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From his column Church Tech

church-tech-09-13-1Our family has a sacred ritual whenever we travel; we always start out by playing the song, On the Road Again, by Willie Nelson. But if we are visiting family in Ohio for the 1000th time, we alter the lyrics from, “Seein‘ things that I may never see again,” to “Seein‘ things that I will often see again.” A not-so-sacred but still important part of travel is getting your technology ready for the trip. Let’s take a look at some good practices for when you’re on the road again.

Travelin‘ Light

Travel is either for relaxation or business. It should not be about fussing with technology, so I try to travel as light as possible. With the amazing abilities of modern smartphones, I can eliminate the need for separate still and video cameras, and a GPS. For charging devices, I’ve got a cable that fits my phone and tablet on one end, with a USB adapter on the other. I just need to make sure I don’t forget to bring along the power supply.

If it is truly a “road” trip, I carry a power unit for the cables that plugs into the lighter socket on the vehicle. It’s also a good idea to include a power inverter. This device uses a vehicle’s 12 volts to provide a standard AC outlet for 110 volt electronic devices (just don’t overtask it with multiple gadgets). With an inverter, for under $30 you’ve got an emergency pacifier to keep the kids docile while watching movies on your laptop.

Another road trip favorite is a cable with mini-stereo plugs on both ends. This allows me to connect my phone to the car stereo, which is good for navigation (and for listening to episodes of This American Life).

Remote Support: Google Hangouts

If you have friends or cohorts who desperately need your help with their computer while you are away (or if you anticipate needing theirs), Google recently added an excellent feature (a part of Google Hangouts) to make this a painless process. Rather than trying to share visual commands verbally and explaining how to reach the “out of office” options in email, you can remotely control their computer and easily provide a quick fix.

To do this, you and your friend both need Gmail accounts to provide a contact for each other (there are other solutions, but I like this one, because it’s free and the simplest I have seen once it is set up). When you sign into Gmail, you will see a chat utility in the lower left part of the page with your contact’s name. Click on the video camera icon next to their name to initiate video chat (which is a feature of Google Hangouts). The first time you do this, it will walk you through installing a plugin for your browser.

Once you are video chatting, click on the “Remote Desktop” button on the left (right below the Google Effects button that lets you put on a virtual Seussian hat). It will ask the other person if they want to let you control their PC. When they accept, you can either “watch over their shoulder” as they show you the problem and you see their screen, or you can use your mouse to control their computer and do the fix for them.

Once you have set this up, you are never more than a couple clicks away from giving or receiving direct help from a friend. This works in various browsers and across Windows and Mac platforms.

Internet Access

Having access to the Internet can be costly when away from home. If you are traveling internationally, be sure and check with your mobile phone carrier first about data options. If not, you could easily rack up hundreds or thousands of dollars in international data roaming fees. Consider purchasing a cheap, no-contract (burner) phone when you reach your country of destination.

Another tip is to use your phone as a wireless access point. Many data plans allow you to do this. Utilizing this feature means that with a couple of clicks your phone can provide Internet to other devices. Your laptop or tablet can connect to the Internet using Wi-Fi from your phone, and you can avoid paying $19.99 per day to the hotel. As long as you aren’t watching video this way, you will likely remain well under your data quota.

Be aware, wherever you use the Internet while on the road, only connect to the official network name of the location you are in. While at airports or hotels, you will generally see a plethora of Wi-Fi access points. Most are likely harmless, but if you connect to one other than what is provided by an “official” organization, you may be sharing your conversation with someone beyond the intended listener and the NSA.

So have fun when you travel, create traditions, stay connected, and keep your mind off the tech until the country roads bring you home.

Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.

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