Travel Advice/Travel Tips - Using your laptop abroad
More travelers are taking their laptops on vacation than ever before. Some take the laptop to keep in contact with the office, while others keep in contact with their friends through email. Some travelers use their laptops for online trip routing and a smaller number use their laptop as a dumping station for their digital picture files, allowing them to store and review their pictures in near real-time.
Whatever your reason for traveling with a laptop, using one abroad generally requires some familiarity with international electrical power and connections for sending and receiving data.
Most laptops are “dual voltage” and can be used in some foreign countries without a voltage transformer. Dual voltage laptops usually have a notice on the power brick indicating that the device takes inputs of 100-240V -50/60Hz. If your laptop has this marking, you should be good to go, but always check your user guide or email the manufacturer to confirm before using your laptop abroad.
If your laptop is not dual voltage, you will need to use a power converter/transformer and you can find out about these in our article the Ins and outs of power converters.
Power outlets abroad do not have the same connectors that we use in the United States. You will need to connect your laptop or the power adapter to a plug adapter (discussed in our article the Ins and outs of power converters )in order to connect to the power outlet. Unfortunately, you will need a unique adapter for most countries that you visit.
The second data hookup you can find in your hotel is that it has a wireless network for guests or wired LAN port that will connect you at high speed to the Internet, usually on a per day connection rate. Except for some business oriented hotels in major cities abroad, you will not find access to high-speed connections in most hotels.
Data Transmission - Wi-Fi
The best data hookup in hotels is Wi-Fi, but in Europe the service is often very expensive. Usually sold in connection tiers ranging from a few hours, to all-day or all-week, the services are easy to connect to and offer moderate bandwidth for your communications. Some hotels, we stayed at during a recent trip to Austria, also sold higher bandwidth connections for business travelers who might need to work with large files.
Remember, you are on an open network and your passwords and other information is not protected from snoopers, unless you have access to a VPN (Virtual Private Network).
If internet connectivity is important to you, speak with someone at the hotel before you book. We have stayed at hotels, where the Wi-Fi existed only in a lounge, but was not available in our hotel room, which we considered a major inconvenience. Ask ahead or you might be disappointed.
Wi-Fi has made it possible to connect with the Internet almost anywhere in the world. However, If high-speed access through a LAN or Wi-Fi is not available, you will need to use your modem and connect through the local phone system. In addition to some specific equipment described below, you will need to have the access number to a service that will provide you internet access while abroad (e.g. if you use MSN at home, you can find the access number for cities that you will visit while abroad and download the local access number.)
Unfortunately, the world has not settled on a common phone connector and just as you need plug adapters for power, you will need adapters to connect your modem to phone outlets abroad. (See Figure 1.). These adapters will have a “male” end that will fit into the phone outlet and a “female” end that connects to the cable connected to your modem (your modem should be equipped to handle an RJ-11 connection (RJ-11stands for Registered Jack – 11 that is used in the U.S. to connect phone equipment).
Figure 1. Assorted phone jacks
Before you connect anything, stop and check the outlet. Many phone outlets in hotels may be wired to a PBX, carry power, or be wired incorrectly for use with a modem. Use a “modem saver” (see Figure 2), a simple instrument equipped with a test circuit and a warning light to test the circuit.
Figure 2. Modem saver
When you plug the “modem saver” into the phone socket, the light will illuminate and the color will tell you whether the socket is safe to use. In the device shown in Figure 3, the color Green indicates that the connection is safe for modem use.
Figure 3. Modem saver at work
The presence of voltage in a phone circuit usually will fry your modem, if you try to connect it. Take our advice and don’t try it. Instead, look for an Internet Café (see our article on Internet Cafes) and use their high-speed line to access your network.
If you manage to negotiate all of the connections, do not forget to break down the pieces and carefully save them for the next time.
If you have had trouble connecting abroad, see www.kropla.com for an excellent source of information on phone plugs, power plugs and cell phone use abroad.
If you need to find information about Destinations or other Things Travelers Need To Know, try Googling ThereArePlaces.