Travelling with the Internet

You’re connected to the internet. Contact with the outside world has in recent months become e-mail-centric and the net now plays an important role in your business life. Colleagues and friends interact with you through e-mail instead of the telephone and perhaps your business has even become dependent on the net.

So what happens when you want to travel to another country and need to stay in touch using the internet?

My recent experience travelling with a cellphone turned out to be exorbitantly expensive so I approached my internet arrangements with caution. My objective was simple. I wanted to stay connected to the internet while travelling abroad, without bankrupting myself. I thought it might be good to share my experience. I recently visited Sydney, Australia and this is my story.

Before leaving I realized that I had two options. Either I could use the international roaming option of my service provider or I could sign up with a local service provider in Australia for the time that I was there.

AltaVista gave me a list of the main service providers. I e-mailed them all detailing my situation and asking if I could get a dial-in account for a couple of weeks. It seems service levels are pretty similar to South Africa – I got one curt reply telling me to look at their web site. Going through the various sites I noted that a month’s subscription typically costs about A$20 or SAR70.

The next and probably preferable option was my service provider. An e-mail to the chap who sold us our leased lines pointed me to their web page which wasn’t very informative but promised that if I filled in my life details they would set up a dial-in account for me that would be accessible from Sydney. It would cost SAR150/month and would take only four days. Four days! Whatever happened to the internet making things more efficient? I decided that e-mail and web pages weren’t the answer so I picked up the phone.

Four or five phone calls later I got hold of a gentleman in Cape Town who knew about the service and was responsible for setting up accounts. I decided to take this option (being easier to deal with someone at my service provider than a service provider in another country) and asked if I would have to wait the four days. He replied that setup was immediate and he was doing it while we were speaking. He gave me the account password over the phone and e-mailed further details a few minutes later.

Before leaving I attempted to cover my options by asking the service provider for a local number to call in Sydney should I have technical difficulties. There was no local number but I was given a number to call in the US. This of course defeated the object. I could just as easily call South Africa, as the whole point of the arrangement was to avoid international calls.

My flight to Sydney was uneventful and once I’d overcome the jet lag I decided to dial in and check my e-mail. I held thumbs and hoped that I wouldn’t have to call the States to get my connection to work. I had to make some changes to my computer configuration but if you’ve managed to overcome the hurdle of connecting yourself to the internet then you should have no problem.

The modem answered and my computer said it was connected to the local internet point in Sydney. I fired up Outlook (the e-mail and schedule program that comes with Office 97) and asked it to read my messages.

I subscribe to quite a few lists and many of the things that happen on our web site get e-mailed to me. This, together with the communication I do on a daily basis, resulted in quite a few messages. Outlook, while working well back home on the LAN, struggled with the slower dial up connection and the number of messages I was receiving. I tried the simpler Internet Mail program which has been managing things much better.

In conclusion – I am happy to report that it is possible to maintain your link to the internet while traveling. Service providers will however need to offer more than just a local telephone dial-in point of presence) if the service is to become mainstream.

I think it is imperative that they provide a local support telephone number in all countries where they offer a service. It is also always advisable to iron out all the possible problems before you leave. It may even be worth an international phone call to the overseas access number to test that it works correctly.

It is always far easier to sort out problems from home than when you are at your destination. Bon voyage!

Author: Dale Williams

Dale is based in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa from where he maintains connections with people all over the world through his portfolio life.