I will be the first to admit I like gadgets. But I screwed up when I first headed off. Years ago I traveled with no gadgets. I think the most tech savvy thing I had was a torch, that was it. Now it's a different story, why? Well, it's a different world.
Here are my reviews on travel related gadgets and my opinion on them. I hope you can benefit from my experience with them.
If you buy through the Amazon links here, you'll be helping the site out. Amazon prices are the same, but they give me a small commission that I can use towards buying a new travel guide, or for keeping the site going!
(click on a topic heading to skip to that section)
» MP3 Players
» iPad vs Kindle vs ...
» Batteries and chargers
» Best Mobile/Cell Phones for travel
» Best Portable Hard drives for travel
» USB Flash Drives
» Blog software for travel
» Email solutions for travel
» Online Storage for travel
» Software for your laptop for travel
» Warnings and Tips for using cyber cafes or public computers
Nowadays it's hard to walk into a hostel without seeing backpackers busy tapping away on keyboards connected to WIFI. Uploading photos, Instant Messaging, blogging and telephoning friends online. I often wonder if people spend more time online in hostels, than out looking at the country they are visiting!
If you are just going away for a few weeks, then in my opinion leave the laptop at home, update everyone using a blog, and post photos later. If on the other hand you are going to me traveling for months and months if not years. You might want to consider the following:
provided you keep the laptop updated, have anti virus and a firewall installed, it will be 100 percent safer to use than a cyber cafe. You can manage your bank transfers yourself, and see what's happening to your credit card transactions.
You can take your time in uploading photos. Use them for storage or resizing them, and putting them online.
You can write your blog in peace, and email without having the whole room reading over your shoulder.
You can use your laptop to safely book accommodation, tours or flights. You can also easily research your next destination online and save the results.
Okay, depending on your needs, for just travel: go light and small. You may think a laptop weighing in at 5-6 pounds in manageable, but after including your charger and the odd cd/dvd, plus case or cover it starts to weigh up. If you can afford to buy new. Think about your needs.
Are you a going to watch movies? If yes then a a DVD burner is a must. It's also good to back up and post home photos. Uploading 50 x 5MB or higher photo's just isn't going to happen in most places. WIFI, make sure it has it. LAN, again make sure it can have an internet cable plug into it for more remote places without WIFI.
These days laptops like Sony Vaio's 2 pound TZ series are expensive but have all you could want. Apple's AIR comes with all bar the DVD burner. For a cheaper alternative have a look at ASUS and ACERS tiny sub 2 pound machines. They don't have DVD/CD burners and have tiny screens with tiny keyboards. But they have 160GB hard drives WIFI and are incredibly small.
Just remember the saying with cheaper laptops,
You get what you paid for
Don't expect a $300 laptop to last a full year on the road.
You will have to ask yourself some questions before settling on what camera to buy. Are you a pro, semi pro, or just snap happy? How much weight can you carry? And, how long are you going for?
Digital camera's these days are relatively cheap, and offer good results. Some things to keep in mind:
Don't get carried away with megapixels. The real quality in a camera comes from the lens and person holding it. With compact cameras you can pick up a 10+ MP camera easily. Great. But what about the zoom? Forget anything with digital zoom. You need optical zoom. And, most lower to mid range cameras only offer 3.2x zoom.
Think about were you are going. Safari? Well, you won't get many close ups with a 3x zoom. Can you get up close to a local person without being rude or embarrassed? If not, you will need more zoom.
Weather protection. Olympus offer several water proof and crush proof compact cameras. Handy if you are roughing it.
For the more serious photographer keep the following in mind. If you are bringing your SLR and lenses - keep an eye on the weight you will be carrying. There are several day packs that have compartments for lenses these days, you might want to consider one of these. But, beware of changing lenses. I have seen many people suffer from dust on their sensors when changing lenses. It's a big problem when off the beaten path.
One last thing. Batteries. If you are using AA batteries for anything else, like an MP3, or torch. Try to get a camera that takes AA batteries. Otherwise you will end up carrying yet another charger - see my battery section below for more info. For SLR's, use a surge protector!
