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VOIPing by the Pool

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Travel & Technology
What To Pack On Your Next Vacation

March 21, 2005

By Jim Carlton

Ah, the essentials of summer vacation: swimsuits, beach towels, sunglasses -- and enough gadgets to fill an electronics superstore.

These days, vacationers are stuffing their luggage with high-tech gear that makes it easier to entertain the kids, stay in touch with the office and find sights to see on the road. Technology is even creating handy new substitutes for some traditional travel items, like postcards and maps.

Mike Rogers, for example, says he rarely used to travel with much more than a Sony Discman. "Now I have an iPod, digital camera, laptop and the many accessories that go along with these items," says Mr. Rogers, a 24-year-old high-school teacher from New York City. "These things are literally changing what I'm carrying on my back."

Travel companies are scrambling to accommodate all the gadgetry. Several international air carriers are beginning to offer Wi-Fi wireless networking on their flights, and hotels targeting leisure travelers are adding the service.

The historic La Fonda hotel in Santa Fe, N.M., reports that Internet usage by its guests has doubled since it added Wi-Fi two years ago. Meanwhile, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., based in White Plains, N.Y., is rolling out Wi-Fi networks at all of the company's 13 hotels in Hawaii.

"Connectivity is a part of today's lifestyle," says Starwood spokesman David Uchiyama in Honolulu, though he adds: "Now why people want all that accessibility at all times, sometimes I wonder."

One of the biggest reasons: Many people don't want to fall too far behind in their work. In a survey commissioned by trade magazine Mobile PC last year, 80% of respondents said that staying connected when they are away from their workplace makes their lives easier when they return.

Meanwhile, 64% of the 2,364 respondents said they used mobile technologies to communicate with colleagues when traveling for business or pleasure. "Catching up when you return home is painful," says Christopher Null, editor-in-chief of Mobile PC, in Brisbane, Calif. "I'd rather filter through 20 e-mails a few times a day than be faced with a crush of 600 e-mails all at once when I get home."

Here's a look at some of the ways travelers use technology while they're on vacation, and some of the gadgets they wouldn't leave home without.

VOIPing by the Pool

It wasn't that long ago that a vacation was truly an escape from work. Checking in with the office required expensive pay-phone or hotel calls, and if the office wanted to track you down, you had to tell them exactly how and where to do it. Those were the good old days.

Cellphones have gone a long way toward keeping travelers tied to work. Now a new technology lets you leave your phone at home and get the same convenience, often at a fraction of the cost.

Internet calling, known as Voip (for voice over Internet protocol), carries calls over the Net instead of traditional telephone networks, reducing or eliminating long-distance charges. It also can turn any computer into a phone connection.

As chief executive of an electronic-security and printing firm in the Dominican Republic, Ramon Baez says he can't afford to miss many calls to his office in Santo Domingo.

So when he goes on vacation, he uses a Voip service by Vonage Holdings Corp., of Edison, N.J., that converts his voice mail into audio files that he can check by e-mail.

During a recent four-day getaway with his family to the Melia Caribe Tropical Resort on the Dominican coast, Mr. Baez checked his voice messages on a wireless laptop while his wife, Josefina, and their two teenage sons splashed nearby. If the message was urgent enough, he plugged a headset into his laptop and made a call using the machine's Internet-telephony software.

When he places calls from the road, Mr. Baez adds, his business contacts never know where he is talking to them from. But sometimes he can't resist volunteering that he is basking under a tropical sun. "Especially if it's somebody from Minnesota in the winter," he says, "and I want to rub it in."

The system does have its drawbacks. "The worst part is trying not to get the laptop wet," says the 45-year-old Mr. Baez, who also uses the $25-a-month Voip service while traveling internationally for business. "The batteries also run down faster, so you have to get up and go somewhere that has power." Family Fun

In the not-so-old days, families would pack up board games to entertain the kids during long days of driving. Now that games have gone electronic, most only allow for solo play --leading to inevitable disputes among siblings who don't want to share. But there are some aimed at the whole family.

When Lori and Chris Leal, of Wall, N.J., took their seven-year-old son, Jackson, and two-year-old daughter, Isabelle, on a recent spring-break vacation to Florida, they also brought 20Q.

A twist on the classic game "20 questions," the object of 20Q is to keep something secret while being asked 20 questions about it. Unlike the classic game, a computer does all the asking instead of fellow players. Players can take turns answering the computer's questions.

Mrs. Leal says that 20Q, from Hong Kong-based Radica Games Ltd., made for a welcome addition to the usual coloring books, crayons and DVD players she's been bringing for the kids on trips. "Let me tell you," says Mrs. Leal, a pharmacy technician, "it certainly helped focus my son's attention when we had a three-hour plane delay on our return home."

Meanwhile, at her family's home in Horsham, Pa., 10-year-old Miranda Pescatore recently tested out a 20Q game she got for Christmas from her parents. The fourth-grader says she can't wait to play it with her 12-year-old twin brothers, Jay and Nicholas, when their parents, Shari and Mark, take them all to Disney World this June. "I can take it on the plane," Miranda says, "and not fight with my brothers!"

