Hello again, Tech Tails! I just recently returned from an incredibly relaxing trip to Aruba filled with sun, calm surf and jeep-bound adventures through the wild desert landscape. When preparing for vacation, I always find myself in a conundrum of what technology to bring and what to leave behind.

Since my career is in technology, it’s important for me to feel a bit unwired and really let myself make the seperation from work not just for my own sake, but for the sake of my travel companions. This is why I generally try to travel to places with limited internet access. Aruba, however, is one of the most technologically advanced Carribean islands and as a tourist, there is some benefit in being able to check online reviews and travel guides to get the most out of the trip. So how could I make the seperation from my “real life” but use technology to actually enhance my vacation experience?

To start with, for the plane rides I loaded both my 80GB video iPod and my 8GB iPhone with plenty of videos, podcasts and music to keep me and my travel companion occupied; that’s just a given. While I tend to spend more of my time on planes reading or attempting to nap I like having the option of keeping a plethora of entertainment with me just in case I desire it. After all, I hardly have time to catch up on my favorite podcasts or must-see flicks during my work-week so this really is a vacation pasttime for me.

To make it a shared experience, I bring a headphone splitter with me so two people can listen and watch at the same time. To ensure that I don’t run out of juice, I also bring along backup batteries for both the iPhone and the iPod. Of course, the package is only complete when paired with some nice headphones and I do keep a pair of Bose and a “spare” pair of Bang & Olufsens in my bag.

Before taking off, I turned off my work email account on both my computer and my phone. While I could still cheat by checking webmail, it’s an extra step that I’d need to consciously take. To turn off an account in Apple Mail, simply go to Mail > Preferences > Accounts. Select the mail account that you’d like to disable, select the “Advanced” tab and uncheck the box that says “Enable this account”. This can then be undone just as simply when you get back from vacation by rechecking the “Enable this account” box. Now all of your work mail will be hidden!

It’s just as easy on the iPhone. Simply navigate to “Settings” > “Mail, Contacts, Calendars”. Then select the account you’d like to disable and the very first option is a toggle switch to turn the account on or off; just turn it off. Again, when you get back from vacation simply toggle that switch back on. It’s also important to note that while you might not want to use your iPhone while traveling abroad (unless you enjoy paying hefty roaming charges or switching to an International plan for the month), it’s easy to disable the cell service on your iPhone while still using it as an internet device using Wi-Fi. To do this, head back into “Settings” and toggle Airplane Mode on to disable the cell service. By default, this will also toggle your Wi-Fi off. To re-enable Wi-Fi, select “Wi-Fi” and then toggle it back on.

We were lucky enough to have free internet via ethernet right in our resort villa. Thinking ahead, I brought my AirPort Express with me for just this occassion. If you already have an AirPort Express and you use it with cable internet at home, or DSL (without PPPoE settings in your AirPort Express) then the configuration while traveling is usually just simple plug and play. I was able to take my AirPort Express from home that I usually use with cable internet, plug it right into a wall outlet and plug the resort’s ethernet cable right into the AirPort Express. In less than two minutes my AirPort Express lit up green to let me know if was receiving a valid IP address and sending it out to my room.

The next step is configuring my laptop, which is also very straight-forward though some people get confused by the first step. I opened my MacBook Pro and it immediately found my encrypted wireless network and connected without a hitch. I was then connected to my Express which was connected to the hotel’s ethernet but there was still one more step. Most hotels and business that offer either free or paid internet do require some sort of authentication. One usually encounters this when they attempt to connect to the internet, everything looks like a go, but then they attempt to sign on to an instant messanger or retrieve their email in Mail or Entourage only to get connectivity errors.

The first step here is to open any web browser (i.e. Safari or Firefox), and simply load any page. You will then notice that as the page you selected starts to load, it will be redirected to an authentication site. In this case, I was redirected to a page letting me authenticate for free for either a 1-day or 6-day session. I had to agree to the Terms and Conditions of the internet usage and then I was online! If you happen to be at a business that charges for internet access, the page that you’re redirected to would discuss charges and have you set up an account before allowing you internet access.

Voila! I now had wireless internet access throughout the villa that I could use with my computer, phone or any other internet devices. The last trick is all about sheer will and determination; limiting computer access to only looking up fun Aruba activities, maps and reviews. I cheated a little by occasionally checking my favorite comics and blogs while sipping magaritas and piƱa coladas but managed to stay offline for a good 95% of the trip. While this wasn’t an entirely unplugged vacation, bringing technology with me helped me get the most out of my trip while limiting my access allowed me to unwind, enjoy the good company and amazing scenery. As we head into high-vacation season I hope many of you also get the chance to unplug but if you do decide to bring your gadgets with you remember to use them wisely!

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