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Road Trip: High-Tech Gadgets Keep Many In Touch Even On Vacation


Vonage In Print News

In Depth: Travel
Road Trip: High-Tech Gadgets Keep Many In Touch Even On Vacation


April 6, 2004

By Karen Bells

For the gadget lovers of the world, it's a glorious time to be alive. And there's almost nowhere they don't take their toys.

"I'd never go on vacation and not stay connected," said Subhas Patel, managing director of the Symmes Township-based Keystone Hotel Group. "Most of my trips are both business and pleasure. So even if I'm on vacation I still have to be available -- I'm still kind of on the fire-alarm list."

Patel used to travel with just his cell phone and personal digital assistant (PDA), leaving his laptop at home because of the inconvenience and the fear of losing it and all the important work information it contained. But now he's comfortable traveling with a laptop again.

Two factors changed his mind: a wireless laptop and the proliferation of Wi-Fi hotspots to pick up service have made it more convenient; and greatly improved equipment for burning DVDs allows him to back up everything on his laptop in much less time.

"Now I can take it peacefully," he said.

Patel notices executives who quietly check and answer e-mails during industry seminars using Palm wireless devices with small keyboards. And his associate Mike Beal used his PDA equally for business and pleasure when they went to baseball spring training in Florida last year.

"He'll know what the Red Sox are doing by a simple beep, plus he'll have all our budgets for the last six years," Patel said.

Whether they're traveling for business or pleasure, Americans are increasingly staying connected, said Robert Strohmeyer, reviews editor for San Franciso-based Mobile PC magazine.

"These technologies are becoming business-critical," he said. "The cell phone, for example, is not optional. Seventy-two percent of business travelers must have a cell phone with them at all times."

Mobile PC commissioned a study in September, called Mobile Pulse, that surveyed 2,364 of its readers in conjunction with Millward Brown International and IntelliQuest Inc. Wi-Fi proved to be a hot technology, with 30 percent of respondents saying they use it.

Among those using Wi-Fi, most hit public hotspots in addition to accessing it at home and work, Strohmeyer said. Seventy-nine percent of them connect at hotels and motels, by far the largest slice, and 65 percent connect at airports.

Whether traveling for business or pleasure, 64 percent of respondents said they use mobile technology to communicate with colleagues while on the road, and 73 percent send and receive e-mail while traveling.

"Here in California, you'll see people floating down the river on rafts just chatting away on phones," Strohmeyer said. "And it's very common to see people on bike trips with their phones, iPods and digital cameras."

For Sheryl Hilton, who works in the University of Cincinnati Medical Center's public relations office, gadgets are an essential part of any vacation -- whether on land or sea. She takes along her electronic organizer, camera cell phone, digital camera, and Apple iBook with a wireless card in case she finds a hotspot.

And the latest addition to her collection is a Magellan global positioning system device, which she and her husband, Lou, bought before a December boating vacation in Florida.

"It was great. We went first with a certified captain and used the GPS, then the next day we could get in our own boat and follow the dotted line," she said. "You can tell it to save where you've been, which is very useful in finding your way back to your home port."

The marine software package told them the depth of water, which helped them navigate. And while they were disappointed that the marine package didn't name the islands, Hilton said the land version had all the information they needed about the islands, too.

And it helped them tremendously during their time on land, where she said her husband still refuses to ask for directions.

"It was a godsend when we were walking around the islands and driving around them," she said. "It's so frustrating to drive around lost."

They used the GPS on another trip to Florida and plan to use it while hiking this summer.

Like Hilton, Ed Crawford of College Hill travels with plenty of gear, including a mobile laptop, PDA and digital camera/camcorder.

"It's a fast-paced world we live in," said the retired electrician, who runs a home-based marketing business and spends most weekends and some weeknights at the lake home he and his wife own near Sardinia, Ohio.

Crawford plans to travel extensively when his wife retires later this year, but for now his gadgets mainly help him conduct business while away at his lake home. Among the tools that help with that is his Vonage phone service, which he said saves him money and makes calling seamless for his clients.

All his calls are received by streaming bandwidth through the Internet, and Crawford takes a small adapter with him wherever he goes. Clients call his 800 number and never even realize he's away.

"It's really nice if you travel anywhere, even Europe, because you're not paying long distance," he said.

Another service he uses to conduct business when traveling or visiting the lake home is VMDirect, a product for which he's a marketing representative. The technology allows him to send Web-based video e-mails to customers but requires no file attachments or downloads.

As attached to their gadgets as they are, all the enthusiasts agreed that their spouses don't let them travel everywhere with the stuff. Strohmeyer's wife bans his gear when they're going out to dinner or on dates, for instance.

And Crawford's wife has to warn him: "If you're coming in here to the bed, leave that cell phone out there!"



 
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