Jan 16

Store, Access and Sync your Data while Traveling the WorldTraveling the world, most people take plenty of pictures, need access to their business or private contacts, want to make mid or long-term appointments, have to write letters to Visa or Immigration authorities or simply want to stay in touch with their loved ones.

While bringing a laptop or notebook computer is an option for many – most people refrain to do so, as they are quite bulky, can break down, get lost or stolen – all of which will cause havoc to your personal documents, private video or music collection and other valuable private data on it:

Computers can be a royal pain sometimes and it pays to avoid catastrophes, as most of us aren’t Geeks or want to watch out for our best gadget all the time. Most of all we want to enjoy our travels, get new impression, take plenty of pictures and share them with friends, family and the rest of the world.

How good that these days, most of the above activities are possible through online applications, with great ease-of-use and acceptable security and capacity.

Let’s have a quick look what options are available and what could be your best choice depending on your situation:

1. Pictures and Photos

The 2 indisputable kings of photo storing and sharing on the internet are Yahoo’s Flickr.com and Google’s Picasa Web Albums. While the functionality of both is pretty similar – besides ease-of-use – they mainly vary in storage capacity and pricing structure. While I would prefer Picasa due to its better ease-of-use and much larger free capacity (1 GB) compared to Flickr’s mere 200 MB for a start, Flickr wins hands down when you think about storing large amounts of photos.

Flickr Photo Storage and Sharing PortalJust subscribe to Flickr’s Pro Account, which costs USD 24.95/year and you are set to go with unlimited capacity and bandwidth, being able to store thousands of pictures for either private use or sharing it with friends, family or other people around the world.

Flickr’s community is by far the largest photo community on the net and if you want reviews of your pictures, finding similar ones or simply are looking for inspirations for your next destinations, you can’t go wrong with Flickr. You can pay via Credit Card or Paypal, which is convenient enough. USD 25 seems pretty moderate, considering the fact, that a new external hard drive would set you back a multiple of that amount and is prone to getting lost, broken or stolen when traveling.

An advantage for Picasa Web Albums is that it will drive additional traffic to you if you own a website, if you chose to share, tag and describe your photos and let Google index them.

Google recently introduced a new pricing scheme for their Picasa Web Albums, which sets in if you exceed the initial 1 GB of capacity. 1 GB may sound like a lot, but these days with multi pixel cameras it might be only enough for less than 1.000 pictures, which you will exceed easily when traveling more than a few countries at once. Additional space will set you back USD 20 for 10 GB, USD 75 for 40 GB, USD 250 for 100 GB or USD 500 (!) for additional 400 GByte of capacity per year.

In my eyes this is far from being lucrative for the photo crowds, with storage prices coming down rapidly over the last few years. On top of that you can only order additional capacity using Google’s own ‘Checkout Service’, which is not-so-established like Paypal or simply paying with credit card, which almost every traveler carries around these days.

Clearly Yahoo is leading the way in this regard, they are also offering unlimited storage for their Y! Mail service, compared to Google’s current 6.3 GB for its Gmail, which you can’t officially use for storing other kinds of data. Maybe that will change one day, when Google introduces its much awaited Gdrive service, which is expected to hit the net sometime in the first half of 2008.

But if Picasa’s Pricing is any indication, Gdrive won’t be as competitive as its next competitors like Mozy.com or Microsoft’s Skydrive. Of course you can try to utilize your Gmail space with 3rd party tools like Gmail Drive or Gspace, but then again those are unsupported by Google. And with Google’s attitude of changing the rules of the game whenever they want to, your data is definitely not safe using this kind of services in the long run.

For uploading or backing up huge amounts of your pictures while traveling, it might be useful to not rely on their web interface alone, as it can be a micro-managing and time-consuming process. To automate this, check into an Internet Cafe and install Picasa’s Desktop Software or the Flickr tool FlickrSync. Just remember to delete or better safe-erase your pictures from the used computer when finished.

