First, a confession: I'm not a mobile phone person. I live in the 'burbs north of Washington DC, I make 8-10 short calls a week, I don't text (ever), and so for the past five years I've relied on a tiny, nearly free, pay-as-you-go Virgin Mobile flip phone. (Go ahead, laugh.) I take a lot of crap from my friends and coworkers about my POS mobile device, but, hey, it works for me. (Did I also mention I'm a cheapskate?) I just changed jobs and will be traveling to Iowa and Nebraska once or twice a month. On my first trip there I had no cell service on the road. This is a serious problem, as I need to reach coworkers, managers and the g/f on a regular basis. Some locals told me Verizon is the only carrier in Iowa with reliable service throughout the state. So it looks like I'm going to need a new phone. I want to resolve this dilemma in the most inexpensive way possible. No $50-60/month data plans, as the job won't pay even a portion of the cost (Ugh!) and, again, I don't use the phone more than absolutely necessary. But I need internet connectivity to look up addresses and directions, receive email, etc. And I want something small enough to carry in my pants pocket, without looking like a deformed porn star. So what I'm asking you kind and knowledgeable folks is this: How can I best handle this phone and service upgrade on the cheap? Do I buy my own Verizon-compatible phone? Do I opt for prepaid, pay-as-you-go or contract service? I've also heard StraightTalk uses the Verizon towers and is less expensive, though some folks told me they had bad experiences with the company. Are there any other third-party carriers using Verizon towers that you'd personally recommend? Please take pity on a smartphone noob (cuz everyone's a rookie in the beginning). Help a bear out. Give me the benefit of your wisdom and experience, and I will repay your kindness by not making off with your pic-a-nic basket. Sincere thanks.