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The BT Guide to Getting Online From Virtually Anywhere

By Sonia Zjawinski
April 3, 2010
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Whatever your level of digital dependence, there's a surefire way to access Wi-Fi when you're on the road. Because sometimes, going off the grid just isn't an option.

Online Addiction Level: Low
You get a kick out of tapping into your social network from unlikely locations, but you're not willing to invest in an arsenal of gadgets to facilitate constant contact.

The Fix Before settling on your trip accommodations, search travelpost.com's database of hotel chains with free wireless networks. And once you've nailed down your itinerary, use JiWire's free Wi-Fi Finder to pinpoint hotspots near the places you're visiting and to find out how much each one costs, if anything (jiwire.com).

Online Addiction Level: Medium
You'd enjoy your cross-country road trip a whole lot more if you could blog about it from the middle of the interstate (in the passenger's seat, of course).

The Fix Sign up for pay-as-you-go mobile broadband. Both Verizon and Virgin Mobile offer prepaid, no-contract packages that get you online through either company's 3G cellular network. Plans start at $10 for limited 10-day access, but you'll have to buy a network-specific USB modem (from $60) to get your laptop online.

Online Addiction Level: Intervention-Worthy
Your typical family vacation includes at least one all-out brawl over who gets to check their e-mail first. (So much for bonding!)

The Fix Use a MiFi (novatelwireless.com) to maximize a subscription-based mobile broadband plan. (Think of it as a portable hotspot that can support up to five computers at once.) Depending on the carrier, you'll get the device free (Sprint) or deeply discounted (Verizon) when you sign up for service, for about $60 a month.

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Are Paid Travel Membership Clubs Worth It?

ROAD TRAVEL: American Automobile Association The Deal Starting at $38, an annual AAA membership gets you free roadside towing and lock-out services, discounts of 5 to 15 percent at thousands of hotels, and offers like $30 off weekly rentals at Hertz (which, weirdly, tops Hertz's own #1 Club Gold membership perks). Worth It? What you're paying for is really the services, not the deals: We've found that many hotel owners are happy to float discounts comparable to AAA's even if you aren't a member. aaa.com. AIRLINE: Spirit Airlines $9 Fare Club The Deal For $40 a year, members have access to exclusive fares, sometimes for as low as a penny. A few recent samples: a one-way flight from Chicago to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for $16, or a Fort Lauderdale to Freeport, Bahamas, flight for a measly $9. Worth It? Only if you're going to take more than one flight a year—which is potentially a challenge. Deals are usually last-minute and off-peak, and Spirit serves only 40 cities (biased to the East Coast, the Caribbean, and Central and South America). spiritair.com. HOTEL: Tablet Plus The Deal Each week, Tablet Hotels, a booking engine for boutique and luxury hotels, offers its Tablet Plus members discounts of up to 70 percent at certain properties (example: $174 vs. $249 at New York's Bryant Park Hotel). Extra bonuses: spa vouchers, upgrades, complimentary airport transfers, and late checkout. Worth It? Sounds great, but the annual fee of $195 is a real stumbling block. It's even more insurmountable when you find out that Plus members' "exclusive" deals are exclusive for only 24 hours. tablethotels.com.

Welcome to Leslieville, Toronto's Next Big Neighborhood

All-day brunch spot At 10-month-old Lady Marmalade, the menu focuses on breakfast, "the rest of breakfast," and lunch. Chef David Cherry cooks up poutine with bacon and miso gravy—plus 10 varieties of eggs Benedict—for a devoted crowd gathered around '70s-era thrift-shop tables. 898 Queen St. E., ladymarmalade.ca, poutine $7.75. After-dinner treat In a food-centric neighborhood, even dessert must live up to the highest standards. The year-old Ed's Real Scoop does just that, thanks to a rotating cast of one-of-a-kind flavors (Guinness stout, pear-and-Parmesan) and cream sourced from a local dairy. 920 Queen St. E., edsrealscoop.com, ice cream from $2.50. Cool kids' shop Cheryl Tschupruk and Gini Bechard opened Baby on the Hip three years ago to supply the city's green-leaning parents with everything from natural-rubber pacifiers to bamboo crib bedding to handmade, turtle-shaped organic-cotton crocheted rattles. 969 Queen St. E., babyonthehip.ca, pacifiers $8.50. Coffee culture It's hard to say what drives more traffic to Te Aro Roasted, a year-old café in a former auto-body shop: the fresh sea-salt chocolate-chip cookies, the El Salvadoran beans roasted on-site by co-owner Andy Wilkin, or the unbeatable people-watching from the front terrace. 983 Queen St. E., te-aro.ca, coffee from $14.25 per pound. Nomadic-style center German-Chilean clothing designer Alexia von Beck and her Greek chef husband turn the spotlight on international culture at their 8-month-old Holy Cow Market. It's stocked with an eclectic mix of trinkets (antique wooden Buddhas, clay Moroccan tagines) collected over years of dedicated globe-trotting. 1100 Queen St. E., holycowmarket.com, tagine $43. Down-home cooking Patrick McMurray's pub The Céilí Cottage is no by-the-book barroom, with a 40-seat summer patio, an all-ages winter ice-skating rink, and weekly roast dinners all year. Former champion oyster shucker McMurray also regularly does the honors on fresh hauls from Malpeque Bay. 1301 Queen St. E., ceilicottage.com, oysters from $13.50 for six. Continuing education From pasta making to Butchery 101, the evening workshops at The Inspired Cook help anyone live out their foodie fantasies. After class, students can browse the 2-year-old shop in front for tools to put their new techniques to good use. 1378 Queen St. E., theinspiredcook.com, workshops from $43.

