Firing Up Your Laptop, Eurostyle

You've brought your portable computer to Europe, and now you want to check your electronic mailbox back home. No problem--if you've got the right jack, plug adapter, and hotel phone system.

Traveling with a laptop in Europe can be frustrating, even when it comes to something as simple as plugging it in. And there's no way to avoid that--unless you bring an extra suitcase for batteries. Most luggables have adjustable current settings that get you from the 110 volts used in the U.S. to Europe's 220. But those flat prongs on your U.S. power cord won't fit. Travel kits have adapters for most European outlets. If you're missing the right one, visit a hardware store.

Also, consider your lodging very carefully. "The biggest problem we have is the connection at the hotel," says Colin Adams, European technical manager for Associated Press. Hotels that have direct-dial phones with detachable wall jacks are the best. "Hotel switchboards are connection killers," he warns. Hotels with digital PBXs are even worse because they won't recognize your machine's analog dial tones. One solution: Disable the automatic-dial feature of your telecommunications program, replace your e-mail number with a comma (read as a pause), then dial the number manually.

LOCAL PRONGS. Even if your hotel phone has a detachable plug jack, it won't be the familiar modular RJ-11 style with the plastic clip. But European electrical stores sell adapters that have the local prong design on the wall side and a modular opening facing you. You can also bring along a modular cord with bare wires at one end that you can connect to a local phone plug.

Veterans of Europe's phone systems also carry a modular cord with alligator clips at one end. If a phone is wired to a wall box, you can screw off the plate and hook the clips to the appropriate wires. If your phone has a removable mouthpiece, you can attach the clips to the springy

metal contacts inside.

If such solutions sound beyond your technical abilities, consider acous-

tic couplers. Attached to a modular cord, these fit over most phone earpieces and mouthpieces. With couplers, you dial a number manually, get a carrier signal from the computer you're calling, put the couplers on, and transmit or receive.

PHONE HOME. Once you get a connection, it could cost a bundle if you use the switchboard. Try a call-home service of a U.S. company, such as AT&T's USADirect, that lets you direct-dial your home base via an 800-style number.

One sure way to avoid many obstacles is a satellite phone. That's what AP reporters used in their coverage of the gulf war and Somalia. "They're very expensive," says Adams. "But they sure work."

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.