Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

12 Gadgets for the Tech Traveller

For many people, travelling often involves lugging along a sizeable number of gadgets. From cameras to notebooks, chargers to spare memory cards, it seems we sometimes carry more gadgets than the clothes and personal items we pack. Yet, sometimes we still miss something and mid-trip, you wished you had brought that one other thing along.

I travel from time to time, and I try to optimise on the number of gadgets I’ve got to carry. It has helped a lot that most gadgets have pretty much settled on USB charging, and also on the use of micro USB port, except of course the Apple i-devices. That has cut down on the number of chargers and cables.

Tablets have also become powerful and versatile enough to replace notebooks. Business travellers will probably still need a real notebook. However, tablets may suffice for personal holidays when, even though you’re not expected to be working, yet still cannot be totally off the grid. You know how it is, sometimes there’s an urgent work email or other work related emergencies.

I’ve compiled a list of gadgets to bring on a trip. A personal holiday, I’m assuming. A family holiday, with kids in tow.

1. Camera

Smartphone cameras are getting pretty good. But we all want great photos from our epic holidays, and great photos have to come from great cameras (and a great photographer, no doubt). Alright, we don’t always need pro DSLR gear, but at the least, bring along a real camera. A proper standalone one.

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The Sony RX100 has been my favourite. It’s compact enough to easily bring along with you everywhere you go, without it getting in your way. If the whole purpose of the trip is to shoot stunning photos, then by all means go for the big gear. However, if you’re travelling with kids, have lots of things to mind, then convenience and portability might be a whole lot more important. Check out my Sony RX100M2 review. (Pictured above is the original RX100.)

2. Tablet

The tablet will serve many functions. I keep a soft copy of the travel itinerary, flight tickets, hotel confirmations, and other details on the tablet so that they are all easily accessible.

It’s also easier to surf the web and do email on the tablet. If you travel free-and-easy, you may need to check maps, sightseeing details, and do other planning.

If you have kids, games on the tablet could be great entertainment for them too. Preload them with videos to keep the younger ones occupied and distracted. Or, maybe it’s yourself who needs to be kept entertained.

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I brought only a tablet, no notebook, on my trip earlier this month. I needed to be on standby for some work, and ordinarily this would have meant taking along a notebook. However, I wanted to see if a tablet will work just fine. I’m happy to report the tablet served its purpose very well. Do remember to get a wireless keyboard, though, if you’re going to need to do some typing.

You can also backup your photos to the tablet. Photos are precious these days. They need backup.

Check out my brief Nexus 7 writeup.

3. Smartphone

No one’s going to forget this, since it’s almost always with you these days. For the sake of completeness, I have to include it here since it’s a gadget after all.

Don’t discount the usefulness of these smart devices while travelling. It’s not just for entertainment and communication. For example, you can use a smartphone for navigation, calculating foreign currency conversion (and how much tips to pay!), translating foreign languages, and searching for travel or tourist related information.

4. Wireless Keyboard

Not everyone will need this. If you normally would have needed a notebook, but you’re now trying to make do with a tablet, or even just smartphone, then the keyboard will come in immensely handy for typing. Some of us may need to deal with lengthy email composition, or do some work or other that requires more than just a few bits of text input.

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I decided to go with the Apple wireless keyboard because I happen to already have one. It pairs, over Bluetooth, with my Nexus 7 and works beautifully with it. There is no need for a mouse. The tablet’s touchscreen is the mouse input.

It turned out on my last trip that I needed to remote SSH into my servers and make some emergency changes. The keyboard served its purpose very well. The tablet almost feels like a downsized notebook.

There are Bluetooth keyboards that are even more compact than this Apple one. However, remember anything that is sub-standard size may not be so comfortable to type on. On the other hand, having a real keyboard to type on is immensely better than the on-screen keyboard.

5, 6, 7. Battery Bank, Chargers and Cables

With so many gadgets needing power, it’s always going to be handy carrying extra juice around. This is particularly so when we depend on our smartphones or gadgets for Internet connectivity in order to find information, navigate the city, translate foreign languages, etc.

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Thank goodness that just about everything can be charged through USB these days. Many of them also use micro USB ports, except notably, Apple i-devices. It makes things easier for us since the battery banks, chargers and cables can be shared.

I use Xiaomi’s Mi Power Bank. It’s quite notable for their awfully low price (S$13.99), yet packing 10400 mAh of capacity in there. Remember to get a right-sized battery bank that matches your needs.

