Ten tips for integrating parenthood with your career


Image via Flickr creative commons from Cosmic Kitty

Striking the right balance between career and family life is a struggle for millions of people – and at a time when there’s such widespread financial uncertainty, it’s a problem more and more of us are currently having to face. Co-operative employee benefits, such as Midcounties Co-operative childcare vouchers, can help to ease some of the strain. Nevertheless, the demands of work frequently intrude on our family life, which makes it even hard to get that balance right. However, there are steps you can take to ensure that you don’t just have enough time to face the duties of your work, but also that you don’t simply neglect your family. Here are ten suggestions you might wish to bear in mind if you’re having trouble maintaining that equilibrium between work and family life.

1)      As Todd Smith writes, the most important thing you need to do in advance is set out clear career goals and ensure you have the support of your family in advance. Your family needs to be aware of what sacrifices all of you will have to make so that they know what to expect. It would be unfair for you to keep them in the dark about this. It’s best to be honest and up front from the start.

2)      Careful scheduling can help you maintain a healthier balance between work and family life. Obviously, there will be times when you find yourself so overloaded with work that it becomes tempting to let it encroach on your family time. However, this would be a mistake – and once you’ve done it once, it becomes tempting to do it repeatedly. Maintain that separation between work and leisure time.

3)      When spending time with your family, don’t answer work e-mails or phone calls. Cut yourself off from work entirely and make sure you give your family the attention they need and deserve.

4)      By the same token, you should avoid allowing your family to interrupt your time at work except in emergencies. Make sure you lay down the law and let them know what when you’re busy working, you’re not to be disturbed.

5)      According to WikiHow, it’s important to establish your priorities in order to strike the appropriate balance between parenthood and pursuing a career. You should be prepared for conflicting demands on your time – for instance, your children may be ill at a time when you’re expected to work – so it’s important to consider this possibility in advance and work out what you would do in such situations.

6)      If spare time appears in your schedule unexpectedly, take full advantage of it and spend time with your family. This doesn’t mean you should wilfully neglect your work duties, but don’t feel obliged to work when you don’t actually need to.

7)      Being able to manage your time effectively is crucial to balancing work and family life. The better organised you are, the chances are you’ll have more time to spend with those closest to you. This should leave you feeling generally less stressed.

8)      If you do have concerns about the imbalance between work and family life, discuss them openly with your partner and the rest of your family. Simply bottling things up is only likely to cause more hassle in the long run.

9)      According to Careerealism.com, you should be clear on what your employer expects of you – but don’t be afraid to stand up to your boss if you feel they’re taking advantage. You should be able to discuss the balance between work and family openly with your employer. A good employer will show some understanding in this regard.

10)  Socialising with workmates is also a good way to unwind at the end of a busy working week. Make sure, however, that your family knows when you’re planning to spend time with colleagues. Don’t just leave them in the lurch.


How to Make Your Small Business Correspondence Look As Professional As Possible


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There are a number of commonly-applied rules which form the correct etiquette for the format of business and other types of formal communication.

Yet with the spread of email and text communication, the lines between these types of communication, and the more formal written types are often blurred.

As a business owner or manager, you need to give careful consideration to the purpose of your written correspondence, as this will often dictate the format and types of salutations which are used.

In the commercial field, it is often wise to make it plain in any written communication whether there is any timescale during which you expect to receive a reply. Yet this should be done with a balance of politeness and forcefulness, as if expressed in the wrong way it might appear too ‘pushy’.

Phrases such as ‘An early reply would be appreciated’ or ‘I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience’ are accepted forms of framing such a request.

There is an accepted format for the salutation and sign-off of any letter which also applies to business communications, which is as follows: if you don’t know the name of the person for whom the letter is intended, you should use ‘Dear Sir’ or ‘Dear Madam’ as your introduction, and a letter of this type should always be signed off with the phrase ‘Yours faithfully’. If, however, you are writing your letter to someone known to you, you should use ‘Dear Mr’ (or Mrs, Ms or whichever is the preferred form of address of the individual person), and sign off with a ‘Yours sincerely’.

And while written business communications should follow all the strict rules and conventions of English grammar, this is a convention which it can be difficult to remember, especially given that so much modern communication takes the form of an e-mail.

