Staying in Touch While Travelling
It wasn’t that long ago Poste Restante was a traveller’s best friend - or at least provided access to them anyway.
If you don’t know what the term means, there’s a good chance you’ve grown up in the age of the internet.
Before we had seamless, constant connection to the world literally at our fingertips, the global poste restante service was offered by post offices that held mail for people on the move to collect. At a time when international phone calls were wickedly expensive and discount calling cards were still a pipedream, often hand-written correspondence and telegrams were the only way to connect with loved ones while you were overseas.
We’ve come full circle in a short term and almost reached the point where the choice of how to stay in touch is becoming overwhelming. With so many platforms, messaging services, image sharing and social networks, it’s difficult to know where to start.
If you are a little bamboozled by it all and don’t quite understand how to navigate modern communication technologies while you are on holiday - and you’re fearful of returning home to a massive bill shock in the process - here’s our rundown on how to stay in touch simply and cheaply.
Be careful of your phone
The first thing to get your head around is that your mobile phone or SIM-enabled tablet can be your best friends or worst enemies. If you don’t understand how to turn off your data, it is critical you get help from your carrier BEFORE you leave. If you can’t do that, frankly, we’d suggest leaving them at home. There are too many horror stories about unwitting travellers who have come home to discover mobile phone bills well over $1000 simply because they were unaware they were connected to global networks the whole time they were away.
Reputable telcos will explain how to turn off your roaming data and use your phone only for wifi which effectively means your phone becomes little more than a portable computer when you travel. You might have been asked to put your phone into ‘flight mode’ before, this means your phone cannot connect to a mobile network and that’s what you want the whole time you are overseas.
Connect to WiFi networks
Just about everywhere you travel these days, you will come across free wifi in airports, hotels, buses, public spaces, museums etc. There are many places that do require you to pay for wifi access as well and you can usually connect for periods of 30 minutes up to 24 hours.
Wifi enables you to use services that will allow you to call home and even video chat without paying anything above the wifi access cost. If the wifi is free, then your calls are to.
Your free call options
The most popular and easiest to use international free service is WhatsApp (https://www.whatsapp.com/). One billion people use it every day! You can download the app before you leave but you will have to ensure the people you want to connect with while you’re away, also have it. They could also download a desktop version if they prefer. You can send texts, videos and even create group chats if you wish with WhatsApp.
If you don’t like the idea of having to learn a new platform or you find it difficult to understand how these things work at all, chances are you are already have a Facebook account and your friends are likely to also. Facebook actually owns WhatsApp but its own Messenger (https://www.messenger.com/) service is also extremely popular and you can easily use this to stay in touch.
The other major player in the world of free communication tools is Skype (https://www.skype.com/en/ ). Like WhatsApp, it enables you to connect with one or several people at the one time. But you also need to have it downloaded. One of the advantages of Skype is that you can also call landlines and mobiles via wifi by paying credits up front which is very handy.
If you are the kind of person who likes to test the different tools to see what works best for you, then also check Viber (https://www.viber.com/) and Google Hangouts (https://hangouts.google.com/) as they also offer plenty of features.
If you prefer your phone
You can of course also purchase a local SIM card for your phone either before you leave or after you arrive and these come with the protection of having a fixed amount to spend that you have already paid up front. You generally don't get a lot of talk time comparative to what you spend but in case of emergencies, it's great piece of mind to know you can call anyone from anywhere if you need to without needing to find wifi access.
Australia's largest telecommunications company, Telstra, also offers ‘International Day Passes’ (https://www.telstra.com.au/support/category/mobiles-tablets/internationa...) on many of its phone plans which give you a 24 hour window for a set fee. This is also worth investigating but it needs to be set-up before you depart.
Staying social while you travel
The social media platforms don't all have to be about two-way communication either. Uploading your images and comments on the run for friends and family to enjoy is always well received.
Having an Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/ ) account for example is a great way to share your experiences as you travel but again, you will need wifi access to upload photos as you move about. When you’re home, your account is your own personal and permanent record of the fun you had.
While on image uploads, it's also good practice to photograph your important documents with your phone before you leave so you have a record of them should you lose them or require certain details at any given point. For example, you may need your passport number but have left it in the hotel safe, at least with a photo in your camera gallery, you have it with you all the time. Same applies to credit cards and other tickets. And with social media, you can share these privately with friends and family so they have a record to.
And the 'old' favourite
Email is a simple way to stay in touch but it doesn't offer real-time interactivity of course and you can tend to get bogged down in writing when you should be out enjoying yourself on holiday!
One of the upsides of email is that you can set up a single list of your closest connections before you leave and stay in touch with them all at once with a group email. Most of the social platforms offer a similar service in that you can cluster contacts to make it easy to stay connected.
Finally, plan ahead
Obviously when your overseas, timezones can be tricky to negotiate if you want to have live conversations with folks back home. Many savvy travellers check their itineraries before they leave and identify times when they will be available to talk and then give that ‘pre-schedule’ to family to know when to expect a call. Randomly calling from overseas and expecting people to be available – or even awake - can be fraught!