Nokia 6620
Nokia 6620

In Europe, I use a mobile phone mainly to call ahead to book hotels, make the occasional restaurant reservation, and stay in touch with my office in Oregon, (though 99 percent of the latter can be done via e-mail). When it came time to buy a new phone about 18 months ago, I decided on a Nokia 6620 tri-band GSM phone, mainly because it would work both in Europe and the United States. (The Nokia 6620 is currently sold for $24.99 after a $150 rebate). Cingular—and I assume other providers—offers international roaming for $6 per month.

I initiate the roaming service just prior to departure and end it as soon as I return from Europe. The phone has worked everywhere I've been in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland during three recent trips. Calls are 99 cents per minute-both outgoing and incoming-and on my last trip, I spent about $40. So my mobile phone preparation for a European trip is simply to take my U.S. mobile phone with me. If a new mobile phone is something you've been considering, I strongly recommend a tri-band. There are many tri-band phones on the market. In fact, you may be able to get one free if you sign up for a year or two of mobile phone service.

With a GSM phone, you will also have the option to "unlock" it and, for about $30, purchase a chip called a SIM card that will permit you, when in Europe, to receive calls at no charge and make outgoing, in-country calls starting at approximately 25 cents per minute. The downside is that you'll have a different phone number and will have to buy a different SIM card for every country you want to visit (each requiring a different phone number) or pay very high roaming charges.

For an in-depth discussion of tri-band phones and other mobile phone issues, I recommend the series of articles written by David Rowell at The Travel Insider website.