What’s your favorite way to communicate when you’re away? Here’s ours

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Christopher Elliott

You can never be close enough to one of these. / Photo by Paul McCord - Flickr
As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been on the road a lot lately. I’m traveling across the country with my family and we’re documenting every moment of the trip on our family travel blog, Away is Home. Staying in touch with the ranch back in Winter Springs, Fla., can be a challenge, it turns out.

I bring this up for two reasons: First, because I think you might learn a thing or two from our experiences (and I’m sure I’ll learn something from you; feel free to email me or leave a comment). And second, in our never-ending search for sponsors, we’ve been talking with one communication provider. We haven’t signed a deal yet, but I thought it would be better to cover this issue now, when I can be absolutely frank about the issue.)

By the way, I’m cross-posting this on Away is Home, and on my Tumblr blog, too — so no, you’re not seeing double.

Wireless. We have three AT&T iPhones. Two of them were grandfathered on AT&T’s “unlimited” data plan, which as we all know is not so unlimited. The other one, which belongs to our oldest son, Aren, is newer, so his data use is capped. The family wireless plan costs more than our utility bill; our last wireless invoice came to about $250. AT&T is fine in large urban areas (here in the Orlando suburbs, we usually get three or four bars) but once you get out into the country, it’s iffy, at best.

Accessories. We keep it simple. We like the Otterbox cases. In fact, I’ve been a fan of Otter for at least two iPhone generations, since meeting the company reps at a CES show in Vegas. They don’t really help you communicate, per se, but if we didn’t have them, we would have stopped communicating a time or two. (When you have three kids, accidents happen.) Otter has protected our phones well, although I’m right in the middle of mediating an Otter case right now as a consumer advocate. I’m hoping for the best.

PC calls. This is a tough one. I have clients that love Google Voice, and wait for my little green light on Gmail to go on every morning. The voice quality is really decent, and the calls are free, even when you’re calling a phone from your computer. But for video, I like Skype better. The video quality is sharper and there’s less latency. I’ve used Skype to communicate with my family overseas (I have a brother in Finland) and when I need to see something, like a new baby in the family or when there’s a mini-reunion at my sister’s house in Phoenix.

Apps. I’m a Skype guy, when it comes to making wireless calls on an iPhone, iPad or iPod. When I tossed out my ISDN line after quitting my last radio show like a diva, the only way to do high-quality voice interviews for radio was by Skype, and it works really, really well. I just checked my log. I have BBC, National Public Radio and CBS on it. Also, I’ve done Skype-based interviews with several TV stations, including the CBS affiliate in San Francisco, and for Intuit’s blog. By the way, kidding about the diva part.

My kids also surreptitiously downloaded Skype and with Mom’s help, got their free accounts. It’s probably a terms of service violation. I recently discovered that they use the Skype app to communicate with their friends while they’re on the road. They have a demo unit of a Sony PlayStation Vita, which they’ve been using to talk to one of their friends at Karate. It’s fascinating to watch these digital “natives” communicate with each other. They don’t have the same hang-ups the adults do, when it comes to chatting by video. For example, they don’t care if the image of them is unflattering — in fact, it helps. I hear them in the other room, giggling about their appearance. (Our oldest son is an aspiring filmmaker, and he’s grabbed the demo Sony Bloggie, an HD camera that works wirelessly, and we are expecting his directoral debut any day now, or perhaps dreading it. Not that it has anything to do with anything.)

Messaging. Apple’s iMessage is our preferred way of communicating with the immediate family. AT&T’s messaging option, we felt, was too expensive and we were getting too much spam. It would be great to have something that works everywhere and is also free, but for both Google and Skype, we would have to fire up the app before we could send and receive short messages. That’s no problem when you’re already on the app, but I can’t remember to open it, even when there’s a little red circle notifying me of activity.

battleface delivers insurance that doesn’t quit when circumstances change. We provide specialty travel insurance services and benefits to travelers visiting or working internationally, including in the world’s most hard to reach places. Currently selling in 54 countries and growing, our mission is to deliver simple solutions to travelers worldwide heading out on their next adventure.

So that’s basically how we stay in touch while we’re gone. How do you do it?

And, all things being equal, how do you prefer to make a voice call when you’re on the road? Oh, I feel a poll coming on!

Photo of author

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

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