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 superawesometravelblog.com. You can have all email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org 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 Meebo.com. 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 BraveNewTraveler.com) 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 http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=13916416, 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 FreeWifiSpot.com and jiwire.com. 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).
What are some of your own tips for managing your life online from the road?
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Gary Arndt is a writer/photographer. Check out more of his work at Everything-Everywhere.