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The minimalist guide to summer travel tech

As someone who prefers to travel as light as possible, here are some tried-and-true tips on how to make the most out of toting the fewest gadgets and entanglements possible.
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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 11 Rachel King/ZDNet

Technology offers the potential to make travel a smoother ride with more opportunities for capturing and sharing moments along the way.

But for some reason, we have all fallen into the tourist traps presented by gadgetry instead. It usually follows a pattern of spending too much money on countless items we don't need that end up becoming a burden along the journey.

As someone who prefers to travel as light as possible, here are some tried-and-true tips on how to make the most out of toting the fewest gadgets and entanglements possible.

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2 of 11 Rachel King/ZDNet

Tablet & Keyboard

Logitech iPad Mini Keyboard

Many people argue that vacations are a time to shun email and whatnot, but I’m unapologetic in wanting to stay connected — even if it is just to keep my inbox somewhat tidy and send a few messages to friends here and there. However, I absolutely hate having to lug around a laptop. Even a 13-inch MacBook Air demonstrates its weight when crammed into a carry-on tote or suitcase.

In my experience, a marvelous alternative has been pairing my iPad mini with a keyboard. Logitech has already established a solid reputation in building sturdy and reliable keyboards for the entire iPad family, with the battery life usually going and going for hours at a time before demanding a recharge.

I’ll admit that even for my small hands, getting used to the sized-down keyboard took some time and adjustment.

But having the iPad mini loaded with all of my digital books, magazines and movies combined with the ability to be productive (or just to get some letter writing done) pretty much enables me to do anything I want while on the road.

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad mini. Available in black, white, and purple. MSRP: $79.99.

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3 of 11 Rachel King/ZDNet

Bluetooth Wireless Headphones

Headphones are a must for any trip, especially on airplanes where you’re trying to drown out the noise of four engines or four crying babies (or all of the above).

My biggest problem with most earbuds is that the cords always become tangled into a gargantuan mess, either in my bag or around my neck as I (foolishly) attempt to balance my iPad and a meal on the tray on the seatback in front of me. That’s followed by another pet peeve with noise-cancelling headphones being that they are usually bulky and very thirsty for battery juice all the time — a frustration for long flights.

LG offers a stellar entry that alleviates all of the aforementioned afflictions. Not only does this almost weightless headset offer high-quality audio and fit virtually anywhere (I kept it around my neck most of the time — even through security metal detectors), but it charges via standard Micro USB. That battery charge feels like it lasts forever sometimes — or at least it survived a nine-hour haul from Istanbul to New York immediately followed by another six-hour jaunt to San Francisco.

LG Tone Ultra HBS800 wireless stereo headset. Available in black and white. MSRP: $119.99.

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4 of 11 Rachel King/ZDNet

Attachable Camera Lens for Smartphones

Sony Cyber-shot QX10

The cameras on newer iPhone models and many Android smartphones have all but replaced the standard point-and-shoot camera, but in some spots they’re still lacking.

In case you want a boost without upgrading to a digital SLR or even an entry-level interchangeable lens camera, you may want to consider an attachable lens. Such an accessory can boost zoom levels by 10 times.

Sony offers two decent options in this category, including the lower-end QX10, which you can get for roughly $200 when on sale with some online vendors. (Looking for a good used or refurbished model on Amazon, NewEgg or Overstock is also a great way to save some cash and get nearly the same quality as a new model.)

One of the benefits of this space-saver route is the one-touch connection with your smartphone, where you can save hundreds upon hundreds of photos that can then be automatically geo-tagged (if you’re into that sort of thing) and synced with photo sharing and storage apps like Dropbox. (More on that later.)

Sony Cyber-shot QX10. Available in black and white. MSRP: $249.99.

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5 of 11 Rachel King/ZDNet

Portable Power Bank

As a sign of the times, none of the gadgets featured thus far require archaic disposable batteries.

But they do all depend on an electric outlet now and then.

To reduce the number of outlets and cords required (not to mention how often you’ll need to pull over to recharge), a portable power bank could come in handy. You shouldn’t have to spend much on one of these, and most options aren’t much larger than a Swiss Army knife. Try to find one sporting a 3-in-1 adapter cable so that you can charge standard USB-equipped devices alongside old and new iOS products.

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6 of 11 Rachel King/ZDNet

Plug and Play

When traveling far from home, there are a few techie odds and ends you should just always have stashed in your bag and ready to go so you don’t have to think twice about them later.

I’d start with a standard USB charger — if you didn’t consider the slide before this. (If you have a lot of gadgets, you’re bound to have an extra one of these floating around.)

