I am not really a tech guy compared to many of my friends who are very knowledgeable and competent with all types of personal and business technology.
As you guys read this you will undoubtedly think “Dude, you totally missed the boat. You should have just ….”. So, I barely consider myself a hobbyist, I’m just a guy trying to get by in the brave-new-tech world.
According to the Geek Hierarchy – I guess I rank somewhere between a nerd and a dork.
There are a couple of criteria I considered with my travel tech gear. First, I hauled this stuff around the world for a year – so light, sturdy and utilitarian is important. I did not want to be devastated if it were stolen – so backups and not too expensive was important. And finally, I have an anti-Apple bias. I tried Apple’s first version of iMac and it was a horrible experience. I have not paid the premium for Apple products since. I’m probably missing out on the coolest things ever – so be it. When it comes to Apple, I’m mostly upset that I didn’t buy the stock at $20 in 2001.
General Comments. It is amazing to me how useful the different technology was over the year. The nature of our trip would have been very different if we could not have conducted research, made reservations, processed email, edited photos, and made voice calls home from the laptop in our room. GPS was hugely helpful whenever we had a car or got lost while walking around a city. Podcasts and on-line news kept us connected with the rest of the world when we were otherwise isolated from English-speaking news. The computer was a key tool for road-school. The kids did research, wrote reports, and conducted math drills on the laptop. Suzanne stayed connected with friends and family through Facebook on the Amazon Fire. I managed our finances using on-line tools with barely a hiccup while abroad. I conducted a couple early job interviews over Skype when we were in South America. Our technology really allowed us to work, play, learn, and be entertained when we were not physically exploring the world.
Computer. I bought a HP Folio 13-1020 Notebook PC specifically for this trip. It has a solid state hard drive, which I felt was less likely to have problems on the road, and it boots very fast. I picked up a simple CaseLogic polypropylene case that fit in my carry-on day pack to protect the computer from the inevitable bouncing around in buses, taxis, boats, tuk-tuks, planes, and hotel rooms. I also set up a remote computer at my brother’s office in California and left it powered-on and connected to the internet all the time. I accessed my remote computer from abroad via GoToMyPC (Citrix) when I needed to conduct business from questionable locations abroad such as an internet cafe or an open WiFi network. I kept images of important documents (passports, birth certificates, etc) on the remote computer so I could get to them when needed. I was uncomfortable storing these documents on cloud drives or on my laptop hard drive.
The HP laptop was the most “in demand” item among the four of us during our travels. Each of us had activities that required the computer, so we allocated computer-time based on need (between Suzanne and me) and equity (between the kids). Time on the computer was so precious that when the kids received Christmas gift of coupons for extra computer time, they danced around and gave each other high-fives. Examples of the activities that we conducted on the laptop are: Email, Blogging, Banking, Photo Editing, Research and Reservations, Skype voice & video calls, Buying Kindle and Audible books, MineCraft game, etc….
Entertainment. Each of us has a Kindle for reading books. I brought a MP3 player, but almost always used my phone for audio rather than the MP3 player. We all shared my Audible.com and Kindle libraries, and we listened to many audio books together (See reading/listening lists). When driving for hours in cars we sometimes plugged into the car audio system and listened to books. When we couldn’t use the car speakers we sometimes used Tweaker travel speakers, and when we were on buses or planes we sometimes shared ear plugs or used a headset splitter so one device could drive two headsets. I brought my Kindle Fire, even though it is a bit heavy, because I had hoped that my Amazon Prime membership would allow us to view videos. Unfortunately Amazon licensing would not allow us to view videos from outside the United States. Suzanne ended up using the Fire mostly to check Facebook, email, and browse the web when we had WiFi. Patrick and Alex bought a video game called MineCraft that they could play without internet connections. Suzanne and I checked out the game and it seems to come as close to good, clean fun as we have seen in a modern video game. Our smartphones were a major source of entertainment. Suzanne and I used DriveCast to download podcasts that we usually listened to at night when we had noisy locations or needed some alone time when the entire family was in the same room. The kids played games on their phones, watched goofy videos on YouTube, then made some goofy videos of their own using the phone camera.
