To Africa and Back with the HP Palmtop

The HP 200LX helps a couple from Maryland prepare for their dream vacation to Africa

By Linda Worthington

After several years of talking and dreaming of a trip to Africa, my husband and I decided that this would be the year. It was clear that this would be a complicated journey, with more travel and lodging details than we usually deal with. We would be visiting South Africa and Zimbabwe for almost one month, staying in a variety of hotels and remote camps, and flying in and out of several airports on various airlines and charters. As the organizer of our travel plans, I needed all the help I could get. I began to organize all of our travel details on the HP 200LX.

I became an HP Palmtop owner in 1994, starting with a 2MB 100LX and graduating to the 200LX. From the first, this little computer has been my constant companion and my very best organizational tool. I probably use the Appointment Book Calendar more than any other feature. Phone Book comes in a close second. I store a large variety of information in Phone Book, and use its Category feature to sort through it all. I use many of the other built-in features, and have added some of my own, including Trees<ON DISK>, Buddy<ON DISK>, and more. I can no longer imagine life before or without my HP 200LX.

D-Day minus six months: Scheduling the trip details and reminders in Appointment Book

About six months before the trip we met with Dave, our Outfitter. His job was to arrange the schedules and accommodations for us in Africa. After discussing our desires with Dave, we finalized our D-Day (departure date) and the length of the trip data (July 9 to August 5). I entered them as appointments into my HP Palmtop, and then contacted Gay, a Travel Agent with extensive experience in booking African travel. She had worked with Dave's company in the past and a thorough knowledge of the airlines in the area, where they went, and their schedules. She was able to make all the arrangements needed, including connecting flights from our home in Maryland to Miami and from there to Cape Town, South Africa. I entered both Dave and Gay's contact information in my PhoneBook. I gave each the Category, Travel/Sport and later added the Category Africa as contacts not related to Travel/Sport were added to PhoneBook.

We would stay in Cape Town for three nights, and continue on to Harare, Zimbabwe, where we would stay for two nights before catching our charter flight out into the bush. Later we would fly on still another airline to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and be driven to the lodge where we would be staying. The return trip would require three more flights on three separate airlines, including one final flight from NY back to Baltimore. As our travel agent booked each leg and obtained seat assignments, she faxed me the information. I entered it into the Palmtop, with each flight time listed as an appointment and the seating and gate details entered in the F3 Note field of the individual appointment.

From other friends who had recently traveled to Africa, we learned that we would need a number of different shots and pills. I made a series of appointments with our doctor for the shots. Every time we received a shot, I would note it down in the Note field associated with the appointment. In addition, we would have to take an anti-malaria pill every Sunday, starting two weeks before we left, and continuing while we were there and for two weeks after we returned home. I entered this as a Weekly Repeating Event. Each Sunday, Appointment Book reminded us to take our medicine.

D-Day minus one month: NoteTaker, PhoneBook and DataBase store information I'll need on the trip

As we got closer to departure, we purchased Travelers Checks and entered the numbers and denominations in a separate NoteTaker entry. Another NoteTaker entry listed small gifts I hoped to find for our House Sitters, family and close friends. Also, there was the group of people to whom I wanted to send postcards. I used PhoneBook for this, entering the word Postcard in the Note field of each individuals listing. I then created a Subset to select on that word in the Notes field. I always have our Passport numbers, Drivers Licenses, Auto and Health Insurance information and similar facts in a DataBase in the Palmtop, too.

D-Day minus one week My ToDo list and packing list help me tie up the loose ends

My Appointment Book ToDo List kept constantly changing. As I removed one item, two more seemed to take its place! But finally, in the last week, the ToDo list began to shrink and I began to consult my Packing List for the final preparations. I keep my Packing List as a Memo text file. I have been using this list for years, on various computers and as a hard copy. The basic list covers all of our usual needs for a trip. We alter it for specific trips, and expanded it a bit for this unique adventure. We added a complete medical kit, khaki clothes, tough hiking boots and powerful sun screen. Also on the list were some exotic adapters and a special Surge Suppressor for use with my HP OmniBook in Zimbabwe. These proved to be some of the most useful items in my electronic armory. It turned out that the only means of charging the OmniBook, as well as my video camera, was from the generator at the remote camp. The special adapters let me connect up to the generator. I carried three types of adapters, which managed to cover the unbelievable variety of wall sockets in Africa!

D-Day minus one day: Entering final data and backing up my computers

By our departure date I had added several more names to my PhoneBook (Category, Africa). My Appointment Book got the final details of locations and times of arrivals and departures, along with seating and ground transportation information. Just prior to D-Day, I created a summary of all this information and printed out copies of it for family members and friends who would be watching out for things at home. I kept the summary as a MEMO text file, to reference on the trip as needed. I also carried a hard copy with our thick stack of tickets.

I treated my 200LX to a new set of Lithium AAs and backed up everything on my Palmtop to my desktop. I also backed it up to my OmniBook. My Palmtop and OmniBook both have PC Card slots, allowing me to share PC Cards. This made it easy to back up information from one to the other during the trip. I was comforted to know that, should the OB fail, I could continue the Journal and articles I was working on in Memo on the 200LX.

I had decided against trying to go on-line while in Africa. Much of our stay would be in very remote areas where phones were either unavailable or undependable. Id have to miss all the action on my favorite CompuServe Forums. In the U.S., I always carry a card modem, but this time I left it at home. I had cause to be grateful for this decision. It was difficult to obtain AT&T access codes, get a line that would work without cutting me off, and finding a convenient time to call even one phone call home proved to be a challenge.

Departure Day: July 9, 1995

We left on schedule on the 9th of July. All during our long and wonderful holiday I consulted the 200LX on travel details, reservation information, phone numbers and reminders. Once I had remembered to set the time to the local hour, the Palmtop stopped changing the date in the middle of the day!

During my preparations for the trip I had added Cape Town and Harare to my World Clock Custom List. World Time is good at keeping track of the time differences between different parts of the world. When you are dealing with a seven hour time difference, a phone call placed at a perfectly civilized hour in one location can be, literally, a rude awakening in another. The World Clock also gives valuable information about phone access codes and prefixes, time offset (time difference between the highlighted city and the system or universal clock), location of the city (latitude and longitude), and daylight savings time information. I enjoy the World Time map, as did other people who saw it. I could show them roughly where our home was, and that was fun for all.

I wrote my journal (AFRICA .ZIP), this article and two others on the OmniBook and backed them up to my Palmtop frequently. Every where we went, people were amazed and fascinated by the 200LX. It rode in my pack or on my belt all over South Africa and Zimbabwe. I suspect I may have sold a few along the way. Both the HP 200LX and the HP OmniBook 530 performed flawlessly throughout, despite heat, clouds of dust and severe battering on very rough dirt roads and tracks.

Returning to our normal lives

As the adventure neared its end, the Palmtop helped prepare us for our normal lives. Appointment Books Monthly View displayed appointments and commitments awaiting us. In addition, my ToDo list now contained new items to accomplish after we got home, (send copies of photos to new friends in Africa, etc.).

When I bid farewell to my friends on CompuServe's Hand-held Forum, Stan Dobrowski suggesting I write this article. You can give Stan the credit for the idea of the article, but the HP Palmtop takes the prize for a Travel Tool par Excellence!