Travel Tips

Communicating on the Road

About this time last year, there was a news story that caught my eye: A backpacker from Washington State had gone missing in South America. Her family in the US hadn’t heard from her since Tuesday. It was the weekend. They were worried.

And, with good reason. With all of the available technology today, in many destinations it’s not hard to stay as connected when you’re on the road as you do when you’re in your hometown. In many cases, you can even use your smartphone’s data plans abroad if you’re willing to pay for the privilege. So it makes sense that, when this backpacker’s family didn’t hear from her, they were perturbed. Luckily, in the end she was OK.

We live in a world that is constantly connected via social media and other electronic communication, so it’s easy to forget there are still places where there’s no guarantee that you’ll find a working phone or a wifi connection. For six days, the backpacker was perfectly safe, but taking long road journeys from which it was impossible to get word out to let people know. According to the updated story, when she did go back online she was “shocked and embarassed” to find out that everyone had been worried about her.

Many travelers prefer to use the same devices while they’re traveling as they do at home–they just use them differently.  If you have your mobile on vacation with you but don’t have roaming, rely on your smartphone’s Wi-Fi instead. Try a free calls app for the iPhone, so that you have an easy way to call home even while you’re on the go.  Not an Apple user? Wi-Fi calling apps for Android devices are also great.

Others prefer to stick only to social media, though this can be difficult in certain areas. Turkey recently (and famously) tried to ban Twitter, and China has been blocking many social media sites for years.

Updating a blog can be another way to let people know you’re fine (and share some cool travel photos). Sites like (where I published my very first blog!) are great, as is Tumblr, but you may find that some countries (again, China) also block these portals.

And, while you’re traveling, don’t forget the value of snail mail. Sending postcards home isn’t as cheap as an email, but giving your friends and family a physical reminder that you were thinking of you while you were far away is a powerful message–plus they make great souvenirs!

Traveling without a phone can be liberating–going “off the grid” is its own kind of vacation, if you’ve got a job that requires a lot of communication. And, while in our daily routines we make time for things like Facebook and email, when you’re experiencing a different culture and making time to see as much as possible, sending a message home might not be high on your to-do list.

The most important thing is to be clear with your family about how many times you will contact them while you are away. If you’re planning on traveling to deep jungle and hitchhiking back, then tell them not to expect a call for a few days. If you think you’ll check in to social media once or twice, tell them not to look for more than that. This might not stop everyone from worrying about you (after all, worry is what families do best, right?) but it should go a long way to helping.

What’s your favorite way to keep in touch while traveling? How often do you do it?

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Hi! I’m Beth. Thanks for visiting Everyday Travel Stories, a site that celebrates all of the glorious travel opportunities on our planet.

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