PJ Media

A Wi-Fi World Adventure: Travel in the Age of Twitter

Some people yearn for a more innocent time — you know, the agrarian past where people immersed themselves in the joys of using a washboard, hand gathering eggs, and milking cows on their own little plot of heaven while living organic, using the outhouse, and cultivating rare kinds of corn. I am not one of those people.

When my parents bought their first PC back in my teen years, I eagerly learned Basic, Word Perfect (which still has the best editing feature of any document program — what is so difficult about adding that functionality, Microsoft? Hmmmmm?), and DOS. The thrill of not having to retype a paper so exceeded the learning curve that I was hooked.

The new tech that comes along still excites me. Though I’m by no means an early adopter, I’m usually in the second wave. I like waiting for bugs to be worked out. My only exception to that rule is with my iPhone, because the iPhone is innately cool.

I love technology because it makes life easier, more connected, and smarter. It’s incredibly useful when it comes to distances. I know because I traveled a great distance to Australia for winter break. I wondered if I could use my phone, blog, Tweet, stay connected via Facebook and email, and upload pictures so seamlessly that no one would know I was on the other side of the world. Why, yes I could. It would just take a bit of extra work and money.

Before leaving, I disabled my Facebook and Twitter updates so that I wouldn’t be hammered with excess texts.

Next, I wanted to make sure my iPhone was fully functional; to receive data, texts, and phone service that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. Well, it only cost an arm. Note to Steve Jobs: Dude, it’s all well and good that you’ve made the best phone ever, but AT&T’s inane billing absolutely sucks the joy out of the ease of phone use. In your next contract with them, demand simplification. Please.

But I digress.

AT&T has a complicated phalanx of confusing parts and pieces in its billing. It took me over an hour on the phone with three different people to ensure that I didn’t end up spending $25,000 in data charges (yes, that happened to a customer). Why can’t this be easy? Why is it so blankety-blank expensive to have phone service in a country where you have a network and sell the phone, like in Australia? I should be able to get local rates while I’m there. What’s wrong with a flat fee per week that’s full service? If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that AT&T keeps things complicated to make loads of money by screwing unsuspecting customers — and even well-informed ones — with all the roaming and data fees.

Once armed with my fully-functioning iPhone, I was ready for the 14-hour flight to Australia. Airlines, airports, and hotels are all supposed to be on board with the latest technology, thereby ensuring a seamless transition for all who flit around the world, right? Wrong. Hello, Marriott? Do you know how irritating it is to pay $200 (LAX Airport Marriott), $400 (Time’s Square, New York), or $800AUD per night (that was in Port Douglas, Australia) and then be charged Internet access on top of your too-steep prices? And what about obnoxious airports that don’t have free WiFi or — in the case of the international terminal at LAX — too few outlets. Cairns airport in Queensland charged $5AUD for five minutes of WiFi. Are you freaking kidding me?

Once in Sydney, it took some time to fiddle with my settings to get data and text working on my iPhone (good travel Apps here and here). I stayed in touch with my child back home by iChatting nearly every day except for five days in Port Douglas at the aforementioned Marriott that allowed incoming data but no video streaming except in Google video. A potential business partner and I used the Google video for the first time. It works surprisingly well. It must run on a different format than AOL because it worked when iChat didn’t. My business friend didn’t even realize I was in Australia. Neither did many of my friends back home. Email, that old standby, effectively kept me in touch with people.

Traveling in Australia, we had GPS in all our cars. We got around in small European cars; the same way we did when we were kids. But thanks to GPS, this time there wasn’t the non-stop stress from dad getting lost on every roundabout. GPS is priceless.

Flying home to Houston, I discovered there was no power source and no Internet access, although a PR person I met in Sydney told me of a new company in Chicago that is starting to load WiFi on planes. It will cost passengers (of course), but at least there will be Internet, which would be totally cool. We spent a lovely day (missed connection) at Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles and I Twittered and uploaded TwitPics. Since we didn’t know what to do for the day, I put it out on Twitter and four or five locals gave me suggestions, including restaurants. We followed the locals’ advice and had a great time.

Ultimately, staying connected during work and travel has never been easier. Workers everywhere groan at the ubiquity of tools to maintain contact any time, anywhere. Vacation is supposed to be about getting away, right?

Getting away is one thing. Being cut off is another. With technology, there’s no reason to be cut off. The key is to create boundaries and make technology serve us, not the other way around.