Satellite phone – expensive although we bought ours, an older model Motorola 9500, on e-bay. Will work anywhere as it relies upon satellites rather than aerials; therefore, ideal for those exploring remote areas as an emergency communication. Make sure you have some relevant contacts in the phone or available to phone in an emergency!
Airtime is expensive although we bought a year’s cover from Iridium - 300 minutes for about £150 restricted to use only in Africa. We lost quite a chunk of minutes that we were saving until the end of our year: when we went to use it a few weeks before the end we found it was restricted to emergency calls only. This was because we had activated the number prior to arriving in Africa and the period runs from registration, not first use in Africa. Our phone could receive free satellite messages (text message composed through Iridium website & sent). On newer models free messages can also be sent: a useful facility. Nobody sent us one though!
We didn’t get this right. We switched our vodafone contract to a pay-as-you-go and put credit on it before we left, but people phoning us on it (cheaper for them) used up the credit and with no credit we couldn’t phone back to buy more. We did try getting our daughter to put some on for us but this failed! Without credit we couldn’t text so ended up with a phone whose only function was to receive texts – handy for receiving bank text updates and alerts when debit card was used. The vodafone roaming in all the countries was very good when a signal was available. We should have researched this aspect better as I’m sure there are better options.
We ended up buying SIMs for each country. Initially we bought a cheap South African phone roaming package that allegedly covered all the countries we were visiting. However, we, by chance, learnt that we would need to activate this as we entered another country. We tried to do this just before entering Botswana but the operator we ended up with was a bit ‘dippy’ and didn’t comprehend what we were after, telling us we didn’t have roaming. We were over the border before we roamed and lost the signal within a few miles, never to get it back.
Ease of obtaining SIMs varied from country to country: in some we had to track down obscure shops that stocked them, with no rhyme or reason as to what kind of shop it was; in others they were readily available from roadside sellers, dirt cheap. Top up cards were, likewise, dependent upon the country but garages were often a good bet and roadside SIM sellers also sold top up cards. South Africa now has a complex registration method involving a national computer system on which personal details are recorded prior to activation of the SIM number – you’ll need to produce your passport! This was a new system to be fair, but the assistants didn’t really know how to cope with non-residents
It is a very good idea to take a few old UK phones as spares in the event of theft, loss or damage. Replacement SIMs and top up credit are generally readily available with the exception of South Africa.
We didn’t bother taking our CB radio as we were lone travellers but this could be useful if one was travelling in convoy, but be aware they may be illegal in some countries. We took two small short–range ‘walkie-talkies’; the idea was for when we split up in shopping centres, markets, etc. or when I went wood collecting. In fact we were rarely out of sight of each other but when we were we usually forgot to take them.
Internet Cafes are found in many of the larger towns in most countries but of variable standard. Very popular with locals and often full. In many you have to use their terminals with unusual software and keyboards; very often it was hunt the @ key. Use an USB stick with letters, messages, photos (best to reduce size to speed transmission) etc. pre-prepared to reduce time at terminal. More than once the café manager pulled the plug dead on 30 minutes so ask for plenty of time. Take your own Ethernet cable as some let you use your own lap top, but beware of viruses: a very few of the shopping centres and a few campsites have Wi-Fi. Malawi does a Skyband system where you can buy airtime and use in many areas that have coverage.
3G, Skype, etc. coverage in most countries is not good but the situation is changing all the time so check internet for latest situation for each country.
There was quite some interest in our trip with many relatives, friends and acquaintances wishing to be updated with our progress. Neither of us were particularly au fait with social networking and the like, but we did set up a Travel Blog on the internet with TravelPod. Personally, I didn’t find this site too user friendly for the likes of me and had difficulty loading on photos and making the entries, especially in slow internet cafes. I was beginning to get to grips with the site when the format and layout was suddenly changed. At this point I gave up with it and reverted to emailing out our daily diary whenever we could get onto the internet. This went to those on our email distribution list that was growing as we met fellow travellers on the way.
We could have set up something better before we left, for example our own website, and I would certainly reappraise this for future trips. Quite a few of the travellers we met had done this ... of course Facebook, Messenger, Twitter etc has changed all this!