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January 28, 2011

Great Tools for the Traveling Parent

Now that I have kids, business travel takes a whole new meaning as I’m not just worrying about me and my schedule, but I have two young daughters who continue to need my time and attention, even when I’m away. The one thing I want most is for my kids to know that I’m still connected to them, even if I’m in another time zone and thousands of miles away. Working in Windows I’ve found some very easy to use (and FREE!) tools which help me and my family feel more connected when I have to be away.

Windows Live Messenger and HD Video Chat

My youngest daughter Belle is not even two, so using the phone isn’t exactly the easiest way to communicate – she often hangs up on me or I just hear heavy breathing for several minutes. However, I’ve found using Messenger video chat is an easy way to see and talk to my kids. They like seeing my image, but most of all they love when I read them books at night as it keeps a level of consistency to their lives. I recently traveled to CES in Las Vegas and used Messenger video chat to read a book and say goodnight to them at the end of each day. Below are photos of my daughters using video chat on one of our home laptops, with Belle blowing me kisses (this is right before she leaned in to kiss the computer screen) and Lil showing me her artwork from preschool that day. Additionally, while we’re video chatting, I can share photos and videos of the places I’m visiting in the same chat screen, which my oldest daughter loves as her favorite part of our nightly routine is sharing what we did that day.


If you haven’t used video chat in messenger, give it a shot. Anyone with a webcam can use this feature. Adding an HD webcam, such as the new LifeCam Studio, makes the picture just that much clearer with features such as full 1080p HD sensor, auto focus and a high-precision glass lens. Another option is to use the Xbox Kinect Video Kinect capability, which I also use with my family. The great thing about this scenario is that my kids and husband don’t have to huddle around the PC. While I’m set up on my HP dm4 laptop in my hotel room, my kids and husband are sitting on the couch of (or in our case, the kids are running around) our media room, enabling me to see everyone and our chat is then projected on a much larger screen on their end. For more on how to download and set up Windows Live Messenger, go here.

Windows Live Family Safety

Another great tool I use to help me parent while I’m away from home is Family Safety. In a previous blog post “Easy Steps to Help Keep Your Munchkins Safe Online” I wrote about the capabilities in Family Safety and easy steps to get started. I use Family Safety in our house, which gives me peace of mind that my oldest daughter Lil (4-years-old) isn’t visiting websites inappropriate for her little eyes. Additionally, the great features in Family Safety allow me to take this information on the road. I can log into Family Safety from any computer to get a status report on which websites my daughter has visited and how much time she’s spending online, which gives me confidence for how she’s spending her time online while I’m away. For kids who are older than Lil, there is also the ability to ask parents for permission to visit particular websites which may be blocked, which delivers the request via email to the parent. You can also limit your kids’ email and instant messaging access to approved contacts, change your child’s permissions, and control what games and programs can be run on your PC.

For more on Family Safety, view my previous post here or go to the Family Safety website here to download the free product. Also look for an upcoming blog post where I interview Phil Sohn, the lead program manager for Family Safety on how to install and use the tools.