One short cut to remembering how different kinds of business letters should be framed and worded is to use the services of a professional printing company. Such an operation will have experience of framing appropriate communications for a range of clients and other contacts, so should be able to advise on a preferred way of wording such communications.

Of course, another important consideration when drafting business communications is the kind of mage which a company wishes to portray to its customers. In much the same way as wearing a jacket, shirt and tie to work is steadily becoming less essential than in times past, so the type of business which the sender represents – and the customers with which it communicates – can dictate how a latter is both worded and presented.

Business letters fall into a number of categories, such as introductory letters, new contact letters sent to someone whom the sender may not have met, or employee introduction letters, with the purpose of informing a client or contact that they will be dealing with a new contact henceforth.

One absolute no-no when it comes to business communication is getting your recipient’s address wrong. In order to minimise the risk of this happening, it can be a good idea to have pre-printed address labels produced. These can then be carefully checked before any items are sent, and offer the benefit of eliminating the risk of a person inadvertently making a mistake when writing an address by hand, as well as minimising the risk of an address being misread.

What to look for in a barebones work desktop


Image via Flickr creative commons from Mat Honan

When you’re looking to buy a desktop PC for work, there are obviously a few things you’ll need to consider. Obviously, at a time when so many of us – businesses and households alike – are feeling the financial pinch, it’s absolutely essential that you find a device which is comfortably within your budget. You might be tempted to splash out, but unless you can genuinely afford to do so then it’s best to keep a tight grip on the purse strings. You also need to ensure that you buy a PC which is genuinely up to the job required of it, so don’t scrimp and save too much because it could turn out to be a false economy in the long run.

In recent years, it seems as if more and more people have turned to Dabs.com barebone PCs to provide the desired combination of power and value for money. Barebones PCs can provide genuine value as well as considerable technical capabilities. However, there are a few things you’ll need to bear in mind before you make the decision as to whether or not a barebones PC is really the right option for you. As an article from Wisegeek.com points out, a barebones PC is a pre-assembled kit of computer components, which more often than not serves as the base for a computer builder to work on. It stands to reason, then, that if you opt for a barebones PC you should have some degree of technical knowledge yourself or know someone who does.

A barebones PC will most likely, as the name suggests, contain only the basic elements of a computer system – so you can expect to find components such as the motherboard, power supply and a case, although other components such as sound and video cards may also be included. The rest you’ll have to add yourself – or get someone who knows how to do it for you. Perhaps the most obvious advantage of buying a barebones work desktop is that it’s likely to cost you far less than buying a fully-assembled desktop. However, opting for a barebones PC is likely to take you more time and effort to set up.

Another advantage of opting for a barebones work desktop is that it allows you to craft a PC according to your needs at work. If you work in a specialist field, then there’s a chance that a standard, pre-assembled desktop PC is unlikely to be of much use to you. There are also other barebones systems that you can buy for use around the workplace, such as servers and laptops.

As an article from eHow.com observes, you should think carefully before buying a barebones PC, and approach the issue with a degree of caution. While it might be tempting to rush in and take advantage of the lower cost offered by barebones PCs, you should remember that certain components may be difficult to set up. If you don’t have experience of assembling PCs in the past, then you may simply be better off opting for a ready-assembled desktop instead. It’s worth finding out more by searching online for information on what barebones desktop PCs have to offer.

Why You Should Start Planning A Catering Career As Early As Possible


Image via Flickr creative commons from Adam Freidin

Once you have decided you want to embark on a career in catering, you should know that experience is key. Qualifications of many sorts are important, but they will mean little to a prospective employer if not accompanied with some kind of workplace history.

Before you start scouring the internet for catering jobs from Blue Arrow, make sure you have thought about exposure to the heat and pressure of a working restaurant or café and getting a first-hand look at the responsibilities required.

A strong idea of the culture of kitchen work is essential; a budding chef should be prepared for long hours and numerous busy services.

Starting your career path early is also important as – although you may not need any academic qualifications to start work as a trainee chef – some employers will prefer you to have a good general standard of education including GCSEs in subjects like English and maths. Enrolling yourself in culinary education isn’t a prerequisite, though it can act as a good boost when attempting to get into a kitchen.

Some courses have links with local businesses who can offer internship positions. If this option is not available to you pursue it yourself. You can talk to the head chef at your local restaurant and ask if they would be willing for you to help out.

