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 credit cards. Local calls made from public pay phones in most locales cost either 35¢ or 50¢. 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 seven-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. 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 411; for long-distance information, dial 1 and then the appropriate area code and 555-1212.
Most hotels have fax machines available for guest use (be sure to ask about the charge to use them). Many hotel rooms are even wired for guests' fax machines. A less expensive way to send and receive faxes may be at places such as The UPS Store (www.theupsstore.com).
Just because your cellphone works at home doesn't mean it'll work everywhere in the U.S. It's a good bet your phone will work in major cities, but take a look at your wireless company's coverage map on its website before heading out. 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 or 703/222-7161; www.intouchglobal.com), but beware that you'll pay $1 a minute or more for airtime.
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. Your phone will probably work in most major U.S. cities; 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.
In a worst-case scenario, you can always rent a phone; in San Diego, BearCom, 8290 Vickers St., Ste. D (tel. 877/706-2327 or 858/430-2327; www.bearcom.com), delivers to hotels within the metro area. And, you can purchase relatively inexpensive "pay as you go" phones almost everywhere, if your phone doesn't have coverage or has high roaming charges.
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.
Internet & Wi-Fi
More and more hotels, resorts, airports, cafes, and retailers are going Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), becoming "hotspots" that offer free high-speed Wi-Fi access or charge a small fee for usage. Wi-Fi is found in campgrounds, RV parks, and even entire towns. Downtown's Gaslamp Quarter offers 2 hours of free Wi-Fi from any public space (go to www.freewifisandiego.com for information). To find other public Wi-Fi hotspots, check www.jiwire.com; its Hotspot Finder holds the world's largest directory of public wireless hotspots.
For dial-up access, most business-class hotels in the U.S. offer dataports for laptop modems; bring a connection kit of the right power and phone adapters, and an Ethernet network cable -- or find out whether your hotel supplies them.
If you don't have a computer with you, try www.cybercaptive.com or www.cybercafe.com to hunt for one of the city's steadily disappearing cybercafes. Better options are business-service shops such as FedEx Office (www.fedex.com/office) and public libraries (search www.sandiego.gov/public-library to find the nearest location before you leave home).
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.