“The Cloud.” It is mysterious. It is useful. It is, perhaps, a bit intimidating to some. But just what is it?
To be perfectly honest, I am not entirely sure, but I have an idea. It seems that ‘the cloud’ means ‘computing service’, where users (you, me, businesses, etc.) can store, crunch, organize, and monitor their data on the web. For example, a person can store music files on an online database rather than physically storing it on their own hard drive. A business can upload sales data to an online data analysis service and interpret the results, rather than doing it in-house on their own computers.
So why is it such a big deal, and what use do travelers have for such abstract technology?
Travelers, especially when migrating for long periods or for business, can bring with them tons of information which they will use along the way. If the traveler is looking for work, he or she ought to bring a resume and a portfolio for use when applying and interviewing for jobs. A traveler may have need to bring medical records along, like vaccination records or glasses prescriptions. It can be good to have plane ticket receipts when negotiating schedule changes at the airport. Maybe the traveler has use for a calendar or an address book to keep people’s contact info. Also, it is a smart move for a traveler to bring a copy of identification information (passports, drivers licenses) along in case the originals become lost (in fact, it says right there inside your passport to bring a photocopy with you to help you get a new one at an embassy in case yours is lost or destroyed).
Most people, myself included, would probably have all of these things printed out, put in a folder, and stuffed into their bag before heading out the door. Be careful not to lose track of these sensitive documents, leaving them laying around a hotel room for someone else to find later! Also, remember not to use your suitcase as an impromptu chair and risk wrinkling up your resume! What if there was a better way? Enter the cloud. Instead of taking hard copies of your paperwork everywhere you go, or even taking a flash drive full of data, consider storing all of the papers, pictures, and sensitive documents on the cloud. This way, you can rest assured that, when your backpack slides down the hill and into the pond, your important papers remain undamaged somewhere on the web.
While it is nice to have all of your paperwork right on hand in a hard form, or electronically on a flash drive or hard drive, it can be problematic if you become separated from your information when you need it. If all you have is one copy of a resume, and you realize you have lost it, tough luck. If you need to show the embassy folks your copy of your passport, but realize your flash drive is not working, bummer.
With the cloud, you can upload, access, and edit any data and information from any device with an internet connection. Need to show someone your resume? Tap into your cloud and email it along, or print it out at an internet cafe. Need to prove you once had a passport? Ask the embassy folk if you can use their computer to log in to your cloud to see the copy you have stored. As long as you can find an internet connection, you can access any information you have posted. Conversely, any place that does not have internet probably does not care to see the things you have stored online anyway.
Papers become lost or crumpled. Wallets, passports, and electronics get stolen. This is a fact that all travelers must face. Nobody’s belongings are immune to water or physical abuse, nor are they subject to special consideration by thieves. Travelers have all sorts of tricks to keep their important things from becoming lost or stolen. Many travelers have stealthy little wallets which can be attached to obscure parts of the body for keeping money and passports. Many people bring knifeproof bags to prevent their belongings from being surgically extracted from the bag while standing on a crowded bus. Lots of people put locks on their suitcases to keep baggage handlers out or their stuff.
While there is no replacement for physically locking or hiding your belongings away and being aware of your surroundings, there is some merit in backing up your important information in the cloud. In the cloud, your information can be kept off of your person, safely and securely behind your passwords. This way, no matter what happens to you or your luggage, you know that you still have all of the important things you have loaded into the cloud.
Perhaps the best thing about using the cloud to hold your info is the low cost of doing so. There are hundreds of companies that offer free data storage for simple things like documents and pictures. Picasa allows you to store and organize photos into online albums so you never have to store your own digital pictures on your own hard drive, and works great for travelers who want to easily share their experiences with friends. Others, like Dropbox, charge monthly rates for storing and sharing larger amounts of data (music, video, etc). Keep your whole music library online if you like, for access anywhere in the world! More advanced features can become costly, like data crunching services for companies, but for dealing with simple, personal information, this is unnecessary.
Like I say, I am no internet guru (yet!). I haven’t got my head in the cloud, but I am beginning to use some very simple and free tools to help me cut down my paper trail and keep all my info in one place: Google, along with its email service, offers Google Docs, a simple document storage, editing, and sharing entity. I use this to hang onto all sorts of things including resumes and other personal things indefinitely. Even WordPress, what I am using right now to write this blog, is some cloud-thing I use to publish my travel-related musings online for the enjoyment of the public.
Backing up your information in the cloud can ease your mind while traveling. Being able to securely access, update, and share your work documents, your emergency info, your pictures online no matter what happens in the real world proves that the cloud is as versatile a tool to a traveler as a pocket knife. All you need is an internet connection.