By Dan Moren
May 15, 2015 8:15 AM PT
Gearing up: My essential travel tech
Warning: This story has not been updated in several years and may contain out-of-date information.
Next week, I’m off for a bit of traveling: first to Lisbon, Portugal for several days, then a 48-hour stopover in London before flying back home. Along with the usual necessities–clothes, toiletries, and so on–I’m also determining what gear to bring.
On the one hand, as this is a mostly a leisure trip, I want to pack light. The goal is not to be head down in technology most of the time, but to enjoy my trip. That means almost certainly foregoing my MacBook. But at the same time, we can’t wholly escape tech these days–nor should we, given how handy it can be when traveling. So here’s a rundown of what I’m probably taking along.
iPhone 6: Aside from the fact that I’ll probably want it to get to and from the airport, there’s also a degree of separation anxiety. I don’t like going to the corner store without my iPhone, whatever that might say about me. It also happens to be the best compact camera I own, and I expect to take a few pictures. Given that my carrier is unlikely to unlock my phone, I will probably fall back on its international data plan. But we shall see.
iPad mini: For long plane journeys, I’ve found the iPad mini ideal for providing entertainment. I can do crossword puzzles, watch TV and movies that I’ve downloaded, and play games. I’m thinking about picking up Grim Fandango for this trip, now that there’s an iOS port; friends have raved about it for years.
Kindle: Vacation’s a great time to get some reading done, and I’m planning on loading up my Kindle. It’s an older cheapie model with physical buttons–no high-falutin’ touchscreen here!–but it’s served me well. And its battery lasts long enough that I don’t really need to worry about charging it up during the trip.
Wireless keyboard: Because as a freelance writer, you never know when you might need to bang out some words. The Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch K811 Keyboard is an awesome compact keyboard that pairs with multiple Bluetooth devices and manages to more or less fit in my Incase Origami keyboard case/stand. It also holds a pretty long charge and, even when paired with the iPad mini, is still lighter than my 11-inch MacBook Air.
Headphones: Well, if you’re going to watch movies and play games, you need headphones. In this case, my day-to-day Koss PortaPros make the grade, thanks to their excellent sound and compact foldability. In-ear or noise-canceling models would probably be better for the plane, but I find the former uncomfortable and can’t afford a good set of the latter.1
Headphone splitter: We had a Belkin RockStar in the podcast studio at Macworld, and I bought one because it’s one of the few splitters on the market that supports more than two headphones. Handy when you want to watch a show along with someone else, whether on a plane or in a hotel room.
Backup battery: Traveling can mean heavy use on the iPhone battery, so just in case, I’m packing a compact model that isn’t too big to carry around during the day, just in case I need a charge. I bought the Limefuel Blast L60X which was previously The Wirecutter’s top choice, though they’ve since reranked, and have already found it useful on a couple of trips.2
Portable power strip: Because power is the name of the game. I’ve got the Outlets To Go Power Strip with USB, which provides three standard AC plugs and a USB port. So if I’ve only got one plug available, I can still charge pretty much all of my gadgets.
Plug adapters: A must for traveling overseas, of course. I bought a couple of cheap but well-reviewed ones off Amazon that should do the trick for Portugal. (Although I just realized I have no idea what happened to my old adapters for the UK. Lost in a box somewhere, no doubt. So I’m Amazon Prime-ing a cheap set of these.)
USB flashdrive: I always carry a small one that I can throw in my bag. Why? Because a) it takes up next to no room and b) you never know when it might come in handy. What if you’re suddenly caught in an international web of lies and intrigue?! You need a USB flash drive to store that crucial top-secret information you’ve intercepted.
Those left behind
The above might seem like a lot, but honestly, most of it is pretty compact, and my backpack is voluminous. There are a lot of things I used to take everywhere when I traveled that I’ve now elected to leave behind. Many, many adapters and cables for example. At various times I’ve brought a Chromecast, Fire TV Stick, or Apple TV; this time around, I don’t think there will be much time for watching things. Some trips I still pack a small Bluetooth speaker, but it seemed likewise unnecessary and too bulky for this foray.
Also not making the cut: a microphone. Mainly because this is a vacation and I don’t plan to do any podcasting. But also because microphones are big and heavy, so why lug them around if you don’t have to?
The biggest question this time around has been the Apple Watch. As discussed on the most recent episode of The Rebound, I’m hesitant to bring the Watch on this trip, because I don’t want to lose it or get it stolen. I’m also not sure it will provide me with enough functionality if I’m in a data-limited environment. Some of the features, like Apple Pay, aren’t supported outside of the U.S. (Update: Reader Alan points out that Apple Pay only works with U.S. cards*, but you can actually use it internationally, as recent article at TidBITS points out). Plus, it also necessitates bringing yet *another charging cable. So I think I’m likely to leave it at home. We’ll see if I regret that decision upon my return, or if the return to the pre-Watch lifestyle is a welcome respite.
[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 email@example.com. The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]
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