This is Part 3 of a post on “Travel Technology for Late Adopters”. Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.
We’ve been exploring the theme of indispensable mobile technology for travel. Our objective is to restrict ourselves to the minimum amount of technology that really enhances our travel, without creating a lot of unnecessary noise & interruptions, or excessive costs in time or money.
In Manning Park, overlooking the North Cascades, elevation just under 6000 ft – cellphone tower free!
Having just returned from several days camping and hiking in the mountains – out of cellphone range – we’re acutely aware of how great it is to switch the cellphones off and put all those inboxes on hold. From the perspective of “Who needs it?!” we continue our personal investigation of travel technology.
In our previous post, we outlined the technologies that we’ve come to regard as useful for us. As we travel more, and work more on the road, we’re considering a few more acquisitions:
- Cellphone with removable SIM card: Until now, we’ve left our cellphones at home, not wanting to find them unusable, or pay huge roaming fees. Our next phone will likely be unlocked, allowing us to buy a SIM card in the locality we are visiting. While skype is cheap and handy, it’s still dependent on WiFi, and a cellphone would be better for emergency calls. We’ll continue to carry it switched off! And no data plans – we can wait for a WiFi hotspot.
- Kindle eReader: At present, we’re using Amazon’s free kindle reader app on the tablet. I tried a Kobo earlier this year, but eventually decommissioned it since it kept crashing while trying to sell me books I “might like to read” instead of the one I was unable to.
- Quick-dry poly underwear: “Better living through chemistry” may reduce laundry on the road, but we’re having trouble getting past the price!
- GPS: With the exception of onboard GPS in rental cars, we’re not convinced a GPS device is worth it for travel. However, they’re fun for keeping track of hikes, runs and bike rides – for us, maybe they’re better dealt with under the heading of sports devices. Coming to rely on them can be dangerous in some situations: this past week, we watched serious hikers declare that their GPS told them the lake was just around the corner, only to hike for another mile or more. Thankfully, we had other ways to orient in the woods. Finally, Paul is convinced that learning your way around a strange city is one of those mental exercises that keep the brain young – especially if you have to do it in a second language!
- Speech-to-text: I’ve been considering this for years, but never gave it a workout. Would using speech-to-text in the tablet make up for the lack of 80 wpm typing? Maybe no more emails that read like this: “Dermaryy, pl easemeeet usat trmnla 1 at airrport sundxxxSaturday setpembr 13 – scrtch lost date – sb next friday.. thx Palu”
Can any ringtone beat the sound of a loon on a quiet lake? This solo fisherman doesn’t think so.
And, hey, does Paul need his own tablet? Maybe he’ll learn how to make it sing before the next trip and avoid a repeat of the Arles meltdown. On the other hand, we still enjoy the old style traveling – sitting around at the end of the day discussing travel adventures, instead of everyone checking their email back home. Whatever we decide on can’t interfere with being present to the journey.
While we ponder, we look for inspiration in places like these:
- “Alone Together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other”
- Lifeboat: friends at their best.
What is your indispensable travel technology? Any recommendations for us? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
In our last post, “Trip Technology Meltdown”, we left Paul cooling his fevered brow in the barge cabin, wondering how he might rescue his relationship with the wireless age … not to mention with Cheryl.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape, home of world-famous Côtes du Rhône wine – and a pleasant cycle from Avignon
Evening drinks in an open-air bar in the old Roman Forum at Arles took care of the more important concern. How to make wireless technology serve us without becoming slaves to its incessant demands is an ongoing exercise. We hate it when interruptions from cyberspace keep us – or those we’re with – from being fully present to the joys and adventures of travel. Every device we take with us adds to luggage weight – as well as increasing potential worry over loss or theft. Traveling light and cheap has considerable advantages.
We’ve been using the Internet extensively to plan and research our travel for the past 15 years. However, only recently have we counted on mobile devices on our travels. In the past five years, we’ve rarely had a problem finding free WiFi during our time in Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean. Payphones are another matter.
Here’s our current “Travel Technology for Late Adopters”.
- Email: even before we had any mobile devices, we found it worthwhile to maintain a special email account for holiday travel only. That way we can stay in touch with those we need to, and not be distracted by all the noise from our non-traveling lives. With tiny mobile devices, we find this helps us spot what’s important. We give out our travel email address sparingly – not even the spammers have it!
- Tablet: Cheryl bought herself at 10” ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime Android tablet about 18 months ago. It’s adequate for on-the-road Internet research. She also has a docking keyboard – in future, we may take it with us when we travel: the lack of a real keyboard was one of my meltdown triggers while in Arles. As 80 wpm touch typists, we both have low tolerance for hunt-and-peck. Before the tablet, we had an Apple iPod Touch, received as a gift. While it was okay for occasional email, we quickly found the small screen to be too cumbersome for on-the-road researching. (We’ll write about our essential travel apps and web sites in a future post.)
Ruins of the Pope’s “new castle” at Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
- Folding reading glasses: I’ve had a pair like this for several years – one of the most useful pieces of technology I own for travel – makes the tablet or iPod or French menus usable! Is this technology, you ask? Yup, “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.” (Another piece of indispensable travel technology is a key-chain battery holder for hearing aid batteries! I finally stopped running out of batteries on the road. Of course, Paul’s modern hearing aids are lead-edge technology, worth more than the rest of this list put together. Bluetooth-enabled, I think they anticipate what’s going to be said. Real-time language translation can’t be far behind. Even now, they make it possible to understand a wide variety of voices and accents.)
- Skype: we’ve had good success with skype on the tablet and the iPod, just using a basic microphone. We’ve used more skype-to-phone time than the free skype-to-skype while on the road, so keeping some phone credits in the account with “auto-recharge” is important. That way we can easily phone home, or even make cheap local calls when we have to.
- Digital camera: while most tablets and cellphones have built in cameras these days, we still like the feel of a real focusing camera with F-stops, wide-angle lens, and good optical zoom. We currently use a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 that’s a few years old. Taking the tablet’s docking keyboard will also make it possible to upload photos directly from the camera’s SD card – something we currently struggle with.
In our next post, we’ll mention a few mobile technologies we’re considering to make longer travel easier, and perhaps less expensive. As always, we’ll be asking ourselves the “appropriate technology” questions:
An Olivetan friar in Europe: “Sorry! Didn’t recognize Your ringtone!”
Is this new gadget really going to enhance the quality of our experience? Take a deep breath and a “time out” – now, do we still think so? Ah, come on, really!?
- What’s the cost? In up-front money? Ongoing payments? Disposal costs? Security concerns and risk? Baggage weight? In time? In unwanted distractions and information clutter?
- Are the costs really worth it? Once the novelty has worn off? After next year’s model comes out?
- Can we replace another device rather than just adding one more – and a bigger bag to carry them all in?
What is your indispensable travel technology? How do you keep information overload at bay and manage the balance between instant access and over-accessibility? We’d love to hear your thoughts.