with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Computer Hardware for the Road

There are a variety of new tools and technology now available that help the traveling worker or person living and traveling on the road. Here are some common tools to help you as you travel.

Tools for Connecting

To connect to the Internet, whether for email or browsing, from the road, you have to consider what software and hardware you need to handle the challenges of the road. The software you use may stay fairly consistent, but the hardware can change depending upon where you are. If you are taking your business on the road, your choices will be influenced by the needs of your business, too.

Graphic of a laptop on a deskKeeping your time online short when you are begging, borrowing or celling, is critical. Heavy graphical email programs are great when you have the time and money to sit at home and let them process. When you are in a hurry, a text based, low graphic email program can speed up access times immensely. Outlook Express can be set up to quickly send and receive email while online and download them so you can read them later when you are offline, at your leisure, disconnected from the phone lines. We’ve included tips on how to do this at the bottom of this page.

There are a variety of helpful Internet use programs that shorten our time online and speed up our research process. Copernic is a powerful search engine software manager which quickly accesses dozens of search engines at once. When the search is complete you can refine it to the specific things you are hunting for, and then mark those titles for download and reading offline. This frees us from constant phone access while still letting us get the information we need.


Graphic of a laptopA good Internet connection is one that is as fast and as secure as possible. We’ve run into phone lines with electrical shorts, static, and a wide range of problems which can potentially damage your modem and possibly the entire computer. Static and other line interference can slow down access to a dribble. Research the modem for your travels thoroughly, making sure it will handle North American as well as international telephone capabilities. Then add the following tools for safe computing.

Portable surge protector
APC makes great tools for protecting your computer.Designed to be used for both your computer power line and your telephone line, APC makes the PNOTEPRO model of telephone and electrical surge protection. It fits in your hand and easily into your computer bag, protecting you from voltage spikes and power shifts. A telephone testing kit is inexpensive and available at large hardware stores. Plug it into the phone line and the lights will tell you if the phone line is functioning safely.
Telephone Travel Kit
These kits feature a variety of telephone plug-ins for the different countries you will travel through. You can buy them as a whole kit or just purchase the ones you need. North America uses the RJ-ll plug, but other countries use phone plugs in many shapes and sizes. Add a couple Y-splitters for those times when you want to be online and still leave a telephone connected.
Telephone Cords
A retracting phone cord really helps manage the confusion of all the phone cords.Be prepared with cords to reach any phone connection. We travel with two 100 foot cords for connecting over distances. We also carry a variety of short phone cords, including several in roll-up containers which stretch out to length and then snap back like a measuring tape.
Power Converter/Inverter
graphic of a power inverterConverting the power from the resident country means using power converters, many of which come with your computer systems with built in auto-switching. An inverter takes the power from a lesser source, like the cigarette lighter in an automobile, and inverts it to a greater power like 110v or 220v. This can drain your auto’s battery if the demand on the battery is great enough, but works great while the vehicle is running to charge up your laptop. This are not so easy to find, so check with specialty computer electronic stores and through mail order.
Acoustic Coupler
This technological device, left over from the early days of modems, is popular again. We consider it a tool for “safe” connections. Looking like a clumsy telephone receiver, it straps to the receiver of a phone and transmits signal via sound across the telephone lines. It takes practice to get the hang of manually dialing the phone Accoustic Coupler and coordinating the computer, but it doesn’t connect your system to potentially damaging electrical signals. With speeds up to 28K baud, though much slower rates are usually acheived, this is a good tool for connecting to networked and digital phone systems lacking RJ plugs and having high electrical impulses. While hard to find, they can be purchased at a few electronic supply stores across North America or through the Road Warrior web site.
For those times when you do get to a campground which provides telephone hookups, make sure you carry a small telephone. There are many small, lightweight phones that will store in a cupboard out of the way while traveling.
Go Wireless
Whether you are using WiFi or Bluetooth, wireless networks are the saving grace of the traveler today. We cover extensive information and resources on wireless Internet access in our December 2003 newsletter. For the traveler, add wireless capability to your laptop to connect without “strings” to Internet servers around the world to pick up email and surf the web.
Our Email Rules of the Road
Since we travel so much, we have developed some rules for email. We screen mail headers (titles and sender information) before we download them. We delete anything that doesn’t look familiar to keep our time online short and our life focused on what is important.

