Mistakes I’ve Made: Technology

Note: Not finished yet. 

I like to think I travel a lot. Not compared to other travel bloggers, but compared to the average Australian. That said, every single time I have gone on a trip, I have taken more than I needed. EVERY SINGLE TIME. In no trip have I ever though, ‘damn, should have brought *item* with me’.

Here’s the thing, as much as we might wish it otherwise, we are not the first people to visit a destination. Nope, not even the 50th, the 500th, the 5000th or the 50000th. Let that sink in. In most places, at least 50,000 tourists/travellers have been there before you. Do you think that the local businesses there just ignored all those foreigners?

If there’s some way they can get you to part with your money, it’ll probably be on offer. I’m not even saying this from a cynical point of view. I think it’s a good thing. It means you can travel to a place and 99% of the time be able to find accommodation, transport and a meal without doing any kind of prior research. Yeah, sometimes you may end up in a place where there is a massive festival going on and there’s zero accommodation or transport out of there. But this is unlikely to happen if you are already on the road (you will get travel advice from locals and other travellers). If you are flying into a place, Google ‘destination + month‘, and any festivals will show up, and you can book your accommodation in advance.

I sound annoyed, but it’s mostly directed at myself, because I know this. Yet I still end up packing like I’m spending six months in a remote village of Papua New Guinea. Let me tell you what I packed for my last trip, which lasted all less than three months. Yes, I had this idea that I would be gone for a few years, but I’ve found I like having a home base too. Also, I really miss Australia sometimes. It’s kinda weird really. I (obviously) love my family, but sometimes I miss ‘Australia’ more 🙂 The feeling of safety, belonging, of knowing the customs and the quirks.

So here is the list (please don’t judge me too harshly) and afterwards I will critique my list.

Laptop

14″ Gigabyte Laptop. No, I’m not selling anything, or trying to make you buy one. It’s just that it’s such an obscure brand that people often think it’s something I picked up at MBK in Bangkok or something. It’s pretty tough, portable, suprisingly lightweight (compared to my smaller Chromebook) and has a reasonable battery life, even on WiFi – minimum 2 1/2 hours, mostly about three hours.

Laptops are one of those things, were unless you blog or do some kind of work with your computer, it’s probably not worth it. I primarily used it for a) a screen larger than my smartphone; b) editing content on my kindle, smartphone and ipod; c) watching movies.

Note: I’m going to lump tablets in with this, considering that the line is getting a bit blurred.

When you need a laptop: If you need it for work (or you study online). It’s kind of obvious, but having your own laptop/tablet will allow you to have more control over where you work, and thus where you travel. As I will be travelling and studying at the same time, I will be taking my new Chromebook with me. The benefits are that I can save everything straight to the cloud (if I have internet access), and work offline if I need to.

The bad news is that I don’t have access to the great offline programs for editing my photos (not an issue for me since it’s not a priority on the trip) and loading music onto my iPod. This is also not an issue, because funnily enough, I can pre-load my iPod with audiobooks and music, and it will be enough to keep me happy for the duration of my trip (remember I like to return home every so often).

When you don’t need a laptop: So, basically the opposite of the above, but I’ll go into a little more detail. You won’t if all you’re planning to do is travel around, send a few emails home, check in on Facebook and Twitter now and then (or everyday, but why would you when you’re in some amazing place other than to make your friends at home jealous?).

You won’t if you’re taking it ‘to watch movies if I get bored’. Ok, I get that occasionally you might have some down-time. You can’t be doing something adventurous all the time. Guess what – other travellers have this exact same problem! Shocking, isn’t it? Who would have thought that hostels would think of creating ‘movie rooms’, stock it with hundreds of DVDs, a large plasma screen and comfy sofas? Pretty much every Lonely Planet recommended hostel has these. If not, you can always find a western bar with a TV, although you may be stuck watching sport, Friends or Family Guy. You could also try the ancestor of movies and TV, the humble book. I’ll go into this more when I talk about taking your Kindle or other ebook.

