CORPORATE RUNAWAY. WORLD WANDERER. COFFEE DRINKER.

Travel technology – what to take and how to make the most of it

Laptop in Laos
Note: While the concepts in this post are still valid, technology has marched onward as always. For the latest travel tech advice and recommendations, head over to my other site at Too Many Adapters!

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.

Netbook

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.

Something like the Asus EEE 1015PN or 1015PEM with some extra memory would be where I’d start looking now.

Camera

 

Camera

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.

 

Mobile phone

 

Mobile phone

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..

Kindle on high

 

E-book reader

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.

USB drive

 

Backup

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.

Power cable

 

Miscellaneous

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?

Note:  This article contains some affiliate links, which means that I get a small commission if you click through and purchase any of the items I’ve recommended.  If you’d like to help support this site by doing so, I’d really appreciate it!

 

[Images courtesy of BigTallGuy (camera), jepoirrier (phone), daemonv (Kindle), Ambuj Saxena (USB key) and daemonv (power cable)]

23 Comments

  1. Reply

    Lisa

    May 16, 2011

    Your list is very similar to mine - except I haven't invested in a Kindle ... yet. I do carry a classic iPod though which gives me 160gb disk space to back up photos, etc. I also use to download podcasts, including language based ones to give me something to listen to on the long bus rides.

    I've just been given a Samsung Android phone by my employer - which means I put off the idea of getting an iPhone for travelling (which in turn, could eliminate my need for an iPod I guess!). What do you see as the benefits of an iPhone over an Android phone>

    Great articles - thanks!

    • Reply

      Dave

      May 17, 2011

      The benefits of the iPhone for me are the ease of doing everything, the fact that it 'just worked' with my existing iTunes collection and the app store that has an application for pretty much everything you could think of. I reckon Android will get there too, and probably in the not too distant future...

  2. Reply

    Nigel Dean

    May 16, 2011

    Thanks David - we have just been talking the last few days about what to take when we head away. You have given me some food for thought.

  3. Reply

    Drew

    May 16, 2011

    I understand the concerns with the iPad, but I will be hard pressed to stay away from getting one the next time we are in the states. That said, I did see the new Kindle used on my train trip in India, and it looks pretty sexy. The battery life on those things and price are both huge draws, I have considered getting one for Christine.

    I love Asus, but we got a Dell Inspiron Mini in a pinch, basically because we ran into a Dell shop before we could find an Asus to buy. It's pricier, but seems pretty robust, looks great, travels great, and has a great battery life.

    Sounds like a good choice on the camera. I remember Christine marveling at the results your digital cam was getting on our road trip. For those of us saddled with the bulkier, pricey junk, it requires upgrades to other things - like an upgrade to paid Dropbox maybe, and the USB stick needs to be 4-8GB, most likely. Because of the documentary, we are also carrying FOUR 2TB drives, which is a heavy, scary sort of nightmare hoping they will do what we need them to when we need them to. We're only using two of them at the moment, but it's like carrying four bricks, if the bricks carried all of your memories and future plans. Oi.

    A power strip is unbelievably essential to us, we regularly use the entire thing with the two macs and charging batteries, powering the bricks, etc.

    For me personally, my iPhone4 is my life. On the India trip, it was my only computing device, I was able to blog from the road with it, I took 1300+ photos and videos, and didn't even make much of a dent in my storage capacity (32GB).

    • Reply

      Dave

      May 17, 2011

      If I thought I could keep the thing safe - and money was no object - I'd love an iPad, but right now it doesn't make sense for me personally as a travel device. As a 'sitting in my lounge room' device, it has no peer...

      I considered the Dell Mini, but at the time the Asus was just a slightly better option all round. Prices and specs change all the time though, of course.

      Hehe yeah I remember Christine making a comment that she was going to trade in her DSLR after seeing that flying bugs photo that I took. Still, the quality of the pics that you guys take is far, far better - if you're happy with the extra weight and actually know how to use the thing, the camera you've got is fantastic!

