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Before We Left

As we were getting ready to leave for this trip we started talking about doing a website and what technology we'd need. It took a fair amount of research to get it all together so we thought we'd post what we learned and what we continue to learn as we visit each country. Technology and services available in each country seem to change by the minute and in our cursory search there doesn't seem to be much detailed information out there in one location about what to expect. It's not our intention to promote anything in particular, just to report how we're able to create and maintain this website, what we've liked and not liked, and what is and isn't available.

In purchasing the original equipment we took four factors into consideration: cost, size, weight, and performance.

Laptop Computer Dell Inspiron 4150. P4 1.8 GHz processor, 384 MB memory, 40 gig harddrive, Internal Modem/Network Adaptor, Wireless Card, DVD Player & CD Player/Burner. Total weight of 5.5 lbs. h: Size and weight have been fine so far and performance is great. Have not tried dialing up outside the US, though. Will be curious to see how that goes.
Digital Camera Canon Powershot A200. 2.0 Megapixels, 128 MB CompactFlash Card, 4X Digital Zoom, Movie Mode, four rechargeable 1850mA AA batteries with charger. h: I have been pretty impressed overall with this camera for the weight and price, but I am disappointed with the digital zoom - doesn't compete with optical zoom. Still, the little movies of up to 30 seconds are fun, the quality is reasonably good, and at a smaller size and resolution the memory card holds upwards of 800 pictures. Not too shabby. Would recommend X batteries - difference of how long they last is really noticeable.
Software Windows XP Pro Operating System, MS Office Suite, Adobe Graphics Suite, MS Visual Studio .NET, MS Outlook. j: Windows XP has done a really nice job of handling multiple logons, so that Heather and I each have our own desktops and look and feel. I'd definitely recommend Windows XP for a laptop, even if you aren't sharing it with someone; but make sure you get more memory than you think you need if you are sharing it, as all those open programs on each virtual desktop add up.
Accessories Eagle Creek softside laptop mini-case, PacSafe, USB Optical Laser(TM) travel-size mouse. (See Resources page for more on these). h: We have been very happy with all of these so far.

Three other issues we researched before we left included plug adaptors, voltage converters, and Internet access issues including modem and phone plug adaptors.

The voltage converters turned out to be the most easily resolved. Regardless of voltage, laptop current must be converted from AC to DC and laptops come with this converter (a black box attached to the cord that plugs into the wall). Through some careful sleuth work (it was written on the back of the converter - duh), we noted that the DC converter will handle voltage ranging from 100-240V and 50 or 60Hz which covers virtually all countries (US voltage is 120V and 60Hz). So, unlike other small appliances, the laptop does not require another voltage converter. The battery charger we selected can also handle the same ranges so it doesn't need a converter either.

The plug adaptors (the part that allows us to put our plug into their wall socket) is easy to sort out but requires buying more stuff to haul around. First there are grounded and ungrounded adaptors, and we are trying to stick to the grounded kind. Australia and China use the same plug adaptor, Continental Europe and some of Asia share the same one, and Britain has its own. Basically we plan to buy these as we go along, depending on how long we'll be visiting a place.

Finally there's Internet access. We weren't able to find out a whole lot about dialing up before we left and we expect to figure some of it out by trial and error. Nearly every country has its own phone jack plug, so to dial up we will have to buy an adaptor in that country. Aside from that, the information we have found indicates that phone systems worldwide are not always compatible in terms of how modems interpret dialtones, etc. There are "global" modems that are supposedly better suited to handle a wider variety of systems, but we aren't sure if we have one of these modems or not. There is also a question of who to use as an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and there are quite a few options that way. One would be to get a local ISP account if we are planning to be in one place for any length of time. There are also pre-paid ISPs in some countries now; an idea more popular in most of the world where unlike the US, you pay for all calls you make from your home phone including the local ones. Finally, we have Earthlink which apparently has international dialup numbers. It sounds really expensive, though and we don't plan to use it.

All of that about dialup, however, rests on one basic assumption: we'll be able to find somewhere to plug in to a phone jack to dial up. If we were staying in hotels, this would be less of an issue (albeit more expensive). However, since we are staying largely in hostels perhaps our biggest obstacle is finding someone that would let us use their phone jack to dial up. Fortunately, there are a few other ways to get connected besides dialing up.

As an alternative to dialing up, we have a couple other options. One is to find an Internet Cafe that will let us plug our laptop into their network. This usually requires some configuration so our machine will use the right IP address and see the Internet. Another option is the sneaker net, burning our webpage updates on a CD and then finding an Internet cafe that will let us post the info from our CD using their machines. And still another option is to try and mooch off of friends' dialup while we are staying with them. (hee hee)

Something we thought of but have no plans to try out at this point is to buy or rent a cell phone and use that to dial up. We haven't looked into the technology and we're not even sure how it would work, but it sounds really cool. There are international cell phones available that have interchangeable cards so you can use the phone in many countries, replacing only the card rather than buying a new phone each place.

And our final, most outrageous idea for getting online is one we read about in the inflight magazine on the way over. Apparently if you can find an office building that uses a Wireless Network, you can sit nearby and log into their network to siphon off Internet access. The article in the magazine showed graffiti symbols used by hackers to mark buildings with wireless networks. Haven't seen any yet, but we've been looking...


