Thoughts On Travel and Technology

Technology changes rapidly and equipment and services that worked well or were inexpensive yesterday may not be available or work the same way today. We consider our electronic devices essential travel gear but are always looking to find things that fit multiple needs or save space and weight. Following is a discussion of the current collection we travel with:

  • Laptops and Tablets
  • Cellphones and Apps
  • Entertainment
  • Email, Texting
  • Chargers and Cables

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Our travel electronics collection now includes a couple of small Macintosh Air laptops, a couple of compact hard drives, an iPad, an Android tablet, an iPhone and an Android dual sim phone, a compact digital camera and a waterproof digital camera (both Nikon). In addition we travel with a specific set of cables, converters , power adaptors and an extension strip with USB charging ports.

While this sounds like a lot it takes up less than a half cubic foot of space and weighs less than 6 pounds


There are a number of choices in laptops that include Windows, Apple, Chromebooks and 2-in-1 models, along with tablets as a workable replacement. First if you are a frequent international traveler we would recommend against the Chromebook. The Chromebook has very limited storage and depends on having access to the internet to access programs and files from the cloud rather than having them stored in the laptop. Our travels often take us to places where internet access isn’t available making a Chromebook almost useless.

The good news for travelers is laptops keep getting smaller with more storage and memory every year and often tablets match the laptops specifications.
A couple of years ago I bought a Windows “2 in 1” laptop that I thought would be perfect for travel. It could be used as either a regular laptop or detaching the keyboard it becomes a tablet. I made the mistake of selecting one with 2 Gb of RAM and a 32 Gb SSD drive.It self-destructed in six months because the onboard memory (32 Gb) was taken over by the constant stream of Microsoft upgrades, it actually ran out of room and stopped working because there wasn’t a enough hard drive space left to even boot the operating system. I had installed a 132 Gb SD card to provide extra storage but MS wouldn’t allow their system to load to the SD card. Even the computer engineer and programmer in the family wasn’t able to revive the device. Please avoid those minimum specification laptops – because of their construction there is no way to even upgrade the drive. Lately it is becoming more common to find 4Gb/64Gb models but I am still distrustful that they won’t also succumb to the same problem.

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A step up from those basic 2 in 1 devices is the Lenovo Flex 14” 2-in-1 Convertible Laptop, FHD Touchscreen Display, 12GB DDR4 RAM, 256GB SSD, Windows 10 pictured here.

Most everyone these days are addicted to the internet and people find it strange when we try and prepare for long stretches without having access. I have been in a couple of discussions with computer companies about back-up system software in case of an emergency (rarely are CD drives included any more). Apple once agreed and sold me a system installer on a thumb drive before it was widely available – just in case. Six months later I needed it and it would not allow reloading without being able to confirm the purchase on the internet!! Now carrying a compact bootable drive and having a second device is always part of our plan. I carry a couple of travel hard drives (about the size of a cell phone) with 1 and 2 Tb of storage and back up data from both laptops to partitions on a configured drive regularly. I avoid backup software schemes because they can be a problem if switching to a shared laptop.

Tablets and iPads

We are avid readers and we were in the habit of traveling with a number of books but have now turned to tablets as our reading preference. For the last few years our tablets are our must have travel accessory. Not only for reading but we also have travel apps to keep track of itineraries, music, movies, an atlas, games all with an emphasis on being off-line. Before the last trip we went through our tablets to sort titles and between us we had 22 unread books (mostly mysteries) as well as a number of travel guide books that we select from for each trip. If you haven’t looked into travel guides in ebook or pdf format they can be an excellent reference while on the road. If you are a Prime member be sure and keep an eye on Amazon books for their free offers and 99¢ specials. I also use Google to download free copies of classic books.

While it is true that a real book never made me stop reading to recharge, that seems a small price to pay for the convenience. We have both an iPad and an Android and they both seem to work about the same using apps for Nook, Kindle and Google Play Books. The iPad syncs files better until we go out of the country and then iCloud starts having security issues and can be a headache. The same with Apple email accounts and international travel.

Cell Phones and International Cell Service

As mentioned in previous posts we have used Verizon as our primary cell service but we have given up after numerous international travel problems. I can’t even count the number of places we have been where Verizon phones didn’t work or service wasn’t available. The one thing we discovered was that most of the travelers we met that seemed to be using their cell phones when we couldn’t were T-Mobile customers.

We now carry a newer iPhone, an Android on T-Mobile and a dual-sim Android phone for when data isn’t available and Apple messaging becomes a problem. The Android phone also has a OneSimCard service sim installed. Often I can find service with OneSimCard when others fail to connect.

