Tech Tips for Travelers: Go Light, Stay Connected
Preparing for a long trip can be a pain, but technology can help. With preparation and the right equipment, tech can keep you entertained, connected and on the right track from start to finish.
If you want one all-purpose device for carrying on your trip, make it a smartphone . Today's phones allow you to communicate by voice, email or text; take decent photographs or a few minutes of video; access the Internet for entertainment; get directions and locate the best sightseeing spots; and listen to music and do some work with documents in a pinch.
Lonely Planet fans will be happy to know these popular guides are available for the iPhone. Augmented reality city guides for Android-based phones like Google's Nexus One and Droid, are also available for about $5. The way augmented reality, or AR, works is that you point your smartphone camera's viewfinder at an object of interest and the app will overlay information about that object directly on the screen. Eight U.S. cities are available and 12 European capital cities are on the way. Lonely Planet also offers individual travel guide chapters for download in a PDF format, called Pick and Mix. City introductions are free and may include enough information on events, local character and costs to plan the trip.
If you must work
If work is part of the itinerary, add a netbook rather than a full-sized laptop. It's lightweight, sized to slip easily into a tote bag, and should be able to handle most on-screen tasks. Look for one with an 11-inch screen or larger.
If there are important documents or files you want to take with your on your travels, you can move them online or save them to a flash drive. Both Google Docs and Microsoft's upcoming Office 2010, which comes with new free Web applications, will give you access to your documents as long as you have an Internet connection .
If storing your information online makes you nervous, you can copy your files onto a USB flash drive. In addition to files related to work, you might consider emergency numbers or any other "papers" you may find useful.
If you are concerned about storage space on the flash drive, you can easily measure the size of your documents before you go. Make a new folder on your desktop and drag a copy of the files into the folder. Right click the folder, select "Properties" and a window will pop up showing the total size. A $10 4GB flash drive will hold 4,096 megabytes (MB) worth of files.
If you will be using someone else's computer, find out which Microsoft Word version they have installed. While .doc files made with Office 2003 can be read on Office 2007, the reverse is not true. If you are carrying important documents, but don't know which computers you may eventually open them on, save files in the .doc format. To do that, open your document, select "Save As" and choose .doc (instead of .docx in Office 2007) from the drop down list.
If an Internet connection is essential, you may want to consider Verizon's MiFi, or a WiFi card, which serve as mobile Internet "hotspots." The MiFi can be carried in your pocket and will wirelessly connect up to five devices. Hotel rooms often charge $11 or more per 24 hour period, so calculate the cost before you go to decide if it's worth it to purchase a mobile WiFi connection. If you will be attending a conference and want a connection, it is essential to use a WiFi card because the facility's service may have trouble carrying a signal through its walls, or suffer a system overload due to too many users.
By all means, slip a camera and perhaps a video recorder like the Flip Ultra into your bag, especially if you are going to a scenic location. Many new cameras allow users to upload photos and video directly to a photo sharing site like Flickr. If you snap and send, you won't run out of memory on your camera, or on your phone. Most photo sharing sites offer a sharing option, so friends and family can easily follow your travels.
Last but not least, remember chargers for each device you bring, and consider extra batteries. You may find yourself in a location without a power source, and a spare battery could be a lifesaver.