For most people, the point of travel is to get away. Get away from work, from stress, from the all-too-familiar trappings of home. While an “offline” vacation, away from email and phone calls, is certainly laudable, a little bit of tech can go a long way in actually relieving stress.
Saving money, not worrying about finding a charger, backups for all your photos, these things can each help a little bit to make your trip more relaxing and enjoyable.
So here’s some tech that helps you travel smarter, and better.
There are countless awesome travel apps. While most are just a version of the website, others offer something special for the mobile user. Take Orbitz (iOS/Android) for example. Book through the app, and you get an extra few percentage of your spending as Orbucks. This is free money (or a free discount, depending on how you look at it). The extra 2% may not seem like much, but it adds up.
Tripadvisor (iOS/Android) knows where you are, and lets you find restaurants and hotels nearby. The ratings are generally accurate, though for sushi in particular they tend to be rubbish. Ask locals where the good sushi places are.
All the airlines have their own apps, but these don’t offer much over the website, I’ve found. Check if your bank has an app. That’s always useful.
USB Battery Pack
I did a whole article on these, and I’ve mentioned them before, but they’re awesome. These are small rechargeable battery packs that recharge any device that plugs in via USB. So your phone, Apple iPod, most tablets, some laptops, and some cameras. Never be without power on your favorite device. I seriously love these things.
There’s a tradeoff between storage capacity and size. The smallest of these are a little larger than a lipstick tube. They might top off your phone, but that’s it. The larger ones, roughly the size of two decks of cards (or so), can refill a tablet, or thereabouts. If you’re unsure what size to get, check how much mAh your devices have (check Wikipedia). If your phone has a 1,200 mAh battery, and your tablet has 4,400 mAh, then a 12,000 mAh battery pack will recharge each roughly twice (there’s some energy lost in the transfer).
The past few years have seen an explosion of cloud storage options. Even the big names, like Google and Microsoft, are in the game now.
Cloud storage is hard drive space that you can access from anywhere. Think of it like an extra hard drive, just not physically on your person. I use it to backup my photos and writing while I travel. I’m not too worried about someone stealing my tiny laptop, but you never know. So I have a folder on my desktop that is automatically uploaded to my cloud storage whenever I’m connected to WiFi.
I picked Google, as it was cheap and easy: $5 a month (soon to be $2 a month) for 100 GB of storage. There are other options that offer additional features, different amounts of storage, and so on. Check out OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Box: Which cloud storage service is right for you? and Five Best Cloud Storage Providers for more info on all the choices.
Free wifi is pretty readily available most places you might travel. If you want to stay a little more connected, consider an unlocked phone. By “unlocking” your phone, you can buy pre-paid SIM cards in whatever country you visit. These have much better rates than your home carrier’s roaming fees. Most of the pre-paid SIM’s I’ve bought while travelling were $15-20, and offered around 1 GB of data for 1-2 weeks. This was plenty, unless you want to Skype. For that, I’d wait for WiFi.
The trick, of course, is unlocking your phone. Each carrier has different hoops you have to go through to unlock your phone. Some, like Verizon, make it fairly easy. Others, like Sprint, will make you want to murder.
Regardless of your carrier, you’re probably going to need to contact them to get them to unlock your phone. You can also buy an unlocked phone, but I’m not big on buying an extra of something you already have (unless you’re worried about losing your phone).
Even if you’re trying to “get away from it all” don’t be afraid to bring some tech. Or specifically, the right tech. Use technology to augment your life, let it work for you, so you can concentrate on the things that matter. Like doing as little as possible on a beach somewhere (or wherever your wanderlust takes you).