By Dan Moren
November 30, 2016 2:41 PM PT
What I Use: Traveling abroad
Traveling halfway around the world has been a bit different from any trip I’ve undertaken in the past, and while I’ve packed most of my usual travel gear, I’ve also found that I’ve needed to make some specific additions and alterations in order to accommodate this journey. So here are a few of the software and hardware tools that I’ve recently added to my collection to make my traveling life just a little bit easier. (And honestly, these are just the tools I use for getting work done—when it comes to actual tools to aid in the traveling process, well, that’s a whole different story.)
Cloak (iOS, macOS): When your travels involve spending a lot of time on unfamiliar Wi-Fi networks, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a worthwhile investment: it makes sure that all your data is secure from prying eyes or malicious snoopers. I’ve spent a while setting up my own personal home VPN, and while I still use it (and it works great, for the most part), it has a few limitations. For one, OS X Server’s VPN service sometimes just…stops running. A restart of the service via screen sharing or the command line generally fixes it, but that can be annoying when you’re counting on it to work. Likewise, if my home computer becomes inaccessible for any reason, I’ve also lost access to my VPN. Those are just a few of the reasons I’ve turned to Cloak, a VPN service and client that I’ve been a fan of since my Macworld days.
Here’s what I like about Cloak: First off, it’s available on both Mac and iOS devices and one subscription (for which Cloak offers a few different plans—I opted for an unlimited 30-day pass for $10 that will cover the bulk of my trip) covers logging in on any and all of them. Secondly, Cloak is smart: it lets you designate trusted Wi-Fi networks—when connected to anything but a trusted Wi-Fi network, it will automatically start the VPN as soon as you connect. Since a VPN is only handy if you remember to turn it on, that’s a great feature for the forgetful among us. Finally, Cloak’s built-in Transporter feature lets you choose which of several VPNs around the world you’re logged in to, meaning that you can still be “in” the U.S., even when you’re not. (Some services, like Hulu and Netflix, do check if you’re using a VPN or other proxy service to access content outside of the licensed area, so this may not help you stream while away from home.)
TripMode (macOS): When Jason wrote up this app earlier this year, I’ll admit I kind of skimmed over it. But it’s been a godsend on this trip, where not only are Wi-Fi networks often very bandwidth limited, but I’ve also often had to fall back to data-capped cellular data plans. The $8 TripMode is kind of like the Cellular section of your iPhone’s Settings app, letting you choose exactly which apps can access the network. Once activated, TripMode will blink when an app that’s not on the list tries to access the network; if you want to allow it, you just check the box next to an app to let it go through; everything else remains shut down. You can see how much data each of your apps is consuming and temporarily turn off anything that’s sucking up too much of your bandwidth. It’s earned its weight in gold a few times over at this point; I can’t recommend it enough.
The Clock (macOS): I just wrote a post on this app the other day, but it’s worth quickly mentioning the $5 The Clock again. I really find it useful to have current time zone information available at a click for all the places where I routinely talk to people. And I absolutely love that it blends right into my menu bar and looks identical to the system clock.
Bose QuietComfort 35: A few years back, I briefly had a hand-me-down pair of Sennheiser noise-canceling iPhones, but they didn’t end up lasting too long. I didn’t replace them at the time, because as much as I liked the noise-canceling features, they seemed like a luxury. That said, when you’re looking down the barrel of a couple day-long plane flights, you start thinking pretty hard about the line between luxury and mental well-being. So I bought myself a pair of Bose’s $350 QuietComfort 35 noise-canceling headphones.
I have no regrets.
The QC 35s are big, no question: they’re over-ear headphones that provide a decent amount of isolation even before you activate the noise-canceling features. When do you do switch them on, it turns those uniform background noises—plane engines, for example—into essentially nothing. More sporadic noises, like a baby crying or the person next to you coughing, will still come through, but even they get considerably dampened. I opted for the 35s, which are Bluetooth, rather than the 25s, thanks to their ability to pair with two devices at once (including my headphone jack-less iPhone 7), and the fact they also have a fallback wired connection. I love that they fold up and nestle perfectly into the included carrying case. The price may be a premium, but in my experience with them so far, they’re a premium product that’s well worth the cost.
Audio Technica ATR-2100: Coincidentally enough, this $80 USB/XLR microphone is the one Jason just recommended for a sub-$100 podcast studio. It also happens to be a pretty solid and compact microphone, which makes it ideal if you need to do some podcasting on the go. Since it includes a small (if cheap, plastic) tripod and mount, all you need to add is an inexpensive windscreen; connect it to a Mac (or iOS device) via USB for all your podcasting needs. I can even plug my Bose QC 35’s wired connection into the monitor port, so I don’t have to resort to my compact travel headphones, which definitely bleed more sound.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]