Tricks Of The Trail

Make the most of your digital life on the road

Juggling a laptop, spare battery, cables and printer isn’t as much of a problem as it was 10 years ago. The devices are smaller, and hotels, airports and even restaurants are competing for business customers by accommodating mobile technology. Most hotel rooms have a second jack marked “modem” or “data.” To be sure yours does, call ahead and ask the hotel how guests connect modems from their rooms.

If you do wind up in a one-horse town where they bed the horse right in the hotel, or are traveling abroad, take a phone cord with an RJ-11 connector on one end and four colored wires with under-screw connectors on the other. A “Y”-splitter single-to-dual RJ-11 jack, or an acoustic coupler that attaches to almost any phone handset, lets the modem communicate audibly with the phone system. You can also pick up a small switch box that allows you to connect over a hotel’s digital PBX system without frying your PC card modem. Acoustic couplers will accomplish this, too–and let you get around some problems with international plugs and jacks. TeleAdapt (; 877-8353232) offers the TeleFast Plus coupler; it also carries international and inflight adapters plus preassembled kits for the teleconnecting traveler.

If you haven’t traveled for a while, or have new equipment, one of the best ways to test your mobile readiness is to take a “trip” to another room in your house. Pack your bag and perform an evening’s work from there, or from a friend’s house as you watch the game. Take a good surge protector power strip, one with a long cord. There may not be an outlet near where you want to work. Don’t forget your Windows 95 and Office CDs or equivalent and their CD-keys, in case you have to configure any strange drivers.

You may need to reconfigure phone numbers in dial-up programs to include dial-out prefixes and area or country codes for your hotel. Before you leave on your trip, look up and configure local access numbers for your ISP (Internet service provider), and test them so you’re good to go. Don’t forget to get the hotel’s fax number and share it with your office staff. It’s easier to have faxes waiting for you at the front desk than to tie up your modem waiting for them to appear.

Obviously you’ll want to work with your laptop’s AC adapter plugged in whenever possible, but there are tricks to extend battery life when you must rely on it. Add RAM to your notebook to reduce disk-swapping on Windows systems. Turn off PCMCIA cards and other peripherals when not in use. Turn down display lighting and use a monochrome color scheme unless you’re giving a presentation. Delete icons from the desktop if they’re merely shortcuts to programs or documents. Use a plain black screen saver, and set the screen time-out to three minutes. Install minimal program options and disable unnecessary overhead, such as animated “help” characters, automatic formatting and automatic spell-checking, and auto-save (don’t forget to save manually).

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