I’m heading to Ireland and plan to use Skype on my iPhone to keep in touch with my family, but I still need to check voice mail messages a couple times while I’m traveling. Is there a way to do this without adding an international plan to my phone or buying minutes on Skype?
— John via email
Skype, like other internet phone services, allows free audio and video calls between users; but as you know, if you want to talk to someone outside Skype (like the number you would call for your voice mail), you must purchase time. Although it’s not expensive, you’d like to spend that money on your holiday in Ireland, right?
I’ve been using a work-around for this for about a year now, and I quite like it. I signed up for Google Voice… yes, another tool in the Google arsenal. You’ll need a free Google account (like Gmail); and I believe they required credit card details for me to secure a number, but no charges were applied. Unlike Skype, I didn’t have to pay to get a real phone number (I used that Google Voice number to collect voice mail messages for our “Keeping Your Trip Alive” podcast episode).
To set up voice mail, I was walked through a system that required a PIN number and a call to my US-based mobile via the Google Voice web-based dashboard (this process involves more steps to record an outgoing message than Skype, and you need to do this up before you leave home). Just before my flight for Ireland, I went to the settings in my mobile phone and had it forward all calls to my Google Voice number (this feature is available in the Settings of your iPhone).
Now, when someone rings my mobile or my Google Voice number, it goes directly to my Google Voice Mail. When I have internet/wifi access in Ireland, I get an email alert that includes a link to the voice mail message… and, yes, there’s a Google Voice App as well.
One unique feature is that Google attempts to create a transcript of the voice mail message. I’ll be honest, I consider myself lucky when it gets 80% of the message right, but that voice-to-text feature is usually good enough to let me get the gist of the message at a glance… very handy while traveling.
Below are some screenshots from Google Voice (note, the message actually said, “Hello, Corey. This is your mother. I hope you’re having a good time in Ireland. Bye.”
Does anyone else have a different suggestion for John? Leave it in the comments section below.
Photo via Flickr Creative Commons – Mark Mathosian