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5 Alternatives To Being Home For The Holidays

Tickers in this article: MSFT GOOG AAPL FB
PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- Did your holiday travel plans and work schedule not pan out? Do you want to bash in the radio or infect your playlist with a virus each time Home For The Holidays or I'll Be Home For Christmas comes on? Just take a few breaths, sit back and remember that not getting home for the holidays doesn't mean not seeing your family.

This is 2012. The homesick have far better, cheaper tools at their disposal than a late-night long-distance phone call when the rates get lower or holiday cards with an entire year's events packed into one mailing.

If you've already gone online, shipped out gifts by hitting a site with free shipping or a small spending threshold for that perk or are waiting on online promotions such as Free Shipping Day before knocking out your holiday gift lists, you can see your family this holiday season without taking a step. Back in the '90s, stuffed suits in company conference rooms called it teleconferencing; today it's just another feature on your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Here are just a handful of the best video chatting options out there. While you may not be able to taste dinner on Christmas Eve or smell the tree in the living room on Christmas morning, at least you can see the bug-eyed excitement or thinly veiled disappointment on your loved ones' faces as they open presents:


If you wondered why we were calling it "video chatting" instead of "Skyping," chances are you're one of the nearly 700 million users contributing to the 600 million minutes of video calls made through Skype each day.

Though it launched primarily as a voice service in 2006, a quarter of Skype users were making video calls by 2008. Roughly 50% of calls made on Skype this year use video, with the service transmitting 7,000 hours of video each minute. It works on Apple (AAPL) OS X computers and iOS iPhones and iPads, Google (GOOG) Android smartphones and tablets, some Nokia (NOK) phones and Sony's (SNE) PlayStation Vita handheld. Most impressively, however, it's been integrated into Microsoft's Windows phones, computers, Outlook app and Facebook (FB) after Microsoft (MSFT) acquired Skype for $8.5 billion last year.

The good news is that all calls made from one Internet device to another are free. If you want to call a landline phone or bring more than two devices into a chat, though, you'll need the $5-a-month Skype Premium service. That allows up to 25 devices to sit in on a chat and is the best way to bring a large family together for the holidays.