      I'm desperately waiting for the iPhone5 (or 4S, or whatever it'll be called) to come out so I can replace my 3G. It's been great but it's slowly starting to show the sign of being dropped and generally mistreated all around the world...

  4. Reply

    Ben

    May 16, 2011

    Great Post. I'm still debating my tech list for my trip (3 months away). The big thing that I would worry about is losing / having any of it stolen.
    I'm really considering a Kindle as well, are the books any cheaper to buy on the Kindle than physical books? With regards to your phone situation, how cheap is it to buy local sim cards? I'm assuming that you don't use it to phone across countries, that's what the skype is for? The main reason I would want a local sim card, is that I am travelling with my partner, and we want to stay in contact with each other if we get separated at all.

    • Reply

      Dave

      May 17, 2011

      The books are usually (although not always) cheaper on Kindle - it's actually the weight/size thing, plus being able to get hold of new stuff anywhere, that is the killer part of it for me.

      With the sim cards, prices are usually between about $5 and $20 for the card, which will come with a bit of credit pre-loaded. After that the sky is the limit - I paid about $30 for a card with enough credit and data to last a month in Thailand, for instance, but elsewhere in the world it can be much more expensive. And yep, I try to use Skype (either from my phone with wifi/3G/Edge data, or laptop) for overseas calls whenever I can, unless I'm leaving the country and have some credit I need to use up.

  5. Reply

    Joel

    May 16, 2011

    Pretty similar to my packing list. The one additional thing I carried on my last trip is a Garmin GPS device, specifically made for bicycles to work as a speedometer and odometer.

    My favorite feature was the fact that it records where you go in a virtual trail. I'd take it along on a boat tour through the islands around Phuket (as an example) and then be able to upload the data into Google Earth and see a track of exactly where we went.

    More of a "fun' thing than a travel necessity, but since I needed the cycling features anyway, it was a cool bonus.

    • Reply

      Dave

      May 17, 2011

      Yeah that's pretty cool. I'm sure there must be an app for that with the iphone, but battery life could start to be an issue (as usual).

  6. Reply

    Bubba G

    May 17, 2011

    Great post, Drifting!
    In addition, or in place of a netbook, the new generation of tablets (like ipads) by apple or with android Honeycomb OS, etc., can give netbooks a run for the money. Many have optional attachable keyboards as well, and can be found for less than $500.
    This summer, Samsung is coming out with cheap netbooks that run on Chrome OS, not windows, and it's much faster and lighter. If most of your work is in the cloud, might be worth checking out.

    For smartphones, I do have a 32gb ipod touch, and it's great. I would complement it with a Nokia smart phone with gps and Nokia maps, as it's one of the best maps software available. The best feature is voice guided turn by turn navigation (free), all available offline (you download the maps you need first). Saves $$ on data charges compared to using google maps, which require you be have data access at all times, which also use up battery life faster.

    Lastly, we normally don't think of wrist watches as travel tech, but I would suggest the Casio G shock series, that come in analog or digital. They come with solar power, water/dive proof, multiple alarms, time zones, timers, and are durable.

    • Reply

      Dave

      May 17, 2011

      Those Honeycomb tablets are pretty damn tempting - someone at work has got one and I was playing with it the other day. I'll be taking a close look when I'm in the US in a couple of weeks, let's put it that way! My work generally won't be in the cloud (ie, I can't guarantee internet access) so I think the ChromeOS ones are out for me...

      I haven't bothered with a watch in years, but if I was going to buy one I think a G shock series would be the way to go!

  7. Reply

    I think your travel tech changes slightly with your travel needs. From Drew & their doc, to my Dad who pretty much just travels with his iPad now.

    I've been joined by:

    Acer Ultralight 11.6" Notebook core i7 w/ 500GB hybrid drive, 8GB
    500GB external HD (2.5")
    Nikon D90 (+ a bunch of lenses)
    iPhone 3G
    iPod 80GB (Hasn't been used in a year)
    Wireless mouse

    Some of the stuff I've added more recently since I've been more stationary (ext HD, new w/l mouse). The notebook is about 2.5x as much as a netbook, but many many times faster, and only about 1.5kg. Worth it for me.

