Staying Connected to Family When on the Road

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Travel is a part of our family’s life.  Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I hate it (mostly when my husband is gone for work on a little too regular a basis), but there is no denying we have learned to live our lives both together, and apart.  I think that a key to doing this as successfully as possible is to have a plan for staying in touch with with those family members who are back at home.  Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Scott Mayerowitz about this topic as he was putting together his recent article on this topic for Travel and Leisure.

I’m sure every family has their own plan for staying connected on the road, but here is what we do.

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My friend’s kiddo Skyping with her deployed dad

  • Set communication expectations before you leave home.  Normally the plan is just to touch base at least once a day, but this gets harder when you are talking about timezones and long flights.  You may not even be available during the waking hours of the family back at home on your long travel days, so set those expectations in advance and make sure your schedule is known.
  • Communicate daily.  With the exception of when you truly are unavailable (and you hopefully set those expectations in step 1), whenever possible communicate daily.  For most trips this will mean talking over the phone, via FaceTime, or Skype at least once a day, but if you are in a remote situation then perhaps it will simply be a daily email.  However, with younger children getting to hear your voice or see your face will mean more than a letter from you via email, but some communication is better than none.
  • Pick a time to talk.  This won’t be necessary for all families, but if you find it is hard to talk at a time when both parties aren’t in the middle of 14 different things, then pick a time to talk.  If you are on opposite sides of the globe, it may require one party to stay up late, or get up a little early, so make a “talking date”.  Then, do your best to be available for your talking time.  Conversations don’t need to last forever – even 10 minutes a day can make a big difference.  We find that after our kid’s bath, but before she is asleep, is one of the calmest and best times of the day to talk and catch up on the day’s events.
  • The focus is on those at home.  You may be on the trip of a lifetime, or a very difficult business trip, and while you should share some of your day with those at home, your day is not as important as the day of the family you left behind.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  This is not the time to go into detail about how beautiful the architecture was on this building and that building, or how your meeting got bogged down for hours because of some complex discrepancy that you try to describe for 15 minutes.  Keep the summary of your day short, and spend the majority of the time hearing about your kid’s day at school, what they are studying in their homework, what books they are reading at bedtime, how your partner’s day went, etc.  Being a “single parent” for a period of time is not easy, so let your partner at home vent a little if needed without trying to one-up them with how hard your (kid free) day has been….even if your day really was very hard. 
  • Plan for roaming and internet issues ahead of time.  Especially if you are leaving the United States (or your home country, wherever that may be), you need to plan in advance for issues like roaming on your cell phone or limited internet access.  Get a international plan via your cell phone company, get a local SIM card wherever you land, or do whatever necessary to still be in contact with your family at home.  If you are a single traveler, or even one without kids, this may seem totally unnecessary as you can just disconnect for a few days, but when you have a spouse and kids back home it is better to just plan in advance to solve for the barriers of staying connected.  Personally, if I can’t afford the cost to stay connected to some degree when I’m on the road, then I probably can’t afford the trip.  For some, this will also mean that they are selecting a hotel that has free WiFi even within the United States.
  • Bring something back from your trip.  A final thing that we do to keep connected to our kid on trips is to bring her something back.  This has varied from a toy carved out of wood made by a local craftsman, to bongo drums, to pink kid’s chopsticks from Japan, to sea shells from the beach, to stuffed animals.  She really loves it when we text or email a photo of the toy we found for her, so she can look forward to it and ask questions about it when we talk on the phone.  We also have a “secret stash” of toys here at home to give her in case we simply don’t have time to get her one on the road.  We try to only bring her something back from longer trips as we are gone too much for her to get a new toy every time we go out of town.
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A lei and necklace from Hawaii were big hits!

 What does your family do to stay connected when some of the family members are on the road?

Comments

  1. Good tips MP. I think communication is a little different if kids (20-something’s) are away from home and their parents are back home. I know I don’t talk, or text, or email my parents enough when I travel. If you are the opposite of me and like to stay in touch with your friends/family back home, this is what you should do.

    Turn off data to your iPhone, turn on airplane mode, and turn on wifi. You can text for free with wifi to anyone on iMessage and even FaceTime if the wifi is powerful enough. If you want to talk to friends/family without iPhones, I use Text+ (Text Plus). It creates a fake texting number that works just like iMessage but you can text anyone with a phone number.

    • Grant, I totally agree that the equation shifts when you are talking about grown children being the ones away (or the ones still at home for that matter). I communicate with my parents some when I travel, but they are good with a text or even just seeing updates on Facebook most of the time. It is my daughter and husband who need/want more regular updates. Good breakdown of the iPhone settings!

  2. I am away from my loved ones probably 250-300 days a year, so being able to communicate regularly, easily and efficiently is a very critical thing for me. I learned the hard way that it is best to sign up for dozens of communications apps as some countries and ISPs block what may be your usual favourites and you need to go to backups. VPNs on your smartphone are also important if you want to be able to bypass some filters (eg. Skype to phone calling from the UAE or Ethiopia).

    Living in Somalia, something that I found comforted both my parents and my fiancee was to install a GPS tracking app on my phone (I use the free version of Hemisphere which works very well with Android) which offers real time tracking of my position. That way, they can always check up on me and do not have to panic when news breaks of a suicide bombing or similar event. Granted, this may be a bit overkill for most people but it can be a useful option for anyone when traveling to keep people on the home front passively aware of your comings and goings.

    One final tip is to invest in a good portable backup battery pack or similar for your phone. I’ve lost track of the number of times that my battery consumption goes through the roof when traveling and I wind up with a dead battery right at the designated time to call home.

  3. The flip side, of course, are those traveling companions who despite being surrounded by amazing sights in a fantastic new culture are inanely pounding away on their electronic devices in the same empty Facebook and Twitter chatter they would be doing if sitting at home bored. Be willing to be disconnected for a while too. I’m sure it’s not a problem for you now, but wait until C is a teenager…

    • Dave, there is always a balance, but I think if you have an appt to talk once a day for 10-15 minutes with the family members back and home and you can still enjoy the other 23:45 of the day by being immersed in where you are. Totally agree with what you are saying though, our devices can be a bad thing if we let them. I’m sure it is a big challenge with teenagers!

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