Staying In Touch While On The Road

by Judith Maginnis Kuster - Minnesota State University, Mankato (kuster@mnsu.edu).

It's almost summer and many of us are making vacation plans. I recall an old cartoon. A couple is in a boat in the middle of a lake, fishing. The husband says, "No TV, no radio, no newspapers, no mail, no neighbors. Wow! This place has everything!"

If you want a similar vacation, you might add "no Internet connection" to the list. But perhaps being away from your email for extended periods is difficult. Email accounts are important for connecting with family, professional colleagues, and clients.

Free Internet access, including email, is a phenomenon many of us know about and use, but it wasn't until a recent trip overseas that I really saw its value for me professionally. I already had five accounts (an AOL account with local telephone access from many major cities, three different accounts at my university, and an Internet Service Provider (ISP) I could access locally to telnet into my university accounts.

What could be the advantage of having yet another account?

Recently, before leaving for a month overseas, I discovered that there were free email services that can be read with a browser like Netscape or Explorer from any place in the world. They are good not only for keeping in contact with friends and family at home, but several of these services also allow access to my university email by tapping its Post Office Protocol (POP) server. If your ISP does not have a POP server, ask about a mail forwarding service.

There are over 1000 different free email accounts available (www.emailaddresses.com) and hundreds are Web based (www.emailaddresses.com/email_web.htm). After reading several user comments and explanation of additional services available, I experimented with two free Web-based email services that provided access to POP servers (www.excite.com and mail.yahoo.com). I found signing up and setting the necessary preferences easy and intuitive for both.

When setting preferences, the POP server's name typically follows the "@" sign in your email address, but not always. Check with your ISP to make sure. Your username and password are what you usually use to access your mail. If you want your regular email to remain on your primary server as well as be downloaded to your free account when you request it, it is a simple matter to choose that option. I was also able to develop address books, making it easy to stay in touch with family (and cheaper than mailing postcards!).

It was very easy to find Web access in Europe. I used Internet Cafes in Callander, Scotland; Limburg and Wittenberg, Germany; Eastbourne and London, England. There were Web terminals in airports in New Jersey and Amerstam, Netherlands, and in train stations in London and Glasgow. I used a public library in Luton, England, and a university computer lab in Lancaster, England. Friends overseas also had Internet connection. There was a modest charge for several of these terminals.

I experienced few difficulties, although there are potential problems. Occasionally my account would "experience technical problems," making it impossible to access my email, although when the system was working again, nothing was lost. A second free email account solved this problem. Both accounts were never down simultaneously.

Companies offering free email generally expect to gain something in return. Some sell advertising banners that may slow down the connection to your email. Some services require a personal profile when you register and make money selling that information.

Free email providers may disappear, so if it is important that the service remains available, choose a well-established provider. These services are sometimes abused by spammers, which may cause additional problems. Some mailing lists restrict access from certain free services because of such problems. You may also discover that some ISPs (my university is one of them) occasionally block email from certain free services, so a message sent to people using that provider will not reach them.

If you haven't tried a free email service yet, and you want access to email while vacationing, take time to read about and try out some of the free services available.


Kuster, JM, Staying In Touch While On The Road, ASHA Leader, May 9, 2000, p. 7