If you’re travelling long term, living abroad, or studying away, you might be missing your friends and family back home. These are my top tips for staying in touch with people when meeting in real life isn’t an option.
As a long-term solo traveller, I’m good at spending time alone. I was solo for almost the whole month of my epic Signapore to Hanoi rail trip, for example. But I’m also very good at staying in touch with the folks back home.
So much so that for me a lot of this stuff seems obvious, but after chatting to friends and family I realised that a lot of people don’t know about the myriad of options for keeping in touch with the people you miss.
This is my list of all the best ways to stay in touch online. You’ll notice I’ve not put phone calls on the list, and it’s not (just) because I’m a Millenial who hates the phone. It’s because I just feel like it should be obvious!
Instead, these are some fab, fun, alternative ways to get connected – some which you might not have thought of…
WhatsApp Voice Notes
My sisters always tease me about how much I use voice notes, but they are a brilliant way to keep up a long-distance conversation without just texting. And it’s so much more personal.
On WhatsApp, you can hold down the mic button and record yourself chatting, then send the voice note. My friends and I use it to chat throughout the day, just like you would via text, but we get to hear each other so it feels more personal. If you’re apart from a partner, voice notes are also a really nice way to say goodnight to one another.
You can also send voice notes on Facebook Messenger but it limits you to 60 seconds, so it’s not as good.
This one is probably a little obvious, since everyone knows about video chats by now. If you haven’t really used them much, now is the time to embrace video calls. Here are some of the best apps/platforms to use:
- Skype (phone or computer)
- Facebook Messenger
- Google Hangouts (phone or computer)
- iPhone FaceTime
Group Video Chats
What you might not know is that video calls don’t have to be one on one. You can call a few people at once for a nice group catch up.
WhatsApp allows for up to 4 people in a group video chat, although the connection isn’t always great.
With a large group, it’s probably easier to use an online platform on your computer or laptop. Order a webcam if you don’t already have one and try one of these free platforms, all of which work on both phone or computer:
- Google Hangouts can support up to 10 people at once on a video chat.
- On Skype you can call up to 50 people at once. Perfect if you need to have a meeting, or just want to catch up with the family.
- And on Zoom, you can host up to 100 participants in one go on the free plan (even MORE on the paid plans). This programme was designed for work-from-home conference calls etc, so it’s probably the best one out there for big group video chats.
Throw a Virtual Pub Quiz
One of my favourite ways to stay in touch with people when you can’t meet in real life is to throw a virtual pub quiz. I normally run mine on Zoom, so everyone can join in wherever they are.
How to do it: get into teams beforehand, and use a separate device to privately video chat your team members if you aren’t all together. Make sure everyone except the quiz master is on mute – so that people can’t hear the other teams discussing answers.
It’s fun to have some unmute time between rounds though, so everyone can banter and catch up. Use a Google Document to send out an answer sheet, and have one person from each team fill in the answers and send them over for marking between rounds.
READ MORE: Don’t miss my full guide on how to organise an online pub quiz for loads more info. I also have a blog with 19 round ideas for your virtual quiz, and 25 picture round ideas, in case general knowledge is getting a bit dull!
Side note – you kind of have to trust everyone not to cheat, since they’ll all be online the whole time. But you could use some “trick” questions to catch out Googl-ers, or get creative with things like music rounds. But, of course, don’t cheat.
Have “Dinner” Together
Fellow solo traveller Dan Flying Solo gave me this great suggestion. He said that when he’s away longterm, sometimes he and his parents would schedule a mealtime that coincided, and Skype each other whilst they were eating.
Mealtimes are always when I feel most lonely when travelling solo. I’d often call or text friends and family whilst eating alone, but the idea of video chatting whilst dining never crossed my mind, and I love it!
If you’re working from home, schedule a video chat tea break with a friend, book in to eat lunch “together”, or call over after-work drinks.
You could even Skype each other whilst watching TV.
If you’ve got someone in your family who doesn’t own a smartphone or can’t easily get online, it can be tough. Neither of my grandmothers has internet access, so I’m trying to pick up the phone and call them more often. But one thing you could also do is send them some post.
There are lots of services which let you send cards and postcards online. Funky Pigeon and Touchnote are two, and both allow you to use your own photos to customise the front od the postcard. In fact, I just sent one to my Nan to show her the photos of the book I recently contributed to!
Obviously, this won’t help you feel less lonely, but it’s a nice way to surprise a loved one – and maybe help THEM feel less lonely. And since it’s all done digitally, it shouldn’t involve any contact at all.
I initially wrote this post in early 2020, during the lockdown, but I think it’s still relevant today. I have friends all over the world, and family members all over the UK, and the awesome thing about the internet is that it lets us stay in touch no matter where we are.
The main takeaway I’d want to leave you with is this. In the past, I’ve been too afraid to reach out to people when I’ve been feeling low or lonely. It’s easy to worry that you’ll be bothering somebody. But remember that you would do the same for them (and if you wouldn’t, then they’re probably not the right person to be reaching out to).
If you’re missing people or feeling down, all it takes is a phone call – or even a text message – asking to arrange something. Book a video chat in the diary or get a conversation going over voice notes. You just need to take that first step and reach out.
If you’ve got any other fun ways to beat the loneliness while we’re on lockdown, leave a comment!