Our increasing reliance on technology — and especially internet-connected technology — has been a tremendous boon to travelers. The benefits and conveniences offered by fingertip access to travel guides, reviews, banking, reservation information, flight updates and more make it seem sometimes like the internet was created to serve travelers.
But traveling with more and more tech devices has created a host of new challenges for globetrotters, from protecting your personal information to simply keeping everything powered up and running.
You can find all kinds of products dedicated to solving those problems for you — device-charging suites, accessories to accessories, apps upon apps upon apps — but I’m always reluctant to solve the problem of stuff not working on the road by taking along even more stuff. It seems like the travel tech equivalent of putting bad money after good.
Over time I have come up with a few easy hacks to help with many of these problems. For the purposes of this article, I had a few criteria for inclusion:
1. A low “packing footprint” — no one wants too much stuff when traveling
2. Solves an actual problem travelers encounter frequently, not a made-up problem
3. Can help on any kind of trip, from a visit to the grandparents to a long international journey
So here are my low- and mid-tech hacks to solve the high-tech dilemmas we all face in the world of modern travel.
Keeping stuff charged may be the most confounding and anxiety-causing task of modern travel; sometimes it seems there aren’t enough outlets in the world. Having your own mini-power strip can guarantee you (and others) stay charged up when it counts.
In older hotels, outlets can be scarce and/or difficult to get to. It wasn’t too long ago that the typical hotel room needed maybe three outlets: one for the TV, one for a bedside light and one in the bathroom for a razor or hair dryer. In most such rooms, every outlet is either in use or impossible to reach without moving a large piece of furniture.
Today it isn’t unusual to have three or four things plugged in, even when traveling alone; I almost always have a laptop, a smartphone and a camera battery charger, and sometimes a tablet as well. Add family to the mix, and the number soars — suddenly you’re unplugging the TV or trying to charge water-sensitive gadgets in the bathroom.
A mini-power strip can solve the problem very easily. Even if you have to pull out the bed a little, at least you are forced to do so only once. Plug everything in, done.
A mini-power strip can also come in handy at the airport, where competition for outlets can be intense. Even at airports where charging kiosks have been installed, walking up to a kiosk with only your device and a sad expression might prompt mercy from another traveler whose device is almost charged — but walking up with a mini-power strip that you can both share makes it a lot easier for him or her to take pity on you.
Here is a compact travel power strip that also has USB ports for charging mobile devices; pretty clever, and a very low packing footprint.
As an add-on hack to the outlet problem mentioned above, these simple adapters can come through for you if you are staying in older buildings that do not have three-prong outlets. For example, Senior Editor Sarah Schlichter ran into this issue at a small motel in Maine, where she could not plug in a laptop with a grounding prong. One of these simple, small and cheap adapters is a good solution.
International adapters have also become far more clever than the bag of individual plugs folks used to pack — and lose, and buy again, and pack, and lose, and buy again. An all-in-one adapter like this one from Travel Smart can help you plug in pretty much anywhere on the planet.
Speaking of waterproofing, there is a truly easy way to protect your non-water-resistant tablet/smartphone/camera/other device: put it in a sealable plastic bag. These come in all sizes, from sandwich bags perfect for a smartphone to very large ones that can contain a tablet or even DSLR camera.
This really works. A serious runner I know uses his iPhone to track his marathon training not by purchasing an expensive waterproof case, but simply by putting it in a small sandwich bag, sealing it and taking off. A few weeks back he was playing with his kids and fell into the pool with the bagged phone still in his pocket. When he got out, it was the only dry thing on him.
The packing footprint of a few plastic bags is almost zero, and you can save yourself a lot of headaches by having them around.
Nearly every internet connection you’re likely to use on the road is public; the warning “this connection is unsecured and others may see your information” is a staple of the travel experience. I won’t go into all the details of public internet connections (you can read more about that in 11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling) but suffice it to say that pretty much anyone who really wants to see what you are doing can do so.
There are numerous ways to protect yourself, however, including the following options:
The 21st century has created a new breed of “digital souvenir” that requires almost as much careful tending as the old kind that you used to wrap and pack safely for your trip home. A cloud storage site — such as Google Drive, Dropbox or a service like Evernote — offers you a place to upload your vacation photos, videos, photos of your parking spot, scans of documents and more.
Having a place to send all of this data for safekeeping can keep your device’s hard drive from filling up, but it’s not just about storage space; if your device is lost, stolen or broken, you will be glad to have a backup. So when you have a chance (best when on a Wi-Fi connection so you don’t incur massive data charges), upload all your stuff onto a cloud storage site so you have it when you get home.
While the cloud is great for backing up or offloading large amounts of data, it’s overkill for a few lines of info you need to access quickly and frequently — so an email to yourself is the perfect solution. Since storing passport numbers, frequent flier numbers, reservation numbers and local contact info on your laptop or smartphone leaves you vulnerable to anyone who gets their hands on the device, you will want an easily accessible but somewhat secure and remote place to store these.
One of the easiest ways to have quick access to important numbers and information while traveling is to send it to yourself in an email. Then when you need it, you can log in and retrieve the information. In some cases this might entail some expensive data charges, but if the situation warrants it, it is a small price to pay. You can even do this with a photo of your passport, which offers some hard evidence as to your passport number, citizenship, etc.
Email is not 100 percent secure, but compared to many of your options, it is as close as it gets. A simple trick to “encrypt” your information would be to write it out in a non-intuitive format, so you might type out credit card number 4170-1234-5678-9101 as follows:
4170 S Main St.
1234 W 125th St.
5678 N Thunder Rd.
9101 Exile St.
You get the idea — let the 10-year-old in you come up with a cool code.
And remember always to log out of your email accounts while traveling; you don’t need to make this stuff easy on the bad guys.
Talk about a low-tech solution with a small packing footprint, whew — but think about how many times you might have to write something down as you travel. When your phone dies, or you want to jot down someone’s email address, or you need to leave a note, a pen is invaluable.
The perfect example? Filling out customs forms. On a smartphone- and iPad-infested flight back from Amsterdam this year, tens of thousands of dollars of tech did nothing to help the countless passengers who were clamoring for a pen during the descent — or the flight attendants who were rolling their eyes as they tried to shuttle pens up and down the aisles.
A pen, a pen, my smartphone for a pen!
If you have any other tech hacks that meet the criteria above, let us know in the comments below.
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