If you're planning an international travel adventure, one thing you might not think through ahead of time is how you'll communicate with people digitally, especially if you don't want to get an international data plan. Luckily, there are messaging apps you can download if you're going abroad, including some that let you message without using cellular data or wi-fi. Seriously, this really exists, and if you're traveling on a budget, these apps can help keep you connected to family back home, and new friends abroad, without worrying about returning home to a crazy expensive cellphone bill.
Because I worked for a a global organization for five years, I already have some of these apps — like WhatsApp and Skype — on my phone. I used these regularly to call and message my overseas colleagues. Now, the first thing I ask when I meet a new person while abroad is, "do you have WhatsApp?" While WhatsApp does use wi-fi or data, a lot of places are light years ahead of the U.S. when it comes to offering free city-wide Wi-Fi. However, because the networks are public you'll also want to make sure to set up a VPN to keep your personal information safe.
Some other apps, like FireChat, let you message for free without a cellular network or wi-fi. Just make sure to turn your cellular network off before you start chatting. If you're going on an epic trip, check out these seven messaging apps to make your life easier.
FireChat is a free messaging app that works even without internet access or cellular data. While this sounds like a dream come true, the one caveat is that you need to create a group as the conversations take place both in chatrooms and private message.
"You can create a chatroom under the name of your school, organization, project, NGO, event, conference, or any topic," FireChat explained on its website. "Chatrooms scale very quickly: they can gather as many as tens of thousands of people simultaneously. When your phone is connected to the internet, the chatrooms become the place for live communication between people everywhere in the world: anyone can share messages and pictures with everyone else in real time."
However, you can also use the private message feature to communicate with just one person. If you have no other options, and no access to Wi-Fi, this app can be great in a pinch.
WhatsApp is available in more than 180 countries, and is an alternative to SMS messaging. You can also use it for voice calling, sharing documents, photos, and videos with other WhatsApp users. While you do need Wi-Fi for this one, WhatsApp messages and calls are secured with end-to-end encryption, meaning that no third party, including WhatsApp, can read or listen to them, according to their website.
I use this app free, easy-to-use app on the regular to communicate with friends in other countries, and I've got to say that it's pretty boss.
You're probably pretty familiar with Skype. While people may primarily think of Skype to make phone or video calls, Skype also works great as a messaging app. Skype has free and paid services, but as long as the person you're messaging is also on Skype it's totally free. You do need Wi-Fi for this one, and you'll also want to make sure you've set up a personal VPN to keep your personal information safe while on public wi-fi networks.
4. The Serval Mesh (Android Only)
If you're an Android user, The Serval Mesh software allows you to send secure messages, documents, and media without a cellular network or wi-fi. The catch here is that it can only be used to message people nearby, and was primarily developed to assist people during disasters. You may want to download this one no matter what in case you do get caught up in an emergency, and have no other way to contact someone for help.
5. ZombieChat (iPhone Only)
Similar to The Serval Mesh, ZombieChat lets iPhone users connect to those around them without a cellular network or wi-fi during the zombie apocalypse, or any other emergency. This is a must download for iPhone users.
Viber is similar to WhatsApp in that you can use to call and message for free with other Viber users while you're on wi-fi. However, Viber also has a paid feature called Viber Out that let's you message people not on Viber. This is great if you need to message someone like your mom who might not be that app savvy.
WeChat is a calling and messaging app that is crazy popular in China, and has 9 million users. At a previous job I had several international co-workers who used this app on he regular. If you're traveling in Asia, this messaging app is a must have. While on wi-fi with WeChat you can make calls, send messages, share documents, and even post moments. It's kind of a like an all-in-one messaging, calling, and social media app.