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How To Stay In Contact While Travelling

Stay in Contact while travelling

Staying in touch whilst travelling with family and friends is easy in this day and age. Modern technology and the widespread availability of internet access actually make it difficult to stay out of contact with the rest of the world. But making time for communication while you're travelling can be difficult - it's so exciting to see and experience new places, you sometimes forget about the one you're from.

This month we're thinking of all the people out there who are waiting for an e-mail or text from their loved ones far away. We've compiled a list of our ten best ways to keep in contact with people back home while travelling. From mobile apps to writing letters the old-fashioned way, there's a way of communicating to suit everybody who's on the road. Let us know what your favourite way to stay in contact is and send us a message on facebook or in the comment box below.

  • Do

    1. Download Skype - it's a magical tool. It costs nothing to download, it's free when you call other Skype users and it's cheap when you call or text mobile phones. If your time is on a budget and you have four different people to catch up with, you can conference the whole lot in one group conversation. The only thing you need is a smart phone, a tablet or a laptop. If you don't want to pay for 3G or 4G charges, you can download the Skype WiFi app and connect using your Skype account – you only pay for time spent online, as opposed to your download quota. Pound for pound, it's the cheapest and most convenient way of making calls while you're abroad.

      Essential Travel recently voted Skype #2 in our article, Top 10 Travel Innovations Of All Time.

    2. Write letters, the old fashioned way. There's something deeply personal and nostalgic about the process of writing a letter and receiving one. It's a connection to our distant forefathers or grandparents, who sustained entire relationships by writing letters to one another - sometimes from the bloody trenches of a war zone or by candlelight inside an empty house. They're a sign of effort and consideration. Letters, postcards and printed photographs end up getting stuck up on the fridge, where they're read several times before being passed around to extended family members. Emails or Facebook messages are often confined to an inbox, where they'll be skim-read or deleted after being mistaken for fake lottery spam. Writing a letter might not be the most instantaneous way of contacting your people back home, but you can bet it'll mean a lot to the people who get it.

    3. Send video clips or high-resolution images via file transfer sites. If you're away for an extended period of time and want to send your family a video message or a clip of you doing something exciting – petting a cheetah at a game park or waving from the top of the Empire State Building – there are a number of websites that can help you out. www.wetransfer.com is really easy to use and allows you to send files up to 2GB in size – which is great for video clips. www.dropbox.com is a great storage website that allows you to keep hundreds of GBs of photos, videos and documents in a floating account. You can create a personal file to share selected photos and videos with other people, which is a lot more private than granting public access to your pictures on Facebook.

    4. Use internet cafes. If you don't have your own laptop, smart phone or tablet, there's normally an internet cafe around. The standard rates vary from cheap, to prices more absurd than ink cartridges. You've just got to keep your eyes open and use the opportunities given to you. If you find a very cheap internet cafe and still have a smart phone, look into sending your emails and Facebook messages there, as opposed to paying for roaming rates with your mobile or laptop.

    5. Make use of travel apps on your mobile. Sometimes emailing, Skyping or updating your blog takes up too much time – especially if you're on a busy holiday that is loaded with activities and excursions. If you only want to send a quick message to someone, download a cross-platform app that allows you to send instant messages to mobiles with the same program. WhatsApp, for example, is available to Blackberry, iPhone and Android users. This allows you to text them or send a photo free of charge from anywhere in the world.

    6. Make an email date with your friends and family once a week or month. It's very easy to get lazy with communication, especially when you're living, working or studying far away, while everyone else is getting on with life as usual. Making time for Skype chats and instant messages gets harder and often falls to the back of the list of Things To Do. One way to avoid this happening is to set a time for a group email and commit to this schedule whole heartedly. Even if it's a once a month event, there to keep your parents from worrying themselves to pieces over you, a regular email goes a long way.

    7. Get a smart phone. These devices have come a long, long way over the years and having one is like having an entire office full of supplies at your disposal. Most (not all) of the tips on this list can be accomplished by having a smart phone – email, skype, travel apps, file transfer services. The only thing you need to watch out for is your phone bill (see the final tip).

  • Don't

    1. Don't rely on Facebook. Facebook is a strange animal. On paper, it's the perfect way to keep in touch with everybody back home – you can post pictures, write messages, chat in real time and comment on other people's posts. But it's almost like having one, continuous supermarket conversation with everybody you know; a great way to catch-up, but sometimes a little skin-deep. Use it wisely.

      Remember: You don't need to tell everybody back home everything you're doing every hour of the day – part of the fun of travelling is getting away, so that you can miss home and vice versa. Check out our article on the Seven Deadly Facebook Sins for more examples of social media abuse while travelling.

    2. Don't run up a phone bill that costs as much as your entire holiday. Before you go crazy and start calling everybody from your smart phone, check out Essential Travel's tips on how to keep your phone bill down.

      Essential Travel - International Calls Infographic International Calls Infographic by Essential Travel

Last Updated: September 2012

Clayton Truscott

Clayton is a comfortable traveller, having grown up in a small city that was far away from everything. He spent lots of time in the car as a child, driving up and down the coast of South Africa on surfing trips with his family. After studying abroad in the United States and spending a year working in London, he moved to Cape Town, where he completed a Master's Degree in Creative Writing. He now works as a freelance writer for various travel, surfing and action sports publications.