The hassle of arranging meet-ups with travelers

SIM cards and top-up cards for mobile phones

SIM cards and top-up cards. Photo: Karl Baron/Flickr Creative Commons

The situation: you’re out and about in an exotic land. You meet some cool travelers, open-minded and fun. You all fervently promise to meet up later that night. What happens? You show up on time, but your new friends are nowhere to be found.

Lifehacker recently had a post titled, How do you get people to actually show up on time? Naturally, the focus of the article is on punctuality–or the lack of it.

While looking over the reader comments, a pattern emerges: meet-ups abroad can be notoriously hard to arrange. The language barrier is an obvious hurdle. Cultural differences can wreak havoc as well, with people from some countries having a more relaxed view of time.

The main obstacle is communications. If you’re visiting a place for a short while, it doesn’t seem worth the expense to buy a SIM card. Or in some countries, buying or renting a dedicated phone. So it’s hard to stay in contact with friends when inevitable delays occur, like getting lost or changing plans.

As a rule, I think it’s worth investing in getting a local mobile number if you have at least one friend who’s living in the destination you’re visiting. You’ll probably want to meet frequently, so being able to communicate instantly is invaluable.

In my travels around Asia, I carried a cheap, GSM dual-band Motorola phone that I’d bought in China. The US$50 that it cost paid for itself as I used it to meet up with friends in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and beyond. That battered piece of electronics worked almost everywhere.

The exception was Japan. That country doesn’t support GSM networks and regular SIM cards, so I got a mobile phone through Rent a Fone Japan. They offered convenient delivery and return services. For my 3-week trip, it came at a total cost of US$100. While it was not cheap, it was essential. Being able to call and text my friends living in Japan enhanced my experience many times over.

Have you ever had a failed meet-up with friends overseas? Please share your stories and advice in the comments.

Posted by | Comments (3)  | January 14, 2011
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind, Vagabonding Advice

3 Responses to “The hassle of arranging meet-ups with travelers”

  1. J Says:

    When meeting people who I have only known online or for a short period of time through CouchSurfing or BeWelcome, I make sure to explicitly state that I am traveling and already uneasy so in this circumstance I would expect punctuality, regardless of either of our usual customs. I have not had any trouble with this. Usually, my host wishes to be a good host and understands that even a 15 minute delay between the time set and their arrival will result in feelings of distress, even when they come from a culture where it is traditional to be 60 minutes “late” to events without being considered late.

    Having an unlocked, multi-band, GSM phone is useful. I mostly text instead of voice chat.

    If I am traveling to a country that does not support my otherwise-world phone (Japan or Israel), I inquire on CraigsList for a phone that I can take, prior to departure. I have had good luck with acquiring cheap or free phones from those who have them lying around. I pay only for service. I also have good luck being given SIM cards for my GSM phone that I need only top up. Topping up can usually be done from a computer. This saves me having to find a place to buy the SIM, initially.

    I have not had trouble meeting up with people, abroad. I usually over-communicate before we meet so there are few problems when the time comes. The most trouble I have had was meeting several friends in Washington, DC, after Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity. Cell phone towers were jammed, and I had not overcommunicated in advance.