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Travellers' questions that don't fit anywhere else This is an opportunity to ask any question, and post any notice you wish that doesn't fit into one of the other sections.
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  #1  
Old 6 Feb 2008
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Do you travel with a satelite phone?

Hi everyone

I'm trying to make up my mind whether it is worthwhile travelling with a satelite phone.

There are 2 main reasons why I think its a good idea. First one is quite obvious, the "incase something goes wrong" reason, but the second one is more family related. Both my parents experienced some bad (not life threating though) health issues the last 6 months. So my concern is how would they get in contact with us in the worst case scenario if something had to happen to one of them. We will probably get one of those world wide sims for a mobile phone which means we should be able to be contacable in big cities, but that will be the extent of our communication, and of course internet/email which we might check every couple of weeks or so. (We haven't really budgeted for an expensive satelite phone...)

So I suppose it is a calculated risk of some sort...

Any wise words welcomed
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Old 6 Feb 2008
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sat or not to sat

There have been some debates about this earlier, with some interessting issues, advice and explaining different systems. Use the search with keys like satphone, iridium, thuraya ....
For instance

In my opinion it all depends on where you are going, how long you will be remote, budget, how independed you are going to travel and offcourse how much ease-of-mind you feel comfortable with.

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  #3  
Old 6 Feb 2008
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Problems with Sat Phones

There's a major issue I believe is relevant to Sat Phones: they require large amounts of battery to operate, so you essentially turn them on to call, off to save battery. Unless you are in one of them 4-by's and have lots of juice and don't worry about such things.

So from the standpoint of carrying one for someone to reach you in case of emergency (your parents), there's that issue of how and when they reach you when your phone is generally off in order to conserve battery power.

Email works just as good - you can general check it daily, which works just as well as saying 'call me at such-and-such time and I'll have the phone on' (except you changed time zones again and no one knows that).

And even if there is an emergency at home, you have to work out the details for catching a flight home, leaving your bike and gear somewhere - takes time, and by the time you sort that all out...well, the emergency nature of the situation may be well past.

Cell phones in general:
in case you have an emergency - who you gonna call? Are you carrying a directory of the nearest road service/hospital/police agency/embassy? That's a lot of directories to pick up when you're traveling hundreds of kilometers every day. And worrying about having those numbers available in advance is, in my opinion, way too much pre-planning detail to sit and worry about. You figure it out as you go.

It would seem that calling home to tell someone 'you have an emergency' is counterproductive - makes the folks at home worry and doesn't accomplish anything - who they gonna call? You're better off just leaving the phone off, thinking through the emergency - or getting to the hospital first, finding out the situation, then making phone calls - but then you can use a land-line/regular cell-phone/skype instead of carrying that Sat phone around - just more weight, more cords/chargers and expensive electronics to carry around and keep track of.

You'd be surprised to know how many overlanders don't carry a phone. Worthless, time-wasting/money-pit devices if you ask me.

Just a couple weeks ago, I was in Lago Pasadas, Argentina (in Patagonia near the Chilean border - Paso Roballos to Cochrane, Chile). On the wall of the hostel was a framed newspaper article, about the phone finally coming to Lago Pasadas in 1999!

Today its an emergency. Before phones, people probably had very few emergencies. Now, people call 911 because the neighbor's dog is barking.
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  #4  
Old 6 Feb 2008
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Trip type

As mentioned you haven't said whether it's by bike or car or for how long or where. I believe these will help you decide. For example, I have just finished UK 2 CapeTown and didn't take a satphone. I decided it was extra weight, bulk and cost than was necessary for this trip. Apart for stretches between border posts or in the remote places I just bought a sim card (GBP1 to 5) for my cheap african Nokia in each country I passed through and had my friends and family call me on the cheap Telediscount: low cost international calls - from any UK-Phone numbers which vary between about 3p and 25p a minute. That way I was available more often (my phone charges from my bike) and for less money (I don't pay a penny in fact).

It may or may not be comforting to know that on the route we were on, we were never alone. As soon as you stop, someone pops out of the woodwork and I mean EVERYWHERE. Unbelieveable.
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Old 6 Feb 2008
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Just suppose your're in the middle of the Sahara, and something does go wrong...you have a couple options...

1. Call home on the SAT phone...
2. Look for local assistance...
3. Another option I am missing...

Option number 2 is probably the most likely to help you in a pickled situation....just make sure you're not too far off the beaten track and can speak a few words of the local language.