But you don’t need to worry about having it all meticulously planned out at once. Robert Pozen, of Harvard Business School, says you need not worry about some grand master plan and that you have no control over the particular trajectory of your career. So be patient.

Although he adds: “On the other hand, you can increase your probability of success by approaching your career with the right mind-set—one that recognizes that career planning is a continuous process that has to be actively managed. At each step in your career, you need to ask yourself: What can I do next that will maximize my options in the future?”

Mario Batali started his journey to the top as a dishwasher at a New Jersey pizza parlour. To become a chef you need a keen interest in food, even if that includes just being around it in the same kitchen while you wash the utensils. To get a taste, your first foray into restaurant work does not have to be prestigious.

Beyond experience you have to work your way up and prepare yourself for long hours. Establish at the very beginning whether or not you can commit to regular 16 hour days and swelteringly hot working arrangements. Once you start applying for jobs it is important to understand that you will start at the bottom. Even those with a culinary arts degree usually start with physically taxing work like peeling potatoes or processing meat.

A chef’s job is very demanding,” explains Masterchef judge and Michel Roux Jr’s soux chef, Monica Galetti. “It’s physically tough – there’s lots of carrying and lifting – it’s hot and the hours are long and unsocial. You have to have courage and broad shoulders, and when it’s time to work you have to step up to the mark.”

Making Your Morning Routine Work


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Are you the sort of person who jumps out of bed each morning when the alarm goes off, eager to start another day? Or are you the kind of person who dreamily rubs their eyes, hits the snooze button and turns over for a precious few more minutes in bed? The former probably doesn’t need help with making their routine work, but if you are the latter, you will be pleased to know that there is a way to ensure you are not so late every day, and to help you feel more energised in the morning. So read on to find out how to make your morning routine work.

1.      Make Lunches the Night Before

Whether you have young kids, or require sandwiches for yourself for work, you can shave minutes off your usual morning routine simply by making the lunch the night before and storing it in the fridge overnight. What’s more, this will prevent any early morning arguments with kids over what they want on their sandwiches as they will just have to eat what you’ve made them. And if you’re the kind of person who likes an extra few minutes to come round in the morning, making your lunch the night before will allow you that precious time to properly wake up. Plus, you’re less likely to have to run around getting everything ready so you’ll get out of the door feeling less stressed.

2.      Set Your Alarm Ten Minutes Earlier

If you always struggle to come round first thing in the morning, but hate that you’re always rushing to get out of the door, a simple way to solve that is to set your alarm to go off ten minutes earlier than usual. That way, you’ll be able to hit the snooze button and you’ll still have time to get ready and get out of the door and arrive at work for a reasonable time.

3.      Shower in the Morning

You can make your morning routine go faster if you take a fast shower in the morning. Make sure to use some citrus shower gel as well to really help wake you up. Those who prefer to have a bath; you should do so in the evening as it calms you down and is a good way to relax before bed. You have to remember however, that showers should be fast, not a chance to really pamper yourself, so if you have hair that takes ages to wash, try to do it the night before.

4.      Cycle To Work

Are you fed up of battling the jam-packed commuter train or bus every day on your way to work? Do you find that you often arrive at the office feeling super stressed and frazzled before the day has even begun? If this scenario sounds familiar to you, you may like to consider the prospect of cycling to work. The government has introduced a cycle to work scheme that employers can get on board and encourage healthier habits for their employees. Cycle gear at Halfords is affordable and will ensure that you are kitted out properly – plus, once you arrive at work, you only need to change into your usual work attire.

5.      Benefits of Cycling to Work

There are a great many benefits associated with cycling, including the obvious improved fitness and weight loss. Cycling to work gives you the chance to avoid the busy and over-crowded commuter transport and arrive feeling less stressed and frazzled. That means that you can start the day feeling a lot more refreshed and ready to face the daily challenges. Many people find it hard to fit regular exercise into their hectic schedules, so what better way to ensure that you get your recommended amount of exercise than by taking advantage of the fact that cycling is a mode of transport? What’s more, by increasing the amount of regular exercise you do, you will feel more energised and revitalised, so you’ll find that getting up each morning actually is not as hard as it once was. If you do start cycling to work, you’ll need to ensure you have the correct gear – you can get your mtb shoes at Halfords.com.

