I have been travelling in Europe and the US for the past two weeks. I thought it would be a good idea to share how the Internet has made a difference to my life on the road.
Email: It is undoubtedly easier to get people on email than on the phone. (Maybe, its just the type of people I interact with!) But email is just so much more convenient. On phones, most of the time, its voice mail. On the receiving side, if others want to reach me when I am traveling, email offers a persistent solution, as compared to the hotel voice messaging system (what happens if you change hotels often). I am using a Global Roaming Internet account from Satyam Infoway which means I am dialing a local number to get connected to the Internet. Its easy, simple and reliable. So, email has become the lifeline as I travel. Do remember that if you are travelling you will need different adapters to connect into the various electrical sockets. Also, keep a long telephone cord with RJ11 jacks because the phone jack in hotel rooms may not be in the most convenient of places (though most phones now have dataports).
Maps and Directions: This is the next best thing to getting the equivalent of Hertz’ NeverGetLost (GPS) system in rental cars. Just type in the address ad one can get detailed maps and directions to destinations. I wish we could do the same with addresses in India!
Train Schedules: Services like Caltrain and Metronorth have put up their schedules on the web with details of the locations of the stations (it is amazing how many people living in the Bay Area have no knowledge of where the Caltrain stations are!) The online schedules help to plan out the day before the journey begins.
Airline Hotel Schedules and Booking: Sites like Expedia (www.expedia.com) offer a very convenient way to search for the best flights and fares. However, booking is only available for US residents, which means international travellers like us have to visit or call up the airlines. Funnily, in the US, while Southwest accepts international credit cards, United Airlines does not! Nevertheless, just searching for the right flights saves a lot of time.
Hotel Booking: Just like airline information, hotel information is also available online. In fact, many hotels have their own websites, and you can email them for rates ad bookings. This is necessary because most travel agents in India do not have a wide selection of hotels available in their repository.
News and Information: With no local (Indian) newspapers available, the web becomes the perfect way to stay in touch with developments. Its quite useful to actually subscribe to some of the email newsletters, because this way you get the day’s top stories without spending time online (which can get quite expensive). It also ensures that you do not miss ay important stories since searching for older stories on the web is very difficult, unless you know what you are looking for.
GSM cellphone: To borrow a phrase from American Express, “never leave home without it”. If you are going to traveling, my recommendation is to get yourself a triband phone (like the Motorola L-Series). GSM is one technology which works just like magic. Just switch it on, and you are connected to the cellular network. Coverage is somewhat patchy in parts of the US (and the frequency is different), but that does not take away the ease of getting connected.
Tailpiece I just wish I could have used the Pizza Hut website in Paris to order a Cheese Pizza to my hotel room. I tried to order it on person. English seems to be unheard or (un-understood!) – I ended up ordering one with a lavish helping of mozzarella cheese (which I could have done without). Just imagine: if I can go to the website, tell it where I am staying (address with city and country) in English and have the pizza delivered (from Pizza Hut), I’d be a most satisfied customer, and would give plenty of business to Pizza Hut! Most of the infrastructure is already in place – what is needed is the “last-mile connectivity” (passing the order from the website to the Pizza Hut nearest to where I am staying). That’s the kind of integration e-business is all about!