Tech Lab

Pack the right tech for vacation

After my massive globe-trot to the Democratic Republic of Congo last year, I’m sticking close to home this summer. As for the rest of you, it’s time to pack, and I don’t just mean sandals and swimsuits. Unless you’re planning to travel backward in time, you’ll be carrying a fair amount of digital gear, so you’d better get it ready.

Phones, laptops, and tablets are easily lost, stolen, or wrecked any time of year. So take only what you need. I can’t live without a laptop, but they’re bulky and heavy. Maybe you can get by with a phone and perhaps a tablet.


You should already be regularly backing up your files. Do it again before you hit the road; no sense losing last year’s vacation photos. Also, set up your devices with passwords to prevent thieves from using them. Devices running Apple Inc.’s iOS and Google Inc.’s Android software can be remotely locked. You can even wipe stored data after a phone or tablet has been stolen. Make sure these features are turned on, just in case.

And are you still using a point-and-shoot camera or a digital SLR? Bring enough memory cards. They’re cheap — at, less than $20 will buy you 32 gigabytes of storage. That’s enough for a whole vacation’s worth of snapshots, but you’ll probably shoot some memory-gobbling videos, too, so take along some extras. I recommend “Class 10” memory, which delivers faster performance and is essential for video shooting. Cheaper, lower-class memory cards will do fine if you stick to still photos.

You’ll have to keep these gadgets powered up. Don’t forget your power cords. Pack a power strip so you can plug multiple devices into one wall outlet. And bring along backup batteries for your phones. For as little as $20, you can buy pocket-sized rechargeable batteries that plug into a smartphone’s data port.


Most such batteries are recharged through a computer’s USB port. So if you leave the laptop at home, carry a dedicated charger. These will plug into a wall outlet and can recharge up to four USB devices at once. It’s one more item you can buy online for less than $20.

If you’re leaving the country, don’t worry. Virtually all digital devices come with universal chargers to handle the different voltages found on overseas power grids. But you might need some inexpensive adapter plugs so your devices can fit into their sockets. Any good travel guide will tell you the right plugs for specific countries. Or look it up on at

A travel guidebook is a good investment, but you might save money by looking up your destination at Wikivoyage, a free travel site run by the Wikipedia people. Better yet, grab your smartphone and install a marvelous app called Triposo. Available for iOS and Android devices, Triposo combines data from multiple Internet sites to produce compact guides to hundreds of destinations, all of them free. You can download the guides onto your phone and read them like e-books.

If you’re headed abroad, ask your cellular carrier if your smartphone supports the international GSM standard. If so, ask to have the phone unlocked. Then, when you arrive, you can get a local SIM card and use the phone on the foreign network. It’s far cheaper than paying international roaming fees. And if hotel Internet service is lousy, fall back onto the phone’s data service.


There’s no shortage of useful travel apps for iOS and Android phones. TripList for iOS or Packing List for Android will remind you whether you’ve packed everything;’s Kindle e-book app will keep you supplied with potboiler novels for long flights; Google Translate can instantly turn your spoken English into Italian, to the delight of Milanese shopkeepers.

And of course, there’s GPS navigation, which now works even when you’re out of Internet range. The Google Maps app lets you download, say, a map of the Grand Canyon before you go there, so you can view it without a network connection. Too bad this feature lacks turn-by-turn navigation.

You’ll get more assistance from Navfree, a free iOS and Android app that lets you download maps of entire US states. Navfree serves up turn-by-turn guidance with or without a cellular signal. There’s also a Navfree edition with free maps for several dozen foreign countries. Download the necessary maps in advance, and be prepared.

Whether you’re heading to Congo or the Cape, you’ll have a better trip if you bring along the right tech.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.