2. Documents – Texts, Spreadsheets

Zoho.com Online Applications PortfolioBeing longer on the road you certainly will run into a situation of having to write a computer-written letter to a bank, immigration authority, potential or current employer. It’s good as well to having access to your CV, passport copy, bank statement or standard letter templates you would like to use for creating a new one.

The 2 options you might want to consider here are Zoho.com and Google Docs, which offer online applications for creating, storing and sharing electronic documents. You don’t need a bloated MS Office to carry around with you or alternatives like the Open Office suite. For simple text processing and spreadsheet calculations both online options are more than sufficient, if not complete for your needs.

Both offer presentations as well, with Zoho having the most complete portfolio, extending to Notes, Netmeeting and Planning Software, Project and Database Creating, Groupware Mail, Chat and Wiki Software amongst other more business-like applications, like CRM.

Google Docs for Word Processing and SpreadsheetsGoogle is offering some of these applications as well, but they are more scattered around and seem less interconnected and integrated than at Zoho.com. Most of the Google Apps are marked ‘Beta’ since their introduction, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but some do truly lack the kind of functionality and finished touch of more established ones, which are around much longer.

In my opinion – Google Docs is sufficient enough for most basic needs, while Zoho offers the more polished and complete package, if you are planning to work more seriously while traveling abroad.

3. Contacts, Calendar and Notes

During your work and travel life you will make plenty of new friends, meet interesting people or potential business contacts to stay in touch with. While every Computer, depending on what Operating Systems it’s running, comes with its own set of Contact Management and Calendar Software, these are rarely inter-exchangeable or transferable.

Having worked in the IT industry for 14 years – I can’t even recall how many times I painfully had to transfer my Calendar or Contacts Data from one program to the other – always balancing between loss of data, duplicates, manual input/editing and different formats. It’s usually a time-consuming and boring manual process of getting everything up2date again and most of the software is proprietary with few interfaces to other applications.

As I collected close to 1.000 contacts during my work life – I use for a couple of years now a service called Plaxo.com. They started out as a small online application to synchronize your Microsoft Outlook Contacts, mainly spamming all your e-mail contacts with messages to join them and to update their own credentials. But things got better over the years:

Plaxo is one of the first providers who recognized the needs of users to store all kinds of information (calendar, contacts, tasks, notes) in a central place, yet always having the chance to exporting them in full again, if they want to change to a different provider or synchronize with a mobile device or an upcoming new service.

When they came out with their new version 3.0 sometime mid last year Рit was a huge step forward, away from the old MS Outlook dependence, to a open yet secure place of storing all your contacts, calendar appointments and notes. The list of supported import and export options is impressive and includes the Cr̬me de la Cr̬me of Information Management Suites like Gmail, Y! Mail, MS Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Mac OS X Contacts/Calendar, AOL/AIM, Windows Live/Hotmail and LinkedIn as well as standard im/exporting formats like .iCal and .vcf for calendar or contacts.

You can consolidate, merge or de-dupe your data – the related function has currently a 30-day trial period – or sync them with your mobile phone, PDA, desktop applications or other mobile devices.

As well you can simply use their web interface, thus having access to your data wherever you may roam without having to use any offline program or package. Plaxo Pulse is a feature, where you can get feeds from Social Networking sites, like YouTube, Twitter, Yahoo 360, del.icio.us, Xanga, MySpace, Windows Live or Digg.com to stay in touch with the activities of other fellow comrades.

You can sync between multiple computers and get reminders for important dates and updated contact information via e-mail, too.

Plaxo’s basic functionality is free for the first 1.000 contacts and costs USD 49.95/year for Plaxo Premium with additional contacts and functionality.

Another contender for Calendar and Contact functionality is yet again Google Gmail, especially after they recently upgraded their included Contact Manager following the voiced requests of their users. Their Calendar Tool was always sufficient enough and you can even share it online, thus making friends and family aware of your current whereabouts or plans.

