Waaaay back, when I went on my first extended trips (4 months backpacking in Europe and then almost a year around-the-world), there was no way to keep in touch without picking up a pen and writing a letter, or making a very expensive long distance call. Every few weeks, I’d find the nearest American Express office, which had been pre-selected for letters to be sent to and held until my arrival. I carried a small Olympus camera with at least a dozen precious rolls of film, which were not developed until I was back home, or became too impatient to wait. For music, I had a Walkman and headphone, with tapes. Through my travels, this morphed into an MP3/CD player, then an iPod. However, the biggest change came with the advent of the Internet and the ability to instantaneously email friends and family. Global Internet cafes burst open to meet this demand, replacing patience, serendipity, and true escape.
A year before our trip, we were already contemplating how different this trip would be. As our times find us even more bound to a web of people, obligations, and information via the almighty Wi-Fi connection and social networks. I haven’t decided if this is a blessing or a curse, but our family always planned to embrace technology as a part of our journey.
So, how did we plan to do this? What gadgets did we bring (or consider)?
Here was our original list, followed up with the reality of our choices:
~ 1 laptop (a light Mac air?) to share between Dan and I. This might be a later regret, as we plan on blogging on the road. I need a keypad, so will have to use the laptop when writing entries. Unfortunately, Dan, who is the leading tech guy, and main support for downloading and posting photos, as well as backing up all important data, will be twiddling his fingers when I monopolize the screen. This will also be our main platform for Skyping with family and watching movies. I just don’t think we are ready to buy and carry two laptops yet!
We did only bring our old 2012 MacBook Pro not an air version, and thus heavier. The hard drive fried on us once and now we have a fragile external hard drive that must be in place for it to work. I do not type on any other computer. Having a laptop is essential to our blog and maintaining a photo library of our trip.
~ 2 iPads – one for each kid. This will be where they can work on school assignments, read online books, and have limited entertainment. We have one old iPad which will do, but are in the market for a newer model. Wait until our children fight over who gets which!
Both Stella and Gabriel have their own iPad which were used versions, donated from their Poppy. They use them for reading and writing, but they have been useless when it comes to studies, like accessing math tutoring via Khan Academy. I worry that they steal too much time to play games, which we try to limit.
~ 1 smart phone – this will rarely be used an a phone, and more as an additional Internet connection when we have Wi-Fi, AND as an easy point and shoot camera! We have to investigate how to use SIM cards for actual domestic and international calling, and what kind of phone plan might be worth paying for on a month-to month basis. This might also be the our main source for music, with separate speakers, headphones and splitters.
This has been the most important technical accessory to our trip. Our iPhone6 is my main camera, and immediate tool for internet connection. I’m sadly addicted to checking the holy trinity of email, Facebook and Instagram. I have written here before about how devastating it was to drown our first iPhone and not have a replacement for over a month. Thankfully, we decided to bring a second older model(4S) with us on the trip, so we did have a backup. We also made sure that our phone was unlocked so that we were able to buy SIM cards as we traveled, purchasing data and minutes as needed. We haven’t used the phone for playing music as much as we anticipated, and eventually decided not to carry a separate speaker around for this last quarter of our trip.
~ 1 DLSR camera… still an if. It is heavy, bulky, and flashy – not the easiest object to hide when concerned about theft. However, it takes great pictures, and could be amazing to have with a supplemental lens for some of those African safaris!
My father loaned us his Nikon Coolpix P-80. Although it is not used nearly as much as my iPhone, it proved invaluable when our first iPhone expired, and when on safari in Africa. Having some zoom capabilities that are superior to a smart phone made a huge difference in the quality of our animal photos.
~ 1 old point and shoot camera which will be gifted to our children to encourage their own photography skills.
We originally let them “play” with the back-up iPhone4, but had to take it back for the month we were without the iPhone6. I also found that the second phone was used for too much game playing by the kids or candy crush by me, making it a guilty accessory.
~ old Kindle? I am not a fan of the grey screen, and am too old-fashioned to ever want to replace the tactile experience of reading a book, but this could be particularly useful for Stella.
We brought it, never used it, and ditched it in Florida before heading to South America.
~ Hard drives for backing up EVERYTHING, OR is there a new and better method??? Is there a way we can safely store and backup everything via a Cloud-like system?
We brought 2 external hard drives. One was partitioned to back up the laptop and store weekly photo backups. The second drive was used to back up the photo backups and bring a few digital movies for entertainment. We also had 4 MicroSD cards (2-64GB,2-16GB). One for the Nikon camera, two for keeping separate emergency backups of the photos and one used in a SanDisk wireless flash drive, for accessing data and movies remotely on the devices. Unfortunately the cloud based back-up options didn’t prove as reliable as hoped, since it relied on decent WiFi connection. We are using iCloud in the background but feel more comfortable with keeping multiple (x4) hardcopy backups of the photos/videos.
This leads to some final thoughts on safety and anti-theft devices. We need to study the most secure way to pack these valuable items, and how to “lo-jack” our computers in the case of theft. How can we best lock our computers and phone.
Dan carries the laptop and all the cables. I carry the iPhone and Nikon camera. We each carry one external hard drive in our separate daypacks and keep a MicroSD card hidden in our large backpacks. All of our devices require passwords and have the Find My iPhone app enabled which is a helpful tool for finding lost devices or remotely erasing data.
What would I do differently? Not much, although upgraded technology would be a huge plus. I’d love a much slimmer, lighter laptop, and the most updated iPhone with a superior camera. The children would still have iPads, although we may have invested in educational software which didn’t rely on internet connection. I also would carry a second more professional camera, as I do enjoy taking photographs, and I know I am missing out on capturing truly quality images. After our time in Galapagos, Dan was regretting not having a Gopro for all of the underwater shots. To sum it up, better, less and lighter is the way to go.