When I first went travelling, it was on the cusp of real smartphones. I had a BlackBerry at the time (who didn’t?!) because iPhones were expensive – only one or two of my friends had iPhone 3s handed down from parents. This, coupled with the fact that internet abroad was crazy expensive, I decided to take a brick of a Nokia with me that had a limited internet options, should I get desperate! I also took my laptop, because I wanted to blog around my trip.
However, my laptop screen cracked on my first flight – annoyingly so – and I still have no idea how! This meant my blogs were few and far between on the odd hostel computer that you might get for 5 minutes before someone else wanted it! It also meant emailing home was a bit harder.
It’s a lot easier these days to stay in touch, so here are my top tips for staying in touch now that we have reasonable phones and generally more options! Naturally though, if you’re at the top of Everest or deep in the jungle, you might still struggle - but every location is different!
These days, the majority of us have smart phones. If you don’t have one, I would consider getting an old iPhone to make your trip easier. Having a smartphone made so much difference on my own trips, both long and short, and I would not travel without one - especially not after the disaster experience I mentioned earlier!
So why do they make the difference? Well, I’m going to cover apps later on, but generally having the internet available makes life a lot easier. For one, Google Maps can be your best friend in a foreign place, helping from everything from public transport to routes, if you’re driving. Plus, if you can use the internet abroad, your phone can double as a satnav, waiving ridiculous rental fees that you otherwise might have had to pay! If you’re not driving, it makes finding your accommodation at night a lot easier, and you can send your location to people if you’re wanting to check in with family, providing an extra sense of security. You can dial emergency services easily, and they can also hold your medical details on them – really useful if you’re allergic to anything or take any medications.
It also means that you'd be able to carry less technology with you/ You can blog from them, you can take photos (and generally pretty good ones, too) – and those are just two more examples! This is not to say that you won’t take a camera or a laptop, because if you really want to, of course you can take them, but you will want to limit how many gadgets you take on a principle of space and safety.
Phone Use Abroad
Not everyone and every country, however, has free internet use abroad. I’m personally on a network that has been offering free use in certain countries for a few years now, and it has really helped. They’re always expanding the number of countries too, which is incredible – and now this is one of the first things I look at when looking at phone contracts! If you don’t already have this through your provider, have a look and see what they can offer. If your contract is up before your trip, seriously consider this an important aspect of your package.
So, what if you don’t have free use abroad? Well, going back to when I first went travelling, I didn’t have this and I certainly coped - and there’s something quite nice about switching off and not looking at Facebook or Instagram! It’s not the end of the world at all if you don’t have free internet, as nowadays a lot of places have wifi – so research the country/countries you’re going to, to see a) whether you can use your phone there and b) if not, where are the best wifi spots? You might find yourself finding some great cafes or other cool places to frequent by doing this!
If you do have internet, wifi or data, then you also have options with apps. Skype and Whatsapp are the main two that come to mind, but of course there are many, many more. Whatsapp in particular would be the one to choose if you don’t already have it, as you can text, call, and video call through it, if connected to the internet. If you just want to use wifi, switch your data off and connect to the network and you should be good to go, as long as the other person also has the app.
However, Skype was the original one that I had planned to use so had it installed on my laptop, so I do hold a bit of a sweet spot for it – and again you can call, message and video chat with people. The difference is that they must hold an account (unlike Whatsapp, where you simply download it) and they have to be online.
Finally, remember that I mentioned Google Maps? They also have a great app which can perform certain tasks even off of the internet. This is super helpful, as you can save routes (or even 'star'/favourite certain locations, such as your hotel) before you leave your accommodation, and these locations will still be available offline. The internet can seriously sap your phone's battery, so an offline app like Google Maps will allow you to run on airplane mode while still using the platform. Handy, right?
If you have any other useful apps, do let us know in the comments!
As you can probably imagine, I’m not fond of taking bigger items such as laptops on long trips with me – when I broke my laptop, it was a big, old heavy kind of laptop and I had to lug it round 14 countries with me as it was too expensive to ship it home! I did claim it on my travel insurance, who were brilliant, but the whole experience was still frustrating. So now, I very rarely travel with mine on long trips, simply for ease!
That being said, I do tend to travel with my tablet because it makes life a lot easier when writing or reading (I am an avid reader, but don’t have a Kindle!) and also it’s better for video chatting. If you have both, I would always take the smaller device because they’re easier to fit in your bag and also tend to be cheaper (although, looking at the new iPads, this isn’t always the case!)
However, if you’re going away for longer than 3 or 4 months, you might want to take your laptop with you, because then you can use it to apply for jobs when it’s almost home time, or you can do everyday things, such as binge-watch on Netflix! It really depends on your trip. Just remember to ask yourself: is there going to be good wifi? Is it going to get damaged easily? Are there good enough lockers in the hostels? Is it covered by your travel insurance?
Similarly to laptops, I don’t travel with cameras often anymore. I love using my film Canon camera, but I tend to not take it on long trips: for one, film is expensive and I’d use too much of it on a long trip, and it’s just another thing to worry about. I do, however, take my GoPro places because it’s tiny and it’s waterproof. It may not give me the photos my Canon can, and I can’t change the lenses in the same way, but I worry about it significantly less. It’s easy to hide, it fits in pockets, and it is much more versatile!
Some people can’t be parted from their camera, which is absolutely fine. If photography is your passion, then it’s one thing to consider taking! We all have different priorities, and if your Canon is one, go you! Just make sure your travel insurance adequately covers it, and take plenty of back-up memory cards.
I’m a huge sucker for a postcard, and every holiday or trip I take, I buy one for myself to go in my memory box, but I also send them to key people in my life (unless they’re out there with me!) I find this one is especially important to my grandparents, who do the same for me. Every new location on every trip, I always make sure to send them a postcard and they love it! It’s old fashioned, I know, but this is a particularly useful one for those in your life who don’t like technology, or if you’re in a place with poor internet! Plus, you can keep these forever, unlike text messages. If you’re away for a long time, a letter might be more appropriate, but either way, get writing!
For me, the most important tip I could give, regarding staying in touch, is to schedule it in! Whether your trip is one month or 2 years, it’s important to schedule in some time to check your phone, check your email, and to check in with those at home. Update your Facebook with some photos, and check in to cool locations. You don’t have to do it every day, but even the first time I went travelling I would text my parents periodically to let them know all was okay. The next long trip I had, I went without my boyfriend, so I had to make sure we scheduled in time to video chat. It’s all about being considerate to those who love you without impacting your amazing trip!
Do you have any ways of keeping in touch while travelling? Let us know in the comments below!
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