Top five travel gadgets NOT to take on your next trip (and what to pack instead)

gadget, gadgets
I’m in the throes of packing for a two-month journey to Ethiopia. I try to pack light, other than the inevitable pile of books. While some tech freaks pack a lot of travel gadgets, I find these to be more of a hindrance than a help. Here are five things that you might want to leave behind if you’re heading out for some adventure travel.

GPS
Yes, these are handy, but they can break with rough handling and are very attractive to thieves.
What to bring instead: A compass. It’s cheaper, much less likely to break or be stolen, and with a good map is just as useful. It also makes you notice the terrain more and become more aware of the lay of the land.

Ereader
Ebooks certainly save space, and many travelers like ebooks, but ereaders are far more stealable than some tattered old paperback. Plus you need to recharge your device and you can’t give or exchange books with the locals.
What to bring instead: A paperback or three. Preferably something you don’t mind trading or giving away.

IPod
Music is fun to have on the road, but it cuts you off from the sounds around you. I want to hear the muezzin’s call, the chatter of foreign languages, the local tunes blasting from shops and cafes. My playlist is part of my life back home, so I don’t need it while I’m away. I can listen to it when I get back.
What to bring instead: Nothing.Translation software
Translation software has improved a lot in recent few years. There’s even Word Lens, an iPhone app that overlays English onto foreign writing. When Jeremy Kressmann visited me in Madrid earlier this month we tried it on a menu. It was impressive but didn’t translate some of the culinary terms. I prefer learning a language the old-fashioned way. Except for France, all of the 31 countries I’ve visited are filled with people who want to help you learn their language. What better way to hook up with locals?
What to bring instead: A good dictionary and phrasebook. Also pack a good attitude.

Laptop
To be honest, I do take a laptop on some of my trips, but not on an adventure. My laptop means work, and while part of my work is travel writing, the best way for me to do that job is to focus on what’s going on around me. Computers can be a huge distraction and you always have to worry about them getting stolen or blasted by a power surge. If you do take your laptop to a developing country, pack a voltage regulator.
What to bring instead: A notebook and pen. Don’t worry, even Ethiopia has Internet cafes.

If there’s a theme to this, it’s that all of these gadgets distract you from the place and people you’re visiting. Doing without them for a month or two can be a welcome break, and your trip will be richer because of it. I didn’t need any of these things twenty years ago when I started doing adventure travel, and I don’t need them now that they exist.

[Photo courtesy user rkzerok via Gadling's flickr pool]

Books! Travelers share what to read on the road

book, books
There’s nothing like a trip for catching up on your reading. Even if you’ve filled your schedule with dawn-to-dusk sightseeing, there are still quiet moments at the hotel or by the pool, not to mention those long flights. So what’s best to read while traveling? On Saturday I’m heading to Harar, Ethiopia, for two months, so this has been on my mind. I asked a bunch of seasoned travelers what’s in their pack. Their suggestions fall into several overlapping categories.

Disposable
Most agree it’s best to bring books you don’t feel the need to bring back. Not only does this give you a chance to pick up something unexpected at a book exchange, it also frees up space for souvenirs. You can also give reading material away, as Catherine Bodry explains, “I always treat myself to magazines at the airport (People, Runners World, Oxygen, Nat Geo Traveler, etc.) and I usually stockpile a few issues of the New Yorker from the weeks prior to a trip. They also make great gifts if I’m headed to a censored country like China!”

Entertaining
Some people go for light, unchallenging reads. Annie Scott Riley says, “I’ll finish anything I’m already reading; usually fiction, but anything I start on vacation has to be just for fun. For example, the Chelsea Handler books, anything Dave Barry, Chuck Klosterman. I guess I like some pop culture commentary to assess what I’m getting away from.”

Educational
Many well-heeled travelers bring books that teach them about the places they’ll see. Mike Barish says, “While in Hawaii earlier this month, I read Blue Latitudes about Cook’s voyages in the Pacific Islands.” Laurel Kallenbach says, “It can be nice to read Yeats in Ireland, Shakespeare in England. I lived for a few weeks in the French village of Ferney-Voltaire, so I read Voltaire’s Candide there–and then toured the author’s castle.”

