Essential Travel Technology

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I’ll never be one of those travelers who can completely disconnect from the cyber-sphere, nor am I somebody who insists on leaving behind gadgets for the sake of ‘roughing it’. My electronics constitute a goodly portion of my carry on whenever I travel for more than a few days at a time, and I know I’m not alone in this.

Smart phones, cameras, tools for distraction, tools for productivity, and various other sundries have become an essential part of travel in the modern era.

Sure, sometimes you pack something that you don’t end up needing, but when your trip gets randomly extended (as my current five week trip somehow swelled to five months) it pays to be prepared.

Below you’ll find a selection of what I’ve dubbed essential travel technology. I use the term ‘essential’ loosely. You can get by without these things, but they certainly make life easier.

1. Smartphone

Here’s one I never leave home without. Phones have become so much more than a simple means of communication, with apps and other functionality making them an invaluable travel companion.

Look beyond the ability to stay connected through apps like Facebook or What’sApp. Hell, look past software like Skype and Viber that lets you phone home for free.

Look beyond the ability to distract with mindless games or hours of scrolling through articles on Cracked.com

Smartphones have become the best way to access information on the go. Whether you’re lost and in need of directions, are looking for a good place to eat, or need to plan the next leg of your adventure – your smartphone is going to be your best friend.

Unlock It

While it’s possible to get by leeching off WiFi at hostels and cafes, if I know I’m going to be in a country for more than a few days I like to pick up a local SIM. It means never being at the mercy of fickle WiFi, and it’s also handy if you meet locals and want to be able to keep in touch.

Some phone providers are generous enough to unlock you from their network upon request, but if you’ve got one with the personality of a jealous boyfriend, consider using a service like UnlockBase. You shoot them your IMEI and they unlock your phone in a matter of hours, giving you the ability to switch SIMS in and out on the fly.

So, if your provider is giving you grief about wanting to see other people, make use of UnlockBase to turn ‘In a relationship with…’ to ‘It’s complicated’.

2. Portable Charger

If I know I’m going to be out and about for a long time and I don’t want to have my phone die before I get home, I’ll make sure my PLOX charger is fully powered and tucked into my pocket. It holds enough charge for a full charge, which can be invaluable should you find yourself lost and without power in some Beijing back alley or on a lengthy layover with no outlets in sight.

The same size and weight as a phone, the Plox charger is a lifesaver.
The same size and weight as a phone, the Plox charger is a lifesaver.

3. Travel Adapter

This one seems so obvious, but so many people (including myself) forget it! I touched down in Namibia realising that they used a wildly different outlet than Tanzania and Australia. Thankfully I managed to pick one up on the way through Johannesburg airport, else I’d have been woefully out of touch for the entirety of my trip.

Either pick up a fancy universal adapter, if you’re on a tighter budget, check which plug you need and pick one up.

I like to grab one with a built in USB charger if I can, freeing up the main plug for charging my laptop or camera.

4. Point & Shoot Camera

A lot of people insist on lugging around huge camera kits complete with multiple lenses, tripods, and various other bells & whistles, but with the continuing advances in digital camera technology, a top end camera really isn’t necessary unless you’re wanting to do something really fancy.

Case in point: during all three of my safaris, I’ve made use of a relatively cheap Sony Cybershot. It’s small enough to fit in your pocket, charges via USB, and takes pretty damned amazing photos without the need for any fancy accessories. It’s 30x optical zoom (and 60x digital) allows you to take some pretty great zoomed shots, while it has enough flexibility to capture everything from high speed sport to stunning macro photography.

I’m not saying leave the Canon or Nikon at home by any means. There are times where you’re going to want a camera with a bit more grunt. But the Cybershot is not only a damned fine camera in its own right, its portability makes it ideal for days where you’re on the move a lot.

I may have borrowed the CyberShot from my parents, but maybe I need to stage it's theft so I can keep it...
I may have borrowed the CyberShot from my parents, but maybe I need to stage it’s theft so I can keep it…

5. Lifeproof Case

When I got my shiny new iPhone 6 earlier this year, I let the salesperson talk me into shelling out for a LifeProof case. Not because she was cute or a particularly convincing salesperosn, but because I remembered how gutted I had felt when I smashed my iPhone screen while visiting Tangalooma back in 2011.

LifeProof cases don’t just provide your phone with a layer of durable protection against the elements, but also allow you to use your iPhone as an underwater camera (within reason).

I no longer have to lug my battery devouring Kodak PlaySport around with me when I want to do some snorkeling video, and instead just dip my iPhone beneath the waves to get any video I might need.

6. SD Cards

You can never have too much storage space, and especially if you’re like me and take entirely too many pictures of everything. I’ve got three cameras with me on my current trip, and brought along an extra SD card to bring the total to four (and around 250GB of storage).

I also have a laptop with a card reader and a 1TB external hard drive, so even I decide to photograph every one of my meals and every one of my subsequent bowel movements, I should be covered.

7. Pocket Router

This isn’t one I’ve ever brought along with my on my travels, but having been caught out by hotels offering ‘free internet’ in the form of an ethernet port in my room on many occasions, it’s one I wouldn’t mind getting my hot little hands on.

WiFi is fast becoming the norm when it comes to hostels, but higher end establishments seem to assume that we’re all lugging around full size desktop PCs with us wherever we go.

While it’s true that a wired connection tends to be quicker, there’s something to be said for the convenience of being able to respond to some emails while stretched out in bed or dropping the kids off at the pool.

