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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Mobile

How to keep in touch with people while traveling

Staying in touch doesn't have to be a chore. Here's how to keep people notified when you're on vacation, without the hassle.

Unless you want to go off the grid completely, it's relatively easy to keep in touch with friends and family when on the road.

Of course, there are the obvious solutions, including familiar apps like Facebook and Skype, but you may be interested in tips and tricks making use of other contact solutions.

Overseas travel

Taking your smartphone on an overseas trip is pretty much inevitable. It pays to do some research before reaching your destination because carrier roaming costs can be prohibitively expensive.

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Josh Miller/CNET

First up, if you want to take your existing handset, it pays to check that your device will be compatible with overseas networks. Pick up a local SIM card at your destination to save on call and data rates.

If you're only going on a short trip and want to save the hassle of getting another phone number with a local SIM, it's more than likely that you can roam on your current plan. Beware of extra charges and fees, which can be exorbitant. Turning off roaming mobile data and push notifications from apps will help lighten the load.

CNET's Maggie Reardon has a great rundown of the pros and cons of travelling with your smartphone, covering local SIM cards, MiFi, and roaming charges.

Make use of Wi-Fi

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Dave Cheng/CNET

Using Wi-Fi when on the road is an easy way to get access to maps, email and checking in with friends. There are some risks associated with free public Wi-Fi so it pays to be careful. Here's my guide on what to look out for when connecting to an unsecured hotspot, whether you use a smartphone, tablet, or laptop when on the road.

Sometimes you need an internet connection to work out where the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot is located.

Wi-Fi Finder is a free app for iOS that uses your phone's GPS to direct you to the nearest location, even if you're offline, as long as you've downloaded the database of hotspots.

For Android, Osmino Wi-Fi offers similar functionality and augmented reality so you can find the nearest hotspot around you.

The unusual suspects

It's no secret that your commonly-used apps are also great to use on vacation. Whether it's Skype, Viber, or Facebook messenger, you don't need instructions on how to send messages or video chat with contacts.

What you might not know about are some alternatives to the old favourites.

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Dave Cheng/CNET

Contacts+ is an address book app, but not as you know it. The app allows you to keep your contacts consolidated in one place, with text messaging, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter integration. This means you can keep up with all your important contacts without having to launch apps individually. It's available for iOS and Android.

Telegram offers group chat with up to 200 of your closest contacts, and also touts security as its main focus. You can also share files up to 1GB in size, ideal if you want to send around photos without broadcasting them to a social network. It's available across pretty much all platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Mac, Windows, Linux, and web.

GroupMe is available on Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. Like the name suggests, it offers group chat facilities but it also works over SMS for users in the US. Add contacts from your phone book and chat over SMS, no app needed.

Automate your communication

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Set Tasker to send an SMS to your family when you reach a certain location. Screenshot by Lexy Savvides/CNET

Sometimes you simply want to enjoy your holiday rather than constantly checking in with everyone back home. You know you should keep them in the loop, so think about automating your messages.

There is a way to automate notifications on Android so your phone sends an SMS or another prompt to your contacts without you having to lift a finger.

Tasker is an incredibly useful app that helps automate a number of different actions based on certain triggers. For example, you could set up an action that automatically sends an SMS to a selected contact once you are within a certain radius of a location.

Be aware that using a location-based alert will require the GPS to be active, and will wear down the battery quickly. Tasker is available as a free 7-day trial or you can pay for the app ($2.99, AU$3.49)

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Tasker is not the only automation app out there. Automagic Automation ($3.90, AU$3.50) also offers similar functionality for Android.

Apple users may want to try WakePoint, which can send reminders, SMS, or email messages to let family know where you are. It comes with 5 SMS credits as standard when you download the free app, with more available via in-app purchase.