Coming from a techy background, I’ve probably done more than my fair share of technology gear prep for this trip, so I’ll share the choices and strategies in this post. You can think of it as a deep dive into the tech gear of my RTW packing list covering:
- External Hard Drive
- NAS (Network Access Storage)
I decided that I’d need a laptop for my travels. I want to use it for communicating with friends/family (Email, Skype, Facebook), updating this blog, managing my photos and for tinkering with my trip as I move (i.e. buying flights, applying for visas, researching towns I may divert to). I wanted something light to carry [ok, doesn’t everyone – but laptops vary massively] and something durable enough being throw around a bit in a rucksack for 12 months. Although having grown up mastering Windows in my youth, I decided to take the plunge and in addition to all the points above, learn something new, i.e. learning the Mac OS. So I bought a Macbook Air 11“, a.k.a. MBA. The features I think are important to travellers are:
- Small, Thin & LightÂ – If you haven’t seen one in the flesh, you’ll be surprised how much you can do on a 11″ screen if it’s got a high resolution. It’s amazingly thin and therefore light too.
- Camera – For Skyping and showing off to friends/family how much you’ve changed.
- Sturdy Casing – Aluminium lasts, plastic doesn’t.
- Battery – Lasts up to 5hrs with wireless
- Magnetic Charging Plug – This is a great Apple patent – a magnetic tipped connector means it snaps in/out of connected. If someone trips on your charger with their sandals, it won’t tear the port of your laptop. The plug itself is a compact convertor. No brick to carry around.
- Backlit Keyboard – For those nighttime coach/plane journeys.
Since having bought my MBA, I’ve been taking it with me everywhere – between running daily planning errands (applying for visas, getting vaccinations etc.) and using one of many Starbucks in town to get online. I can truly say, this is an amazing piece of kit and if people’s budget can stretch to it, in comes with my backing. Being being let off into the wild, I’ve done several things to make sure I’m in a position to “lose” this baby though. My advice is, if you mimic this set up try a restore before you leave home, that way you can be sure you know how to do it on the road.
I’d advise encrypting the data on it (look up some integrated software called FileVault), so if you do lose it, you don’t have be worried about someone having access to your email or anything stored on the disk.
As far as cases go, I opted for a Khaki Linen Sleeve. Â I went for this because I wanted something that wasn’t an obvious laptop case (khaki isn’t your usual neoprene head turner), easy to slip my laptop in and out without a zip (otherwise I wouldn’t use it) and had some water protection (in case I get caught in the rain). The lining of the case is waterproof (note that the pillow case like side entry means you can’t submerge the whole thing in water). As far as shock protection goes, my view is that the MBA casing is very robust and doesn’t need something thick and heavy – I’m going to have this in may daypack when moving from place to place. This sleeve is light and doesn’t add much weight to an already super light laptop.
I toyed with the idea of getting a DSLR, but being a bit of a novice on the cameras and not wanting to lug round something as big as an DSLR everywhere I go, I opted for a good digital compact. Â I won’t delve into the details of the cameras in the short list, rather explain why I eventually chose the Sony Cybershot DSC-HX20V.
- Super 20x Optical Zoom – With 18MP capture means it’s as capable of capturing some great distance shots.
- Exmor R CMOS Sensor – Great for low light photos, which I’m expecting to take a lot of.
- Best of Breed Battery – This camera takes more shots than any other camera in its class. 320 shots to be precise. Saves me having to carry around another spare battery.
- Switch On Speed – One of the quickest switch on and shoot speeds around. Less likely to miss that moment without having to leave the camera on all the time.
- GPS – Every picture I take will have a GPS coordinate embedded in the file, so I know precisely where they’re taken. You might laugh that you should always remember where they were taken, but if you’re intending to taking 1000s, this is a very useful feature.
- USB Battery Charge – You can charge the battery by USB in the camera. This means, I don’t need to lug around a battery cradle and bulky plug. Instead, just a USB cable.
- SD Cards – Everyone uses SD Cards.Â Up until recently, Sony cameras only used the proprietary Sony Memory Stick format for their cameras. Not being able to use your card in another person’s camera, nor read it in card readers meant you were pretty much isolated from sharing. This is why I’ve never bought a Sony camera in the past. This camera takes both, and I intend on using SD cards.
- Manual Mode – So I can learn how to use ISO, shutter speeds, focal lengths and improve my picture taking ability
With the cashback offer they had, I got this for Â£230.
