Dan Gillmor’s Sunday column about traveling in the 21st century really hit home, especially after spending some time in Europe last week on business. Here are a few additional things I have found useful in my travels over the past couple of years:
If you must work on your laptop more than a few hours between battery charges, you are going to need some additional power. While many long haul flights now offer in seat power for your laptop, it is sometimes difficult to anticipate what adaptor you will need for your laptop (there are at least two prevailing outlet types). An extra battery might be a few ounces heavier, but it is guaranteed to work (as long as it has a charge). Also, make sure you have the proper adaptor for all of your electrical equipment so when you get to your destination, you can plug in to the local power grid. Don’t count on the hotel to provide an adaptor if your battery is running low at midnight when you are putting the finishing touches (or starting) the big presentation for the next morning.
As Dan points out in his column, high speed Internet access is becoming easier to find, but it is far from being the norm. Having a Wi-Fi card in the US is a great idea, but in Europe, I have found it to be of little use. One should probably be prepared to revert back to a dial up connection. Advanced planning is a big help here, I was burned a few years ago because I did not set up my Mindspring account for international dialing, which I could only seem to do online. This leads to kind of a chicken and egg problem. I managed to get things connected, but it would have been much easier if I had worked this out in the office before I hopped on a plane. In order to initiate a dial up connection, one also needs a number to dial. I find that Earthlink has pretty good coverage when I am traveling, I keep a list of numbers in a text file on my Palm and on my laptop. Earthlink also provides a Palm application for this purpose, this is pretty handy to have domestically as well. I hate to say it, but AOL probably has the best dialing interface I have ever seen, it also includes international numbers. A trip overseas might be a good time to “try out” AOL with those 500 or so hours they have been offering everyone for the last several years.
If you are used to high speed access and you must go back to dial up, you will obviously find your online experience to be a much slower. E-mail can become unbearable if you are using a client like Outlook and people send you large attachments. There are a couple of ways to work around this: Most mail clients (Eudora, Outlook etc.) have settings that will prevent large attachments from being downloaded. It might pay to investigate these if you frequently receive huge attachments. Another solution is to use a web based mail client while on the road, it will allow you to download only the attachments you need.
Dialing in From the Road
With cell phone service being what it is today, staying in touch via phone is generally not an issue while traveling in North America. Unfortunately, unless you have a GSM phone, you might as well leave your cell phone at home when you travel overseas. Dan already mentioned one way around this: Buy a GSM phone and pre-paid calling card(s). This works especially well if you tend to visit the same country often, and rates within the same region should be reasonable as well. Of course, you can also buy a world phone that will work in the US and abroad, but there is a price to be paid for this convenience.
Neither one of these mobile solutions will give you good rates back to the States. It is no secret that the most inexpensive rates are to be had with pre-paid phone cards. These cards can be bought at local newsstands in small monetary increments. Make sure you buy one that offers good rates to the place you want to call (hint: most of the cards offering good rates to the US will have “USA” or “America” somewhere in the name, and more often than not, some likeness of Lady Liberty). The savings that can be had with these cards can be staggering, sometimes the difference can be more than a dollar per minute. Beware of AT&T and other International calling services that either charge back to your home phone or to a major credit card. Unless you are part of a special international calling program, the rates can be excessive. For emergencies, you might want to carry the AT&T access numbers with you though, it might be somewhat expensive, but your call will go through.
Hotels will most likely charge you something for using the phone in the room no matter what. In some cases, I have found local calls to be cheaper than toll free calls. In other cases, the opposite is true. Consult the card in your room to see what these charges will be, this will help you decide what access number to use when connecting to the Internet or using a calling card since you will probably have more than one number to choose from.
Spending time on the road also means eating a lot of restaurant food. While I don’t like dragging my own food from city to city, if I am going to be in the same place for a couple of days, I like to buy a few items from the local super market to keep in my room. It is nice to have something in your room to munch on and visiting the local super market can be an entertaining experience. Not only for you, but for anyone else within earshot if you are unfamiliar with the local language and the cashier is equally unfamiliar with your native language.
I have found that one of the most indispensable tools on the road is a Swiss Army knife. It can be used to prepare all sorts of in room culinary treats, open bottles of wine, and assist in equipment repairs. I made a fabulous sangria in a Spanish hotel room once that would have been impossible if not for my trusty “Officer’s Knife”. However, one of the realities of airline travel is that knives can not be carried on the plane, it will have to be stowed in your checked baggage. So if you are one who does not like to check baggage, you’ll have to leave your knife at home, or it will be left at the security checkpoint. You’ll have plenty of time to push the cork into your wine bottle anyway since you won’t be waiting around the baggage carousel for your luggage.
These tips have helped me while traveling, I hope they will help you too. If you have any additional ideas, please feel free to leave a comment here.