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Tips for hassle-free computing at 33,000 feet

Before you board your next flight, learn how to make the friendly skies at little friendlier to your tech.

I'm writing this from around seven miles high in the sky, where I can't help but marvel at the technology that's allowing my laptop a reasonably speedy Interent connection (never mind the technology that's keeping me--hopefully--from plummeting to earth).

I don't fly that often, but I've done it enough to have learned some tips for successful traveling with technology:

1. Don't pack a big laptop

If you're shopping for a new portable and can't decide between the 13.3-inch and 15.6-inch models, picture yourself in a coach seat. With the seat in front of you tilted all the way back. You're a sardine. And a big laptop will make it very, very difficult to angle the screen for comfortable viewing, to say nothing of typing.

That's why I refuse to travel with anything larger than a 13.3-inch laptop. That's what I'm using now, and it just barely fits my confines.

2. Remember the most important rule of traveling with tech

Now that most airplanes offer Wi-Fi, you may be tempted to do a little in-flight housekeeping: install a new driver, update Windows, or maybe even load a new piece of software.

Don't. As I noted in "The one thing you should never do while traveling," making any changes to your PC can result in glitches, lockups, or worse--and that's the last thing you need during a trip. Indeed, tech support at 33,000 feet can be awfully hard to come by. Whatever update you're thinking about doing, it can wait.

3. Share your connection

I just paid $20 for three hours of Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi. Ugh. The real bummer is that I can't share that connection with, say, my tablet or phone, or with my spouse if she was traveling with me.

Thankfully, I can turn my laptop into a wireless hotspot with Virtual Router Plus, a free utility that's great for sharing connections like these. (But this may violate tip #2, as I found that running this program interfered with my VPN connections. So user beware.)

4. Use the air-sickness bag to hold your smartphone

If the only movie you want to watch in-flight is loaded on your smartphone, you have two options: You can hold it upright for two hours, craning your neck uncomfortably all the while, or you can hack your barf bag into a smartphone mount.

This clever Instructable leverages the flexible metal piece(s) used to close up a used bag (ew). Depending on the design of the bag, you may need to borrow (read: steal) a couple extras. But after a little strategic bending, you'll be able to mount your phone on the seatback in front of you for a more comfortable viewing angle.

Have you found any other ways to improve the tech experience while flying? Share them in the comments!

Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at hasslefree@pcworld.com, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PCWorld Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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