Five Essential Tech Tips for Modern Travelers

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Planning a trip? My mom would remind you to pack a sweater, because “you never know when it’s going to be chilly.”

Me, I’d remind you to pack other things (though the sweater idea is solid), because modern travel demands more than just the usual charging cord for your smartphone. These days, there’s more to being a tech-savvy traveler. It’s not just about what you pack; it’s also about how you plan. Remember these five tips to make your next trip a tech success:

1. Always keep a hotspot handy

OverDrive ProWi-Fi is everywhere, right? Except when it’s not. Good luck finding it in the back of a taxi, the middle of a park, the lobby of an office building or anyplace else you might need to massage some documents on your laptop. Heck, you never know when the Wi-Fi network might be down at your favorite coffee-shop office. And that hotel you’re staying in? Plan on paying $10 to $15 per day for Wi-Fi.

That’s why I always pack a mobile hotspot. Granted, many smartphones can pull hotspot duty, but that can put a heavy strain on your battery — and maybe your data plan as well. My preferred option: FreedomPop, which offers a refurbished OverDrive Pro hotspot for $69.99 (often on sale for much less) and 500MB of free, no-strings-attached data every month. That’s not a ton, but it’s enough to check email or download a document on those occasions when there’s no Wi-Fi. Plus, you can share the connection with up to eight devices.

I’ve got one of these, and I can’t tell you how often it has saved the day.

2. Buy in-flight Internet in advance

GogoI fly cross-country on a fairly regular basis, and actually enjoy those four to five hours of uninterrupted work time. But the price of in-flight Wi-Fi makes me sicker than an in-flight meal.

Gogo, for example, charges $20 for just two hours of service (on Delta flights, at least; rates may be slightly different on other airlines). But that’s the price I pay once I’m already aboard. Turns out that if I plan ahead a little, I can get online for less.

Specifically, Gogo offers an all-day (24-hour) pass for $16 — if  purchased in advance. That’s still pricey, but it’s certainly a better deal — especially if I’m on connecting flights. Bottom line: Don’t forget to “pack” your in-flight Wi-Fi before heading to the airport.

3. Plan ahead for power

Tylt Energi microUSBYou know the old saying: You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too much battery life. Alas, it’s the rare smartphone that can last a full day without a trip to a wall outlet.

That’s why a mobile charger is essential. However, I’m going to make the case for packing two of them: a bigger one for when you’re carrying your carry-on, and a smaller one that can ride in a pocket for emergency fill-ups.

The Anker Astro Pro2, for example, is a slim, reasonably light (1.2 pounds) power pack that holds a whopping 20,000 mAh — meaning it can charge not only your phone (many times) and tablet, but also your laptop. It even comes with connector tips for most laptop makes and models.

As for pocket-friendly chargers, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of options. I’m partial to those that have built-in cords so there’s one less thing to remember. The Tylt Energi, for example, supplies 1,800 mAh of juice (enough to recharge most phones at least halfway) and comes in two versions: Lightning and microUSB. Both have connectors on flexible arms that tuck away when not in use.

4. Pack a multi-tip sync/charge cable

Swiss Army 3-in-1 USBToo. Many. Devices! Phones, tablets, mobile chargers, mobile hotspots — they all need charging, meaning they all need a cable. But instead of packing the usual rat’s nest, bring along one cord to rule them all.

I’m referring, of course, to a multi-tip sync and charge cable. These come in various styles and lengths, but I’m partial to any 3-in-1 cable that has Apple 30-pin, Apple Lightning and standard microUSB. Just head to eBay (or your preferred cable supplier) and search for “3 in 1 USB cable” and you’ll see all kinds of options.

Or, if you don’t need the old 30-pin connector, look for “2 in 1.” I’d also recommend choosing an MFI-certified cable, as my experience with cheapie Lightning connectors is that they sometimes don’t work — or don’t work for long. It’s worth spending a little extra.

5. Enable find-my-phone features

Prey Anti TheftI’m perpetually gobsmacked by how many people don’t bother with this option, which can mean the difference between finding a lost or stolen smartphone and not finding it.

For iPhone users, this is a no-brainer: Install Find My iPhone, run the app, then sign into your iCloud account. Now head to the Web browser on any other device (desktop, laptop, tablet) then sign into that same account. Click “Find My iPhone” and presto: Your phone’s last-reported location. You can play a sound, enable lost-phone mode or even remotely wipe the memory.

On the Android side, some handset makers (like Motorola) include similar find-my-device apps and services, but there’s nothing from Google proper. Fortunately, you can deploy any number of third-party options, including Lookout Antivirus & Security, Prey Anti Theft, and Wheres My Droid.

Ultimately, it’s not so important which device-tracking app you use, so long as you use one.

Do you have any travel-tech tips of your own to share? Load ’em up in the comments section below.

Photo credits: John Rowley/Digital Vision/Getty Images, Fork Ltd., FreedomPop, Gogo, Tylt

 

 

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