Nearly Constant Connectivity Almost Here, Right Now

rayand/Flickr

Being connected when traveling is getting easier all the time. As new technology rolls out, travelers worldwide find connecting to Wi-Fi hot spots easier than ever. Pricing is becoming more reasonable too, enabling more to enjoy constant connectivity wherever they may travel. The need is there and technology companies are delivering, as I found out on a recent international trip.

On land, Comcast has a new program for hotels, offering reliable, high-performance bandwidth that can easily scale up to meet increased demand. Prices are starting to come down too, as hotel chains provide complimentary Internet access to members of their loyalty programs. Look for more of the same as travelers list having to pay for Internet access second only to noisy neighbors as the most annoying part of staying at a hotel in a recent survey.

Air travelers have been connecting over the continental United States for years. Now they do it less expensively with day and hourly passes and bundled services from companies like GoGo Internet. Soon, American Airlines and others will add access over the Atlantic Ocean for international travelers. Through May 21, 2013, American had provided free International Internet access as they worked out the bugs. Going forward, American will offer a “duration of the flight” pass over international waters for $19.By rail, Amtrak’s new AmtrakConnect cellular-based Wi-Fi using 4G technologies is already complete on many lines and will be rolled out to all remaining Wi-Fi equipped Amtrak trains by late summer.

Not all that long ago, Cruise travelers resigned to seeing “no service” once they set sail. Today they can connect ship-wide all the time. Now equipped with Wi-Fi options that are costing less and doing more, cruise lines are increasingly adding content of their own with internal networks for cruise travelers. Soon, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas will offer passengers high-speed, satellite-delivered, broadband service thanks to a multiyear, multimillion dollar agreement Royal made with O3b, a global satellite service provider.

Even those who travel by motor vehicle are finding more connectivity as giant networks like AT&T, local cable companies and municipalities make nationwide Wi-Fi hotspots readily available. This availability is combined with smartphones that easily switch between service providers either on their own or via a connection service like Boingo Internet.

In the not so distant past, I would reduce my smart phone to something just shy of brick-status in order to avoid hefty roaming, long distance and other surcharges when traveling internationally. It seems that with each trip abroad though, connecting gets easier, with stronger, more reliable signals. A trip to Italy last month required simply switching on an international data plan that enabled me to travel in Europe as though I had gone on a road trip within driving distance of my North American home.

Travelers who long for constant connectivity? Your ship is about to come in. Oddly, it may arrive at nations other than the United States first, as we see in this interesting video:

Romania Beats U.S. in High-Speed Internet Connectivity

Traveling With The Cloud: Do I Even Need My Computer On The Road?

the cloud

Over the last few months, I have made a valiant effort to put everything in the cloud. I had tried before and failed. It all started with Apple’s MobileMe that I really never did get to work quite right but ended with a Google Drive life full of wonder.

Now, I have spreadsheets, emails, photos and documents all in one place, safe and secure on my Google Drive – a free file storage and synchronization service by Google introduced last April.

So, when I travel, do I really need my computer? Can’t I just find an Internet cafe in Rome, Topeka or any other place I might travel that has an available signal and terminal?

We asked computer expert and certified Apple tech Christopher Rauschnot what he thought about cloud-based computing, the Internet access it would take to get to that cloud-based information and what to be on the watch for when traveling. What came of that interview are a number of tips that can make working from the cloud happen, and some reasons why that’s not always the best idea.

Just Because You Can, Does Not Mean You Should- While I probably could accomplish whatever it was I wanted to do, remotely, with the assistance of the cloud, it’s a risky proposition. “Using someone else’s Internet connection and computer, to work in the cloud, presents many issues such as security, accessibility and backup,” says Rauschnot of Las Vegas, Nevada.

One In My Hand Is Worth Two In The Cloud- If I chose to bring along a tablet or use a local Internet connection, that could work. But what about when I can’t get a connection?
“If you have a personal computer that you can take along on a trip, (you will have) the files needing to be worked on are right there in front of you, sans connection,” says Rauschnot who is fully vested with Google+, adding “But if your files are on Google’s Drive service for instance, you have to find a computer wherever you are and log in to the system.”

Big Brother Is Watching And Restricting- “Google is really good about preventing unauthorized access to people’s accounts from foreign connections, even if it is you, using the proper password,” warns Rauschnot, @24K on Twitter. So there is a chance that security protocols in place to protect you may prevent you from accessing sensitive material, safely stored in the cloud

You Don’t Know Where That Came From Or Where It Has Been- “The computers at cyber cafes around the world might have key logging software that records every keystroke,” explains Rauschnot, “or there could be screen sharing software recording what’s being visited.”

