You've heard the term "the cloud" floating around a lot, we're sure. Actually, you've probably used the cloud, whether you knew it or not. While it sounds kind of techie and esoteric, beyond the buzz-phrase lies a helpful concept with which every traveler should be familiar. Whether you decide to utilize SugarSync, SkyDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, another service, or none at all, here are six reasons why—come rain or shine, wherever you are—it's good to know about what the cloud is and how to use it.
1. Easy Access: To start, you sign up for a cloud service (several popular ones are named above). Usually there's a base plan or trial period that's free. Then to actually use the service, you upload particular files (into the proverbial sky, just meaning that it's not just on your device anymore). The upshot is that you can then see and share your documents, photos, music, and videos wherever you are. As long as you're connected to the Internet, it's mostly just a matter of logging into that account. Thus you can travel freely, without being tied down to a particular computer.
2. Save Money: When purchasing a phone, tablet, or even some laptops, it can be tricky figuring out how much memory you need. Not only that, it can mean a difference of hundreds of dollars between the low and high memory models. Using the cloud means you don't need to buy that more expensive model loaded to the gills with gigabytes. As long as your device has cellular or WiFi access to the Internet, you'll be able to pull whatever files you need. And although some cloud services offer offline access, flash drives, memory cards, and other devices are even further reasons why less memory on the device you're looking to buy may be just fine.
3. Pack Less: Any time you can accomplish the same with fewer devices—especially when it means leaving the laptop home—it's a good thing. Using the cloud means you can log in through any computer. So it could be in your hotel's business center, your host's spare room, a local library, your phone even... Wherever you find it, it translates into less for you to lug around (or lose). Win-win.
4. More Peace of Mind: If the worst should happen, it's not necessarily the worst. Even if you lose, drop, or drown your device somewhere along the trip, all is not lost. You'll probably want to replace that device, which isn't fun. But at least you can know that you can still get on any wireless device and have access to your multimedia files and business docs. Better not to test this one, but good to know that your stuff is backed up and less vulnerable.
5. Large Files, No Problem: It'd be great to be able to share that video with your friends and family of you and your S.O. holding hands while jumping off a Hawaiian waterfall. Or perhaps you're on Bondi Beach when your boss emails asking for the latest version of a presentation. In either case, the cloud allows you to send a link, rather than the huge file that'd choke your email. The link goes to the file (that you'll have to have uploaded at some point). So again, you're less tied down to being at a particular location to do what you need to.
6. Less Fumbling: True confession: How often do you email yourself? If it's not much, then how often do you spend time searching for a thumb drive, or finding the cable to hook up your phone, camera, or tablet to your computer? If it's anything other than "none," the cloud can save you time. The cloud essentially means that all your important files are synchronized wherever you are. So you can not only share stuff with others, but not waste time sharing it with yourself. One point for streamlining.
Award-winning Fodors.com Travel Technology Columnist Scott Tharler is an expert in gadgets, gambling, and travel. He's written four books, hundreds of mobile and wireless tips, and dozens of freelance articles. In addition to his Discovery News gadget blog contributions, you can find links to other gadget articles, social feeds and lists of his current favorite gadgets at about.me/gadgetfans.
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