Going on holidays? Get your e-mail box ready

You've suspended newspaper delivery, turned down the water heater and left extra birdseed in the feeder. Your neighbour has agreed to pick up letters and catalogues from your mailbox. But what about your e-mail? Before you head out for a week on the beach, follow these tips to keep your e-mail pen pals informed of your whereabouts (or at least whenabouts).

Set up autoreply. Some Internet service providers let you issue automatic "I'm away" responses to incoming mail. Ask your ISP's tech support if it offers the service and if so, how to set it up. Be sure your autoreply says when you'll return and whom to contact with urgent problems.

Get free e-mail. Some free Web-based e-mail services like Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com.au) also offer autoreply messages. As an added bonus, you can use these services to access your "regular" (POP3) mail while you're travelling.

Unplug. Thunderstorms have been known to hurl power surges down upon phone lines and these can fry both your modem and your PC. So before you leave, unplug the phone cord as well as the PC.

Get the right numbers. If you plan to take your laptop with you so you can log on from the hotel room (what's wrong with you, anyway?), make sure your dial-up-networking applet (or your ISP setup) is configured with local numbers. This is best handled ahead of time, while you're still at home, so you can search for dial-up numbers without having to pay long-distance call charges.

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