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The internet has totally changed travel. It has made it easy to keep in touch with people back home as well as keep up with what is going on around the world.

FOR SOME, THIS can be overwhelming. Here are some tips I’ve discovered from traveling with a laptop for the last seven months. While many of these are laptop specific, some will be useful even if you only visit an internet cafe occasionally.

1. Web based email

If you are reading this, odds are you already have some sort of web based email account. If you don’t, you should get one.

I prefer Gmail, but Yahoo, Hotmail and many other services exist. The reason web based e-mail is better is that you can access your email from any computer in the world. If you have a normal POP mail account that you access with Outlook, Thunderbird, or other email program, you may have difficulty accessing it from a computer which isn’t yours.

Here’s how to set it up:

Forward all your email accounts to your web mail account. Let’s say you have an email address at You can have all email sent to forwarded to your Gmail account and be able to reply to it as if it were coming from the same account it was sent to.

I have 5 different email addresses and manage them all through Gmail. You’d never know it if you sent me an email because all my replies are from my main address. Using Gmail as my single repository for email makes it easy and convenient to access all your accounts from anywhere. Check out a tutorial for using Gmail as your universal email program.

2. Scan all important receipts and documents, and email them to yourself

What good is an insurance policy for your gear if you don’t have the documentation to process the claim should the need arise? Before your trip, ensure you scan all your important receipts (go to a Kinko’s if necessary) and email them to your web email account.

Just archive the messages and hope you never need them. If you lose your laptop, you can always get the info at an internet cafe. You can also email yourself credit card and bank account information.

If you feel leery about emailing yourself such private info, break the account numbers up across several messages and add some bogus numbers that only you would know (like your old phone number). If you lose everything, you still can get all the information you need if you can get to a computer.

3. Web based IM

Let’s say you have a lot of friends on IM that you talk to, but you can’t install the program at the internet cafe. If you use any major instant message client, you can IM via the web at Google talk. MSN, Yahoo, AIM, ICQ. You can chat with the people on your friends list without having the application on the computer you are using. This is very handy if you are in an internet cafe. If you use Google Talk, you can also chat from within the Gmail window.

4. Keep IP addresses for OpenDNS handy.

DNS stands for Domain Name Server. That is the computer which translates the domain names (such as into an IP address.

Most ISPs use their own NDS server. OpenNDS is a public NDS server you can acess which will take the place of the ISPs DNS. If you use a laptop, this can come in very handy. I’ve had several occasions where I could get a wireless signal and got an IP address via DHCP but couldn’t access the web. Keep a text file handy with the following IP addresses:

If you have a problem, put those IP addresses in for the DNS server. I use this as my default DNS server now so I never have to worry about the DNS server I’m logging into. OpenDNS is a free service and will also offer some protection against phishing sites.

5. Bring a USB drive

Get the biggest you can afford. You can now get 2gb drives for very cheap. (I saw some 2gb drives in Taipei for US$20). This will store a large number of photos and files if you need to upload or download something at an internet cafe. There are also USB drives available which will encrypt your data. If you want to carry sensitive documents with you, scanning them and storing them on a USB drive is probably the easiest and safest way to do it.

6. Get a Facebook account

I’ve found that most backpackers I’ve met on the road are on Facebook. It is a very easy way to keep in touch with people you meet while traveling. Just add them as friends on Facebook and you have their contact information. No need to carry around bits of paper.

You can also use it to follow their travels as they update their status. You can view my profile at, so if you start a new account, you at least have one friend.

7. Buy a Wifi detector

These are small little key chain devices that will tell you if there is a wifi signal in the area. Basically, it alerts you when you’re in a Wifi zone without having to turn on your laptop to check continously. I wouldn’t bother with this if you are traveling to the third world. However, if you are in the developed regions of Asia and Europe, this can come in really handy.

Prices start around $15-20 for a basic detector. This along with the USB drive will take up very little space in your bag. As a side note, you should also bookmark and You can use them to search for free wifi spots in your area.

8. Get a Skype Account

Skype is hands down the easiest and cheapest way to call internationally. If you have friends and family you talk to on a regular basis, you can call them for free if you they also use Skype. Before I left on my RTW (Round the World trip), I set my parents up with Skype and they were able to figure it out with little difficulty.

