June 2, 2014 at 1:00 am

Winning ways to stay wired on the road

Charge multiple devices with the Energi backpack. (TYLT)

Whether you coordinate yours via phone calls, snail mail, Internet connectivity or texting, remaining in contact with family and colleagues while traveling can be crucial. These basic strategies can help you stay at the top of your game as efficiently as possible.

Power

The main item we use for powering devices in the car when their batteries run low is our CyberPower adapter with electrical outlet. Given to us as a gift several years ago, itís currently available for just less than $60, according to the companyís website. It plugs into the cigarette lighter and allows you to hook in other devices as if you were plugging them into the wall at home. If Iíd remembered to store it in the center console and maintained access to my phone charger from the front seat, my entire meltdown could have been avoided. That said, itís been a reliable piece of equipment thatís stood the test of time and come to our rescue on more than one occasion.

When working on the road away from your car, having a bag or piece of luggage thatís wired with backup power can be a lifesaver. One of the more efficiently designed ones on the market is the Energi backpack produced by TYLT. With a built-in pocket for a multi-charge-capable battery, connecting wires for multiple devices to charge at once, and threading slots so the wires can reach any location in the bagís numerous pockets, compartments and slots you find most appropriate for each device, itís an easy-to-use solution for road warriors who need to stay wired. The $199 price tag is about average for tech-enabled bags, but in my opinion the ability to charge multiple devices simultaneously is what puts it into the value category. Those with only a phone to keep charged, however, can easily control costs and get by with an extended or portable battery.

Access

Grabbing Internet access on the road in unfamiliar territory can be problematic. Who has Wi-Fi and will you be able to access it are common questions for frequent travelers. Dave Hunter, author of ďAlong Interstate 75Ē ó a guidebook for travelers using the highway to head from Canada to Florida ó uses Internet on the Go to supplement his connectivity needs from his automobile. The road tripper cites the lack of a monthly contract as a major reason he relies on the service.

While consumers should be prepared to throw down an initial $100 for the hot spot device, from there itís just a matter of recharging your account whenever you run low on time. If you donít require the hot spot very often, simply place a small amount of credit on your account as a backup. You wonít be required to pay again until youíve used up your allotment. Hunter does point out that travelers need to be prepared to manage their expectations. In his words, ďThis isnít something you can use to stream video. Itís not the fastest, but it certainly does the job.Ē Internet-Go.com has further details regarding signup.

Everything-everywhere.comís Gary Arndt has been traveling the world nonstop for the past seven years, logging on from some pretty far-away places. In addition to favoring local SIM cards for cheaper international data access and WiTopiaís $6 monthly VPN service for added security, Arndt uses a service called Boingo which has allowed him to access the Internet in places like the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Thailand. Monthly plans are available for a variety of travel schedules, allowing users to access their Internet accounts at any of the serviceís many hotspots around the globe. Says Arndt, ďThere are even some hotels where I have been able to use my Boingo account, which means I didnít have to pay extra for hotel Wi-Fi.Ē Boingoís $9.95 per month plan allows unlimited access for up to two devices throughout the Americas.

Travelers purchasing a vehicle this year will now have the ability to turn their car into a hotspot as well. A number of newer makes and models from General Motors will offer this capability as a subscription service, with or without OnStar. Monthly price points start as low as $5 with limited data. While not a home Internet replacement for full-time travelers, it does serve as an affordable backup option for those times when email access from a highway or rest stop is critical.

Apps

Want to keep in touch on a group outing, or gain a crowd-based perspective on community events such as concerts, parades or festivals? FireChat is a free application available for both Apple and Android platforms that seems to be gaining traction. Developed by Open Garden, it actually allows individual phones to communicate off the grid in locations where web or cell phone connectivity isnít available, such as international uprisings in locations where governments are likely to shut down Internet access. Devices can communicate within a 200 foot range, with messages hopping from device to device to extend the programís reach.

The app uses a technology called mesh networking, which works off peer-to-peer connections via Wi-Fi radios in each phone. The latest version allows users to actually create their own chat rooms, resulting in something thatís essentially a smartphone version of what the early Internet chat rooms used to look like. Getfirechat.com has further details for downloading.