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Subject:  Laptop use abroad for novices Date:  11/20/2012  10:00 AM
Author:  OrmontUS Number:  19098 of 21728

I travel a bit and have dragged my laptop when traveling. This is especially important while on cruise ships because they charge higher rates than parking in Manhattan to use the internet while aboard.

The first group was written by me, the second group of suggestions about how to prepare your laptop by someone named "Gerret", but I thought they were useful as well.


I am a Windows user right now, but am pretty agnostic about the tool I use for this purpose. I've found that Mac's are not easier to use, just different (but won't get into arguing "religion" here).

1) You should know how to connect your laptop to Wi-Fi in a Starbucks (process will be similar abroad). Be aware that while many Wi-Fi location are completely open, others require a password which you have to ask for. As these are only given to customers, save your cash register receipt as you may be asked for it (OR THE PASSWORD MY EVEN BE PRINTED ON IT).

2) Once you have launched your web browser, whether it is Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or whatever, the controls are basically the same, but as in an unfamiliar car model if you poke around a bit, you'll find the "light switch" somewhere. Try to become familiar with at least two web browsers so that you have the confidence to use an alien one if you come across it.

3) If you use PC's at internet cafe's or libraries (sometimes easier than using your laptop), be aware that different countries use keyboards with different layouts. Find out how to switch the layout to "US" or watch your typing to get it right. The "@" key may require using a "alternate graphic" key (like the "Ctrl" key on a US keyboard) as a shift (hard to send an email without knowing that).

3) Get familiar with Google (or Bing or whatever your favorite search engine is). Then try your luck on a different one. Speed and familiarity is your friend.

4) Consider encrypting your hard disk drive. I use a free package called "Truecrypt" on my Windows laptop, but hopefully there's something similar for Mac OS. While a secure (longer and mixed alpha/symbols/numeric is better) password will make it difficult for someone to use your laptop, it's a five minute job to pop out your hard disk and read it on another PC. While using your PC there is all sorts of information which finds its way onto your hard disk (even if you erase files) which you would rather not share with nasty strangers. Encrypting your hard disk makes it nearly impossible to access this data without your encryption key (a different password than your OS one and this one should also be long and complex). If you are going to do this, I suggest reading up a bit first as there are strategies which you might consider useful which I won't bore you with here. Before you encrypt your hard disk MAKE A COMPLETE IMAGE TYPE BACKUP. Afterwards, keep it in a safe place (not with you when you travel) or destroy it, but if things mess up during the encryption process, you'll need it. DO NOT FORGET your encryption password. If you don't remember it, your hard disk is landfill (and don't do something dumb like write it on a piece of masking take affixed to the front of the laptop - just use something long you'll remember like your complete address and telephone number from when you were a kid).

5) Practice pragmatic internet security. You are using the internet over Wi-Fi or at workstations in strange places. In China, especially, expect the local government to be trying to hack your PC. Assume that there are keystroke loggers at internet café workstations trying to capture your log-in information. Be VERY careful where and how you log into bank accounts, brokerage accounts and credit card accounts. Be pragmatically paranoid.

6) If you need business services like printing, scanning, etc., there are places abroad that do those services. Ask them to erase your files from their equipment. Bring a couple of memory thumb drives for carrying data (and protect them from loss or theft if they have ever held your data).

7) (This is the observation which has no scientific basis that I'm aware of, but have observed on a number of occasions). I have notices that, at some locations (generally not in true internet cafes, coffee shops, or some port facilities but sometimes at public Wi-Fi locations in parks, etc.), that even though a number of Windows users are merrily using the connection, someone with an i-Pad will take over the connection and knock them all off. I suspect it has to do with specific router settings and the ability of an i-Pad to usurp the maximum available bandwidth. If you own an I-Pad and find that when you connect, a bunch of people have immediate problems and get kicked off, you might consider being polite and moving to another hot spot. (It also might save wear and tear on an I-Pad which makes a reasonable facsimile of a Frisbee).

Even though my laptop has built-in Wi-Fi, I carry a TP-Link TL-WN822N external NIC with a higher gain antenna than the one in my laptop. This sits on a USB cable and gives me greater range and flexibility. It folds up small and is feather light. There are other similar gadgets pout there, but this happens to be the one I'm using.


One of the best preparatory things everyone can do re: email is to get yourself off all those friends joke email lists (you know the ones, those 4mb slide shows etc.) or the store sale lists. These chew up time like nothing else.

Setting up a Laptop for shipboard use

Typically we are oblivious to how much our pc’s chatter over the internet even when we are not actually doing anything in particular. This is mostly due to being on high speed connections. Those of us old enough to remembe