When Sharing Is Not A Desirable Social Skill- Friend or not, intercepting a photo showing where someone is in the world can open the floodgates of spam, if not identity theft. “Screen sharing software is especially sneaky because someone could be sitting at a computer thousands of miles away watching people visit social networking sites, financial institutions or anything else personal.”

B.Y.O.I. (Bring Your Own Internet) “Travelers should consider bringing along their own connection to the Internet,” suggests Rauschnot. “Companies are now selling Wi-Fi hotspots that operate worldwide.” Also suggested is something I actually do; “setup an international data plan on a cellphone and share the connection to the computer.” It takes some guesswork to get the plan just right, avoiding hefty overage fees, but it works.

Ask For Security- “If you must connect at a cyber cafe with their Internet connection, it’s best to ask for a hotspot that is secured with WPA2 level password, or use an Ethernet
cord
,” says Rauschnot. This would cut out the opportunity for thieves to grab your signal out of the air. “To protect you while using someone else’s network, only log into websites that provide an https connection.”

OMG! Sharing With Friends Could Be Risky Business- “If you connect to Facebook while on your computer without the https connection, software is out there that allows almost anyone with a web browser on the same network as you, to take over the account,” warns Rauschnot. I know a whole lot of travelers who do that all the time.

Taking a moment to consider computing needs while traveling can eliminate a bunch of potential problems. As Rauschnot suggests, portable Wi-Fi hotspot data plans are a good choice to help with security, allowing us to access our cloud-based information. But having files along for the ride on our own computer allows access without an Internet connection.

“Personal computers may be bulky while traveling, but in this case, they can be helpful to secure your information,” concludes Rauschnot. “Use the computer you know and the cloud as a backup.”

One note: Google Drive gives users 5GB of space for free. Additional storage, 25 GB up to 16 TB, can be bought via a monthly subscription plan.

That’s one kind of Google Drive. Here’s another:

The Car From Google That Drives Itself

[Photo Credit: Flickr user kelsey_lovefusionphoto]

Free Internet For Travelers In Japan

Japan

Japan can be an expensive country in which to travel. Food, lodging, along with other goods and services that travelers might commonly buy are often high-priced, compared to American standards. Comparing Internet Wi-Fi hotspots to American standards, Japan is even tougher on visitors, offering few places for service and even less that support multiple languages. But recently, two companies operating in Japan started offering free Wi-Fi to foreign visitors.

Rail operator JR East Japan now has free public wireless LAN services intended for visiting travelers starting today at JR EAST Japan Travel Service Center and 13 stations located on Tokyo’s most famous circle rail route, the Yamanote Line, including some of the busiest stations.

Registration by email can be done in English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese for access via PC or smartphone at a variety of locations including Tokyo Station, Narita Airport Station and Haneda Airport International Terminal Station. Users can log on to a connection that is valid up to three hours.Visa Worldwide has partnered with Wire and Wireless Co., Ltd. to launch free one-day Wi-Fi access for all Visa cardholders visiting Japan. Happening right now, the offer runs through August 29, 2014.

This free one-day Wi-Fi connection also has multi-language support for visiting tourists, followed by a 20 percent discount for three-day and seven-day Wi-Fi service. Wi-Fi networks are available throughout Japan, including major airports and leading merchants such as Starbucks and Lawson convenience stores.

Visa cardholders should register before departure from their home countries. Alternatively, after they arriving in Japan, visiting cardholders simply find either “Wi2″ or “Wi2premium” access points to access the website for registration.

Looking for other public places with free Internet access? Try WiFiFreeSpot.com or Airport WiFi Guide for more listings.



[Flickr photo by Dennis Wong]

Where To Find Wi-Fi While Traveling

We all know the definition of ‘Wi-Fi’ these days, and that’s a start. The more nonchalantly we all refer to this wireless Internet connection we all seek fervently, both while traveling and not, the more likely it is that we’ll find it. Finding Wi-Fi today is easier than it has ever been before, but the search can still be tricky. In the future, every square foot of U.S. land will have lightning speed Wi-Fi access, but until then, here are some tips for finding Wi-Fi while traveling.

1. Transportation

The one thing every traveler does is physically travel, so the easiest way to find Wi-Fi while traveling is to utilize a network hosted by your transporter. Airports and even airplanes usually have access to Wi-Fi. You’ll have to pay for Internet on the actual plane these days, but before you cough up money for the wireless you use in the airport, make sure to do a check for free networks. You can also find Wi-Fi now on trains, buses and boats.

2. Lodging

Your lodging while traveling is often a good resource for finding Wi-Fi. Not only do most hotels, motels, inns, lodges and resorts have Wi-Fi these days, but even more surprising accommodation choices offer Internet access. You can often find Wi-Fi now at campgrounds, truck stops, hotels, vacation rentals, airbnb rentals and RV parks.

