I was in Oregon last August on a road trip with my wife. We were living in Thailand at the time and had survived the 20 hours of flying time from Phuket to Seattle. My good mate, Geoff, a native of Chicago and now living in Phuket, wanted me to pick up a particular chilli sauce for him. In the course of the trip, we were standing in Walmart, sure we had found his brand of choice. A photo of the bottle messaged back and a quick return message proved we had the wrong one. The whole interchange took no more than 3 minutes and highlighted that we were using one of the best messaging apps while travelling abroad!
So many of us that are travelling the world these days use smartphones on a daily basis. Keeping in touch with friends and family back home is vital. How can we do it? What apps could be installed so that communication with loved ones is not impeded by the tyranny of distance?
Here are my five best messaging apps while travelling abroad! These are not only useful for messaging but can also incorporate data phone calls. Want to learn how? Read on and use this information in your next travel plans.
Best Messaging Apps While Travelling Abroad – My Top Five
WhatsApp works on Android and iOs platforms. It encrypts all interactions and provides instant messaging and data phone calls. As of February of 2016, it claims a user base of one billion. There are over 38 million feedback comments that combine to give it a 4.4/5. I used it extensively while living in Thailand. some of my contacts preferred it to other data messaging apps and it was very effective in communicating back to Australia with my sister. I also had clear voice communication when on a data call with a close friend back home in Newcastle, Australia. Another excellent feature of WhatsApp is that any pictures that are sent to you are immediately saved into the smartphone’s gallery. This is far more effective than emailing a picture. These usually have to opened, downloaded and saved to a directory. WhatsApp saves you the effort.
Downside: If you change phone numbers, you have to cancel the account and open a new one. This will result in the loss of previous conversations that you had with your contacts.
Conclusion: WhatsApp is my preferred choice. While there has been some brouhaha worldwide about their data security, I haven’t found to be an issue for me and will continue to use it, even while living back home in Australia.
Late last year I was out and about in Phuket, Thailand, and I got a phone call from some Australian friends of mine. They had lived near us in Thailand but had moved to Costa Rica and were enjoying the experience of life in a Latin country. The phone call was from Los Angeles International Airport to say that he had broken his ankle and was being flown home by the travel insurance company for surgery. The Viber call reception was clear as Ash used the free WiFi at LAX to call me. Cost of call? $0. Convenience? Priceless. Yes, Viber was his data messaging app of choice and one that many of my friends around the world use. Viber is an instant messaging and Voice IP app that is now used by over 500 million worldwide. It was originally designed for Apple to compete with Skype but now works on Android, Windows and Blackberry. All message interactions have end-to end encryption so security is not an issue. It was Viber that allowed Geoff and I to chat about chilli sauce brands. It also allows the sharing of video and sticker animations to spice up the instant messages you send. The provision of group chats is available with the ability of up to 200 participants.
Downside: In contrast with WhatsApp, Viber only tells you that the message is delivered not that it has been seen. WhatsApp tells you with a double tick that the message not only has arrived but has been seen.
Conclusion: Viber is a very useful messaging app. The voice calls are clear and I have had few if any issues with it. The WhatsApp VOIP calls feature is not as good as Viber’s clear and quick connecting service.
According to Wikipedia, as of May 2016, WeChat has over a billion created accounts, 700 million active users; with more than 70 million outside of China (as of December 2015). It is compatible across all smartphone platforms and as you can guess, was developed by a Chinese company, Tencent. The Chinese word used literally means “micro message”, very appropriate for what is is used for. It can provide all the digital sharing capabilities of other services, such as message, video, VOIP calls and picture enhancement and sharing. It links easily with Facebook and QQ (the Chinese email and social media platform) As of April 2016, an enterprise version of WeChat is now available. If you are or plan to do business with companies and individuals in China, WeChat is the app you need.
Downside: I haven’t used it sufficiently and my social sharing plugin, SumoMe, doesn’t include it in the list of platforms I can use to share my content. This is something I will try to rectify.
Conclusion: The popularity of WeChat makes it worth considering, especially since global trade is by necessity inclusive of the large Chinese market. China is also growing in popularity as a tourist destination so when in China, do as the Chinese and use WeChat is catch up with everyone back home.
Line is a lesser known app for data messaging but it is very popular in South-East Asia. I can’t think of how many people in Thailand asked me, “Are you on Line?” I quickly realised that to live there for a year, I better get on Line to connect with people online. (See why I was confused at the start?) Line is a Japanese subsidiary of the Korean search engine, Naver. It provides free voice and video call across 230 countries and, if you love jazzing up messages, over 10,000 stickers are available to add some fun to instant messaging. Over 500 million people use it worldwide. It is also a social media app, so that you can follow the activities of favorite brands or celebrities through their timeline. These include the NBA, Manchester United, CNN, Taylor Swift, etc. I will, at times, social share my posts and review pages on Line through SumoMe. Line has an easy interface and includes a QR code to quickly share contact details with people you meet who are on Line.
Downside: I haven’t used it to its full capacity, but in the limited use I made of it while living in Asia, it is an excellent app and will be worth having on stand-by when travelling.
Conclusion: Add it to the list of data apps you have at your disposal. Remember, it is free, does everything the others do, and if you are in Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam or any other of these popular tourist destinations, Line is the app of choice there.
Well, we all know why Skype was started. Free video calls with friends and family across the world. And it is still going strong, despite the growth of other VOIP apps and platforms sweeping the world. It is compatible across all smartphone and tablet platforms and while it does very well with instant messaging and video calls, which are free, it still charges you for voice calls. I have recently used it effectively to teach others English online, and its instant messaging is quick and easy to use. Skype claim a usage of over half a billion worldwide. Impressive numbers!
Downside: No free voice calls.
Conclusion: Skype is a useful app to have on your PC or Apple Mac so that video conference or messaging can easily be effected with our family who are travelling worldwide. I like its sound test feature that you can use prior to a video call, since it reassures you that your camera and sound are working well.