And let’s not forget the Online Contact Managers for the Business World, the 2 Top Dogs are LinkedIn.com and Xing.com (formerly OpenBC).


A few years back when Online Application were still in their infancy, nobody really trusted them to get the work done or to store personal data safely and secure on central servers. Thankfully a lot has been done to improve the functionality and ease-of-use of these services and more and more people are tired of ‘fat’, bloated proprietary programs. These days the main security concerns are more on the backend, meaning the device you access your data with.

The chance of using a Spyware or Keylogger infected PC in an Internet Cafe – thus exposing your personal data – is higher than losing your online stored data with Google, Microsoft, Flickr or one of the other main players. The main players of the Online Application World have a reputation and their business model to lose, which can’t usually be assumed about the Internet Cafe in Shanghai, Manila, Jakarta or just around your corner, which you will probably only visit once during your travels and never again thereafter. Therefore it can be useful to access the internet with your own notebook, PDA or wireless device to reduce the risks of exposing your login credentials

Maybe it is an option to travel with a notebook after all – it doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest model. A used smaller model with wireless connectivity would be enough to access the internet and your accounts safely, having stored all your files online, while still offering the convenience of desktop usage. If you check out eBay, Yahoo Auctions or simply ask around, you can get a capable 12″ notebook for less than USD 500 these days.

Store, Access and Sync your Data while Traveling the WorldThough Google did a great job creating and acquiring various useful Online Applications, they are far from perfect, as the interconnection of most of the applications is still lacking. Here it would be a better option of using specialized Providers, as mentioned above, who do a better job – often more complete and cheaper than Google is currently willing to do.

And of course it might be better anyway to not be dependent on one Big Brother only, which most big Online Service Providers seem to have a tendency to become. After all they are all private businesses with the main goal of earning money from your collected data. Nothing wrong with that, just chose the one who follows your needs of ease-of-use, value for money, privacy and interconnection of Data Sources best, depending on your situation.

What is your take on Online Applications? Which ones do you use when traveling? Do you have better or cheaper alternatives when storing photos, documents or contacts on your travels? Please share and let us now by making use of the comment form below! ;-)

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written by Chris

16 Responses to “How-to Guide to Store, Access and Sync your Data safely while Traveling the World”

  1. YearinthelifeNo Gravatar CZECH REPUBLIC Says:

    Good work for championing the humble online application. Even though I am becoming deeply suspicious of the power of Google and that in certain respects it has me by the knackers, I do find Google gmail/calendar/spreadsheet increasingly useful.

    Even though I travel with a laptop, I also wouldn’t recommend the average traveller bringing one unless they thought it vital (that may sound hypocritical, but I absolutely require a laptop for website design/IT freelancing work). I am a slave to my lapper, never leaving it anywhere, always coming with me and therefore is liable to being stolen/dropped/left in a bar when p*ssed…

  2. GaryNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    I’ve been traveling around the world with a laptop for almost 11 months now. I don’t think I could travel without it.

    In addition to Flickr, I also use an online storage service where I upload the originals of my photos.

