The Digital Vacation

Want to make your vacation one to remember? Enhance it with technology.
Written by Scott Raymond, Inactive

Don't let the title fool you. This isn't about having a virtual vacation online while you stay at home. This is about using available technology to enhance your existing vacations.

Previously when I traveled, it was never really a conscious decision to take specific devices with me. I usually took my laptop and my smartphone, and my Barnes & Noble Nook ebook reader. Before I had a smartphone, I would take my cellphone, my PDA and my MP3 player with me, which resulted in a bag full of chargers and cables.

For our wedding anniversary last December, my wife and I went to DisneyLand. I had decided to take only my Samsung Galaxy Tab and my smartphone with me. It was going to be a short trip, and I wasn't going to be playing any World of Warcraft or writing extensive documents that would require the capabilities of my laptop.

I'm sure anyone reading this that's done any significant travel over the past decade has dealt with bringing along some form of technology with them. Unless your plan is to completely disconnect from civilization, you've likely made accommodations for your mobile computing and entertainment devices.

With the excess cost of baggage handling on airlines these days, and the limit of only one carry-on item, it's in your best interests to consolidate wherever possible. Don't carry a charger and cable for each device if all of your devices use a microusb connector. You can have one charging block and one cable to handle all of your devices. Or you can charge them all from your laptop, if they do not require more power like tablets.

Occasionally you'll be on a day trip where you won't have the opportunity to charge your cellphone if it gets used a lot during the day. On our DisneyLand trip I used my phone as a wifi access point and drained the battery quickly. Getting an emergency recharger device with a USB port like this Duracell USB charger can pay for itself in terms of convenience the first time you find yourself in need. And you can recharge the charging device off of your laptop's USB port as well.

If you leave your laptop at home when you travel, you can probably put all of your gear into one bag that also serves as a day pack/guide bag, like this one from Eagle Creek. Basically you want a bag that can hold a tablet, your charger, a couple of cables, bottle of water, guide book and a few other essentials. 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.

There are plenty of software applications available designed to make your trip a more enjoyable one. I'm not just talking about playing movies or games or reading books. There are, of course, plenty of digital guidebooks, such as the popular Rick Steves collection.

There are also tons of airline and travel apps available for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone and Windows mobile. Just search your online app market and you'll find plenty. Occasionally, however, you will come across some real gems that make your trip more efficient, enjoyable and memorable.

To give you an example, when we were planning our DisneyLand trip, we started looking for resources on DisneyLand including maps, rides, and recommendations; this way we could plan our days without wandering around and spending needless hours on long lines instead of enjoying ourselves. As part of our search, my wife picked up a copy of the Unofficial Guide to DisneyLand 2011.

Not only did this turn out to be an amazingly useful guide, they also have line waiting time apps for most smartphone platforms and the web. In our two days at the park, there were perhaps 3 lines where we spent more than half an hour waiting on a line. Do a bit of research before your trip and look for those travel apps. Instead of being a tourist wandering around without a clue, you can be a savvy traveler that gets rewarded for your effort.

When you travel, there are periods when you don't have anything to do to keep you occupied--usually on a plane, train or car ride. DVDs and digital video recordings of TV shows can be converted and copied to your mobile devices or laptop. Digital books, games and ebooks are commonplace now. Quite often, all four of these can be condensed into one tablet or smartphone device, which cuts down on your need to carry extra hardware with you. Videos and books aren't so great on tiny smartphone screens for extended periods, however.

This is still a time of early adopters for some of the more esoteric uses of your smartphones and tablets. Most people see them as a novelty and not an integral part of their normal routine. You can impress your friends and family now, but don't be surprised if they come to you later as an expert on all things in mobile tech.

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