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Accessing the Internet While Traveling

Pauline Kenny

There are two main options for accessing the Internet from Europe:

We have been traveling to Europe with our computers for several years. Our trips usually last several weeks and we spend some time working while away from home, so we need to get email and go online every day.

Option 1: Using Internet Cafes

Internet Cafes are everywhere in Europe. Look for them in public libraries, in tourist offices or as independent businesses in the cities and towns. Sometimes they are great, sometimes not so great. You pay by the hour to go online. If you are staying in a hotel, there may be a public computer in the lobby.

Getting Your Email in an Internet Cafe

If your email provider offers web-based email (most do), they will have a web site where you can read and reply to your email. Use this for your email when in Internet cafes.

Web-based email is a way of accessing your email on a web page instead of using an email program like Eudora or Microsoft Outlook to download it to your computer. This way you can get your email from any computer. Just go to the web page, login and get your email. The downside is that you must be online when reading and writing email and the copies of the mail you send and receive are not kept on your computer, but might be kept in your web-based system.

If you do not have access to web-based email, use one of the many web sites that allow you to get email from your POP accounts. www.mail2web.com and www.e-mailanywhere.com work well. You do not set up an account - you just enter your email information (you may need to know your POP server) and they retrieve your mail.

Or you can use Hotmail (www.hotmail.com) to set up an account for yourself. You can either have people use that email address for you when you travel, or set up your email to forward to your Hotmail address. Note: With a paid account, Hotmail allows you to access your different POP accounts from your main Hotmail account.

Test all these options at home before you leave. Be sure you understand exactly how to get your email on the web.

Email with AOL: AOL has its own built-in email program and you need AOL installed on a computer to use it, but they also offer web-based email. Go to www.aol.com and log in to see your email.

Email with your ISP: You may have an email address from your ISP (Internet Service Provider). The email program on your computer (e.g. MS Outlook or Outlook Express) dials into a POP (Post Office Protocol) server to get your email and download it to your computer. Many ISPs also offer web-based email which you can use to get your email while you travel. I read my email on the web while I travel, but leave messages on the mail server. The next time I sign on with my usual email program, all the email is downloaded so I have a copy.

Option 2: Traveling With Your Computer

We always travel to Europe with a computer, usually with a computer for each of us. We connect the computers to the internet by telephone line or wireless (if available) or through our cell phone. These 3 options are described below.

Computer

We have a sub-notebook computer (under 3 lbs in weight) and a digital camera. You have to bring plug adapters (to plug in the computer and the camera's battery charger) and telephone adapters (to plug in the phone line from the modem). You do not need voltage converters because both the computer power transformer and the battery charger work with both voltages (it says so on each unit - check to be sure).

Note: Electric plug and telephone adapters vary by country. See Europe Trip Planning - Electronics for more information.

Plug and AC Adapter for my notebook with the Continental European Adapter plug that lets me plug my notebook into a European electric socket. I also bring an adapter for the telephone wire.

Internet Access Using Your Home ISP

Before you leave, find out if your ISP offers access from Europe. If they do, download the list of access numbers for the countries you are going to and any special instructions (some ISPs have a special dialer you use for Europe). If they do not, get an Earthlink account; Earthlink offers good access in Italy (so does AOL). Note: The free first month offer from Earthlink does not allow you access from Europe.

We use Earthlink as our ISP. They have global access numbers for all of Europe, except for the United Kingdom. We pay by the hour to use these numbers. We used to have an AOL (America Online) account and they have the same arrangement.

You Will Have to Change Your SMTP Settings

SMTP is set for outgoing mail that you send from your computer, through MS Outlook or another email program. (This does not apply if you do web-based email.) Usually this is dependent on your ISP, but when you travel, you are logging in through a different ISP. Before you leave, figure out how to set your SMTP so it can be used from other ISPs.

For Earthlink, they give you instructions to use an authenticated SMTP (where you give it your login and password). This lets you send email through the Earthlink SMTP, but from any ISP. For another email that I use, they give you instructions to change your outgoing port for SMTP (to 8889) to let you bypass the ISP restrictions.

Contact your email provider for the settings.

Free Internet Access

Many countries have free ISPs. We have used these successfully in Italy, England and France. See the Resources below for the ones we have used and for websites with lists of free ISPs by country.

Set up your account before you leave, so you know you are ready to go when you get there. You can even test it before leaving home by dialing long distance to be sure you connect.

> How to Set Up an Account on Jumpy.it for Free Internet Access: Instructions in English for setting up a free account with jumpy.it, for free Internet access in Italy.

Possible Problems When Connecting

Most problems we used to have with internet access in Europe have now been fixed by the providers. Here are some things you still need to know about.

  • A modem designed for use in the US will not recognize the European dial tone and, as a result, will not begin to dial the access number if the dialer is set up to wait for the dial tone. To get around this, set the option telling your dialer to not wait for a dial tone and add a comma or two (programming a brief pause in the dialer) before the first digit of the access phone number in the dialer setup. (In Windows this is in the Control Panel - Device Manager for the modem.)
  • If you can receive email, but cannot send it, you must change your SMTP settings. This is described in detail in a previous section on this page.
  • You cannot get a dial tone. This happened to us in France. We had unplugged the phone wire from a phone and stuck it into our computer, but it was as if the phone was dead. It turned out that the phone wire, even though it fit into the phone connector in the computer, did not work with the computer. Instead we plugged in a phone wire adapter, then a US phone wire and connected that to the computer, and it worked.

