Dealing with connectivity quirks on the road

  • By Myscha Theriault McClatchy-Tribune News Service
  • Friday, September 12, 2014 3:38pm
  • Life

It’s no secret to full-time road warriors that connectivity can be inconsistent at best. Large sections of rural America have limited cell phone reception, and airport Wi-Fi speeds are spotty to say the least. When the way you make your living requires reliable communications access, it pays to have a few tricks up your sleeve to wrangle the reality of day-to-day travel into a workable situation.

Solutions: When working a deadline recently, the hotel’s out-of-commission Internet access had me scrambling to meet my professional obligations. Our go-to solution of grabbing an iced coffee at a popular fast food chain to use their free Wi-Fi was hampered by the fact we were traveling with our dog and therefore needed to eat outside. Electrical outlets were missing in action, creating additional time pressure with dwindling battery power. Factor in the absence of shade creating a nearly invisible laptop screen, and the only thing we had going for us was the lack of rain.

The desperate solution? Grabbing a dark sarong out of the backpack in the rear of the Jeep to drape over my head and computer. The impromptu tent created shade, while the water jugs we also pulled out held the far end secure on the outside table. Hot and visually ridiculous? Yes. Functional enough to get the job done? Absolutely.

Accessing the Internet on the fly may seem unachievable to those new to life on the road, but developing this skill will quickly become a priority to those who can’t afford to have lost revenue added to the overall list of travel expenses. Shortly after we started traveling full time, we realized our old-model GPS was falling short when it came to locating certain types of venues while in transit. Upgrading to a newer version allowed us to begin finding the nearest locations of chain establishments known for offering free Wi-Fi to customers.

Being able to search while on the highway and add the venue to our route in progress has been a huge help when it comes to checking electronic communications on drive days longer than four hours. Similarly, the built-in network finders on our smartphone and Kindle let us connect and check the strength of the signal in our hotel room prior to unpacking. If it isn’t functioning fast enough to get our work done efficiently, we have the option to request a room closer to the router before we’re completely unfurled.

Of course, things get even more interesting when we end up with accommodations that only allow one device on Wi-Fi per room. With both of us earning our living online, sharing a computer connection just isn’t an option. Comedian Dan Nainan has a workable solution. A piece of software called Connectify. “It’s absolutely brilliant,” says Nainan. “If you only have connectivity to one device, the software lets you share that connection with your phone, tablet and even co-workers, provided they’re in range.”

A free version of the program is available, although it times out after brief intervals. If you find yourself in need of Connectify on a regular basis, the $40 lifetime pro version might be worth the throw down.

Scheduling: When a new RV owner backed over his lot’s utility box at a campground where we were staying this summer, the rest of us lost water, power and connectivity for the rest of the day. No amount of wishing would make it otherwise. Daily contract work ground to a halt, and email access was out of the question. Rainy weather made outdoor fast-food Internet access with the dog impossible, and the nearest public library network was too weak to access from the vehicle.

Fortunately, we each make a habit of filing projects in advance. This allowed us a bit of lead time to adjust to our reduced content development, while automated online earnings helped make up some of the financial difference. Another trick we use on travel days is to make the most of functioning Internet access at our current location. When the hotel we’re staying at has exceptional Wi-Fi speeds, we make a point to work until as close to checkout time as possible. When the arrival time at our next destination isn’t critical, we’ve even been known to request a late checkout if the venue allows it at no extra charge. If Internet speeds at the next hotel are fine, we’re good to go. If not, then we haven’t wasted any more keyboard time than necessary.

When it comes to social media, professionals in the industry know that simultaneous postings are the best way to maximize man-hours. This is even more critical when combining work with travel at a destination where Web access is extremely limited. founder and frequent excursionist Raymond Walsh uses an app called Buffer. The program allows users to create a custom schedule of posts to occur at selected times across multiple social media platforms. Says Walsh, “I try to spend an hour or less per day on social media, but use Buffer to spread out my Twitter and Facebook posts.” The software has a free trial version for users to see if it suits their style, and a $10 per month professional plan that allows up to 100 scheduled posts per day across 10 different social media channels.

Priorities: When reduced to minimal Internet access for a prolonged period of time, making some hard choices about your online activity will become critical. Social media interaction may be an enjoyable part of your day, but if it doesn’t relate directly to how you make your living you may need to give it a pass. Disciplined email management is another strategy my husband and I implement religiously. Responding to unsolicited correspondence just isn’t in our schedule, and electronic file folders play a large role in how we manage our return communication. Critical emails are addressed first, while ones that can wait a few days are sorted into their appropriate topic folder.

No matter how prepared you are on the road, the fact is there will regularly be wrenches thrown into your communication gears. Developing strong professional relationships and preparing yourself as much as possible ahead of time will go a long way towards buffering any unfortunate fallout.

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