Over the past 10 years, Nick and I have taken two long trips abroad. The first was in 2013 and wifi wasn’t nearly as easily accessible as it is today. We had to frequent internet cafes to check email and connect with friends and family back home. It was difficult to keep connected to our nearest and dearest with slow internet speeds and limited social media options.
Our current trip began at the beginning of 2017 and we’ve managed to connect with our friends and family almost daily through a variety of different methods. Some are more personalized while others are for a wider audience. And after 3 years of trying a variety of different social media sites, we’ve found a few that are convenient and easy to use.
Check out our list of the best ways to stay in touch with friends and family back home while traveling the world!
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11 Creative Ways to Stay Connected with Friends and Family While Traveling
1. Make Marco Polo Videos
Marco Polo is a simple app – the only function is sending and receiving video messages to the people in your contact list. We love this app for staying in touch with friends and family back home since we a 14-hour time difference between Saigon and Portland, Oregon.
If I want to share a funny story at 2:00pm my time, it’s 12:00am back home and not the best time for a video chat. So instead of calling, I just record a Marco Polo video that they can watch when they wake up. It’s the perfect way to keep in touch with friends and family when you’re in different time zones. And because all of the videos are saved in your message history (unlike Snapchat), you can watch any video as often as you’d like.
The Marco Polo app (iPhone | Android) is free to download and use. Plus you can add fun filters, voice effects, and even doodles to your video message. The only downside is that you’ll need to convince your technologically challenged parents or grandparents to download it, and then teach them how to use it.
2. Have a Netflix Watch Party
Netflix now offers the ability to “Netflix and chill” with your friends without having to be in the same city or even the same country. All you have to do is download the Netflix Party extension for Chrome. This cool Netflix extension will add an “NP” button at the top of your Chrome web browser. Just select a movie on Netflix and send your friends the link. Once they click that “NP” button they’ll be added to the party!
The Netflix Party feature allows anyone in the group to start or stop the movie at any time – perfect for bathroom or snack breaks. And a running chat bar on the side of the screen allows you all to discuss the movie as you watch.
It’s a fun way to watch a movie with friends, even when you’re miles apart. And you won’t have to worry about anyone talking too loudly and interrupting your movie-watching experience!
3. Do a Weekly Fitbit Challenge
This one requires all participants to have a Fitbit but it’s a great way to stay connected while getting in shape. You can initiate a “workweek hustle” through the Fitbit app. It begins Monday morning and ends Friday night and tracks the number of steps each person takes. It’s almost like your hiking or jogging together even though you’re halfway across the world!
Throughout the week you can taunt each other, cheer each other on, or just banter back and forth in the app. The winner receives a virtual trophy and bragging rights. Plus you keep each other accountable to keep moving all week long. Not only is this one of our favorite ways to stay connected to Nick’s family, it’s also a fun way for us to stay fit while traveling!
4. Gift a Digital Photo Frame and Upload Photos from Afar
One of the more creative ways to stay in touch with family and friends while traveling is to buy them a digital photo frame that allows uploads from anywhere in the world. This one by PhotoSpring allows you to send photos directly from your smartphone to the digital frame through their easy-to-use app. It doesn’t matter where you are!
Your parents will love waking up to a fresh set of new photos and videos of your most recent adventures and you’ll love surprising them!
5. Have a Video Chat Happy Hour
Who doesn’t love a yummy cocktail with friends after a day at the office? This is one of the things that I miss the most when traveling. Emailing or texting just doesn’t have the same effect as catching up face-to-face with my girlfriends.
So why not schedule a monthly virtual happy hour with your friends back home? You can each come prepared with your beverage of choice and catch up over any number of video messaging platforms. We generally use Facebook Messenger (iPhone | Android) just because it’s so easy but Zoom and FaceTime are also great options.
If you’re in significantly different timezones, as we usually are, some people will be having happy hour while others will be enjoying their morning coffee (or better yet, morning mimosa). But once you start gabbing you won’t even notice that you’re miles apart!
