Travel gadgets

I encountered – and admired – a number of travellers who were travelling with their smartphone alone, which kept them connected through the ‘net, social media, email and phone, was their only camera, held all their travel guides and booking details and entertained them.

While I do strive to travel light and admire their digital and travel minimalism, relying solely on my iPhone 4s is not for me.

  • I’m a keen photographer and am a bit old-school in that I prefer a camera with a viewfinder and being able to store high resolution images;
  • Staying entertained on long-haul flights, bus and train trips is going to outlast its battery;
  • My eyesight is at a point where the screen of the iPhone is a bit small for reading a lot of detail let alone viewing movies and videos;
  • Having all my details on one device leaves me feeling a bit vulnerable about loss of the device or data (and I know it’s all backed up in the cloud, but if I’m unable to access it for a while, I’m a bit stuck).

So my go-bag included the following:

  1. iPhone 4G – for all the above, and for use with local sim card in Thailand.
  2. iPad 2 – Most of my reading, research, bookings, communications, social media posting, backing up photos, skypeing friends and family, watching pre-loaded and online movies and videos.
  3. iPod Classic – The sheer capacity to carry my entire music collection, plus podcasts, audio books etc, no need for a data connection and a battery that will outlast the longest long journey, be it by air, bus, train or ferry, means I don’t leave home without it.
  4. Sennheiser ear buds – weigh practically nothing yet produce brilliant sound and keep outside noise out without resorting to bulky noise-cancellation headphones.
  5. Airline entertainment adapter plug – I can use my own ear buds for in-flight entertainment too. Seriously, I tried the ear buds offered by the airlines which were so bad I could not understand the dialogue in the film I was watching (which was in English!).
  6. Portable speaker – This was a simple, unpowered folding speaker that came as a giveaway with a bottle of rum some years back. No power, no Bluetooth. The audio quality isn’t great, but sometimes having some background music playing while I was working on bookings, backups or posts, made even the most basic room feel a bit more like home. If I wanted high-quality playback, I could use my ear buds.
  7. 4 port USB charger and several charging cables (including a couple of 2m long ones) – I could charge all my iGadgets and my power bank simultaneously
  8. 2 socket power board with 1m extension lead – some hotels only had a single power outlet, and it beats having to carry multiple socket adapters. With this, I could use my camera charger and my USB charger and have every device I was carrying on charge simultaneously.
  9. 2 socket adapters, 1 x 3pin UK-Australian for use in Singapore and Malaysia, and 1 x 2pin Asian-Australian for use in Thailand
  10. Whilst in Singapore I picked up a very light weight 12000mAh power bank, which came in handy (more of which later)
  11. Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera with 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses, light-weight tripod, spare battery and charger – the camera was new, so new that the spare batteries and camera case I’d ordered when I bought it had not arrived before I left on the trip, but it acquitted itself brilliantly. More on the camera and travel photography later.

There are a few old-school, non-electronic bits and pieces that I find essential when travelling.

Pocket knife – I would never leave home without my Swiss Army knife, so handy for opening wine and beer bottles (twist-tops are a still a rarity in many parts of the world) and cutting the swing-tags from any designer label purchases one might make on the road.

Wrist watch – the old, non-Bluetooth connected kind, which just tells the time. Waterproof to 100 metres

Head torch – the iPhone has a torch function, but I like to have this to hand, just in case.

A good wide-brimmed hat is essential in the tropics, or anywhere the sun shines. I picked up this one for a few Ringgit early on my journey in Malacca. It’s made of a loosely woven paper, and I thought it would probably turn to papier-mâché on my head, given the quantity of perspiration, but it stayed solid right through the trip and will make a further appearance next summer.

A folding umbrella – my experience of the tropics has taught me that raincoats and even those plastic ponchos are pretty useless, as the amount of sweat I produce while wearing them renders me as wet underneath as the monsoon squall does the bits above.