Talking Books

Everyone knows that portable digital music players, like Apple Computer Inc.'s popular iPod, are great for listening to favorite tunes; 14-year-old Danny Leary of Hobe Sound, Fla., says he even wore his iPod Mini while climbing a pyramid at the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza in Mexico recently. But many travelers are finding the gadgets are also perfect for carrying along a small library of recorded books.

Alan Solot, a bankruptcy lawyer in Tucson, Ariz., loaded his iPod with books for a February vacation to Disneyland with his wife and their 11-year-old son. He listened on the flight and while negotiating crowds at the theme park and its sister attraction, California Adventure. At one point, Mr. Solot, 51, opted to let his family go on a ride while he stood outside listening to John Irving's "The Cider House Rules."

"I got to stand around for 45 minutes or so, listening to my book, while watching the crowds go by," Mr. Solot says. "Highly enjoyable!"

Mr. Solot adds the iPod is vastly more convenient than listening to books on older tape or CD devices. For example, he says, he recently listened to three books stored in the iPod that would have required as many as 30 CDs to get through. "Which is preferable on a vacation?" he asks. "An iPod with lots of music and books or a CD player with stacks of CDs?"

A Postcard Alternative

Digital cameras also are becoming a regular vacation carry-along. When combined with a laptop computer, they can replace that other travel standard: the lowly postcard.

On their vacation to Thailand last October, Alicia and Andy Bankhofer of Austria took more than 600 digital pictures, downloading them daily to their two laptop computers to free up space on their digital cameras. Then they e-mailed selected pictures to friends and family back home -- some two dozen photos during their three-week trip.

Ms. Bankhofer says the couple opted for digital postcards, in part, because they considered them more personal -- and faster to deliver -- than traditional ones. "I took a pic of me in front of the beach, for example, and sent it the same evening to my office," says Ms. Bankhofer, 33, a manager for an online publisher.

Instant Gifts

Ms. Bankhofer put her laptop, a PowerBook from Apple, to use in another way. Almost every evening at dinner, their hotel's restaurant played the same selection of hits from Sting and heavy-metal band the Scorpions. By the end of their stay, Ms. Bankhofer had gotten tired of hearing the tunes over and over.

So, as a parting gift, Ms. Bankhofer burned the hotel a CD of tracks she had stored on her computer, from artists like George Michael and the Beatles. She also put together some music mixes for the waiters. "They were very grateful and very kind," Ms. Bankhofer says, "and I'm sure they had no idea how I accomplished it so quickly."

Sidewalk Browsing

Sure, the Web is great for locating nice restaurants, lively clubs and other local attractions, but who wants to return to the hotel and fire up the laptop just to find a cool place to dine? Fortunately, more and more cellphones now offer fairly speedy Web browsing on color screens.

On a getaway to Las Vegas last summer, Jeremy Horwitz and his girlfriend relied almost exclusively on their Web-browsing "smart phone," a Sidekick II from Danger Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., to figure out where to eat, what to do and how to get around.

The popular Sidekick, marketed as a "hiptop" computer, is the size of a candy bar and has a full QWERTY keyboard and a built-in Web browser. Mr. Horwitz used his to navigate by calling up a map of the Las Vegas Strip from Vegas.com3. He conducted a search of the best hotel attractions via Google, and followed directions to the shark tank at Mandalay Bay, the roller coaster at New York-New York and the French restaurants at Paris Las Vegas.

The couple's single best find, though, was a Thai restaurant located blocks from the Strip, which the Sidekick -- and Google -- told them was the highest rated in Las Vegas. "It was fabulous," says the 29-year-old Mr. Horwitz, who helps manage a site called iPodLounge.com4 in Irvine, Calif., "and we never would have heard of it without Sidekick."

Roadside Attractions

A few years ago, Greg Brown and his wife, Kelly, planned a whole vacation trip from their home in Youngsville, N.C., to Wall, S.D. But instead of using Fodor's, Frommer's or one of the other big paperback travel guides, they selected attractions to visit from RoadsideAmerica.com5, a Web site that features quirky tourist attractions.

Among the two dozen spots they visited were Max Nordeen's Wheels Museum in Woodhull, Ill., and Carhenge in Alliance, Neb., a collection of junk cars arranged like Stonehenge.

The Wheels Museum, which recently closed after the death of its owner, Mr. Nordeen, contained a huge assortment of knickknacks and oddities ranging from collections of spark plugs and gear-shift knobs to a giant meat cleaver and petrified leech. "It was really cool," Mr. Brown recalls.

Along the way, Mr. Brown and his wife would use his laptop from hotel rooms to consult with the Web site for more attractions near where they happened to be spending the night. One time, they even stumbled across an attraction so unusual that they got the editors of RoadsideAmerica to add it to their list: St. Jude's Chapel of Hope in Trust, N.C., built so tiny that fewer than 10 people can fit inside. "A gem!" Mr. Brown, 34, wrote in his Web posting.