Option number 1 will probably make you feel better to communicate and commisserate your pickled situation, BUT how will it ultimately help you? Your family will be able to contact you via Skype/email...all capitla cities have email and most big towns have high speed internet nowadays...Khovd, Mongolia does!

Option 3, i have no idea about.

BOTTOM LINE, take risks you're comfortable taking and follow the advice of the locals...they will help you out more often than you could ever imagine.
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Old 6 Feb 2008
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Thanks for the replies everyone

Sorry for the lack of info in the first post.

We will travel in a 4x4 and will travel from Vladivostok to London throught the stans etc and then from London to Cape Town.

To be honest, I'm not too concerned about us not having one if we're in a pickle. It is more a case of parents being able to get hold of us if something happens to them.

Has anyone used one of the so called world-wide sim cards, and if so, any feedback???
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  #7  
Old 6 Feb 2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MotoEdde View Post
Just suppose your're in the middle of the Sahara, and something does go wrong...you have a couple options...

1. Call home on the SAT phone...
2. Look for local assistance...
3. Another option I am missing...

Option number 2 is probably the most likely to help you in a pickled situation....just make sure you're not too far off the beaten track and can speak a few words of the local language.

Option number 1 will probably make you feel better to communicate and commisserate your pickled situation, BUT how will it ultimately help you? Your family will be able to contact you via Skype/email...all capitla cities have email and most big towns have high speed internet nowadays...Khovd, Mongolia does!

Option 3, i have no idea about.

BOTTOM LINE, take risks you're comfortable taking and follow the advice of the locals...they will help you out more often than you could ever imagine.
option 1, I totally agree. Don't call home !
option 2 = option 3. Call somebody local ! (take a Lonely Planet, Guide Routard or wathever and call whatsever in the neighbourhood ! even a local newspaper will do) or as I stated somewhere else: If you do take a satphone collect some contacts (the campsite you left yesterday, the local HU-member who offered you a 2 days further on the road) and be preparred to wait a few days untill help arrive.

But then again I totally agree with MotoEdde's BOTTOMLINE......

It's you who has to decide with what your comfortable with, there are people sqeezing complete mobilehomes into their 4x4's (or even panniers) to accomodate everything they think they cannot leave home without, but hey, it's their journey !
So ask yourselfs : Are you uncomfortable with, say one week lack of communication ? (or two or three ?) and base your decision on this and ease your mind.

And BTW if you do take a satphone or going to use local or worldwide simcards, let your family use sms or textmessages to keep in touch, these messages arrive (almost) always. Even when you're switched off (batterylife). As soon as you switch on your phone the networks will connect and the message delivered. Some networks in countries like Mauritania are not reliable with sms (mauritel) at this moment but that has to change with the growing competition. And it's much cheaper for you than recieving calls from abroad.

succes and cheers,
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Last edited by Sophie-Bart; 6 Feb 2008 at 23:10. Reason: squeezing and trying to remove typo's
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  #8  
Old 8 Feb 2008
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Local SIM Cards

Getting local SIM Cards is an easy way of staying in touch. Yes, sms won't always work from outside the country (Mauritel in Mauritania and Orange in Senegal) but receiving calls on local sim cards costs nothing and the cost of making international calls is a lot cheaper using local cards than your own (home) phone and much, much cheaper than using a sat phone. You will also find that that the network availablity (I'm talking West Route here) is much better nowadays and better with a local card e.g. my home phone had no network in Mauri but my local card (cost 1,500 Ougs including 1,000 Ougs 'free' calls) seldom was out of network even in the Banc D'Arguin National Park. The Orange card cost me 5,000Cfa in St Louis (Tigo is similar) and sending sms costed nothing. Sms are free in Mali too on a local card. A 5 minute call to the UK cost less than 1,000 Cfa-say £1 during the day and they are cheaper still after 8pm.

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  #9  
Old 8 Feb 2008
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In west africa I carry a thuraya sat phone - not for 'rescue' or emergency reasons (has all been said before) but just to stay in touch (usually just SMS). I have found it damn useful but as a convenience and with no other expectations. As it works as a GSM phone also it is one less thing to carry/charge etc. Also works as a VERY basic GPS. Also has it's uses when our local GSM network goes down (often) and I have to make a call. Fully agree about switching it on and picking up SMS. With the price of old (like mine) handsets being pretty cheap and the ability to stick in a normal sim card it is for me a pretty useful item, and that is saying something as I hate phones!!!
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