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How to Escape While Staying Connected

laptop woman sea ocean lake stay connected internet computerLeave the laptop behind, dump the mobile device and otherwise abandon anything that could be called "always on" -- so goes a frequent recommendation to stressed vacationers. The thinking is that if it's too easy to stay in touch via phone and e-mail with work, social obligations and the daily grind, you'll never really get away from it all.

Sounds like sound advice -- except that I'm not sure I agree. I have found that sacrificing a little bit of free time to staying connected while traveling typically makes exit and re-entry -- when the most draining work of travel and vacationing takes place -- go much more smoothly. In the end, checking in a few times during your vacation is a small price to pay to avoid returning home to a chaotic swarm of neglected responsibilities.

Wired Is as Wired Does
Some folks wouldn't take a walk without all their devices, while others can't wait to jettison everything and get off the communication grid. When my own five-year-old cell phone suffered some water damage last week, I asked a tech-fiend friend about mobile choices on the market. His reply: "Dude, wait until the new iPhone comes out. The LMNOP and Integrated Jubee Jubee on the new phone are going to be way better."

Do we need to ask if he is going to stay connected on the road? Last I saw he had sent a link to real-time GPS tracking of his hike through the Rockies; not only is he going to stay connected, he is going to make us all stay tuned as well. This article is not for him.

International Calls

Tools of the Trade
Laptop, cell phone, tablet -- take 'em along, leave 'em home, take your pick? Let's say most of us have three primary e-mail addresses (work, home, alternate) and matching triple voice mails (work, home, cell). That's a lot of stuff to check while you're trying to unwind; a couple of hours can pass in a blink by the time you have gotten through them all.

Pros
Less to Do Before and After Your Trip
As mentioned above, I believe the most compelling reason to stay connected on the road is to reduce the strain of both leaving and returning. As comfortable as home can be, few things can diminish the glow of a good trip quite as quickly as arriving home to find that two weeks of the detritus of modern life has been accumulating in your absence and that it'll take days to clear it out.

mail bill bills envelopes junkI would say that the only thing worse than a pile of junk mail in a plastic USPS box and fading newspapers on your stoop is a "voice mail box is full" message on your answering machine and a couple dozen screens worth of e-mail on your first login when you get home.

And it's not just when you get home. Before you depart, leaving notes for dog walkers, putting your house in order and letting everyone who might want your attention know that you will be away is almost always more trouble than checking e-mail for a few minutes in a hotel room every day. While traveling, if you can dispatch tasks and information with short, concise e-mails written in a few seconds during your trip, there is a lot less accumulated clutter when you return, and less to do before you leave.

Fewer Surprises
The only thing worse than returning from a trip to an inbox full of nuisance e-mails is finding out too late that a major problem has come up. Keeping in touch with work and personal e-mail semi-regularly is the best way both to keep on top of big events. It also gives you...

Increased Control
Trying to fix big problems from a hotel phone, or worse yet a pay phone, is not a fun place to find yourself. If you have a speedy laptop stocked with all your likely contacts, you'll be well positioned to deal with anything that goes wrong.

Lowered Expectations
An "away" or "vacation" auto response message followed up with an e-mail with a footer that reads "sent from my Blackberry" lets you get away with murder in terms of brevity and specificity -- folks are just grateful to get a reply so they can keep working on or stop worrying about whatever it is for which they needed your attention.

Access Is Improving -- Dramatically
On a recent trip, I booted up my laptop to type out a few notes during some down time in a county park, and noticed another person with a Dunkin Donuts coffee on a picnic table doing the same. That sure looks like someone on the Internet, I thought, and so I did a scan for wireless signals -- and there it was, an unrestricted access point provided for free by the county. These days, many municipalities are working toward providing widespread wireless access.

The upside of all this is that you may not be forced into a crab-like position trying to work at your laptop crouched over a night table in a dark hotel room -- head to the park, put a foot in the lake, check your e-mail. It ain't bad.

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