By Paul Bischoff
Business trips are an inevitable and often exciting part of many jobs. However, they don’t come without their stresses. Aside from the jet lag, delays, and other travel hiccups, there are also the issues involved in trying to stay connected while you’re away.
You’d think that with today’s technological advances, staying in touch would be a breeze, no matter where you are. Indeed, a Carlson Wagonlit Travel survey found that 88% of travelers believe technology has made travel easier. However, there are various hurdles to overcome, including accessing your company accounts over unsecured networks, trying to avoid massive overage charges, and bypassing country blocks of certain applications.
Thankfully, there are tried and tested ways to deal with these and other problems, so you can stay connected and productive while on-the-go.
In this post, we explain the challenges that might arise when trying to stay in touch with the office while you’re away, and what you can do to overcome them.
Connecting over public Wi-fi
One of the first things a business traveler looks for is access to Wi-fi. Data roaming charges can be extremely pricey, so it just makes sense to hook up to free Wi-fi when it’s available. This way, you can check your emails, browse the internet, and use apps without having to worry about overage charges.
While it often seems like Wi-fi is everywhere, it can sometimes be difficult to find. Thankfully, there are some nifty apps available to help you find the closest Wi-fi hotspot. These include WiFi Finder for Android, and WiFi Finder + Map, and Wiffinity for iOS, all of which work offline. Plus, an increasing number of airlines are making Wi-fi available (some for free) and the quality of in-flight Wi-fi is improving.
Bear in mind that using Wi-fi is not as simple as joining a network and continuing as normal. While traveling, you’re not protected by the security of your company network and there are plenty of cybercriminals waiting to get their hands on your information. As such, finding ways to keep information safe should always be front of mind. After all, you probably don’t want to be the one responsible for a massive data breach at your company.
Here are some tips to bear in mind to use public Wi-fi safely and securely:
- Try to find a secure network and only visit secure websites.
- Avoid sending sensitive information such as login details and banking information.
- Turn off your device’s Wi-fi and sharing settings when not in use.
- Use a VPN to encrypt all of your internet traffic (more on that later).
- Make sure your software is always updated with the latest version.
Overall, as with pretty much everything you do while traveling, using plenty of common sense when connecting to public Wi-fi can go a long way.
Creating your own Wi-fi hotspot
If you think there won’t be Wi-fi available where and when you need it, you can always take it with you. One option is a portable Wi-fi router which will give you a Wi-fi connection wherever you are. As long as you set it up correctly, it should be more secure than using public Wi-fi, although flaws have been found in many products.
Another option which can save you money (depending on your provider and where you’re traveling to) is to turn your smartphone into a Wi-fi hotspot, a process known as “tethering.” In this case, you can share your phone’s connection with your laptop, tablet, or other Wi-fi-enabled device.
There are a few methods to do this: USB, Wi-fi, and Bluetooth. Some smartphones have tethering options built in, while in other cases, you may need to download an app. Just bear in mind that some carriers will have terms regarding tethering, and some don’t allow it at all. If that’s the case, you may be unable to download the required app.
Taking things offline for easy access
You don’t need to have access to the internet in order to work on projects, navigate to a destination, or stream music and videos. If you’re organized enough and plan ahead, you could go old-school and download most of what you need before you hit the road (or the skies).
For example, location services can be a huge drain on data, but Google Maps lets you download entire areas and navigate them while offline. Similarly, the Evernote Web Clipper lets you save entire web pages (with highlights and notes), so you’ll have easy access to all your travel- and work-related information.
If you do get any downtime on your trip, it’s great to have some entertainment at hand. If you have a Spotify Premium membership, you can download music ahead of time. And Netflix lets you download videos to your device, so you can binge-watch at your leisure.
Dealing with exorbitant data charges
As alluded to earlier, data and charges can be astronomical while you’re traveling. Using public Wi-fi or tethering where possible can help, but in some cases, travelers have managed to rack up thousands of dollars in data roaming charges in a short period. Some employees will be lucky enough that all expenses are paid and companies don’t mind how much these things cost. For the rest of us, these expenses should be kept as low as possible.
On iPhones and other mobile devices, you should be able to check your data usage to make sure you’re well within your limits. One thing many people forget to do is to simply inform their provider they’ll be traveling. By doing so, you can get access to special discounts or packages that will help to slash charges. For example, Verizon offers a TravelPass with special rates, and AT&T offers its Passport plan.
If you travel to a certain location regularly, you may be able to get a package that combines your home and that location. For example, many Canadian cellular providers offer packages that include U.S. travel plans built-in. Alternatively, you may even consider getting a second device and plan from a provider in your frequently-visited destination.
One more often forgotten trick is to turn off any apps that you’re not using, especially those that use data-intensive services like location tracking in the background. Even better, you can turn off cellular data altogether when you don’t need it, to stop any internet connection being forged at all. If you’re an iOS user, you can set your email to “fetch,” which stops new emails from downloading automatically. You can then manually download them once you’re connected to Wi-fi.
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Avoid massive calling charges
Similar to data, calling charges can easily rack up. The special plans and packages mentioned earlier will often include calling minutes alongside the data allowance, so it’s a good idea to look into these before you travel.
One of the easiest ways to minimize costs is to avoid making phone calls and use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) instead. Skype, Google Phone, and Apple’s FaceTime are all solid options.
Bear in mind, you could encounter call quality issues, depending on the service you use, where you’re calling from and to, the number of call participants, and whether you use video options. For improved quality, group calls, and online meetings, you might want to look into a conference calling service such as GoToMeeting or AnyMeeting.
Another option is to use Wi-fi calling, which allows you to make a call whenever you’re connected to Wi-fi. This is essentially the same as VoIP but uses your regular phone number and phone app. It’s supported by many providers, doesn’t use up your call minutes, and doesn’t require a cellular signal.
Accessing important documents
While you’re traveling, no doubt you’ll need access to your important business documents, such as presentations, marketing materials, or financial spreadsheets. While it seems convenient to simply save all of these files on the device you’re carrying, this probably isn’t the best option.
For one, this leaves documents exposed should anyone get their hands on your device (15% of IT theft occurs in airports and hotels) or hacks into your system. Plus, if the files are stored locally, you won’t be able to access them from any other device.
A far more secure and convenient option is to store all your files in the cloud, using a service like Tresorit, Mega, or SpiderOak. Your files are stored securely and you can access them from any device.
If you absolutely need to store files locally and are at all worried about sensitive information being made vulnerable, you might consider encrypting your device. This way, even if it is stolen or hacked, the snooper won’t be able to read the contents of the encrypted files.
Bypassing country restrictions
A major issue faced by both business and leisure travelers is restrictions placed on certain platforms, websites, and content. You may land in a country to find you don’t have access to basic services such as Gmail (and other G Suite services), Skype, and Facebook. While many of these are used for personal activity, they are also invaluable tools for many businesses.
China is well known for its restrictions of these and other sites; other countries where you may have issues accessing certain sites include Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
So what’s the solution? Thankfully, these restrictions can be bypassed with the use of a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This will encrypt all of your traffic and tunnel it through an intermediary server in the location of your choice. Because traffic is encrypted, you’ll be able to bypass China’s Great Firewall (and those of other regions), and visit whichever website you want. Note that this firewall is particularly advanced, and not many VPNs are still able to circumvent it, so you’ll have to choose a provider carefully.
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