Gadgets for Geeky Travel

Since I am traveling internationally this week, I thought I would share some of the gadgets I use to make travel as convenient as possible. Gadgets are particularly helpful when traveling to an unfamiliar city, or a foreign country.

My iPhone and laptop provide the core platforms for my travel technology infrastructure. The laptop is not only the principle means for me to do my job, but it also provides a number of USB ports that I use to recharge the other devices. As such, I end up carrying the several t USB cables to charge my devices.

Obviously, if the laptop is the source of power for everything else, you should make sure you have a way to power your laptop. I carry a standard A/C adapter and a Kensington AC/DC adapter. Why two adapters? Adapters break and you can forget them in hotels. It’s cheap insurance against a lot of problems.

I replaced my laptop hard drive with a much higher capacity drive (500GB). I use the extra space to hold movies and TV shows ripped from DVDs. I used to carry the DVDs themselves, but DVDs are fragile and heavy. The 175GB of movies and TV shows I have on my laptop provides a welcome diversion and the lack of physical media makes it really convenient.

My smartphone, an iPhone, is the second most important part of my travel kit. I’ve been carrying a smartphone for many years starting with a Palm but the iPhone is outstanding due to the wide availability of apps that are useful when traveling.

You need to do some preparation to make the most out of your smartphone. First, you should put all relevant events into your calendar on your phone. Flights, appointments, contacts all should be in your phone before you take off for even a domestic trip.

The second thing you need to do when traveling internationally is to set up your phone for international roaming. It’s not cheap to use, but a short, expensive phone call can save the day when you get have a problem. Skype and GoogleVoice can help when you have a Wifi connection but ultimately a real phone connection can provide the best communications lifeline.

Iphones of course, can run apps. There are a number of apps that I typically use when traveling to provide information about the destination. Googlemaps, CityMaps2go, Yelp! and the Kindle reader for the iPhone are some of the most useful for me.

Being able to find your way around is key to having a productive and stress free trip. Gogglemaps are great and I use it a lot in the U.S., but it’s not very useful when traveling internationally unless you want to pay outrageous data rates.

So when I travel internationally I use the CityMaps2go app. It allows me to download the maps to the phone so I don’t need a data connection. The maps also include Points of Interest, so it can be helpful in finding restaurants and attractions.

It makes a trip to a new place a lot more enjoyable if you have some information about the interesting sites to see while you are there. I used to buy paper travel guide books like Fodor’s or Lonely Planet, but now I use electronic travel guides.

The Lonely Planet app on the iPhone is one that I have had good luck with, but I also have downloaded Kindle travel guides to my iPhone and Kindle. The big advantage for me of the Kindle format is that I can read the guide on a larger device like an actual Kindle and have the same information available on my iPhone. To be honest, the paper guidebooks are a lot easier to use, but eliminating the bulk of dragging a heavy book is a good trade off for business trips where you don’t have a lot of time to see the sights anyway.

I use the Yelp! app extensively when traveling to find good restaurants. Unfortunately Yelp! doesn’t yet work many places internationally but it is invaluable in the U.S. I hear that it is expanding into other countries, so hopefully I’ll be able to leverage Yelp on the longer trips.

Rounding out the app space I use the Currency app by Jeff Grossman to understand exchange rates, Google Translate for a language reference and of course the iPod app to provide music.

Insuring Internet connectivity when traveling can be a challenge. Hotels often have bizarre policies that charge you for each device accessing the internet. Or, they may only support wired connections. Or, as is the case in my current hotel, the wireless connection is very unreliable in my particular room. Even hotels that don’t discriminate against multiple devices often have a painful login process.

To get around these problems, I also carry my own pocket router, a Dlink DWL-G730AP. I hook the router up to wired connection in the hotel room and I have a reliable connection for my laptop, iPhone and other devices. For hotels that require a login to access the internet, the router allows me to login via the laptop and avoid having to login with my iPhone because the single login will apply to all the downstream devices. The DWL-G730AP is several years old, so there are probably better pocket routers out there today so shop around.

