Toolie Travel Blog

A million-mile flyer talks about the life of a business traveler.

Newsletter: Cloud Computing for Business Travelers, Part 2

Last month I went over some of the basic concepts behind "cloud computing" and how it is relevant to business travelers.  This month, as promised, I'll go over the most useful cloud-based applications for business travelers.

Online File Backup

When I was traveling for Microsoft, online file backup meant that I had a copy of everything I needed back on my desktop computer in the office.  If I needed to, I could log into Corporate and retrieve my files, though it was over a slow dial-up connection most of the time.  I was responsible for backing up my own files, which usually meant copying them to a network drive somewhere that did officially get backed up by the company.

After I started my travel guide business, I started carrying a portable external hard drive so that I always had 2 local copies of the contents of my laptop.  I used the same drive when I worked at home, so my NT Backup routine didn't have to change.

I then began using MozyPro, one of the original online backup companies.  I was backing up 2 machines (over 40 GB of files) on a relatively slow DSL connection, and that first backup took several days.  After that, the incremental backups took just an hour or so daily.

Another backup services that has been out there for a long time is Carbonite.  Both services offered roughly the same features and were similarly priced.  It wasn't until Amazon Web Services was born that things changed fundamentally.  Instead of paying a flat fee per month for online backup, Amazon offered "cloud" storage on a pay-as-you-go model for exactly what you used -- a metered approach.

Online backup software vendors other than Mozy and Carbonite seized upon this idea of pay-as-you-go, and software like Cloudberry Lab's Online Backup software online-backup.aspx made it possible to use Amazon's low-cost Simple Storage Service for online backups.  My own online backup bill dropped from $45/month to $10/month (for 72 GB of storage!!), with a one-time purchase of $29.99 for the backup software (and free upgrades since!).

Mobile Apps: Both Mozy and Carbonite have apps for the iPhone and Android, and Carbonite has a Blackberry app as well.  Pricing on Mozy and Carbonite has dropped dramatically from the time I was using it.  Do read the descriptions carefully; not all files are able to be backed up on some services.

* Having Files Available Online

There is a distinction between simply backing files up online (which may involve encryption, some kind of compression, or a change in the way the file is store) and simply storing files online (which may or may not include encryption).  Services like Sugarsync, Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, and others have sprung up, offering to keep your files available from anywhere, and in some cases, will sync the contents across multiple computers.  SugarSync seems to have the best feature set and ratings of these kinds of applications.

One of the nicest features about this kind of storage is that you can "map" or connect the cloud storage to your laptop as though it were simply an external hard drive.  It gets a drive letter of its own, and you can drag and drop files into the folders just like you move them around on your local hard drive.

Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) has no fancy file service attached to it; it's just raw storage that you can use with some pretty hefty security features.  A number of the online file availability services use Amazon S3 behind the scenes but do not permit you to directly access the files they've stored on your behalf.

I'm waiting on a beta version from Cloudberry Lab of the their Cloud Drive software that I am hoping will let me to continue using Amazon S3 as the back-end file storage while giving me direct access to the files when I want it.  As with other online file availability software, Cloud Drive will let you map your storage to your local machine, and drag and drop files.  If you're curious, you can sign up for their beta at In the meantime, I use Cloudberry's Explorer for Amazon S3 to manage the files I store there.  Http:// IAM.aspx That's the free version: I bought their Pro version to get some additional features.

Because I use more than just Amazon S3, I use the Cloud Services Manager (Pro) from that I bought on the iTunes App Store.
3398 Hits

Newsletter: Cloud Computing for Business Travelers, Part 1

You've probably heard the term a lot lately: cloud computing.  Since when did puffy white clouds learn how to think?  Well this has been going on for some time, at least 10 years.  It just took a while to figure out how to implement cloud computing in a way that made it accessible and profitable.

I'm just finishing month 2 of a 6-month contract, working on-site at Amazon Web Services.  I've been a customer of one of their most important services, the Simple Storage Service (S3 for short) for over 4 years, and now I'm working with the team that documents its wonderfulness.  What I did not expect was to learn as much as I have about their other services, as well as becoming aware of what cloud computing really means.

What Is In That Digital Cloud?

