For study abroad in Spain my daughter got along quite well using her school and apartment internet. Also she used Starbucks and McDonalds - "Mom you would be surprised how many Starbuck's are in Europe!" This was two years ago. We did skype a couple of times.
I did get her World Traveler from ATT but she used it maybe once in 6 weeks.
To contact her friends who were in Spain I think she just got a local phone. It was cheap IIRC. (had to have been cheap
My two youngest just got back from a 3 week jaunt backpacking. They stayed together the whole time. I got them World Traveler again - used it once to call me. Also the text messaging plan which gave them 50 texts for a month - I think this cost about $6. Between the two of them I could have received 100 texts in 21 days or 5/day. I think I got about 10 texts the whole time! Assuming their friends got all the texts. They could receive texts for free.
Both had iPhones but not the 3G. They used WiFi when they could get it and did fine. Most of the hostels are wired with desk computers and often it was free.
Again in the major cities - Starbucks and McDonalds. They never used an internet cafe.
We did use gmail chat once - that worked better with a weak signal than skype- that was when they were in Nice on a Thursday and found they couldn't get a train to Barcelona until Monday night. They figured it out themselves, though and didn't really need me to 'help'.
I think there is a big difference between spending a few weeks abroad vs living abroad. If going abroad for a few weeks there really is no need to have cheap and ready access - you just need to have the ability to contact home/embassy etc in case of emergency.
IMO an emergency does not constitute - I want to come home because my sister is a jerk. LOL.
Did they miss posting to Facebook/Twitter on the fly? Yes, but they got over it.