Phones in Europe

When booking a vacation rental, be sure it has a phone if you plan on using your computer to connect. In Italy, some vacation rentals have a phone, but it is a cell phone. In England, many vacation rentals have "pay box" phones which cannot be attached to your computer. Before you book, find out exactly what kind of phone is provided. Be sure it is a land line. Ask if they will set up a land line or an "open phone" for you to use with your computer (you may have to pay a fee for this).

In most European countries you pay for time spent on the phone (including local calls); per minute charges for local calls are not overly expensive but remember to disconnect if are not doing any online activity for awhile.

Wireless Internet Access

We are starting to find wireless internet access all over the US and Canada when we travel. Turn on your computer and it detects any open wireless access points near you. Hotels, cafes, bookshops and other businesses often run networks which allow public access via wireless connection. The providers of these wireless access points frequently leave them unencrypted and free (just select the network and tell your computer to connect), or they may require you to sign up for paid access. Wireless access points seem harder to locate in Europe, but we hope to see this change.

In the US and in Europe, some hotels offer wireless access, either paid or free. Check with your hotel when booking to see if they have this.

Accessing the Internet Through your Cell Phone

This is possible and with recent technology you are able to get pretty decent access speeds. Read our page about Cell Phones in Europe. Each year this technology changes.

Using a cell phone to use Bluetooth to connect to the computer, so the computer can use the phone as a modem. Our phone is an older Ericsson R520m that I bought in 2003 from Cellular Abroad. The phone supports Bluetooth and so does our notebook computer. You configure the computer to connect to the phone and then set the phone to be a modem. The computer then connects to the phone and dials you ISP and you are online. The connection is slow.

Here are the steps we followed with the Ericsson R520m and a Windows XP computer:

  • Go into Windows XP Help (click START > Help and Support) and read these pages: "To install a Bluetooth mobile phone and use it as a modem" and "To create a Bluetooth connection to the Internet using a Bluetooth mobile phone". These pages walk you through the steps.
  • First, establish a bluetooth connection between phone and computer. Let the phone accept the link from the computer. (Set phone to accept a link; the computer to initiate). How you do this depends on the phone. Read your phone manual.
  • Use the Windows XP wizard to connect the computer to the phone.
  • Once the link is established, then the phone is set up as a modem. Set up a dialup connection using the ISP phone number with the phone as the modem.

To connect using the phone, turn on the phone, then select the dialer you set up and it dials the phone and you are connected. It is a slow connection, but you can get your email.

Using TIM Web Facile plan with your cell phone as a modem (Italy). While the connection isn't as fast as with ADSL, it is faster than dial-up.

TIM offers 2 plans for data connections: Maxxi Web Facile and Maxxi Web Time.

  • The FACILE plan allows you to connect 24 hours a day 7 days a week for up to 30 days, but only gives you a total of 500MB of data during that time. You can check your remaining data by sending an SMS to 4916 with the text “solde facile” and it will return with the data you have left to use. Just for comparison, Moderator Amy and her husband use the internet a fair amount and only used 150MB of data in 11 days. This should be more than enough data for most people and is recommended. If you run over this amount they start to charge at .6 euro-cent per KB which adds up fairly quickly. Cost: 20 Euro.

  • The TIME plan allows you to only connect after 5PM and before 9AM and all day on weekends and holidays, but gives you up to 9GB of data which is way more than most people need. Cost: 25 Euro

There are multiple ways to turn the service on. One way is to send an SMS to 4916 with the words “PRO FACILE”. You need to have at least 23 Euro available on the phone when you do this as it will deduct 20 Euro when it turns on the service. You can turn it off after, but you will need to call the operators to do that. The TIM web site has more detail on how to set it up and use it.

Resources

Italy

www.jumpy.it: Jumpy, a free ISP in Italy. We used this on a recent trip. Read How to Set Up an Account on Jumpy.it for Free Internet Access, instructions in English for setting up a free account with jumpy.it, for free Internet access in Italy.

abbonati.tiscali.it/internet/: Tiscali. We used this one also in Italy. The account was free, but you paid for the phone call.
http://www.tim.it/consumer/c364/i4478/o671/tariffa.do : TIM instructions.

France

www.freesurf.fr: Free Surf. We used this one in France. It worked well and was easy to set up a free account. The phone call cost in 2004 was 0.02 euro cents per minute (1.20 euro per hour).

United Kingdom

www.aardvaak.net: Aardvaak. We used this free ISP on our May 2005 trip. (I found them on www.freedomlist.com and selected them because they had several reviews.) You pay nothing for their services, but you pay 1p per minute to dial their access number (this is paid on the phone you are using). You do not have to setup an account with them; go to the website and find the "guest" registration.

Websites with lists of free ISPs

www.freedomlist.com: Free ISPs listed by country (free internet access) with user comments. Use this to find free accounts in the countries you will be visiting. Setup your account and get the local access numbers before you leave.

www.thefreesite.com/Free_Internet_Access/: Free Internet Access

Other information for traveling with your computer

www.kropla.com: Steve Kropla's Help for World Travelers, comprehensive listings of worldwide electrical and telephone information.

www.voltagevalet.com: Voltage Valet, detailed information about electronics in other countries.

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