Everyone who travels must rely on offline tools for their computing setup

Everyone who travels – tourists, professionals, digital nomads, remote workers – rely on their computing devices to be in touch with the home base or to get their work done. One key thing people take for granted at home – Internet access – is not always available on the road. Once a traveler realizes what it really means to be disconnected for a few critical hours or perhaps for days, it becomes obvious that the whole computer setup must be prepared for travel. The setup relies on offline tools.

Beach in Salou, Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain If you stop for a moment and review all the applications and online services you are using, you may discover that being without an Internet connection makes up to 90% of your tech tools redundant. A vital application to get a job done becomes completely useless if you can’t access the Internet.

I learned all this the hard way. I can still remember how it felt to land in a city where I had never been before, hire a car (without a navigator), and drive to a nearby city where a hotel room was waiting for us. Finding the right direction on the highway was easy, but when it was time to open the navigation application on the smartphone and get detailed instructions for finding the hotel, it didn’t work. The smartphone navigation app didn’t work because it required Internet connection. It was night already, and we were completely lost. In the end, helpful police officers showed us the way to the hotel.

Another painful lesson was during a customer project that I had started before traveling to another country. I had saved the project documents in Google Drive because I had used Google Docs for taking notes and drafting the material. I had reserved two days for finishing the project. I had the time, the tools, but no documents. Internet connection in the place I had rented for a month didn’t work. I contacted the agent who hired the place to me, but because it happened to be weekend, she was off duty. No help. Those two days were lost in frantic search for cafés with Internet connection and prepaid SIM cards. In the end, I managed to buy a prepaid SIM card.

So, everyone who travels and needs to work must give up Google Docs, Office 365 and similar cloud services as primary tools. People on the move must rely on offline tools.

The offline apps you will need when you travel

Maps.me screen shot smartphone navigation
Here is a brief list of apps that you must be able to run without Internet connection.

    Word processor (for instance, Libreoffice Writer, Word or Pages)
    Spreadsheet (for instance, Libreoffice Calc, Excel, or Numbers)
    Notes / Journal / Editor application
    Maps (Maps.me which runs on tablets and smartphones, but not on PCs is a good choice)
    Navigation (Maps.me has been designed to run offline, which is why it is far more reliable and faster than running an online navigation app, like Google Maps in offline mode)
    Password manager
    Ereading software and ebook library (for instance, Bluefire Reader or Fbreader)
    Photo editor

It is important to test that the key applications run without an Internet connection:

    1. Disable Wi-Fi and mobile data on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
    2. Start every application, one app at a time, that you absolutely need on the road, and try out if you can use it without hindrances.

Use your smartphone for communications even when there is no Internet access

Even when you are offline (your computer is not connected to the Internet), you probably have a smartphone that can connect to a mobile network. You should activate roaming for phone calls before leaving your home country. If you don’t answer phone calls or make phone calls yourself, you don’t have to pay any extra (to be sure, check with your mobile network service provider). When roaming for phone calls is activated, you can also send and receive text messages (SMS) that are a low-cost way to communicate anywhere, even overseas.

Do not activate overseas data roaming for your smartphone, unless you are absolutely sure what you are doing. Usually, it means that either you have a special overseas data package, or you have a EU mobile subscription and you are roaming in the EU region.

Minimum set of cloud services for travelers

Once you have secured Internet access in your destination, it is time to connect with the employer, clients, audiences, friends or family. The minimum set of online services a traveler needs:

    Cloud Backup
    Social media
    Skype or other teleconferencing and messaging service

In practice, what does it mean to have separate offline and online tools?

Having a selection of offline tools available means that it is possible for you to be productive during those inevitable periods without Internet connection. Once you manage to get your computing devices online, you have text documents, messages, photos, spreadsheets and presentations ready to be shared with your employer, clients or family.

Which online services are the best for travelers?

The best ones are cloud services that let you have full control over the access and access rights of your account. It may mean you have to pay for your email service and backup space in the cloud to ensure you truly own full control of the account and the data you have stored in there.

Popular free services, like Gmail and other Google and Yahoo services are extremely risky for travelers. These service providers have full control over your account and data. It is their decision if they let you access your data or not. A login attempt – even with the correct credentials – from a new place is a red flag for the services, and they may lock you out from your account. Read more about the risks of Google and Yahoo services for travelers in the article Why I quit Yahoo and Gmail when I started traveling.

Being offline isn’t the end of the world for a traveler who relies on computers and the Internet to get work done and to be in touch with the family. When you are prepared, you can keep working offline until you manage to organize access to the Internet. The fruits of those productive offline hours – or even days – can then be shared with the world.

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