Variety
Many people like to have a variety of books. Mary Jo Manzanares finds her ereader handy. “Before leaving I load it up with a bunch of books from a variety of genres, then I can pick and choose what to ready while on the road. I like a variety of reading–something light for the airplane or on the beach (a mystery or chick lit), something historical when I’m on site, and I can also read blogs, magazines, and newspapers on it as well. Last year while staying in the middle of a vineyard in Tuscany I saw that one of my favorite authors had just released his new book–just a minute later I was able to download and read it. Best of all, I can take all this reading with me and take up no space at all.”Small
With ever-increasing baggage fees, it’s best to bring something small. I prefer mass-market paperbacks, leaving the hefty hardbacks at home. Like Manzanares, Gadling cruise correspondent Chris Owen saves space with ebooks. “On cruises, we read a book a day so long sailings required separate luggage just for the books. iPads changed all that, especially now that our local public library offers books online too.”

So what’s in my pack?
English language books are in limited supply where I’m going, and many tend to be foreign imports at Western prices, so I’m bringing a two-month supply. They are:

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad: A thick, fast-paced classic in a mass market edition that I can leave behind. I can always find another copy.

Eating the Flowers of Paradise: A Journey through the Drug Fields of Ethiopia and Yemen by Kevin Rushby: A fascinating study of qat, the drug of choice in the Horn of Africa. It’s impossible to understand the culture without understanding qat.

The Bible: I’m an agnostic, but as a professional historian I can’t ignore one of the most influential books ever written. I haven’t read it for more than a decade so it’s due for a reread, especially since I’ll be spending most of my time in a Muslim town. Muslims read the Bible too, and I just reread the Koran last year.

Thus Spake Prophet Muhammad: These selections from the Hadith are in a tiny little edition I picked up in India. It can’t hurt to brush up on my knowledge of Islam if I’m going to live in a Muslim town.

Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre: Hararis are a philosophical bunch, and I rarely pick up this sort of heavy reading when I’m at home working. I’m sure someone over there will want it when I’m done.

The Best Stories and Tales of Leo Tolstoy: This is actually an Ethiopian edition I picked up when I was last in Harar. I’m nearly done with it but I want to give it to a friend.

Articles about Harari history and culture: I printed some of these out and have dozens of them on a thumb drive if I want to print out any at an Internet cafe. I also made copies onto two CDs for some Harari friends.

Amharic dictionary and phrasebook

Brandt Guide to Ethiopia

What do you bring to read on the road? Share your bookish habits in the comments section!

What’s in your pack: Scott Carmichael

whats in your pack

It has been several years since we last visited our “What’s in your pack” segment here on Gadling. As times (and gadgets) have changed, it is time to breath some fresh air into the feature, and we’ll start with yours truly.

Lets get something out in the open – I’m a total gadget freak. My gadget needs go way, way beyond the usual “laptop, camera, charger”, and it isn’t uncommon for my gadgets to take up more than half the weight of the crap I carry on a trip. Of course, what I carry does vary for each trip, so I’ve collected the kind of stuff I’ll carry on an average trip.
The basics

I tend to swap out my luggage every couple of months – but I always stick with the same style – one roller and one checkpoint friendly laptop bag. My current pick of the month is the Pelican 1510LOC laptop overnight case. This thing is total overkill for anything I do, but I love the fact that I have a piece of luggage the airlines won’t be able to kill. The case weighs a ton, but that is the price you pay for rugged.

My laptop and other smaller items go in a Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer – the one piece of luggage I have used for more than 6 months.

To me, laptops are like my luggage – I buy something cool, and by the time the next new cool laptop is out, I’ll swap things out and upgrade. At the moment, I travel with an HP DM1 or a Google CR48 Chrome notebook. The HP DM1 has been upgraded with 8GB of memory and a 500GB Seagate Momentus XT hybrid SSD. Picking which one to use depends on the trip, and what I need to get done. To get some basic work done, I also carry a Barnes & Noble Nook Color, but I have hacked it to run Android Froyo. The tablet is perfect for my email, web and of course, Angry Birds.

For overnight trips, I’ll obviously pack clothes, toiletries and some spare clothes for the inevitable delay or cancellation. I hate checking bags, so my packing ritual always means I have to stuff everything I need into my 2 carry-on bags.

All my gadgetry is split into categories – and packed in Tom Bihn packing cubes. Laptop, chargers, flightbag and a bag with basics fits in my laptop bag, the rest (along with my clothes) goes in the rolling case.

