Stay In Touch While Traveling Abroad - Page 2

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Staying in Touch While Abroad
While traveling in remote areas, Internet access can be tricky, like this solar-powered Internet café in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. (Mat Honan/Wikipedia)

Getting Online
Staying connected with VOIP services like Skype—not to mention email, social networking sites, and instant messaging—requires reliable access to the Internet. And luckily there is no end to the tips, tricks, gadgets, and services available to Internet-hungry travelers.

At the hotel:
The best place to start is the hotel—when booking, pay close attention to the fine print on the hotel's website or in the description on booking sites because the wording can often be misleading.

For example, if the description simply advertises "high-speed Internet access," the hotel probably only offers a couple of Internet-connected computers in the lobby, while "free Wi-Fi" is likely only accessible in the lobby or business center, and "in-room Wi-Fi" probably has fees attached. Look specifically for some version of the words "free Wi-Fi (or high-speed Internet) in guestrooms."

Often low- to mid-range hotels offer more liberal Internet offerings, while many of the most expensive properties tack on outrageous daily fees for in-room Internet access. Hotel Chatter's 2010 Wi-Fi Report has some info about Wi-Fi access at hotels around the world, though the U.S. coverage is more comprehensive.

On the street:
If the hotel doesn't have Internet access or charges an unacceptable price for it, hunt around the neighborhood for connected businesses. "Wi-Fi is becoming widespread," says Paul J. McManus of the bike-tour company Tour d'Afrique Ltd. "Most hotels in Europe and Asia seem to have Wi-Fi, and there are Internet cafes even in small African towns now."

Stephanie Hackney—who has spent years traveling the world by motorcycle with her husband (hackneystravel.com)—says, "We purchased a small phone designed to work with Skype that also detected wireless networks—how cool to be able to drive through a region and find the local wireless offerings. Finding Wi-Fi was sometimes hard in remote areas, but every major city was littered with them."

Always-on Internet:
For the traveler with a serious Internet addiction that can't be quelled with hotel Wi-Fi and the occasional Internet café, there's a gadget that has received good reviews in Engadget and The New York Times: the MiFi from Xcom Global. This small rental device, about the size of a cell phone, provides a portable Wi-Fi hotspot that connects to as many as five computers or smartphones. It's not cheap—$17.95/day rental fee, and $29.90 for round-trip shipping before and after the trip (about $155 for a seven-day trip)—but for that, it provides an unlimited, always-on portable Internet bubble in around 27 different countries.

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