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Consider options to stay connected on the road

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More than 60 per cent of American travellers say they use social media while on holiday.

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More than 60 per cent of American travellers say they use social media while on holiday.

When I talk with the dozens of people I know who either vacation or winter in Arizona, it occasionally seems like I may be the only Manitoban who's never been there. With frequent non-stop service provided by WestJet, it's no wonder the state has seen dramatic increases in Prairie visitors over the last number of years.

Finally, it's my turn. As you read today's column, I'm likely winding up my stay on one of Arizona's hundreds of highly rated golf courses after more than a week of travel experiences that have been absolutely new to me.

As readers likely appreciate, since I travel as much as I do, keeping in touch with the office is important to me. Many of my trips, at least partially, become working holidays. I chose to stay connected for business reasons, but I'm astounded at how important this access to friends and social information is for a great number of others who travel.

Keeping up with Facebook, Twitter and the other social media has become an obsession. More than 60 per cent of American travellers who responded to a recent Tripadvisor survey said they used social media while on holiday. An astounding 85 per cent also use smartphones while they are away, and a large number of respondents said they use Internet access to find restaurants and research sights.

I have no doubt that the numbers for Canadians are not far behind.

All of this activity has led to some well-publicized horror stories about travellers returning home to find charges from their Internet providers for thousands of dollars. As a result, I'm often asked to about ways to keep connected to home without breaking the bank.

While the Canadian government has stepped in to control some of these outrageous actions, it's well worth exploring the market for the best and least-expensive options.

Both MTS and Shaw have excellent programs allowing you to purchase a plan that gives you phone and/or Internet access at a fairly reasonable price. After doing some research for this trip, I chose to go with a service provided by a company called Roam Mobility.

The package only serves travellers to the United States but, at $48 for two weeks of phone and Internet service, it was superior to anything else I could find. I also had to purchase a $20 SIM card, readily available at dozens of Manitoba outlets, and had to pay my carrier $50 to unlock my phone.

The singular disadvantage of these types of programs is you are given a new phone number, which others will need to know to call you while in the U.S. You can call-forward to this number, but Manitoba long-distance charges will apply if they are reaching you from home.

On a separate but related issue, how often have you heard flight attendants cautioning you to turn off all electronic devices before takeoffs and landings?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States is saying this will no longer be a requirement. Airlines such as Delta, American, Jet Blue and US Airways have already changed their policies, with the others sure to follow.

Many had also predicted full in-flight cellular service would soon follow and become commonplace. However, the idea of dozens of passengers shouting to overcome the noise of the aircraft is creating a backlash that may slow that decision for quite some time.

In the United States, the FAA has already listened to these voices. For now at least, they have decided not to allow in-flight cellular service. While originally it was safety fears that kept the stringent takeoff and landing restrictions in place, this decision may venture into social policy by the FAA.

Complete in-flight Internet access while is the next frontier, and it appears to be just around the corner. Internet programs have already been introduced, but further technology needs to be developed to facilitate this service at altitudes over 10,000 feet.

One way or another, at home or abroad, being unable to reach anyone, anytime, is fast becoming a thing of the past.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com and at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2013 E5

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