How to Blog from a Cyber Café
For a large portion of my travels I did not have a laptop. When it came to blogging about my travels this brought up a heap of new problems. I had no choice but to use public computers, some located in pretty dodgy cyber cafés. Others located in shut up tight ultra modern machines that don’t let you do anything but surf. Here are a few tips and tricks I used when travel blogging from cyber cafés.
Choosing the cyber cafés
I look at these places like danger zones. Sometimes they’re run by ticket machines with no support, sometimes they’re over crowded with dodgy people staring blatantly at every key you press. Choose as carefully as possible. If it’s an automated café make sure you can access things like USB ports and your preferred websites. There’s usually something posted on the walls about that. Or simply take a wander around and become that dodgy person looking at what everyone else is up to. If you see USBs sticking out of PCs, then they probably work.
Choose as carefully as possible.
If the cyber café is run by a human, then ask questions: Can I use a USB drive? Can I use gmail/yahoo/my blog site? And, do you have Anti virus protection? With that settled, are there other travellers in there doing the same thing you want? Or is the place full of dodgy people typing from lists, or modelling in front of a web cam? If the latter, I would advise finding another place to blog from.
Lastly, when it comes to finding the best café to blog from timing can be important. In some parts of the world electricity is rationed. Or there are black outs. Ask if they have a generator; or, perhaps more importantly, if they have fuel. (Also ask whether it works and whether they will switch it on!)
Bandwidth (internet speed) is often dominated by the amount of people in the café, if you are uploading photos choose a time when there are less travellers in the café. Early morning is usually good.
Tips for once you’ve found a café
Where to sit
- If you have a bag, put it between you legs. It’s easy to become distracted and lost in blogging, that some one can pick through it or remove it.
- Pick a computer with a partition on both sides to prevent the pervert next to you peeking at your screen.
- If someone is staring at your screen, stare right back at them between the eyes until they look away. If they do it again, loudly (not shouting) tell them to stop looking at your screen (this usually works). If they do it again, shut up shop, ask to be moved, or leave.
- If there are two annoying tourists on either side of you talking away, tell them to please be quiet and that you are trying to concentrate. If they continue, move and make a point in saying why, that usually shuts them up too.
- Avoid sitting next to people on Skype or cafés filled with them. It’s noisy, distracting and they are using a lot of bandwidth.
As a travel blogger posting photos is a must. A picture is after all worth a thousand words. Without a laptop this can be a big problem. Firstly I back up my photos on a portable hard drive and then DVD. Then I copy the photos that I want to upload onto my USB drive. Here’s the important bit – resize. If you look at my own website 95 % of all my photos are under 45kb. Yet my camera takes an average photo of 4.5MB. Uploading a full photo to your blog will not only take you too long, but it will also take the people looking at your blog too long to download. I use a batch resizer and renamer called Faststone. It can convert and rename 100s of photos in a matter of a minute. What’s more, you can install it onto your USB disk. Uploading them to your blog will now take no time at all. I also get as many photos up onto blog storage as possible for future posting. There are also others like Picasa and online ones like Sumo Paint with various capabilities between them.
I also use on-line storage for my original photos. There are plenty of them out there like Flickr, Travellerspoint, Mozy, ADrive etc. Personally I prefer something like ADrive as you can batch upload from most cyber cafés and don’t need to install software. I find sites like Flicker too restricting in terms of storage, and a prime place to have all your photos snatched away and copied. But then it will suit those who just want to upload holiday snaps. Lastly, don’t leave your photos on a cyber cafés desktop. It won’t be long before some else copies them, or uses them for ill will. I’ve seen a tourists photo appear on several on-line forums by someone else pretending it was them for the purposes of a scam.
Security is important when it comes to blogging from cyber cafés as they are, to put it simply, not secure. Key logging is a very common practice. A simple on-line search will show you how easy it is. Cyber cafés are also fairly prone to viruses. And, unfortunately there’s little you can do about it. But here are a few tips to stay safe:
- Keep everything on your flash drive.
- Use Portable WinClam, a free anti virus. Keep to scanning your own files, and never the pubic computer.
- Change your passwords frequently. If you have access to a mobile phone with internet this is a good way to change a password after leaving a dodgy café. Though still not 100% secure in its own right.
- Banned sites – in some countries it’s not possible to visit certain sites. China for example is well known for blocking BBC sites. Use an on-line proxy web proxy service to bypass all this. It might make a page look weird, and a lot of the proxies are banned, but persevere and you’ll find one eventually.
- Your bookmarks, social networks and favourite sites are portable with Firefox. I use the Foxmarks extension to save all my favourite bookmarks to I can access them from any place. There are also some extensions that allow you quick access to Twitter and all your favourite social sites. Lastly there are also extensions that allow you to post directly to your blog.
- Mo-Blogging: Enable mo-blogging so you can email in an entry, complete with photos if you are stuck in a café that is blocking your access, or refuses to allow you to upload.
- For security you can set up a special secondary email address just for this that utilizes pop3 to access your primary email account. Here, if there are keyloggers around they’ll only get access to your secondary email account which you can disable if need be and your primary email will be safe.
- Blog ahead of time. Travel blogging is hard work. You are after all on the road and meant to be out seeing things and meeting people. Utilize all your time in a cyber café. If you’re with others and waiting, don’t get distracted by Stumbleupon – start work on your next entry! Setting up scheduled posts is also a great way not to spend every week looking for a café.
Using a laptop
Lastly if you have a laptop, and have to use a cyber café for a connection you need to be careful as well. WiFi is not all that secure.
- Make sure you have a good firewall, and anti virus and update everything once you are on-line.
- If there is no WiFi and only LAN cable access make sure you know how to change any settings on your laptop before you plug in.
- Don’t let the café manager near your laptop.
- Don’t hop into the first cyber café you see. Take a walk around and pick one that meets all your needs.
- Use portable applications; they save time, they work and provide a little security.
- Resize and upload small photos for all your blog posts.
- Change passwords frequently
- If your hostel has an old computer, ask to use it. Then, using portable OpenOffice, write up your blog entries ahead of time, thereby minimizing your time on-line.
- Practice before you leave. Try out your new portable apps, resizing photos, and uploading before you start travelling. Try at home, then try some test posts from a local cyber café rather than leaving it until you are on the road.
Nothing will replace the convenience and security of a laptop when travelling. But it’s not always practical, nor feasible as I learned on my own travels. Travel blogging from a cyber café is not always the easiest of things to do. These are some of the tips I picked up along the way as I travel blogged in cyber café. I’m sure there are other tips and tricks that can be added to this article so feel free to add away!