My Favourite Travel Gadget & 4 Must Haves

When travelling there’s one thing we all do a lot of, and my preferred method of dealing with it is “old school”.  But first lets take a look at some of the Supporting Acts before the Travel Gadget that I have in every trips packing list.

Supporting Roles #5:  Travel Charger

Kogan 6.8A USB Travel Charger
Kogan 6.8A USB Travel Charger

It sounds simple, but bringing along a specific travel charger can make your life much easier.  I’ve recently bought a high-output model through Kogan (pictured), with 4 ports and 4 different power plugs it will work in most countries and charge my gadgets simultaneously.  A travel gadget is worthless if it’s not charged and ready!

The plug heads fit to a more conventional style socket meaning that you can also use cables with figure-8 plugs which are easy to find in most supermarkets or electrical retailers world wide.

While there are some nifty devices out there that incorporate Wifi routers, hide-away plugs or other great features you’re also plugging them into unknown power sources and sometimes sparks do happen.  The Kogan unit was “cheap”, meets the need to charge my TZ40, WT8, Smartphone and USB power bank all at once.  It it fails during travel I can replace it easily.

Supporting Roles #4:  USB Power Bank

Patriot Fuel+
Patriot Fuel+

I may be starting to seem obsessive about power, and perhaps I am, but I also know how inconvenient it is to not be able to take that last round of photos, quickly find a route to the hotel or double-check an airline confirmation.

Power banks can be cheap, however with hundreds of models available in every country it will pay to seek out some reviews if you’re wanting to pick up a known device.  You need to consider how you’ll carry this device, it’s a travel gadget to charge other travel gadgets so portability (weight and size) is critical.

I carry a Patriot Fuel+ 5200mAh unit that has some nice usage features and has served well on a few trips now.  It’s definitely not the best device on the market but I would buy again given the choice between an unknown brand and the Patriot.  The size is good, and I can generally eek out a full recharge of the iPhone and both camera batteries before it becomes a dead-weight.  You should consider the mAh rating of the devices you’re carrying, and how much life you get from their batteries.  A spare battery is always a good idea for cameras anyway, but you don’t need to have a fully charged camera upon returning to your hotel.

Having dual USB ports is critical as being able to top-up two devices (camera/GoPro AND Smartphone typically) at once while on-the-go makes a big difference.  I tend to “boost” charge my camera and smartphone when sitting around having lunch.

For UK Readers check out this TechAdvisor review of available units.

The Wirecutter Review of US units is a great read.

 Supporting Roles #3:  Compact “Travel” Camera

The 2011 Released FT3 wight he 2013 Released TZ-40
The 2011 Released FT3 wight he 2013 Released TZ-40

I used to carry a D-SLR, or rather, I used to lug a D-SLR, lens, batteries and accessories and eventually I got sick of it.  In 2012 we purchased the compact waterproof Panasonic Lumix and were amazed by the quality of photos from such a small and robust package.

In 2014 I upped the game by switching to the Panasonic Lumix TZ40 and came away more impressed.

If you’re a keen photographer you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the range of models and capabilities available on the market today.  DPReview has shortlisted the hits for 2015 and there’s a few other reviews and comparisons worth reading;

TechRader Best Travel or Superzoom Cameras

National Geographic Top10 Compact Cameras for Travellers

Remember when travelling you want to enjoy the experience and not anguish over photography, get your camera before you leave, learn the modes and read a few more photography tips blogs to hone your skills.  Having less gear to carry is always good and these more basic (in appearance at least) cameras will let you work on composition while still delivering stunning pictures.

Supporting Acts #2:  Smartphone or Tablet or Both

Toshiba Encore Tablet
Toshiba Encore Tablet

The holy war on what Smartphone or Tablet to buy and use when travelling is one I’ll skirt around by saying that every technology item you take on your travels should be one that you’re familiar with.

On a shorter trip all you’re going to need is a Smartphone, a few map apps, perhaps the TripAdvisor App with downloaded content and Apps where you can access your email, booking information and some basic messaging.

My Travel Essential Apps include:

  • Airline Apps for all airlines I’m using or likely to use on the trip.  Flight+ to track all my flights  and their on-time status.
  • Maps – Google Maps, Apple Maps, pretty much any you can find with coverage of the desitination
  • Dropbox/Onedrive/GoogleDrive offer cloud based storage for documents and files.  This can be a c=good way to keep your travel documentation handy (those pesky T&C for your Travel Insurance) and also can provide a backup facility for your photos while on the road.
  • WhatsApp/iMessage Being able to chat in real time back home without the expense of text messaging (you’ll still need data) is a huge bonus.  The “I’ve landed, checked in” sequence can take the worry away from parents and loved ones.

But what of the tablet?  I started carrying a tablet (iPad) in 2012 and haven’t really looked back.  The extra real estate on-screen helps with eye strain and the range of Apps is awesome.  Since then I’ve tried numerous (Android, iOS and Windows) other solutions including going back to travelling with a laptop.

Today my favourite is a 8″ Toshiba Encore WT8.  It runs Windows 8.1 and lacks some sophistication but most importantly reconnects me with USB card readers, and fast simple image management software.  For 2015’s trips I’m aiming to upload resized photos each day into my Onedrive storage while on the road.  The larger on-screen keyboard should make posting much easier too.  I’ll keep you all posted on how it turns out.

My #1 Favourite Travel Gadget

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle
Amazon Kindle

I’ve had a Kindle for just over 3 years and in that time it’s given me countless hours of reading enjoyment.  It’s my number one travel gadget because it’s filled the hundreds of hours in airports, on planes and dingy hotel rooms with excitement and action.  It’s saved me from buying paperbacks to lug around, and with language books, destination guides loaded has become a partner in travel.

The first response most people have is “but my tablet has an e-reader” and yes that’s true, but here’s why a Kindle (or it’s peers is much better)

  • e-Ink.  This simple display technology is closer to paper, it’s not “refreshed” like an LCD screen which impacts how it stimulates brain activity.  Tablets (and other LCD screens) can cause you to “wake up” when using them – hardly ideal for relaxing at the end of the day.
  • Extreme battery life. My Kindle is good for around 2 weeks of intensive use with Wifi active.  That’s after 3 years!  In short the low power consumption of e-Ink displays mean that no matter how long your flights are you’ll be reading from start to finish.
  • Size/Weight/Price.  Once you’re over the initial purchase cost the only ongoing cost is power.  Sure you can buy the latest best-sellers just like you did in the airport (except now you can have the delivered wirelessly at a fixed price) or you can take to any one of a number of sources for extremely well priced books.  There’s even hundreds of thousands of free titles available.
  • No distractions.  A Kindle is a passive device, there’s no messaging pop-ups, you can’t “just check my email” or otherwise engage with the world.
Kindle - Motor Matt
Project Gutenburg has an array of interesting titles

Before every trip I stock up the Kindle with “new” titles gathered from the archives, these older stories can give you an interesting perspective of travel, adventure and life.