Tuesday, October 2, 2012

What should a writer take on the road?

Clare's post yesterday about her travels reminded me that I need to get ready for some upcoming globe hopping (Hong Kong and Vienna).  I'm beginning to wonder how I should handle my various devices (iPad, smart phone, Kindle, laptop) while overseas. For example, does 3G service by Apple and Amazon extend to Asia and beyond? Will I come home to a mega-roaming bill from Verizon if I so much as turn on my cell phone outside the continental United States? Do hotels nowadays provide the right kind of electrical outlets for Americans, or do we have to tote a converter in the luggage?

My husband recently had a nightmare experience with an iPad he'd purchased overseas (turns out it was sold without the right configuration for the US). He spent the better part of a day during a business trip getting the darned thing up and running.

So I'm looking for advice from any of our travel-savvy Zoners. Is there anything I should be sure to set up before we leave? Any cautionary tales or rules for the e-road?


  1. I can think of a few things, apologies if they seem obvious:

    1) Back up everything onto an external hard drive before you go. The last thing you want to happen is to lose your laptop with all your writing on, but at least this way if it does happen you have a backup you can use when you get back.
    2) Get a rugged USB Stick/Thumb Drive. If you do any writing while you’re away you can back that up onto the USB Stick. If you attach it to your key chain then you’ll always have your writing with you.
    3) Take a notepad and pen. Because when your smartphone’s got no reception, your laptops out of power and your tablets on the blink, you can’t go wrong with a notepad and pen for those urgent plot ideas.
    4) Have fun. I have a friend whose been to Hong Kong many times, it’s meant to be a wonderful place to visit. So enjoy yourself.

  2. Thanks Matthew! I definitely will be taking a notebook along, for just that situation!

  3. My first question is: what is the main point and purpose of this trip? Business? Pleasure? Bit of both? Do you really need a laptop, ipad, kindle and smartphone? Could you accomplish your trip goals without one or more of them? Because I see duplication of use between these devices. Each one you can leave behind is that much less prep time and stress on your trip about losing one. I can't make that choice for you, but if you think about it you'll realize you don't need to take them all.

    I agree with Matthew about backing up. I use not only an external hard drive, but cloud back up. If you were to lose your device(s) and have to buy a replacement on the road (as your husband found out this doesn't always work so well overseas)you can always login to your cloud account and get back to where you were before things WENT WRONG.

    If I chose to take the kindle I would check directly with Amazon about connectivity/purchases in the countries I intended to visit. Anything anybody else tells you is just an anecdote.

    Re: your smartphone. First, check to see if it is even compatible on the wireless systems in the countries you will visit. Since it's Verizon it may well not be. If it is have Verizon unlock it. This will allow you to obtain a local sim card/number at your destination(s). This will allow you to skip the brutal roaming charges. (Although, if you want my advice: leave the phone behind. I have never taken a phone on vacation and am fascinated when I see people in the middle of nowhere - i.e. in Samburu taking a call from home - tethered to them. Skype from the hotel on your laptop. But that's just my opinion.)

    Last but not least: Have a good time!

  4. Stay home with your cell phone, husband, pets and other electronic gizmos , and I'll do the trip for you as your surrogate traveler.

    I'll send out post cards to your friends, take photos for your album, eat all those weird pastries, while you just kick back in Texas, or wherever.

  5. Whatever you do, for God's sake turn off data roaming unless you've set up an overseas plan. When I go into Canada, I get a reminder from Rogers Wireless that they charge $15 per megabyte for data. To give you an idea of how much that could cost you, most US data plans are for at least two gigabytes per month. That would come out to a whopping $30,000 in data roaming bills.

  6. I’ve wondered about cloud based back up as a way of protecting my writing against a major calamity such as the house burning down, but I do wonder how secure it is. Does anyone have any experience with using cloud based backup for their writing? Is it secure or do I risk someone else hacking my cloud, stealing my novel and publishing it themselves? Thanks.

  7. Hey, Matthew, it's not just security, although with news reports of Yahoo, Apple, Sony, and others having account info ripped off by hackers, cloud security is definately one concern.

    When companies provide storage in a 'cloud', you're not getting a dedicated computer. They have massive hard drives on high-end machines, and you share that machine with thousands of other customers. Should one of those be a criminal entity that Homeland Security or the FBI decides to go after, your backup may disappear when the law enforcement agency hauls away the computer.

    Another scenario is a cloud company going bankrupt. The creditors can take the equipment to satisfy outstanding debt.

    And in a bizarre twist, large companies like SDL that create translation software like Trados claim that if you use search engines like Google or Bing to translate something, you may lose copyright or patent control. Certainly you're taking a risk with anything you don't want disclosed to the world when you use them.

    Kathryn, I've heard horror stories of Chinese customs insisting that they be allowed to 'examine' the contents of any computers coming in, and if you have anything encrypted on your computer, they may confiscate the equipment if you won't give them the password.


  8. Confiscating devices is something I hadn't considered even in my most fevered imaginings, KS! I suppose then I shouldn't wear my "I ♥ the 1st Amendment" tee shirt, lol.

  9. Jim in Missoula, nice try! I may take you up on that for my next trip to Yazoo City, though!

  10. Boyd, $30,000? Yikes! I'm thinking I may just go untethered this trip, to avoid the risk of coming home to any nasty surprises. Just a pen, paper, a few books, and my own thoughts. I wonder if I'd go into withdrawal? You can be sure I'll blog about it!

  11. Matthew, my laptop crashed recently and I got everything back from Carbonite. I wouldn't stress too much about anyone stealing a manuscript-- hackers are more interested in our bank info.

  12. Catfriend, Skype is a great idea. I've never used it. Does it work on an iPad? I could call Apple, but it's much more fun asking you guys!

  13. I'd suggest leaving the cell phone at home and getting a disposable phone in each country you go to. That way you don't have to worry about those extra charges or the connection not working where ever you are.

    If you do bring your laptop you will need the electrical adapter for that country. Even if they do have an American style outlet, there is no guarantee the power itself will be clean at 110v, since most other countries use 220v power. A decent power adapter should include a filter that will make sure the signal doesn't overload the laptop.

  14. Thanks for the tip, Basil--I'll definitely bring a converter, and look into portable cell phones.