Depending on how long of a trip you're about to embark on, a single universal plug adapter for international travel along with a two-prong headphone adapter are easy to toss in a bag and can be lifesavers later. Many airplanes are still outfitted with two-prong headphone jacks for some reason, and usually the only headphones that work with these are the ones the airlines will supply you with — sometimes for free and sometimes for a fee. To take advantage of the higher quality headset you already packed, have this tiny plug in your bag just in case.

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7 of 11 Rachel King/ZDNet

Whatsapp

It wasn’t until I was traveling abroad with friends from around the world toting a multitude of different smartphones that I truly grasped the value of Whatsapp. OK, so maybe the soon-to-be-Facebook-owned isn’t worth $16-19 billion, but the value proposition is undeniable.

Never before has an app felt so intuitive and just MADE SENSE until put into practice. You can communicate with basically anyone else who has a smartphone and this app so long as you have a wifi connection — incredibly helpful when you’re on a wifi network at 30,000 feet or in another country and you don’t want to pay for international service.

This app also solves the age-old problem of group photos when everyone wants the helpless photographer to take the same snapshot with each and every person’s camera. Just use Whatsapp and you can send the photo (scratch that, as many photos as you want) to everyone in the group in a second.

WhatsApp Messenger: Free for messaging over wifi; standard data rates apply otherwise. Available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia.

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8 of 11 Rachel King/ZDNet

TripIt v. TripIt Pro

TripIt is an established player in the tech travel game by now, proving to be one of the best (if not the best) place to sync up every step along the itinerary from flight to car rental to hotel bookings and then some. But the best part is you can do all of that for free.

TripIt also offers a premium service for $49 per year, and there is a 30-day free trial available as well. TripIt Pro does have some benefits, including real-time flight alerts sent to your phone and email. While I have found these extra features to be helpful, I have a hard time justifying the extra subscription on top of every other $5-$10/month digital subscription out there these days.

But there are ways of getting TripIt Pro for free, or more like as a benefit/reward for other services. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, for example, comes with a TripIt Pro annual subscription for free.

TripIt: Free for standard service: $49 per year for Pro. Accessible via all desktop and mobile browsers. Native apps available for iPhone/iPad, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone 7.

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9 of 11 Rachel King/ZDNet

FlightBoard

This app has been around the block for awhile, garnering attention and praise when released a few years back for its UI inspiration stemming from the departures and arrivals boards at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport.

But FlightBoard proved it was more than just a novelty when I was making a very close connection a few weeks ago.

Owned by the forces behind Expedia, FlightBoard taps into the departure and arrival data of almost every major airport worldwide in real-time (or as close to it as possible), displaying updated gate information as well as notifications about delays.

Between FlightBoard and onboard wifi, I was able to estimate how quickly I would need to move off the aircraft to my next flight, which I learned was (conveniently) delayed two terminals over.

FlightBoard by Mobiata: $3.99. Available for iPhone/iPad and Android.

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10 of 11 Rachel King/ZDNet

Foursquare/Swarm

A lot of my friends think Foursquare is a bunch of rubbish and routinely chide me for wanting to publish where I am all the time.

But that’s only a small part of the quickly-expanding Foursquare platform — despite the recent oddball development siphoning off the check-in process as a new app dubbed, “Swarm.” (I’m a bit peeved by the feature/app separation strategy demonstrated by Foursquare, Facebook, and others, but that’s a whole other article/rant entirely.)

While I do use Yelp and TripAdvisor for restaurant and hotel reviews from time to time, I’ve found Foursquare’s mobile app and desktop browser user experiences to be the most fluid and time-saving of the bunch.

Foursquare has also proven to be the most sophisticated and seamless way for keeping track of both where I want to go and where I have been through lists I can curate myself or follow others made by established travel and culinary sources such as Travel + Leisure, Zagat, and Eater, among many others.

Foursquare and Swarm: Free. Native apps available for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone. Reviews/lists (but not check-in process) also available via desktop and mobile browsers.

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11 of 11 Rachel King/ZDNet

Photo Storage and Sharing

Even if you're not into selfies (you're really not alone), chances are you're going to be using your smartphone to snap some pictures wherever you might be venturing.

Thanks to the convergence of the cloud, mobile, and big data, gone are the days where organizing photos after a long trip need to be more exhausting than enduring a long line at TSA.

There are many options out there, and I actually keep my photos backed up across a number of different cloud services (i.e., Google Drive, Box, Flickr and Facebook) after putting them through a melange of photo-editing apps.

But for amateur and professional photographers alike, Dropbox's Carousel gallery app for digital photos and videos is one of the best places to start. Once you download and opt in to the geo-tagging and upload features, Carousel really takes care of the rest.

The app automatically organizes your photos by date and location while uploading images in full resolution, freeing up valuable space on your smartphone for more photos or other digital content.

Carousel by Dropbox: App and up to 2GB of cloud space are free. Pro storage starts at $9.99 per month for 100GB of space. Available for iPhone and Android.

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