Here are some links to camera review sites - clicking on the names will open a new page/tab.
iPods are the rage. I had one, it didn't survive Africa. The battery went. I have met 5 people in one sitting who lost all manner of iPod and Creative mp3 players in high humidity conditions. The iPod stores a lot. But again, you need a charger and then have to spend overnight looking for a plug, and then waiting until it charges. They last about 8 hours. One long bus trip. The nano mp3 players are much the same.
I have a small AAA reparable battery mp3 player. 1 battery lasts 12 hours. Granted it only carries 1-2 GB of music, but it's enough for me. I use the Mp3 player to fall asleep to in loud hotels, or guesthouses, and for learning a language on long bus/train trips. It's hard to find the AAA battery mp3 players these days, but it is possible, and I have seen people convert to them.
I you are going to go the iPod route, do remember the weight of all your chargers combined. You going traveling, not carrying a mini store of electronics!
A wifi enabled iPad or another such device will do nicely if you are not long-term traveling, or doing a lot of typing / technical work. If all you are interested in is emailing, occasional blogging and online banking it's a nice gadget. But for prolonged reading, you'll need eyes of steel. The glare will get to you in reading that novel.
A Kindle is small, and easy to carry. They may not be as cool as a iPad but they will save your eyes if you just want to read books on your journey.
The choice is yours. If you are going to do a lot of reading, the kindles e-ink is magic, and will save you eyes. If you are looking for a lot of web reading, surfing, email and don't want to carry a laptop, an iPad style gadget.
iPad or something else? I've looked at quite a few iPad type tablets. Most have horrific battery life. At the end of 2011 I still have not found the ideal one.
As you might have noticed I am a big AA and AAA battery fan. Why? Well I only need one charger for my extra camera batteries, mp3 player, shaver and head torch. It also charges everything in 15 minutes. It can't get much better than that. Think about it otherwise, mobile phone, camera, mp3 player charging will take you hours upon hours to charge separately. At least with AA/A batteries and a fast charger you can cut down on weight and time.
If you are going the AA/A route, aim for high capacity. 3000 mah AA's are common these days. But beware of fakes. Bad packaging and slightly blurred print outs a give away. Buy the batteries from a reputable "branded" store. The fakes can be expensive, and simply not hold much charge.
Sim cards bought in country are generally cheaper than roaming charges. So make sure your phone is SIM free. Or, there are unblockers out there that can make your phone sim free. Beware of where your phone can operate too. Dual band phones bought in asia, might not work in the U.S.A. And visa versa. Tri and Quad band phones generally work all over the world.
This will all depend on your needs when traveling. If you want to make calls, you will need to look at either roaming, or buying a local sim card. Both options will nearly always be dictated by price. Check your carriers roaming rates, and locations first. Most cheaper phones, non touch screen, are a better option if all you want is a phone to make calls.
If you want to browse the internet or check email then a smart phone will be your answer..
For long-term travel having a smartphone has become an invaluable tool. Applications to do with translation, currency, maps, and social networking are all hugely beneficial.
These days it's more to do with a phones operating system than what brand of phone. Heading the pack is the iPhone. With a wealth of applications it's the popular choice. Android phones are quickly catching up and offer just as many useful applications. The choice between these two giants all boils down to a personal one.
Don't over look the Blackberry either. RIM have a wealth of applications and good roaming rates that suit many people.
The tried and tested symbian phones have failed to make it into a popular choice these days. However, I can verify that Nokia's hardware out performs all the above. Carrying an extra battery is a huge plus when traveling long distances. Furthermore a Nokia phone is a lot tougher physically than any of the above. For me, even if the operating system is a little difficult to get to grips with, a Nokia smartphone is best for long-term travel. With Nokias recent partnership with Microsoft, these phones may well come back into play.
The biggest issue many people, traveling or not, have with smart phones is the poor battery time they get. Many phones simply don't last a day. This is why I choose an Android phone over an iPhone. Simply because you can change batteries easily with an Android phone, and you can't with an iPhone.
