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Hot on the Web

Keeping in touch on the road

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on September 17, 2004
(Issue 2238, Food Processing)

Given that my connection to the Internet is practically an umbilical cord these days, you'd think that the prospect of two days away from computers and e-mail would prove irresistible. And for much of my cross-country drive with the kids, it was a blessing to be unencumbered by e-mail or Web site updates.

But that was all before the accident; before we got hit by a Hummer in Covington, Ky.

At that point, not having a cell phone or laptop seemed a bit of a hindrance, frankly. Modern telecommunications can be a definite millstone, but in times of crisis they are also an absolute blessing.

Internet and travel

Before the vacation, the 'Net was a useful tool in planning our trip. While we had our Auto Club map and guide books, I had also used the Web to look up specific information about some of our destinations. (To be honest, my experiences in trip planning online have been mixed. Every time I've flown, for instance, my local travel agent has halved the best price I've found using the more popular travel Web sites.)

But once we hit the road, taking Interstate 8 to points east, the 'Net was behind us.

Being on a budget, we stayed in the lower-rent hotels and motels – your Best Westerns, Holiday Inns and Motel 6s. But even these, I noticed, usually featured broadband Internet connections – often in the room. Even when spending the night in lonely outposts on the interstate system, nearly every hotel we stayed at – and maybe all of them, actually – had either in-room Internet connectivity or a 'business center' where you could hook up your laptop.

Only one of the hotels had an actual terminal you could use, though – fortunately, that was in Kentucky, where we had our mishap with the Hummer. Our loyal family station wagon was disabled, hauled off to the local dealer for major repairs, and being able to let everyone know we had been in an accident and were behind schedule by e-mail was much easier (and cheaper) than having to call everyone.

Staying in touch

Other than that one hotel in Kentucky, though, our only other opportunity to check e-mail came when staying with family in Baltimore. Again, though, it proved fortuitous – for a job opening had come up at the newspaper where I work full-time, and several co-workers had left voice messages for me at home telling me about it. I was able to use my cousin's PC to access my e-mail via a Webmail account, and put in a bid for the job, complete with specific proposals for how I'd handle the position.

That would have been tough to do without connectivity.

Easy enough to get by without

Still, after 17 years of being online, of being an e-mail junkie – checking my in-box throughout the day – I was surprised at how easy it was to live without e-mail or Web access. While I could have checked on my e-mail each night at the motel/hotel with a laptop, it's not something I'd seriously consider next time.

Frankly, I think I'm too wired – I think a couple weeks off the 'Net was probably good for me. I spent more time with my kids, which is an unquestioned good.

There were a few wrinkles in all this, of course.

For instance, I was able to easily use my Webmail account to set up an automated vacation notice – anyone who sent me an e-mail received a reply letting them know I was on vacation and when I would return.

I did the same thing quite easily on my Yahoo webmail account – only it created a bit of a headache for me. Every spam message I got also got an auto-reply – and every one of them bounced back to me because the spam all used fake, non-existent return addresses! (I didn't have this problem on my Hotmail, Gmail or Netscape accounts as none of them offer an automated vacation response.)

So I ended up with almost a thousand bounced e-mails when I got back home.

A small price to pay for two weeks without having to deal with e-mail, though.