You hear about it every day: The Internet is connecting the globe. Everyone, everywhere is online, right?
Yeah, well, explain that to the hotel manager in Malawi who has only one phone line and an electrical outlet that looks like a prop from Lost in Space.
The simple truth is that if you’re going to Kathmandu, or some equally remote location, and hope to stay connected, you’ll need more than a hefty pack of batteries. The Internet may be global, but it’s not universal. So before you pack the laptop, find out what you need to know about:
- Foreign fees
Your number one concern? Security
While satellite phones and laptops can certainly be lifesavers, technology can actually put you at risk in some countries, said Anne Perra, a research analyst with the National Business Travel Association. Phones and laptops are favorite targets of thieves who might turn violent, she said.
“Looking like a poor student may be better than looking like a prosperous American business person,” Perra said. “Do not carry a computer case; hide it in a briefcase or a bag. These kinds of things get stolen easily and they make you a target.”
Perra recommended shipping your laptop to the hotel and insuring it, rather than packing it. And always register with the U.S. consulate upon arrival, she said.
“If you’re going to remote regions like Nepal, which has a lot of political instability, register with the consulate when you get there because, otherwise, they won’t know you’re in the country,” she said. “If there’s an emergency in the country, and they know you’re there, they can make plans to evacuate you. That’s also good in Latin American countries where the risk of kidnapping is high, especially for a businessperson. In Columbia, that’s the greatest risk a tourist faces now, not Montezuma’s revenge.”
The U.S. State Department publishes travel advisories and consular information sheets about each country, so be sure to check out your destination for any possible political instabilities or safety issues.
But it may not be just hardware that thieves want. According to the U.S. State Department, business travelers—especially in the high-tech industry—need to guard any telecommunications as well.
In its Guidelines for Protecting U.S. Business Information Overseas , the State Department warns that in some countries, foreign intelligence services monitor business transactions, seeking key words such as “technology” or “project,” and will use the information to further businesses supported by the nation’s government.
Some of the department’s recommendations for travelers abroad:
- Assume all overseas telecommunications are intercepted and recorded.
- Use encryption, (though it warns that some countries do not allow this), even on e-mail.
- Never operate a computer while in public areas, including airports.
- Never leave a laptop unattended.
Issue two: Getting connected
These days, business executives can’t afford not to be connected.
“They are actually required to ensure that they are staying connected while they’re on the road—and most of the time that means e-mail,” said Heather Dewberry, a vice president for TeleAdapt , which sells adapters and travel support services.
“And even if they’re not required to, I think most people are so used to communicating with their e-mail and rely on their e-mail so extensively that they get e-mail anxiety if they’re not checking it,” Dewberry said.
But being connected isn’t always so easy. Even in European countries, executives are likely to encounter problems connecting. Chris Elliott covers travel and technology for biztravel.com. His readers tell him their single biggest problem when traveling with technology is getting—and staying—connected.
The chances are slim that the phone jack in your hotel will match your computer’s cord. Electrical outlets and jacks vary widely by country and can even vary within the country. The farther east you go from Europe, the more problems you’re going to encounter, said Elliott.
“You’re also going to find unreliable connections,” he said. “What a lot of road warriors or business travelers find is that they have to carry a whole series of adaptors with them to make their modem plugs work with the outlets that are offered at a hotel or a hostel or an airport lounge or wherever they happen to be.
“I just got a huge kit from Sprint. It’s huge. It has adapters for every country you can imagine and it is bigger—and I am not making this up—bigger than the average laptop.”
|Phone jacks vary widely by country. Photo courtesy TeleAdapt.|
Dewberry said travelers could expect a wide variety of connectors and conductivity.
“I traveled through Costa Rica a couple of years ago and the places I stayed didn’t have a phone. Even the hotel didn’t own a phone,” Dewberry said. “Even in Europe, you could stay at a hotel [where] only one floor has been equipped to access a telephone jack, and another floor might have a different one, all depending on when they’ve upgraded.”
You may also fry your modem if the connection is digital and you don’t have the right PC cards, Elliott said.
If you travel frequently, invest in a variety of adapters, which can be packaged by regions. There are even kits that will help you connect when the phone is hardwired into the wall. TeleAdapt sells a nearly 24-hour, worldwide support service that you might consider if your company’s road warriors are technologically troubled.
And the number three concern: Fees, fees, fees!
You may discover that international travel brings a whole new meaning to the term “hidden fees.” That’s what TechRepublic editors David Bard and Mike Jackman found while planning their trip to Nepal. They got off easy when it came to a satellite phone—MVS loaned them a MiniSat data/voice satellite phone and arranged for their phone account—but they still were out $2,300 to pay for the privilege of using their phone in Nepal.
Travel experts say a fee just to use a satellite phone is unusual but not surprising. Countries of all sizes and political bent turn capitalist when it comes to fees.
“There are many bizarre things,” Perra said. “Poor countries are taking advantage of the fact they can get American dollars, and yes, it’s legal because it’s their country.”
For instance, Perra said, Algeria requires you to turn over your U.S. dollars when you enter the country. To get your money back, you’ll have to prove you spent the equivalent of $500 dollars while there. Some countries even fine you for the luxury of visiting.
Bribes are also common in some countries, Perra said. She suggested travelers to remote locations hire a guide from a reputable firm that will be familiar with each country’s regulations and unwritten customs.
Road Warriors: What really bothers you about traveling abroad? What do you think other would-be travelers need to know before they head off to explore the world? Share your concerns and advise by e-mailing us or posting a comment below.