Travel Tech 101: Advice When Abroad

Saturday, 8 Sep 2012, 11:00:00 PM

Scott Bly

I’m writing this week’s article from my hotel room in Costa Rica. Intended as a pure vacation, my trip turned into a working vacation when a conversation over sushi in a little beach town in Costa Rica revealed that a local hotel had lost their Wi-Fi coverage and their tech guys had been non-responsive. Scott to the rescue! A techie’s work is never done. A couple hours of tinkering later, Wi-Fi coverage is restored and I have my first client in Costa Rica.

Domestically, I have found that Internet service and cell phone service, including data, is fairly reliable in most cities and suburbs. On road trips, rural Interstate highway coverage becomes a bit less reliable, especially west of the Mississippi, but the occasional call or email can happen. Hotels and other public places offer Wi-Fi service unless they experience a failure, like my Costa Rican friends. In the past I’ve written about the importance of using secured Wi-Fi instead of open connections, and that rule of thumb still applies. In the U.S. there is usually cell phone service available and a data connection that can be used when a secured Wi-Fi network is not available. And of course, power outlets for laptops and batteries are never an issue.

However, when traveling abroad, there are other considerations. Power, for one – there are many countries in which the power plugs are completely different, to say nothing of voltage. I did a little research, and fortunately for me, Costa Rica uses the same power we use in the U.S. Most outlets aren’t grounded, so I brought a two to three prong adapter along, to be safe. That said, I found most hotel rooms had at least one or two grounded outlets.

But what about countries that don’t use the same juice that we do? If you’re a Mac user, it’s easy. Every Apple device from your MacBook Pro to iPod nano is a world device, meaning it can take all types of electricity. You just need to purchase the Apple World Travel kit and swap the plug ends according to the instructions. Aside from Apple, some manufacturers have travel kits available for their products that can range greatly in price, while others have very little flexibility in the power they will accept, thus necessitating proper power converters to keep from blowing up your gear. Be sure to do your research well in advance of departure.

As for Internet access, I found that all of my hotels on this trip included Wi-Fi Internet service, although usually the signal could only connect fairly close to the main office. That worked pretty well for me, and helped to keep me off my laptop and in the jungle, which was a blessing.

I also learned all about cell phone coverage and international use of a cell phone. I’ll share more of my findings in the next article, which will go into detail about international mobile devices. In the meantime, I’m off to rainforest, where I’ll do my best to stay off of Facebook. Wish me luck!

Scott Bly is the President of IT Freeway, a Santa Monica-based, small business computer consultancy. He teaches seminars at MacMall in Santa Monica and is a member of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce Technology Committee. His debut young adult techno-thriller novel “SMASHER” is being published by Scholastic/Blue Sky Press in Spring 2013. You can reach him via email at scott@itfreeway.com.

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