Travel Gadgets – How Many is too Many?

A funny thing happened to me the other day.  I was looking at all my lovely tech toys that could accompany me on my trips – and then I started hyperventilating. It was a sensory overload – a freakout over the simple task of surfing the net, but the conundrum of  what do it on? laptop? iPhone? PC? Sometimes there’s such a thing as too much choice. It got me to thinking about technology and travel. I love my electronic gadgets, they’re better than children – they don’t talk back (unless you change the settings to do so) but really when you think about it, most of them are completely unnecessary for the global nomad.

Not including my digital camera (a given), my three most treasured items to take on a trip are my MacBook Pro, iPhone and Amazon Kindle. It would be great to be able to carry a nice HD video recorder, SLR camera and tripod, maybe an Acoustic Guitar (yeah, I’m that guy)  – but it’s just not viable.

Besides weight restrictions, the biggest problem I have with my chosen three is that none of these gadgets have a specific function that can’t be utilized from one of the others. I can Skype, surf the net or listen to podcasts from my MacBook or my iPhone. I can read books from all three.  The main difference being that they do one or more particular functions better than the other two. I love them all for their differences (much like you would children. Except red headed kids).

The Laptop is an absolute luxury item when on the road. It’s great for watching movies and updating my travel blog but keeping a journal and writing up the blog posts later easily negates the latter.  The iPhone is handy – if I’m going to be backpacking around a country for a while I usually get a prepaid SIM, and of course there’s the bonus of having all your music with you, and you can watch video’s, albeit on a much smaller screen. And the kindle is great, 1500 books in my pocket weighing about the same as a magazine. However, I am starting to miss the romanticized notion of being on the road with nothing but a camera and a journal full of notes. Always surfing the net or listening to your iPod can really decrease the possibilities of chance encounters with some really interesting people.

Having said that, I do think the positives outweigh the negatives as far as taking some tech stuff with you. The iPhone and iPod Touch have over 100,000 applications available on iTunes. Most of them you’ll never use but there are some great travel related apps such as TravelFish’s new range of travel guides in Asia, TripAdvisor’s Top Picks app is good for restaurant reviews, and Lonely Planet’s new program which allows you to download their city guides and Phrase books. There are currency converters, weather apps and some really cool translator programs too. Of course it goes without saying that the iPod’s primary function of playing music and podcasts is invaluable during long distance transit.  If I had to choose just one thing to take with me, it would be my iPhone.

Big laptops are great but oh so bulky.  In a previous post on Have Pack, Will Travel, Jeff writes about the value in taking a notebook like the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE, instead. They’re so much smaller than the average laptop but still retaining some necessary features like USB and webcams.  They’re generally pretty robust meaning you can just chuck them in a daypack and pull it out when you need it.

The Kindle. I was sceptical at first because I like the feel of holding a book in my hands. But like an Oreo cookie, I can never stop at just one and before I know it most of my baggage allowance is taken up with some travelogues to get me in the mood, like Thomas Kohnstamm’s Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, or Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. I don’t think I’ll ever replace guidebooks with their electronic counterparts, but for normal novels the Kindle has proven invaluable.  I don’t know if I’ll need the ever need a capacity for 1500 books, but hey, it can’t hurt.

Technophilia needn’t be a dirty word. It’s just about not going overboard with the technology you take with you, and trying to find that balance between using your gadgets to enhance, not hamper your travels.

You can follow Shane on Twitter, or read about his travels at

Headline iomage courtesy of jeroen020

17 Replies to “Travel Gadgets – How Many is too Many?”

  1. Great article Shane. I am not tech-familiar, but have used a laptop and have mobile phone, and seen i-phone at work. However, while I have heard of gadgets that store heaps of books that one can read, I imagined something small that would not give a “book-page view”…you know how nasty it is trying to read documents of many pages on a computer screen. I do love to recline when bed or on the deck of our boat. You have piqued my interest in the Amazon Kindle with it’s 1500 stored books. Can I take it to bed with me and which item in the photot is the Kindle?

  2. Hi there,
    The Kindle isn’t displayed on the photo there, but if you click on the words ‘Amazon Kindle’ in the second paragraph, it will take you to a link on the Amazon page where you can preview it in all it’s tech-y glory.

    – Shane

  3. I haven’t given into the lure of the Kindle yet because of just what you said – I like the feel of a book in my hands. But all of the rest is spot on – now that I travel with an iPhone I am often overwhelmed w/my choices for technology…which is funny becuase my selection of clothes is so very, very underwhelming! :-) Also pining after a DSLR by the way!

  4. Put me down for somebody who just can’t get into the kindle lust yet either. Don’t get me wrong, they’re VERY cool and great for people who read A LOT of books, but my attention span is so short that I don’t get through many books anyway. I always bring a book with me, but I’m never traveling for long enough to go through multiple books.

    Shane on the other hand, just finished a very LONG trip so I’m sure he read dozens. That’s definitely where it would come in handy!

  5. I think it’s benefits are definately for use with long term travel as well as the reduced cost of the Kindle books from Amazon but really I’m just a big nerd who likes having everything available to at the click of a button. The kindle does stay switched off most of the time at home though, giving me a chance to read through my ‘proper’ books.

