Staying in touch with your loved ones while on a business trip can be tough.
You want to maximize your limited time away, so you get up early, schedule meetings all day, then have a business dinner followed by cocktails. By the time you’re done and get back to your hotel room, your family might be long asleep and you’ve missed a chance to connect.
And that doesn’t even factor in long flights, time zone changes, and cell phone dead zones.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
I’ll confess: I’m not the best at this. There have been plenty of nights where I’ve just sent off an “I love you, sleep well” text. But even during the busiest day, there should be a few minutes to touch base with our loved ones. And technology makes it a lot easier today than even a decade ago.
There’s Skype, Google Hangout (formerly Google Talk), and Apple’s FaceTime. All allow cheap—if not free—ways to make voice or video calls over Wi-Fi networks. Instead of settling for a phone call, you can actually see your loved ones. And when traveling overseas, you can use these services to avoid those hefty international roaming charges.
One lesser-known service that I have been experimenting with recently is MagicJack. You’ve probably heard of it from those late-night TV commercials, where they promise to turn your electric outlet or computer into a phone line. Well, they also make an iPhone app. If your phone is connected to a Wi-Fi network, you can use it to call anyone in the U.S. for free. It can even pull contact information from your phone. (One downside: the person you’re calling sees a random Florida phone number on their caller ID unless you register with the service.)
One big catch with all of these services, though: you need to find a strong and consistent Wi-Fi signal, especially if you plan to do a video chat. Some countries also block these services. When I was in Abu Dhabi last year, I was unable to use Skype, Google’s chat, and a few other services. I had to resort to good old-fashioned telephone calls and emails.
Being able to make the call is only half the battle, of course. The other challenge is finding the time.
I’ve had my fair share of failures in this department. So I reached out to two expert travelers for their advice.
Summer Hull writes Mommy Points, a blog dedicated to enabling families to use points and miles to travel. She wisely noted that the first key to staying in touch is to set expectations before departure, especially with your kids. Still, she warns, try to speak to everybody in the house daily.
“The conversations don’t need to be long, but just enough to share a little about how your day went and, more importantly, hear how everyone at home is doing. This way, you are caught up when you get home,” she says.
When in different time zones, pick a time in advance each day that is best to talk. That way you avoid waking each other in the middle of the night.
Hull’s final tip: Bring something unique back for your kids—something that you guys can talk about and play with so they feel like they were part of your trip.
Next, I spoke with Leslie Scott, who works in corporate communications for a big airline. Her husband, Doug, is a management consultant. They’re both typically on the road—in different cities—four nights a week. I can’t imagine how they stay in touch week after week.
“I really don’t see it as a major issue,” she tells me. With texting, Skype, FaceTime, Google chat, and the old-fashioned phone, “we talk as much during the day as we would if we were both working 9-to-5 jobs in the same city.”
Being on the road also means that a lot of household tasks pile up on the weekend. But don’t let those tasks take over your life, Scott recommends.
“We really do try to do at least one thing a day on the weekends that is just for us,” Scott says. “It can be as simple as taking the dog on a hike.”