Way back when I studied in Belgium for a semester during college, connecting with family back home was a pain in the you-know-what. I had to buy special phone cards to make international calls, then keep up with how many minutes I had left. Misdial a number and you had to start the arduous process of punching in numbers all over again.

And email? Yes, it existed, but I either had to fight other students to use the school’s computers or pay per minute at an internet cafe in town. This was pre-wifi (2000) and before everyone had internet on their phones.

How much easier would my travels have been back then if I’d had today’s technologies! Here’s how I stay connected to family and friends back home, no matter where I am.

Use Video Apps

Skype. Tango. Google Hangouts. WhatsApp. You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to video apps that use wifi.

It’s nice to have video chats with people back home because you can not only feel better connected to them, but you can also show them a bit of the place you’re visiting. My son and I use Google Hangouts to stay connected, and he always likes seeing the view from my window or even my hotel room. Hangouts also has easy-to-use texting, so when wifi isn’t working well, we’ll just text or use the voice only feature.

Plan Ahead for Wifi

When you want to chat with someone who’s eight hours behind you, a little planning is necessary. But beyond agreeing what time you’ll talk, you’ll need to also plan out your wifi access, because, trust me, it’s not always stellar. When I was in the Dolomites, internet access was hit or miss. I found myself waving my phone around in one rifugio, trying to get the best connection to the weak wifi available.

If you can, find out how strong the wifi is at a hotel ahead of time. Some rooms might be closer to the router, and will give you a stronger connection. If the signal isn’t great, you can use an alternative method of connecting, like text or phone rather than data-heavy video.

Get It While It’s Good

I had the option to use my phone data while in Europe last year, but I didn’t want to go crazy racking up the cost. So whenever I found wifi access, I took advantage of it to check email and send texts. You might find great wifi in a museum or a cafe, so have your phone or tablet at the ready to take advantage.

Finding wifi access is easier than it’s ever been, but it’s not a guarantee. Have a few ways to connect with those back home, and always have a backup plan.