Stay Connected on Vacation: Five Great Messaging Apps

BreakingModern — Headed out of the country for the holidays? Before you pack your passport, make sure you have a plan to stay in touch without going broke.

The worst vacation hangover is an unexpected $1,000 cell phone bill for international calls and data. Here’s a look at five of the top mobile messaging apps for staying in touch outside the U.S.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp

This is the message darling for most of the world. In August, CEO Jan Koum tweeted that WhatsApp had 600 million active users. Last February when Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion, there were 450 million users. It’s a multiplatform app that lets users share their location and send free text, photo and video messages to other users anywhere in the world.

WhatsApp is free for the first year and thereafter costs $1 annually in every country but India, where the fee is waived indefinitely. A Statista survey showed South Africa (79 percent) and Argentina (75 percent) as the two countries with the most WhatsApp users at the end of June. India and Brazil are two of WhatsApp’s fastest-growing markets.

In the U.S. only eight percent of active texters are using WhatsApp. What’s up with that? Here’s a thought: Many iPhone and Android users utilize built-in messaging apps such as iMessage or Google Hangouts.

Plus WhatsApp currently needs a cellular connection to make phone calls. But CEO Koum says WhatsApp will introduce voice over data calls sometime in 2015.

And as more Americans travel abroad, more may adopt WhatsApp. In fact, I was introduced to it by a local tour guide in Lamu, Kenya. WhatsApp has helped me connect with relatives and local guides in Venice, Italy, and Alberta, Canada. Soccer Moms introduced my sister-in-law to it when my nieces played in a soccer tournament in Mexico.

iMessage

iMessage and Facetime

For iPhone families, iMessage and Facetime are a great way to communicate for free over Wi-Fi whether you are at home or abroad. Apple’s recent iOS 8 update added the ability to share audio messages along with text, photos and videos.

My niece is a senior at Harvard, and she and her friends rely on iMessage or Facebook messenger. Now that her friends can use their email account with iMessage, they no longer need WhatsApp when traveling abroad.

Facetime helps college moms stay in touch with their kids and it allows pet owners see how their pets are doing at home. It’s a wonderful way to keep an eye on my cat, Greta, even though it is more of a chat with my cat sitter than Greta, who is often sleeping or ignoring me.

For Android users, Google Hangouts is the comparable app.

Facebook Messenger

My two freshman nieces and most of my relatives rely on Facebook messenger to stay in touch. Users can text and send photos, videos and audio messages. And they can make voice calls over Wi-Fi.

WeChat

WeChat rocks in China. I downloaded it after my niece, an Asian-language student at Harvard, said I needed it for its cute emoticons. But since my niece is the only WeChat person I know, I seldom use it. Sandra Kitchen, a media tour guide in Alberta uses WeChat when she shows Chinese journalists around. A key feature of the app is its use of emoticons and symbols for text messaging which is easier than typing Chinese characters. Line is the dominant text app in Japan for similar reasons.

Choosing the Best Message App

So which app is best for you? The app that you can get family and friends to adopt. I like Voxer, but I had trouble getting others to use it.

If you are part of an iPhone crowd, iMessage and Facetime may be ideal. If most of your friends and family are on Facebook, Messenger may be the best fit. And the best app may vary by destination. WeChat could be great for a trip to China while WhatsApp might be ideal for India.

For BMod, I’m Terry Gardner.

All screenshots: Terry Gardner

Featured image credit: Garry Knight from London, England [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Terry Gardner

Author: Terry Gardner

Based in Santa Monica, CA, Terry Gardner is a freelance journalist whose passion for travel, scuba diving and the environment led to a career as a travel journalist. She blogs for various websites, including the Los Angeles Times Travel & Deal blog and Huffington Post. Terry's website is www.terrytravels.com. Her Twitter and Facebook handles are terrytravels1.

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