Over the years on the road, I’ve gone through many evolutions with travel technology. In the not-so-distant past it was fairly revolutionary for a tour guide to carry a cell phone. My first tour guide phone was laughably heavy and big, but, boy did it ever increase my quality of life. These days almost everyone has a cell phone at the very least, and often multiple kinds of travel technology. Even young kids have an arsenal of electronic euqipment with them when they travel. The choices and uses of travel technology are endless. Because of that, I am selective about what I bring on the road with me and have spent a lot of time weighing the options against my needs and wishes.

My biggest considerations for choosing which pieces of travel technology to bring are weight, space and numbers of additional cords/batteries/chargers that I’m willing to bring. On top of these, I find that many of the new tech gadgets out there tend to be things that I already have in one form or another. So any device that can do what two others can do is a candidate to make it into my bag. A good example of that is my iPad. 3 years ago, I carried a laptop for writing, an iPod for music on my bus and a Kindle for reading electronic books. All three of those devices are now replaced by the iPad, and it is much lighter and with (Thank Goodness!!) fewer cords to carry.

I’ll give you a little tour of the travel technology that I bring with me. Some of these things may not be useful to the average traveler, but if you are traveling for work, you may find them interesting. I also have a few new items on my wish list that I’m considering.

Travel Technology Currently in Sarah’s Bag

If I were to be stranded on an island and could take only one thing, it would be my iPhone 6. Assuming, of course, that on this island there was a good cell signal and coconuts with outlets in them to recharge my phone like on Gilligan’s Island. If I lost absolutely everything I had with me on a trip but still had my phone, I could still do my job, although I’d probably be a little smelly and disheveled. I have sung the praises of this phone before, I realize, but my love for this phone only grows as I find more amazing things that it can do. And the camera on the 6 is so much better than my old iPhone 4. Seriously, if you don’t own one you should. And I still don’t like Androids and have owned several, so don’t even go there. For my purposes, this it the best piece of travel equipment out there. I’ve finally found the perfect case for my beloved phone, the Yen Hardcase for iPhone from EYN, which now allows me to live my dream of not owning a purse. This little case opens in the back and has a clip for money, ID and credit card. There’s even a little mirror in it for fixing your make-up, not that I have ever cared enough about that sort of thing, but it could come in handy somewhere else, maybe for signaling ships on that desert island.

My iPhone can do just about everything that my iPad can, and for many people, buying both might be unnecessary. I need the iPad for my work. I use it to show images and video clips to my group when I’m doing walking tours. I use it for watching movies, doing my accounting and playing music on the bus. All of these things can be done on an iPhone, and I have actually become much faster at texting on my phone than I am at typing on a keyboard, so my emails and these blog posts are usually done on my phone. However, the screen size is just too small to be practical for extended periods of time, especially for reading ebooks or notes or for working on complex documents or slideshows.

I have the iPad Air which I bought 2 years ago and it is still going strong, a decent lifespan for electronics these days, no matter how pathetic that is. My one regret is that I skimped on memory. I bought 32 GB but in retrospect I should have bought a minimum of 64 GB. I do slide presentations for businesses and universities, and I’ve noticed that the iPad is having trouble running my slideshows and downloading them from the cloud. When it does work, having both an iPhone and iPad together is pretty slick, as the phone can be used as a slide advancer. In a pinch, I’ve used my phone to run slideshows since it is newer and faster.

Other than buying more memory, the other tip I suggest is buying a tablet with cellular data. The price is higher than WiFi only, but some cell companies offer big rebates when you add a tablet to your plan. Having data anywhere is pretty nice, since hotel WiFi is not always reliable.

 I’ll be doing some book research for the Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook next month, and I was dreading the idea of lugging a laptop with me for weeks. I like the idea of using my iPad, but typing on the glass isn’t ideal and Pages isn’t complex enough to handle our book documents. I solved the problem (or I hope I did) by installing Word and buying a wireless keyboard. There are a million keyboards for iPad out there, some with an integral case, some that are rubber, some that are standard keyboards. I wanted the lightest possible, but as normal as possible and I didn’t want one that’s attached to a case, as I like my current case very much. I found a great keyboard that I am using right now, Keys-to-Go from Logitech. It’s a tiny, condensed keyboard that connects via Bluetooth. It weighs nothing, keeps a charge for months, has keys that actually click like a normal keyboard, and has a waterproof covering for klutzy, spill-prone writers like myself. Problem solved (I hope), and it all fits neatly in the day bag I already use.

