with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Know Before You Go: Staying in Touch While Traveling

Rented motorhome in front of Covadunga Cathedral, northern Spain, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenWandering around waiting for the war to start, and then end, it was critical for us to stay in touch with friends, families, and co-workers. It was also critical for us to get access to the news media to find out what was going on. Our shortwave radio helped, once we were able to locate the BBC World Service and other English speaking channels.

Unlike when we first began traveling, we were able to find Internet cafes and access points all through Spain, even in the most unlikely places like the small northern mountain village of Potes in Los Picos de Europa. With our Hotmail accounts, we were able to correspond with people, letting them know our status. This also allowed us to read the news online from Israel, Britain, and the United States.

Be aware that you are at risk when you sign onto a public computer, be it at an Internet access point or public library. Spyware and other surveillance software can “copy” your keystrokes, stealing your passwords and information, and do other things to get access to your private online records. If you are going to be checking your bank balance, transferring funds, or doing any secure online transactions, take time to read this article on preventing online attacks at public computers at Kim Komando’s computer advice web site.

If your email account won’t allow you access from the Internet and through a public computer, you may be able to have your email forwarded to a free Internet account like Hotmail or Yahoo. Check out the services of ForwardAmerica, Re-Route ), or do a search for “email forwarding”.

When we started, the Internet was still new and finding someone willing to allow us to borrow their telephone to connect our laptop brought us no end of stares and confusion. Today, cell phones can connect you instantly anywhere in the world and many cell phones permit access to the Internet through a laptop or handheld computer (PDA), delivering not only communication but instant news right to you wherever you are. While still not perfect, the process is improving all the time.

International Cell Phones

Internationally-compliant cell phones are still expensive, and few are actually compatible across borders. While it is easy to find a cell phone company that will allow you to move between countries in Europe, it probably won’t work in Africa, Russia, or South America.

Consider buying an inexpensive cell phone upon your arrival if you will be spending an extended time in Europe or a similar region. Buy a GSM cell phone with an “unlocked” SIM card (Subscriber Identification Module), an easily replaced, pre-paid phone card “chip” that works within a specific region or country. You will get a new “local” phone number (and have to call family and friends to give it to them) and pay a per minute fee for outgoing phone calls, but usually all incoming phone calls from anywhere in the world are free.

When you arrive in a new country, check in the local cell phone kiosks and buy a new “chip” for that country instead of buying a new phone or paying the high fees associated with roaming. For more information on GSM phones and SIMs, check out the articles at Rick Steve’s website and Telestial.com.

WIFI and Bluetooth – Wireless Internet

Wireless network technology is becoming all the rage, too. Currently there are two wireless network systems that allow people to connect to the Internet through compatible wireless devices: Bluetooth and WIFI. Starbucks, McDonalds, and other cafes all over the world are now featuring wireless network technology (aka Wi-Fi) for their customers to eat and surf the Internet for a fee. Bluetooth is gaining popularity all over the world, especially in the Orient and Europe while WIFI is popular in the United States and in parts of Europe.

We have laptops with WIFI technology. As we travel, we’ve been lucky to be in the oddest spots and find a free WIFI connection. Other times, we’ve been in the middle of a city and unable to find an Internet café or WIFI connection anywhere. In several airports, I found I could connect to their wireless networks for a small fee, pre-paid time by credit card. It’s amazing how inconsistent it is. A friend told Brent that no one in Israel had wireless network systems, and yet, I immediately connected without any problem to a wireless network in Tel Aviv, probably a neighbor.

WIFI is a far cry from when we used to string hundreds of feet of phone cord from our trailer across the campground to the payphone or a willing telephone owner.

Sites are starting to pop up listing free wireless “hotspots” where you can log onto the Internet for free with your wireless gear. WiFinder and Node Database offer international and US locales, as do others listed below.

Staying in touch isn’t limited to cell phones and laptops. Hand held computers now feature WIFI and Bluetooth technology and many cell phones feature Internet browser capabilities so you can surf the net and pick up email via your phone.

Blogging and site building technology also makes staying in touch while you travel easier. WordPress, free blogging and website management software, allows for posting articles and information to your website via email, keeping friends, family, and readers up-to-date on your travels while you are on the road.

Keeping up with the constant evolution in technology for the traveler is a full-time job. There are some very good resources on the Internet to help you keep track of the changes, so you can decide what items you need to invest in to help you stay in touch with the world while moving around it. We list some of these resources in our Know Before You Go Traveling Links and Resources.

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