The Digital Vacation, International Edition

Making your technology work for you while traveling abroad.

Photo by fiatlux

Photo by fiatlux

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the digital vacation, detailing my own experiences with my technology while on vacation as well as recommendations for travelers. Recently my wife and I returned from a cruise in the Mediterranean, and I'm returning to the subject to discuss technology use on longer trips abroad.

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On the trip to DisneyLand, I was carrying my Samsung Galaxy Tab 7", and chose to leave the laptop at home. This time I took my Motorola Xoom, and still left the laptop at home. While this trip was considerably longer--12 days--there was little need for a laptop.

When traveling abroad, especially overseas, it's important to remember a number of key details. For one thing, your cellphone might not be capable of roaming internationally. Even if it is, the roaming rates are bound to be very expensive.

For my T-Mobile service, there was roaming available shipboard and on land, but the cost is $4.50 per minute for phone calls, and data services are $15 per megabyte of data. I had T-Mobile enable international roaming, but kept my phone in airplane mode and turned off background synchronization. I planned on using the phone only in an emergency.

Another item to remember is power. The power outlets in Europe are pretty standard, but they're 220v and don't match the plugs here in the US. Fortunately the cruise ship actually had 110v US-based outlets for my devices. You can't always count on that when you travel overseas.

Internet access can be easy to acquire, or difficult, depending upon the venue of your trip. Staying in a hotel? No problem. Most hotels have internet access around the world these days, either free or for a nominal fee. On a ship, however, if there is any internet access it's likely to be slow and expensive due to being relayed through satellite. If you really need access, only buy the minutes you will need.

If you're going to be doing a lot of sightseeing, it doesn't hurt to stock up on ebook versions of travel guides. If you take the time to search the internet before your trip, you'll be able to locate a lot of free downloadable PDF files for each place you travel to. This came in very handy, and I didn't have to lug around a bunch of paper tour guides while on excursions.

Of course, if you want official guide books, you can't go wrong with Kindle or Nook versions of the Rick Steves line of tour guides.

You will need to decide if you really want to lug your laptop bag around the world with you. I've found that while on vacation there is nothing so critical that requires a laptop while I am away. Of course, my father in-law had to do some work on the cruise, so he brought his laptop with him. It all depends upon your needs.

Remember, the longer the trip the more you will need to bring with you, so cut corners wherever you can. I brought a wireless keyboard with me just in case, but I ended up not even needing it.

There's always the question of what support gear you will need when you travel. I brought the minimum number of chargers for my phone and tablet, data/charging cables, and two sets of headphones. I have a spare set just in case my nice ones break. Always bring extra memory sticks and SD cards for your devices and digital cameras.

I've mentioned previously that if you're spending the day outside where you don't have the opportunity to charge your phone, you should get an emergency recharger. I prefer a device with a USB port like this Duracell USB charger. You can recharge the charging device off of your laptop's USB port or your smartphone's USB charger block.

You'll definitely want a handy shoulder bag for day trips. I am really happy with my Eagle Creek Guide Pro bag. It can hold my Xoom tablet with leather folio case, charger, a couple of cables, sun screen and a few other essentials.

The iPad doesn't quite fit into the Guide Pro if you have a bulky leather case, so you might want to consider the next larger size from Eagle Creek called the Vagabond. Get something decent with a wide, comfortable strap that can be adjusted to wear snugly against you so a pickpocket can't get a good hold of it.

This is also a consideration when you have a larger DSLR camera rather than a small point and shoot handheld. A small camera can go into your guide bag or your pocket like your smartphone. A bigger, more expensive camera should be protected from damage. Look for a camera bag that has an extra sleeve for your tablet if you're carrying one.

Power adapters are also a recommended travel item. This 4-port travel power strip from Monster is relatively inexpensive. Pair it with an adapter for the countries you will be visiting and you should have no worries. Don't worry about power conversion for hair dryers. Almost every place you stay will have a hair dryer available.

There's also the essential items that most people overlook when traveling, and end up having to take time from their vacation to stock up on supplies. Bring adhesive bandages, aspirin, a bottle of sunscreen--SPF 30 is good. Also bring a couple of disposable travel toothbrush kits. They really make a difference after you've been on a plane for 12 hours.

Finally, get yourself a hat. Sure, the sunscreen protects your skin, but if you're going to be walking around archaeological ruins for hours in the hot sun, you're going to want to keep your head shady and cool.

I went with a Tilley hat, specifically the LTM6 nylon airflo model. Tilley hats can stand up to a ton of abuse, are washable, and the company has an excellent replacement policy if they ever wear out or get lost. Yes, they're a bit expensive, but I feel like I really got my money's worth.

Be safe, be careful, and be smart. Leave your passport locked up in the hotel safe and keep a photocopy of it with you when you go out. Leave another photocopy of it at home along with your travel itinerary in case your family needs it in an emergency. And above all, enjoy your trip. Don't let your tech be an obstacle when you travel; make it work for you.

Photo by fiatlux

Photo by fiatlux

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