The goodies

Despite the risk of making a total fool of myself, here are the products I currently carry (in no particular order):

  • Aaxa Technologies M2 Micro projector (in its own hard shell case)
  • Barnes and Noble Nook Color (running Android Froyo with a 32GB MicroSD card)
  • Nikon P7000 digital camera
  • Canon S95 digital camera
  • HP DM1
  • Google Chrome CR48
  • Tekkeon MyPower All laptop battery pack + cable pack
  • Clear 4G/3G adapter
  • Zagg Sparq 2 battery pack
  • Verizon MiFi
  • Motorola W233 unlocked mobile phone
  • Unlocked 3G European MiFi + assortment of sim cards for Europe and Asia
  • Livescribe Echo 8GB smartpen + notepads
  • T-Mobile MyTouch 4G (primary phone)
  • Sprint Palm Pre
  • HTC HD2 (with Android)
  • HTC Inspire (AT&T)
  • Blackberry Storm 2
  • Motorola Roadster Bluetooth handsfree car kit
  • Trendnet 802.11n travel router
  • Callpod Chargepod + assorted power tips
  • 2 500GB drives (1 with restore image and 1 with apps/media)
  • Assortment of USB drives and SD cards
  • Assortment of cables, chargers and plugs
  • Audio Technica ATC ANC-3 noise canceling headphones
  • Monster Beats Tour in-ear headphones
  • 64GB iPod touch + video cables/dock/remote
  • Moshi voice recognition travel alarm clock
  • Sandisk Sansa Clip+ MP3 player + 16GB MicroSD card
  • Assortment of Eye-Fi wireless SD memory cards

The what/where/why?

I’ll try and explain some of the logic behind my choices for gear – part of the reason is that I’m always reviewing stuff, and some of the items in the collection may be undergoing a real on-the-road review. Other products are just things I’d rather carry than leave at home. I hate arriving somewhere and realizing I forgot to carry something.

Lets start with the various mobile phones – I always try and travel with more than one phone, and mix things around on various operators. Ideally, I’ll have one phone on each major US operator, which is a perfect way to prevent arriving somewhere and having a hard time getting a signal. Thanks to Google Voice, I can mix and match operators, sims and phone numbers.

My primary phone is a T-Mobile MyTouch 4G. I love that phone more than anything else, and its QIK videocalling and T-Mobile Wi-Fi calling feature make it the best travel phone on the market (in my opinion). The final phone in my assortment is a really cheap Motorola W233. I carry this when I need to head out for the night and don’t want to risk losing my smartphone.

Photography is something I never mastered (as you can see from these photos), so I stay away from the neat dslr rigs and rely on a decent point and shoot. The Canon S95 and Nikon P7000 fit the bill perfectly. The Canon is small enough for in my pocket, and the Nikon works nicely on the Manfrotto Modosteady 3-in-1 tripod. If I know I’ll be shooting hotel rooms or airline cabins, I’ll carry a Sima LED light as well as a better microphone for the Nikon if I plan to do video. Any camera I carry will have an Eye-Fi Connect X2 card in it.

Cables and networking gear all go in their own bag. I’ll usually carry at least one or two network cables, as well as a Trendnet 802.11n travel router and an assortment of USB and video cables.

As for headphones - I’m not an audiophile, and my only requirements are good noise isolation/cancellation along with good comfort. In a hotel room or airport, I’ll wear the Monster Beats Tour in-ear headphones, and on the plane I’ll swap them out for the Audio Technica ATH-ANC3 headphones. Music comes from an iPod Touch, my MyTouch 4G or the compact Sandisk Sansa Clip+. I love the Clip+ because it is small, sounds great and is easy to operate.

Power is always on my mind – I travel with a Tekkeon MyPower ALL battery pack which can double my laptop battery power. For my smaller gadgets, I’ll use a variety of battery packs like the Zagg Sparq 2 or the Technocel Battery Boost. Once I get to my room, I use the Callpod Chargepod to charge up to six devices at the same time. For the usual hotel room with just one outlet, I’ll use a Monster Outlets To Go powerstrip. To power my laptop, I usually swap out the included charger for a Kensington charger with DC and Empower plugs which allow me to charge and power on an airplane.

Entertainment in my room comes from a variety of sources – I always carry an HDMI cable for my laptop, along with Apple iPod/iPhone video cables with a dock and remote. With this, I can plug my player(s) into the hotel room TV. If the room lacks a decent TV, I can use the AAXA M2 Micro Projector, but I tend to only carry that if the trip is for business. In-room music comes from a Jawbone Jambox Bluetooth speaker paired to my laptop or music player.

For the rare events I actually need to get some work done, I use a Dell Bluetooth travel mouse. I make VOIP phone calls with a Plantronics .audio 480 headset or conference calls using the Polycom C100S communicator and Skype. If I’m on the road without my family, I carry a Microsoft Lifecam Studio HD webcam.

