get around-the-clock customer service, a power converter, a belt pouch, a set of electrical adapter plugs, and a return shipping label.
When compared with other rental options, however, Cellular Abroad's prices are quite costly. For example, while it charges $49 for one to seven days, $69 for eight to 14 days, and $129 for 43 to 56 days, Sprint charges just $45, $55 and $65 for comparable periods with a slightly higher-end Nokia 3120 camera phone. Also, while Cellular Abroad's rental period maxes out at less than two months, Sprint lets you keep its phone for up to three months. Sure, you have to be a Sprint customer to use Sprint's service, but Cellular Abroad also charges a refundable $210 security deposit and an additional $29 charge for your first block of airtime. That's a big bite of your wallet at one time.