Avoid a data disaster on the road- 5 tips Reliable information can make or break your next trip, whether it's the ability to cultivate a business contact, ensure accurate company records or keep you safe. In other words, your PC data is priceless. You just can't afford to be without it. Consider: Travelers are relying on accurate information to ensure their security, according to a survey by American Express. In an age when terrorism is a persistent threat to air travel, who can blame them? Most companies have strict policies regarding the use of a corporate travel agent and company charge card, according to a Runzheimer International poll. In other words, meticulous record-keeping is now more essential than ever. Some 25% of all business travelers miss having access to their internal company systems, British market research firm Continental Research recently concluded. It's not hard to guess why: having the latest information keeps them productive. Put another way, information is more than power. It's the thing that powers your business trip. That is why I have outlined the steps below to help you avoid losing one of your most precious assets while on the road. Take it from someone who has left his office without synching his laptop and PC, who has wiped out days worth of work because he neglected to install a backup system and who even has lost clients because he ignored the importance of good, reliable, actionable information. Don't make the same mistakes I have. Here's what a career on the road has taught me about computer data: 1. Start every trip with a synch. Making sure your PDA and PC are on the same page is pretty easy. Generally, you just slip the handheld into its cradle and the computer does the rest. Synching one PC to another isn't as straightforward. I've tested every conceivable synching tool, including the one that came with my computer operating system, and they can be tricky. But they're definitely worth learning, because once you leave the office, I guarantee you'll be glad you updated your laptop. 2. Don't trust your computer. Memory sticks that plug into your laptop, such as those from manufacturer DiskOnKey, are absolutely essential to the integrity of your data. And with some units now carrying up to 4 gigabytes of capacity, you can easily fit your essential files on it. Andrew Steele, a media consultant to charities and nonprofits in Great Britain, routinely does a double backup. It recently saved his trip. "I had a laptop power supply fail," Steele recalls. "So even when the laptop battery was finally exhausted, I could carry on without embarrassment on borrowed machines." 3. Stay in touch with the office. There are several useful remote connectivity applications that let you connect to your computer or network from afar, including GoToMyPc, PCAnywhere and Microsoft Windows XP's Remote Desktop Connection. I like these options because they allow you to "catch up" on any information that you may have forgotten to synch up before you left on your trip. My biggest gripe with these programs is that they tend to be slow — particularly with a dial-up connection — making large data downloads impractical. But if you couldn't synch up before your trip, they can be a real lifesaver. 4. Collect information — and back it up. Normally, road warriors are good at collecting business cards, sales leads and receipts. But does it always make it from their folders to their PDA or laptop, and back to the office? Not necessarily. Believe me, I know. My record-keeping was so inadequate when I started traveling on business that I missed numerous charge-card payments, and I ended up losing money because I couldn't get reimbursed. Fortunately, there are products such as ExpensAble, which allow you to create expense reports as you incur the expenses. I have never used the product, since I'm now an independent contractor — but I wish it had been available when I was still employed by a company. 5. When in doubt, switch to paper. This is an obvious piece of advice, but it's so obvious that we sometimes forget it's even an option. We've become so dependent on our PCs, phones and PDAs that we don't remember: "Hey, wait a second, I could still write this information down." My partner used to make fun of me when I printed out the names and addresses of people I was visiting when I left on a business trip. Why do that when everything was on the computer (and backed up on a memory stick)? Well, there are still some things paper can do that a PC can't. Like operate without batteries. So when my laptop ran out of juice and I switched to paper, I didn't look like a dummy anymore. Not entirely, at least. When I was a rookie business traveler, I wish one of the more experienced employees in my company had offered me these simple tips about information. They would have saved me time and money and maybe helped me do my job better. But alas, it took many years on the road — and a few clients lost — before I could come up with these five tips. Here's hoping they'll save you a few headaches on your next business trip.