Staying in touch on The Empire Builder
We’re often asked how we stay in touch with our adult kids as we travel.
Honestly, in the days before cell phones and the internet, we’re not sure how anyone would have been able to stay connected while pursuing the lifestyle we have chosen.
Mostly because our phone conversations with family and friends almost always begin with the question “Where are you guys?“
Those of us who have reached a certain age remember the days of sky-high long distance rates. Heck, I still pick up the cell phone and listen for a dial tone on a regular basis.
But the times are not only a-changin’, the sci-fi future of our black-&-white-TV childhood is here.
Back in the B.C. (Before Code-a-phones) days — no answering machines or voicemail — calling our folks involved setting a time during the cheaper late-night or weekend rates and then having fast-paced conversations highlighting only the most important news. Always with a clock ticking in the back of our minds to remind us of the fortune it was costing us.
Ma Bell may have charged by the minute (and the mile) at home, but it was always way worse when traveling. I seem to recall little cards by the hotel phones that said “Dial 9 to double your bill.”
That may be a bit of an exaggeration. But the fact remains that these days staying in contact while away from home is not only much easier, it’s way cheaper too.
Dragging Ourselves into the Modern World
Now we never have to be out of touch just because we’re on the road. Our phone is always there, with us wherever we roam, and can do much more than just place a call.
We can send a text message or an e-mail right from the palm of our hand.
Oftentimes we simply send a photo of something funny we see along the way.
If that’s not personal enough we also have live video chat capability through serves like Skype or Facetime, so seeing our adult kids while wandering the globe is not only possible, it’s simple.
These services are generally reliable for us throughout The States, but can vary depending on the provider. One thing to remember though, it is very important to check with your service provider before any foreign trip because fees for using your U.S. phone outside of the U.S. can be crazy high.
Keeping in touch from a hammock in Mexico
Most providers offer add-on packages for various countries, so it is definitely worth checking to be certain your destination is on the plan you chose.
Be sure to ask exactly what is covered, because text and web usage are not always included in a phone plan – an extra data package is often required.
Then, double-check because the charges, especially for Internet services, can make for a very unpleasant welcome-home surprise.
How We Use Our Phones Overseas
If we are on a longish overseas trip, we sometimes buy a pre-paid phone for in-country calls. It’s usually cheap, and it gives us a local phone number. Another method is to buy a sim card, but be sure to check that your phone isn’t locked to your at-home provider before you go. They almost always are.
We generally don’t go the sim card route because we prefer to keep our U.S. cell phone available if The Spawn or our parents want to contact us. When you change cards you get a new number and your old phone number won’t work anymore.
While smart phones are little modern marvels, for typing out emails we prefer a bigger keyboard and screen. Our tablets are small enough to fit in our carry-ons and to take on the go, yet still do everything the big behemoths do. Including worldwide video link-ups for face-to-face chats.
Staying in touch in The Galapagos Islands
But video can have its drawbacks. The comfort factor isn’t always there. Veronica still can’t do it without getting all dolled up first. So things must be prepared for and planned with the precision of a live television broadcast. There are camera angles to lay out, lighting scenes to test, sound levels to check, and hair and makeup touch ups, until we end up with production values somewhere between a broadcast of the evening news and the Academy Awards show.
Just kidding, but seriously, nobody wants to be seen by anybody, on any camera, in any time zone first thing in the morning. Still this Star Trekesque technology of global video connections is nothing short of amazing, and ready for our close ups or not, we love it.
How We Always have Wifi Domestically and Overseas
Keeping in touch in Queensland, Australia
But we need WiFi to take advantage of these capabilities.
Not a problem, as most hotels and airports, many restaurants, and even airplanes now have WiFi available.
And if there’s no WiFi around in the States, several providers offer portable hotspots that create a wireless connection from a cell phone signal.
Ours does it right from our iPhone — talk about don’t leave home without it — we never do.
Staying in touch from a balcony on a
cruise ship in Europe
When we’re overseas, we use a pre-paid portable hotspot, so we have reliable internet anywhere – without losing our minds or our shirts.
All in all, there has never been a time when keeping in touch was easier.
I might still pick up a cell phone and listen for a dial tone from time-to-time, but I can’t remember the last time I had to dial 9.
YOUR TURN: Questions? Comments? Further tips? Let ’em fly!