Good Apps For Travelers

MyTSA for Android and iOS- Nothing fancy but MyTSA is the official app of the Transportation Security Administration and it can provide you with good information getting to your flight by checking wait times at security checkpoints at major airports. The app includes historical wait-time data while also giving you the option of checking crowd-sourced reports of how long security lines are at that moment.

Mobile Passport for Android and iOS is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection-approved app that helps speed you through lengthy immigration lines by letting users with U.S. or Canadian passports submit their passport control and customs declarations through the app. MORE HERE.

TripIt for Android and iOS TripIt is free and allows you to consolidate your travel plans into a simple, convenient itinerary. Viewable online and synced to your cell phone, you can also share itineraries with your contacts. Auto connect to email travel confirmations. MORE HERE.

Save On Internationally Calls While traveling With VoIP Apps

Viber – in addition to free, texts, Viber allows you to place voice calls over data or Wi-Fi to any other Viber user, anywhere in the world, for free. If you’d need to place VoIP calls to landlines and other mobile users, you can, with Viber’s Viber Out service. Viber Out calls will cost you, but they start at 1.9 cents per minute and vary depending on the country you’re calling. Viber is also cross platform, with apps for Android, iOS, Blackberry and Windows Phones.
Skype – Skype is a major player in free VoIP calling and texting, and like the others it offers absolutely free voice as well as video calls to other people who also use Skype. Skype was the first service to give you free calling in-network and rates for calling out of the system.
MagicApp – Most people know MagicJack as that plug-in that lets you use your home phones as VoIP phones and send your calls over the internet instead. We’ve been using Magicjack for over ten years and now use the app as well. If you have a MagicJack device, you can use that phone number for your mobile calls as well using their app, and even get calls from your device at home routed to your smartphone when you’re away.

International Travel, Cruising and Text Messaging with iPhones

One issue we discovered recently with a trans-Atlantic cruise involved texting onboard using iPhones and iMessage. Because of the cost of placing phone calls at sea our preferred method of contact is texting. We have several family members that also use iPhones and texting with them completely failed. It seems that iMessage uses cellular data to send and receive messages and generally cellular service on ship is very expensive and data doesn’t work at times – so no texting with making major chnages with your iPhone. Oddly, not all but often cell company service support reps seem unaware of the iPhone texting issues.

The best hope is to turn iMessage off and make sure SMS is active (also I would recommend turning MMS off as big photos and videos will get costly on data). This will solve most issues but there can be some problems if the person back home is an iPhone user with iMessage turned on. If you believe this is still a problem with the other person they need to also turn iMessage off to exchange text with you.

Entertainment Without Internet

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While traveling on extended trips we often find ourselves in media and internet impoverished areas and sometimes having some shows to watch comes in handy. We use two approaches as we travel. I download shows into our tablets, mostly using Google Play and Netflix (often free) or I convert some movies to MP4 and load a travel compact hard drive. One thing we have found essential is a small plug-in battery operated speaker. The current one is 2”x2”x1.5” and produces great sound (EWA $15). Comes in handy when watching shows in bed in the evening on a laptop or tablet.

We both have tablets and between us we carry a few dozen books in various apps, mostly Amazon and Google books [their apps] and B&N Nook. We do not use Apple eBooks or iTunes because we have often had authorization issues internationally when we couldn’t do anything to resolve the issues.

Miscellaneous Gear

We also have a compact set of chargers and cables that are part of our travel gear. Many of these items have been selected after a lot of trial and error over the years. Here are some of our favorites.

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3 in 1 and 4 in 1 charging cables – eliminate that spaghetti tangle and need to carry a number of cables. Our collection includes octopus end USB plug with iOS last gen, Type C and Micro USB tips and an older one that includes iOS/Micro-USB/Mini -USB that will do data transfer too.

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Power Strip with Extension cord – One headache while traveling is keeping that gear charged. Often in hotels and while cruising we find outlets that don’t allow some chargers to fit into the space around the outlet or there simply aren’t enough outlets. Our answer is this Travel Power Strip. Compact with 2 USB ports and 2 outlets the real feature is a short extension cord that stows tightly on the power strip.

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International plug adaptors – While today most electronics don’t need power converters you still need plug adaptors. All you need travel with is the adaptor for the countries you’re visiting. This is a great inexpensive set of plug adaptors that take up no space.

Power banks – These devices come in all shapes and sizes but when selecting pay attention that the device fits your needs. Do you need multiply charging ports? Will your device fast charge? This is our choice for one that fills a number of requirements.

In addition to the above I always carry A USB plug SD card reader and a short USB extension cable and unfortunately a couple of device specific chargers/converters.

That rounds out our collection of travel electronics but we are always looking for tips on travel electronics and are now using Movavi software for downloading video after one subscriber suggested it. Any ideas or tricks? Please let us know.

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