Google Sheets, Docs, and Forms are Failures for Traveling

Why Google Docs, Sheets and Forms are not the ‘Best’ solution.

Recently I attempted to use Google Documents in support of a Study Abroad University course.

First, why I wished to embrace Google Documents?

Google Docs Icon
Google Docs Icon

The Study Abroad Course that I tried to use Google Documents with was taught by myself and another professor.  We needed access to logistic information and often this collaboratory effort(s) happened in intense sessions where we were accessing or creating information real time and sometimes at the same time. Additionally, we had support staff that, at times, needed to contribute and access the information.

What worked

We found Google Docs and Sheets to be very useful in the academic setting while planning and preparing the course logistics. This is a real strength for Docs and Sheets. At no time were we unable to access the information, and the realtime nature of Sheets and Docs was gratifying. We even set up Forms to leverage recording information from students in a Sheets.

What did not work

Access to Sheets and Docs once I was traveling abroad was abysmal. It is not as if I was traveling to a country without robust internet infrastructure. I was traveling from the USA to the United Kingdom, primarily London Heathrow Airport, and then on to Poland, Warsaw, Krakow, Bydgoszcz, and Gdansk.

Access to Google Sheets and Docs requires access to the internet. Obviously when traveling abroad 3G, 4G, LTE cellular access is possible, but very expensive. While wifi locations are daily plentiful in Poland, the Google experience was frequently, and I do mean frequently, uninspiring. While access to DropBox, and iCloud documents was nearly flawless, Google drive Docs and Google Sheets was not. Furthermore, even when Google Drive reported that the documents were in-sync starting Sheets or Docs frequently failed, or terminally stalled, when trying to load the documents. These documents were not particularly long, complicated or large in size, so this was very frustrating.

My experience with Google Sheets and Docs was good when sitting at my desk with a fat internet pipeline of the academic setting. It was also very transparent from my home DSL broadband. However, once I moved away from this fat pipeline to the internet of hotel rooms and wifi cafes, these medium to slow access speeds, or increased latency of some of the wifi (and obviously 3G, 4G and LTE) locations, the experience was miserable, frustrating, and left me with a great desire to move away from this Google product and find another for future endeavors of this sort.

As stated, I found that DropBox and iCloud worked acceptably while traveling. DropBox and iCloud are not as slick when sitting at my desk at my home academic institution. Why? They do not offer the experience with respect to realtime editing and collaborations.

Is there something else?

Perhaps, but probably not principally different from the above named products. Worth noting is that I have not used the Microsoft product at this time, mostly because of some very acrid opinions of many of my colleagues about that product. Interestingly academic administrators like the Microsoft product much more than those of us ‘in the trenches’ of creating long, diverse, and sometimes complicated documents for publications and presentations.

Regardless of the products that are available, we must consider all of our users. We Americans are so forgetful that most of the world does not have the connectivity that we enjoy on the American University Campus. We exclude the disadvantaged in our rush to embrace the latest, and most cutting edge, tools. I am guilty of this as evidenced by my chronicling this experience.

Is Google Docs and Sheets a tool for today.

No. So far it is elitist. It is for the well connected user who will always have that ‘connection’ that is robust and clutter free. If it were the tool for today then Google Chrombooks would be taking the world by storm. They are, after all, cheaper than a device that does not require a constant connection to the internet to function acceptably.


Not again soon. I would really like to see this product succeed. However, for today it needs a fall back local copy to be truly useful for the use by the masses. Otherwise, it is elitist. Reserved for the rich in data transfer speed and low latency.

Post Script see the posts Google Docs and Sheets Advantage and Why carry the iPad in addition to MacBook Air for Travel

3 thoughts on “Google Sheets, Docs, and Forms are Failures for Traveling”

  1. Oh no! I didn’t realize you had such a dismal experience while abroad, and you do have some valid points about the importance of connectivity infrastructure. It seems, however, that the elitist arguments could be made for other cloud-based collaboration tools as well (ex. Microsoft live, share point, zoho, etc) since they are all dependent on connectivity.

    Despite these limitations that I hope will fade as internet infrastructure improves in depth and breath, I still contend that the functional and integrated aspects of Google platforms (including Drive) are of significant value to us in academia in terms of fostering collaboration among faculty and students in ways that enhance our teaching, research and service.