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  6. adventuresaddictNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    Hi Chris since you are already on-the-road, I’d like to urge you to deliver the message across the globe to participate in the Meraki Movement. ( http://meraki.com/ ). It is a cheap device that can be installed by anyone with an internet connection and turn the zone (around 300-700m radius if you plug the antenna in!) around it into a wifi zone where anyone with any wifi-enabled device can share the internet connection without password. The great part about this is, if you have another Meraki repeater (even if there is no internet cable for this repeater!) installed within this zone, the zone can be expanded. And, there are more donors of internet bandwidth to some of these Meraki, then the total bandwidth can be increased and shared among all in this wifi mesh! This means that internet connection can be extended almost perpetually. In fact, there are already some towns that had been transformed into a wifi town by its residents who install these devices all around the area. I read that its design protects the donors offering the internet bandwidth from hacking, and the wifi mesh network is separate from the donor’s home network. This allows unused internet bandwidth to be shared with others. If more towns participate in the Meraki Movement, then more people will benefit. It can even improve the local economy by making businessmen and students more IT-savvy. Poorer people suffering from the ‘digital divide’ who are unable to afford the internet charges in some developing countries can go online free now. And, for people like us who like to travel perpetually, having more wifi zones certainly make out life easier. I suggest that you buy and carry a few Meraki devices around and demonstrate to the hostel or shops you do business with during your travel. You might want to sell these to them at no profit or let them know how to buy one online from the Meraki website. As the words spread around, I am sure more towns will turn into wifi towns. One of the problems we travelers and aspiring travelers have is no access to internet on-the-road. By helping their local communities establish a wifi town, we also help ourselves gain free and convenient access to the internet when we re-visit these towns in future. If there is at least one shop or hostel in every 500 m that installs a Meraki, a place would theoretically become a wifi town.

  7. ChrisNo Gravatar INDIA Says:

    adventuresaddict, sounds like an interesting concept. Have to read up on it a bit more…. ;-)

  8. The Longest Way HomeNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Just came across this article.

    I traveled with and with out a laptop for many years. Without makes it harder in many respects to do with security. An updated virus and firewall protected laptop will beat out most malicious threats out there.

    That along with falling costs of netbooks is great. It’s just a shame WIFI is not always available!

    In this case I use portable apps on a usb.

  9. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    I agree with you completely, The Longest Way Home. Laptop/Netbook rules over Internet Cafe. Although for me, Wifi is not so important. 3G is now almost everywhere in Asian countries and that’ss usually at good value for money. The advantage is that you can use it almost anywhere where there is a mobile phone network. Of course, a nice fast WiFi network will kick its but, but the radius is usually very limited and more and more free WiFi networks seem to disappear…

  10. SunnyNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    Hi, Chris: Would you share with us the presently available providers of wireless internet in Asia.

    Do they have a wireless modem that could be plugged into a laptop anywhere in the country and connect you to the internet?

    Do they sell pre-paid bandwidth? Is there any contractual period of subscription?

    How much can this be had for?

    Is connection limited by bandwidth, hours or months?

    Does it work nation-wide?

    Where can one buy these? Any identification or registration?

    Have you tried using them, and is the connection stable and fast?

  11. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Sunny, wow for the whole of Asia that would be quite a task. Tiny Singapore has already 3, Indonesia at least 5, similar to Thailand, Malaysia 3 or 4 and Philippines looks like 4 also.

    I will publish an article about the status quo of 3G Internet Access in the Philippines soon, but for the rest, it would be easier for you guys to google that, as it will be more uo2date than I can ever be. So far I still use my unlocked 3G Card (from Sierra Wireless), which works everywhere I go, so no need to buy the proprietary solutions of the providers, just buy a prepaid card and it usually works (at least in Singapore, Indonesia and Philippines).

  12. SunnyNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    Hi Chris,
    Perhaps you research into the current state of wireless broadband services in Asian & Australasian regions where the costs of living are the lowest.

    Nowadays, smart phones are becoming very affordable. With a data SIM card plugged into one of these gadgets, one could be logged into Skype, MSN & ICQ 24/7, connecting him to the world all the time. He could communicate in text or voice with his contacts via his smart phone. It would be a dream to fellow nomads, backpackers and businessmen alike.

    Important facts include:
    1) The service providers
    2) The pricing and packages available for short-term users
    3) The geographical coverage
    4) The speed and reliability of the service on smart phones and for supporting Skype, MSN and surfing the WWW
    5) Where to buy the services. For example are they available in 7-11 stores?
    6) Recommended smart phones and laptops

    I think the above facts deserve a full section. You can try out the services while you travel around, and your readers who are either locals or travelers who have had experience could also drop a message to report new information.

