The tech-savvy travelers’s guide | Technology for ‘Us’

  • Friday, November 18, 2016 2:30pm
  • Opinion

It’s fall, the leaves are turning — and the tourists are gone. In other words, it’s a great time to take an international vacation. (The prices are right, too.)

If you’re planning to go far, far away, think about the techno stuff you’ll want to take when you’re setting up your trip.

Your phone. Assuming you’re a smartphone user, you know your phone will be your key piece of travel tech. Phone calls, email, text messages, taking photographs, shooting videos, maps and directions — even reading an e-book while sipping a delicate pinot noir at that sidewalk café on the River Seine — can all come from your phone.

First, however, be sure you understand the outside-the-U.S. phone and data options open to you. If your phone is a so-called “unlocked” device, you can use any overseas carrier’s plan that conforms to your phone’s technology. You’ll usually find these services on the Internet for the country you’re visiting. For most people, however, it’s simpler to use your U.S. carrier’s international plans. Data overseas can be ruinously expensive so your U.S. plan is probably your best bet. Just be sure you watch how much data you actually use: track that data use in your phone’s settings. Also, be sure you have enough photo storage on your phone, or you can upload your shots to a “cloud” (Apple iCloud, Google Drive, etc.)

Best bet: Use whatever WiFi you can find locally. Free WiFi access points and Internet cafes are virtually everywhere these days, and using Skype, Facebook Messenger or other Internet-connected services instead of your cell plan just makes better economic sense for calls.

Other gear. While most people are happy traveling with just a smartphone, I’d be lost without my Android tablet: so many downloaded books, movies, games, etc. On overseas plane rides, I also take my Amazon Kindle Paperwhite ebook reader (great battery life). For emergency writing projects (my wife just loves those while we’re on vacation), I also pack a wireless Bluetooth-enabled portable keyboard and mouse for my tablet.

My other travel necessity is a mobile battery for charging my device(s) in the air. While airlines publicize their passenger-friendly USBs or electric wall sockets at your seats, most airlines limit those conveniences to first and business classes, and the first 20-plus seats in the main cabin. If you’re in Row 30, for example, you’re out of luck. Best bet: buy batteries from well-recognized manufacturers such as Anker or RAVPower, and get one with the most power storage capacity (or “mAh”) as you can afford.

Cables. One quick way to ruin your trip is forgetting to take a power cable for your gear, or taking the wrong cable. I’ve done both: lesson learned. The best plan: pre-test every tech device you’ll take on your trip, whether you’re using a multi-port USB portable charging station (they’re worth the investment) or individual wall plugs.

P.S.: These tips, mostly, are also useful for a long weekend trip. Bon voyage!

Skip Ferderber is a technology writer and editor. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he has written locally for Alaska Airlines Magazine, GeekWire.com, Seattle Business Journal, Puget Sound Business Journal and Crosscut.com. Contact him at sferderber@gmail.com.

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