Keeping in Touch
 
Thousands of miles away for a whole year! Here's our thoughts and decisions on how to stay in touch with friends and family, manage finances and make sure the moments you capture stay with you for a lifetime.


Going for a year... Ma Jones isn’t so sure about me "taking her girl” so far away for so long. In reality, the trip was both our idea but we always get the “Where is Erik taking Susan now?” question. Anyway, I’m off track here. The question is how to stay in touch with everybody. There are plenty of choices: mobile phone, email, blog, maybe even radio silence. As we were thinking about these options, we also thought of other problems like managing our finances and downloading all the beautiful pictures we plan to take. It became clear early on we needed to bring a computer to address all these issues. 

So, first choice: Which computer? I worked for Intel for 20 years and for 18 of those 20 it was Mac vs Intel (PC). But the year before we left, Intel won the Apple design and we’re (yes I know I’m not there anymore but I still have a lot of stock) now in Macs. So I took a serious look at both PCs and Macs before we left and I’m almost sorry to say the decision was easy. The major need on our trip was managing photos, publishing a blog and some internet work to manage our finances. After a bit of research and test driving, I bought a MacBook Pro and am now a big fan. Best of all, no more fighting with my graphics designer sister!

To stay in touch, we decided it would be easiest to keep a blog. This not only lets people keep up at their own pace but it also lets new acquaintances go back and read about what we’d done earlier in our travels. We didn’t think about it at first, but it’s also a great way for us to relive our adventure... now, and years down the road. I looked at a bunch of blog sites but didn’t really like the photo and layout options of the ones I saw. So I played around with the Mac’s iWeb program and created one of our own. From there it was easy to go to GoDaddy.com and find a catchy web address like “bigadventure08.” I signed up for .mac to host the site and we were off and running. We can edit the blog offline, then simply upload the site at the press of a button when we’re connected to the internet. Super easy! The only big issue comes if the laptop dies or is stolen somewhere along the way. In that case, it’s pretty much bye-bye blog. But the pros of freedom in design, much better photo manipulation support and our ability to add cool sections like this one far outweigh the risk of losing the laptop.

The other “staying in touch” gem we invested in is Skype. Before we left, all the moms, dads, sisters and brothers received USB cameras and Skype as Christmas gifts. This choice has proved an excellent one. Despite not setting foot in the US through 2008, we’ve seen our parents and siblings more often that when we were living in San Francisco. With the exception of maybe India and Venezuela, we’ve found good enough internet connectivity to video call everybody. When the connection is not so great, we turn the video off and still have a free phone call. Our families all have the free version of Skype. We upgraded to Skype Pro in order to get a US phone number, voicemail and the ability to call regular phone numbers anywhere in the world. This proved invaluable in dealing with banking issues and calling country to country.

To manage finances, we faced a couple issues: paying monthly bills, managing our bank, credit  and investment accounts and most importantly, filing our 2008 taxes. All our banking is done online so managing the finances proved to be quite simple. Since we both traveled for business most of our banking was already online. We were very comfortable with our bank's online process. We would suggest setting this up early enough to get use to your banks process while you are still at home. We have two accounts and set one up for our travel account, the other for our home account. Citibank proved great for international bank transfers when we needed them and Wells Fargo’s bill pay support made paying and tracking US bills straightforward. Our best investment though was getting a personal manager at home to manage our tax filing and to handle any unforeseen issues. Luckily, a very close friend is in that business and it was easy to give her access to our accounts and PO Box. This was one of the best decisions of the trip. While there were only a couple issues in our year of travel, Teri was invaluable in getting issues resolved and letting us focus on our travels. She made tax filing a breeze, managed our mail and dealt with a couple minor issues - like me forgetting to check when my bank cards expired! My Citibank card expired while we were in India! We also got locked out of our Wells Fargo account while in Botswana. THANKS TERI! You’re amazing!

For photo management, I started out with PhotoShop. It’s expensive but because this is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of trip, I am more than willing to do a lot of photo editing to capture great memories. I installed the program and got cracking but quickly learned just how time consuming it can be. Luckily, my brother in law, John, showed me Photoshop’s sister program Lightroom. Lightroom was originally designed as the cataloging front-end to Photoshop but Adobe soon added a ton of processing capability into the program. Now, unless I have specific areas to clean up in a photo, I use Lightroom exclusively. The results are fabulous, the cataloging is second to none and it’s very quick. Once I’ve processed my RAW files into JPG, it’s an easy task to import the finals into the Mac’s iPhoto and iWeb programs.

After a year of travel, the MacBook has proven itself over and over. Connection has been simple and straightforward wherever we’ve been, software updates come automatically and quickly and although I’ve dropped the laptop a couple times and it now has a few scratches and dents, it still runs like new and our blog has received rave reviews - OK, mostly from moms but still...