Thursday, April 9, 2009

Free Sleeping and the Internet

As a professional Free Sleeper, I can do without a lot of things. I don't need a bed or a roof over my head, and I can coast by on very little money for food and sundries, but there's one thing you can't take away from me: my CrackBerry™.

I've had mine for less than two months, but it has already become an indispensable part of my operation. As an internet-based lifeform, I'm willing to sacrifice almost anything to remain productive on-line, and the CrackBerry™—excuse me, BlackBerry™—has turned into the critical nexus for most of my computing activities. In the Dark Ages prior to two months ago, I did fine, but now that I can see what I was missing it would hard to turn back.

The BlackBerry™ performs three critical functions: (1) It's a telephone (which is so, like, totally 20th Century, but you still need to have one); (2) It's a mini-computer on its own, running several simple but critical applications; and (3) I can tether it to my laptop for a normal internet connection at roughly dial-up speed. Prior to the BlackBerry™, I was using my cellphone to send and receive simple email messages and hunting down free WiFi™ for my major computing. Now, I still use free WiFi™ when available but I don't have to have it.

Actually, I take that all back! I can get along just fine without my BlackBerry™. After all, I did it for decades, all the way back to my first typewriter in the late 1970s. The advantage of more primitive technology is that it forces you to be more disciplined, and all these newfangled gadgets encourage sloth. Still, technology can open doors by relieving you of the some of the more routine tasks of life. If you can spend only a half hour preparing your food or washing your clothes vs. four hours, you have a lot of extra time for more creative things.

This is illustrated by the many ways the internet makes budget travel and Free Sleeping easier. Here are some of the ways I have used the internet to get a good night's sleep—with or without my BlackBerry™:

1) On-Line Maps and Satellite Images can help me select a campsite. Applications like Google Earth™ and Google Maps™ allow me to survey a city before I even set foot there, identifying potential Free Sleeping locations that I can later check out in person. So far, I have used these products to find discreet campsites in Portland, OR; Key West, FL; Fort Lauderdale, FL and Paris, France. A free Google Maps™ application for the BlackBerry™ puts this technology in the palm of my hand, and it automatically hooks into the B'Berry™s on-board GPS to guide me exactly to the place I saw from above.

2) Hostel Reservations are now easy as pie, thanks to (See How to Sleep in a Hostel.) Back when I first started hosteling in the 1980s, reservations were a complex process involving the mail, and I was often forced into high-priced hotels merely because I didn't know what was available. Now, you can instantly see the available hostels and their rates and make reservations in seconds. HostelWorld has even created hostels where none had previously existed, because it gives private hotels the means to offer dorm accommodations. (Back in the 1980s, European hostels—at least those used by Americans—were primarily non-profit; today they are primarily for-profit, which has dramatically increased the available options.) has been optimized for mobile devices.

3) Weather Reports are now easily accessible. When you're sleeping under the stars, it's critical to know what kind of weather is coming at you, and the internet gives you the latest. If tempests are closing in, I can alter my plans accordingly.

4) Public Transportation Routes and Schedules are almost always available on the web. This means I can coordinate them with campsites and places I need to go in ways I never could have imagined 20 years ago. For example, without the internet, I wouldn't have known that you can get from Key West to Miami by a series of public buses, which has saved my ass on at least one occasion. (See "Free Sleeping in South Florida".) A lot of the need for a car is alleviated by simply knowing what public transit is available.

5) Airline and Rental Car Reservations are now easier than ever, and you're always assured of getting the lowest price. It happens that I currently use only one rental company (that one with the fort in Texas), and one airline (the one I'm furloughed from), but the internet still makes it vastly easier to know what's available and to set things up.

6) Unrestricted Worldwide Communication changes the whole character of homelessness. It means I can write a blog entry or shoot off an email from a hilltop in San Diego just as easily as from an apartment in Manhattan. Why, then, do you need the apartment?

In a broader sense, the internet has abrogated the whole notion of the fixed home as an archive location. With all of your data gone "virtual", you don't need books, newspapers, photo albums, filing cabinets, notebooks, desks or office supplies—just a laptop and a BlackBerry™ (and eventually access to a power socket to recharge them).

I may have to mortgage my soul to support my new child. My current monthly communication bill is well over $100, but it's a relatively small price compared to the cost of a fixed residence.

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