Avoiding turbulence: Keep in contact with family at home while traveling abroad

Guest post by Lisa
Traveling abroad can be a bitch for keeping in touch with relatives back at home. Use these tips to keep in contact with your worrisome father, children, or co-parent. (Photo by: Vox EfxCC BY 2.0)

Family structures are getting more complex and multi-layered in this age of diverse families: divorce, remarriage, multiple partners, step- and half-siblings, various conception options, multi-generational and non-traditional families…

Ours is no exception: we’re a bi-national, two-mama household that has primary custody of our son whose dad lives an ocean away with his wife and kids. Grandparents and aunties and uncles are scattered across the globe from Australia, to Hawaii, to Massachusetts.

When we started planning our first international family trip, we had a few co-parenting hoops to jump through; negotiation and compromise is often the name of the co-parenting game. For this trip to happen, I had to assure my son’s father that he would continue to have the routine contact he enjoys in our daily life, and that we would keep him apprised of our travel plans.

As I sat down to work all the kinks out in this travel agreement, I learned several valuable lessons we will continue to employ as we enjoy traveling as a family and keeping all branches of our family tree satisfied and smiling.

I had to recognize that there were requests from our son’s Dad that seemed inconsequential to me but were important to him

In this case, Dad wanted a detailed travel itinerary. I could have blown this request up into a contentious issue but quickly realized that was my mama ego egging me on. And so I compromised. I provided a general itinerary for Dad that included our travel dates and the cities we expected to be in and on which days.

Sit down, and make the routine web chat schedule and a timezone decoder ring

We live in Hawaii, Dad lives in Arizona, and we were traveling to Australia; the multiple time zones and travel days in various cities was enough to cause me a mini-mental meltdown in the hours that it took to untangle and create a contact schedule. When crafting it, I had to be sure that the schedule took into account availability, travel time, sleep schedules and technology accessibility. After an obscene caffeine intake, several schedule drafts and multiple confirmations that I actually got the times correct and all were in concert, I produced a detailed, easy-to-read spreadsheet that listed date and time in Australia, Hawaii, and Arizona for when web chats could happen.

While we were on our trip, having the pre-appointed times and dates handily written down and noting which Australian day and time was equivalent to which Arizona day and time was effective and efficient. Put the time and effort into figuring out the logistics of maintaining contact. It will save you mental distress while you’re on the road.

After figuring out the “when” of communicating, figure out the “where and how”

We had a few definitely-scheduled vacation events, but otherwise we had a flexible and forgiving schedule. We were going to be staying with family and friends, which simplified the logistics of internet access but we knew that there would be a few scheduled web chats where we wouldn’t be conveniently at our homes-away-from-home. We took the responsibility of making a concerted effort to ensure that the contact schedule would go along as uninterrupted as possible:

  • Before leaving Hawaii, we made sure to know and understand exactly what the charges and options were for international data usage on our phones.
  • We researched the areas that we would be traveling to and through and looked for free and affordable wi-fi access areas.
  • We also made sure that we had access to the appropriate power converters so we could actually have battery life when we turned on our vacation-rested phones and laptop.

Traveling in Australia made the process extremely convenient and accessible. International travel to other countries that are less or under-developed would definitely pose more challenges, but doing your logistical research so that you know what you’re dealing with when you are traveling abroad is another step that will ensure that you maintain a stronger grip on your sanity, and gives you the freedom to enjoy your vacation without being overwhelmed by your responsibilities.

Despite preparation and research, maintaining contact while traveling abroad requires a certain level of flexibility

Travel is unpredictable and the explorations and adventures that our family pursues and cherishes rarely appear or fit tidily into a pre-planned itinerary. We absolutely made a sincere effort to adhere to the contact schedule that we established, but there were a few days when we had to shoot a quick message to Dad, asking for his understanding and re-scheduling the web chat for a date and time that worked. There were a few times that we had to remind ourselves to be flexible. The schedule and excitement and itinerary became a little bit overwhelming and we found that both mamas and our little boy needed room to breathe and time to just enjoy being on vacation. The little boy even found himself needing a day to regroup and recharge so when he asked, “Mama, can we just do nothing tomorrow?” the lesson of flexibility settle in for all of us.

Family travel is meant to be fun and memorable. The limited time that you get to enjoy, explore and adventure should be spent on the good stuff; keeping in touch with friends and family while traveling abroad shouldn’t cause you stress. Take the time to do the planning and the leg-work (as much as you can) before you board the airplane and then head off to enjoy your travels abroad while sharing your adventures with your family and friends at home.

Comments on Avoiding turbulence: Keep in contact with family at home while traveling abroad

  1. Can’t agree enough with Lisa’s point about scheduled web chats! It applies whether you’re traveling, studying, or living abroad. Taking the time to figure out a workable schedule and agreeing to those times & dates with your far-flung family & friends is SUPER important. It eases feelings of uncertainty, reduces the number of accidental 3am calls, helps control phone/internet charges, and provides a steady framework for relationship maintenance.

    For example, I call my Mum on Skype every Monday afternoon. (We call it Momday.) Since we started that system, she doesn’t worry as much, I don’t get guilt-trips about not calling, we share interesting and funny tidbits of life, and if Dad’s around — extra bonus financial and technical advice. I’m much better friends with both of my parents now than I was when we lived in the same country and spoke/argued maybe once a month. Magic!