By following the above tips, you should find that your morning routine is not only faster, but that it is also a lot easier to manage, leaving you far less stressed and more ready to face the day.

Staying Safe With Ladders – The Top Five Rules


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Ladders can be dangerous. The first thing you need to know is that all ladders are weight rated – do not exceed this limit. They are one of the most common agents involved in falls from height and account for more than a quarter of all falls.

Before doing anything, you have to make sure you have the right ladder for the job – companies such as Slingsby Ladders have a wide range for every need.

Reaching something in the centre of the room will obviously require something along the lines of a stepladder. If you are cleaning gutters, an extension ladder might be the right one for you. There are even specialty ladders which bend to help you get to hard-to-reach place – but they are probably for the more advanced worker.

The different types of ladders are designed to keep you safe. Using the wrong one or ignoring some important safety tips can result in a trip to the hospital – or potentially something more serious.


Before going up your ladder – whether it is a lean-to or a stepladder – you should make sure it is all in good working order. Make sure the legs are secure and the ladder feet are not worn-down and attached correctly. Also, wear shoes with non-slip soles.

As pointed out by the government’s health and safety division, the ground should also be firm and level. The maximum safe ground side slope is 16 degrees and you should check this with a spirit level once the rungs are in place. The maximum safe back slope is six degrees. You should then have a strong upper resting point – not plastic guttering – and the floor you are resting the ladder on should be clean and not slippery.

The 1-4 rule

If climbing a ladder isn’t something you do regularly you may not be familiar with how dangerous it can be if not angled properly. Here you have to remember the four to one rule. For every four feet of height you have to climb, move the base one foot away from the wall. A good rule of thumb is also to never stand less than three rungs from the top of a stepladder and four from the top of an extension ladder.

Height is also important for stepladders. If using one to get on a roof, it is best if the ladder extends around three feet beyond it.

Don’t overdo it

You should keep work to a short duration – half an hour at the very most. When working with a ladder, do not carry overly heavy loads. Up to 10kg is the most you should consider. Move materials with extreme caution so as not to lose your balance and don’t exceed the maximum weight of a ladder.

Never overreach, keep both feet on one rung while working and make sure the majority of your waist stays within the stiles at all times. A good way to measure this is to keep your navel or belt buckle in between.


Make sure you keep your ladder in top condition, even if you are not using it regularly. There are various things you should look out for with each type of ladder. All should be inspected for broken or frozen joints or latches.

Aluminium ladders should be checked regularly for cracks or broken welds. Before the first use look out for burrs and rough spots. If you are using a wooden ladder, make sure you are inspecting for cracked wood, splinters and rot.

Wood ladders can be protected with linseed oil or clear sealant, but never paint a wooden ladder. It can hide imperfections.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you’re not sure, or wary of the height you may have to climb, you should always get someone to help by holding the base of the ladder.

If you’re still not certain, get a professional to do it. It may not be as cheap, but it will be safer.

Ten tips for managing workplace projects


Image from Flickr creative commons via innovate360

Making the best use of your working day can be a genuinely stressful business at times. It’s important to remember that more and more of us are working increasingly long and hard hours, partly because we have more work on our plates. One of the most intriguing and often overlooked trends of the last couple of decades is the increasing move towards self-management in the workplace. Bureaucratic elements of work, rather than being abolished entirely, have been delegated to ordinary workers as the layers of middle management have eroded. This means that it’s important to know how to make the best use of your time when carrying out project management jobs, as there are likely to be times when you have several tasks to juggle at once. Here are a few tips you might want to bear in mind.

1)      As an article from eHow.com points out, scheduling is crucial when trying to manage a prospect. It helps everyone in the team to know what they have to do and when each task has to be completed by. Without a clear, in-depth schedule the whole job could soon start to fall apart.

2)      How you plan your project will depend on whether or not it has a definite end date. Some clients will have a specific deadline in mind, and you’ll then need to ensure that you and your team meet it. There may be a degree of leeway, but it might be worth setting your own, earlier deadline to ensure that everything is done when it needs to be.

3)      It’s also a good idea to calculate how long the project is likely to take you to complete before you commit yourself to anything. Look back to see whether you’ve completed any comparable project, as this should give you an idea of how long your latest endeavour is likely to take. However, you may be able to identify some areas in which you can make improvements.