Using Your Cell Phone in Europe

WHAT TO ASK YOUR SERVICE PROVIDER "Will my phone work?" Ask your service provider to be certain, but generally speaking, AT&T and T-Mobile operate on a wireless network that works in Europe (it's called GSM). Verizon and Sprint don't, with a few exceptions. A key question to ask about your device: Does it support quad-band frequencies? If the answer is yes, your phone will work in Europe. Also, be sure to ask if international roaming is enabled on your phone. If it's not, your provider can turn it on simply by hitting a button. "Does it make sense to buy an international voice, text, and/or data plan?" Think about how much you'll use your phone abroad. Is it just for emergencies? Or are you using it for local calls and texts, say with a group you're traveling with? If it's for emergencies only, going with your provider's per-minute charges is probably your best bet; that's $1.29 per minute in Europe. If you're likely to use your cell phone more extensively, see the info below on rate plans, costs, and other alternatives. "How do I turn off the data features on my phone (e-mail, etc.), so I don't get hit with a huge charge?" If your phone connects automatically to the Internet, you'll pay data-plan rates whenever the phone downloads e-mail or connects to the Web. The result can be an astronomical bill you didn't know you were racking up. Every phone is different, so check the user manual or call customer service to turn off these features. AT&T has a helpful guide for iPhone users who are roaming internationally (and trust us—you can get hit with major fees). One overall tip: Use Wi-Fi on your phone instead of a 3G network to check e-mail; Wi-Fi is based in the local area (like the café you're in) and doesn't cost anything. "What other fees should I expect?" Your destination country may charge you applicable taxes and fees for using its networks locally. It's best to ask your provider. "Should I buy a 'disposable' phone at my destination instead?" Yes, if you don't want to worry about fees. You can get a phone at cell phone stores in touristy areas, at cell phone counters in department stores, and even at airports. Budget about $40 to $75 for a phone, which will usually include some prepaid calling time. You'll also have a local number, which means calls and texts within the country will be free. "Will I get charged if someone calls my phone while I'm in Europe, even if I don't answer it?" If your phone works in Europe, you can be charged for incoming calls, even if you don't answer them—and even if your phone is turned off! Normal international airtime rates apply ($1.29 per minute for all carriers), so tell people not to call or leave messages. You can also call your service provider to disable your voice mail, but note that setting it up again when you return will probably be a hassle. PICK YOUR PROVIDER AT&T Will your phone work? Yes. Costs $1.29 per minute for voice, 50¢ per text. Data download (e-mail, apps, Internet usage) costs vary depending on the phone type. Other options AT&T offers special international rate plans that bring the per-minute calling cost down to 99¢ and text messages to 20¢ (add the plan for about $6 a month). Alternatively, you can swap out your SIM, the small card that acts as your phone's brain. It stores your number, your contacts, and other important info. A new SIM card will give you a local number, but your features (applications you've downloaded, namely) won't work. Buy a SIM card ahead of time from companies like cellularabroad.com and telestial.com; prices range from $20 to $70. You have to "unlock" your phone to replace the SIM. As a protection against theft, service providers "lock" phones (meaning the phone will work only with your specific SIM). AT&T will unlock your phone if you're a long-term customer in good standing. It will take a few days to get your phone unlocked, so plan ahead. T-Mobile Will your phone work? Yes (with a few exceptions, like Sidekicks). Costs T-Mobile customers can call for $1.29 a minute; texts cost 35¢ to send and 20¢ to receive. Download data for $15 per megabyte. Other options T-Mobile doesn't have any special rate plans. If you plan to make a lot of calls, try using a new SIM card. T-Mobile will unlock your phone if your account has been active for 90 days (it will take one to two days to get it unlocked). Verizon Will your phone work? Maybe. Verizon has seven models that use the GSM technology that works in Europe, such as the BlackBerry Tour and HTC Touch Pro2. Costs If you have one of the seven models, voice is $1.29 a minute. You can add a monthly $5 plan to bring that down to 99¢ a minute. Texts always cost 50¢ to send and 5¢ to receive. Download data for $20 per megabyte, or buy an international data plan that will offer a 100 megabyte monthly allowance (rates vary depending on the phone type). Other options Verizon offers a free rental phone for up to three weeks. Standard calling rates apply. A new SIM card won't work in phones that are not GSM-compatible, so buy a disposable phone at the airport. Sprint Will your phone work? Maybe. Sprint has five models that are compatible with Europe's wireless technology. Costs $1.29 per minute for voice; 20¢ per text. Data download is about $16 per megabyte. Other options Sprint has a rental program that includes three phones that will work in Europe. One-week rentals range from $29 to $70, and insurance is suggested (starting at $9 for a week's rental). Otherwise, buy a disposable phone when you get to your destination.

