What should you bring?
Devin here, as an engineer, this is something of special interest to me, hopefully some the of the thoughts that went into our decisions can be of assistance to you. Having electronics nowadays is not so much of a question if but what you will bring, at a bare minimum, a camera and a watch will get you by. Infact you may be very happy if you go this route. Remember the Steves’ Mantra, “Pack Light”, the more you bring the heavier it will be, devices and their chargers can quickly push you beyond your weight budget and make you a more attractive target for thieves. Here is what we brought, see below for our rationale: - DSLR Camera (and three lenses) - 2 Smart Phones - Smart Watch - 1 Tablet (the Intel based, Windows 8) - External Harddrive - Powered USB Hub - Bluetooth mini mouse - Rollable USB Keyboard - Video Camera - Fitbit - Bluetooth Headphones - Kindle - Associated chargers
Let me start with cameras, my choice here was responsible for the bulk of the items listed above. There are a few options when it comes cameras nowadays: - Smart Phones (minimalist) - Point and Shoot Cameras (middle ground) - DSLRs (enthusiast, need t) If you want to keep things simple and you are already bringing a smartphone, this can be a very good option. A Smartphone of today will outperform many point and shoot from 5 years ago with the exception of the optics. As I am very big into photography I decided on the DSLR. They are big and bulky but they give you the best quality and options. This left me with the question, “how do I backup all of my photos as I go?”, I wanted to remain light, but didn’t want to risk losing photos. Here is what I considered: #1 buy a Macbook Air and bring an external HDD, #2 use a tablet and external HDD, #3 bring a lot of SD cards and don’t lose them, #4 back up photos over the internet from a laptop or tablet. Since a new laptop was quite expensive I eliminated #1, #3 is efficient and lightweight, but very risky, I was left with #2 or #4. Since I shoot RAW my images are about 22mb per photo, uploading over the internet with limited hotel bandwidth wasn’t really an option. This left me with #2. Here was my setup: - Windows Intel based (the Intel part is important in running Lightroom) - Adobe Lightroom for photo processing, which I did on the go - Bluetooth mouse for interacting with Lightroom - Rollable Keyboard for convenience - External hard drive to store the photos - OTG USB cable (this allows the tablet to act as the main USB device and not a peripheral device) - USB Hub to connect it all together (also doubled as my charger for all of my phones, wireless headphones and fitbits, which was a great weight saver) As you can see going with the tablet and DSLR necessitated a quite a bit of equipment if you want to backup your photos. But this gave me the flexibility I wanted without costing an arm and a leg. If you can spare the cash, go for the Macbook Air and an external HDD, you won’t regret it. Now this brings us to lenses A nice versatile f/2.8 17-75mm lense would have been great for just about any situation, but again I didn’t want to break the bank. Instead I opted to bring my kit 1.8-5.6 18-55mm lense, a 1.8 50mm prime (great lense!), and a 50-300mm telephoto lense. Between these three lenses I was able to capture just about any shot I wanted. Before you go get to know your camera, get to know your lenses, and learn to shoot in manual. I would recommend availing yourself of the many tutorials on the internet and don’t be afraid to experiment.
There once was a time when communication back home would be the occasional postcard in the mail. Now we live in a much more connected world, from smart phones to smart watches, and the emerging internet of things, so the question is how connected would you like to be. The convenience of always having a world of information at your fingertips is enticing and indeed difficult to give up. On the other hand sometimes it is nice to get away from it all and immerse yourself in a new place, untethered from the rest of the world. But given enough self control why not enjoy the best of both worlds, recommendation: when you are travelling look up and out, not down at your phone, enjoy the moment, use your smart devices to enhance your experience. From having a searchable copy of Rick Steves’ books, to Tripadvisor, Yelp, Google maps and more, getting around and finding good places to stop during your free time becomes much simpler. Wireless communications Smartphones although very capable devices with wifi alone, are obviously much better when you have a voice and data plan. After a bit of research we found getting a local pre-paid plan to be a very attractive option, here is how we did it: After arriving in Milan, we took the train ride from Milan to the Central Station, walked downstairs into the TIM wireless shop, purchased the pre-paid TIM Welcome plan (30 day plan for visitors with data and voice). Inserted the SIM cards and we were on our way. Some things to note, you will need a GSM phone (AT&T or T-Mobile in the us are the major GSM carriers), and just as important it needs to be carrier unlocked (If you are out of contract they are legally obligated to do so, if not if you are persuasive enough they might unlock it anyways). Here are a few useful services you may want to checkout for messaging - Whatsapp - Viber - Google Hangouts - Apple Messages (If you have an Apple device) These services are all great since they use data and not sms (text messages) or minutes. Even if you don’t have a data plan you can always use these services from a wifi connected device such as a phone, tablet or computer. Video Chatting While this wasn’t really something we did, after all we were on our honeymoon trying to enjoy some private time with our new friends. However sometimes there is nothing like seeing someone when you’ve been apart for a while, so what are your options. - Google Hangouts - Skype - Facetime (Apple devices again) I especially like Google Hangouts as it is available on most platforms (phones, tablets, and computers) across multiple operating systems (Android, iOS, OSX and Windows alike). Skype is also universally available, but I find the interface to be a little less friendly. Facetime is also a great option and maybe even the prefered one if everyone you want to video chat with is within the Apple ecosystem. Just remember, video requires more bandwidth. What does this mean? Well quite simply if you are using a data plan, you will burn through your allotted data in very little time. For this reason, it is probably best to restrict your video calls to wifi when you are abroad. There are plenty of free open hotspots around. Note on Security If you choose to connect to an open (unencrypted network), it is trivial for someone to monitor your traffic, this means the possibility of intercepting anything you browse, anything you send or download (such as email), possibly stealing your sensitive information. Tip #1 - Choose secure access points when available (WPA, WPA2) over unsecured connections. Tip #2 - Only connect to sites with https if it involves something sensitive (there is an excellent browser extension called https everywhere for Chrome to turn this on by default), Tip #3 - Don’t connect to questionable access points (this can be tricky to determine). Tip #4 - If you are really concerned pay for a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service such as ProXPN, this really is the best route to go as all of your traffic will be encrypted making it unreadable to anyone trying to snoop on you.
Logging your Trip
Here is a cool idea, are you a bit of a data and tracking freak? Why not automatically track when and where you went places or how many steps you took? It can be fun seeing exactly when and where you went throughout your trip. Saga for Android is a pretty cool app which allows you to automatically log just this sort of information, relatively battery friendly, Saga will show you the name of the location and when you arrived as well as how long you travelled between places all without your active intervention. This is something I wish I had found sooner. There are of course other options such as Foursquare, and Facebook if you want to show off, and don’t mind checking in manually here and there. Another good option is Google location history, I’ve used this service to geotag my photos (writing gps information to your photos), admittedly this is a bit advanced and but with some work you can import this data into photo editing software such as Adobe Lightroom. Regarding step tracking we had a lot of fun tracking how many steps we did each day using a FitBit. Here are some popular options to name a few: - Fitbit - Jawbone Up - Nike Fuelband