Data: there's data in that cloud.  It could be a copy of your presentation to the client at the other end of your business trip, or photos you took on your iPhone.  Having a "third place" to store your data has become not just a convenience but a necessity, especially for business travelers.

Cloud computing is more than just storage, though; more and more companies are using computing power that they rent and pay for as they use it.  Instead of renting floor space, buying computers, and setting up huge networks, companies are outsourcing a lot of their operations to companies like Amazon that specialize in providing this service.  And the surprising part is that paying as you go for this computing service turns out to be considerably cheaper than trying to set up a computing infrastructure in-house.

But I'm Not a Big Corporation

One of the beauties of cloud computing is that it is affordable for entrepreneurs, small businesses, and medium businesses too.  Services like DropBox for storing files and online backup software like Cloudberry Lab's Online Backup for Amazon S3 means that you can enjoy the safety of online storage for pennies a day.

The only limitations I've found for cloud computing are 1) a suitable Internet connection, and 2) your ability to pay the bill each month.  I have the slowest Internet connection in the neighborhood, and I'm still able to utilize cloud storage without a hitch.  And the bill?  Despite all my activity and backing up 28 GB a month to Amazon S3, my monthly bill is still under $10.

You've Been Accessing the Cloud for a While

You probably didn't think of it this way, but the first time you used GoToMyPC to pull a file off your desktop computer at home or at the office, you were accessing your own "private cloud."  It was a point of pride for me that I set up my own Windows domain in such a way that I could log on to my home-based "private cloud" and retrieve files or print to the computer in my office no matter where I was in the world.  With cloud computing as we know it now, we've outsourced the location of that private cloud to companies that know how to keep those computers humming along.

It Really Is Durable Storage

Durability in computer storage means that the files on a drive aren't going to disappear.  This is accomplished by choosing good quality drives AND having multiple copies of the data.  Amazon S3 expresses its durability by saying that it's 99.99999999999% (eleven 9s) durable.  That is, if you put 10,000 files onto one of their drives, their safety measures are such that you'd lose only one file every 10 million years.  Suffice it to say this is far more durable than any hard drive you could buy.

The value of the durability of online storage was driven home to me recently when two of my external hard drives started to fail at the same time.  One drive has the originals, the second one has the backup.  (yikes!)  I am facing a data recovery bill for these drives that is enough to make a grown woman cry, but the cost of NOT recovering the data is far, far worse.  Needless to say, when I get those drives back, I will be backing EVERYTHING up to Amazon S3, not just the files I change regularly.

Business Traveler Benefit from Cloud Computing

We business travelers needed the ability to retrieve remote files before just about anyone else.  I am reminded of the time I was in Bejing in the late 1990s, preparing to deliver a presentation at a conference.  Two hours before my talk was to begin, I installed a device driver that accidentally disabled my laptop.  Using a co- worker's laptop, I was able to log into the corporate network, download the PowerPoint files over a dial-up connection from my desktop machine 8,000 miles away) and still make the start time of my presentation.  Now I don't have to leave my desktop machine running and rack up a power bill; I have my spot in the cloud where my files are safe and accessible.

Next month I'll talk about some of the apps you can get for accessing, monitoring, and backing up your files to the cloud.
3317 Hits

Newsletter: Medical Insurance for Business Travelers

This past week the United States Supreme Court upheld the provisions of the Patient Privacy and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) confirming the profound change in the way Americans receive health care.  Regardless of the political around this issue, people are benefiting from the change and fewer will die from lack of health insurance.  My appreciation for this fact was highlighted earlier this year when McAlister needed medical care, and he got it.

Medical Care During Travel

As wonderful as this change is, business travelers are frequently far away from their primary care physicians.  Wise travelers keep themselves healthy, but travel itself includes inherent risks.  As a business traveler, we're subject to everything from weather to unhealthy airplane cabin air to unknown food sources to crossing the street in places where pedestrians may not have the right of way.

One of the trips McAlister and I took to China included a serious medical scare for one of our fellow travelers.  He ended up with a blood infection that was curable with antibiotics, but the language barrier in that hospital in Tianjin was significant.  Fortunately our tour guide/translator was up to the task, and our colleague got the care he needed.  He did not require medical evacuation, but he did have to leave the tour and go home early.  I can only imagine the stress that he and his wife endured facing 12 hours of flight time home with him in a weakened condition.

