You know what they say: There’s no place like home for the holidays—except when everyone’s homes are scattered across the Northern Hemisphere. How can you use futuristic technology to keep the family close when you’re celebrating the season from halfway across the world? The solution comes in the form of two little words: video hangouts.

We may not have hologram calling just yet (hopefully that’ll pop up along with those hoverboards we were promised in the 80s), but video chats are the next best thing. Thanks to tons of manufacturer software and third-party apps, you can catch up with your relatives from Toronto to Tokyo as if you were all in the same room. Plus, you won’t even have to suffer through that customary plate of Aunt Mabel’s dry-as-concrete fruitcake. Hello, best gift ever. Try these applications to get the party started…and yep, they’re all completely free: 


This one is the most popular of the bunch when it comes to video chats, voice calls, and instant messaging, so it’s likely that your fam already has their own accounts. Plus, the entire system is designed to be incredibly user-friendly, which means that even Grandma June can get in on the action (“Can you see me?!”). 


Think of this as Skype™ for Apple® users. FaceTime is the most practical option for people who want to chat using their iPhones, and it’s especially great for one-on-one video calls. In other words, this is the best way to have a private gab sesh with your sister about all the weird things your mother said on the group call. No, Mom, the new boyfriend hasn’t proposed yet. Sorry to keep you waiting. 

Google+ Hangouts 

If your relatives use Google+ – or even have an untouched account – this option is among the easiest for large groups. Not only can you video chat with up to 10 people at once, but you can also share photos and documents. Plus, each member of the group can chat with whichever device they have at hand. 


Ideal for two-person video or voice calls, this application goes heavy on the simplicity factor. Just enter your email address, first name, and phone number, and you’ll be ready to go. You can even play on-screen games while you talk, so it’s basically the virtual version of that post-dinner Scrabble® marathon you dominate every year. 


Want to drag your elusive cousin into the call? This application syncs both your contacts and Facebook account, so you can invite anyone from your friends list to join the fray. What’s more, it’s beyond easy to start a video chat with up to 12 people; simply login with your Facebook info, and you’re all set. Aunt Mabel, are you there? That fruitcake looks amazing (mwahaha)!

What app is your favorite for keeping in touch with friends and family?