Once upon a time, keeping in touch while travelling abroad meant sending postcards from stops along the way or else struggling with expensive and unreliable international phone calls. But thanks to the wide availability of Wi-Fi connections, you can now take advantage of apps that allow you to stay in touch with friends and family reliably and at minimal cost.
So whether you want to make your friends jealous by calling from the beach or impress them with a mountain-top view, what are the best apps for staying in touch while travelling?
The grand-daddy of IP calling applications, Skype, now owned by Microsoft, allows you to make one-to-one video or voice calls or engage in text chat sessions free of charge. For a small charge you can use it to make calls to conventional phones and hold conference chats. The initial Skype download is free, and it comes pre-installed on many PCs and tablets. It generally works well, but you do need to have a good internet connection if you are to avoid laggy conversations and dropped calls.
Although it was originally developed for Apple users, you no longer need to have an iPhone or iPad to use the video calling app, as there are versions available for Windows and Android systems too. If you do have an iPhone, you automatically get the option to Facetime anyone in your address book, and it’s probably the best way of keeping in touch when both parties are using Apple devices.
Viber is a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calling application that allows you to call, chat and send SMS messages for free to friends who have the app installed. It’s available for Windows, iOS, Blackberry and Android devices, and unlike earlier versions which were voice only, Viber now supports video calling. You can also send photos, allowing you to share your holiday snaps with your friends before you get home. As with Skype, you can also use the app to call conventional phones for a small charge.
Pidgin is an app for Windows and Linux systems that allows you to communicate with friends on multiple different chat networks. So if you have friends on GoogleTalk, MSN, ICQ or a whole range of other chat systems, Pidgin lets you chat to them all from the same platform, so you don’t need to have multiple apps on your device. It supports features like file transfers in addition to chat, and you can extend Pidgin’s features with plug-ins.
Camfrog is a free application that lets you make video and voice calls and hold text chats with other users of the app. Communication can be private or public with multiple participants, and it’s also possible to call conventional landline or mobile phones. Camfrog has a range of parental controls built in, so if you’re travelling with the kids, they can safely use it to stay in touch with their friends.
WhatsApp is a popular messaging and calling service that’s available for Android and iOS devices as well as for BlackBerry and Nokia Symbian phones, plus Macs, Windows PCs and tablets. It uses your phone’s internet connection so you can send text messages without incurring charges, and you can make free video calls. You can have group chats with multiple people too. WhatsApp messages are encrypted, so you can be sure you’re secure.
Many people log their lives via Facebook these days, so it’s natural that you’ll want to use it to record memories of your travels. Thanks to the social network’s Messenger app, you can also text and call your friends for free. Messenger allows you to share photos and videos, and you can get notifications when people have seen your messages. Don’t worry if not all of your friends are on Facebook, as you can use Messenger to contact people in your phonebook too.
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