Text & Email Advice for Travelers

When you’re traveling you are likely to make many, many new acquaintances. Some because you befriend them at that juncture or might want to travel with them. Others might be tour guides or info resources for wherever you are or may decide to go in the future.

Unhelpful mystery texts

Two of many unhelpful mystery texts

If you don’t add that person to your Contacts app immediately — and time/politeness doesn’t always lend itself to doing so — a little while later you might not have any clue who that person is. You might not have their name, know their county… You may likely have no context for the text messages. All you may see is a phone number. An odd one, at that if you don’t recall country or area codes

This goes for email as well. Some people have their email set up properly to display their name along with their email address, but some email apps don’t provide that option or make it obvious to people to complete. Seeing ilovedogs32@hotmail.com doesn’t help you at all.

And then if that person changes out her/his SIM card, as travelers do, you may only have a dead contact.

Of course, this goes both ways. That person may be left with no clue who you are or why you texted.

Mystery texts are not often fun.
Who was it that texted “Lobby bar @9” on January 9, 2018?
Where were you on that date? Did you want to meet that person or did you choose to ignore that text?
You may think you’ll remember but keep traveling and you may well find out you don’t – but it’s too late by then.

It’s so much nicer to avoid these blanks, confusions, uncertainties, doubts.

It’s so much nicer and more efficient and kind to let your first-time message recipient know the Who, What, Why, Where, When, and How. (That’s the journalist’s lead paragraph protocol, by the way.)

The first time you text someone, make it an introduction.


good initial texting

We didn’t say how we met but exchanged helpful info. (Name/numbers edited for privacy.)

State your name so they can add you to the address book.

Provide your contact information if it’s relevant. 

What, When & Why

Let the person be clear on why you were writing to them or how you found them and why they should read your text not delete it as spam.


Where are you texting from? What country, city, town are you from — if you want that to ever will be pertinent?


State how you know the person such as where you met them.

Write it out, spell it out

Don’t abbreviate. Don’t use texting shorthand. Don’t use acronyms — some bunch of capital letters that you think stand for something but may not be the same to the other person.

When a US American says IRA, it means stability, an Individual Retirement Account. When a person in the UK hears IRA it doesn’t relate to stability. When I see someone write SEA, I don’t immediately realize it means SouthEast Asia and what if the recipient thinks of Seattle-Tacoma Int. Airport? CA could be California or Canada.

Be specific

If you say, “it was nice to chat with you,” did you speak in a short casual conversation or did you do a text chat? If you spoke, say so. In-person face-to-face, via phone, via a common acquaintance’s phone…?

What happens if someone who doesn’t know all this initiates the first text or email?  

Easy. You have an immediate opportunity to reply with this important info.

Typing Tip

If you’re on an Apple iPhone, iPad, or Mac, take advantage of the ability to type a few characters and have it automatically expand to a word, sentence, phrase, or paragraph. 

iPhone & iPad: General -> Keyboard -> Text Replacement.

There, click the + in the upper left corner, type or paste your desired phrase, then type your shortcut. Tap Save.

creating a text replacement on iPhone

“dftu” will type my URL

You can edit either part later by tapping on the entry and in the next screen, changing the text.

Since the Mac lets you send and receive texts too…

Mac: Keyboard -> Text Replacements… (a button under Text Input)

There, click the + in the bottom left corner, type or paste your desired phrase in the With field and type your shortcut in the Replace field. Then click Save.

You can edit either part later by just double-clicking in the field and changing the text.

For example:

When I type “ds” then hit a space, it types out my name

When I type “mya” then hit a space, it writes out my entire address as I want people to see it.

Typing ““myp” then hit a space auto-types my phone number, and in my case with the words “My 2020-2023 US phone:” before it.

Also, “myu” provides my personal website’s URL.

So in seconds, I can text someone my name, phone, address, and website — or just a part of that, as I desire.

With an Android…

GBoard Settings -> Dictionary -> Personal dictionary -> Keyboard.

At the top, tap the + to add your phrase and shortcut.
(Thanks Russell.)


Of course, you can dictate your contact info without text expansion. However, I don’t recommend stating this info in a room where others can hear you. That CAN lead to unwanted contact. That’s what happened to me in a store long before iPhones when the man behind me in line listened very closely for my phone number as I gave it to the clerk.

Tips for adding a travel person to your Contacts app

Even if you add a person, first and last name, to your contacts app, you may not be able to find them later because you won’t remember their full name.

I was going to give you a tip to put the name of the place — town, city, country— into the contact’s note area. But Carolyn, author of The Hiking Traveler, adds this tip for you:

“I often have only a first name, so in Contacts, I make our meeting place the Last Name. Or in the Company Name field. If the meeting place is in Name or Company Name, then I don’t have to look in the Notes. I use the Notes if I want to expand on our meeting.”

You might want to add the meeting place in parenthesis after the person’s first or last name instead.

Additionally, if I know that a person has moved on and changed his/her phone number, I keep the number in my contacts app but change the phone label to a Custom Lable I call “former.” That way I can still find this text session in my Messages (Text) app.

I happen to handle the way people text me in a different manner, but that’s another story.

This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book about how to travel independently.

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