I won’t deny it, I’m a real iPhone fan ever since I got the first version that came out in 2007, it’s revolutionised the way I live. I recommend anyone who doesn’t have one to get one [I have been accused of working for Apple]. I think it’s a masterpiece of technology simplicity has a great use for travellers.Â I believe the use for a phone whilst travelling falls into two categories. Firstly as a number dialling device and secondly as travellers information device.Â I’ll be keeping backups of my phone on my laptop, so if my phone gets damaged/lost, I can effortlessly restore back onto a new one.
The first scenario should be obvious – phoning hostels ahead for availability and meeting up with people on the move. Using it with a local sim will mean you won’t rack up a massive bill at home.
What do I mean by travellers information device? Well, I mean a device that will make my travels simpler. I can use it to:
- Maps – With a pre-cached map, you device doesn’t use any data to determine your GPS coordinates and locate yourself on it. So when you find yourself walking off the coach to find that hostel, you’ll know where you are and where to head in an instant. Someone recommends a place to you or you pass somewhere interesting? Plot a pin on the map and check it out later. Lonely Planet, Rough Guide and TravelFish are all writing app versions of their guides so all recommendations are instantly available in a map/location form.Examples – Google Maps, CityMaps2Go, TripAdvisor City Guides, Lonely Planet App, TravelFish, Rough Guide City Apps
- Books– Whilst something like an iPad is a great device for reading books, you can most definitely get by doing this on an iPhone. The Lonely Planet guides you buy in book form are all available as .pdf files that you can read on your phones. If you’re keen to save weight on guide books, this solves that problem. Bag stolen? Download all the guides you paid for on a replacement device.Examples – GoodReader
- Bookings– Flight bookings and hostel bookings will be referred to countless times. Who wants to carry a paper printout of a flight booking when you can have an electronic version? At a minimum, getting them by email. As a bonus, some companies have fully fledged apps to list all your future and prior bookings – even the facilities to write post reviews (always good to give back honest opinions for hostels – they rely heavily on them)Examples – HostelWorld, Hostel Hero
- News– I read a blog entry about someone caught up a tsunami alert. The odd pieces of information they were getting from people nearby was far more exaggerated than the information they were able to find from the masses on twitter. Ability to tap into what’s happening in the area is very useful.Examples – Twitter
- Translation – There’s plenty of apps that you can use to get your important point across (point to pictures) or even translate for you
- Currency Conversion– If maths wasn’t a strongpoint at school you can use apps on your phone to convert currencies. Although they have the ability to download live rates, if you don’t have access to live data, they just used the last known rate which is almost certainly better than doing it in your head from the pre-historic guidebook rate.Examples – XE Currency
- Note Taking– Write/Record (photo/sound) a note and store it with searchable word tags and stamped with a GPS location. Recommendations from others, thoughts and reflections from yourself can all be captured on the go.Examples – Evernote
- Music – To occupy yourself on long coach/train journeys or if the person sitting next to you snores loudly.
- Backup Camera – If you’re going somewhere without your camera (maybe a bar)
- Skype – If you’ve got a foreign sim with data, you can always use Skype as your phone on the goExamples – Skype
- Cloud Data– Data held on my NAS or Dropbox are accessible by apps on the phone (as well as my laptop). If you have important things like passport photocopies, insurance policies scanned in and stored on remote storage, you could obtain these in an emergency from your phone. At worst, you can get an app to store offline versions of them.Examples – Dropbox, ReadyNAS Remote
Take another cheap quad bandÂ phone with you to swap your home sim with so you can use foreign sims with data on your smart phone.Â The techies amongst you will be screaming “but the iPhone 4S has a microsim”, which is basically a miniature sim that’s been introduced recently in the new smart phones. If you can’t get micro sims abroad, you can buy Sim Convertors (micro to original sized sims) and Sim Cutters (cut a original sim to the shape of a micro sim) to cope with your iPhone’s micro sim requirements.
Don’t forget to call your mobile phone provider and move your home tariff to a low band before you depart. I’m with O2, who let you move 1 level down per month until you reach about Â£15pm.
External Hard Drive
The internet isn’t going to be everywhere on my travels [shock, i know] and not everything I have can be stored on the NAS. For example, I use the local mail app on my MBA to send/receive emails (not something like google/hotmail), blog drafts and backups/syncs from my iPhone to it too. Basically, there’s a thin trail of data thatÂ hasÂ to be on there for it to work and it will act as a buffer for times when there’s no internet. Think of photos – you’ve taken a bunch of photos and you take them off the card and store them on the laptop until you get a chance to upload them.
Enter external hard drive – aÂ Freecom 500Gb Tough DriveÂ in fact. This drive has enough padding to withstand being thrown around and they call it a Tough Drive. It weighs 200g, comes with an integrated USB lead (no chance of losing it) and is tiny.
