According to a July 2015 report by the Global Business Travel Association, U.S. travelers are expected to hit the road for nearly 490 million business trips this year alone.
All that travel can be stressful for families. But fortunately, technology offers a variety of ways to keep in touch. Here are a few of the ways I stay connected to my family while I’m on the road.
1. Virtual dinner table
If your family is like mine, texting has probably become your go-to form of communication even when you’re not traveling. My kids rarely use their phones for old-school phone calls, so they appreciate and respond best to quick messages about their day’s activities. When I’m on the road, our family keeps a group text thread going that enables us to joke around and express our individual personalities, while communicating as a family. I think of it as sort of a virtual dinner table.
Our family also tends to FaceTime or Skype when my wife or kids have something they want to show me -- perhaps work being done on the house or a school project the kids are working on. It’s the next best thing to actually being in the room with them and also allows me to share highlights from my travels with them, whether it’s a look outside my hotel room, a peek at a historic landmark or a glance of my unusual dinner.
2. Postcard app
The postcard -- usually with a personal “wish you were here” message on the back -- was once a standard feature of business and leisure travel. Although the use of postcards has declined, the U.S. Postal Service still reported posting 770 million stamped postcards in fiscal 2014.
Now this creative and expressive way to communicate with your family and friends has a new lease on life, thanks to Touchnote -- an app that allows you to take a photo with your smartphone and, with just a few clicks, send a postcard through the U.S. Postal Service. I send them to my family, my parents and my wife’s family. Everyone loves getting a postcard -- even if it’s to show them the world’s largest ball of twine!
3. Get social
While keeping up with the latest news and trendiest cat videos passes the time while waiting for your flight, social media can also be a great way to get and share updates with your family, and even unexpectedly connect with family and friends who may be in the same town you’re traveling to for business. For example, on a recent business trip to NYC, I was able to connect with an old college buddy after I’d posted on Facebook that I was looking for a great pizza place in midtown Manhattan. Likewise, by scrolling through photos posted by my Instagram-crazy kids, I feel like I get the visual highlights at the end of each day and have a great reference point for catching up when I get home.
Of course, Wi-Fi is a must-have for modern communication, and free Wi-Fi is the gold standard for those of us traveling frequently for business. Just be aware that public Wi-Fi domains carry some information security risks unless you’re using a virtual private network (VPN).
If you need help locating the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot, try using the Wi-Fi Finder app for iOS or the Osmino app for Android. Both use the global positioning system on your phone to find and direct you to the nearest hotspot location. If I’m working or staying somewhere that doesn’t offer public Wi-Fi, I carry an AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot device as a backup to ensure that I stay consistently connected.
Wherever our travels take us, we clearly have terrific tools for staying in daily touch with our families. It’s completely up to you and your family to determine your favorite channels. I’d love to know -- what works best for you?