Staying in touch with family while you are overseas isn’t easy especially when you are dealing with people’s different sleep patterns and time zone differences (in the double digits). Here are some of the things we learned that helped us stay in touch while traveling.
- Talk About It. Before you embark on your journey, talk to your extended family about what forms of communication would be best for them and what times of the day are best for them to have time to communicate. Grandma wants to talk on the phone, Dad wants emails and your brother wants to Skype with the kids. Great! Make a plan ahead of time.
- Set a Standing Appointment. Before you even leave you can set a standing communication appointment with loved ones. A weekly phone date with your best friend or a monthly skype call for the kids and their grandparents. Set it up ahead of time and stick to it. Make sure you have alarms set to remind you so you don’t forget the call. They are probably eagerly anticipating that appointment even if you are super busy.
- Talk About Changes. Let your family know as soon as possible if you need to reset times for calls that don’t work for your new schedule in a certain country/culture.
- Plan for Your Available Time. What works best for you/your kids? A hour long chat once a month or a weekly call that is only 10 minutes? What works best for Aunt Jane may make life more stressful for you? Try to suggest the frequency and length of calls that fit with your schedule but be flexible.
- Make a Plan that You Are Comfortable With. Family members often want to hear from you much more often than you will have time to communicate with them. They may be worried about your safety, curious about what you are experiencing, or jealous of your freedom. No matter what their reason, there maybe times when you need to not communicate as often as they would like. As you transition and live in a new culture you need to allow yourself extra space and time to function and this includes not having too many demands on communication back home. If Grandma wants to talk every day for an hour and you just don’t have that time available then figure out what length of time and frequency you are comfortable with. You feel like twice a week for 30 minutes is reasonable then gently tell her when you will call next… and then be sure to do it!
- Technical and Non-Technical. Families with technical skills will have no problem with Skype, internet, or emails but a family who isn’t technologically inclined will be a bit more of a challenge. Are phone calls your only option? Make sure you are getting ahold of them more often to chat as they will not be privy to your blog posts and Facebook updates. Help them to not feel “out of the loop” by being intentional about keeping them updated.
- Skype for the Non-Technical Family. Do your non-technical family members know of anyone who has a computer and Skypes? Help them connect and get started with visiting regularly to Skype with you. Or maybe just for a special occasion. After talking only on the phone for a time it is very nice for them to be able to see you again.
- Local Number & Forwarding. It is possible that you may need to accept the extra cost of a local phone number and with forwarding to Skype or cell phones. This makes calling you very convenient for your family. It helps to take away some of the roadblocks to communication that international numbers and strange dialing codes create.
- Special Occasions and Milestones. Use Skype and FaceTime for birthday dinner meals or Christmas present opening. Invite everyone from back home. Your family will love to be a part of it and your kids will love to have everyone there. Any holiday (either a holiday back home or one in the country where you currently are) is great for this! Also think about when one of the kids looses a tooth, the baby starts walking, or the teen wants to show off a special project from their schoolwork. Include family members in these special moments.
- It’s Not Just for Birthdays. Grandma and Grandpa can join you for a Wednesday lunch date or a Saturday afternoon board game. You can use Skype to add family members back home into a regular part of your week.
- Young Kid Desires. We suggest finding a way to let small children to communicate with family back home whenever they feel like they need/want to. It is important that they feel they can still have that connection. If they are too small enough to understand time zone differences then find a way for them to feel they have communicated. Joey wants to talk to Grandma but it’s the middle of the night where she lives. Maybe record the message Joey wants to send and send it over email or text. Also make sure to send a message that you would like her to call Joey back as soon as she can.
- Write a Blog. A blog is a wonderful way to stay communicated (from your side) with family and friends back home. We suggest connecting your blog to an email service (like Mailchimp or Mailpoet) so family members are up to date with what’s going on with you. This will save you precious phone/Skype time since you won’t have to tell the story of your week all over again. Leave your call times for questions or catching up on what’s happening at home.
- Expect One-Sided Communication. You may be doing a lot of updating through emails, your blog or podcasts but those are often one-sided communications. You find that everyone ‘knows’ all about you but you don’t have any idea whats going on with everyone back home. Facebook and other social networks help, but you don’t have the time to stay really engaged on social media. Instead, you have to be proactive about asking lots of questions and cultivating a go-to friend or family member that explains what the latest news is and gets you all caught up. We had a former neighbor that gave us 4-5 “this is what’s new around the town/neighborhood” every time she wrote an email or responded to a blog post. She was great at making us feel as though we weren’t the ones “out of the loop”.
As long as you have a solid internet connection staying in touch with family back home doesn’t require a local SIM card. But we recommend always having a SIM card with data, especially if you’re going to be in country for longer than 3 days.
Alternatives to Skype include Google Hangouts and Facetime. From what we’ve discovered the quality and connection are better on Skype than Hangouts and it’s less technical. We also found that Facetime works well for those who are on an iphone, but don’t expect stable video as it’s hard to hold a phone steady and those with bad eyesight appreciate the larger screen size.