I love to travel, so I was excited when I began to put ideas together for my dissertation and realized that I needed to conduct research in France and elsewhere. My husband, on the other hand, was not thrilled, and who can blame him? Research takes a long time, and we might have to be apart for weeks or even months. By the time I finish my research, we will have had to find creative solutions to make our long-distance marriage work for more than a year. We’re already more than half-way there and have found that despite the crazy schedule and the physical distance that has separated us, we feel closer now than ever before. While I won’t claim that we have everything figured out, we’ve learned a few things along the way.
It sounds simple, but all relationships require open lines of communication, but how does one do this while on the road and conducting research? Before you travel, it’s helpful to have an honest conversation about any concerns, the effect the trip may have on your relationship, and any other anxieties. Then, do your best to allay those fears while away from home by communicating and sharing your experiences, thoughts, and, yes, even feelings, frequently.
In July, Katy Meyers wrote about several ways to Keep in Touch with the Homefront  while traveling. Here are a few additional things we’ve found helpful:
- Google chat works really well, even overseas, and it’s free. All you need is a Google email account and webcam. Mac users may also need to install Google voice and video chat  as well (it’s also free).
- Katy already mentioned this one, but it bears repeating: Skype  allows you to video chat, group chat, IM, and call landline and mobile phones . While Skyping between computers (and computers and phones with Skype) is free, there is a fee to call phones, so check their options  and see which is best for you. My husband and I tried to Skype between my laptop and his Droid while I was in France a couple of years ago for a short trip, but his phone didn’t have a forward-facing camera. He had to set the phone on a Kleenex box in front of a mirror so we could see each other! There was also a long delay, which made carrying on a normal conversation frustrating. Skype between computers seems to work reasonably well, even for international video chats.
- Mobile apps like Fring  and VTok  are also free video and voice-only chat tools. When I was last overseas, my husband and I used Fring for voice-only calls between our Droids when I had access to wireless Internet. The app now allows for both video and group video chats, but I haven’t tested these for international calls. VTok is specifically designed for a one-to-one video chat from a smart phone to another smart phone or laptop. If you choose to buy Google Voice integration, you can make free calls and send SMS messages within the United States and Canada. Both Fring and VTok are available for iPhones and Android phones, but Fring is also available on the OVI market  for Nokia phones. Note: Only a limited number of Android phones support VTok.
- In my own experience, writing (emails or letters) to each other also helped to span the distance between us. I often think to write things I may not normally say but he needs to hear – how much I love and appreciate him, what his support means to me, and how proud I am of him and what he is doing.
- Through photosharing , blogging, or creating an online journal  that you each contribute to both partners have a chance to respond to each other’s experiences and thoughts. Emailing photos taken with our phones has also helped us feel closer to each other by giving us windows into the other’s world while we’re apart. We haven’t tried an online journal yet, but our shared hard-bound paper journal has been a fun way to write about and preserve our story.
And finally… Be supportive! Encourage each other when things are stressful and spend quality time together before the trip, talking about something other than your dissertation and details of flight schedules. Look at this as a team effort, something you are doing together, and if at all possible, try to do some of the travel together or find other ways to share the experience.
What about you? How do you and your significant other prepare for travel and stay connected while away?