For very little money, you can also get a Skype-in account which lets people call you at a normal phone number, and Skype-out, which lets you dial normal phone numbers from Skype.

9. Set up a Google Reader account

Most websites now have RSS feeds. This will notify you when a website you like has been updated. Often you can read the entire update in the RSS reader.

Google Reader is a web based RSS reader. This means you can log on from any computer in the world and all your settings and history will be saved. If you have a Gmail account, then you just need to activate your Google Reader account.

I am able to keep track of over 100 websites in very little time by using RSS. If you find a website you like, just click on the RSS logo near the address box and you can follow that site from now on. Other feed readers include Netvibes andBloglines.

10. Listen to Podcasts and Bittorrents

You will often have down time as you travel between places. Why not use the time to listen to podcasts?

Unlike Bittorrent, podcasts are 100% legal to download and listen to. iTunes does a great job of cataloging podcasts. There are several travel orientated podcasts like the Indie Travel Podcast or Travel with Rick Steves which are very good.

Bittorrent can be a handy way to keep up to date with TV shows you’ll miss while traveling. (Note: this may not be legal so it’s your choice).

Gary Arndt is a writer/photographer. Check out more of his work at Everything-Everywhere.

What are some of your own tips for managing your life online from the road?



About The Author

Gary Arndt

Gary Arndt is a writer/photographer. Check out more of his work at Everything-Everywhere.

  • Chris

    Flickr account for uploading photos helps…

    Youtube account for uploading vid touches on a similar theme…

    I found dot com great for managing bookmarks from independent locations…

    You’ll also want a pair ‘o headphones for that skype account.

  • Olivebeard

    Excellent idea on #2. I’ve been itching to waste the money on one of those “receipt scanners” you see in the Skymall catalogs.

    “You’d never know it if you sent me an email because all my replies are from my main address.”

    GMailers don’t seem to know it, but I get emails constantly that are “From [] ON BEHALF OF []“. My editor seemed shocked when I finally asked which of her four email addresses would reach her fastest. ;)

  • Pratheep

    For bookmarking, i recommend Google Bookmarks. Install the Google toolbar with bookmarks or access online.

    But these are really great ideas especially #2 :)


  • nath

    Excellent tips for geeking on the road – particularly the google reader and wifi detector (for those of us with laptops etc).Thanks!

  • squid


    #2 If a scanner is not available (which is probably hard to find around the world), take a photo and upload it.

  • Craig

    Thanks for the mention Gary.

    I’d ditto Squid’s advice – and then we upload to flickr on the “private” setting. This can be vital for insurance (if we ever decide to take out an insurance policy).

    I’m going to try and make use of that OpenDNS tip too.

  • Chris (Amateur Traveler)

    What no love for the Amateur Traveler podcast? et tu Gary? ;-)

  • Denise Michaels, “Your Excellent Adventure”

    Great tips, thanks so much. I already do most of these things – but the idea of emailing yourself sensitive documents, insurance policies etc., is a good one I’d never considered. Also, like the idea of the wifi detector. I’m going to go get me one of those. I work from home but love to take my laptop out and work in different environs away from the distractions of home. Thanks again.

  • Moe Kafer

    Love the free wifi finder idea!

    Just to note, the site doesn’t seem to be the proper link. But the other one is a great little app which is now safely at home on my itouch!




  • João Almeida

    7. Buy a Wifi detector

    “I wouldn’t bother with this if you are traveling to the third world.”

    Actually I would, because almost every wiki network you’ll find is open

  • Lauren

    Sadly, some countries (read: Vietnam) block facebook. Otherwise, helpful tips!

  • Kae Lani Kennedy

    Don’t forget to keep up with the news! I traveled for half a year and when I came home I was so lost when it came to political and topical conversations. Stay up to date with news from your home town by reading local online news papers. Believe me; a lot of things can happen in just 6 months!

  • Denise Lemoine

    Why not just try and be where you are, instead of always wanting to stay connected with “home”.

    Doesn’t anybody out there want to face the real challenge of being abroad without a safety net (or safety blanket?).

    Be “really” adventurous, leave the laptop at home and try to connect with what’s around you when you travel.

  • Linda Poort

    Interesting read! Though.. with some spelling mistakes.
    “Most ISPs use their own NDS server. OpenNDS is a public NDS server you can acess which will take the place of the ISPs DNS.”

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