Just Back From...a Mother-Daughter Trip to Rome and Venice

We're still laughing about... Our last meal in Venice. When it comes to food, the city is known for two things: seafood and risotto. I had to try some, but my mother is not an adventurous eater. When she ordered a simple fish dish, I smiled and nodded—and then cried laughing when the waiter presented her with a whole fish, head still on, eyes staring up at her. She promptly screamed. (A happy ending: The risotto was delicious, and she loved it!) Wish we'd known that... It is impossible to find anything in Venice! Addresses mean very little, and even the locals can't figure out where everything is. It took an hour to find our very charming little hotel, [PHOTO] and that was only after I parked my mom and our bags in front of a store and walked up and down every alley. I almost cried in relief when I finally found it—about 30 seconds from where I'd started. Editor's note: Streetwise has a portable map of Venice starting around $8 that has been updated for 2010. Our favorite part... Our meal at Da Ivo in Venice. It was my mother's birthday dinner, and we splurged on amazing black-truffle fettuccine and a seat by the window overlooking the canal. The service was impeccable but not fussy, and even after it was clear that we weren't going to spend an exorbitant amount of money, the service didn't falter. I think my absolute favorite moment was when the waiter unexpectedly brought out a beautiful dessert with a candle in it [PHOTO] and charmingly struggled through a couple lines of "Happy Birthday" in broken English. Then the staff gave my mom a beautiful box of truffles. We were thrilled. I'd recommend Da Ivo to anyone. What we should have packed... Rain boots! [PHOTO] While it was fascinating to see how Venetians handle the rain by erecting makeshift walkways, [PHOTO] a good pair of waterproof shoes would have helped. Despite some tough weather, I still recommend visiting Italy in February: We were able to walk into the Vatican and the Colosseum without waiting in long lines, and Venice was lovely without the oppressive crowds and heat. Worth every penny... Spending the money to take my mom on this trip. As a government attorney, I don't make a lot, but this is something I've dreamed about my entire life. Part of the fun was watching the look on Mom's face when she saw the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum for the first time. [PHOTO] She finally recognized that I was right—there are better things than Disney World. [PHOTO] Never again... Will I try to get my mother to listen to me when I say that there are huge fees for overweight bags—€100 lost to Air France! Enough said. Total rip-off... The gondolas in Venice. I appreciate that they are charming and romantic (and perhaps this was lost on me, traveling with Mom and all), but for €100-plus they seemed like a waste. The gondoliers were singing bad Frank Sinatra songs, and there's just no excuse for singing Sinatra badly. [PHOTO] Fun surprise... On a previous trip to Rome, I discovered a square in the middle of the city that I called "Ruins with Kitties Square" (because, well, there were ruins and cats everywhere). [PHOTO] My mom and I stumbled upon the square again, only this time it was raining and there were only a few brave cats outside. Mom, the eternal feline lover, was disappointed. I spotted one of the furry creatures walking down a rickety stairway. I followed it through a little door and encountered the most bizarre thing: a sophisticated and charming cat rescue, with literally dozens of cats lolling about. On rainy days, volunteers ensure that each animal has a bed. There was even a separate room for disabled cats. The volunteers gave us a quick tour and then offered us some warm wine (you've gotta love Rome). Hotel we liked... Hotel Anastasia in Venice (once we found it!) was perfectly located close to Piazza San Marco. The hotel's tiny square was quiet and felt like our own, especially since our room had shuttered windows that opened up for views of the square and one of the canals. An excursion to Murano with a tour of a glass factory was free with our stay.

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