Graduating, relocating for a job or for love, moving to a different state or new country—there comes a point when we can no longer just take a flight of stairs or grab a drink after work to see all our close friends. And while there are more ways than ever to stay connected, it’s also easy to feel like you’re drifting when the extent of your staying in touch is via Facebook walls or texts.

But being far away doesn’t mean that you can’t stay close—it just means you have to take a little bit of a different approach. Here are four easy ways to get out of your communication rut and connect with your long-distance friends.

Optimize Your Phone Calls

Picking up the phone sounds obvious enough, but when your job, family, S.O., new friends, and errands are filling up your every minute, it can feel almost impossible to spend an hour chatting with your pals.

So, if you find yourself strapped for time, weekly or bimonthly conference calls are a great answer. Set a standing date—like every Tuesday night or the last Sunday of the month—and catch up with your five closest friends all at once. Better yet, make it a Google Hangout so we can see your friends (and grab mimosas and have a virtual brunch!)

And while group calls are great for close-knit groups, and for events like birthdays, wedding planning, and when you have major news to share—sometimes you need the old-fashioned one-on-one calls, too. Even if that means talking once a month instead of every week, you’ll feel more connected when you keep up these calls. If it’s hard to find time after work, try to squeeze them in on your commute or while going for a walk.

Chat Over Email

Emails are great: They allow you to get as in-depth as you would telling stories over the phone, but you can type them out in public or at 3 AM and not embarrass yourself or wake your friends. The problem, of course, is: Can you really connect with each other via typed word?

Sure. Here’s my favorite trick: One of my closest friends always comments back throughout the email body, in pink—and it’s awesome. A response of “hahaha” or “I remember that” or “Well what’s going on with me is…” in pink in the middle of the paragraph is a great way to really have a “conversation” over email.

Use Social Media (Beyond Facebook)

It goes without saying that you should never say “Happy Birthday” only on your good friend’s Facebook wall. (Call. Or better yet, send a card!) That said, don’t feel guilty about liking every one of their Instagram photos or Facebook stalking—it’s a great way to stay up to date on everyone’s lives. Instead of starting your next call with, “What’s new?” you can jump to, “You cut off your hair!” or “Tell me about this new job!”

Another fun way to connect over social media is through Pinterest. I love seeing how my friends would decorate their dream kitchen or what they would wear if they could buy anything. It’s almost like ripping things out of magazines together.

Plan a Trip

Whether it’s heading back to campus for homecoming, meeting up in New York or Chicago or San Francisco once every six months, or going to a concert this summer, there’s no substitute for actually seeing each other. If your friend is a car-ride away, plan dinner or a day trip a few months in advance, and ink it on your calendar. If it’s a flight, start saving for a vacation. Yes, it can be expensive—but even if it’s only once a year, getting together will make a huge difference in keeping your friendships alive. Plus, you’ll get to make a new set of memories, in addition to the ones you’ve been missing from the past.

Send (Real) Mail

Finally, if you’re really feeling disconnected, or aren’t quite sure where to start with a friend you haven’t seen in a while, ask for her address, be old-school, and send a card. There’s nothing like a note from a friend in your mailbox to brighten your day, and it’s a great way to pick back up where you left off, even if it’s been a while.

Tell us! What are your tips for staying in touch with long-distance friends?

Photo courtesy of Jerry Bunkers.