Staying in touch while on the go in far-off places can cost an arm and a leg. And the simplest, cleanest travel phone solution - using your existing mobile and SIM card - is the most expensive.
Luckily, there are cheaper options.
You can use your own phone, if it works on the right frequency for the place you're going - typically 900 MHz for Europe and Asia - and your cell phone company plan includes a roaming option.
This is ideal in that family, friends and business associates can dial your Canadian number and reach you wherever you are.
The catch, of course, is that you pay exorbitant "roaming" charges to use a Canadian phone outside the provider's territory. I know one obsessive iPhone user who racked up $600 in roaming charges on a two-week vacation in Europe.
The cheaper option is to use an "unlocked" phone with a local SIM card, purchased in the country you're going or, better, ahead of time from an online reseller.
It means you'll have a new number, local to the place you're going, which you'll have to distribute to people who might need to reach you. And callers will pay long distance charges.
But if you mainly need a phone for emergencies and to make and receive calls in the country you're visiting - hotels, airlines, car rental agencies, clients, etc. - this is a much better solution because you'll pay lower local per-minute charges, and no roaming fees.
If you're going for a long time, you might consider a monthly plan. Vacationers and business travelers on short trips can probably make do with a pay-as-you-go card.
Cell phone companies in North America try to rigidly control which phones are used on their networks, and program the phones they sell so they only work on their networks.
But you can now buy unlocked iPhones, and purchase codes and instructions for unlocking most others, or send the phone to a service company that will unlock it for you.
Start by Googling the exact brand and model name of your phone with the word unlock. You might luck out and find that somebody has posted a code and instructions for unlocking it.
More likely you'll have to pay an online company such as TheUnlockShack or MobileInCanada. Prices vary by brand and model, starting at under $10 and rarely going over $30.
The process usually involves keying in the unlock code, which the company e-mails you, and then resetting the phone.
Result: you can now use your phone with any SIM card on any network.
The second step is acquiring a SIM card that will work where you're going. How you do this will depend on the place.
It's relatively easy if you'll only be going to one country. You can buy a local SIM card from an online reseller. Google "Spanish SIM cards," for example.
There are also companies such as CellularAbroad that sell local cards for many countries, as well cards that work in multiple countries, and phones - in case your existing phone doesn't work on the right frequency.
The online companies mail or courier you the card. The best of them include detailed instructions on how to install and initiate the card.
Start early and shop around. Sellers that appear highest on Google search lists are probably most reliable.