I was already clued into the idea of travel medical insurance when I started my travel guide business.  In fact, I had short-term insurance whenever I went abroad.  I was glad to buy it even though I never needed it.  The travel agent I met around the time I formed Tooliedotter Press suggested I use this service, and I found it easy to buy travel medical insurance online.

By the way, that's her affiliate link, not mine.  She deserves any commission she might earn if you click her link.  Barbara has been a valuable resource to me.

It has been a while since I looked at travel medical insurance coverages, so I thought it would be good to provide you with fresh links to travel medical insurance coverages.

Travel Medical Insurance for Business Travelers

The first thing I noticed is that some of the bigger companies are providing travel medical insurance plans specifically geared towards business travelers.  These include annual plans that provide coverage on trips lasting anywhere from 30 to 90 days.  The first plan that caught my eye was this one from TravelGuard.

This link takes you to a page that asks for your country and for US residents, your state.  In the USA, insurance laws vary by state, so you must supply that information prior to receiving a quote for coverage.  I live in Washington State, so what I saw will vary from your results, but in their policy, I can travel as many times as I want for up to 90 days at a time for an annual fee.  There are additional coverages available that I can add to the basic plan.  I wish that this had existed when I was doing the most travel, but I will be investigating this when my speaking picks up in the next few months.

I met a TravelGuard executive when I took a travel writing course a few years back.  I had a very positive impression about TravelGuard at the time.  They have been in this business a long time, and are very professional in their approach to travel issues.

Next, I found that offers travel insurance for multiple trips.

According to their website, "Travelers under 76 who are covered by an individual or group medical plan and travel internationally frequently throughout the year."  This also would appeal to me, but their trip length is shorter than that of TravelGuard.  Since none of my trips were longer than 22 days in a row, either plan would suffice for me.  I would probably compare prices and coverage, and decide from there.

The third company is one I recognize from dozens of airports: I've seen their logo on currency exchange booths worldwide.  I never realized that they also offer travel medical insurance.  They also have a business traveler policy worth examining.

During my research, I stumbled across a website devoted to travel medical insurance reviews.  No doubt the links on this site are affiliate links and the people providing the information will benefit if you click through their site, but the site is substantial, and has good travel information anyway.  I don't begrudge clicking their links, and neither should you.

This site lists many more travel insurance companies, but most of the rest of the companies on the list don't have business traveler-specific policies.  Nevertheless, you may find a policy to your liking for leisure travel as well.

Above All, Keep Up Your Medical Insurance

If you are a corporate business traveler with medical benefits, you are truly blessed.  I can tell you from experience that affording medical care as an individual is a challenge.  My client Larry Ford does not know that I'm writing about him in this newsletter, but if you are looking for a good health insurance agent for individual or small business group insurance, I heartily recommend him and his company, Sound Benefits (

Care to Share?

If you have a travel medical story (good or bad) to share, send it to me, and I'll share it with my readers next time so that we can all learn together.
5526 Hits

Newsletter: Hiring a Private Tour Guide on a Business Trip

Even though I'm not traveling as much as I used to, I still stay on top of the travel industry and business travel topics by subscribing to several RSS feeds that I have found useful.  This month I came across an article on CNN that reminded me of a practice that I recommend for layovers in interesting but unfamiliar destinations.


If you have the time and the cash to spare, hiring a private guide to help you maximize your available time in your destination is a wise investment.  I've done this several times for differing reasons, and I have always felt like I got my money's worth.

Tour Guide as Direct Support for Your Business Objective

During a business trip for my as-yet incomplete travel guide to Hong Kong, I hired a hotel car to drive me.  I needed to photograph specific locations and landmarks without the fuss of having to drive on the left side of the road or find parking for what would ultimately be a 3-5 minute stop.  I very carefully created a list of locations, stopping points, and estimate durations that I could give to my driver so that we would make the most of the 3 hours for which I was willing to pay.

On that trip I was staying at the Grand Hyatt, so hotel cars and drivers were a bit pricey, but considering that I had the opportunity to take stock photos from which I would ultimately profit, I felt it was a good use of my business funds.  Through careful planning, we were able to visit about 20 destinations in 3 hours, and I took over 300 photographs during that time.  That's an average of 8.5 minutes per stop, which was all I needed.

