The Power Up There
Travel is picking up, says the National Business Travel Association, so now that you're cleared for takeoff, make sure you know how to charge the electronics that help keep you in touch. The industry standard for in-seat power outlets on airplanes is the empower socket, which until recently has been almost exclusively a perk of business and first class. Now US Airways offers it at every seat on 80 of its new Airbus planes, and Continental and Virgin have begun rolling out empower in coach. You'll need to change DC to 120-volt AC via a power inverter such as the iGo Juice ($120; www.igo.com), which plugs into empower sockets, AC outlets, and car lighters and can charge a laptop, PDA, and cell phone simultaneously. Inverters come in various wattage outputs, and most laptops require 70 to 90 watts, so check your computer before buying.
Most new laptops and travel-oriented electronics such as digital cameras can run on North American (110-120 volt) or foreign (220-240 volt) standards, eliminating the need for transformers, which convert voltage. However, you may still need one if you plan to charge your cell phone or iPod, among other devices. Try travel gear specialist Magellan's (www.magellans.com), which also sells adapters that allow you to plug electronics into foreign outlets. Magellan's sells adapters individually ($7) or in a 10-piece global set ($50). A foreign surge protector is a good idea for sensitive gear ($50). Better hotels will lend transformers and adapters to guests.
If you don't own a world phone, it's now possible to rent one -- but it will cost you. Verizon Wireless (800-711-8300) will ship Verizon customers a phone that costs $3 per day plus airtime charges of $1.49-$2.49 per minute. International Cellular Services (www.internationalcellular.com) rents phones for similar rates, but with rentals your cell phone number changes each trip. One alternative is buying an international phone that requires no monthly fee or recurring charges. Mobal Rental (www.mobalrental.com), for example, sells a Nokia phone that works in 130 countries for $49. Airtime in Europe is $1.50 per minute. Cellular Abroad (www.cellularabroad.com) sells and rents foreign-based phones (for about $29 per week) that take advantage of low home-country rates. With a U.K.-based phone, calls cost eight cents a minute within the British Isles and 33 cents a minute to the U.S.
Cutting the Cord
Wireless Internet access is spreading quickly, which means business travelers are less likely to have to track down a hot-spot coffee shop. Hotel chains such as Marriott, Hilton, Fairmont, and Starwood offer it at certain locales, with fees up to $12 per day. Broadband providers like Wayport (www.wayport.com) and Boingo (www.boingo.com) offer wireless high-speed access in hotels and airports for $22-$33 per month. Easily establish a connection with the Airport Express ($130) for both Mac and PC from Apple (www.apple.com). If you want to locate a hot spot without turning on your laptop, try the credit-card-size WiFi Finder ($30) from Kensington (www.kensington.com).