Sending Alex Abroad: Considering Expenses before Travel

In this series, Aspire by API’s very own Jill Denton writes about preparing for this summer’s Salamanca program from her unique perspective as a mom.

Going to Spain for a month without her parents will give Alex a great opportunity to learn firsthand about the importance of budgeting.  Given that most necessary expenses are covered in the cost of the Aspire program’s price, we have figured that Alex will need only about US $400 over the course of her 30-day program. Brett and I intend to give Alex a weekly budget of €80 (US $100 equivalent) for shopping (souvenirs, clothing, and a present for her brother), small necessities, and snacks.

We chose a cash abroad strategy which is easy and safe for Alex to use—a teen debit card offered through Wells Fargo.  When Alex lands in Madrid, the plan is for her to use her debit card to withdraw €80.  We will transfer another US $300 into her debit card account and that will be all we’ll be giving Alex to spend.  She has also been earning babysitting money on the side, which she can use for shopping over and above what we give her.  We are going to ask Alex to write down what she spends each day so she realizes where her money is going.  Hopefully, this will help to keep track of her allowance.

Alex and Brett

Another expense to consider is what kind of phone plan Alex will be using while in Spain.  Because Alex will be staying in the residencia, she will have access to free WiFi at all times. The internet makes communication between Spain and Texas much cheaper, and as a result we are putting Alex on a “two phones” strategy.  We will use both the PicCell phone offered by Aspire by API, as well as Alex’s iPhone.  Each phone will serve a different purpose. The PicCell is basically a “while you are in Spain and talking with anybody in Spain” phone while the iPhone will be used “for everything else.”  Please keep in mind that this kind of strategy makes the most sense for us given Alex’s situation.  Students staying with host families may want to consider other options as they may not have 24/7 access to the internet.

More specifically:

The Piccell phone (limited features, small phone) will be used for:

  • Local calls (this includes phone communications with the Aspire staff as well as all of the other teen program participants). Since she is using the PicCell phone, she will be able to call all other participants who are also using PicCell at a reduced rate.  In addition, she won’t be charged for any incoming calls.  And the PicCell phones have an SMS (Short Messaging Service) system that is integrated into Aspire’s emergency protocols (note: the weekend excursion to Portugal is considered outside the local area and we will ask Alex not to use her PicCell phone that weekend—except for emergencies—to avoid incurring international roaming charges).

The iPhone will be used for:

  • Facetime or Skype calls so that Alex can communicate with us while at the residencia.  Facetime and Skype are both free iPhone apps (they can be downloaded onto laptops as well) that allow users to make video and audio calls for FREE.
  • ALL text messages, including photo or video texts.
  • Unlimited internet surfing and use of iPhone apps via WiFi only (no 3G!) while at the residencia.
  • Moderate use of internet surfing and iPhone apps while roaming outside of the residencia (doing so will incur an additional fee).
  • Taking photos and videos.

Other REALLY important items to reduce phone charges:

  • Alex will not use her phones to make phone calls to us. We will talk using Facetime or Skype only via WiFi when she is back at her residencia.
  • Since she’ll have her iPhone, Alex won’t need to use the wireless internet connection on her PicCell (the GPRS and WAP features), so we will call PicCell and get these turned off before the trip.

Salamanca awaits!

Practical steps we’re taking for Alex’s phone use abroad:

1. We registered online to obtain a PicCell phone (PicCell information, including registration instructions, has been sent to all participants). PicCell has shipped us the phone—so Alex already has it before departing. When you register, you’ll provide your email address and credit card information and you will billed for any charges incurred while using the phone.

2. We considered whether Alex will need internet access via her PicCell phone while in Spain (if your child will be bringing their laptop or iPhone, and will have access to WiFi in their housing, then they probably won’t need internet on their PicCell phones).  Since Alex won’t need this feature, we will call PicCell and deactivate it.

3. Before the program departure, we will be contacting AT&T to add an international text/data plan to Alex’s iPhone.

4. We will also send the Aspire staff BOTH of Alex’s cell phone numbers, and have her learn how to set up and retrieve voicemail on the PicCell phone.

5. After the program, we’ll return the PicCell SIM Card (PicCell will provide a return mailing label to you).  We’ll also contact AT&T again to end the international text and data plans after the program.


It may certainly seem like a hassle to carry two phones, have two phone numbers, and have two phone bills to review. But we’re expecting that they’ll be many benefits as well: we’ll be able to see Alex’s face when we talk, she won’t have to carry around a digital camera or video camera in addition to her phones, and she won’t have to bring her laptop along. I will follow up after the trip to assess the pros and cons of having Alex carry two phones and whether my phone bills are as expected.


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