    • Yes! Just having scheduled chats can make a huge difference for cutting down the worries–and, when you’re busy, making sure that you don’t FORGET to be in touch, which can happen so easily, however good your intentions may be. Even now, when I do live in the same country (even the same state) as my parents, I still have made it a point to call every week, usually the same evening every week, because when it’s a routine thing, it’s easier to remember AND we typically have just a week’s worth of events to catch each other up on, as opposed to the “Gee, when did we last talk? Had this happened yet?”

      If nothing else, when abroad, figure out a time that works mutually well for you and stick as close to it as possible. For example, when I studied abroad in France, my (now-husband) boyfriend and I used to usually have our chats/phone calls at 3 pm EST/9 pm CET. (Or that’s how I remember it.) It wasn’t too late in the evening for me, and it wasn’t too early to interrupt his class schedule, either. I wish I could say that I had such a regular schedule to talk to my family, but I wasn’t so good about that…

    • Yup! Lived out-of-state (and four timezones away) for two years while Husband was in grad school, and our scheduled Friday night chats with his parents made a lot of difference. While my parents were a lot more flexible (and I kept in regular contact anyway), it was incredibly helpful to set aside the time with his parents.

      It also ended up being a good thing that our chats happened late at night our time (since that was right after work for them), and therefore had a pretty solid end-time – while I love his parents in so many ways, we have a lot of political and social disagreements, and our talks could get a little tense if controversial issues were brought up. Having enough time to catch up, but not enough time to get into a fully-fledged rant about whatever was on the TV, was very helpful for us to feel loved and connected without feeling hurt or offended by our differences.

  2. Having just moved from Scotland to Vancouver, I’m a big fan of scheduled Skype sessions – it’s really helped my family to actually see me regularly, as well as being able to get a tour of our house and meet our puppy 🙂

    Something else to consider though – be careful of the various daylight savings times across the globe. BC has “sprung forward” now, but Britain hasn’t yet – it’s quite nice to only be 7 hours behind at the mo!

  3. Really good points about planning and scheduling chats. One thing I found really helpful when I was on the other side of the world to my parents was twitter. I could post pictures or just little updates as I was experiencing things, which let them know where I was and that I was having a good time. My mum said several times that it was ‘just like being there with you’. The ease of quickly updating twitter was such that it didn’t take any time away from the important business of holidaying, but every morning she could pull it up and take a look and see what I had been up to. I also did a weekly call (or daily, when I got homesick) but I think twitter was very cool when it came to just keeping them informed and happy that I was alive.

    • Haha, my mom loves checking my twitter too! It’s part of her morning routine: drink coffee and check my twitter and tumblr. When my mom started talking about hashtags, I almost did a spit-take! XD

  4. Whatsapp has been very useful to me for communicating with family back home.
    It’s free (uses wifi) so even my nephew and niece can message me or send photos when they have no credit on their phones

  5. This post was a very relevant read for me right now, as we will be having a distance marriage for several months this year.

    I’ll also add that in addition to the when, where, and how of the communication, it is important to establish the “what” of the communication. I feel like the need/want to discuss daily updates (eg. Something really awesome/awful happened today) is very different from the need/want to have romantic conversation (eg. Skype sex or mushy romantic talk) which is very different from the need/want to discuss “admin” stuff (eg. rent, utilities, expenses stuff). I’ve found it quite disconcerting shall we said when husband and I finally did get to talk at a mutually agreeable time only to find that our needs and expectations for the conversation were quite different!

  6. I can totally recommend blogging for keeping in touch with family and loved ones at home while travelling.

    When I went on my first big trip (6 weeks backpacking/interrailing through Europe) with my best friend, we were 16 and 17 respectively and our parents were rather concerned although they had our itinerary and everything. That was before smartphones and free wifi became commonplace (no longer an issue in Europe, but it still might be in other more remote places), so scheduling Skypedates beforehand was rather tricky even though we were in the same timezone, because we had to rely on internet cafés and public computers in youth hostels. We set up a private blog (with a password, for privacy concerns) as a travel journal of sorts and kept it updated whenever we could as we went. Sometimes it was just “Hi parents, we’re alive but tired, more to follow!” or “Leaving Barcelona for the seaside tomorrow and staying for 3 days, it might take some time to find an internet café, please don’t freak out and call the embassy if we don’t respond immediately 😉 “, sometimes we wrote beautifully elaborate journal entries commenting on everything we’ve seen and done. The trip was overwhelming, so both of us loved the opportunity of reflecting on our adventures while writing a neat little summary together. I was never the diary-writing type (my friend was and still is), but in retrospect, I enjoyed the experience – it was also a bonding experience for my friend and I, especially because our viewpoints and preferences while travelling were often very different. It might take some time (definetly more than just sending a quick text), but it’s so worth it because everyone you love can participate real-time and you won’t forget stuff by the time you come home. Like a photo album or a “real” travel journal, a blog is also a keepsake.

    Nowadays, I still set up blogs for bigger trips and everyone in my social circle loves them, especially for the photos. I also use Facebook and Instagram for quick updates, but alas, my Mum (who’s always the most concerned when I’m away) is super-wary of everything social media and incapable of using a mobile phone for anything else than making phone calls. 😉

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