3. Work Space

If you need Wi-Fi while working on the road (which is when most of us actually need it, right?), you shouldn’t have too hard of a time tracking it down. Offices are naturally equipped with Internet access and usually Wi-Fi, but you can also find a connection in other places of work. I do most of my work while on the road in coffee shops and 75% of them seem to have Wi-Fi access. Also check for Wi-Fi at convention centers, shared workspaces and libraries.

4. Leisure Spaces

If you want to find Wi-Fi in everyday places, seek and you will find. Wi-Fi connections are available in many restaurants, bars, gyms and other fitness centers, malls and regular public businesses. I’ve found Wi-Fi in spas, bike shops and certainly computer/phone stores.

5. Everywhere Else

One of the easiest things you can do is what I do: pay a little extra every month to transform your phone into a hotspot. I usually do this before I travel so I can work no matter where I am, even if I’m in a car’s passenger seat all day long.

High-speed godspeed.

[flickr image via raneko]

Cruise Line Extra Charges Can Easily Double The Price

cruise line extra charges

Cruise lines say a cruise vacation is one of the best travel values around. Commonly included in the price are meals, entertainment, onboard activities and more. Like other ways to travel, incidental expenses, those optional extra charges, can add up fast. Unlike other ways to travel, extra charges during cruises are quite predictable and easy to budget for. Here are some of the big ticket extra charges not included in the price of a cruise that can get out of control quickly if not planned in advance.

Gratuities- Most cruise lines these days automatically add on a pre-determined amount to cover usual and customary gratuities given to crew members in consideration of services rendered. In the olden days of cruising, this was done on the last night of the cruise when passengers would show their appreciation for a job well done, handing appropriate crew members envelopes with cash inside. Today, cruise lines break this down for passengers in advance adding between $10 and $12 or more per person, per day on to their onboard charge account. On a seven-day sailing for a family of four, that’s about $300 more to the total price of the cruise.

Shore Excursions- Most major cruise lines charge extra for organized tours ashore. The cost per person on these can vary widely from $30 per person for a quick bus tour of a port of call in the Caribbean to hundreds for flightseeing in Alaska. The good news is that most cruise line websites have detailed information and pricing on these excursions available in advance, to help budget what can be a big ticket item, not included in the price. High-end cruise ships sometimes include shore excursions in the price but that cruise fare price is much higher.

Spa Treatments- Every cruise line has a spa, usually connected to their exercise center. Onboard treatments can include everything from a haircut to a manicure or a variety of massages, skin treatments and lifestyle classes. All cost extra and often up to twice the price that the same service might be offered for on land. On a recent sailing we saw a manicure and pedicure combination advertised for $95. That was a sale price available only when the ship was in port. On land, we pay between $20 and $40 for the same treatment. Still, there’s something to be said for a massage at sea to get that cruise vacation off on the right track.

Casino Action- On cruise ships with casinos on board, like casinos on land, this is an item that can add up fast too. Savvy cruise travelers budget a certain amount to play with for each day of the sailing. Gaming lessons, available on board most cruise ships, as well as other complementary casino events can help lower this extra expense.

Alcoholic Beverages and Soft Drinks- Many cruise lines charge extra for soft drinks and alcoholic beverages but pricing is available online that can help with budgeting. High-end cruise lines like Azamara Club Cruises, Viking River Cruises and others, include soft drinks and paired wines with meals as part of the deal. Passengers in upper accommodations on some cruise ships get an initial bar setup included. Princess Cruises includes a fully stocked mini-bar setup for past passengers that have sailed enough to reach their Elite level. Carnival Cruise Lines is experimenting with an alcoholic all-you-can-drink package, which can have value for heavy drinkers. Most cruise lines have unlimited soda packages that can be added on in advance of sailing or once onboard.

Travel Insurance- An optional charge on any cruise vacation, travel insurance of some kind is always a good idea. Where we buy it is another matter altogether. Cruise lines all have their versions, which can be added to the cruise fare and paid along with the price of the cruise. Third-party sources like TravelGuard, recommended by experts as the way to go, can be both cost efficient and provide customizable coverage. Comparing cruise line coverage to third-party sources on a cost and coverage basis, older travelers often come out ahead buying via the cruise line while younger travelers get a better value with third-party sources.

Spending Off The Ship- Other than the price of Shore Excursions, cruise travelers often choose to go ashore for shopping, which is often duty-free and can offer some good savings compared to U.S. land-based shopping options. A stop by a sidewalk cafe for coffee, a drink or two or maybe lunch should also be considered.