4)      Consider whether certain tasks are dependent on one another. If there are any that fall into this category, then perhaps you could consider ways to integrate them more effectively. This should help you to speed up the delivery of the project as a whole.

5)      You should avoid the temptation to micromanage each member of the team and how they spend their time. This is only likely to damage morale and alienate members of your team. Encourage them to use their initiative, where practicable.

6)      According to the Houston Chronicle, it’s a good idea drawing up a to-do list before you start work. Consider shuffling around different tasks according to how long you expect them to take.

7)      Make sure that this to-do list is circulated to all of those who need to see it. Other project and line managers should have a copy so that they know what’s expected of them.

8)      Consider sub-dividing workers into different teams so that they can specialise on individual areas of the project. This sub-division of labour should help to make things that bit more efficient, with everyone’s skills being used to maximum effect.

9)      Think about each individual employee’s capabilities and skills when allocating workloads. It makes sense to allow the most able to do most of the legwork, although you should avoid overburdening them.

10)  Ensure that you liaise with other members of your team regularly. Don’t just set them tasks and leave them to it. You need to make sure that everything is on track, or else you may fail to meet deadlines.

How To Draw Passers-By Into Your Store


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If you’re the proud owner of a small business or plans are underway for your start-up company, one thing for sure is that you’ll want to ensure you are attracting as many customers as possible. If your business is located in your local town centre and you want to drum up more sales, you have to know how to get the customers interested. So I’ve compiled some top tips to help you draw passers-by into your store.

Make an attractive window display

If your shop is located in an area with great foot traffic, create a great window display that tells a story. Remember that your window display has to be an invitation to the passer-by, so make sure it encourages impulse sales and peaks a customer’s curiosity. It could even tug at their heartstrings, depending on what industry you work in. Getting people emotionally involved will go a long way to encouraging the tinkle of your door bell to ring.

Put the best to the front

Have you ever noticed that restaurant owners are crafty in where they choose to place you? If they haven’t had much business they’ll ensure that they seat everyone near the window (so you can get a better view). What this does is make it look popular which will convince a passer-by to stop there to eat. It’s the same with a store; wheel out your most impressive products and display them in front of your shop. Shiny and attractive goods will grab people’s attention and turn them into customers.

Host a grand opening

This is the perfect way for start-up businesses to catch people’s attention right from the beginning. Provide food, offer prizes and serve up a whole host of entertainment to make the big day memorable. You could collect names and addresses of customers or ask for their business cards to build up a base of contacts.

Offer workshops

You can boost foot traffic into your store without even directly selling products to your customers. Host some workshops to get the local community involved with what you do. If you’re the owner of a bakery, you may wish to hold a cake decorating workshop – charge entry or booking fees and encourage people to post photos of their efforts on social media networks to spread publicity for your shop.

Hold a fundraising event

Supporting a local charity by holding a fundraising event will get the whole local community involved as well as drum up potential new customers for your business. You could hold bake sales, bring and share lunches, or even a walkathon. Arrange for a formal presentation of your donation and make sure you inform the local newspaper to drum up PR.

Good advertising

Last but perhaps most importantly of all, make sure your business is advertised in all the right places. You could advertise in newspapers, magazines, with a website, with coupons, or even by displaying signs in front of your shop. UKPoS pavement signs can be used to promote a sale or special offer that you have on in-store, as well as to advertise what products you sell. Once you’ve caught shoppers’ attention, you can wow them with great customer service to ensure that they keep on returning.

Ten Great Subjects For Home Learning


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Ever thought about learning new skills or changing career? One of the best ways to find out more about a subject is through a home learning course. Here are a few ideas of some of the best subjects you can immerse yourself in.


Complementary medicine has become hugely popular in recent years and aromatherapy is one branch that has attracted a large following. Discover everything from the physiological and psychological effects of aromatherapy massage to consultation techniques.

Manual bookkeeping course

If you run your own small business then one of the most important things you’ll need to master is how to keep track of your finances. With a manual book keeping course you could learn a range of skills that will no doubt prove to be invaluable.

Fiction writing

They say everyone has a book in them. Completing a course in fiction writing could help to provide you with the necessary skills to enable you to get that idea for a children’s book onto paper, or let your imagination run riot with a romantic novel.