Ok, so you have access to computers at hostels, or at least at a nearby internet cafe. Just trust me that every country (with lots of foreign tourists – don’t blame me if you go to the wilds of Mongolia) will have ample access to the internet. This varies in countries such as China, with their firewall issues, but even there you can access email (just not Facebook and Twitter). Having a laptop will allow you to install a VPN, however is it really worth the hassle for a few weeks? Seriously people, you’ll probably have more trouble accessing an ATM than the internet.

What are some other reasons you might want a laptop/tablet?

Q: “I want to be able to research stuff, like visa requirements, while I’m travelling”.

A: Again, just use publicly available computers, or ask other travellers you meet. It’s likely you’re inquiring about a nearby land border, and it’s equally as likely that someone in your hostel has done it, or knows someone who’s done it. You can always ask your hostel, they probably have a service to take you over the border.

Q: “I want to be able to book flights and check my bank accounts, I don’t trust public computers.” 

A: Yeah, you might have a point about checking your bank account, but loads of people travel like this, and I haven’t heard anyone say they’ve been hacked. Besides, it’s pretty hard nowadays with any transactions to ‘new’ accounts (i.e. that you haven’t used before) requiring a code be sent to your phone.

More likely is someone using your credit card, but you can (apparently – I don’t actually own one) cancel them pretty quickly, and get reimbursed for any fraudulent charges. Research this before you go. Most airline sites are pretty secure, it all depends if there’s a trojan on the computer you’re using.

If you’re totally paranoid, ask a fellow traveller if you can use their laptop for a few minutes while you book your flight. Highly doubtful anyone will say no. I’ve lent my laptop (and my Lonely Planet) to loads of people while travelling.

Conclusion: Unless you need your laptop/tablet for work or study, leave it at home. Having it will make you less social, and will detract from your experience. Trust me, I’ve been in that situation. If I have access to my laptop and the internet, I get sucked in and then suddenly a whole day has gone by. Not really what you want to be doing on your travels (otherwise, why not just stay at home?).

Head torch

I used this only once, when I got back to the hostel late. Probably don’t really need it unless you do camping (reading light or smartphone can replace if you don’t absolutly need both hands).

Cameras

I also brought TWO point and shoot cameras. Not sure I’d take them again…

Software

Computer Programs

Picasa – for minimising photos and editing them on my computer.

Itunes – for managing my iPod (should have gone with an Android player, but you live and learn).

HTC Sync Manager – for the smartphone.

Calibre – for managing my Kindle library.

Then general ones such as Word and an Internet browser. I prefer Chrome, but am using Explorer at the moment as it came with the laptop.

Biggest No-Nos/Space Wasters:

The headlamp was probably the biggest waste of money, right next to the SteriPen. Seriously people, unless you are going CAMPING, you do not need this. If you unexpectedly change your mind and want to go camping, you can buy the gear on location. Worst comes to worst you can use your phone to light the way (as long as you remembered to keep it charged). The SteriPen… maybe if you went to India or somewhere like that, but I’m only saying that because I’ve never been there. They actually have bottled water everywhere in the world, and in most places the tap water is safe to drink.

I used to be one of those paranoid people that would believe it if someone told me I couldn’t drink the water, until I met Alex, an exchange student from Germany who lived with us at the student village during my student days. He bought bottled water everyday, so we asked him why he was spending so much money on water when it was free from the tap? He said he’d been told in Germany that you couldn’t drink the tap water in Australia. So despite seeing people drinking tap water every day (and not just us Aussies, but other international students), he still refused to drink it. I used my SteriPen twice on my last 2 month trip. Both times when I was too lazy to get dressed and walk 20 meters to buy water. In Indonesia the tap water was so heavily chlorinated  it was absolutely disgusting. I couldn’t drink it, and all the nasties were probably dead already from the chlorination.

Note: There are some places in Australia where you can’t drink the tap water, such as caravan parks and camping grounds. The taps will have big and obvious signs telling you you can’t drink the water. If in doubt, ask someone nearby.

However, in the future I can see myself traveling to a place and staying there for a while. You know, like taking a CELTA course in Rome and learning Italian while I’m there. If I live in an apartment for 2 months in one place, it will be nice to have my laptop there.

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