Contrary to Jan's expectations, finding an Internet cafe that would let us plug in the laptop has been tough. None of the ones we asked in Sydney would let us and so far only the cafe in the hostel in Melbourne was willing. It required 3 IP configurations and we were required to wait until one of two computers were available because they were the only ones with network cables long enough to unplug from their machine and plug into ours. Still, it worked and was cheap, and we were able to post our website. Looks like plugging into Internet cafes on the road is doable but not for unsavvy network users like me. Without Jan, I wouldn't have known how to do these network configurations and the staff in the Internet cafes often knows less about the services they're peddling than I do.
Update: In Sydney, we were able to plug in the laptop into an Internet cafe in university-student-filled Coogee Beach which was more expensive than the backpacker-filled Kings Cross area we first tried; also this place did not require any IP configurations as they used DHCP for automatic IP-assignment, much like my experience back home in Seattle. Update: In Sydney, the Sydney Central YHA hostel had a fast connection for AUD $3 per hour, and allowed a laptop to be connected, again using DHCP.

Turns out that having a free Hotmail account and a laptop with MS Outlook has one significant advantage. Because Outlook interfaces with Hotmail, you can synchronize your Outlook and Hotmail accounts in a couple of minutes which effectively downloads all your email to the laptop. For us, this means we can read and write all of our email on the laptop offline and then synchronize to send and receive new emails. This saves us both from having to pay for two computers (most Internet cafes have a no-sharing policy) and keeps our time spent online or in the cafes to a minimum. It does not, however, solve the tug-of-war over the laptop. Are we hopeless geeks or what?

Apparently for those traveling with digital cameras but without a laptop to download photos there are Internet cafes and camera shops that will download your photos for you and burn them on a CD for a fee. Kinda cool.

When we left for Australia, we didn't bring a mouse with us and we picked one up at a computer shop in Sydney. We hadn't seen this travel-size mouse available in the US before we left, but then again, we hadn't looked. It cost AUD $30, which is about US $17 and it works really well. It's a little harder for Jan to use because his hand is larger than mine, but overall it's still nicer than the track pad.

Australia has a pre-paid dialup ISP called X, but we haven't tried it yet - will probably do so at some point along the way.
We did have the opportunity to use a dialup connection, which worked fine on our built-in modem, as the phone jacks are the same as in the USA.

Sample Internet Cafe Costs: In Sydney - AUD $3.00 (about US $1.65) for one hour, sometimes for unlimited use. In Melbourne - AUD $3.00 (about US $1.65) for one hour. In Hobart - AUD $9.00 (about US $5.00) for one hour.


We only went to one Internet cafe in Malaysia, near the central market in KL, and just to check e-mail at that. We think it cost about RM8 (about US $2) per hour for a decent DSL connection.

As for power, we found an electronics store that carried universal grounded plugs (i.e. any other (grounded) plug to the Malaysian wall outlet, which is the same as in Hong Kong, Singapore and United Kingdom) for about US $3, cheaper than they are at back home.


So far, on Ko Pha Ngan, or at least on our beach there, Internet access was expectedly expensive but plentiful, costing 3 baht per minute or 180 baht (about US$4.50) per hour for a shared slow dialup connection. We aren't sure if they'll let us plug the laptop in, but our backup plan is to burn this web site onto our CD-RW disk and then upload it using their computer, -- a method we still haven't actually tried out.
Update: indeed, the CD-RW disk trick worked just fine, though admittedly I didn't ask if it was OK to put my own CD into the machine.

In the main town on Ko Pha Ngan, as well as Bangkok and on Ko Samet, we found Internet access most often for 1 baht per minute or 60 baht (about US$1.50) per hour, occasionally double at 2 baht per minute. In short, our beach was triple the usual going rate (and other goods outside of restaurants were more expensive too). Also, in Bangkok we found two DSL-speed Internet cafes near our hotel that allowed us to plug our laptop in, though both required manually setting the 3-4 IP addresses.

As for power, the Thai outlet, almost always ungrounded, is shaped to accept either US-style ungrounded plugs or European-style ungrounded plugs. The power is usually 220V, 50Hz though. So I jury-rigged our grounded 3-prong US-plug into my ungrounded 2-prong European-plug adaptor, resulting in the grounding prong hanging "harmlessly" in mid-air. Ugghh, let's hope for no static electricity, not to mention power surges.


In Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) most of the Internet cafes were quite slow but very cheap -- 100 dong per minute, or 6000 dong (about US 40 cents, and no, that's not a typ) per hour. Some even discounted an hour to 5000 or even 4000 dong. One place chock-full of Vietnamese was as low as 75 dong per minute. One place at 150 dong per minute offered free iced tea. Did I mention it was slow? Worse than a dial-up connection back home. In Mui Ne, our "resort" offered a single computer dial-up access at 1000 dong per minute, or 60,000 dong (about US$4) per hour, which while similar to Ko Pha Ngan beaches, seems expensive now. In Hoi An most Internet places were also 100 or 150 dong per minute.

Regarding power, the Vietnamese outlets are similar to Thailand: usually ungrounded, and shaped to accept either US-style or Europen-style ungrounded plugs, running at usually 220V, 50Hz. Blackouts seem more common here, and we became a little more "actively" concerned about not having a surge protector. Especially when sparks fly briefly when you insert the plug -- luckily you can do this without the other end of the cable being plugged into the laptop.

New Zealand

Internet access cost about the same as in Australia; in Christchurch and Auckland we were able to find cafes that allowed laptop hookups.

Regarding power, same deal as in Australia (see above).

Copyright © 2002-03 Heather Krause and Jan Trabandt