Travel Tech: 4 Things to Never Travel Without
I you don’t have a Facebook account, crawl out of your cave and open one. For the rest of you, the important lesson I’ve learned, is to actually add the people you meet while travelling as Facebook friends. Not only will you get to see their photos, you’ll likely make a friend for life. I’ve gotten connected with jobs from a Facebook friend I rode camels with deep in the Sahara. I’ve met Germans in Thailand who then welcomed me to their houses when I was in Germany. I’ve met the same travelers, usually accidentally, in several different countries because I saw where they were on Facebook. The list goes on, and as many objections as I have to the Zuckerburg Empire, it’s widespread enough to be a traveller’s necessity.
This one is contentious, but I think I’ve perfected the art of carrying a cellphone on vacation. A couple years ago I bought a cheap, unlocked SIM card cellphone — here’s one for a dollar. When I land in a foreign country the first thing I do is buy a cheap, prepaid, local SIM card at the airport or at a convenient store. They’re usually about $10, but it gives me a local phone number and a TON of local calling time. That way, if I’m hopelessly lost, or if a taxi driver is playing the ‘drive the stupid foreigner in circles’ game, I can call the hotel conceirge and have them straighten it out. But here’s the beauty; nobody knows my new local cell phone number that I don’t want to. I get to travel with the peace of mind that if my house burns down, the neighbor can call me; but if my boss isn’t happy with me, tough shit– my US cellphone number goes straight to voicemail.
One last tip: most international cell phones don’t charge for incoming phone calls. Have anyone who you want to get ahold of you call your international number via Skype. It’ll cost you nothing and them pennies– here’s a Skype fee chart by country.
I bought an iPad for travel and have never looked back. Before I would lug around my precious, and much more expensive, MacBook or spend a portion of my day looking for an internet cafe. Now I watch movies and read books on the plane, keep up with new and old friends on Facebook and Twitter, and I can check email and hotel reservations if I want to. Most international (not U.S. based) airlines even have free wifi on long haul flights– I’ve definitely booked a hotel or two as the flight began it’s final decent. I have the New York Times delivered to me every morning regardless of location. There’s something magical about reading the Sunday Times while sipping coffee next to an elephant in Cambodia.
Here’s the kicker. The iPad will save tons of space and weight from your luggage in the form of books and computers. But, I still carry old fashioned paper guide books that I expect to get destroyed as I travel. And, of course, paper is always the way to go on the beach.
I have a very nice SLR camera that takes the most beautiful photos ever. It’s been gathering dust for about a year now. A couple years back I bought what was, at the time, a revolutionary new waterproof/drop proof camera from Olympus. The picture quality is solid, but I don’t work for National Geographic. All I’m looking for is a camera that captures a moment without stopping me from being in that moment. I can’t tell you how many times I didn’t do something with my SLR because I didn’t want to put a fragile, overpriced camera in harms way. With the Olympus I can throw it in my pocket (it’s about the size of a deck of cards) and go. If I drop it, I don’t care; if I drop it in a pool, I don’t care; if I drink too much and drop it in a pitcher of beer, I don’t care; if it gets stolen, I don’t care. Buy one and learn the phrase, “I don’t care”.
Full disclosure: I have dropped the thing in a pitcher of beer and taken a photo while submerged. The photo was a bit amber hued, but the camera is fine. In fact, I’ve been wanting a new one recently (higher megapixels these days), but I can’t seem to kill the one I have.