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Feature: Trip Tips

This fall, my partner Nick and I returned to New York for the first time since November 2000. The days were still warm, so we rented a rowboat at Central Park lake and were drifting lazily when suddenly, we lost control of the boat and...

Well, never mind that. After all, you're not here to read a travelogue. You want tech tips, so I'm going to tell you about how I used my notebook on Delta's Song, one of the new low-cost, high-style airlines; the challenges I faced connecting and recharging my notebook at one of New York's newer hotels; my experiences using the new disposable camcorder sold exclusively by CVS drug stores; and a downloadable audio tour you shouldn't miss.

Tip 1: Give Yourself Options

Even if your airline has satellite TV, take your notebook.

We flew for the first time on Song, Delta's competitor to JetBlue and other low-cost carriers. (The round-trip fare, San Francisco to New York, was about $260--gotta love that price.) The DISH satellite TV/music system was diverting enough. But after the novelty wore off, we were glad I'd brought my notebook, so we could watch what we wanted on DVD. By the way, we loved the service (extremely friendly and efficient), the Jerk Chicken Salad sandwich ($8), and the martinis served straight from a cocktail shaker ($7).

Fly Delta Song while you can; Delta recently announced it would discontinue the airline-within-an-airline in May 2006.

Tip 2: Be Prepared

Always pack an Ethernet cable.

At the Four Points by Sheraton, we stayed in room 2006; the rate was $329 a night, which isn't that bad by New York standards, believe it or not. The Four Points is one of the few hotels in the city's Chelsea neighborhood with business amenities. Though the hotel offers wired broadband in every room, the Ethernet cable in our room was defective: It wouldn't stay snapped into my notebook's Ethernet port. Fortunately, I had packed my own cable and was online within a few minutes. (I could have called the front desk for a replacement cable, but I always travel with an Ethernet cable, just for times like this.)

Tip 3: Don't Depend on the In-Room Safe

Locking your notebook in a hotel-room safe can backfire.

Our hotel room's safe was large enough to accommodate my Hewlett-Packard Pavilion DV1000, which has a 14-inch wide-screen display. But the night before we left, the safe inexplicably stopped accepting its pass code. We were heading out for the evening, and there was no hotel employee available with the general pass code that opens all the hotel's safes. So I had to wait until the next morning to get access to my notebook--which meant I couldn't recharge its battery overnight, before our return flight.

During future hotel stays, I may lock my notebook in my suitcase instead, at least on the day before departure. That way I know I can access the notebook when needed, while still giving it some protection. Another option would be to have the front desk clerk lock the notebook in the hotel's safe.

Tip 4: Use a Disposable Camcorder

Left your camcorder at home? Buy one for $30 at the drug store.

I didn't bring our digital camcorder on this trip--after all, I can't take all my gear on every trip. Instead, while in New York I bought a single-use digital camcorder from a CVS drug store. The One-Time-Use Video Camcorder, which captures up to 20 minutes of video, is delightfully compact and incredibly simple to operate, though its video quality is somewhat grainy. Nationwide chain CVS is the exclusive retailer for this $30 camcorder.

When you're done shooting video, drop the camcorder off at a CVS store with photo processing. In about one hour, you get a DVD containing your video clips ($13), as well as software that makes it extremely easy to e-mail your clips or save them to your hard drive for editing. The camcorder lacks a zoom and a flash--but this is a great first-generation product, and I expect the second-generation to be even better. CVS doesn't sell the camcorder online, unfortunately, but you can get a bit more detail, plus a picture, at the bottom of PC World's August "News in Brief."

Tip 5: Take Along a Tour

Go to Ground Zero--and take Paul Auster with you.

Before leaving San Francisco, I downloaded an audio walking tour of Ground Zero, which we listened to on Apple IPods during our visit to the former site of the World Trade Center. Narrated by author and New Yorker Paul Auster and featuring interviews, voice-mail messages, and music, the tour recounts the harrowing events of September 11, 2001, with refreshing--and often poetic--restraint. Fittingly, the walking tour leaves you standing at the harbor, looking out toward the Statue of Liberty.

The MP3 file is $12 from Soundwalk.

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