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
,” 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]

Top ten ways to deal with a slow Internet connection while travelling

Internet, internet
Adventure travel has its downsides. One of them is that out-of-the-way places tend to have slow Internet connections. Usually this isn’t a problem. You aren’t going to the ends of the Earth to tweet about it, are you? Sometimes, though, we need to keep in touch. While writing my Harar travel series, I’ve been having serious problems trying to do this broadband blogging job on a dialup connection. Not only is it always slow, but it died completely for a week. Today the Internet came back as mysteriously as it disappeared. Assuming you can get a connection, here are some time-saving tips I’ve come up with, along with others that fellow Gadlingers suggested to keep me from pulling my hair out at the local Internet café.

1: Compose on Word or Notepad while your email is loading.

2: Don’t try to open more than one tab at a time, but while you’re reading one you can open another.

3: Turn off “automatically load images.” In Firefox you do this by clicking Tools-Options-Content-then unchecking “Load images automatically”. In Internet Explorer click on Tools-Internet Options-Advanced-scroll down to Multimedia and uncheck “Show pictures”.

4: Some email accounts like Gmail have a Basic HTML option that will make your email load more quickly.

5: If you have your own computer, NoScript is a useful program from cutting out a lot of the high-bandwidth crap that clutters up the Internet.
6: Scott Carmichael says, “Find mobile versions of sites. Always make sure background apps like Dropbox are disabled.”

7: Meg Nesterov says, “Can never be said enough: save early and often. Load text-heavy or videos that buffer first while you’re active on other pages, then read/watch them last. Some sites will load faster in Mobile view.”

8: Stephen Greenwood says, “When I was in Arusha, Tanzania, I would go to the fanciest hotel in town (they had the fastest WiFi) and pretend I was staying there so I could upload photos / blog posts from the lobby.”

9: Once you’ve logged out, wait a moment and then close the tab. The command has already been sent and you will be logged out. Yes, I’ve checked this and it really works.

10: You’ll probably have to do without high-bandwidth sites like Twitter.

. . .if all else fails, send a postcard!

Do you have any time-saving tips you use when struggling with a bad connection? Tell me about them in the comments section. I need all the help I can get over here!

[Photo courtesy user cfarivar via Gadling’s flickr pool]

Internet at sea: It’s not just the price to worry about

Internet at seaWhen we think of using the Internet on a cruise the first word that usually comes to mind is “price.” Using the Internet can be expensive on board cruise ships. But of equal or greater concern should be security. Identity thieves are everywhere, even at sea, waiting for us to slip up and give them the opportunity to invade our privacy. Here are some tips for being secure using the Internet at sea.

Using your laptop
When using a wireless network on a cruise, first make sure you are actually using the ship’s network by asking a crew member for the specific names of the ship’s legitimate networks so you recognize them when you connect.

Anytime you enter a password, even for web mail or Face book through what appears to be the ship’s login screen, verify that you have a secure connection in the browser address bar. Look for https:// (the “s” is for secure) and the locked security padlock icon.

Better yet, change your password before leaving home to one just for the cruise. Your booking number is not a bad idea but not your cabin number where would-be thieves on board could find you later is not. Be sure to change back after you get home.

Internet Cafe computers
“If you’re using a computer in a ship’s Internet cafe, take extra care with your login and password information” says, a company specializing in digital security. They advise organizing for security protection before traveling, using one-time passwords, smart cards or USB tokens for added security.

Also, be sure there is virus software on those Internet cafe machines and that it works. Look for a familiar name like McAfee or Symantec and no red flags or alerts that something is wrong before using one of their machines.

Be sure to clear the “Remember My Passwords” check box if it appears and when you’re done with your Internet session, clear your browsing history at Internet Explorer/Tools/Internet Options/Delete Browsing History.

Oh, and about that pricey Internet package? You’ll probably have to just live with that. But for making cell phone calls, there’s a new plan from AT&T that can help with that. Called “Cruise Ship Passport“, the new plan for AT&T customers discounts rates at sea and offers 15 minutes of voice and 15 messages (text, picture or video) along with a reduced overage rate.

Flickr photo by Jose Goulao

Thailand closes internet cafes for two weeks

A heads up for all those traveling to Thailand in the next two weeks: the country’s public health minister, Witthaya Kaewparadai, announced plans to close tutorial schools and Internet cafes nationwide in a bid to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus.

The announcement was made following the death of a Phuket University student last week. Schools and internet cafes are asked to spend the two weeks carefully cleaning equipment to prevent the spread of infection.

The closure went into effect yesterday, July 13th and is scheduled to end on the 28th of July.

Thailand’s decision to close Internet cafes is believed to be a world first. So, if you know anyone traveling in the “Land of Smiles”, don’t be alarmed if they aren’t responding to your emails.

The Other Great Wall of China

We had no problem finding internet connections throughout China. Internet cafes, or “net bars” as they’re called, with fairly quick download speeds, were not hard to find. Once connected, however, we did have our share of problems: for example, Hotmail and Yahoo often functioned poorly, and some news sources were blocked (like the NY Times). This was probably due to the so-called Great Firewall of China.

Even though Google and others have bowed to its wishes, the Chinese government wants to make it even harder to get on line. According to the Times of London, the Chinese government has banned any new internet cafes from opening. This is in addition to the 3-hour legal on-line time-limit placed in effect in 2005, it’s in addition to the no-one-under-18-admitted law, and it’s in addition to the requirement that all net bar users register with their ID cards before using the computers.

However, there is hope. About 113,000 recognized net bars exist in the country, and there may be many more illegal ones. Over 128 million new internet users have logged on in China since 2000, bringing the total official on-line population estimate to over 137 million (compared to 207 million in the U.S., making it the world’s second-largest on-line market).

(This site actually let’s you check to see what websites are censored there.)