I got asked about calling home from the US, by someone going to the PASS Summit. I found myself thinking "there should be a blog post about this"…
The easiest way to phone home is Skype – no question. Use WiFi, and if you're calling someone who has Skype on their phone at the other end, it's free. Even if they don't, it's still pretty good price-wise. The PASS Summit conference centre has good WiFI, as do the hotels, and plenty of other places (like Starbucks).
But if you're used to having data all the time, particularly when you're walking from one place to another, then you'll want a sim card. This also lets you receive calls more easily, not just solving your data problem. You'll need to make sure your phone isn't locked to your local network – get that sorted before you leave.
It's no trouble to drop by a T-mobile or AT&T store and getting a prepaid sim. You can't get one from the airport, but if the PASS Summit is your first stop, there's a T-mobile store on 6th in Seattle between Pine & Pike, so you can see it from the Sheraton hotel if that's where you're staying. AT&T isn't far away either.
But – there's an extra step that you should be aware of.
If you talk to one of these US telcos, you'll probably (hopefully I'm wrong, but this is how it was for me recently) be told that their prepaid sims don't work in smartphones. And they're right – the APN gets detected and stops the data from working. But luckily, Apple (and others) have provided information about how to change the APN, which has been used by a company based in New Zealand to let you get your phone working.
Basically, you send your phone browser to http://unlockit.co.nz and follow the prompts. But do this from a WiFi place somewhere, because you won't have data access until after you've sorted this out…
Oh, and if you get a prepaid sim with "unlimited data", you will still need to get a Data Feature for it.
And just for the record – this is WAY easier if you're going to the UK. I dropped into a T-mobile shop there, and bought a prepaid sim card for five quid, which gave me 250MB data and some (but not much) call credit. In Australia it's even easier, because you can buy data-enabled sim cards that work in smartphones from the airport when you arrive.
I think having access to data really helps you feel at home in a different place. It means you can pull up maps, see what your friends are doing, and more. Hopefully this post helps, but feel free to post comments with extra information if you have it.