Just because your cellphone works at home doesn't mean it'll work everywhere in the U.S. (thanks to our nation's fragmented cellphone system). It's a good bet that your phone will work in major cities, including Atlanta, but take a look at your wireless company's coverage map on its website before heading out; T-Mobile, Sprint, and Nextel are particularly weak in rural areas, but service is available in metro Atlanta from those companies, as well as Verizon, Tracfone, Virgin Mobile, and AT&T. If you need to stay in touch at a destination where you know your phone won't work, rent a phone that does from InTouch USA (tel. 800/872-7626; www.intouchglobal.com) or a rental-car location, but be aware that you'll pay $1 a minute or more for airtime. InTouch USA delivers to hotels, and Rent-A-Cellular kiosks are located throughout the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
If you're not from the U.S., you'll be appalled at the poor reach of the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) wireless network, which is used by much of the rest of the world. While your phone will work in Atlanta, it definitely won't work in many rural areas. To see where GSM phones work in the U.S., check out www.t-mobile.com/coverage. And you may or may not be able to send SMS (text messaging) home. Assume nothing -- call your wireless provider and get the full scoop.
If you have Web access while traveling, consider a broadband-based telephone service (in technical terms, Voice-over Internet Protocol, or VoIP) such as Skype (www.skype.com) or Vonage (www.vonage.com), which allow you to make free international calls from your laptop or in a cybercafe. Neither service requires the people you're calling to also have that service (though there are fees if they do not). Check the websites for details.
Generally, hotel surcharges on long-distance and local calls are astronomical, so you're better off using your cellphone or a public pay telephone. Many convenience groceries and packaging services sell prepaid calling cards in denominations up to $50; for international visitors, these can be the least expensive way to call home. Many public phones at airports now accept American Express, MasterCard, and Visa. Local calls made from public pay phones in most locales cost either 25¢ or 35¢. Pay phones do not accept pennies, and few will take anything larger than a quarter.
Most long-distance and international calls can be dialed directly from any phone. For calls within the United States and to Canada, dial 1 followed by the area code and the 7-digit number. For other international calls, dial 011 followed by the country code, city code, and the number you are calling.
Calls to area codes 800, 888, 877, and 866 are toll-free. However, calls to area codes 700 and 900 (chat lines, bulletin boards, "dating" services, and so on) can be very expensive -- usually a charge of 95¢ to $3 or more per minute, and they sometimes have minimum charges that can run as high as $15 or more.
For reversed-charge or collect calls, and for person-to-person calls, dial the number 0, then the area code and number; an operator will come on the line, and you should specify whether you are calling collect, person-to-person, or both. If your operator-assisted call is international, ask for the overseas operator.
For local directory assistance ("information"), dial tel. 411; for long-distance information, dial 1, then the appropriate area code and 555-1212.
Internet & Wi-Fi
More and more hotels, cafes, and retailers are signing on as Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) "hotspots." T-Mobile Hotspot (www.t-mobile.com/hotspot) offers wireless connections at more than 1,000 Starbucks coffee shops nationwide. Boingo (www.boingo.com) and Wayport (www.wayport.com) have set up networks in airports and high-class hotel lobbies. To find public Wi-Fi hotspots around Atlanta, go to www.jiwire.com; its Hotspot Finder holds the world's largest directory of public wireless hotspots. iPass providers also give you access to a few hundred wireless hotel-lobby setups. To locate other hotspots that provide free wireless networks in cities around the world, go to www.personaltelco.net/index.cgi/WirelessCommunities.
Most business-class hotels in the U.S. offer dataports for laptop dial-up modems, and many hotels now offer free high-speed Internet access using an Ethernet network cable. You can bring your own cables, but most hotels rent them for around $10. Call your hotel in advance to see what your options are.
In addition, major ISPs have local access numbers around the world, allowing you to go online by placing a local call. Check your ISP's website or call its toll-free number and ask how you can use your current account away from home and how much it will cost.
The iPass network also has dial-up numbers around the world. You'll have to sign up with an iPass provider, who will then tell you how to set up your computer for your destination. For a list of iPass providers, go to www.ipass.com and click on "Individuals Buy Now." One solid provider is i2roam (www.i2roam.com; tel. 866/811-6209 or 920/235-0475).
Wherever you go, bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, a spare phone cord, and a spare Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them to guests.
Most major airports have Internet kiosks that provide basic Web access for a per-minute fee that's usually higher than cybercafe prices. Check out copy shops such as FedEx Office, which offers computer stations with fully loaded software (as well as Wi-Fi).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.