    For backups, the cloud just isn't a 100% option for me. I back up my docs and settings with Mozy (free 2GB) and for my photos, I have about 140GB in memory cards. I load my photos from the memory cards every day or so, leaving a copy on the card. I don't delete the memory cards until they are all full, so I always have 2 copies (notebook, memory card). When the memory cards are becoming full (every 6 months or so), I buy an ext hard drive, load all my images and my Lightroom library on them and ship it back to Canada. Once it arrives and they verify the information, I start wiping the memory cards as I need them.

    • Reply

      Dave

      May 17, 2011

      I was starting to run out of space a little by the end of my trip last year on all of the mediums I was using - and that wasn't taking huge photos, and culling them down as I went. Your strategy is a good one, if a bit expensive and time consuming for some. For the sake of surety though, it's probably the best option.

      I liked your notebook a lot - if I was doing something that just needed more grunt than a netbook could provide, I'd be going with something very similar.

  8. Reply

    Jodi

    May 18, 2011

    Good, streamlined list. For the backup, I'd also recommend Mozy which isn't free but does allow you to fully back up ever file on your system, useful if your computer is stolen. That or Carbonite, though I prefer Mozy. Have you installed Onavo on your iPhone?

    • Reply

      Dave

      May 19, 2011

      I haven't installed Onavo - it looks like a great idea though. It's not a need I've had yet - I never get through my 'home' data plan in Aus, and the only time I bought a data connection on a pre-pay SIM was in Thailand, and it was for 100 hours rather than x amount of data. A bit strange, but there you go. If I needed to reduce the amount of data I was moving around though, it looks awesome!

  9. Reply

    Nick

    May 22, 2011

    Hello Dave,
    Great post.
    Was just wondering if you have tried CityMaps2Go on your iphone. I've read that Offmaps isn't as good now that Offmaps 2 is out and you can't select your own maps to download. Have you noticed any problems with Offmaps since the release of Offmaps 2?

    I'm looking for an offline map app for my iPad and have narrowed my search down to Offmaps and CityMaps2Go. Forevermap was a possibility as well but it apparently does not cover Europe.

    I'm backpacking Europe this summer for 2-3 months and I would really appreciate any input you could give on this issue.

    Thanks!

    • Reply

      Dave

      May 23, 2011

      Hi Nick - thanks! I've heard the same thing about Offmaps 2 - it has apparently sacrificed money making for usability. :( Thankfully I've still got the original version on my phone, and it works fine - just downloaded a bunch of new maps for my upcoming trip to the US and Canada to prove it!

      I haven't used CityMaps2Go as yet, so can't comment on that one.

      Anyone else have any recommendations for Nick on a good offline map application for iOS?

  10. Reply

    Stuart

    May 23, 2011

    Everytrail has free and paid versions that allow you to predownload maps for specific areas. It's actually a map drawing app, but you can use it just as a map reading tool.

    • Reply

      Nick

      May 24, 2011

      I'll check it out.
      Thanks

  11. Reply

    Zinganna

    November 11, 2011

    Hey Dave, have a look at power gorillas and monkeys

  12. Reply

    christian gittings

    February 23, 2012

    you can just download the kindle app from Amazon and read the books on the netbook if it is a small sized netbook and some netbooks change into tablets like the DELL Inspiron Duo Touchscreen Netbook/Tablet Windows 7 so you don't need a kindle

    • Reply

      Dave

      February 23, 2012

      Yup, you could do that if you only wanted to read the occasional book or quickly check a guide. For me though, there's no comparison between the non reflective Kindle screen and a standard tablet / netbook / phone for long periods of reading. Add in the battery life of several weeks and the free 3G internet browsing in much of the world and it's a no-brainer.


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Leave a Reply

© 2009 - 2014 David Dean. All rights reserved.
Designed by: Never North Labs