Travel technology – what to take and how to make the most of it
Ever wondered what you should take on the road with you in the way of electronics? After several years of travelling I’ve figured out what works for me – and what doesn’t – when it comes to technology.
Here are the gadgets that grace the inside of my backpack and a few tricks for getting the most out of them.
An essential tool of the trade for a blogger, and with the slow disappearance of internet cafes in favour of WiFi hotspots around the world, something that many other travellers consider taking with them as well. It’s far and away the easiest way of staying in touch, backing up photos etc.
After shopping around I bought an Asus EEE 1002HA about 18 months ago and it was a great choice. It’s an old model now though, so if I was buying something to replace it with I’d be looking for something with these features:
Small – both dimensions and weight. This really matters – my one has a 10" screen and weighs just over 1kg. I wouldn’t want anything much bigger than that.
Robust – it’s a netbook so it’s never going to be super strong, but you want something that won’t fall to pieces the first time it gets knocked in your bag. Make sure it comes with a protective sleeve to prevent scratches and minor bumps, or buy a third-party one.
Keyboard – if you’re going to be spending any length of time typing on your netbook a decent keyboard is vital. Try before you buy.
Operating system – Windows 7 is the default and best choice, but ideally not the crippled Starter edition. You can upgrade it after purchase, or look for a model that comes with the Home Premium version instead.
Battery life – the longer the better, obviously – a short battery life is a lot more annoying than you’d expect..
Memory – I upgraded from 1Gb to 2Gb, and it was the best thing I could have done – performance improved dramatically.
Network - I use a small Bluetooth mouse with my netbook rather than the cramped touchpad, and internal Bluetooth saves using up one of the limited number of USB slots with an adapter. WiFi is a given, and I’ve been surprised how often I’ve needed to use the Ethernet port as well.
Despite my best intentions over the years I’ve never been anything more than an amateur photographer. That was actually a good thing when it came time to buy a new camera, as it meant I could eliminate the bulky and expensive DSLRs from my search.
My criteria consisted of:
Size – the smaller and lighter the better. If it couldn’t fit easily in a shorts or jeans pocket, I wasn’t interested.
Zoom – a good optical zoon was important to me – 5x was a minimum, more was better.
Video – it had to have the capacity to take reasonable video for a minute or two, suitable for YouTube or similar.
Picture quality – while it was never going to rival a DSLR, my little camera had to be able to take high resolution photos that weren’t grainy in low light or have washed-out colours. Both of those had been an issue with previous cameras.
After a lot of research I settled on the Panasonic Lumix ZR-1, which turned out to be an absolutely fantastic camera. Most of the photos you see on this site were taken with it.
It has since been superseded by the current model, the Lumix ZR-3. There are some serious discounts on that version currently, which make it an even better buy than usual. Make sure you pick up a case for it to give a bit of protection, and a flexible tripod for night shots or self-portraits if you are like me and travel solo much of the time.
An absolute cinch for me, my iPhone has rapidly become an indispensible piece of travel technology. From offline maps to flight details, music collection to time waster and so much more, I love my phone so much that I even dedicated an entire post to her. I mean, it.
As a general rule, I use Skype and WiFi to stay in touch wherever I can. It’s quick and easy, and buying a few bucks of SkypeCredit means I can make calls to any phone in the world and talk for hours.
Before I left Australia last year I rang my provider to get the phone unlocked. This meant that I was able to use any pre-paid SIM card anywhere in the world, and take advantage of much cheaper calling and data rates. International roaming is an incredibly expensive option, best suited to those with corporate expense accounts.
I did keep my old number active, though – this meant that I had one number to which friends could send an SMS no matter where I was, and in an emergency I’d always have some way of making a call. That came in very handy when I lost my passport in Vietnam, let’s put it that way.
When I was using a local SIM card, I put my old card into an ancient old Nokia that I had lying around – this meant I was less likely to lose it and gave an easy way of checking for texts once a day without having to swap cards all the time..
I resisted buying an ebook reader for a long time – I’m very much a ‘physical book’ kind of guy. Now that I’ve finally made the leap to a Kindle, however, I’m really pleased that I’ve got one.
It’s incredibly small and light – more so than even a tiny paperback – and can store hundreds or thousands of my favourite articles, ebooks, travel guides and whatever else I might need. I picked up the Kindle 3G – it was $50 more than the WiFi-only version, but the ability to download new reading material from anywhere with cell phone coverage is invaluable.
An unexpected but wonderful benefit of the Kindle 3G lies hidden away in the ‘Experimental’ section of the menu. A slow, limited, kinda clunky web browser. Why is that so great? Because with the 3G connection, I have free access to email, Facebook etc in over 100 countries. I’d never want this to be my only way of getting online – it’s too painful for that – but in a pinch it’s fantastic.
I considered an Ipad instead, but for travelling there was really no contest. The Kindle is much cheaper, smaller and lighter, and the battery life is measured in weeks rather than hours. I bought a generic leather case for it off Ebay, so it looks like a plain old notebook or personal organiser if I need to pull it out on the street to check directions. There’s no way I’d even think of doing that with an Ipad – I’d just be far too much of a target for theft.
I work in IT when I’m not travelling, so backup has long been a concern of mine. I just know too many people, travellers or otherwise, who have lost irreplaceable data due to hard drive failures, theft or dozens of other reasons. For that reason I’m a bit paranoid about having multiple copies of everything that matters – photos, documents, address books etc.
I copy my photos from my camera to my netbook each night, and immediately make a second copy to a USB stick that I keep in my daypack. Whenever I have a decent internet connection I’ll then sync everything to Dropbox (which provides 2Gb of space for free).
For the small amount of hassle involved, the peace of mind is more than worth it. Don’t risk losing all of your digital memories.
Other than the various chargers and cables that always seem to tie themselves in knots overnight, the only other gadgets that I bother putting in my pack are a universal power adapter and a little 2-way power box. The universal adapter fits together like a jigsaw puzzle which saves room and makes it harder to lose, while the power box has come in handy more times than I can count when I need to charge more than one thing at once.
You couldn’t spend more than about $30 on the combination if you tried and they take up no room whatsoever, yet they’re worth their weight in gold.
So that’s my complete list of travel technology that I take on the road with me. What’s yours?
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