Freelance journalism

Keen to become a professional hack and get your name on the front page? A home learning course in freelance journalism could be a great way to find out what the job entails and whether you’ve got what it takes to find a scoop when the editor is breathing down your neck!

Sports Massage

If you’ve ever wondered how the body’s muscles work and are keen to learn the various techniques used to treat athletes before and after events, then a home study sports massage course could be perfect. No previous knowledge is required and you can have a whole year to complete the course.

History A level

If you’ve a taste for the past and perhaps looking to take your studies on to a higher level at university, then a standard or fast track A-Level history course could be the perfect solution. You could learn about The Impact of Chairman Mao and the history of Britain between 1918 and 1964.

Forensic Science

Television programmes such as CSI have helped to bring the work of criminal investigators and forensic scientists into the homes of people around the world. A varied and constantly changing branch of science, the study of forensics and its everyday application in the world of criminal investigation is challenging and hugely rewarding.

Child care

There’s probably an awful lot more to childcare than you think and one of the best ways to find out more about how challenging and rewarding a career in childcare can be is to take a home study course. No matter whether you’re interested in becoming a nursery nurse or a child psychologist, there’s a course out there for you.

IT course

There are few roles these days where computers don’t play any kind of role. A distance learning course is perfect for discovering more about how computers work and how they can be used to push your business or your career forward.


If you’ve ever dreamed of standing up in court and addressing a jury then a law diploma is a great way to get a foundation in the subject. Discover the intricacies of the court structure, find out about contract law, consumer law and criminal law, and what goes into preparing a case for court.

How To Ensure That You Aren’t Paying Over The Odds For Your Mobile Phone Contract


Image from Flickr creative commons via Ollie Craaford

As many as three-quarters of people in the UK are, according to MSN Money, trapped in a mobile phone contract which means they are paying more than they need to be each month, and often getting services which they don’t use.

The biggest problem most of us have is that we just don’t know how our actual usage of free minutes, data download allowances and the number of text messages we send actually compares with what’s allowed under our contracts. And as, in most instances, we don’t get these figures in an itemised bill for us to check over each month, or even each quarter, seemingly cheap mobile phone deals might not be the best ones for us.

Of course, the phone companies have sound reasons for wanting to keep this information to themselves, and one of those grounds is that it helps protect each phone owner’s privacy. The consolation is that, when we come to renew our contracts, this data should be used to ensure that our carrier can offer us a new contract which accurately reflects the history of the type of usage we have had over the course of our previous one.

Where the phone companies make most of their money is in the simple desirability factor of the latest smartphone or tablet computer. This is a case of simple market forces – they can simply get away with charging more for the products which people want the most.

So one of the first ways in which anyone can benefit from a saving is to consider trading down to a less popular phone, or one which doesn’t come from a company whose products automatically attract a premium simply because of their desirability.

The tipping point in a mobile phone contract, after which it can make financial sense to swap to another one, is usually at its halfway point. Once you’ve reached this point, it’s worth contacting your provider – they won’t send you a reminder – to ask whether they will review your usage, and let you trade down. It’s important to note that they won’t let you switch to a more expensive tariff with bigger allowances at this point – it only applies if you think your current allowances are too generous.

Even then, there are limits as to how far your provider will let you trade down, and usually the maximum saving they’ll allow you to make is £5 per month. Also, beware of administrative fees which are written into some contracts for changing your plan early.

One way in which people often get caught out with their monthly call allowances is that these may not include calls to 0500, 0800 or 0808 numbers. These aren’t included in most free call allowances, but a service called 0800Buster lets users dial a standard landline number which then puts them through to the ‘free’ number they require, provided they’re still within their monthly call limits.

Finally, the biggest sting in the tail of most mobile phone contracts is the cost of making international calls. While the European Union has stepped in and imposed maximum charges per minute for making and receiving calls, there is as yet no such agreement in place to cap costs in non-EU countries. One operator, Vodafone, currently offers a Passport tariff, however, which lets you make calls and take the minutes from your inclusive allowance, or receive them free, provided they don’t last longer than an hour. The key here is to contact your provider before you go away, as they might be running cheap mobile phone deals at the time which will give you access to lower tariffs.