We recently got a postcard from some friends that were travelling in Europe. It was very exciting for the children to see the pictures and read what their friends had been up to. They couldn’t wait to visit and ask them more about it – because of course, the card arrived back after our friends did! While letters, postcards and the odd phone call were once the best way to keep in touch abroad, there are much better options today.
The explosion of ‘smart’ devices and the ubiquitous internet has made international communication something almost any traveller can manage with ease. Sending messages and images, and live conversation is fast, cheap, and readily accessible. The trick is choosing the best way to keep in touch with family and friends, and sharing your vacation experiences with those who weren’t lucky enough to come along.
When it comes to sharing your holiday, social media is probably king. Facebook has an enormous population, and you can easily log locations, thoughts, reflections as well as photos and videos for your friends and family. If you are more inclined to take pictures but not expound on them, Instagram is a good alternative, and Twitter lets you post photos as well as the famously brief messages the app is known for. The downside of these platforms is the breadth of their coverage. Unless you are diligent with your security settings, there can be any number of people privy to your holiday activities. If you plan on travelling for a while, an alternative is setting up your own blog or website. Platforms like WordPress are free at the basic level, providing simple blog or website frames that you can customise. For a small investment you can add numerous features like premium themes, extra functions and less advertising. Some platforms also allow you to restrict access to ‘members,’ meaning only those you invite or allow can view your material.
Beyond broadcasting your snaps of the Grand Canyon or another golden sand beach, there are a multitude of ways to keep in touch with friends and family. Smartphones and tablets are by far the most versatile for this, though laptop and notebook computers can still serve pretty well. Apps like Skype and Viber offer the simplest solution, allowing point to point voice and video calls, as well as text chatting. Never underestimate how excited the kids will be to see Grandma and Grandpa on the screen – or themselves for that matter! These apps can handle calls between any devices that carry the application, and at no cost. For a small charge they can also call cell phones or landlines, even internationally, carrying the call over the internet.
There are a plethora of text messaging apps available too, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Most require the recipient to have the same app to receive the message, so you will need to decide what platform you want to use while you are away to prevent having to send the same update five or six times! Apples iMessage, WhatsApp and the Facebook Messenger are some of the most common in this field.
Bear in mind that these apps all require internet access to function. Using cellular data services abroad isn’t impossible, but depending on your contract can become expensive very quickly. The massive growth of smart devices however has meant that finding free or affordable WiFi is not hard. Many cafes, hotels and libraries offer the service free to guests or patrons, and even fast food restaurants often have WiFi available. The Boingo app uses GPS and mapping technology to help you locate known WiFi hotspots, but be aware that it may require a data signal in order to do so.
Using your phone directly is also a very viable option, but depending on your carrier can be costly. Check out what ‘roaming’ options your contract allows for before you use your phone abroad. Also bear in mind that ‘your’ phone is really just a piece of hardware. The distinctive information that makes it yours is held on the Subscriber Identity Module or SIM card. Many regular travellers will buy a cheap replacement SIM at their destination and use that for data services and local calling, tucking their ‘home’ SIM away until they return. As an estimate, approximately 100 Mb of data will allow about 100 social media posts or emails with a typical smartphone photo attached, and on a local plan this could be a matter of cents versus dollars for your usual carrier. While it is typically cheaper to make use of a local carrier rather than roaming plans, be aware that calls home will still be international, and friends and family will need your new foreign number to call you. Also keep in mind that your contacts are probably stored on your SIM, so you will need important numbers etc written down if you are changing over to a local card for the vacation.
Keeping in touch has never been easier, and with the options of sending photos instantly or video calling, sharing your experiences can be an exciting and simple process. Just make sure you have thought through what you want to share, and with whom, and have the tools handy to be able to do it.