Photography. Cannon EOS Rebel T3 with 18 – 135mm lens that I carried everywhere. Since I framed my role as the official chronicler of the trip, I decided that I would be the one to deal with the inconvenience of carrying a big camera and lens, and deal with the stigma of being the tourist dad who is walking around taking pictures of everything. We also started with a Cannon Powershot pocket camera, but we accidentally left home without the battery charger and had to send the camera home when it ran out of juice. The kids each got a pocket camera for Christmas when we were in Saigon. Patrick lost his someplace in South America. The smartphones worked best for 99% of the kids snapshots and videos, and they got very little use out of their pocket cameras. I started with a mono-pod for my big camera, but I didn’t use it that often. So when the mono-pod busted on the flight from Greece to Turkey – I didn’t replace it. I used Picasa to edit my photos.
Electronic storage. Photos: I tried a couple different approaches for storage and photo back up. I’ll just give you the approach I ended up using. I used 32 gig memory cards in my camera and didn’t delete the pictures from these cards. I created a new directory on the card for each new destination, and used sequential numbering for the photo files. This became a bit of a problem when the numbers began to repeat. You may want to explore other naming conventions for your files if you plan to have many thousands of pictures like I did. I filled two 32 gig cards in 11 months with over 9,700 pictures. I downloaded my photos to the laptop where I sorted and edited them, created copies with lower resolution to upload to the blog. Somewhere along the way I bought a 750 gig USB powered external drive to move pictures off my laptop hard drive and free up disk space. Cloud drives were not feasible for backing up photographs because of the consistently poor/expensive/slow internet connectivity we encountered almost everywhere around the world.
Electronic storage. Documents: I kept images of passports and other critical documents on the computer running in the USA. I used Dropbox and GoogleDrive for synchronized cloud based file storage that was less sensitive. I had a FTP site that I never had a reason to use while abroad. I used the 750 gig external USB powered drive mentioned above, as well as a couple 32 gig thumb drives, and a hand full of SDHC Cards that I mailed home with backup data.
Communications. Four unlocked GSM smart phones. See the post on Phone Envy for how the kids earned their phones. I started with two global SIM cards – but only used them when I didn’t have time to buy local SIM cards. I usually only purchased SIM cards for myself and Suzanne since the kids were always with one of us. Suzanne would have preferred to have cards for each of the kids in case of an emergency, but we only did this when we could get inexpensive SIM cards in Croatia and Bali. We used Skype for video calls to home and to make voice calls in the US ($0.02/minute). Skype also worked for toll-free calls for reservations and customer service. I used Skype for a couple of interviews while on the road – it is very problematic for video interviews but it was fine for a audio-only interviews.
Suzanne and I each set up Google Voice numbers before we left. We could not forward calls from Google Voice to numbers outside the US, so the service really worked more as a voice mail service than a direct phone number. It would have been cool if we could have forwarded the US Google number to the cell phone numbers we got with each new SIM card – but that was not an option. Voice messages left on the Google number was translated to text and emailed to us. The translation to text wasn’t awesome, but I could usually come close. The original voice message was also stored on-line so I could log-on and listen to the recording from the computer.
Networking & Web presence. WordPress worked well for my blogging needs. I was only using the software on-line, which became a real constraint in many of our destinations. If you are travelling like we did, I highly recommend using an off-line editor so you can work on your posts without internet connectivity. I have only used WordPress, so I can’t give you a comparison but it worked fine for me. Suzanne followed people from home on Facebook, but neither of us use Facebook at home, and we didn’t post anything on Facebook during the trip. I set up a Twitter account, but never used it. We used a public Google Calendar and Map to document where we went and when.
Cables & Cords. Power: Most of the places we visited have 220 volts, and initially I was concerned that the gear I bought in the US would melt down because we only have 110 here. It turned out not to be a problem. The electronics all held up great, and I didn’t melt a single piece of equipment. The three-plug travel extension cord was the heart of our charging station, which was usually the first thing I set up once we arrived in a new room. One plug went to the computer. And the third one went to a third USB charger cable or camera charger. One plug went to a rechargeable battery with 2 USB ports. The rechargeable port was great because it allowed us to charge two items from one plug, and it could fully recharge a phone from the battery when we were out. I liked the long white USB cables that come with Kindles because they are long enough to allow the devices to sit off the floor even if the outlet is under the couch. I also had a USB charger that plugged into the cigarette charger of a car – this really came in handy when we were using my phone for GPS navigation.
Software. I subscribed to Norton antivirus on both computers. Open Office productivity tools. Chrome web browser along with Google’s Calendar, Gmail, Drive, and Voice.