We may have learned the Earth isn’t physically flat in the days of Columbus, but with all the amazing advances in communication technology since, distance these days is really just a number. From the basics of postcards, phone calls and emails to the explosion of apps in the digital age, there’s no shortage of ways for you to stay in touch with friends and family back home. So how do you choose which platform to use?
When to call
Pay phones may seem hilariously outdated, but if you have a loved one back home concerned for your safety, one of those dinosaurs and an international calling card could be your best friend. There are tons of prepaid phone cards on the market. Pick one up before your departure and seek out a pay phone at the airport to let mom know your flight landed safely. If you have more extensive calling needs, such as on a long-term trip where you’re visiting several countries, you might look into getting an unlocked smartphone with an international friendly plan. When you’re not tied to a single carrier, you can grab a new SIM card in each country you visit and always have a phone at hand.
When to email
Email is convenient, even overseas thanks to the ubiquity of Internet cafes and WiFi. You can even hop online after the first day on the Inca Trail. Email is best to use for specific individual conversations, as with the business traveler checking in on the office. It can also be more convenient than scheduling a phone call across different time zones. If you’re vacationing and staying in a hotel, consider leaving the laptop at home. Most hotels have at least one computer in the lobby available for guest use.
When to Skype
Skype is perhaps the most popular means of international communication today, due to the app remaining free and WiFi being abundant. When you’re on a longer trip, being able to see the faces of friends and family back home is much more meaningful than a simple phone call or email. However, because it relies on both video and audio connections, you’re best off using Skype in quiet, private locations with a strong Internet connection. If you’d like to keep in touch with the friends you meet during your travels, keep in mind that Skype is not as popular in some countries. WhatsApp and Viber also have significant followings.
When to use social media
So you have lots of friends and family eager to keep track of your adventures. Lucky you! When you don’t have enough time for one-on-one calls, whip out your smartphone, snap a pic, and upload it to the social media platform of your choice. Facebook and Twitter are perennial favorites, but image driven platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat are all gaining more traction in the travel arena. Just watch your data usage.
When to send a postcard
Sometimes, the best technology is the old-fashioned kind. Whether you want to put a smile on the face of a less tech-savvy family member or a coworker is begging for a little souvenir, sending postcards will always have a place at the vacation communication table. If navigating a foreign post office sounds like too much trouble, you can pick up global postage before leaving. For an extra special spin on the tradition, use an app like Postagram to turn your own photos into postcards and mail them home.