Optional Dining Venues- Generally included in the price of the cruise is an upscale main dining room experience, a buffet of some kind and 24-hour room service. In addition, some optional dining venues, called “alternative dining,” are available for a nominal charge for those who want something different. Those can run anywhere from $5 per person to $50 or more but, to many cruise travelers, offer one of the best values of all the optional charges. All can be researched in advance and many can be reserved in advance too. Royal Caribbean, for example, has 150 Central Park on their Oasis-class vessels that offers one of the best dining experiences ever on land or sea for $40 per person additional.

Parking- Cruise lines have made it easy to sail, deploying ships at home ports scattered around the United States. In the olden days of cruise travel, most ships sailed from a Florida port, making airfare a serious consideration in the total cost of a cruise vacation. Driving to the port eliminates that cost but parking can add up too. Storing your car in a secured, covered lot at the cruise port can cost between $15 and $20 per day, an extra $100 to $150 on top of the fare paid. Satellite lots at most cruise ports with a shuttle to and from the ship are available at reduced prices.

Pre-Cruise Hotel Stays- Experienced cruise travelers know that coming in to the embarkation port where the sailing begins a day early is a good idea. This is especially true when flying from a northern U.S. location to a southern U.S. embarkation port in the winter, when flight delays due to weather are a real possibility. As airfare prices rise and more cruise travelers look for ways to save, flying stand-by is becoming more popular too, demanding travel a day or two in advance of sailing, just so they don’t “miss the boat.” Most cruise port-oriented hotels have Cruise and Snooze, Fly and Cruise, or Drive and Cruise specials that include transfer to and from the cruise port.

Internet Fees- This one can add up really fast. Internet access on cruise ships can cost up to $.75 per minute. The best value will be on the largest packages available and can cut that cost in half on a per-minute basis. Equally important to consider when budgeting for Internet access at sea is the reliability and speed of the ship’s Internet system. In other words, it is often not how much you pay but what you get out of it that counts. To get the most out of your Internet access dollars, pick a new ship or recently remodeled ship with the latest satellite system installed. Also, stop by the ship’s Internet cafe and ask the crew members working there one simple question: “What do I need to do on this ship to get the most out of your Internet connection?” A frank answer will greatly maximize your online experience.

How important are all these fees?
Let’s take a look at a typical 7-day Caribbean cruise.

For a family of four, taking advantage of the best pricing available on a summer sailing in 2013, we’ll use Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Liberty, sailing on June 9, 2013.

Carnival Liberty is an older ship that was recently refurbished, adding most of the latest features that Carnival Cruise Lines has to offer making it one of the line’s best values. We picked June 9 because that’s when the kids will be out of school and sailing towards the beginning of the peak summer season is most often one of the best values as well.

To maximize the value, we selected Carnival Cruise Lines Early Saver Fare, guaranteed to be the lowest by the cruise line. The reduced fare carries some restrictions, much like a restricted airfare, including a non-refundable deposit and a no-change policy that incurs a $50 administrative fee per person, per change for any changes made after booking.

The total cruise fare price for four in the least expensive inside stateroom is $2909.92, including port charges, government fees and taxes.

Typical extra charges this family might incur:

  • Prepaid gratuities- $322
  • Travel Insurance from the cruise line- $350
  • Optional Dining Venues- $0 (Mom and Dad are cheap)
  • Parking at the Port of Miami- $140
  • Pre-Cruise hotel stay- Comfort Suites Miami Park and Cruise package- $134
  • Internet Fees- 250 minute package- $100
  • Shore excursions- Tours of two of the four ports of call- $432
  • Spa Treatment- Mom wants a pedicure- $70
  • Casino Action- Dad likes to play the slots, a little bit, $20 per day- $140
  • Alcoholic Beverages- Dad wants the all-you-can-drink liquor package that Carnival Cruise Lines is testing and hopes it is available. If so, both Mom and Dad must take it and it is priced at about $50 per person per day or $350 per person for 7-days, $700 total for both Mom and Dad, typical of what they normally spend on a cruise- $700
  • Non-alcoholic beverage package for the kids- $4.50 per day +15% gratuity- $72
  • Spending off the ship- 4 ports @$50 per port for some souvenirs or dining- $200

Total Extras- $2660

Adding those optional extras to the $2990.92 price of the cruise runs up the total vacation cost to $5,650 – almost double the price of the cruise fare. That’s really nothing to be scared of or prevent someone from choosing a cruise vacation as a viable travel option but surely something to consider. In our example, non-drinkers would save $700. Skip the gambling and lose $140 off the total for some. For others, $20 per day to gamble would be a fraction of what they might spend.

Cruise vacations can offer good value but those extra expenses, as we see here, can add up fast. And this is on a Carnival Cruise Lines cruise, arguably one of the best values in cruise vacations.

Cruise line extra charges are nothing to scare would-be cruise travelers away, but surely something to be seriously considered when comparing a cruise vacation to other travel options.


[Flickr photo by stevendepolo]