A decent pair of sunglasses. I wear glasses at all times, as my particular eyeball issues are beyond being addressed by contact lenses, and I now also have separate reading glasses, so keeping a handle on which glasses were where, and ensuring that those I wasn’t wearing were safe in their cases but readily accessible was an ongoing performance. Keeping the cases labelled helped, and they both fitted into the end pocket of my bag for easy access. Naturally I carried cleaning cloths and solution, which also came in handy for wiping down the various iGadgets too.

I generally carry a compass. Sometimes, particularly in big cities where it can be tricky to ascertain one’s direction on emerging from a train station, shopping mall or big hotel, a compass can help at least tell in which direction one should be headed. Smart phones and online mapping services, where available, can replace this need, but I find it handy to have my compass to hand for those times when one isn’t connected.

A solid carry bag – keeping this little lot safely and securely together, along with water bottles, sunscreen and room for any items one might purchase in the course of a day took some doing, but this one, a delegate bag from a recent travel trade show, did not falter.

A few carabiner clips are handy for attaching bits and pieces to the bag so they don’t get lost.

A notebook and pen is essential. It has become my habit when travelling to maintain a daily journal, and to do so using a very old-fashioned notebook and pen. Whilst this may seem at odds with being a connected explorer in the digital era, there are a number of things I really like about this old school activity.

  • It gives me something to do, when I’m dining alone or waiting for transport, or even when I’m sitting on a beach.
  • It allows me to make little side notes, sketches and to paste in various bits of ephemera that I pick up along the way – bus tickets, leaflets, boarding passes etc.
  • The content isn’t meant for public consumption but as a private reminder of my thoughts as well as a record of what happened, when and where. Public thoughts can go on my blog posts or into my various social media posts.
  • It results in a tangible object, an artefact of my intangible experiences and re-reading these notes with their attached ephemera can bring back those experiences vividly in years to come, no matter how scratchy the hand writing.

Things I took and didn’t use

  • Selfie stick – ‘nuff said.
  • Tripod – the camera turned out to have some clever functions that rendered this mostly unnecessary (more of which later)

Things I didn’t take but wished I’d had.

I regretted not having taken the bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. Previously I’d taken it but not used it, but as I was relying on my iPad so heavily, it would have made things a bit easier. When doing any extended writing, such as for social media posts or review sites, the on-screen keyboard covers nearly half the screen and can’t easily be moved, making writing very difficult. My solution was to write my posts or reviews in Word (now free for the iPad and iPhone) then copy and paste it to the website.

In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the issues, problems, and the solutions I found, to keeping this little lot charged and ready for action whilst on the road.

What are your must-have travel gadgets? Are you a digital minimalist or do you prefer dedicated tools for specific tasks? Is there something you prefer to do in the old-school way? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear your experiences and suggestions.

Note: Mentions or images of particular companies, websites and services are simply a report of my preferences and experiences with them; I don’t have any promotional arrangements with them and have received no benefits or incentives from them.

2 thoughts on “Travel gadgets

  1. Great advice here Andrew. I don’t quite go with everything you have mentioned, I don’t worry about the earbuds or the ipod (never owned one of those) speaker,pocket knife (I usually go carry on luggage) or watch, (althogh travelling partner, read husband, almost demands to shop for a cheap variety where ever he goes, it’s a ritual to see if the $2 watch will last the trip!) I forgot to take the power bank last time, but found I didn’t really need it. Managed to charge 4 phones, camera and Ipad with the power board and adaptors. Also some trains have charging facilities which are very useful on lonng trips.No compass for us because if we really get lost the ph has one and we can always ask a local to point us in the right direction, that can be fun too. Still take the poncho or waterproof jacket and purchase umbrella on location, if needed. Yep think we both have the perfect travel light kit organised now. Thanks for your tips. Look forward to your next posting.

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    1. Thanks Gina, it’s all about matching the gadgets and gear to one’s own needs. I used to do the $2.00 watch thing too, and may do again. Just after I’d been swimming and snorkelling in the depths of the Andaman Sea, my watchband broke and it spent the rest of the trip in my pocket until I could get it fixed. Could have lost it completely. And yes, it is fun to see how long they last:-)

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