The driver dropped me off, I ran to the location, snapped photos from a variety of angles, and then I ran back to the prearranged pickup spot (usually where I got out).  It worked out beautifully.  I think the driver was surprised that we got through the entire list!

Free Time During a Business Trip

The first time I hired a private guide for a trip during my free time was during a 5-day visit to Brisbane (Queensland), Australia.  I was working for Microsoft at the time, and I had a 3-day layover between conferences.  I found out that I was relatively close to the Coogi store in Surfer's Paradise on the Australian Gold Coast, but I knew that I would not be comfortable trying to drive there to pick up the specific sweaters I wanted to buy for McAlister and myself.  Driving on the left side of the road is a skill I have not yet had time to develop.

The hotel recommended a private guide named John, but I found out that his minimum tour time was 5 hours.  I explained that my ultimate destination was the Coogi store, but that I was open to seeing other sites in and around Brisbane.

My experience with this guide is what I think most business travelers fear they might have to endure if they hire a private guide.  I learned more about Brisbane in those 5 hours than I ever expected to know.  Some of the information was fascinating, some of it less so.  I think John was unaccustomed to having only one person to talk to, and felt that he had to talk the entire time, but he was diligent and accommodating, and I didn't mind him sharing everything he knew.

I do agree with the CNN author though about the value of using a private guide for free time adventures.  Like some of the people the author quoted, I also mostly travel by myself, so getting photos of take of me in these locations is tricky.  I am never comfortable handing my 4-pound professional camera to a total stranger who can probably run faster than I can!  So having John there to take a photo of me with my toes in the water on a beautiful Australian beach was a real plus.

John also took me to a kangaroo farm where I got to pet a kangaroo and wave at a wombat ( I could have also held and been photographed with a koala, but all I could think about was it sinking its razor-sharp teeth into my arm, so I passed on that idea.  So I have these memories (and photos and sweaters) to treasure, all of which would have been missed had I not spent the money and time on a private guide.

Mixing Business with Vacation Time

When I was considering Asian destinations for my first round of travel guides, I visited Bangkok on one of my around-the-world trips.  I stayed at a hotel near the airport, but asked for a private tour guide to take me into the city.  I have never been to Bangkok nor did I feel comfortable trying to get around on my own, so having a driver was ideal.  I wanted to take photos of and visit specific locations in and around Bangkok, so as with the Hong Kong trip, I made a list of destinations and planned our route.

My visit to Bangkok was in late August.  Normally I tried to put trips to Asia into September or October when the weather was a little cooler, but this was going to be my only opportunity to decide whether to write about the city, so I went for it.  Having the driver then turned out to be an extra benefit, because the heat and humidity was more than I could bear.

We made all of our stops, but every time I got back into the car, the driver handed me a COLD, wet, hand towel which I pressed to my forehead and neck.  I have very pale, sensitive skin, so because my face was flushed from the heat, I think the driver thought I might keel over!  I can't tell you how wonderful it felt to have that respite, along with the bottles of water he kept feeding me.

We rounded out the trip with a visit to the Bangkok equivalent of a duty-free store (or so I was told -- I got the invoice about 6 weeks later!).  There I purchased a beautiful hand-woven Persian-style rug that still graces my family room, along with a woven cashmere shawl and some other treasures.  I suspect that the driver got a commission for taking me to that specific store, but I didn't mind.  He deserved it for keeping me cool and comfortable in Bangkok.

Tell Me About Your Experiences with Private Tour Guides

Have you ever hired a private guide on a business trip?  Leave a comment below about your experience with private tour guides on business trips.
3325 Hits

Newsletter - Prepaid Travel and Debit Cards

My New Year got off to a wonderful start; January 1st was uncharacteristically quiet and relaxing for me.  January 2nd, however, was a nightmare.  I woke up to discover that my bank account had been emptied by fraud.  The day before I had been in a hurry, so I used my debit card to purchase a small piece of software from a reasonably reputable vendor through a third-party card processor and BANG, someone went to and started buying everything they could find.  January 2nd was a Monday holiday in the USA; my bank was closed.

God bless!  THEY notified me and immediately canceled the transactions AND refunded the money within hours, even before I could notify my bank.  But let me tell you, that experience really shook me.