  • No files or emails over 25K without advanced warning and permission.
  • No jokes unless they are specific and pertain to us.
  • No mailing lists or discussion lists.
  • No junk emails.
  • Don’t expect an immediate reply. We are out photographing and writing about nature, not sitting by the telephone.

Computer Tips

Travel enough and you will hear all kinds of stories and advice on how to avoid computer problems. We’ve heard or experienced them all, and we decided to keep things simple. Here are basic tips that have saved us and keep us going on the road.

Back Up Everything
Graphic of a Zip DriveMake several complete backups of your system and store at least one of them off premises. We’ve lost everything due to hard drive crashes, electrical problems, and anything else you can name. Back everything up regularly so you can get back to work quickly.
System Startup Kit
Make sure you have your Windows version CD or disks to start up quickly from scratch. Keep a current emergency bootable system floppy disk that will at least give you to a running start. NOTE: Windows XP claims it can boot right from the program CD, but it can’t without a system CD or floppy disks. Seach Microsoft’s Knowledge Base for “setup with floppy boot disks” (or some combination) to find the reference and files to download. Installed through DOS, it makes into six floppy disks or can be burned onto a bootable CD.
Keep It Current
Keep your software and computer system up-to-date with the latest hardware driver files and software updates. Many simple problems become complicated due to out-of-date driver files.
Keep An Inventory
Floppy diskJust like you inventory your business supplies, create an inventory of every piece of hardware and software on your system. Note the registration and access numbers and information as well as any customer support phone numbers or web pages you may need if you have problems or have to restore your entire system from scratch. Add to your list every time you install any new software and keep a copy of your inventory in a safe place with your important papers.
Inventory Your Passwords
Your software and hardware are critical to inventory, but how do you keep track of your passwords? Keep a written or printed log of all your passwords for your different accounts and Internet accesses like newsgroups and membership only web sites. Keep it somewhere away from prying eyes, but make sure you bring it with you. Logging onto the Internet with your laptop means you can keep your passwords on your computer, but logging in from an Internet cafe or elsewhere on other people’s computers, you have to keep all those passwords in your head. Keep them on paper for backup, too.
Tool Kit
Bring a small tool kit for those times when you need it. Small jeweler or eye glasses sized screw driver sets are excellent and fit neatly into a computer carrying bag.
Spare Battery
Keep a spare and fully charged computer battery with you. You never know where the next outlet may be.

Outlook Express for Working Offline

If you are using Outlook Express for handling your email accounts, I recommend that you set it up using a two pass system.

Begin the process by setting up your email account to only get headers. You do this by selecting (click with mouse) your email account name (for instance “Hotmail”). On the screen on the right will be the window for synchronizing your account. Click Settings and choose HEADERS ONLY. When you run your email, it will just gather the headers or titles of the email, with the sender’s name and email address, and not the email messages themselves. You also need to understand that when email is in your email account inbox (like Hotmail) it is “still” on the computer server on the Internet and not necessarily on your computer. When you download it, it is on your computer but in a “temporary” folder. When you click and drag (or move) the file to one of your Local Folders, it is now permanently on your computer for you to save, delete, or whatever. With this information, now you can begin the two-step or two pass system.

1. Get online and click SEND/RECIEVE. When it has completed, click on your email account and go through the list to delete any unwanted emails. Delete by clicking one left click on the message and then hitting the DELETE key or button. For messages you want to read, click the Space Bar to download them onto your computer. I recommend that when you have them all downloaded, you select the ones you want and drag them over to your LOCAL FOLDERS INBOX.

NOTE: To make multiple selections on your email messages (or in other programs) there are two methods. To select a consecutive series, click once on the top one and then move down the list via the scroll bars and hold down the SHIFT key and click on the last one. To select a non-consecutive list of items, hold down the CTRL key and click each message you want to keep. When done, release your hand off the keyboard and you can either left-click drag or right-click drag to your destination and release the mouse. A right-click drag usually gives you more options when you release the mouse.

2. Go offline and read and respond to your email at your leisure. You can write emails just like you would if you were online. If a window pops up that asks you to go online, simply click “Work Offline”. When you are connected to the Internet again, simply begin at step one. When you click SEND/RECIEVE, all your outgoing emails will be sent and new headers will arrive.


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