Take your computer to the cottage
Make the transition from city to country with our guide to plugging in up north

By Sharon Oosthoek

So you want to take your laptop or desktop computer to the cottage for the summer. Maybe you plan to work from there, or maybe you just like to be connected to the Internet. Plus, the kids might be clamouring to play games on rainy days. Here's what you need to know before plugging in your prized PC.

Know how to power up your computer

Cottage country is great for watching lightning and thunderstorms, but all that electrical activity is not so great for your computer. "Surge protectors are really important," says Cottage Life Television host Linda Armstrong, who works from her cottage on Lake of Bays in Ontario every summer. "You get power outages all the time. And cottage country tends to get more electrical activity than the city."

Jay Adams, a web producer for TechTV Canada, suggests getting an all-in-one surge protector and uninterrupted power supply (UPS). The device, which looks like a power bar, can be purchased at your local computer store for $100 to $500. When the power suddenly goes out, the UPS kicks in, giving you a few minutes to safely shut down your computer and avoid the risk of losing all your hard work.

If you do not have electrical power in your cottage, Adams recommends using the fully charged battery that comes with your laptop and bringing a spare charged battery. Or you can buy an adapter that plugs into your car's cigarette lighter for your laptop. "Most newer car batteries are robust enough to power [your laptop] without having to turn on the engine," says Adams. Still, if you have an older car, be vigilant about not draining your battery.

Order an Internet connection

While high-speed Internet access is getting closer and closer to cottage country, and is in fact available to those with cottages in or near major towns, many cottagers still rely on dial-up connections. Armstrong says while she's noticed the odd satellite dish designed for high speed, it's still too expensive for most people.

She recommends getting a local connection to avoid long distance charges and getting a second phone line so that you can talk on the phone while using the computer.

Protect your technology from heat, humidity and water

Most cottagers know they need to be careful about water if they're working on their computer down on the dock, but not everyone thinks about the problem of leaving a computer in the car, says Adams.

"Don't leave it in the car in the sun with the windows rolled up. It will damage parts. It will get the computer much hotter than running speed," says Adams. "The cooler you have a computer, the better it's going to operate."

Adams is not so worried about humidity, though. "Probably other things will go wrong with your computer before you'll see damage from humidity. Just keep it out of the lake. That's a little too humid for the computer," he says with a laugh.

Keep your computer clean and safe from critters

Armstrong's husband, Tony, producer for Cottage Life Television , has had his run-ins with the local wildlife. "I strung a phone line at the main cottage, through the attic. The next spring, red squirrels ate through it," he says.

It's a good idea to put all your computer wires in a plastic tube for organizing your cords. And since most of us are less concerned with housekeeping at the cottage, he also recommends getting dust covers for both your keyboard and monitor. It can protect from crumbs and the odd bug that may fly into your equipment. But bugs are not a really big problem at the cottage, unless you run into shadflies, which when they come out in June, can get into everything. "Crumbs play a bigger role in gumming up your keyboard than bugs," he says.

Guard against theft

Adams offers one last word of wisdom: "The real problem is theft. People think, 'I'm going up to cottage country. I can leave my doors unlocked. It's a different world up here.' But the fact is computers, especially laptops, are stolen all over the place. Keep it hidden, in a closed room if possible."