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Traveling without style

How to get along outside the US.

It's been a nice but frustrating working vacation so far. I've been to five cities in Italy, and I'm off to Croatia in eight hours. Between the two of us, my travel companion and I are running four businesses and a hosting company while attempting to vacation.

In the Florence apartment she booked, we had 10 thousand Vespas buzzing three feet from the window, but no DSL. In the Agritourismo I booked near Sienna we had an ancient-but-modernized hilltop farmhouse with a pool and a view of the old town, but not even a phone. The "nearby" Internet cafe turned out to be a 15-minute walk, a 10-minute bus ride and a five-minute walk away -- but the owner went out of his way to let us use our laptops through his network. Florence was better.

So, here's your first tip: If you need to keep in touch while traveling outside the US, ask about access when booking. Get explicit descriptions of "nearby." Decide what you really need to be able to do remotely. If you are bringing a laptop, be aware that many people running Internet cafes think that networks are magic, and if you unplug a cable that very "magic" will irreplaceably pour out. We had about 50/50 luck with cafes letting us try to connect using our own laptops -- which have all the data, and all the passwords, a real e-mail program, and (LI/U)NIX under the hood!

Some notes: Many shops have never heard of Linux, so be sure to bring up an emulator or boot into uncle Billy's stuff before you walk in the door. Some places will demand that they do the setup; some will just tell you the numbers. We found several cafes that only used proxy servers, thus e-mail, ssh and telnet could not be used. Trying "ssh://" worked in one place, and "telnet://" usually worked. However, I have telnet turned off on all externally accessible servers. So... download ssh? Most cafes would not let us install software. Some would not even let us see the Windows menu to run ftp or telnet (or ssh) directly.

This leads to the final tip: If you have tasks that you must be able to perform from remote sites, and you cannot wait until you can get to an Administrator-friendly cafe, plan ahead! Create a few hidden and secure Web sites (that use HTTPS) where you can perform all required tasks via scripts (http stuff always works -- hey, that is the point of an Internet cafe!)

You will run into all types: I was told, "Our network uses Windows 98, so you cannot use Linux on it." Of course, I just had to check it out and plug in under the table while renting a computer. (They don't call them laptops for nothing.) Another time, a fantastic operator in Riccione spoke no English, but had superior network knowledge -- he even lent us power adaptors and Ethernet cables. (That day I had beer before going to the cafe and forgot the cables at the apartment).

His €6 per hour fee was way too cheap.

Fred Mallett is founder of FAME Computer Education, which provides standup delivery of educational classes on a variety of UNIX, Linux and Win32-related subjects. Reach him at

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