  6. I’m struggling with the amount of tech to take on my upcoming 6 month trip through SE Asia. In the past I have always traveled very light, especially when it came to gadgets. One small Canon point-and-shoot and that was it. No laptop and only one novel made of real paper. But I’ve been researching all that the iPod Touch can do, it’s basically an iPhone minus the phone (and the monthly fee) – as wifi device I can even use Skype. I’ve concluded (though all decisions are subject to change) to buy an iPod Touch and to take the extra weight of a recently acquired DSLR camera and one lens. This will be the most tech I’ve ever traveled with but hopefully the added burden will pay off in the end!

  7. Your post makes me turn philosophical and wonder what future travel writing will be about? The trials and tribulations of finding a place to charge ones batteries–or buy new batteries. The horror of losing a WIFI connection in the middle of a movie? The hardship of being lost in the jungle with nothing to eat but a digital wafer? Somehow it doesn’t sound quite as adventurous as the travelogues of old when they carried their cooking pots on the backs of their donkeys and counted the fleas rather than the stars rating wayside inns.

  8. Good read, Shane. But, it’s all ‘geek’ to me. Not that I’m a total technophobe but the problem I have at present is getting a book light to read a novel in bed of a night that doesn’t chew through batteries once a week!
    Let me know when you do a story for technology- impaired older folk like your parents, spawn of mine.

  9. The beauty of having tech contraptions, means that things like flights can go faster, when you can watch or read something, (especially if you don’t have to pay for the in-flight entertainment). I personally think this is very important as I travel with my kids, so it is nice to have something handy that will kill an hour or two (we usually are guilty of carrying loads of books, which get heavy even when they are kids picture story books), the other thing I have noticed is that my partner who is very tall is a big whinger when it comes to confined spaces- planes, trains, buses, ferry’s – all the things that must be encountered when traveling on a budget, but now he has an iPod touch, he is all of a sudden mad about public transport in any way shape or form, which will make our next trips to Southeast Asia happening rather soon (on a big budget with a family?!) a far more pleasant experience, he now relishes the idea of being on a bus for 6 hours, because he knows he will be ‘allowed’ to play with his gadgets without interruption! – so I say bring on the technophilia- I personally, am able to sleep just about anywhere so I have less ‘need’, but if it stops my grown up companion from ever complaining, I will sign up to anything and everything (remarkably the kids love confined spaces, and when I took them on a two day backpacker bus trip from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta, they were the only ones still interested in all the ‘talks’ from the guide mid way through day two! All the grown ups where way over it, and dying to be allowed to check their emails etc…. go figure?!)…

  10. I can’t do the kindle. I love to chill out on my bed at night or relax outside on the couch and read. Folding the book every which way but sunday as I change positions to be comfortable. I can only imagine when I travel its going to be even more interesting. Add in the fact when I’m finished with the book I’d like to pass it onto someone else.

    As for the rest of the tech gear. I’m trying to limit myself to camera, macbook and iphone oh and the flip video camera then there is the external hard drive for backup and argh what a digitally connected life we live.

    1. The external HD is one thing I forgot to mention. And it’s definitely invaluable. I take a 360 gig WD Passport HD, as well as a few 2 and 4 gig memory sticks.
      The Kindle did take a lot of getting used to, but has proved itself to be both cost and space affective.

  11. i am probably one of the phew that doesn’t have an i-phone and i barely use my i-pod too but my laptop is now my travel companion as my external HD, which is invaluable and hosts all my precious moments

  12. Great article Shane. I travel mostly to two to three different places in a year, and most of the time the biggest gadget I lug around is my MacBook, and that the white one. I realized that as of late, majority of my things are gadgets, and that’s with a six year old Smartphone, an external HD and a Canon point & shoot. I’m starting to rethink what things should I bring next time I go.

    I still bring a notebook/journal and a smattering of pens. As for books, well, I have to have one… or two… but they do add a considerable weight to my baggage after I decide to bring more than just one.

  13. AAAh Travellers across space and time…it has been very enlightening to read of all your experiences and preferences for travelling with technology. As a sailor with a family and the requirements of stocking up on food, grog, sailing an dsafety equipment to remain away from land for a couple of weeks at a time, we have used (but not essential need for) a laptop, and a nextG phone. Essential gear for sailing is an EPIRB, and helpful stuff like radar, and electronic gps with navigational charts etc. However, we spent 6 months at sea last year, and the number of books both fiction and non-fiction that we carried about with us, adding to weight and space issues was a bit of a problem. For some people who only read a little, it is a simple matter of leaving books for others to read at the laundry of the next port marina, but I am a greedy reader, collecting classics, swapping some whodunits at bookswap stores, but otherwise just accumulating more delights to eat up. So the Kindle sounds like a very worthy addition to the technology locker for me. Thanks Shane for your techno-wisdom and opening the eyes of someone who believes less is more!

  14. Here is my can’t live without ‘environmentally friendly’ Travel Gadget for Women when travelling abroad & doing other outdoor activities and it’s only $10 (a lot cheaper than simalar items at the BIG stores). It’s a Go Girl and its available to buy online through a distributer in Canada. Available at! They make GREAT Stocking Stuffers…. but don’t forget to get one for yourself!! Other Women will be jealous they don’t have one too!!!

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