Dear Mom and Dad,

I thought I’d share with you a few of the ways that you can stay in touch with me even while I’m abroad. I may be outside the country, but unlike when Dad traveled around the world in the 70s, this is a very different world. We’ve got computers and smart phones and iPads and e-mail. There are still postcards, of course, but when sending an SMS (text message) is instantaneous, there’s very little reason for us to not be able to communicate quickly and easily.

This guide is to help you understand how we can stay in touch when either of us is abroad. We’re in the 21st century and even though we don’t have flying cars (yet), we have developed some incredible communication tools. A lot of great start ups have improved the way we communicate. The way we can communicate from just about anywhere! You may be in Hong Kong and I may be in Berlin, but Skype will still work for both of us, so long as we’re connected to the internet. You’ve got a cell phone in the USA which allows you to make a phone call to India with just a few buttons. It might cost 10 cents a minute, but for a 5-minute phone call, it’s still less than your Starbucks coffee. And really…wouldn’t you be treating me to a coffee anyways?

Mom and Dad, I want you to realize what an incredible world we live in—how easy it is to communicate with both strangers and those that we know and love. This how-to guide is for you. And let’s be honest: it’s for me, too. Because even though I may be living abroad as an expat, I still like to speak with you and hear your voice, to see your face when I can. Even if I’m on top of a volcano in Guatemala or on the beach in Spain, we can still stay in touch. So, in such a highly connected world, let’s make sure we stay connected.

Love,
Adam

How to stay in touch when traveling abroad

staying connected when abroad

Connect anywhere with Skype

skypeThis is probably the most popular tool used by travelers, by students studying abroad and by expats. Skype allows you to set up a free account and so long as you use their software, it’s free to make video calls or send chat messages. That means I could log in to Skype on my iPhone, and my parents could be logged into Skype on their computer…and we can video chat for free.

Alternatively, Skype also allows you to buy credit which you can then use to make regular phone calls from abroad. I’ve used Skype to call my bank in the USA from a hostel in Cairo, or to get a hold of my Mom when I really needed to speak to her (on her cell phone). The service also allows you to buy your own online number so that you can receive voicemails. It’s probably the most useful, free tool in the world for connecting people and yet I still have plenty of friends in the USA who just don’t use it. Get on board!

Learn more at skype.com

Send messages & photos for free with iMessage

imessageWith Apple products, the text messaging app offers a free messaging-to-messaging service. Anyone who has an iPhone or iPad can send a free message to one another so long as they’ve turned on and activated the iMessage feature in their settings. It’s an incredibly useful feature and works across borders. My iMessage account is active on my iPhone and is connected to my e-mail and my phone number. This means that anytime my phone is connected to a wifi network when I’m outside the country, I can send and receive iMessages—for free.

iMessages can be sent with photos or text, so this is really an awesome feature. And when I use my data connection on a cellular network with a local SIM card (see below), I’ve got free unlimited text messaging. So long as the people I want to write to are also using iPhones or iPads.

Read:
About iMessage
How to set up iMessage

WhatsApp: cross-platform free phone messaging

whatsappJust like iMessage, the cross-platform WhatsApp works in a similar way. It allows for unlimited text messaging (and photos!) from just about every type of smart phone. Unlike iMessage though, you have to have your WhatsApp connected to a phone number to initially set it up. The biggest benefit to using WhatsApp is that my friends who have Android phones can still contact me for free (anywhere in the world) on my iPhone. It’s pure brilliance.

I tend to use WhatsApp equally among my friends back home in the USA, as well as my international friends here where I live. It’s pretty much universal at this point as a cost-effective way for just about anyone to communicate with anyone else anywhere in the world. There are other similar services popular in different regions of the world, ones that aren’t necessarily tied to a phone number (such as kik), but WhatsApp is what I’m most familiar with.

Learn more at whatsapp.com

Video chat on FaceTime

facetimeAnother Apple-only product, FaceTime allows for video chat across Apple products anywhere in the world. It works best over a decent wifi connection, but can also work over cellular data. You just have to be weary because it’ll drain most of your data plan; video is quite the data hog! FaceTime works pretty much the same way as Skype or other similar video chat software, but I’ve found it to be mostly reliable. Plus it’s easily embedded within Apple products so my parents who each have iPhones have found it easier to use on a mobile device than other third-party apps (like Skype).

Learn more at apple.com

International SIM cards—phones work everywhere!

phoneYou know what’s so spectacular about a globalized world? Mobile phones are just about everywhere now. And in many countries it’s quite easy and affordable to buy a SIM card giving you a local phone number. The world’s mobile phone network is pretty spectacular if you think about it—satellites and networks making connections between people on just about every corner of the globe.

When traveling, I tend to pick up a local SIM card depending upon the length of my stay. One month in Thailand? Sure, I can grab a cheap, pay-as-you-go SIM card at a 7-11 and have the ability to make local AND international calls. With a phone number, my friends and family back home can call me whenever they feel like it. Sure, there might be pay-per-minute fees, but in the big scheme of things, the cost is often quite cheap. My Dad used to tell me about dropping a few Euros (well, Francs back then) in a pay phone in Paris whenever he had some spare change—just to make a quick call back home to his parents. With mobile phones there’s no need to seek out a pay phone, but instead, just charge a few bucks onto your phone and make a call. Easy.

