Everything you need for the relationship to flourish.
If you're like most road warriors, you carry your whole office inside your laptop computer. Projects, presentations, reports, spreadsheets, letters, contacts, E-mail, web access -- all these vital items are inside that magic book. To use your computer successfully on the road, you have to know its secrets: how to charge the battery in Paris, how to retrieve E-mail in Manila, and how to avoid costly internet connectivity charges in Hong Kong. What follows is a quick course on computer technology: "Laptop 101."
What's the voltage? Different countries use electricity of different voltages. North America and parts of South America use 110-volt electricity; most of the world uses 220-240 volts.
Most laptops are designed to operate on either voltage, and they switch automatically when plugged in. But how can you be sure your laptop is dual-voltage? Simply look at the power adaptor (the black box on the power cord); its label will say something like "110-240 VAC" or "110-120 / 220-240 V."
Aboard the plane. Some aircraft now offer plug-in power at your seat, usually in Business or First Class. (The electricity is DC, or Direct Current, the type found in your automobile, as opposed to household AC, or Alternating Current.) Take advantage of this unlimited, battery-free power source -- especially on a 10-hour flight, when your battery would run down or you'd need to lug extra batteries.
Electrical plug sockets also differ from country to country. To complicate matters, some places have more than one shape of socket. To cope, seasoned travelers tuck a pouch of peculiar-looking plug adaptors into their luggage. The World Grounding Adaptor Plug Set covers most countries, or to pick the just the right adaptor for each destination use this handy guide at Magellan's electrical wizard
Also on the electrical front, you must guard your computer against damage from surges and spikes, which can occur any time, anywhere. Use a grounded surge suppressor made for 220-240 volt areas (that is, most countries worldwide). This is a special device like the EuroSurge not the kind from the local hardware store.
Logging on as you travel. Here are just a few of the many ways to connect to the internet while traveling these days.
- Wireless broadband (WWAN) – connect anywhere you can get a cell signal
- Wireless WiFi for hotel or café connections
- Wired via Ethernet patch cable
- Wired via telephone cable – largely supplanted by wireless methods
Wireless broadband is a newer technology that enables you to connect to a cell-phone network and avoid those pesky hotel internet connection charges, but it requires that your laptop have a wireless broadband modem, and that you have a wireless data service plan with AT&T, Verizon, etc.
More common connectivity these days is wireless WiFi, but hotels are notorious for charging up to 20 bucks a day for this privilege, and internet café rates can be worse.
It’s not a bad idea to bring an ethernet patch cable with you if WiFi is unavailable and you have the packing space. These are readily available in different lengths from computer supply stores, comply with international standards, and simply connect your laptop to the wall outlet just like in your office. They’re even available in more compact retractable form at computer accessory retailers.
- The x-ray scanner at airport security check-points will not harm magnetic data.
- To be sure that electrical spikes and surges won't damage your laptop's hard drive and memory, charge the battery with the computer turned off. Then unplug the computer and work off the battery.
- Prevent glitches: Back up your laptop before you leave home. Bring a "life preserver" USB flash-drive containing all the files you absolutely must have on your trip, and carry it separately from the computer in case the machine is stolen. Finally, jot down some basic information about your computer: model and serial numbers, service contract number, phone support lines.
- To conserve battery power: set the display's brightness level as low as possible, and turn off screen savers (or use a plain black one). To minimize disk accesses, disable automatic features such as auto-save and spell checking. Unplug PC cards and CD-ROM cartridges when not in use. Don't listen to music CDs or watch DVD movies if you'll need the battery later for more serious pursuits. You can often get a quick battery charge by scouting for unused electrical outlets at the airport gate, bar or cafe, airline club, or shoeshine stand (leave a tip!).
- Protect your laptop. There are sturdy, padded, protective laptop cases on the market designed with travel in mind