Hosteling

There and Back Again: Keeping in Touch With Family On Three Continents

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Posted on / by Alex Berger

Looking Home

I love technology.  Sure, I may turn off my cell phone for some trips but at the end of the day, I’m incredibly grateful for the tech I have at my finger tips.  With the wealth of problems the world is currently facing, there’s one thing I think most of us take for granted – the tools we have at our disposal for keeping in contact.

I’m writing this post for all of you who may be about to dive into a trip and are worried about keeping in touch with your friends and loved ones.  It may be your first two-week trip internationally, a move to an out-of-state college, a gap year, or perhaps a more long term re-location.  For those of you on the road already using these technologies, I hope you’ll pause and reflect on the power you possess at your fingertips. Remember to truly appreciate and take advantage of it.

Between the 17th and 19th of July 2011 my family of four went from being fairly geocentric and collectively living within about 100 miles of each other to being spread out across three continents – the United States, Denmark, and Africa. Over the course of 72 hours I found myself more than 5,500 miles and a continent away from my mom and dad and another 8,000 miles away from my brother.  To complete the triangle, my brother is working in a small village near Mansa, Zambia which is approximately 9,500 miles away from our folks back in Arizona.  For those Monty Python fans among you … it doesn’t matter if it’s an African or European swallow … that’s one heck of a long distance.

Given that we’re a close family and keeping in touch is an important issue, especially as we enter the holiday season, communication has been something I’ve thought about a lot recently.  Luckily we live in the 21st century. If we lived at virtually any other period in history, it would be a herculean effort. We might, at best, hope to share two or three hand written letters a year. We are fortunate to live in a time where technologies that are less than two decades old make what was previously unthinkable possible.  It’s modern day magic!

In general the distance is a hard thing but with the holidays upon us it’s especially difficult.  Neither my brother, David, nor I will be able to return to Arizona for the holidays.  That means we’re both experiencing vastly different cultures, a world apart from the people closest to us.  For my folks,  after years of holidays spent together as a family, they find themselves separated by thousands of miles from both of their sons.  No easy thing.

I just finished a three-way Skype conference call with my family.  Using a mixture of standard internet connection and cell-based wifi, we were able to sit around leisurely as a family and enjoy a long distance conversation. That conversation took a 22,500 mile round trip journey, crunched it down, and turned it into less than a one-second delay.  What makes it even more spectacular is we not only got the chance to hear each other simultaneously,  we were able to see each other!  The icing on the cake? It was all done through a series of tools that meant there was not any significant added cost to make the call.

The ability to ask, “How are you?” and to say, ” I love and miss you” to family members far away is a wonderful thing that eases the mind and lessens the pain of being apart.  The chance to take the time to ask, “How was your day?”, “Like your haircut!”, or “What’s going on with the local election in Zambia?” as you would sitting around over coffee is an unreal blessing. It takes insurmountable walls that would otherwise keep us cut-off and isolated from communication and connection and brings them tumbling down to small hedges. Sure, they’re still there, and sure a Skype or Google video chat isn’t the same as being together but, it is amazing how powerfully it warms the soul and soothes the mind.

There are plenty of challenges.  The technology isn’t perfect. Connections can be somewhat unreliable and it requires its fair share of fiddling to get set up but, that’s also one of the technology’s strengths.  We’re not just confined to Skype. If that fails or is down, we can readily switch to Google Video or Apple’s Facetime. As long as that connection is there, then our connection to each other is available…even with David calling out from a rural Zambian village without running water using power generated by his portable solar charger.

As I go into this holiday season, I can tell you I’ve already received the best gift I could have asked for, a little piece of home and family, even when we’re thousands of miles apart.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.

10 Comments

  • Peg
    December 7, 2011

    Love this! We travel all the time and are currently based in Brazil, my kids are in Texas, Brian’s are in Edinburgh. Our parents are in Fife, California and Washington. A life like this wouldn’t be half as easy if we couldn’t keep in touch with them through technology. How lucky we are.

    Really good write-up about this. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      December 7, 2011

      Thanks! It really does make a huge difference doesn’t it? Not just for social and familial reasons but also when things go wrong or there’s an issue with a passport, a bill, or something of the sort. It sounds like you guys are another prime example of just how different the global traveler’s experience is due to current technologies! Very cool stuff! Definitely a blessing!

      Reply
  • Jennifer
    December 7, 2011

    Not quite the same, but most of our extended family lives 3,000 miles away (though in the same country). I appreciated this post.

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      December 7, 2011

      Its a real tribute to the size of the US though isn’t it Jennifer? Amazing how far away from loved ones you can find yourself, even while still within the same borders!

      Reply
  • Erin
    December 8, 2011

    We are permanent nomads and Skype makes being away so much easier for our families. It makes them feel better being able to see that we’re OK and Simon’s grandparents say that it’s just like us popping around for a cup of tea!

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      December 8, 2011

      That’s awesome! It really is amazing how much more “real” hearing a voice, and getting a video feed going is vs. reading a letter isn’t it?

      Reply
  • Nomadic Samuel
    December 18, 2011

    Hey Alex, great post. I’ve actually found I keep in touch better with family and certain friends while travelling than I do when I’m based in a job overseas or back home. We’re lucky to be travelling in the 21st century. Imagine what it would have been like just 15-20 years ago 🙂

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      December 18, 2011

      That’s a great observation. I’ve noticed the same as well. It’s crazy how I’m in more regular contact now with friends that were only 30-40 minutes drive away back home. It really is a blessing to be on the road and able to combine the adventure with the ties to home in the fashion we’re able to.

      Reply
  • Caz Makepeace
    December 20, 2011

    Love Skype- makes it so easy to keep in touch. I used to hate the old way of hunting down expensive phone cards once a week. now you can whenever you like. I just got back from KL where I could skype home and see my daughters every day. Priceless

    Reply
    • Alex Berger
      December 21, 2011

      Ahh yes, the phonecard search and burn routine! That was an absolute nightmare! Especially going through and dialing 30 numbers before you could finally try and dial your own.

      Reply

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