International Tech Travel Tips: Stay Charged and Connected on the Go

Yardena Arar
PC World
Tuesday, April 27, 2010; 12:19 AM

Good news for tech-toting travelers: The world is better prepared than ever to help you get online and keep your laptop, cell phone, and other devices fully charged. Bad news: It is still very far from having universal standards in place. Still, with a little research and a few gadgets, you can keep your costs and headaches to a minimum.

Wi-Fi in the Air and on the Road

Your research should begin when you start making your transportation arrangements. For flights within North America, several airlines now offer in-flight Internet access through GoGo, at prices ranging from $5 for a single journey of less than 90 minutes to 30-day passes for $30 (single airline) or $40 (all participating carriers), with automatically renewing monthly subscriptions for $35.

Unfortunately, not all airlines that offer GoGo's service provide power outlets--and Wi-Fi consumes lots of power. Check to see whether outlets are available on a prospective flight; if they aren't, consider bringing an extra battery to ensure that your device stays charged throughout your time in the air.

Don't expect to see GoGo on flights to Europe or Asia, however. Since the service relies on a network of transmission towers on the ground, it isn't available during transoceanic flights.

Nevertheless, you may still have access to electrical outlets, especially if you're flying first class or business class, in which case you can use your laptop for work or entertainment without worrying that it will die on you.

Wi-Fi service is also starting to appear on some trains and buses, both in the United States and overseas. Faced with competing bus services that offer Wi-Fi, Amtrak recently began providing free Wi-Fi service on its Acela express trains and at stations along the northeast corridor (from Boston to Washington, D.C.).

In Europe, Wi-Fi is available for a fee on some French (Thalys) high-speed trains but not on the Eurostar line to England via the Chunnel.

In general, the Wi-Fi on planes, buses, and trains is adequate for handling e-mail and doing some Web browsing, but it doesn't support high-bandwidth activities such as elaborate online games and virtual worlds--especially when several passengers are sharing the service.

Plugging In

Keeping your electrical gear fully charged when you're overseas can be a challenge. Electrical systems in most of the rest of the world deliver 220 volts at 50Hz, compared to our 110 volts at 60Hz (both systems use alternating current but are incompatible).

Fortunately, many modern electrical adapters can handle both: If your notebook's AC adapter includes a brick, you're probably fine, and most cell phone electrical chargers can perform the conversion, too. Many other phones have USB chargers that bypass the issue by connecting directly to your notebook.

On the other hand, though you're unlikely to encounter hassles in converting a 110-volt device to 240-volt power, the same cannot be said for dealing with the many different types of outlets used outside North America: Most of them won't accept our standard two- or three-prong plugs.

England, for example, uses three-pronged plugs that are much larger and bulkier than ours, but most of the continent uses skinnier plugs arrayed with two narrow cylindrical prongs. Before you travel abroad, it's worthwhile to research the type of outlets used at your various destinations; then pack a couple of appropriate plug adapters.

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