Web Access for Travelers: The Portable Office
Laptop weighing you down?Thanks to a number of new services, you can travel lighter (and smarter) by leaving it at home
For a while now, travelers with access to business-class lounges have been able to work at the airport without hauling out their own computers. The masses have had Laptop Lane, which rents out fully equipped office space in terminals across the country ($5 for five minutes, 65 cents for each additional minute). Since launching in 1998, the company has expanded to 17 airports, including Philadelphia and Dallas—Fort Worth (go to www.laptoplane.com for a complete list of locations).
Now the trend is Internet kiosks: Get2Net provides free access at terminals in New York's La Guardia and Kennedy, Boston's Logan, and 13 other airports (www.get2net.com). After sitting through a 20-second advertisement, customers have unlimited Web time. CAISsoft Internet Stations operates similar kiosks ($2.50 for 10 minutes) at 14 airports, including Newark and D.C.'s Dulles (www.caissoft.com).
Efforts by mega-chains such as Hilton to install in-room PC's stalled in the mid-nineties because of high costs and guests' reluctance to use unfamiliar hardware. But business-minded hotels are increasingly picking up where the chains left off. Last year, for example, New York's Trump International Hotel & Tower put PC's in all of its 167 rooms; the Sukhothai Bangkok just installed computers in 27 of its 224 rooms. PCRoomLink, the New Jersey—based technology group behind the Trump installation, will soon begin installing similar in-room systems at luxury hotels nationwide.
Even WebTV, the perennial also-ran of hotel technology, is making a comeback, with the Dorchester hotel in London launching a souped-up version this spring. Besides Internet access, the system will be loaded with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and other software.
What makes traveling without a laptop a viable option is the new ability to access software and store documents securely on the Internet. XDrive.com, which made its debut last year and now has 8.5 million users worldwide, provides up to 100 MB of free online storage space, allowing you to save files at home or the office and access them later from an Internet kiosk, business center, or hotel room. BmyPC, like XDrive, is a free Web-accessible file-storage system, except that users can house entire "desktops" online, including e-mails, text and program files, even Internet bookmarks (access it through www.icicampus.com). Both servers are secure—you use a personal log-in and password to locate your data—and employ standard virus-protection software.
If you need hard copies, there's NowDocs.com, a site that delivers documents from anywhere in the world to 14 major U.S. cities, as well as London and Toronto. Users log on, upload the files to be delivered, enter the recipient's address, and choose either same, next-day, or two-day delivery. The service starts at $19.95 for up to 10 pages.
And for those who don't even want to log on, etrieve.com is a phone-based system that lets users link their accounts and then hear e-mails, faxes, and entire text documents over the phone; they can then respond or have documents printed and sent via fax.