I spend a lot of time on phone calls when traveling, since the home workload doesn’t go away just because you are in another location. Hotel phones often suck: they are cheap, don’t have a mute button, and maybe don’t have a speakerphone function. I use VOIP for routine calls, but the quality can vary a lot so I don’t trust VOIP for presenting over the phone.

To address this issue, I recently purchased an adapter allows you to use a standard PC gaming headset with a hotel phone. The Headset Buddy PC Headset to RJ9/RJ10 Phone Jack is easy to use – unplug the phone handset (the thing with the curly cord that you talk into) and plug in the adapter. Then you connect a PC headset to the adapter with standard 3.5mm plugs.

Since you are tying into the phones standard RJ9 handset jack, you can use this adapter even with digital phone systems. I can’t guarantee it will work everywhere and you have to fiddle with the hotel’s phone, but it’s a nice alternative to holding the handset for hours. The Headset Buddy is available on Amazon.

The last device I carry when I have to drive while traveling is a GPS. I recently purchased my second Garmin (a 1350T) because the turn by turn driving instructions just make life so easy. In the ancient B.G. (Before GPS) times I remember buying obscure county maps to find my way to a client in a remote part of New Jersey. Now, the GPS makes it all very easy, particularly if you update the maps periodically. I know that I may be able to collapse the separate GPS into a GPS app on my iPhone, but I do like having some physical diversity in case one device is lost or broken.

Well, you can see that I have a pretty geeky travel kit. Other than the laptop, most of these items are small and lightweight and don’t present a big load in my backpack. The whole point of having these gadgets is to help me make my trip as smooth and productive as possible.

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About Jay Kruemcke

Jay has had more than twenty years of experience in the information technology industry. Starting from a rather humble beginning at IBM, Jay became a mainframe systems support programmer. Eventually Jay joined the AIX operating systems development team early in that product's development. Jay leveraged technical skills that he built in systems management to establish himself as a member of the IBM Austin Executive Briefing Center. His expertise in systems management with the SAP ERP system enabled his first product management role, as the owner of the Tivoli management product for SAP. Over the next three years he established that product as a success with the help of a strong development team. Jay returned to AIX in a product management position initially focusing on managing new requirements for the AIX operating system. Jay established himself as a subject manager expert in AIX and Power Systems virtualization and became a frequent guest at conferences around the world. Jay succumbed to the dark side and spent four years in IBM marketing in which he introduced AIX version 6 and AIX version 7 and many product innovations including the first every open beta program for an AIX release and a significant restructuring of the AIX offering structure and prices. Jay was part of the cloud software development organization and and focused on managing development engagements for clients deploying clouds using Power Systems servers with PowerVC and related products. In March of 2016, Jay retired from IBM and started in a new role as a product manager for SUSE, the Open Software company. Jay new focus is on enterprise Linux for POWER and ARM processor based systems. The postings on this site solely reflect the personal views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views, positions, strategies or opinions of my employer. Follow me on twitter @mr_sles, @cloudrancher and @chromeaix.
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4 Responses to Gadgets for Geeky Travel

  1. happypoppeye says:

    Oiii …you should try going to somewhere like Myanmar, Mali or Sudan. Everything above turns into useless weight and/or shiny toys for kids. 🙂

    Good post – not degrading it – that was just my first thought up there,
    John

  2. avandewerdt says:

    Great list of gadgets.
    I know you say they are all light (and they are), but I am always surprised when I turf all my extra gadgets out of my laptop bag for a day trip… how much lighter it actually is.

    Do you manage to pack all your clothes into a travel pack you can take onto a plane (like Ryan Bingham in ‘Up in the Air’) ?

    • Jay Kruemcke says:

      I use computer backpack plus a rolling bag and always carry on if the airlines will allow. Since I’ve flown Air France before I carry socks and underwear in my computer bag.

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