Portable Asus Projector and iPad adaptor, with Sharpie for scale

For my work, I have recently bought a mini LED Pico projector. It isn’t something that most travelers would find useful, but I use it to do slideshows on the road, for mini classes on art and architecture. I also use it for watching movies in my room in the evening. It’s fun and weighs very little, although the accompanying cords are bulky and require a snake charmer to untangle. There are many projectors to choose from and you can pay as much or as little as you want, some are not much bigger than your cell phone. The price seems to be based on lumens, or light strength. I chose the ASUS S1, which seemed to be the best balance of cost, weight, and lumens. It performs much better than I had expected and can be projected to grand scale in a dark room. If you are using an iPhone or iPad as your source, you have to get a “dongle” (snicker snicker) which connects the iPad to an HDMI cable and typically costs an outrageous $50. There are probably a million uses for this projector that I haven’t thought of yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

Back up batteries are a gift from heaven for travel technology. I have a little cheapie that I bought at the Autogrill in Italy, it weighs very little and can charge my phone or iPad to 100%. I think I will upgrade to a nicer one, though. I seem to be caught without power more than I’d like to be. As it turns out, the projector I mentioned above can be used as a power bank too. You can charge it and them plug your device in for an emergency charge.

These are the things that I use to keep working and connected on the road. Add to those my audio equipment, Bose headphones and Lon bluetooth speaker, and that pretty much covers my travel technology needs. Do I have a wishlist? Why yes, yes I do.

Wish List

I mentioned earlier that I am sad about my iPad’s lack of memory. It turns out that you can buy a small external hard-drive for your phone and tablet. This would be most useful for anyone who does not have a cloud service, or if you will have little or no access to WiFi. These memory banks are made to store photos and movies, but can also be a back-up for documents. I’m looking at the SanDisk Connect, which would solve the problem I’m having with my large slideshow files. And, you know, movies.

In Europe, I often stay at hotels with terrible WiFi and thick walls that do not allow for my cell signal to function properly. A solution to that is a mobile hotspot. For under $100 plus a monthly fee, you can have a signal strong enough to power all of your devices wherever you go. That would be especially nice for a couple or family traveling together. You can get one through your cell phone provider with a monthly subscription, but there are also pay-as-you-go versions that are designed for travelers to use around the globe, such as this one.

If I were to win the Lotto or got a huge tax refund, I would buy the big ticket item that I want most, a great camera. I’ve been idly looking at a few and I have fantasies of a camera that helps me cultivate a massive Instagram following and improves the quality of the images on this website. The camera that has my attention is the Sony RX 100 IV, which runs about $1000 after tax and extras. This little, unassuming camera can fit in your pocket but has almost all of the functionality of a huge digital SLR camera. It takes great shots in low light and has functions that I wouldn’t even know what to do with but would love to learn. The most convienient feature is that it connects to your iPhone photo stream and instantly uploads to your phone for use on Instagram or blogs etc. It doesn’t weigh much and seems to be the top choice for ultra mobile high-end photography. The guy at the camera shop had some amazing sample shots he took and almost had me convinced, but the price is just a little too high. We can all have dreams…..

SO, this is what a tour guide uses for months on the road. I’m no expert in tech by a long shot, just an enthusiastic novice, but my experience has proven that a little travel technology goes a long way to improve your trip. If you have any cool gear that you use in your travels, please comment below or message me.

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Sarah Murdoch is a tour guide and guidebook writer for Rick Steves Europe. Her blog, Adventures with Sarah, focuses on packing tips, travel stories and advice for planning the best trip possible.

3 replies on “Travel Technology: Hardware”

  1. Great tech tips – but what I want to thank you for is suggesting the Inspector Montalbano mysteries. I’m about halfway through the series, and am in love! He’s just wonderful: moody, emotional, funny, smart, honest in his own way, principled. Really enjoying the stories, the foodie stuff, the atmosphere. I usually read fiction written by women, so it’s interesting to read from a male perspective.

    1. I’m so glad to hear it! They are really a great read, perceptive about the culture. There’s also a TV series if you want to get the gorgeous visuals of the island too (and you do). The series reminds me a little of the #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, another great read if you haven’t read them yet.

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