Image courtesy of Lifehacker.
Image courtesy of Lifehacker.

8. Charging Backpack/Bluesmart Luggage

I’ve lumped these two together because… they’re both luggage. I’m not sure why I felt the need to explain that.

The first of these, represented by either the Boost Solar Backpack or the Surge II, is a regular travel backpack with a pretty nifty little built in extra – a built in battery from which you can charge your electronics during a long layover. The Surge II has a chargeable battery, but I’m really intrigued by the Boost, which has a solar panel built in so that you can charge while lounging around in the park or on the beach.

Stay connected *and* feel smug about doing your part for the environment.
Stay connected *and* feel smug about doing your part for the environment.

If you think that is pretty impressive technology for a humble backpack, Bluesmart will blow you away. Not only is this more conventional luggage, but it operates like some kind of futuristic personal assistant. Deadset, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next model came with a built in massager.

What can it do?

  • Locks automatically if you move away from it;
  • Holds enough charge to charge your phone, laptop, or iPad up to six times;
  • Has a built in location tracker linked to your phone;
  • Built in digital scale that activates when picked up;
  • Alerts you if you’re separated from it;
  • Tracks trip data such as time spent in each country, which airports you’ve visited etc.;

It’s also a svelte 3.8kgs and can hold up to 32L, so it’s small enough to be used as carry on too.

If this luggage fails the Voight-Kampff test, they'll send a Blade Runner after it.
If this luggage fails the Voight-Kampff test, they’ll send a Blade Runner after it.

9. Laptop/iPad

For me, travel is work and work is travel, so I can’t afford to just sit and twiddle my thumbs in my downtime.

(Although, if I’m being honest, I do plenty of that too)

I don’t travel without either my laptop or my iPad with me. Smartphones are great for the little things, but have you ever tried writing a 1500-2000 word blog post on one? It’s an exercise in frustration.

Most of the time I make do with my iPad and a Kensington Keyfolio case that also doubles as a document holder and protection for the iPad. If I think I’m going to need access to my external HDD or plan on doing a lot of photo editing, I’ll tuck my laptop into my backpack instead.

10. Noise Reducing Headphones

Personally, I could sleep through the apocalypse.

I literally slept through a handyman drilling holes in the wall a few feet above my head during college. Once I’m aware of the noise, it’s easy for me to just tune it out.

I’m going to make a terrible parent.

That being said, I can see the value in investing in a decent set of noise reducing headphones, especially if I’m going to be trying to listen to music or watch a movie in a crowded airport.

Or anywhere in China.

11. eBook Reader

Where would I be without my beloved Kindle? I’ve gone through four of them since getting my first one back in 2009. I’ll never completely lose my love for the look, feel, and smell of a real book – but when you consume novels like I do (it’s sometimes 2-3 in a week), it’s just not practical to lug around the real thing.

I’ve got around 500 books currently loaded onto my Kindle and God knows how many more on my laptop waiting to be converted into the correct format. If you’re an avid reader, a Kindle (or whatever brand you prefer) is just a smart investment.

The other awesome thing about Kindles? You can still read them when the power goes out!
The other awesome thing about Kindles? You can still read them when the power goes out!

12. Portable Speakers

If you’re expecting to be lounging around on the beach or partying with new friends, a pair of portable speakers isn’t a bad idea at all. With many available for less than $10 and running of simple AA batteries, it’s easy to turn your phone into the life of the party without having to take up too much space.

Me? I’ve never brought mine with me while traveling, but they’re regular company if I’m headed out for the day with friends.

13. Boingo Subscription

Not so much a technology of its own as it is a service, Boingo is an international WiFi provider with service at most major international airports. You’ve probably even seen the network while waiting in line for immigration.

If you’re on the road a lot and like to stay connected even when you’re at the airport, $4.98 (USD) a month gets you access to the network. It’s a lifesaver if you’ve been delayed and need to let your ride know as I had to when visiting the States in 2012.

14. Global SIM Card

If you don’t want to deal with buying a new SIM card everytime you cross the border, consider grabbing a global SIM from a company like Go-Sim.

While they obviously aren’t as cost efficient as a true local SIM, the coverage in over 150 countries at substantially reduced roaming rates make them a good investment if only for emergencies.

Australians can make use of the Australia Post Travel Sim, which allows you to use your Australian number to receive calls while abroad (for free) and access phone services in other countries on a prepaid basis. No scary bills to come home to!

15. A flashlight or headlamp

This obviously depends on where you’re expecting to be. If you’re spending your time in a five star Dubai hotel, chances are you won’t need access to emergency light.

If you’re staying in a tented lodge out on the Serengeti, however, you might just be glad you brought along a pocket flashlight or a headlamp when the power goes out.

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2 comments

  1. Great list you got here! I love my 4 in 1 travel adapter from Flight 001 and still even use it at home (my laptop is from Oz and curling iron is from England). I have to say, my Kindle usually ends up being the thing I always bring and never use though, because I just end up using the app on my iPhone. Maybe if I had one of the nicer new ones and not an original, than it would get some more use, but I can’t justify spending that money when the app works just fine.

    • I’ve never been able to get the Kindle app to work on my phone or iPad, probably because my Kindle is linked to a US account but my iOS devices are Aussie. I don’t know that I’d enjoy reading on my phone, although I’d probably read on my iPad if it were an option.

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