When in Asia you might want to check out the cheap 'china' phones. Rip off's of all the latest models like iPhones at a fraction of the cost. In general they look and work well. The CECT brand is quite good. But a few things to be aware of. A phone advertised with a 8MP camera, might only have a 3MP camera in reality. These phones cannot be updated either. So no new games, or browsers can be installed. Also make sure you have the store you buy one from test it in front of you. And change the language from Chinese to English! Unless you can read Chinese that is?!
Many cheap smart phones offer gps, map software and a host of applications. Testing all these out before you go is vital! Especially in calculating how much they might end up costing you.
A big plus for the photographer. These gadgets are small and can store all your files, photos and music into 2.5 inch laptop hard drives. For security and convenience without a laptop. Try to get one that has memory card slots. X drive is a good brand that doesn't need a charger. Otherwise a usb slim case is a great way to back things up. Just be aware of viruses and the like on public computers.
I've used Western Digital's 1TB portable hardrives for a while now, and have not has any issue with them.
I seriously recommend you invest in one of more flash drives. They are great for carrying a backup of your passport scans, photo's, documents and other bits and pieces. You can even carry your firefox web browser and anti virus software with you and use it on the go. They come up to 32GB these days, some even with water proof casings. Just remember they are small, and can got lost easily.
Laptop resources for travel
Cut back on your massive email list by having a blog. Tell people to subscribe to your updates, and no longer worry if you forget if you left someone out.
Still as important as ever. As it took over from writing a letter home, the blog is taking over from emailing home. But an email allows for more personal one on one messages. Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo mail, and Zoho mail all offer long-term email services for travel.
If you have internet access, online storage can help you store just about anything. Places like Flicker, Shutterfly and Zenfolio offer photo storage, but with limits. Other online storage companies like Box.net and Adrive offer storage of anything from photos to files. Be aware of terms of service to a lot these companies. Some are free with limits, others not so free. But online storage does offer the long term traveler some good ways to store important files.
I've written a review of online storage sites, check it out for a wealth of information and some discounts!
Here's a list of some software application gadgets that might help you on you travels.
Free online application that stores all your firefox bookmarks. Use it in public computers or portable drive to access all the bookmarks you can never remember!
Free Portable anti virus for your flash disk. Try getting it up and running before you leave.
Free office suite containing Word Processor and spreadsheets for your flash drive.
Need to rename or resize a lot of photo's, this is the application. Its works well, is very fast, and free!
Avast and AVG are easy, robust, well updated and free for personal usage.
If you are traveling with a laptop and are worried about security and keeping it updated you might look into changing over to a Linux distribution. No viruses, high security, and speed on a small laptop are all good things.
The biggest problem is security. My advice is to never use public computers for online banking. They are often not updated, and carry viruses such as password and key loggers. Now, having said that, I have never some across a traveler who has had a problem with either having their passwords stolen or bank details taken.
Yet, there is a reason people create them. Programs such as portable onscreen keyboards are easily traced too. There's no getting around it. But try at least to make sure the computer you are using has an anti virus running. Look at the lower right hand side at the icons and hover your mouse over them, to see the names appear.
Watch out or gizmos plugged into the computer, especially between the keyboard connection into the computer. These are professional hardware loggers, run when you see when of these, and don't use that cafe.
Be aware of people sitting beside you. When on your email, a lot of providers display your name. A person up to no good now knows your name. So later when they bump into you in the street mention your name... well. Also they can quickly write down the keys you tapped, and the email addresses on display on your screen. I have seen this happen more than once. So watch out. And, don't be afraid to speak up or change seats!
If you are super worried about your password for your main email account, then you can set up a second account, and have the mail forwarded from your main account to the new account that has another password. At least then if someone steals your second account, they won't be able to get into your main account. It's not a fool proof method, but in certain situations it might help.
I've created a whole article on how to run a blog from a cyber cafe here that might help further.