There are also lots of services which rent SIM cards to travelers. You can usually order them before a trip or else pick one up at the airport.

Read more: Staying connected while traveling

E-mail and snail mail

mailOh to live in our modern times! While there are lots of ways to stay in touch with family and friends that involve phones, voice and video, it’s still quite possible to stay connected through more traditional means: mail. Whether it’s e-mail or postcards this is a still-reliable form of communication. Of course, it’s not perfect. Letters can be lost in the mail, and e-mail can be redirected to spam, but these are the exceptions rather than the norm.

As an expat, I’ve got a permanent address abroad so it’s quite easy for me to receive mail and packages (hint hint).

Social media: Foursquare, Facebook & etc

foursquareThere’s quite an aversion to social media by people of a certain generation. However, they’re missing the point. In a global society where things are instantaneous, sure you get a lot of crap—but there’s still nuggets of gold mixed in there. Apps like Foursquare allow users to “check-in” to a specific location, sharing their whereabouts with friends. I like it because it’s real-time but it’s also relatively accurate. I only use it to check-in to places when I’m there, so that my friends and family who follow me can see what I’m up to.

Facebook also allows for check-ins but you’re allowed to do so after-the-fact. Foursquare is based on geo-location and is mostly a mobile-only app. Social media still works in wonderful ways, though. Facebook offers video calling through their website as part of their integration with Skype.

Learn more:
About Foursquare
Facebook video calling


If you have any tips for how to stay in touch abroad, leave them below in the comments!

Please note some posts do make me some money but I never sacrifice my integrity in exchange for a favorable review. Read the full disclosure policy.

23 comments

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  1. Fantastic blog! I’m impressed, I must say. Really rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both informative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. Your blog is outstanding; the issue is something that not a lot of people are talking intelligently about it. I’m really happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to this.

  2. Alex

    I also used TravelSim card when I was traveling across Europe. I’m so glad that I saved a lot of money on calls and I was able to call my closest twice or more a day. Recommend!

  3. Aili

    Hi guys:)

    May be smbd. can help me with that. I was looking for a solution to solve my roaming problems. And i found out that prepaid roaming simcard are getting more popular and popular. And there are sooo many of theme, may be some body used one? may be anyone use Travel Sim, looks reliable

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  8. Sono stato molto contento di aver trovato questo sito. Voglio dire grazie per il vostro tempo per questa lettura meravigliosa! Io sicuramente mi sto godendo ogni post e ho già salvato il sito tra i segnalibri per non perdermi nulla!

  9. Jo (The Blond)

    Haha would you belive that I didn’t know the imessage was for free?! Well, I’m running to send sime texts now! See ya!

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  11. We certainly have countless ways to keep in touch these days. My Dad always tells how when he went backpacking in Europe in the 1970s, people just didn’t hear from you until you returned. So strange to think about today!

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  14. Well, having wi-fi makes things easier but what if you don’t have? Buying a sim card for international calls could be even more expensive than getting roaming service from your current provider.

  15. Love how you’ve directed this post to your parents:)
    I use skype, whatsapp, viber (check it out!), facebook messenger, twitter, ‘regular’ facebook and so on:)
    Oh and e-mail, of course:)

  16. We highly recommend Skype. Juliet’s family and friends are sprinkled about her home country of England while we live in the US. It’s handy and free!

  17. Great tips. Leaving this info for my bf while going back home for a visit. BTW Skype is seriously amazing. I call my bank, doctors and all kinds of places (most of the time for FREE) while being abroad. One of the BEST online tools for staying in touch while being geographically detached.

  18. Patrick Smith

    Hey Adam, loved this post:-) what i l;oved is how you added the phrase, about your dad traveling in the 70’s:-)!!!!!! I suspect your dad and I are the same age. when I backpacked through Europe in the 70’s, if you wanted to call home, you had to go to the phone company and enter a booth, and hope someone was home or that you calculated the time difference correctly. There was no 2 way writing because you didn’t have the address of where you were going to stay. Postcards and letters were the only way to let ev eryone know you were ok and what you were doing. It was s impler time, for surel. Now, I take my laptop with me everywhere ( I have a safety case for it in my backpack), and e-mail skype and all. More compicated: yes; better- I think so! thanks so much for this post!!

  19. My sister and I use Gtalk to keep in touch, either on our phones (she has a Windows app, I have imo for iPhone) or via our Gmail accounts. I tried WhatsApp for a bit until someone I’d met through work sent a message to their entire contact list to promote an event, which was way too invasive for my taste (I hadn’t added them as a contact). Once upon a time I would also text my sister on a regular basis, and then I got the phone bill – it adds up, ha.

    Other than that, my family often does Google Hangouts when my California-dwelling brother has a day off. For friends, I’ve found that I ultimately just prefer emails or texting, and if we manage to find a time slot, Skype works too.

    • Really interesting to hear you use Google Hangouts with your family, Claire! I think that’s a great way to communicate (can’t believe I left it out) but I’ve only ever done a few and never with friends or family. Finding a time slot is the hardest part about Skype—especially with time differences.

  20. Great tips. I must say that I always use skype. It’s a great tool if really frustrating to close.

    • Cheers George. I think just about everyone uses Skype these days :)

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