Staying in touch with your family and friends can be very important to travelers. In reality, it is more important to travelers that it is cheap to do so. There is nothing worse than spending a lot of money for a 10 minute phone call back home. If you are anything like us, who are quite cheap, forgoing these expensive phone calls home is what would usually happen. Luckily, thanks to the internet, the world has become a cheaper place to keep in contact with home!
Smartphones, Tablets, Laptops
Having all, or one of these nifty devices really does make contacting home so much easier. We are all about traveling light and if we could just work on our smartphones, we would and that is all we would take with us! Alas, computer programing and blog writing is a little hard on a smartphone, so we have had to include laptops as well.
Bringing one computerised item can help you stay in contact with home. A free wifi connection at your hotel or guesthouse or cafe can open up a world of internet communication. Skype, email, blog posts, social media like facebook, makes it easier to stay in contact with your family and friends at home.
If you don't take anything with you, no problem! Pretty much all over the world you will find dedicated internet cafes that will have headphones and microphones set up on the computers available. Just log in, and connect with your loved ones!
Oh Skype, how we love thee. Skype has proven itself time and time again for being a useful VOIP program. Not only can you install it on your laptop, but if you have a smartphone or an ipad (or similar) you can install it on there and use it just the same. Using the free wifi at your guesthouse or apartment or cafe, you can have video calls or make a skype call just like a normal phone call, all for free. The free part is if the other person you are calling also has a skype account.
We have also used skype to call home phones and businesses. Purchasing skype credit was easy enough using paypal and / or a credit card. The rates are really cheap too. We have called businesses back in Australia and have had no qualms with voice calls. They were able to hear us perfectly.
If you really wanted to be fancy, you can purchase an online skype number. People can then call your number, like you are at home, and then you receive the calls whenever you are on skype.
Skype alternatives: Gmail also has a fantastic video call alternative to skype. If both people have gmail accounts and have webcams, this program is very good and easy to use. Facebook have also come to the party with video calls although we find that Gmail video calls to be much more reliable than the Facebook video calls.
Cell Phones / Mobile Phones
First things first, get your cell phone unlocked. Traveling to another part of the world with a cell phone that can only be used with a carrier in your home country, can be expensive. Getting stuck with a brick, wait, we mean a cell phone, that is only useful for making very expensive phonecalls or sending just as expensive text messages seems silly. Yes, it is ok for a short time, but not when you are traveling long term.
Unlock your phone when at home, try to complete your contract (if you are on one), and buy a local sim in the country wherever you are for that time. Most countries now have 3G sims for their cell phones so you can still use facebook if you have enough credit. We generally buy a sim on the first day of entering a new country, put on the equivalent of $10 AUD of credit straight away, and then email our family and friends our new number. They can contact us easily, we can call them if we want to, and we can still use the map function / facebook, and google search on our smartphone. Win Win!
If you don't want to rely on the internet or use a mobile / cell phone, then calling cards are still the cheapest way to call home. Virtually every corner store in the world sells calling cards. They are generally a lot cheaper than calling internationally from a mobile phone. The only problems we have found when using calling cards is trying to get them to actually work when you cannot understand the local language! Also, if you don't use up all the credit on the calling cards then you tend to leave the country not having used it all. Be awesome, and give the calling card to another traveler on your way out.
There is nothing better than sitting in a cafe in another part of the world, email bantering with your friends just like you did when you were at home and at work. Sending those one line emails of "What are you doing?" really is fun!
Fun stuff aside, sharing a personal story or two with your family and friends via email is a lovely way to keep in contact with them. We also use email to let people know what our next leg of transport is going to be. For example, when we traveled from Koh Phangan to Koh Tao, we emailed our family just to let them know we were moving on. Sometimes, it is better to give out more information than not.
Also, receiving birthday, wedding, party invites by email is a cool way to feel like you are still part of the "in crowd" at home!
We first stated our blog when we moved to Thailand in 2009. We didn't want to have to write separate emails to everyone we knew about what we had been up to. Therefore, our first blog was published. Our family and friends enjoy seeing what we are up to and believe it makes our family not miss us as much!
Blog writing can be hard though. It is on the Internet for everyone to read and possibly misinterpret. Word of warning, don't bad mouth anyone or anything unless it is really warranted!
Facebook / Twitter
Last, but not least is using social media to keep in contact with your family and friends at home. If you were a social media fiend before you left home, then it will be easy for you to keep in contact with family and friends using facebook or twitter on the road. If you can convince your mum and dad to jump on to the Facebook bandwagon, even better! We often share updates with a photo or two showing where we are right now on Facebook. Twitter, less so. Personal preference.
As you can see, there really are many options available to keep you in contact with your family and friends on the road. Get out there, see the world, and let your family and friends see and hear what you have been up to!