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Marco Polo through the ages: How families near and far stay in touch

Kerry Byrne will never forget the day she walked away from her father. She was about to board a plane to Dubai, where her husband had just been transferred. Kerry’s baby son, Finn, now strapped to her chest, would grow and change exponentially during their sojourn. And her father would miss it.

“It was one of those defining moments,” Kerry remembers. “My face crumbled. My dad’s face crumbled. And I vowed that I would never let the bond between my son and his grandfather suffer because of distance.”

If only she’d known about Marco Polo

Fast forward two summers. Kerry and her family, now with the addition of baby Charlie, were visiting family in England en route to Houston, soon to be their newest home.

Kerry got the whole family to download Marco Polo.

“I had heard about Marco Polo and the founders’ story. As an expat mom, the company’s purpose – to help people stay close – resonated so strongly with me. I only wish we’d known about the app in Dubai, where we’d be lucky to find 45 minutes in common on any given day.”

Building a grandparent network

Beyond benefiting her own family’s dynamics, Kerry was interested in the role that robust intergenerational relationships could play in strengthening other families and society as a whole. As a doctoral-level research scientist specializing in aging and care, she had 20 years of experience helping hospitals, tech companies, nonprofits, and policy think tanks work to improve the care of aging populations. Marco Polo intrigued her for many reasons.

And in Dubai, with the personal and professional intersecting, Kerry had become curious. How did other expat grandparents bridge the distance? And how could she help?

After combing online grandparent forums and conducting live interviews with the grandparents of fellow expats, she unearthed a core set of concerns. Across cultures and around the world, grandparents felt heartbreak that their grandchildren lived far away, uncertainty about how they’d stay in touch, and fear that these precious children would grow up not knowing them.

Believing this audience to be vital but underserved, Kerry applied her expertise and newfound knowledge to the creation of a network for sharing resources and building community: The Long Distance Grandparent.

Long distance families staying in touch

What makes long distance grandparents tick

In its most recent Grandparents Today survey, AARP reports that the average age of a first-time grandparent in North America is 50. By age 65, 96 percent of people have grandchildren. Many are still active in the workforce and exposed to technology.

Put the pieces together and it’s clear that technology isn’t a barrier to communication but instead, a huge asset as grandparents strive to connect with their families. Video chat is especially appealing because it’s intimate and face-to-face. That’s why Kerry recommends Marco Polo to her Long Distance Grandparent community.

“A lot of grandparents love the idea of video chat but run into hurdles when they try to connect live, whether it’s diverging schedules or keeping their grandchildren’s attention,” she says. “Marco Polo completely beats the time zone problem. And even if kids act goofy or aren’t capable of having the most coherent conversation, they’re going to remember that they had a fun time with Grandma on Marco Polo.”

Long distance families staying in touch

Kerry’s favorite Marco Polo case study: her family

Since that summer in England, every generation of Kerry’s family has continued to stay in touch using Marco Polo, from 84-year-old Oma to 21-month-old Charlie (with Mom and Dad’s help, of course).

Kerry’s aunt and uncle, honorary grandparents to Finn and Charlie, love sending them Polos that are heavy on silly music and theatrics. They’ve recorded a dog tooth-brushing demo, are teaching them the Canadian National Anthem, and tell many ridiculous grandparent jokes.

“They really need their own television program,” Kerry says. “They are just killing it on Marco Polo.”


Kerry Byrne, PhD, is founder of The Long Distance Grandparent. Check out these resources, where long distance families can find out about Marco Polo and other tools for staying in touch with the people who matter most:

Long distance families staying in touch

2 thoughts on “Marco Polo through the ages: How families near and far stay in touch

    1. Lynn, yes! We were so excited to learn about Kerry’s work and the way she’s using Marco Polo in her own family and recommending it to long distance grandparents. Hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading!

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