Gear: The Essential Travel Tech We Never Leave Home Without

We’re just back from a trip to New York and it’s a great chance to document and share all the kit that we bring with us when travelling.

We often do with less than this, and sometimes getting away from the tech is one of the reasons for a holiday in the first place, but this was a 4-up transatlantic blow out so everything came along with us for the ride.

Some of these items have been travelling with us for a few years now, whilst others are upgrades or newer versions of some old favourites. So here’s the Automated Home recommended travel / holiday tech.

Huawei E5372 MiFi

MiFi

The top 3 things we can’t do without when travelling? Data, data and data.

Our latest MiFi is the Huawei E5372 which is a 4G LTE unit. As well as supporting much faster cellular links than our previous model it supports simultaneous WiFi connections with up to 10 devices (up from 4 on our old unit), easily coping with the 2 devices per family member we need. It supports 4G speeds in most of Europe and 3G in the USA.

Most mobile operators continue to gouge their customers on their travels. For many of us the time you’re really going to need those maps on your smartphone is when you’re lost in a foreign country. But most of us are too scared to turn on data roaming for fear of returning home to a huge bill.

Thankfully Three’s SIMs feature their excellent ‘Feel at Home’ service which means our data costs the same in the USA (or Ireland, Spain, France or many other countries) as it does in the UK (currently £15/Month for 10GB on contract, or around £20 for 3GB on PAYG).

 


 

Anker 2nd generation Astro E4

USB Battery

We have tested quite a few USB batteries over the last couple of years on Automated Home.

As these batteries get ever more popular their performance improves and they get cheaper too.

This Anker 2nd generation Astro E4 model is a 13000mAh unit with two 3amp ports and it’s the unit we carry around with us most.

It’s small and light enough (363g) to be easily mobile yet it can charge a smartphone multiple times over (5 or 6 times for an iPhone 5S for example), as well as top up iPads and other tablets too.

But on trips like this one of the best uses we have for it is as a power source for the MiFi above.

It lives in our backpack (see below) as we carry around our own mobile wireless access-point without ever worrying about running out of juice during the long days exploring.

 


 

Asus WL-330N3G Router

Mini Router

When we’re indoors this little Asus WL-330N3G router is just magic.

We first reviewed it a couple of years ago and it’s a 6-in-1 802.11n multi-function wonder that can sit in the palm of your hand.

Its roles include Router, Access Point, Universal Repeater, Ethernet Adapter, Hotspot and 3G Sharing.

For us thought it’s the ability to re-share a single paid Wi-Fi account in places like airports (or hotels that are still mean enough to charge for access) that makes it so invaluable.

In a nutshell it will join the wireless network with your paid-for account login, then create its own private WLAN for your family to join and share across all of their devices.

No road warrior should be without this one.

 


Extension Board

Extension Board & USB Cable

Night falls, you’re back at base and all of the above needs charging. Hotels notoriously never have enough power socket and they’re rarely in the right location either.

We carry a 4 gang extension board plus a triple adapter to plug everything into. An additional benefit with this setup is you only need a single travel plug adaptor in the USA or Europe. All your other kit just plugs into the board (checking of course it’s those items to charge are 110-240v).

For some overnight trips simply packing a long USB extension cable can be all you need if you want to keep your smartphone charging at your bedside.

 


Anker 60W 6-Port Desktop USB Charger

USB Charger

Once again I’ve used and reviewed quite a few USB chargers over the last few years.

But my current electron re-filler of choice is the Anker 60W 6-Port Desktop USB Charger. This latest unit uses their “PowerIQ Technology” to detect your device so it can set its USB port to deliver as fast a charge as it can with its 2.4 amps per port or 12 amps overall.

It travelled to the US nicely too as it has a 100-240 volt input range.

The growth of USB charging over the last few years has been great for reducing the amount of chargers and leads you need to take on the road. The family’s iPads and iPhones as well as the MiFi, USB Battery and Headphones can all be charged from this one unit.

So if this was chicken it would come in a bucket, not because it’s big, but for its ability to satisfy the whole group. So go large with this ‘Family Sized’ charger.

 


iPhone

iPhone 6 PlusIt sort of goes without saying, but my smartphone is this is my single most indispensable piece of tech.

It’s the one that’s always with me and often the only one that I need due to its ever increasing range of talents. It allows me to check back on home CCTV while we are away.

Tip: Put your home router on an old mechanical timer set to reboot itself each night to avoid annoying lockups when you’re away.

Not much more to say here (you can read my early thought on it here).


 Jabra Revo Wireless headphones

Headphones

I seem to have quite a few headphones for different jobs.

So recently I decided to look for a single pair that would be able to take on most of the roles I need.

When it comes to music I like a mix of genres although I do listen more to electronic music than anything else so I really like that warm rounded bass sound (without that whole boomy muddy-bass-overload Beats thing).

So I recently bought the Jabra Revo Wireless headphones. They are a bluetooth set of headphones that come pretty close to serving all my needs. You can use the supplied 3.5mm jack to jack cable for the airplane too. They include touch controls on the side for volume and navigation and sound just the way I like em. The built in mic lets your make and take calls too.

Check out my review of these headphones.

