The Hot Spot – keeping connected in Boracay

Boracay is as close to a compleat paradise as we can get to without flashing our passports. It’s got everything: white sand beaches, warm sunshine, wild parties, and most importantly, what we techies want – wi-fi! The Hot Spot has hotspots! Yes, there’s yet another reason to brave the planes, boats, and crowds just to scope out our sweet little corner of wireless broadband bliss. After all, just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you have to take a break from the net. On the contrary, it’s a really triumphant W?BIC! (Why? Because I Can!) moment to be able to wirelessly surf the web while the sea breeze blows over your face and the waves lap at your feet (and hopefully not at your laptop!).

Over the long weekend we stayed at the idyllic Boracay Terraces Resort, right at the very end of White Beach. Beyond the other things to recommend about the resort, like the huge, lavishly appointed rooms, and in-house spa service, is the fact that they’ve got a really strong and steady wi-fi signal that was a cinch to connect to, and consistently speedy. In fact, some of the resorts in the relatively posh-er Boat Station 1 area seem to be set-up for the requirements of the discriminating jet-set who can’t go half a day without checking their e-mail or see how their stocks are doing. You can walk across most of this stretch without missing a byte, perfect if you need to shanghai some wi-fi! Towards the busier Boat Station 2 area, where the most popular party places are located, wi-fi gets spottier, harder to sniff out, and less liberally shared. There’s supposed to be an unsecured connection throughout the area provided by Globe, but it didn’t seem to work when I tried it. Some places require you to ask for a key from the manager or owner. Boat Station 3 is backpacker central, and as expected, features a respectable sprinkling of hotspots. Basically, for it’s size, Boracay may just be one of the country’s most wired (and wireless) islands, you needn’t stray far to stumble onto a signal somewhere, or in a pinch, you can always jack in at a cafe.

Even when on vacation, easy connectivity can actually become more of a necessity than a luxury when emergencies strike. And in our case, it was a State of Emergency! Through the chaos, the ability to check the latest news reports and keep in touch with friends and family kept this crazy weekend from spiraling out of control.

It’s all in the bags

Packing and preparation is half the fun of traveling, at least I’ve always thought. But bringing your delicate high-tech gadgets with you for an island getaway poses a peculiar challenge. Although it may work for some people to just dump everything into a duffel bag, the prudent techie traveler prizes protection, organization, and security when bundling his gear. So the first order of business should actually be a thorough back up of all your crucial data, be they work documents, contact info, or downloaded porn. You’re never sure what disaster may strike while you’re out and about, and knowing that you’ve got back-up files safe at home can help salvage your trip just in case the worst happens.

Once you’ve banked your software, time to think of bagging your hardware. The heavy black leather-laden bags your laptop probably came with just won’t do. You’ve got to shop around for a lightweight, padded, more casual-looking carrier, one that won’t look out of place on the beach, and maybe with some room for sunscreen or a racy novel. Top-dollar brands like Crumpler and Targus all feature a range of hip gadget-friendly bags, but the budget conscious can get away with any well-constructed messenger bag or backpack plus a little ingenuity. If you’re going the cheapo route, just make sure that your gear carrier has its straps, handles, zips, and clasps securely stitched and fastened, and that the material is of a decent thickness and quality. Bags constructed with waterproof fabric or lining is ideal, padding is a plus. For that added layer of armor, and a nifty way to keep things neat and tidy, go pick up a pack of resealable zip-loc bags. The sandwich-sized ones work well for small gadgets like cellphones, PDAs, MP3 players, digicams and their chargers, the roast-chicken-sized ones are good for power bricks and even small notebooks. For larger gear, garbage bags may do the trick. One bag for each gadget makes them easy to discern when rifling through your stuff, and keeps cables separate and tangle-free. That humble plastic bag could be what provides the precious few seconds before corrosive salt water gets into your gadgets’ circuits as you fish them out from the sea right after you stumble off the boat.

Next, if you don’t have one yet, invest in a lockable security cable for your laptop for the times when you have to leave it behind in your room. Try to figure out a thief-proof way to secure it to something large and hefty, looped around the bed’s headboard and legs works well, and don’t forget not to leave the key lying around !

When on vacation, it’s best to charge as often as you can, since you’re never sure what gimmick or sidetrip might crop up to prevent you from powering up, or you may need to make an urgent phone call or trip research session that may sap your batteries

Hands in your pockets

As a traveler, you’ve got to keep your hands free. It would be rather tiresome to be continuously clutching your phone or camera in either hand when they’re not in use. But if you think it’s just too dorky-touristy to carry your camera, phone, or PDA around on your neck or waist, then you have to invest in clothing with pockets. A gadget vest would be the next less dorky-touristy thing, but considering the heat and the not-too-cool fashion statement you’ll be making, this option is reserved for those guys who can keep from sweating and can pack some serious swagger. So that leaves us mortals with cargo shorts, trunks, or board shorts. Past color, style, and size, pocket quality is another feature you now have to consider. Check for pockets lined with dense fabric and not hole-prone mesh or net-like material. Those that you can zip or Velcro closed are preferred. And of course, your gear has to fit in them. Just using common sense, never let your gadgets out of your sight. Friendly local boatmen or guides may offer to hold your gear or take your pics for you, and although I’m sure that most of them may be honest folk, just be wary of the exceptions who may not be! Executing a regular pocket-pat-down maneuver to check on your gadgets is not a bad little habit either.

Unwire and Unwind

With all these things in mind, don’t forget to actually go have some fun! Let loose, lie down, go wild. Decompress and disconnect yourself from technology for some time. Doing this will make you appreciate it all the more when you plug back in. Anyway, you can always send an SMS when you feel the tech-withdrawal symptoms coming on.

-text and photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in m|ph magazine, 2006

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2 Comments

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