Part of the lure of a being on holiday is the ability to get away from all of your tech distractions. But if you’re reading this site, then you’re probably like me and derive an inordinate amount of enjoyment from having all of your toys and gadgets with you wherever you go. There’s a lot to be said for putting your smartphone, MP3 player, digital camera or laptop away in order to be able to fully soak in your surroundings, but when used in moderation, I think gadgets can actually enhance your travel experience.
There are all sorts of considerations to take into account when travelling with your tech toys. Will it have enough storage for all my photos and music? Is it durable enough to handle the rigours of the road? Will the battery last me until the next time I get to a power outlet? And what happens if my bag gets stolen?
Gadget insurance is something I’ll cover in another post, but the rest of the concerns are easily take care of with the right tech and accessories.
1. Portable gadget charger. This is a must-have unless you have ready access to a power outlet, and there are two ways you can go. If you’re packing light, the Proporta USB Mobile Device Charger is a highly versatile backup battery for any gadget that charges off USB. If you get the pack, it also comes with charging tips for both styles of Nokia charge ports, Sony Ericsson and iPod. I’ve used this on more than one occasion to charge up my iPod and smartphone, and it’s good for 3-5 recharge cycles from then it’s fully charged. Best of all, it’s small enough (about the size of a mobile) to leave in your bag until you need it.
For longer sojourns away from a power outlet or if you want to charge larger items like a laptop, the Battery Geek Portable Power Station is like bringing a portable generator with you, and it’s quite aptly referred to as ‘the BMW of battery packs’. At 1.1kg, it’s not exactly light, but this thing can charge almost anything. It comes with 32 charging tips and a cool carry bag. It powers MP3 players for an extra 200 hours per charge (that’s over eight full days of music listening!), and laptops for an additional 8-15 hours of run-time. This is also something I have stashed in my gadget arsenal, and while I didn’t bring it with me last time I travelled because I was spending most of my time in a conference, it’ll definitely get pride of place in my carrybag next time I go on holiday.
2. A solid bag for storing all your gear in. This is like the Holy Grail of geekdom, but there’s no one-size-fits-all bag as it really depends on what you’re bringing with you. What you should be looking for is something with plenty of pockets and compartments to store things in, as well as straps that distribute the weight evenly across your shoulders. Good solid stitching is also a must if you’ll be using it to carry all your things, and consider a bag that doesn’t look like your average laptop bag to minimise the chance of theft. One trick that many pickpockets use is using a knife to slice open the bottom of your bag, so a backpack with a reinforced base is advisable, and if you’re bringing a laptop with you, ensure it has ample padding all around the laptop compartment.
Thus far, my personal favourite backpack is the Skooba Shuttle, which I was given at the Mobius conference in Amsterdam last year.
3. A good digital camera. The use of the word ‘good’ here is subjective. For some, it’ll mean lugging around a large digital SLR with all the accompanying lenses and flashes needed to take great holiday snaps. For most, however, it’ll simply mean a decent compact point and shoot camera that can take high-quality pics with minimal effort. Two features you should look out for a decent-sized optical zoom (the standard is 3x, but you can find compacts that offer 10x or 12x zooms) and the ability to take panoramic shots (a must for those dramatic sunset on the beach and landscape shots) or at the very least support for wide-angle shooting.
If your holiday involves a lot of outdoor activity, it may be worth looking for a camera that offers advanced protection from the elements. Olympus is particularly good in this area with its Tough range, and the 1030SW lets you take photos up to 10 metres underwater without needing expensive underwater housing, and is shockproof to 2 metres, crushproof to 100kg and snow-proof to -10 degrees Celsius.
If you want to take lots of travel videos, however, you should look into a camcorder that takes quality still photos, like the Canon HV20.
4. Decent-sized memory card and/or photo backup drive. As a general guide, you can store around 300 photos on a 1GB card from a seven-megapixel camera, which you can then break down by the number of days you’re on holiday to decide whether it’s large enough. But memory cards are so incredibly cheap these days that you can have a few spares. 4GB SDHC cards are now going for around $20, which should be more than enough for the standard two-week holiday unless you’re also using it for recording video.
It’s a good idea to upload the photos to a photo-sharing site like Flickr from an Internet cafe as soon as you can – just in case your camera gets lost, stolen, or damaged, and for hard-core photographers, a photo backup drive like the Canon M80 (which has an 80GB hard drive, 3.5-inch screen and card slots for SecureDigital and CompactFlash) is a good investment, and if you’re like me and have a Canon EOS 40D, it also doubles as a spare battery holder as they use identical lithium ion batteries.
5. Portable tripod. I’m the sort of person that hates asking strangers to take photos of me. For starters, there’s the distinct possibility that they’ll do a runner with your camera, but even if they’re trustworthy, I hate imposing on other people. In effect, I end up taking more photos of other people that I’m holidaying with than myself. That’s what makes the Gorillapod ideal. It’s a portable tripod that you can use set up in the standard configuration or use the twisty legs to wrap it around any surface.
There’s also the QuikPod, which is a handheld tripod that lets you take self-portraits using the long arm and a self-image mirror for positioning yourself properly.
(Camera and people not included)
6. Portable media player. For me, nothing beats the iPod touch, especially the latest 32GB version, which has more than enough storage to fit your holiday playlists on. The touch is good because it’s versatile and incredibly slim and portable. Flying to anywhere from Australia (except for New Zealand and Papua New Guinea) takes at least seven hours, which is where a media player filled with movies and TV shows can turn an interminably boring flight until a good opportunity to catch up on your Lost episodes. Plus, if you don’t have a laptop with you, it functions perfectly for web browsing and email if you can find a Wi-Fi connection.
7. Noise-cancelling earphones. Going hand-in-hand with a portable media player is a good set of noise-cancelling earphones. These are mainly for the flights to and from my holiday destination, but it can also come in handy if you’re in a hostel and your bunk buddies are on the rowdy side. I’ve gone through my fair share of high-end earphones (which I prefer to headphones as they’re less bulky and easy to pack away), and by far the best ones I’ve used as the Ultimate Ears Super.fi 5 Pros.
8. Mobile phone. If you’re really into packing light, you could go for a smartphone that does photos and media exceptionally well, and in this respect I recommend the Nokia N95 8GB wholeheartedly. It’s quad-band GSM so will work in any country with a GSM network, has 3G, HSDPA and Wi-Fi for a fast data connection wherever you can get access, the 8GB storage is plenty for multimedia, and the five-megapixel camera is the best one I’ve tried on a camera phone. It’s a little bulkier than most mobiles, but you’re still saving on a lot of space by not packing a separate camera and portable media player, and hardly sacrificing anything with regards to quality.
I’ve found the Nokia N95 8GB to be a lot more sturdy than other smartphones – especially ones that use a touchscreen – but if you’re stuck on bringing your current handset, you should at least think about getting a good case for it to prevent it from being damaged or broken while you travel. I have Beyza leather cases for my HTC Excalibur and BlackBerry 8800, as well as an aluminium case from PDair for my HTC Touch Dual, and the great thing about those particular accessories is that they look great while at the same time providing them with some much-needed protection.
I’ve purposely not included a laptop in this list purely because I think gadgets like the iPod touch and a smartphone are more than good enough for a quick email check and Facebook/Twitter status update. If you need the full keyboard and display of a notebook while you’re on holiday, then you really should rethink your itinerary. Plus, you’d be surprised by how prevalent Internet cafes are even in the most remote locations, and they’re handy for using Skype to keep in touch with friends and family, as well as for uploading your photos to a photo sharing site.
Does anyone else have any good gadget recommendations for holiday and travel?