I’m back from the lovely Little Dix Bay Resort in Virgin Gorda and yes, I had a wonderful time. My only complaint is that, while we were away, the lady who was watching our cats did something that shrunk all my clothes, even the ones I took with me. I’ll have to ask her about that…

But I digress. Virgin Gorda is part of the British Virgin Islands, which meant that I had no direct cell phone service unless I wanted to pay the exorbitant cost of using my iPhone internationally without an international plan. Since I don’t travel abroad all that often, such a plan would not be cost-effective, so I was left with four apparent choices if I wanted to call home: Use the cell phone anyway, use the hotel phone (also not cheap), use iChat (or similar) for audio chats, or do without.

I have to say, I don’t mind overpaying for a great vacation. Paying a premium for a nice room, excellent service or a great meal doesn’t really bother me, but overpaying for phone calls does. It makes no sense, really, but I object to paying extreme prices for such a common utility so the first two options didn’t appeal to me. And since an iChat audio chat requires that the other party sign on first, it’s not always a practical option. This left me with the last choice, doing without, or finding another route.

So find another route I did, and that was Skype. For those of you who don’t know, Skype is similar to iChat in that it allows text, audio and video chats with other Skype users, but it goes one step further: It allows you to call regular landlines. Depending on where you’re calling, the cost is often pennies per minute. For example, we called my wife’s mother for 20 minutes and it cost us roughly 50 cents. I daresay that the hotel or cell provider would have been significantly more.

There are some caveats, of course. You have to prepay for credit and the minimum is $10.00. That’s an awful lot of phone calls. And, unless you place a call at least once every six months, this credit expires (a practice that, in my opinion, should be outlawed, much like expiring gift cards from retail stores). Finally, because it’s essentially voice-over-IP using your computer’s microphone (or a headset attached to your computer, if you choose), the quality can become compromised during the course of the call. For example, during our 20-minute conversation, there were times that my mother-in-law couldn’t hear us or we couldn’t hear her. (Of course, at around 2 cents per minute, you can tolerate a lot more “what did you say?” moments.)

In the end, Skype was a perfectly adequate solution that didn’t cost an arm and leg, as long as I remember to place a token call every few months until I legitimately require the service again.

You can get more information about Skype, including the additional services they offer, at their site.

[Written by Kem Tekinay]