Remember the days of traveling when you had to search for a pay phone, pull out your calling card, and figure out how to dial the correct international and country codes? The worst-case scenario was if the call didn’t go through and an operator came on the line was speaking in a foreign language you don’t understand! Not to mention the very expensive rates per minute that quickly ate up your calling card with just a few uses. It wasn’t easy to keep in contact with loved ones during those times as it is today. It is surprising that one of the top comments we receive from friends and readers is how expensive and challenging video or audio calls must be! This not the case.
The good news we want to show you is that it is easy, inexpensive and not as difficult as you think it is, plus you have plenty of options. As we are in search of the best alternative for long-term travel (or remote working), we always love to seek help from our readers to share their experiences on the services out there that help them keep in contact with their family, friends or business contacts while they are away.
There are different services out there — from video and audio calling through a platform, to calling via outbound, to using a traditional phone number, it depends on what your needs are.
This is my personal favorite because it is easier and more reliable most of the time, as well as for a lesser cost (just a Wi-Fi connection is needed).
Features we use:
Cost: It is just $0, as long as you have a data plan or Wi-Fi connection. Often, data plans offer free Facebook or a less expensive plan that includes Facebook.
Why it’s hassle free: No number is dialed, just talk directly to someone from their Facebook app (via messenger). It’s so easy that even my non-tech savvy mother can use it and easily call, and leave a voice or text message from the app.
Being away from family: This is the benefit of Facebook. I never feel away from what is happening in the world or at home – most of my friends and family are active on Facebook. So, along with the ease of using messenger, Facebook – more than any other option – makes me feel more in touch with my loved ones while being away.
Pros: I find Facebook Messenger quality much more reliable than Skype, given that this is a popular platform worldwide.
Cons: Reachability. Not everyone has Messenger app on their phone or is on Facebook most of the time for them to read my message immediately. Sometimes the question of privacy comes up.
Skype has been around forever, which is now owned by Microsoft. It’s the standard in remote calling. We typically use this for business and dialing direct to a landline or cell phone.
Cost: To call a direct number it is literally just pennies for a phone call. A 20-minute phone call averages to around .20cents (US$) per call
To keep a Skype phone number for messages and inbound calls we pay a monthly fee of 50 (USD$) / Year. This is an advantage for us because we don’t have a landline, and we typically have varying sim cards/phone numbers depending on the country where we are staying.
Why it’s hassle free: We installed the app on our phones, and with a Wi-Fi signal (or data plan) we can call directly just like calling direct through a phone. We receive our messages there.
Being away from family: With this system, anyone can leave us a message or call us wherever we are in the world (as long as we have an internet connection or data plan).
Pros: The standard for business, it easy to access by phone. Also, it is easy to set up a 3-way call with others.
Cons: We find the quality of the calls and video often inconsistent. Sometimes our calls are dropped, or they are not working. As for the video, it costs more than other options. We also find our inbound calls don’t always work. You can’t just text a message on the Skype platform. Moreover, I have to turn off the alerts because I find many strangers sending me a request on Skype, which I find distracting and odd.
WhatsApp is totally free and tends to be a primary source of contact in Latin America and parts of Asia. It’s not as popular in North America.
Features we use:
Cost: It is $0 if you have a data plan or on Wi-Fi! There are data plans (at least in Latin America) that feature free WhatsApp messaging with a phone or data plan.
Why it’s hassle free: Installing the app on the phone is easy. It allows easy sending of text, video, and audio messages as well as in connecting with people directly from your mobile phone.
Being away from family: This service doesn’t work for me all the time for my family because only a few people I know in North America use WhatsApp – unless they have traveled in Latin America! Obviously, this will change as WhatsApp grows (now over a billion people use it worldwide). But for now, it’s not my ideal option to keep in touch with family in North America.
Pros: Even if you change your number, you can still use WhatsApp. It’s a mainstay of certain businesses in some countries. I even use it to make an appointment with my doctor in Colombia, and she sends over my test results through it!
Cons: I sometimes find it cumbersome to add people to my contact list. They must be added as a contact first in my address book, then added to WhatsApp. Since my phone number is changed often, some people can’t find me – it’s not by name but by number. However, when you provide your number you can connect with others.
We haven’t used this service yet, but given the resounding positive comments from our friends, Google Voice is a great option to keep in contact with family,so we are definitely going to check out as a new option.
This article explains well how Google Voice works.
How you can use it:
Pros: You can use a universal phone number, good quality of calls, and ease of use.
Cons: We have heard that the text is sometimes not reliable, and not always received however we have yet to verify this. Right now, its not available to get a Google number for Canadians.
There are local and toll-free phone services out there that are ideal for business, like toll free forwarding and it can redirect your calls regardless of what country you are in or what sim card/phone number you happen to have at the time. Services like this cost around US$ 10-25/month. However, they only serve a very specific purpose for business.
Magic Jack is another service we heard from readers about this service, although we haven’t used it ourselves. This service allows you to use your phone anywhere and get unlimited local US and Canada calls as well as international calls. It requires the use of a small USB stick which guarantees the quality of calls and lets you port your current phone number. The cost is $35-59.95 depending on the special that is offered, and you have to buy the app for $10. This is a great option if you are an expat American or Canadian who calls home or business.
Facetime audio and video are great options to keep in contact however, both people in the conversation need to have an Apple product to communicate.
We’ve used larger group video chat services that use a link to connect, like Google Hangouts and Zoom. These are great ways to run a video call with multiple people but not quite as simple as pressing a button on the phone to reach my mom. These services are used for a different purpose, and not as a regular phone call to someone.
We would love to hear your views on keeping in touch while traveling, or working/living somewhere else in the world. What services do you use? How can you stay in touch easily and efficiently?
Dorene is a marketing consultant and freelance writer. She quit her 20-year career in marketing to redesign her career and lifestyle on her own terms by living location independent. Now with her husband Troy, she helps people who want to redefine their midlife and make conscious changes at TravelLifeX. She also trains & coaches travel and hospitality clients to improve their marketing at TravelLifeMedia.com