Ways to stay wired on the road
Keep an adapter or backup-powered backpack or piece of luggage for recharging; use Internet on the Go or Boingo for Web access; try FireChat app for crowd perspective.
After the crisis was averted, we determined that the smartphone's sensitivity wasn't the only contributing factor. The night before, I had plugged the device's charger into the outlet on the base of the bedside lamp in our hotel room. That would have worked fine if I hadn't turned the light off to sleep. I rested peacefully through the night under the mistaken impression I would be adequately powered for the next day's excursion.
While the bonehead bonus points for that little fiasco were all mine, that didn't stop me from dragging my husband into my drama. I'd love to say that what left my mouth at the moment of battery failure was a polite and loving request for assistance, but in all honesty a cranky and shrewish "Fix it!" is closer to the truth.
The previous day's photo shoot in extreme heat had left me depleted and irritable. A week on the road had left us both lax on adhering to previously designated spots for things like backup batteries, power access adapters, and car chargers. The result was a number of chaotic totes in the backseat area that had me tossing random items with far more force than necessary, swearing like a sailor, and spreading the misery with gusto. That's right. I took it like a man.
Power: The main item we use for powering devices in the car when their batteries run low is our CyberPower adapter with electrical outlet. Given to us as a gift several years ago, it's currently available for just under $60, according to the company's website. It plugs into the cigarette lighter and allows you to hook in other devices as if you were plugging them into the wall at home. If I'd remembered to store it in the center console and maintained access to my phone charger from the front seat, my entire meltdown could have been avoided. It has been a reliable piece of equipment that has stood the test of time and come to our rescue on more than one occasion.
When working on the road away from your car, having a bag or piece of luggage that's wired with backup power can be a lifesaver. One of the more efficiently designed ones on the market is the Energi backpack produced by TYLT. With a built-in pocket for a multicharge-capable battery, connecting wires for multiple devices to charge at once, and threading slots so the wires can reach any location in the bag's numerous pockets, compartments, and slots you find most appropriate for each device, it's an easy-to-use solution for road warriors who need to stay wired. The $199 price tag is about average for tech-enabled bags, but in my opinion the ability to charge multiple devices simultaneously is what puts it into the value category. Those with only a phone to keep charged, however, can easily control costs and get by with an extended or portable battery.
Access: Internet access on the road in unfamiliar territory can be problematic. Who has WiFi and how you might be able to access it are common questions for frequent travelers. Dave Hunter, author of Along Interstate 75 - a guidebook for travelers using the highway to head from Canada to Florida - uses Internet on the Go to supplement his connectivity needs from his automobile. The road-tripper cites the lack of a monthly contract as a major reason he relies on the service.
While consumers should be prepared to throw down an initial $100 for the hotspot device, from there it's just a matter of recharging your account whenever you run low on time. If you don't require the hotspot very often, simply place a small amount of credit on your account as a backup. You won't be required to pay again until you've used up your allotment. Hunter does point out that travelers need to be prepared to manage their expectations. In his words, "This isn't something you can use to stream video. It's not the fastest, but it certainly does the job." Internet-Go.com has further details regarding signup.
Everything-everywhere.com's Gary Arndt has been traveling the world nonstop for the last seven years, logging on from some pretty far-away places. In addition to favoring local SIM cards for cheaper international data access and WiTopia's $6 monthly VPN service for added security, Arndt uses a service called Boingo, which has enabled him to access the Internet in places including the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Thailand. Monthly plans are available for a variety of travel schedules, enabling users to access their Internet accounts at any of the service's many hotspots around the globe. Says Arndt, "There are even some hotels where I have been able to use my Boingo account, which means I didn't have to pay extra for hotel WiFi." Boingo's $9.95-per-month plan allows unlimited access for up to two devices throughout the Americas.
Travelers purchasing a vehicle this year may be able to turn their car into a hotspot as well. A number of newer makes and models from General Motors will offer this capability as a subscription service, with or without OnStar. Monthly prices start as low as $5 with limited data. While not a home Internet replacement for full-time travelers, it does serve as an affordable backup for those times when e-mail access from a highway or rest stop is critical.
Apps: Want to keep in touch on a group outing, or gain a crowd-based perspective on community events such as concerts, parades, or festivals? FireChat is a free application available for both Apple and Android platforms that seems to be gaining traction. Developed by Open Garden, it allows individual phones to communicate off the grid in locations where Web or cell- phone connectivity isn't available, such as international uprisings in locations where governments are likely to shut down Internet access. Devices can communicate within a 200-foot range, with messages hopping from device to device to extend the program's reach.
The app uses a technology called mesh networking, which works off peer-to-peer connections via WiFi radios in each phone. The latest version allows users to create their own chat rooms, resulting in something that's essentially a smartphone version of what the early Internet chat rooms used to look like. Getfirechat.com has further details for downloading.