I’ve partitioned (split) the disk up into three. One partition for holding Time Machine backups, one for data (photos, documents) and one tiny one for Windows data. If you’re not familiar with Time Machine, it’s the integrated backup tool from Apple for Macs that saves incremental backups. You can use it to fully restore your system, which is exactly what I can use it for. So, if I lose/break my laptop, I can restore in to the last working state in less than an hour. Piece of mind that means my laptop is perishable. I have insurance to cover a replacement, but thankfully I don’t need to waste time of my trip getting it set up. The second partition will store my photos and any important documents (like photocopies of passport, driving license, insurance policies, visas, cards). Both these partitions are encrypted, which means that I have no worry about losing the drive and someone trying to claim they took those impressive photos [or more importantly, have access to photocopies of important documents]. Unless they have a military decryptor, the data is pretty much safe. The third partition is a Windows drive and not encrypted and I’ve only put aside 40Gb in case I need to “trade” data or lend the space to someone with a Windows PC.
For a light, quick and easy storage device with a small capacity, I’m also taking aÂ Duracell 32Gb USB Stick. 32Gb isn’t enough to hold all your photos or backups, but it can act as a quick transfer device or really important files. This stick is capless, so the port remains protected without a cap to lose on the move.
We’re talking plug convertors, batteries and surge protectors. With the 3 items I’ve got, I should have the major eventualities covered with minimal cables and weight.
Convertor – You want to be able to plug your equipment into any foreign plug. You have a choice of taking (or buying on the go) adaptors for each region you visit or something that handles them all in one device. The former involves finding out something you don’t have is needed and wasting time hunting for it. The latter is what I went for – aÂ Skross Pro Plus World Adapter, which is an earthed adaptor that goes from any plug to any socket. You use the plastic slider to slide out the various permutations one at a time. It does come with a dual USB outlet version too, but with the Masterplug (below), it wasn’t necessary. It’s not the lightest device around, but in terms of size, it’s pretty compact.
Masterplug – The Masterplug has two purposes. Firstly, it provides me with 2 USB sockets to charge my USB devices and secondly acts as a surge protector. Electrical surges in remote regions are common, so you don’t want anything you’ve plugged in to be burnt out by a random surge. So my laptop, camera, phone are all protected. How is it protected? Well, physically in the device and with an UNLIMITED repair/replacement guarantee if you register the device when you buy it.Â Both USB inputs and the plug can be used at the same time too, which is very handy for charging your camera and phone or anything else for that matter.
Spare Power – You can’t guarantee to have a power socket everywhere. You also may not want to leave a device charging without you being eagle-eyed watching it. The Veho Pebble Mini is very light (84g) portable rechargeable battery which holds 3000 mAh of charge. To me and you, that’s about 2 full charges of an iPhone – think of theÂ pack just replacing the wall socket and having a USB output.Â It comes with a range of charging tips, so you can charge iPhones or in fact any USB powered device. The same cable is used to charge the Pebble as well as output the charge to the device, so helps minimise cables. It comes in a neat neoprene case, so less chance of losing all the adaptors. The 3 level indicators let you know how much juice is left if you have to be scarce with your charge. Â I’ve tested it with my iPhone and camera and it happily charges both in a reasonable time. Don’t forget, the laptop I’m taking has USB ports too, so if I get desperate, I can also use the power from there to charge devices too.
At home, all my data (documents, music, photos, videos) are stored on a NAS (Network Accessed Storage), which is basically a box with a hard drive that I can access over my home wifi. If you’re interested in the exact model, it’s aÂ Netgear ReadyNasÂ and is around 4 years old. The box sits in a cupboard, happily “serving” up the data so that I don’t need to store these precious things on my laptop. When I said “with a hard drive”, I was also in fact lying – it has two for redundancy. The data is synced across both disks in a fashion called RAID 1. If one drive fails, the NAS will send me an email andÂ hopefullyÂ have enough time to replace it before the second one fails. If I was keen, I’d have a disk on standby ready for someone back at home to replace. Being honest, the disks have served me well so far, so I’ll skip that expense.
A NAS these days, can also act as a remote storage too. By remote, I mean when not on your home wifi. With and app installed on your laptop, and a wifi connection from anywhere, you can safely authenticate yourself and access your home NAS. The aim, is to be able to access my data from anywhere on my travels and periodically send back photos and store them there. This all depends on the internet connections being about to cope with the volume of data.
Just to be clear on this one – I’m not packing this, but will use it as a remote store of data.
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