My flightbag is what carries all my short cables, Bluetooth headset(s), memory, Secure keys for my remote access and anything else I think I need if I become separated from my main bag. I also carry a small flashlight and SwissTool screwdriver set. My flightbag also holds gift cards, iTunes cards, Gogo Inflight access cards and sim cards.

Weight?

There is no denying it – this setup weighs a ton – but I’ve mastered the art of making my bags look light. They always fit in the overhead, and I’m usually lucky enough to make it to the first boarding group on my flight, ensuring some space for the chunky rolling case.

Any logic to so much gear?

No.

That said, when I travel with others, I’m always the one that has a spare charger, or a USB drive with a full Windows 7 recovery image. Or fresh music. Or a screwdriver. And while this may not be a good enough reason, I try and use it to justify my addiction.

What to pack in a carry on – ten things Gadling readers actually use

What to packSo, you’ve got yourself the ultimate carry on for your upcoming air travel. Now, you have to figure out what to pack in it.

For those of us who check a bag, it can be hard to decide what, exactly, to bring on the plane with us. Valuables and documents are a must, for safety, but do you really need that computer cable? Do you need Bandaids? Did you splurge on a stupid gadget you’ll never use? Traveling light is key; it’s no fun lugging a full, heavy carry on around. We asked our readers on Facebook what they actually use during their flights. Take a look at this list before you overpack and weigh yourself down.

Ten things Gadling readers actually use from their carry ons:

1. Kindle – Marsha, Christine, Martha and Max

2. Book and/or magazine – Saadia, Amy, Karen, Despina, Norma and Nicole

3. Noise canceling or other headphones – Christine, Arun, Norma and Shelby4. Knitting – two Nicoles

5. Hand sanitizer or wet wipes – Candace, Saadia, Karen and Anna

6. Lotion – Saadia, Amy, Arun, and Karen

7. Neck pillow – Stephen and Norma

8. Contact lens gear – Max

9. Music device – Stephen, Arun, Despina, Martha, Ben and Max

10. Snacks or gum – Norma and Shelby

So. When you look at that carry on bag and wonder where to start, put in your valuables and documents, then take a look at the list above. Don’t cram it full in dire fear of boredom, and don’t worry about “emergency” stuff like Bandaids. They have those on the plane, you know.

What else do you use? Want to join in the conversation? Visit the Gadling Facebook page!

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Photo by ahhhnice via Flickr.

Cruise survival kit: What you need to be totally prepared

cruise survival kitCarnival Inspiration finally docked in Florida at 8:30 p.m. last night after being held out at sea due to weather conditions. A bunch of other Carnival ships are sailing modified itineraries for weather-related issues. Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas was tossed around in bad Middle East weather.

News from the cruise industry lately has been all about weather-related delays, modifications of itineraries, disabled ships, braving storms and compensation to passengers for their troubles. With that in mind, cruise packing lists are being updated with a number of items normally found on lists for camping or backpacking. Start with these for your cruise survival kit:

Satellite phone
For as little as $24.95 a week you can rent global Iridium Satellite Phones from Satellite Phone.com. They can provide the lifeline you want when power goes out. Call rates of between $.99 and $1.59 a minute might sound expensive sitting on dry land but that will quickly be a bargain if you are the only one able to communicate with the outside world.

Lots of backup power
When the ship loses power the clock starts ticking on your cell phone or camera battery. What could be a timely call home (if and when you can catch a signal) to let friends and family know you are OK might not happen without plenty of backup power. iPhone users know Mophie.com is the place to go. Brookstone has a universal battery that works for phones and cameras.

Survival food
The passengers aboard Carnival Splendor, the ship by an engine room fire, have a lesson for us: Bring food. When lavish buffets and gourmet dining come to a screeching halt because the power got knocked out or the buffet lines thrown around by angry seas, some high protein snacks will come in handy. Think canned nuts, peanut butter, or other survival food high in calories that won’t take up a lot of space in luggage.

The right luggage
Now, more than ever, its a good idea to have only one piece of luggage that you can keep with you at all times. Cruise lines allow passengers to skip checking luggage if they can carry it on and off the ship without assistance. On Carnival Inspiration, held at sea for so long, guests who held on to their luggage were the winners. Durable Victorinox has some great choices.

The odds are you will have a totally safe and care-free cruise vacation. But savvy travelers know that being prepared for anything that might come your way is a good idea.