So hearing about the possibility of millions of credit and debit cards being at risk from a third-party with less-than-stellar security made me think that it was time to share my pain AND my solution to it with you.


Gotta Love My Debit Card

I was raised in a cash-only family.  When I got married (oh so long ago) my parents had trouble getting everyone to the church the day of my wedding because we didn't have enough cars to transport everyone, and Mom and Dad did not have a VISA card they could use to rent a car.  They later got a VISA card, but I doubt they ever used it, let alone keep any kind of balance on it.

Mom and Dad would be proud of me: I've returned to a cash-like existence (not easy these days), so the debit card's the thing.  But I purchase things online all the time, especially software for clients for whom I am building a website.  Needless to say, I had to come up with another solution.

Prepaid Travel Cards

Back in 2004-2006 I was using an American Express prepaid travel card in lieu of travelers checks, and getting used to how those cards worked overseas.  Most of the time it wasn't a problem getting cash or reloading a card, and it was nice to have the card to pay for meals and incidentals.  Eventually AmEx suspended the program (to my dismay) and for a while they didn't have any prepaid cards.

I then turned to the Automobile Association of America (AAA) and purchased one of their VISA TravelMoney prepaid cards which I bought at the local office for US$4.95. Prepaid cards can be used for in- person purchases but not online, because your name is not printed on those cards.

I had to load the card either with a swipe of my business debit card or with cash.  That's fine if you're not in a hurry and not far away from an AAA office (like being out of the country).  At least I could check my balance online and print transaction records for bookkeeping purposes.  I still have the card; in fact I bought a second one when the first one expired.

So using a card like this for business purchases was not going to work.  I needed a card I could use at an ATM if necessary, online for sure, and reloadable with a minimum of hassle.

Prepaid American Express Cards

I just checked and found that AmEx has a prepaid card with the American Express name on it.  These cards are similar to prepaid travel cards, but it's possible to have a card issued with your name on it so that its usable online.

Http:// then click on Cards, then Prepaid Cards, then View All Prepaid Cards

You can purchase the temporary card from "participating retailers" (right now that appears to be Office Depot), register the card, and order a permanent card.  The permanent card has your name on it, can be used online, and comes with travel benefits, etc. such as American Express is known to provide.  They allow 1 free ATM withdrawal per month, then charge you US$2.00 each in addition to whatever fees the ATM charges.

There is no finial minimum load amount, but the reload minimum is US$25.00. The maximum you can load is US$2,500.  According to their FAQ, you can reload your card online or by phone, from a bank account or with cash.  American Express also has prepaid cards you can purchase and give to anyone over age 18.

VISA Prepaid Debit Cards

The solution I chose for now is a VISA Prepaid Debit Card.  After quite a bit of searching and sifting through programs that had fees for everything, I found a program through a local credit union that has a US$3.00 monthly fee, but pretty much everything else is no-cost.  The credit union itself doesn't administer the program, a national bank does.

The program was ostensibly designed to help people without bank accounts or those who wanted some kind of prepaid arrangement, so the literature is oriented towards 2 methods of loading the card: walk in with cash and stand in a special line to reload the card (you can't even use the drive-through window -- bummer!), or have your employer set up direct deposit of your paycheck.  Despite repeated offers to open a checking account instead, I insisted on the prepaid card, which they gave me.  I found out that after 4 deposits of any size, I would be automatically issued a card with my name on it, which is what I wanted.

What I discovered with a little experimentation is that this debit card, although not tied to a checking account, DOES have an ABA routing number and bank account number.  So it's possible to do an Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfer directly to that account and have the funds show up in the account.  (You can confirm the transfer online).  I made two small deposits, then tried to set up a transfer connection from PayPal, which made the other 2 small deposits.  Within 2 weeks, I had my card.

I've transferred funds from PayPal and from my business account (one- way) and had the money show up in 2 business days.  As it happens, the local bank branch for this program is right across the driveway from my business bank, so if I AM in a hurry, it's no problem to drop by and plunk down cash withdrawn from my business bank.

Whether you use a prepaid card for business only, or travel only, or some of each, it's a good option to control spending, separate out funds for specific purposes, and keep your debit cards OFF the Internet.  I recommend setting one up even if you don't think you're going to need one; you never know!
6037 Hits