Do bring enough cables and chargers! If you, on your own, expect to dry up one smartphone and tablet each day, then you better have enough chargers and cables to charge them both simultaneously overnight! Maybe an additional one too for the battery bank. If it’s a family holiday, and you’re in-charge of bringing all the gadgets, remember to count everyone’s smartphones, tablets, and other stuff in! Also, consider if your camera needs to be counted into your overnight charging needs.

Look out for chargers with multiple USB ports. Also make sure the charger can supply enough current to charge large gadgets like iPads which require quite a bit of juice.

8. Prepaid SIM

Alright, this is probably not something you bring along with you from Singapore. I list this year because you have to do your research prior to your trip. In many cases, prepaid SIM is going to be far more cost effective than roaming on your local telco SIM card.

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Read my post from earlier this month about getting yourself a local prepaid SIM. What’s really the most important is Internet connectivity. Voice calls aren’t so important, in my opinion. Do check out the availability of free Wi-Fi at the hotels you stay at, or at places where you’ll be spending time.

9. MiFi Router

A MiFi router is a small wireless access point. It connects to the Internet over 3G or 4G mobile data, then shares out its Internet connection over Wi-Fi. Not everyone needs this, and whether or not it is useful depends on how you want to use and share your Internet connection.

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You see, you can put your prepaid local SIM card in the MiFi router. Your smartphone and tablet can share its Internet connection at the same time. Your smartphone can still use your own SIM card, so that you can continue to receive phone calls and SMS text messages via your original phone number.

Furthermore, if you are travelling in a group, and you don’t ever other people to be separated from you, they can also share the same Internet connection on their smartphones. Get one prepaid local SIM card that’s shared among so many devices and people! Do remember that when people do get separated, whoever’s not near the MiFi device is not going to get Internet access. So if you’re thinking you can WhatsApp or use whatever messaging network to link up to lost sheep in the travel party, you’re out of luck.

Check out my Huawei E586 Mifi Router review.

10. Extra Data Storage

This could be extra memory cards for your camera, or some sort of storage to put your backups on. Different people have different needs and preferences, so you’ll need to figure out what works for you. Here’s what I do.

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I want all my precious photos to be backed up. At the end of the day, I transfer all the photos from my camera’s SD card to my Nexus 7. Ideally, I prefer to put the backups on storage that I don’t bring around with me in the day. I may take the Nexus 7 with me, so that means I’ll also try to transfer out the photos from the Nexus 7 to be backed up on an SD card. Or, an OTG flash drive.

The tablet needs to support OTG. The Nexus 7 does. Then, you’ll need suitable software for accessing the external storage, which has become increasingly complicated because of new Android security restrictions. I use the Nexus Media Importer. The app, not free, works for other Android devices too, not just Nexus devices.

There’s also cloud storage you can use for backups. These require plenty data, and fast data too, so best to do cloud stuff on Wi-Fi.

11. Universal Plug Adapters

Get the right ones for the country you’re going. Get enough so that all your chargers can be used at the same time! Many hotels provide universal plug adapters, but don’t count on them always being available.

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Needless to say, if you can get your charger with the right plugs, then you can avoid carrying the adapters at all. Some chargers, like the one I have pictured somewhere above, come with swappable plugs.

12. Earphones

I don’t consider these really essentials, but some people like to bring their own headphones. It might be especially useful on the plane, particularly since nowadays many airlines use standard 3.5 mm audio jacks in their seats.

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Full-sized headphones can be rather clunky to carry around. I’d recommend getting an in-ear monitor because they are more compact and extremely portable, but ultimately people have strong preferences about their headphones, so you decide what’s important to you.

Miscellaneous Items

Many things come under miscellaneous, and I’m listing them here so you can consider if they are relevant to you.

  • Lenspen for cleaning camera lenses (Lenspen MiniPro review)
  • Bluetooth tracker gadget for tracking kids, luggage (TrackR review)
  • MHL cable for connecting your tablet or smartphone to HDMI TV in the hotel
  • i-device owners, don’t forget your SIM eject tool
  • Extra battery for camera

Wrap Up

Travelling nowadays involve lots of gadgets. The gadgets makes the trip more convenient, enjoyable, and fun. Lugging around too many gadgets isn’t so fun though. The key is to optimise on what you need, but yet ensuring that you don’t miss out items that you’ll regret only after the flight takes off.

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