Kids Going Abroad? 8 Ways to Stay In Touch Without Going Bankrupt

by Camilla Cheung on 5 April 2014 (1 comment)

Sponsored by Skype — Use Skype Credit to call mobiles and landlines home and abroad at low rates.

Going abroad can be an excellent educational opportunity for teenagers and young adults. As a parent, you probably realize the benefit travel can bring to your kids, but you may also struggle with letting your young ones go so far away. Fortunately, there are many ways to stay connected with your children while they travel often without breaking the bank.

Care Packages

Nothing says “I love you” like a care package filled with tangible comforts. Pack a box with your child’s favorite local products that he may not be able to find in other countries. When I lived abroad, I loved receiving simple things like brownie mix, microwave popcorn, herbs and spices, my favorite shampoo and cleanser, deodorant (not always readily available in other countries), Ibuprofen and other over-the-counter medications, and quality coffee.

Shipping a package overseas can be expensive. To save money, ship your package the slow way, but do it early. Several weeks (to even a few months) later, your child will receive your package right when she is starting to get really homesick! Remember to package items securely and to ship non-perishable items only!

Social Media

Following your child on social media can be a great way to stalk I mean, keep in touch with your child. Facebook and Twitter are easy ways to keep in touch, but may not be available in every country (for example, they were censored in China when I lived there). Fortunately, there are many alternative social media networks that are accessible around the world.

Image-Sharing Social Media

Instagram, a picture-sharing site, is a great way to visually see what your child is up to (and Instagram can also auto-post to Facebook and Twitter). Flickr and Picasa are great image-sharing platforms that allow you to share albums. If your child sets up a video channel on YouTube, he can also share videos of his travels with you. Another great option is Skype, which allows your child to send any Skype user photo or video files of any size quickly and easily for free.

Blogs

You could also encourage your child to start a blog (free ones are readily available from Blogger and Wordpress), which is an easy way to preserve memories as well as easily share with friends and family. My parents have an email subscription to my personal blog, which sends them an email every time I update the blog. Blogging can also be a great way for young adults to hone their writing skills (and can even turn into a paying gig later down the road).

Other Social Media

Pretty much everything has a social media dimension nowadays. If you and your child are on Goodreads, for example, you can exchange book recommendations and reviews. Or follow your child’s forays into international dining on Yelp. Or keep a game going with your child on Words With Friends. Find out what interests your child, and keep in touch that way.

Emails, Letters, and Postcards

Writing a full-length letter isn’t as common as it used to be, but most young people can still send an email or a postcard once in a while. Maybe you can set up a once-a-week email commitment with your child (just don’t be too offended if your child isn’t super-consistent travel can be demanding!). If your child has a mailing address, an old-school letter or card can be a welcome taste of home too (note: you can often send letters care of your child’s school if she is studying or teaching).

Use Skype to Call Mobiles

Skype is an easy and affordable way to keep in touch. Many of you are probably familiar with free Skype-to-Skype calls (computer-to-computer). For a small additional fee, you can get Skype Credit, which allows you to directly call mobiles and landlines all over the world.

I used Skype Credit when I was living overseas to contact my parents on their home phone, which was easier for them than always having the computer on and also allows for more spontaneity than setting up a video chat date. After purchasing Skype Credit (available in increments of $10 and $25), you can call phones worldwide at very reasonable rates. For example, I could call (or text) from my laptop in China to a home or mobile phone in the US for just a few cents a minute. You can even call overseas using the Skype application on your smartphone (provided you’re connected to the Internet) without having to pay outrageous fees through your carrier. Skype also has pay-as-you-go WiFi hotspots set up around the world, which you can use your Skype Credit to access in case you can’t find a free WiFi spot.

If you plan on making a lot of calls, consider using Skype Credit to buy a Skype Number, which is a US number parents, grandparents and friends can call at US rates that will ring the child’s Skype account. Just be sure to keep the time difference in mind when calling!

In-Person Visits

Nothing will help you to understand your child’s new experiences like being there. If your child will be away for an extended period, try to find a way to visit if your budget allows. Subscribe to an airfare alert website, which will let you know when flights are on sale. I was very fortunate in that when I was overseas, my entire family came to visit. With only one bed and a small sofa, several of us ended up sleeping on the floor of my tiny apartment, but it was worth it! Your child will be proud to show off his new language skills and cultural competency, so let him be your tour guide.

Do you have relatives overseas? How do you keep in touch?

Sponsored by Skype — Use Skype Credit to call mobiles and landlines home and abroad at low rates.

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Maria Held

Shipping the slow way (by boat) from the US to Europe has not been available in many years. As communications have become cheaper shipping actual things has become almost cost prohibitive.