The first time I went overseas by myself, the only way I had to communicate with my loved ones back home was either by purchasing prepaid phone cards and calling them at arranged times from pay phones, or by writing them. The phone cards were tricky to use, and I remember being close to tears the first time I repeatedly failed to make a call, shivering in the cold from standing outside in the rain at a payphone, just wanting to hear a familiar voice.
Now there are many ways to communicate with people while traveling. Most cell phone providers offer international travel plans, and while these plans can save you money, they can still be pricey.
One way to save money is to rent or buy a temporary cell phone at your destination. (Sometimes your cell phone provider at home also has this option available.) You now have a new local, temporary, phone number available 24/7, useful for emergencies as some Smart Phone apps do not allow you to dial emergency numbers due to regulations in the Telecommunications Act.
If you travel with your Smart Phone, there are apps that can make communication easier and cheaper. One app that I have found very useful is called Viber. It that allows you to send text messages, pictures, and make phone calls with other Viber users, in any country. It is simple to use and if you are in a WiFi hotspot, free. It has become the app I use the most to keep in touch with friends abroad.
Skype is another option. It allows you to instant messaging, voice and video conference calls. Like Viber, Skype-to-Skype calls are free. You can make calls to non-Skype lines for a small fee, and also set up your own Skype phone number for a low monthly fee which can cut down on overseas communication costs.
WhatsApp is a third app option. You can also send messages for free to other users, as well as video and audio messages and images. What is nice about this app is that you can easily create a group chat.
There are several other Smart Phone apps that allow you to communicate easily and affordably while you are traveling. These three happen to be the ones I am best acquainted with, and feel most comfortable recommending.
While not an intimate form of communication, social media, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, are other ways to inexpensively stay in touch while traveling, if you have access to WiFi and a computer or mobile device.
Staying in touch is much easier now when I traveled previously, but I still enjoy writing and sending letters back home. While finding a post box* or a stamp is not always easy, I find something romantic about a sent letter from abroad. The sight of the airmail label, the cancellation mark. A tangible reminder that while I was on my adventure, you were on my mind.
*One of the more unique postboxes I have come across is the R2-D2 in Roswell, New Mexico.