Do you really need to take a suitcase of gadgets on holiday?
Packing for a big family trip can be a heavy business. Having trekked to New Zealand with suitcases full of gadgets, Andy Robertson learnt how to lighten the load the hard way. Here's his holiday-gadget audit.
Wednesday 29 May 2013
Although our destinations and aeroplane comforts have changed over the years, the limited space and weight of our luggage remain the same. Travel technology promised to lighten the load, but soon turned our suitcases into a tangle of wires and moulded plastic.
While there is good common sense in swapping books for a Kindle or travel maps for an iPad, for really clever packing our tech needs to cover more bases. Having recently returned from New Zealand with my wife and three children (five, seven and 10), our technology-packing successes and blunders are still fresh in my mind.
From the trip I not only compiled a slimmed-down list of what tech to take overseas, but was reminded that research and planning beforehand goes a long way. Discovering what entertainment, charging and internet access your airline offers can save packing a whole host of gadgets for the flight. Then, finding out what each hotel provides, and in particular how expensive their Wi-Fi access is, can avoid dragging needless technology halfway round the world.
Once you have whittled things down to just essential gadgets, spend time learning their features and getting any apps, movies and music downloaded before you leave. Here are my tips from New Zealand to get you started.
Take newer handheld devices such as the 3DS, as these provide more than just games. Our children used their handhelds not only for relaxation after a busy day exploring, but also took 3D pictures with its camera, sent messages and photos to grandparents and even drew some pictures of what they had seen.
It's also a good idea to avoid taking too many game cartridges that inevitably get lost. Opt instead to buy and download games straight to the 3DS via its eShop app. Also, purchase some game credit before you leave so you can easily download more games while on your travels.
Don't take a laptop, take a tablet. Unless you are averse to touchscreens, or have a lot of work to do while away, a laptop and its related paraphernalia is simply overkill. Whether watching films, reading eBooks, keeping up with emails or planning navigation, our iPad was worth its weight in gold.
However, before you go, ensure you know how long your device's battery lasts and that you have downloaded data for all your apps and films. We spent a long afternoon trying in vain to download a film for our daughter that we had purchased but not downloaded before leaving the UK.
Travelling alone on flights I usually use my Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones (below) to cancel the aeroplane drone and aid sleep. On the family trip, I wanted to keep the tech lightweight so instead packed the MIE2i Bose earphones.
The snug design meant that I could keep them in while taking my turn to lie down and get some sleep on Air New Zealand's Skycouch economy seat. Being able to lie flat in economy was a big bonus for both us and the children, and being able to block out some noise with the snug earphones made for a well-rested parent.
Like tablets, smartphones offer multiple functions in one device. While you're unlikely to leave yours behind, understanding more of its features will save you from taking other devices.
Ensure you have turned off "mobile data" before switching it back on overseas to avoid expensive data-roaming charges. Agreeing data with your carrier beforehand, purchasing a SIM card at your destination, or just sticking to Wi-Fi access, will ensure you have no unpleasant surprises in your next bill. Also, most smartphones can create a personal Wi-Fi hotspot that negates the need for Mi-Fi gadgets that I've used previously to share internet access between our devices.
We used the World Clock feature on our iPhone to ease the children's disorientation and jet lag. Setting up the clock app with our journey's time zones (GMT, PST and NZST) helped them to understand how long we'd been flying and what time it would be when we landed. It even convinced them it was time to sleep, even though there was bright daylight outside.
Particularly useful was the iPhone's location-based Reminders feature. We set up reminders to make information and booking-in details pop up automatically when we arrived at our accommodation around New Zealand.
Although we took a range of chargers and batteries on the trip, we really used only two of these and could have saved a lot of space. A PortaPow Quad USB charger (above) enabled us to charge all our iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches without needing multiple plugs. The New Trent IMP120D kept things charged between hotels with enough capacity for 55 hours of film watching on the children's iPod Touches.
I also took an extra-long iPhone charging cable. This turned out to be very useful in the car as we could use our devices from any seat while charging them via a USB plug in the car's cigarette lighter.
Unpacking back at home, it was eye-opening to realise how much tech we hadn't used. Not only chargers and cables, but I also realised we'd hardly touched our point-and-click camera, preferring instead to snap pictures on our two phones. Next time, I've vowed to take less technology; hopefully these discoveries will help.
The downside of many navigation apps, including the iPhone's default Maps function, is their need to download data while on the road. By using the CoPilot Live app (below) for iPhone/iPad we could install a map pack for New Zealand before leaving home.
This pre-loaded data, combined with the free GPS-location signal, enabled us to navigate when driving or walking without incurring any expensive data charges. The CoPilot Live app also enabled us to pre-plan our routes while still in the UK for each leg of the driving, and find local points of interest.
For more in-depth advice we found the lo-tech solution was still the best. Having purchased the New Zealand rough guide in eBook form, our physical copy was still preferable. Being able to skim pages quickly and write notes about where to visit before leaving simply made the real book more practical.
Andy Robertson is a freelance gaming expert for the BBC and runs the Family Gamer YouTube channel
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