The charges for raiding the hotel mini-fridge and the duty on clothing purchases are child's play when it comes to surprise vacation expenses. What can really make your heart stop is your mobile-phone bill. Roaming isn't cheap, so make sure you have a plan in place before you travel outside Canada this summer.
Call your wireless provider before you go
"People have to have their due diligence and do their research before they attempt to use their data overseas," says Gary Ng, editor of iPhoneinCanada.ca.
"Don't just assume that you're going to be able to use your data plan in Africa because you feel you need to check your Twitter stream."
Before you leave, ask your wireless provider about roaming fees for both phone and data use, suggests Yale Holder, president of myCELLmyTERMs.com.
Some providers offer travel packages, which offer a bundle of minutes or megabytes for a fixed dollar amount. They're pricey, he says, but still far cheaper than what you'd have to pay for flat-out roaming.
Buy a cheap travel phone
Your best bet when you travel? If your phone is locked (meaning you can't swap out its SIM card for one from another network), Mr. Holder suggests you leave it at home and buy a cheap, GSM-enabled phone (GSM is the most popular international standard).
You can shell out anywhere between $20 and $100 to get an adequate one before you leave Canada, but depending on where you go, you might be able to find something cheaper wherever you're vacationing.
If you purchase your phone in Canada, simply buy a SIM card when you get to your destination, and you can buy a prepaid plan for cheap.
Since telecommunications are localized, you may not recognize the name of the carrier if you travel outside of North America, so ask locals for recommendations, Mr. Holder says.
Still, since Canada's wireless fees are far higher than those in most other countries, he says, chances are you'll pay a pittance for minutes and data no matter where you go.
Switch data roaming off
Let Erik Lyneborg be the cautionary tale of why you should always turn your data roaming off on your smart phone.
The 38-year-old Calgarian flew to Mexico last year for a six-day vacation, and came home with a bill that topped $6,000. He checked his e-mail a few times, as well as the score on a Calgary Flames game, not thinking twice about what it would cost.
Because his service provider didn't have a data agreement with Mexico, he had to pay exorbitant fees for roaming. Resist the temptation to sneak a quick e-mail check on your smart phone, and make sure you turn data roaming off, he says.
Use wi-fi and apps
When Mr. Ng went to Dubai on his honeymoon, he used Skype to make calls and chat with friends at home in Vancouver.
"It's the ultimate app because you can get a paid subscription from Skype and that will let you call land lines and cellphones," he says.
He turned off data roaming on his phone and instead logged onto wi-fi hotspots to get an Internet connection. A call home using this method only cost him 2 cents a minute.
When he makes day trips to Seattle, instead of running Internet searches to find restaurants or directions, he uses a GPS app.
"They don't require data [use]and they're a great resource," he says. "It's like having Google in your pocket."
Use non-mobile Internet
If you're a smart phone user, it may be painful to even consider this option: non-mobile Internet. But Mr. Lyneborg, who's attached at the hip to his iPhone, recommends it.
On future vacations, he plans to access the Internet on computers at his hotel or resort.
"I could've paid $2 every morning and gone on to use the [resort]computer to do my business," he says.
If you're in a remote area without an Internet cafe or wi-fi signal, Mr. Ng says, you need to ask yourself a question: "Do I really need to check my e-mail right now?"
"It is okay to spend some time with your family," he says.