They birthed you, they raised you, and now they’ve waved goodbye as you fly off into the world. Now you’re out and about having immaculate adventures and chances are they’re at home agonizing about whether you’re eating enough, if you’re meeting nice friends, if you’ve spent all your money on beer, and of course if you’re safe. They’ve sent you emails, letters, care packages, and maybe even tried to coordinate a visit because they miss you so much, but before it gets to that point, here are a few ideas on how to keep your parents sane while you’re overseas.
What methods are best?
Whether you think technology is a blessing or a curse, your parents can thank the inventors who developed all the amazing programs that provide us with effortless communication.
First there’s email, which nowadays seems almost prehistoric with new developments like Facebook and Skype. Most of us have an account on Facebook these days and have it constantly active on our phones through the app or anytime we are on our computers (here’s looking at you multi-tasker who flicks between your projects and Facebook every other second) so rather than making your life more complicated, add your parents as friends and all you have to do is send them a quick Facebook message once in awhile that all is well, and your status updates and photo posts will do the rest! (If you allow them access to your photos that is)
In the reality that is our smart phone dependent existence, complimentary apps like Viber and Whatsapp are as easy to use as if you were messaging someone in the same country. Messaging and calling are free to anywhere in the world as long as the other person has the app and you can just as easily sync up your contacts and Facebook contacts with these apps as well, so there’s no hassle of adding each individual contact.
Facebook, Viber, Whatsapp, Snapchat, and Skype- all fantastic apps to help you connect anywhere in the world for free! Photos: Google
If you are more of a visual story teller, I recommend Snapchat, a nifty app that allows you take a photo or video, write a witty caption and send it out to your specified contacts. The photo or video is only accessible for the duration of seconds you designate when creating your image, after the viewing time has expired the images can no longer be viewed. It’s a quick and easy way to visually confirm you’ve reached a destination safely or even just to make them a little jealous of your exotic surroundings, while at the same time that you’re ok. I find that due to the impermanence of the photos, I feel less pressure to compose the perfect shot because it will be gone in mere seconds, meaning I’m more likely to send more photos, more often.
For the personalized ‘live’ experience of video calling, there is Skype. Google has also developed Google Hangouts, which specializes in having multiple video calls going at once, but your parents are usually going to be using the same device to talk to you, so keep it simple with Skype which is also capable of multi-person video calls. Skype delivers video and sound quality to the best of its ability, which can be phenomenally clear or can mean considerable lag and distortion depending on your Internet connection. Skype also features instant chat, the ability to leave voice messages, sending files of all varieties and you can buy credit so that you can call any phone device. Be patient if the connection isn’t superior, sometimes it just takes a bit of time to establish a solid relationship between devices.
Your parents can tell a lot by your facial expressions, so let them see how happy you are adventuring overseas!
Lest we forget blogging, the glorious cyber diary that helps us to record our experiences interlaced with photos, videos, links and more! Blogging is an accesible way to share your adventure stories with a wide variety of people. Compared to Facebook, blogs are designated for those more in depth instalments, rather than the few sentences that would usually accompany a photo album or a simple status update. Some of the more popular blogging sites are blogger.com and tumblr.com, which each offer thousands of complimentary themes and layouts to choose from, depending on if you would like your blog to be more text centric or photo based and you can change it at any time in the future. What I love about blog sites is how simple it is to customize the format of each post to present my different forms of information I want to share. For example, with tumblr.com, they offer options of text, photo, video, link, quote, chat or audio for each blog post you want to do, which will automatically convey your data in an aesthetic and easily accessible presentation.
I believe that the most difficult aspect of blogging is that it takes commitment to post ample material consistently. While you’re overseas, you want to experience everything to the max, meeting people, trying new foods, or maybe you just have a ton of course work in your study abroad program and writing for your blog is time that you could be out there getting amongst it. Though it may be a sacrifice for your adventuring availability in that moment, that time was actually an important investment for both your parents’ sanity and for you to have detailed chronicles to look back on once you’ve returned home. If you do decide to start a blog, be prepared for your parents to check it religiously and have more than likely they already sent the link to all your relatives and family friends- after all, it is their window into what trouble you’re staying out of (or getting into).
Between email, chat messaging, voice/video calls and blogs, each medium has its own dimension of impact. Writing a small message is a quick way to alert your parents that you made it safely to your destination after the sketchy night bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but it doesn’t share how you’re feeling as much as hearing your voice or seeing your face on a video call would. For people with experience communicating long distance, the intimacy provided by hearing an actual voice or seeing facial expressions is massive compared to pixelated words and cartoon faces.
They’ll probably send you a care package at least once, but why not surprise them with a box of love? Photo: Chelsea Co
Though not as convenient as technological options, postcards and packages are a fantastic way to surprise your parents by showing them that you were thoughtful enough to handwrite a message or prepare gifts and on top of that, even managed to post it properly! A package will usually result in you getting told to save your money for more important things like food, which they are probably right about, but they will surely appreciate the gesture.
What to say and when to say it
The primary reason that maintaining contact with your parental figures is so important is to let them know you’re safe. The details you may provide in a lengthy blog post may be a thorough update about your life’s developments, but if they have to wait weeks between posts, you might have some parents getting a edgy wondering when they’re going to hear from you. In this regard, quantity over quality takes the cake when communicating with parents, because sending them a short message that you’ve checked into your hotel safely can truly ease a fretting parent’s mind.
If you are involved in a study abroad program or have a steady job overseas, your parents are likely to be more relaxed when it comes to hearing from you since your presence is accounted for on a semi-daily basis by an institution or at least by another human being who would notice if you stopped showing up for your work shift. This theory also applied to the type of environment you are traveling in. If you are in a more developed metropolitan area your parents will feel more secure than when you’re hopping motorcycles around rural isolated provinces without Wi-fi access. When you’re traveling free range or backpacking, a parent’s mind can really wander to the worst possible outcomes when they don’t hear from you, especially if you are travelling by yourself.
A useful tactic to improve your own safety and calm your parents is to have an itinerary of where you will be and when, so that way if they don’t hear from you for some reason, they would at least have an inkling of where to begin trying to reconnect. Taking this a step further is if you know the transportation company, you can relay the name of the service, the licence plate of the vehicle and even your seat number for maximum safety precautions.
Another helpful method to managing communication is to set a ritual time to talk to them. It will give your parents something to look forward to, and you’ll have a clear understanding of when to meet since varying time zones can really interfere with finding a good time to talk, so this way you can plan your agenda accordingly. Touching base regularly is great for both nomads and those abroad but in one location, because it helps your parents to know that everything is still running smoothly and that you’re satisfied with your decision to travel.
You may not want to accept it, but there is a comforting surrender when talking to someone who has known you your whole life, someone you don’t have to explain your background story to for the nth time and someone who more than anything wants to make sure that you are well and happy. It’s simple, just send your parents a message once in a while to inform them about how everything is going and in return you will find yourself feeling less alone and more secure knowing someone back at head quarters is aware of your status and coordinates.