For the past several years, my family has swapped homes with another family, usually from Europe, for three weeks each August. This year we’re in Rouen, France, about 90 minutes northwest of Paris.
I’m not trying to bore you with my vacation plans. In fact, for me, it’s not a complete vacation anyway, since I literally work every single day. And that’s part of what’s interesting about this kind of trip: Aside from the sheer difficulty of preparing our home for the arrival of another family, the hardest part of this kind of trip is figuring out what to bring, technology-wise. I need to replicate the most important parts of my home office in a far more mobile configuration.
Like many of you, I travel frequently for work. And though I have my own quirks when it comes to this kind of thing -- I vastly prefer JetBlue to any other domestic airline, for example, because of its extra legroom seats and the preferential boarding and security-line treatment you get as a result -- none of it helps on the home swap. It’s like I’m traveling again for the first time, every time. Everything is different.
In the seven years we’ve been doing this, I’ve only had one requirement: The home we’re in must have some form of broadband Internet access, so I can post articles each day and, in more recent years, record my podcasts over Skype while away. This has generally worked out pretty well, though this year’s swap, in a fairly rural area that has more sheep than people and a nearby church bell that tolls maddeningly each day at 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. for some reason, is a new low. The download speed of the ADSL connection here is an acceptable 5Mbps, but the upload speed is something I’ve not seen in my own homes since the late 1990s: .2Mbps. That’s point two Mbps: 200Kbps!
I’ve made it work. And though the uploads are indeed slow, I can connect to my home server over LogMeIn Pro, which provides FTP-style file transfers (among other services) and LogMeIn Hamachi, a free VPN service (for personal use) that lets me do Explorer-based drag and drop file transfers when needed to the server back home as well. (The VPN also helps with the Windows Server 2012 Essentials-based domain I’m testing, because I can connect to the domain remotely even though I’m thousands of miles away.)
Through a combination of this remote connection to the home server and cloud-based data sync over SkyDrive (using the Explorer-based SkyDrive beta application), I’ve also been a lot less compulsive about bringing backups of my data with me. For the first home swap we did, in 2006 outside of Paris, I brought a then-impressive 1TB USB 2.0 hard drive with me; that drive included all of the content on my home server, providing me with a local version of that data while we were away. This year, I didn’t bring any backups at all. And even over this slow connection, it’s been fine.
From a computer perspective, I have to give in to my compulsions a bit. Whereas a typical business trip involves carrying a very thin and light (less than three pounds) Ultrabook with a small tablet (recently, a Google Nexus 7) for entertainment and my smartphone, leaving home for three weeks involves a bit more work. For this trip, I brought two Ultrabooks and a Windows-based Samsung tablet PC, the latter of which was required because I’m finishing up a book about Windows 8 and might need to test tablet-based interactions. (I would likely have left it home otherwise.) I also brought the Nexus 7, a Kindle, a backup phone, and an old phone I use as an MP3 player.
I’m also loaded down with power adapters, power supplies, cables, and other tech-related gooblygook. But one of the things I’m happiest with is a small travel power strip: This lets me charge four devices on one European power port (with an adapter), which is ideal because the homes here always seem to be lacking in this department.
One of the oddest developments on this trip has been my apparent lack of international data usage. I always sign in to the AT&T website before I leave and add international data, texting, and calling (for calls back to the US) to my account, and for a trip like this, I go for AT&T’s high-end 800MB plan. But after 8 days here, I’ve used a scant 30MB -- checking this on the AT&T app in Windows Phone is fantastic, and handy -- which seems awfully low. I’ve just started leaving the data connection on, which simplifies things, but just seems wrong.
The six-hour time change is always interesting. This lets me spend a day out and then get to work at 3:00 p.m. -- which is 9:00 a.m. back in Boston -- or just work normally in the morning and be gone for the rest of the day. And since I’m six hours ahead, I have a leg up when Microsoft and other companies make announcements at midnight their time, as is often the case. But it’s hard on phone calls. I still haven’t figured out a good schedule for that, especially for those on the west coast of the US.
Do you travel and work internationally? I’m curious if you have any good strategies for coping with technology on the go, the time differences, or just travel in general. If you have any good tips or tricks, drop me a line and let me know.