  13. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Sunny, check out these article about wireless 3G in Bali here and here and this one about more ‘wired’ ISP options. Here is the mentioned new article about 3G in the Philippines. I haven’t been in Thailand for the last 3 years, so can’t comment in a qualified and up2date manner.

    As you can see, the comments for the Bali articles are quite interesting with experiences of readers. As I only travel every 6-12 months to a different country, my resources to cover the whole region are naturally limited. But I’m open to guest writers, if somebody would like to add his/her experiences in other Asian countries, which aren’t currently covered here. :D

  14. SunnyNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    Hi Chris
    As you said, you had provided details for Bali. Which is comprehensive and helpful. Maybe you should, as I suggested, devote one section for this topic so that others who can contribute info about other countries could do so there.

    Oh, anyway, may I know how you manage to obtain VISA for 6-12m for these countries. How much do you pay? Isn’t it better to stay only up to 90-180 days in each country in a year since most countries consider one a tax resident once he is physically present there for longer than this period? Is it more expensive to apply for a long term VISA?

    Wouldn’t it be better if you could travel by land transport from one border of a country slowly—over 3m—to another border then move to the next country and revisit it again the following year? Eg. China (3m) —-> Thailand (3m)—-> Malaysia (3m)—> Indonesia (3m)

  15. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Visa is really the most annoying problem for traveling around from country to country, Sunny. The regulations are different for every country, the easiest is probbably Philippines, where you can stay up to 18 months in the country, by just extending your tourist visa every few months.

    For Indonesia you would need a Social Budaya Visa, which is valid up to 6 months, but not without bureaucratic hassles.

    Thailand changed their cumbersome visa rules again somewhat and let’s you now stay up to 3 months in the country, then you have to do a Visa run to a neighboring country and apply again. Coming here via the land-way, as suggested above, would only earn you a 14-days stamp, so not preferable or only if you acquired a longer-stay visa in a Thai embassy abroad already.

    Other countries like Vietnam or Cambodia might be easier again, but then they lack infrastructure or internet access. India was nice with 6 months straight visa, but I wrote a few articles about its disadvantages also.

    For for info about Visas, simply click on the choice ‘visa’ in the upper-left topic cloud. ;-)

  16. SunnyNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    Since VISA rules change often, nomads should keep themselves updated of the latest information. It’d help to plan each year ahead. The mode of transport, as Chris suggested, may also affect the length of your VISA. In Thailand’s case, you may want to fly there from a nearby country in order to enjoy the 3-month length. Other considerations include: tax residency rules (e.g. capital gains taxable?); safety (any major convention which may become a target for terrorists?); epidemic (e.g. SARS, H1Na); climate (e.g. which months of the year should you go to enjoy a comfortable weather?).

    From my blog:
    Some favorable playgrounds which have lower cost of living are:
    1) Thailand
    2) China
    3) Malaysia
    4) Indonesia
    5) India
    6) Philippines
    7) Vietnam
    8) Cambodia
    9) Laos
    10) South and Central American countries

    If you leave the #10 out, the rest are:
    a) big enough for you to explore a lifetime
    b) near to one another so not costly to travel from another

    If you like this group of countries (#1 to 9), then you could survive on US$10,000/y as of 2009. With 9 countries to choose from, you can plan your time in a calendar year to easily to fit into the VISA rules’ constraints. Averagely, you need only a 1-month VISA from each country ONCE each year if you plan to visit each ONCE only. But you could visit many of these countries more than once each year, after some months away. So, theoretically, with these 9 countries to choose from, you should always be able to get a VISA from one of these at any time in a year.

    Even better for nomads is this region also has the best of everything the West can offer. If you want world-class financial services, HK and Singapore have it. If you want state-of-the-art medical services, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore have it. So, you could conveniently do your banking, investment, annual health screening, vaccination, and medical treatment in one of these countries.

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