How to Find In-Flight Wi-Fi, Recover a Stolen Laptop, and Donate a Timeshare

As more and more of us travel with an armload of high-tech gadgetry, we need to make sure we can use it effectively. Some new, new-to-me, and been-around-awhile online resources can help. And you may need some help, if you have a timeshare you no longer want to use.

Locating Airborne Wi-Fi

Many big U.S. and international airlines now provide for in-flight Wi-Fi access on some planes. Most U.S. lines have adopted GoGo's land-based system, which involves a large number of ground stations that, in aggregate, cover most of the United States and border areas of Canada. A few, however, have opted for satellite-based systems, which provide connections across the Atlantic and Pacific. Along with the usual fare and schedule information, the online travel agency CheapAir notes which flights offer onboard Wi-Fi, as well as personal video monitors, live TV, and movies. Whether or not you book through CheapAir, the information will help you select flights that provide the particular flavor of online connectivity you're searching.

Keeping Track of Your Stuff

You aren't unusual if your "don't-leave-home-without-it" list includes a laptop/notebook and a smartphone. Both items are useful—and easy and desirable targets for thieves. Several outfits provide systems to help you keep track of those items and, if you're lucky, help you recover one you've lost:

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  • Some providers use the popular "freemium" business model: You can get a barebones "free" or "demo" version without paying, but have to pay a one-time or yearly fee for more full-featured systems. Among them: Front Door Software, Locate Laptop, LocateMyLaptop, Prey, and YoYo Laptop Tracking Software. All are available for both PC and Mac, and several are also available for iPhones, Androids, and Windows phone devices. Some let you disable data on a stolen laptop if you can connect to it. The main drawback is that a savvy thief can usually remove or disable them.
  • Other programs start off with full-featured versions that include not only the tracking software but also backup agents who work with local police to attempt to recover the computer. Among them: Brigadoon Security Group's Phone Home, GadgetTrak, and LoJack for Laptops. Fees start at about $30 per year.

I haven't personally tested either type—fortunately—so I can't make a personal recommendation. But trade reports indicate that they help in many cases.

Donating a Timeshare

These days, many timeshare interval owners who no longer wish to use their intervals are "upside down" on their units: Like homeowners whose mortgages exceed their property values, these folks seem trapped into their "investments," facing various ongoing payments even when they can't sell and don't use the timeshare. Although, in theory, owners can sell an unwanted interval, they often find no takers for a relatively unattractive timeshare carrying high payments. Even if they're willing literally to give their timeshare away, they may find no takers. Of course, there's no shortage of scammers who will take a big fat fee up front and promise to get rid of those units, but they often disappear with your money without results.

Many owners think they can solve the problem by donating the timeshare interval to a charity, taking a tax write-off and at least getting out from under the payments. Sadly, that doesn't always work; a charity has no more interest than an owner in paying out ongoing fees for a timeshare it can't sell. A couple of websites provide some insight into these problems:

  • Timeshare Trap provides a useful overview of the donation option and its risks.
  • Donate for a Cause is an umbrella site that facilitates donations to many charities.

Both sites provide pretty good primers on the subject. And both note that owners have to pay off any outstanding loans on the interval and maybe pay something to offset a charity's risk. The key rule, says both, is that owners should never pay any money until the accepting organization actually takes title.

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Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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