Travelling with technology part 1

IMG_5976.CR There was a time, in ye olden days of yore, when all one needed to go travelling was a boat ticket, a toothbrush, and a hearty sense of adventure. Crocodile repellant was presumably optional. Oh, and one of those awesome pith hat things.

These days of course, one cannot leave home without a few bits and bobs of technology. In this post I will cover some thoughts I have on what can be handy to take with you on a prolonged trip. Part 1 will largely cover travelling with a netbook, and part 2, which can be found here, covers other bits and pieces that you may find handy.

Travelling with technology can really be a bonus to your trip. From being able to keep in touch with friends and family over the internet, to capturing and recording every detail of your travels for later reminiscing, to having access to information when you need it, there are definite advantages to taking at least some electronical wizardry with you. So what considerations should you make when travelling with technology?

First off, the destination you are picking, and the type of holiday you are going on, are pretty important. If you’re going for a week away to Ibiza, chances are you’ll not want to be lugging around a heavy camera or a laptop. A lightweight point and shoot digicam with enough memory to cover the week should suffice.

Similarly if you are off on a hiking trip and it’s likely to be raining, you’ll not really want to be carrying anything that is going to get upset by the weather. A GPS unit may come in handy, but it could be that a map and compass are suitable for the job, and less likely to run out of batteries at a key juncture.

I will, therefore, advise common sense when deciding what to take where. Let’s think instead about a longer trip. I’ll use my trip to Australia as a template to work from, and share what I learnt.

The trip itself lasted a year, with significant amounts of time spent away from civilisation. This meant no easy access to power points or internet access. Internet access, when we could find it, was often slow. We travelled through hot, dusty, bumpy environments, and moist, cold ones. Quite a number of factors to consider therefore, when deciding what to travel with.

I decided that I would need some form of laptop, for a number of reasons. I was going to be taking a lot of photos, and I wanted some way to be able to store them. I wanted to be able to keep in contact with folks back home, via either e-mail or skype (free calls can’t be argued with). I was going to be writing a journal, and doing this on paper seemed like a bit of a hassle.

After some research, I concluded that a netbook was likely the answer. These are designed to be portable, with sufficient battery power to last for a while when away from power. The model I chose, the Samsung NC10, has a ten inch screen, nearly full size keyboard, and most importantly, a five hour  battery life. Great for use on the road when power isn’t so available. More recent models, such as the Samsung N210, have batteries which last for over ten hours, which would be brilliant for extended periods away from the road.

I would advise, prior to purchasing one of these small netbooks, to pop into a store and try one out. I had a go on a friends 8.9inch Asus model, and found the keyboard was too small for my sausage like fingers to handle. Additionally, if you are doing a trip where you expect the netbook to get a bit of rough handling, consider a solid state drive over a hard drive, as these are much less susceptible to damage from physical knocks and bumps.

Speaking of damage protection, wherever you are going, some form of case is going to come in handy. I already had a bag, so just wanted something to cushion the laptop from knocks and bumps in transit. A neoprene sleeve, such as this one from Belkin, does the trick just fine, keeping it safe from most everyday knocks that may come it’s way.

I would additionally advise that you take some kind of external hard drive and keep your data backed up. Hard drives can and will fail, and losing a trips worth of data, including all those precious photographs, would be tragic. There is the option to backup your data online, and a variety of online cloud storage services exist, but when travelling in remote areas without good internet access, it is unlikely that you will be able to keep your backups up to date. A decent, possibly ruggedised external hard drive, could be a godsend if the worse should happen. £66 for something like this is worth every penny in my opinion. My external hard drive actually failed at the end of the trip, but as I had taken the precaution of additionally backing everything up to a friends external hard drive also, I was ok. You can’t have too many backups. A lot of good software is available for easy backups - I used the powerful and free Syncback tool from 2BrightSparks.

In terms of software, I found the following to be helpful:

  • Picasa, from Google, for free photo management.
  • Thunderbird, from Mozilla, for reading your e-mail offline
  • Feeddemon, from Newsgator, for reading RSS feeds offline
  • Skype, for making free phone and video calls

So that is the netbook. It can be handy for all sorts of things above and beyond what that I have discussed, such as keeping electronic copies of your insurance, passport and other documents, in the event that these are lost or stolen. And if you are really bored at an airport, you can always fire up a copy of solitaire to pass the time.

The concluding part of the post can now be found here. It covers other pieces of technology you may want to consider travelling with, including phones, GPS devices, and eBook readers, as well as thoughts on keeping it all charged and insured.

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  1. So many people in the travel industry are now touting iPad as the best travel gadget, but I'm with you. We bring along laptops so we can store our vids and pics, I think that ability is way way important on longer trips. (Wish I thought of Solid State Drive though)

  2. I can't see the point of an iPad as a serious travelling accessory. Lack of ports is a killer problem for me, I need to be able to plug in external hard-drives (I currently have two 500gb options, including the waterproof shockproof one i mention in the article for redundancy) and offload gigabytes of imagery from my cameras. Plus they are more expensive than a cheap netbook. I am starting to be tempted by a Kindle though, a friend just got one and has raved about it.