6. Start a Blog
When we started traveling back in 2013, we wanted a way to document our daily adventures for friends and family back home. So we started a simple blog on a free platform and wrote journal-style posts about what we were up to. At the time the only avid readers were our moms, but they loved reading all about our excursions.
These days we run our blog on Wordpress and host it with SiteGround. We have modified our blog content to be less stream-of-consciousness and more focused on travel guides and tips. We now have a broad audience of readers, but unfortunately, it’s not nearly as fun for our friends and family back home to follow along.
Unless you’re attempting to make a career out of it, best to stick to blogging about funny stories and anecdotes of your daily life on the road. It will also act as your digital journal so you can always remember your crazy stories and off-the-beaten-path experiences from your travels abroad.
We’d highly recommend starting your travel blog on Wordpress because it’s user friendly and is the best choice if you plan on making your blog more than just a hobby. You’ll also need to figure out hosting. Luckily you can host a Wordpress site on SiteGround for less than $4/month.
Squarespace and Wix are two other website builders you can check out if you don’t want to learn Wordpress. You can host a site with Squarespace for as little as $12/month and Wix even has a free plan. Both platforms are quick and easy to learn, but you won’t have the same amount of flexibility and customization options as you would with Wordpress.
7. Send a Newsletter
Another great way to keep a larger audience up-to-date on your travels is to send out a monthly newsletter. This can be as long or short as you would like and you can include photos and videos of your travels. It’s an easy way to keep in touch with a group of people who opt-in without sending individual emails.
You can choose to send a simple email newsletter with recipients BCCed, or go with something more elaborate like MailerLite (which is what we use). MailerLite is free up to 1,000 subscribers and allows you to customize templates which will make your newsletter appear more polished and professional.
8. Make a Private Facebook Group
A private Facebook group page is the perfect way to share photos and short updates with a select group of people. You can pick and choose who to invite from your Facebook friend list and anything you post in the group will be shown in their newsfeed. But since it’s private, only those that were invited can see.
We created a private Facebook group to share photos of our newborn baby boy, Humphrey. That way we don’t inundate all of our friends with cute baby photos, but we can share daily photos and videos with those who have accepted our invitation to the group.
9. Document your Day on Instagram Stories
Instagram stories are a great way to provide your friends and family with photos and short videos from that day. Stories can be shared to all of your followers, or you can designate a list of “close friends” to limit who can see what you post. And your story will disappear after 24 hours.
We love using Instagram stories to update our friends and family about our daily life abroad. It’s a passive communication method so they don’t have to actually watch it unless they want to. And they don’t need to respond. It’s like you are allowing them to peek through a window into your daily life.
And you can always save your stories to a highlights reel to allow followers to view them over and over again!
10. Host a Zoom Karaoke Party
Have you ever gotten a group of people together in a room to karaoke their favorite tunes? It is hilarious and so fun! And you can replicate that dynamic while on the road by hosting a virtual karaoke party using Zoom or any other video chatting platform.
Schedule a time when everyone will be home and download the instrumental versions of a few karaoke classics. Once everyone has grabbed a drink and a faux microphone they’ll be ready to join the Zoom party! It will be a ton of fun and you’re sure to forget that you’re not there in a room together.
The best part is that it’s easy to mute any terrible singers!
11. Send a Sweet Gift
If you want to show your friends and family members back home that you’re thinking of them, why not send a sweet gift? The digital photo frame listed above is the perfect gift for sharing memories. Flowers are a great way to let someone know you care. Or if you’d prefer to send something consumable, Spoonful of Comfort allows you to send yummy care packages of homemade cookies or soups.
Of course, a handwritten note or postcard is the best thing to send to a loved one to let them know you’re thinking of them, but these sweet gift ideas are a close second!
We hope this list helps you find creative ways to stay connected to your nearest and dearest while traveling the world!
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out our favorite travel books!