This summer, the Browns are planning another tour of offbeat tourist sites -- this time to North Dakota. "There is a giant turtle made out of welded car wheels there," he says, "and you can bob the head up and down. I've got to see that."

Berried With Work

While pagers, cellphones and laptops gradually eroded the vacationer's freedom, the latest culprits are the worst: pager-size devices that let you call up your office e-mail anywhere.

The best known is the BlackBerry, made by Research in Motion Ltd., based in Waterloo, Ontario. Dubbed the "Crackberry" by users for its addictive qualities, the handheld device, which fits in a shirt pocket, enables users to retrieve e-mails, check calendar appointments and on some models make telephone calls.

April Bise, owner of an entertainment-booking business in Los Angeles, couldn't part with her BlackBerry -- even on a romantic cruise. While sailing with her husband to Ensenada, Mexico, recently, Ms. Bise would regularly rush out onto to the deck to check her BlackBerry messages. She also tracked old appointments and booked new ones -- all the way to Mexico and back.

But Ms. Bise didn't get the strange looks she expected from fellow passengers. She says she often found herself surrounded by as many as a dozen other folks tapping away.

Eric David Greenspan's BlackBerry helped him get some crucial news during a recent New York vacation with his fiancée. While walking down Fifth Avenue over the Thanksgiving holiday, his BlackBerry started buzzing with an alert for an incoming e-mail.

As his fiancée checked out wedding dresses in a Gucci store, Mr. Greenspan clicked open the message: An investor said he had decided to put "a sizeable amount of money" in Mr. Greenspan's fledgling tech-help company.

"It made my day, of course," says Mr. Greenspan, a 36-year-old from Montecito, Calif.

On that same trip, Mr. Greenspan deployed his BlackBerry as a digital travel agent. His fiancée, Marian Chenowith, fell ill, forcing him to reschedule their flight home. Using the BlackBerry, he retrieved the airline phone number and called to book a later flight.

He then used the gadget to e-mail messages to his office, family and dog sitter saying that he would be delayed.
The next morning, while awaiting their flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport, he and Ms. Chenowith used their Blackberries to catch up on business.

"Just thumb away on the keyboard and scroll and click on the thumbwheel, gets it all done," Mr. Greenspan says.

Throwing Away the Maps

Sheryl Hilton says some of the biggest arguments she has had with her husband, Lou Simpson, have been over getting lost and his refusal to ask for directions. No more.

On a vacation to Pine Island, off Florida's Gulf Coast, the Cincinnati couple relied on a portable global-positioning device to stay on course. The device, a Magellan SporTrak Pro GPS receiver from Thales Navigation Inc., Santa Cara, Calif., is loaded with maps and other navigational information, and gives turn-by-turn directions to addresses or even the most isolated points of interest.

In Florida, the couple used the device to find shortcuts around a golf course by looking at a detailed city map loaded into the software. And the gadget helped them when they went boating, keeping meticulous track of their course.

It "tracked our course so well while boating that if we found ourselves in dangerously shallow water, we would use the GPS to guide us back to our home port," says Ms. Hilton, a 58-year-old science writer.

Staying Entertained

Kandace Hines can't stand the movie offerings on most airlines. And when abroad, she finds it distracting to read the English subtitles on foreign-language movies.

So Ms. Hines, a 35-year-old corporate assistant from New York City, says she began packing her portable DVD player and bringing her own collection of movies to watch. The players, which are shaped like laptop computers, generally weigh under two pounds and often include features like surround-sound speakers. Many major electronics brands produce them, including Sony and Panasonic.

On their 16-day getaway to Copenhagen last December, Ms. Hines says she and her husband, Nikolaj, brought along about 30 DVD movies. On the flight over, they watched "The Terminal," starring Tom Hanks, using headset splitters so both of them could listen at the same time. On the flight home, they sat through "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." "DVDs are so affordable now," Ms. Hines says, "and you can always take what you want to watch."

Alternative Lighting

Video-game players long have been a vacation mainstay for entertaining restive youngsters. But travelers should keep in mind other possible uses for the handheld gadgets.

Last May, Brett Moulton of Baldwinville, Mass., and a classmate brought their Nintendo Game Boy Advance SPs on their high school's senior trip to Niagara Falls. A severe thunderstorm caused a power blackout in the area, plunging their hotel room into total darkness.

Mr. Moulton, now 18, and his friend had a flash of inspiration. They fired up their game players, newer models with a bright screen light, and had enough light to get around without mishap.

"I don't know what else I would have done that night," Mr. Moulton says, "besides stumble through the halls to find a classmate with a flashlight and stub my toe on a wall."

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Re: VOIPing by the Pool (Score: 1)
by Merman on Tuesday, March 22 @ 06:50:38 EST
(User Info | Send a Message)
In the Roadside Attractions section of "What to Pack on Your Next Vacation," the web site mentioned is

They have thousands of stories and tips on unusual tourist attractions. And a photo of Mr. Nordeen with his petrified leech and giant meat cleaver!

†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See for details.

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