Three easy ways to connect to your home network while traveling

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It’s a great feeling to have a state-of-the-art home network. But the minute you leave the house, all your connections are out of reach. You can’t use a network that you’re not in the middle of, right?

Wrong. You can be thousands of miles away and still use your network to full advantage. Three simple rules apply: Your network and its devices have to be powered on, the network has to be connected to the Internet, and you must have Internet access wherever you are. Meet these criteria and you can log in. Here are three ways to do it.

1. NAS. If you’ve centralized your files on a network storage device — say, you’ve stashed all of your photos on D-Link’s DNS-325 for streaming to any connected device in your house — you can use the NAS box’s built-in Web file server to access content using a Web browser. Old-school users who want more control from afar can use the DNS-325’s built-in FTP server to download, upload, and modify files at will.

2. Windows. Windows Vista and Windows 7 come with a software tool that makes it easy to connect local and remote systems. Check out the Remote Desktop utility. It takes a little configuration to set up: You have to add users to a “remote desktop” group, forward a port through your router’s firewall to your target system, grab the router’s IP address, and connect to your local system using Remote Desktop on your remote PC. But once you’re in, you’re basically working at your Desktop as though you were sitting in front of your home system.

3. Third-party software. My favorite tool for logging into my home network remotely is Hamachi, a free, third-party program that establishes a virtual private network link between any systems that have the program installed and running. You might be separated from your network by oceans, but you’ll still be able to access iTunes shares, shared folders, and mapped network printers as though you were at home.

Hamachi also makes it a breeze to use more advanced remote desktop apps like UltraVNC. UltraVNC lets you take control of your system remotely so you can access files or complete tasks on that machine as if it were right in front of you. While that might sound a lot like Windows Remote Desktop, the program’s capabilities, including easy file transfers and chat room support, make it well worth the free download. When you use it with Hamachi, you no longer have to forward ports and figure out IP addresses. The IP address that Hamachi assigns to each system is exactly what you’ll type in to take over that system from afar.

Just because you’re away from home doesn’t mean you’re locked out of your home network. I’ve highlighted just a few of the ways to access and control your network devices and files from afar. Just don’t scare your house sitter by “ghost-printing” a ton of documents on your home printer in the dead of night, m-kay?

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