 


15" Retina MacBook Pro

The Laptop

For an overnight stay away I can usually get away with just using my iPhone, but any more than that and I’m packing my MacBook.

The 15″ Retina Pro is lighter than my previous 13″ and it’s really not that much more hassle than packing say an iPad and Keyboard but the difference in functionality is immense. It may just be technically possible to administer Automated Home on the road from an iPad but damn would it be painful.

It’s almost 3 years since I got this first gen retina machine (check out my full review here). I bash on it for 15 hours a day and it’s everything I want in a computer, especially now it has that 1TB Transcend JetDrive – which allows me to travel with all my media as well as backup the camera’s SD cards etc (consider one of these for backups if you don’t travel with a laptop).


 

Canon EOS 60DImage Credit: dpreview.com

The ‘Proper’ Camera

My first Canon’s EOS camera was the 300D and with its 6.3mp sensor it seemed fantastic back in 2004.  I’ve had my current Canon, the EOS 60D (now superseded by the 70D) since 2011.

I bought the 60D body without the kit lens, instead opting for the more flexible Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS. Some reviews of it are a bit snooty but I honestly think it’s a fantastic one-size-fits-all travel lens and it’s the one that’s used for a lot of product photos on Automated Home too.

Most of my photography for pleasure is of landscapes these days and my absolute go-to lens for that is the brilliant Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM. The only other lens I own now is the Canon EF 50mm – f/1.4 USM which gets a lot of love for its bokeh capabilities, but it’s rarely on my camera to be honest.

I did experimented with a mirrorless camera (Fuji X-M1) but I didn’t like it at all. It may have been the lack of viewfinder of that particular model and maybe I’ll return to mirrorless some time in the future. Or maybe I’m a dinosaur and it’s too late to change, either way I love the 60D.


 Joby GripTight XL & Rotating Time Lapse mount.

The Phone Camera

This year I’ve added 2 fun little additions to my kit bag that are just for iPhone photography. First is the Joby GripTight XL Mount which allows the big iPhone 6 Plus to be easily mounted onto any tripod.

The other is the Andoer Rotating Time Lapse mount. It’s little more than a glorified egg timer but its clockwork innards means one less thing to have to worry about charging.

I mount the iPhone onto the Joby, then on the rotator and then on my Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod. I used to do this with my DSLR but it meant hundreds of photos and ages in post processing. Now this hardware along with the iPhone’s clever software can automatically produce some really nice time lapse videos of your travels. Here’s an example of one I took with this setup in New York…


 Google Chromecast

The Entertainment

Perhaps a less obvious travel choice, but remember to pack your Google Chromecast HDMI dongle when you’re leaving home for a while.

In many destinations you’ll be able to beam video from your laptop to that big telly in your hotel room.

Remember you can send movies and YouTube videos from your smartphone too giving you control of what you watch, rather than relying on the hotels offering.

If the hotels wireless LAN doesn’t play nicely you can easily setup your own Wi-Fi network with the aid of the micro-router above and use that instead.

Although the Chromecast has plenty of competition these days (checkout the Amazon Fire TV Stick for example) it’s still a great buy.


Tamrac Adventure 9

The Backpack

Lastly, the elder statesman of my travel setup. I’ve had this backpack for eight years now.

It’s a testament to the design that the Tamrac Adventure 9 (model 5549) is still on sale today.

I rely on it to transport most of the above and importantly to protect it all too. The bag’s design doesn’t scream ‘I’m full of DSLR gear’ either, which is a good thing.

The Tamrac has been on a lot of trips over the years and it’s really been an ideal travel companion and shows practically no wear after all those miles. It has a very well padded laptop enclosure for my MacBook, with lots of foam and a long zip down the side to make it a breeze to get in and out.

The section at the bottom holds my camera, lens, batteries, filters, flash etc. There’s a third section on top, a pocket for all the fiddly stuff (think leads, adaptors etc) all zipped up in a cable pouch similar to this one.

 


 Apple Watch

The Future?

You’ll have noticed the lack of any wearables on the list above. We left New York a couple of weeks before the Apple Watch went on sale. Now we have one on order and it will be interesting to see if it will end up on our indispensable list, or in that drawer where gadgets go to die.

Do you have a favourite tech travel companion? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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5 Comments on "Gear: The Essential Travel Tech We Never Leave Home Without"

  1. A nice article Mark, thanks. It’s really useful to see how others travel, especially the charging and WiFi/3G bits 🙂

  2. Chris Hunter | April 22, 2015 at 11:18 am |

    Don’t travel so much at the moment, but high on our list when we did were airplane & car adapters, to charge things from seat & dash – USB leads help a lot, but we still used a Kensington device that produced 230V from these sources, too.

  3. Just coming back to this…
    Why carry both the MiFi and the Asus? I see the MiFi is 4G (not 3G) but doesn’t it have an ethernet port like the Asus?
    Otherwise, they both do the same thing?
    I’m looking for something similar and with an internal battery 🙂

  4. @TimH – MiFi used out and about. Asus router used in hotel rooms – it can plug into Ethernet there and re-distribute. Agree would be nice in one unit, but it would make it bigger and bulkier to carry when your walking around and only need cellular.

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