Laptops

10 Nightmares When Traveling With Tech--and How to Prevent Them

As a business traveler, you typically can’t do your job without functional smartphones, laptops, power adapters and charging accessories. Add to this the stress of getting materials ready for meetings and deadlines and you can find yourself disconnected, offline, and frustrated. If you have to travel for work this holiday season, you can relate to these following issues with tech and travel.

1. Potential Loss of Your Laptop or Mobile Device

Never bring a laptop along that you aren’t willing to lose, or have damaged or confiscated. While customs and TSA officials do not randomly confiscate laptops, the hard truth is that if they see something about your laptop they don’t like, they can prevent you from taking it onto the plane. This is more of a danger on international flights than on domestic ones, but even so you should pack a tablet or a laptop that you won’t be sorry to let go of if the situation demands it.

There is a very minute chance that this will even happen according to both the TSA and customs. The TSA is primarily interested in scanning your laptop for explosive devices, and won’t even turn it on. Customs only refers a very small percentage of travelers to secondary inspection of electronics, and of those only a very few are subject to laptop searches. Even so, in the course of traveling, anything could happen to your devices, and bringing your prize MacBook Pro along for the ride may not be advisable unless you can readily afford to replace it.

[Related: How to travel like tech royalty]

An iPad or other tablet with a Bluetooth or USB keyboard is a great option for casual traveling, while a lower-end laptop is good for a more business-oriented trip. The iPad has a number of productivity apps that you can use, as do some Android tablets.

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Storing important documents and files in the cloud while you are traveling is advisable just in case your devices are damaged or stolen. While it would be a disaster to lose your prized tech, it would be worse to lose the presentation that you’ve traveled at great expense to deliver. Microsoft has some great tips to help you prevent theft of your laptop, and how to use Microsoft Office to protect valuable data.

2. Not Having the Right Bag for the Checkpoint

Make sure your laptop bag is “checkpoint-friendly” according to the TSA guidelines. A company called Aerovation manufactures bags specifically to these guidelines that you may want to consider if you are a frequent traveler.

If you don’t want to spring for a custom bag, make sure you are buying a bag that has a laptop-only section, keep extra items like cables out of that laptop-only area, and don’t allow any metal or pockets there to make it easier to screen the laptop with an X-ray scanner. The TSA doesn’t endorse any particular bags or manufacturers, so double-check any bags marketed as “checkpoint friendly” against the TSA guidelines to make sure they stack up.

3. Expensive or Nonexistent Airport Wi-Fi

PCWorld recently did extensive, months-long work to rank the top 20 airports for tech-savvy travelers. You can find out up-to-the-minute information on your airport’s Wi-Fi system anywhere in the world through this interactive map at Jaunted.com. The catch: you need to be online to view the map.

If you have an Android phone, this is where setting up a hotspot comes in handy. Just make sure your hotspot is password-protected with a robust password and that you are on a plan with your carrier that allows it. If you find yourself zooming through airports with expensive Wi-Fi on a regular basis, the extra charge from your carrier for hotspot use may just pay for itself.

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4. Expensive In-Flight Wi-Fi

You can avoid overpaying for Wi-Fi this holiday season with bundles from Gogo that range from $14.95 to $19.95, depending on how many day passes you want to purchase. Gogo covers a number of airlines, including American Airlines and United. But if you just purchase a one-shot pass from your airline, it can cost up to $12 a flight.

If you are looking for free in-flight Wi-Fi access, call your airline or rental car company in advance to see what promotions are available. You may qualify for a free in-flight Wi-Fi pass based on your travel purchases, including parking at the airport.

5. Having to Turn off Your Laptop or Notebook for Takeoff and Landing

There’s not much that we can say that this blog post from the New York Times hasn’t already said about the fact that regulations that require that you turn off your mobile devices are based on virtually no actual scientific data. Even so, we still dutifully turn off our devices when told to for both takeoff and landing.

There is the fact that you only have to power down for takeoff and landing, which gives you a break from work and puts those flying the plane at ease. There is also a 2006 study that shows there's not enough evidence on either side of the equation to justify getting rid of the rule; they can’t prove that a cell phone will take down airplane avionics just as they can’t prove that it won’t. It’s time for a more current study that can prove conclusively if mobile devices can interfere with avionics. If they can, more stringent measures should be taken to isolate avionics from the ill effects of a device accidentally left on--and if they do not interfere, the regulations should be scrapped.

Next Page: charging, local transit, hotel Wi-Fi and more...

6. Lack of Decent Charging Options

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Charging options are limited at best at some airports and well-hidden under seats that have old chewing gum stuck to the bottom of them. Charging stations that are offered through airports could theoretically be used to hack into your smartphone, so turn it off before plugging it in.

[Related: Travel smart: The best gear for the road]

Check out the iDapt charger, which will let you charge two separate devices using one plug. You can use it in your car or at home, eliminating the need for separate charging accessories. If you need more outlets, check out the Targus Travel Power Outlets with surge suppression, which helps protect your tech from dirty power while offering four separate outlets for your various devices, one of which could be for your charger.

7. Overpriced Tech Essentials at Airport Stores

Have you ever forgotten a charger or other important accessory and been forced to buy something at an airport store? If you have, you’ll already know the importance of checking your bags twice before you leave to make sure you’ve got everything. Prices at these shops are not likely to go down since they are playing to a captive audience.

8. Not Having the Right Power Source for Your Device

You’ll want to pay attention to power adapters and the voltage of your destination country if you are traveling internationally. Many European and other nations outside of North America are on 220 or 240 volt power, which will instantly fry your device if you try to plug into it. To prevent harming your precious mobile devices and yourself, research the voltage of your destination country in advance and ensure that you have the appropriate adapter for it. If you buy it in your destination country of choice, you may get a substandard adapter for an exorbitant price.

8. Hotel Wi-Fi Issues

Make sure you ask when checking in about everything you need to know about Wi-Fi. Many hotels do not leave this information in an easy-to-find spot in the room, and calls to the front desk are much less productive than asking a clerk face-to-face. While the hotel that doesn’t offer free Wi-Fi is rare, they are still out there and you should double-check before you book, especially if your hotel is out of the way or not part of one of the major chains.

9. Late and Backed Up Public Transit

While many travelers take taxis, a great majority of people will use local transit and train services in densely populated urban areas. When public transportation snafus hit, the website fixmytransport.com allows European transit users to report issues. It even keeps you up-to-date on the cleanliness factor of station bathrooms. How awesome would it be to have a North American version?

10. Charging from your airplane seat

SeatGuru by TripAdvisor offers travelers a free guide to the kind of power available on your aircraft. It breaks down the available power ports and locations, so you can look up the seats you should be booking for any trip you’re taking that is over a couple of hours in length. They also recommend power adapters to ensure that your 110-volt device works on the airplane in question.

Angela West dreams of opening a Fallout-themed pub featuring wait staff with Pip-Boys. She's written for big insurance companies, small wildlife control businesses, gourmet food chains, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @angelawest and Facebook.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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