Travelling Man

Travelling Man

Ricky Nelson made better connections in 1960 than our intrepid traveller does in 2007

I've got the message loud and clear from big business and governments that we live in a global village. This is not only an excuse to move manufacturing offshore; the changing workplace emphasizes flexibility and portability (and casualization), which permits, and increasingly requires, people to work anywhere around the world. Coupled with this is the availability of instant global communication through portable computing power, global telephone roaming and wireless network access.

How does this really work in practice? For the benefit of readers, I'm selflessly testing how feasible it is to live and work in the global village by spending the first part of 2007 travelling around Europe.

The research is self-funded so I've been looking for the most cost-effective technology solutions to aid my journey. I splashed out on a laptop with built-in wireless and a lid-mounted Webcam allowing video calls to save on telephone charges. When I tilt the laptop lid so I can see the screen, my caller sees only the top of my head. If I position the camera to show all of me, I can no longer clearly see the screen. I'm beginning to think that I inadvertently bought a laptop for tall people and should have got a laptop in size M.

I packed only the essentials — laptop, MoPho, MP3 player, camera and video camera — plus their respective power packs, power cables, spare batteries, battery chargers, USB cables, headsets and mouse. As I looked at the pile of power cables, it was clear one power travel adapter would not be sufficient, so I bought a few more.

Everything was packed into cabin baggage since it's too fragile or uninsurable as check-in luggage. I didn't consider the x-ray screening ramifications of a bag full of assorted cables and batteries, but the Hong Kong security people were particularly excited by it on my stopover. It took a little time to convince them I wasn't fabricating an elaborate explosive device.

Vive l'electricite

I'm staying in some French cottages for a month or so at a time, doing the occasional trip further afield. French houses were not designed with electricity in mind when they were built in the 1500s, so often have up to one power point per room. I looked at the single power point, looked at my bag of multiple power cables and looked back at the power point. I've now invested in some power boards.

Armed with a range of credit and debit cards, I felt secure in my financial position. While ATMs are plentiful and happily dispense cash, credit cards are more problematic. Amex and Diners are not widely accepted in France, and not easily transacted even where they are accepted. Many shops and petrol stations displaying the Carte Bancaire symbol take only a French debit card — something I discovered only with a queue of people impatiently waiting behind me.

Mobile phone roaming works well, but I use it sparingly due to the roaming charges. Telstra helpfully sent me two SMS messages when I first connected to advise the method to access voicemail (which only gave silence) and a Sydney support number (which put me on hold). Every time my phone roams to a different network, I get the same two Telstra SMSes. I suspect I'm being charged by Telstra for receiving roaming messages from Telstra telling me how to use Telstra. (I think this is why their share price is increasing.)

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