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Mac OS X for the Traveler, Part 5

by FJ de Kermadec

Editor's note: In this final installment of Mac OS X for the Traveler, F.J. shares some of his most clever tips for surviving on the road. You might not follow every one of these precautions. But I've noticed already that they are in the back of my mind as I prepare for a trip, and I've made some nice adjustments as a result. I hope this series has added a dose of preventive medicine to your travels too.

Go Small

Some of your handheld devices can also be extremely helpful to store snippets of information that you want to keep at your fingertips without having to take out your computer. For example, your phone may store short sound files and images (a picture of your kids or pet echidna, for example), your iPod can store small text files (like driving directions, departure gate information, or even conversational phrases in a foreign language) and, obviously, sound files.

While your camera's smart card is probably not the ideal storage media for Keynote presentations, you can have fun with various devices and see what they can store (making sure that you do not damage them, of course). Indeed, most electronic gizmos are now miniature full-featured computers that can do a lot more than advertised by their user manuals.

Storing information on these devices will not only make your life easier, but it will also help you keep your computer safe and sound while you glide through crowded concourses.

What About CDs and DVDs?

Should you lose your installation CDs or a special movie you love and took with you on a trip, wouldn't it be nice to have a backup? Yes, certainly. Are you allowed to make one? Probably not.

Indeed, software disks and disks containing copyrighted content fall under international or domestic copyright laws that you should follow. Moral considerations aside, you may not want the customs to confiscate your whole computer case because of a suspicious CD-R.

The best advice I can give you is to carefully read your license agreement and/or contact your legal advisor--it may be worth it if you rely on software that costs large sums of money. This should provide you with a definitive answer regarding what you can and cannot do.

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Mobility is one of today's buzzwords. With your super-traveller, frequent-flier international card, you can earn miles for worldwide hotel and resorts chains, and win round-the-globe cruises on international waters. While this sounds great, this marketing-powered appearance should not trick you into thinking that you can rely on all your partners--i.e., the companies you usually work with--while you travel (or at least easily).

Indeed, in most cases, your various contracts are only applicable in your country of origin and most of the perks surrounding them (toll-free numbers, on-site help, 24-hour counseling) vanish when you cross the border. This is even true of very expensive business services. Why? Nobody really knows, but increased costs, time zones, and language barriers are my suspects of choice. Just as you don't expect your airline's codeshare partner to help you with a customer service issue like the original company would, you shouldn't expect your phone provider's foreign partner to help you troubleshoot international calls or GPRS connections.

Therefore, it is important, before you go on any trip, to ensure that your partners are reliable, can be reached electronically (since you won't be charged long-distance call fees to send an email abroad like you would be if you had to phone them) and are willing to go out of their way as much as possible to help you, should it be required.

Service Providers, Hosts, and Technical Support

The first thing to do is to have a look at your various hosting and services contracts and to look for the following points:

  1. Can the company be reached through email or chat? If yes, do they respond quickly and efficiently? If the company uses chat, do they outsource it (generally a very bad sign)?
  2. Do they operate 24/7 or do they, at least, reply quickly to your email?
  3. Are they willing or able to answer detailed, unusual questions if needed? (Some support systems expect their customers to only ask questions contained in a pre-written script.)
  4. Can they call you back on your cell phone if you ask them to do so?

Once you have conducted your very own survey, grade the company. If you're not entirely satisfied, it may be worth considering switching providers before going on a trip. Indeed, you will probably not be able to check your email as often as usual while you are traveling, and will certainly have things to think about other than your ten-digit customer follow-up number--if a company cannot remember you by name, it's a bad sign anyway.

As we have seen, .Mac and the iTunes Music Store are backed up by email support that allows for easy interaction around the globe. Some companies, though, still insist that you do call them. Keep in mind that toll-free numbers are only toll-free within their country of origin (with the exception of some rare international emergency numbers like 112, the European equivalent of 911).

Mac users can always post on the AppleCare Discussion Forums, on which they can find community-powered help from users around the world.

If you can do so, you may also want to make sure that you have "insider" access to the company. For example, knowing the work email of a level-2 support person or a customer service representative can allow you to bypass the usually inefficient layers of script-based support and annoying answering machines. Just make sure that these persons know that you have their addresses and have allowed you to use them!

Check Your Warranties

There is nothing more frustrating than having to send one of your devices for repair while you are on the go. Indeed, not being familiar with the country you are in can make finding the right service provider a long, painful process. Depending on your contract, the reseller may refuse to perform warranty work.

Here is a true story: a big Japanese electronics manufacturers once told me that I needed to write in Dutch to their central customer service office in the Netherlands to get a list of internationally approved service providers that could help me with a basic camera issue. Needless to say, none of these resellers were in Paris, where I was staying at the time.

Therefore, it's a good idea to carefully read your warranty before going on a trip and to pack all of the necessary papers with you. iBook and PowerBook users who chose to purchase an AppleCare Protection Plan will enjoy one of the best international support systems in the industry--a comforting thought. If you're not sure which plan you have or which one you should purchase with your next laptop, you can have a look here. Also, take the time to browse the Apple site from your country of destination and use the reseller locator to print a few addresses to keep with your warranty papers.

This page should give you a few ideas if you travel within the United States. Apple recently updated its reseller and service provider locators, turning them into advanced databases that are a lot easier to browse than the earlier versions were--yet another success story from the Apple webmasters.

The golden rule with Apple products is to only let Apple Authorized Service Providers touch your equipment. Indeed, only AASPs have the necessary knowledge to treat your device with due respect, without breaking your warranty.

Unfortunately, all manufacturers are not as simple to deal with as Apple when it comes to warranties. Digital camera manufacturers, for example, are notoriously painful to deal with. This is why you might want to inquire on a per-peripheral basis before leaving for your trip and make sure that you have a basic idea of what to expect.

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