What are the best electronics to take travelling? Should you take your laptop on the road? How about an iPad? A Kindle? A DSLR camera? We explore the best electronics to carry with you, right down to our recommended brands and models.

To listen, hit play below or find episode 236 in iTunes or Soundcloud:

Lighter is better

Whenever we talking about packing for travel, pack light is the most valuable advice we can give. Since electronics weigh so much, this is a great area to get under control… and it’ll save you some stress about theft, and some money on travel insurance too.

The number one question for any piece of electronics you’re going to carry is What’s the point? Does it fill a great need, or can it be left behind. If you’re not going to use it five days a week, let it lie. With the exception of a first aid kit, you should only take things you’ll use often.

Camera

Unless you’re at the point where you’ve exhausted the artistic expression you can squeeze out of a ‘normal’ point and shoot, there’s no point carrying a heavy, expensive DSLR and lens kit with you. If you shoot photos on automatic, stick with a point and shoot!

We use a point and shoot: the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V

and that powers many of the photos on this site. If you think they’re good enough, then that camera will do the trick for you. It also has a built-in GPS (so you can remember where you took that shot!) and a nifty panoramic mode.

Travel bloggers Dave Dean and Jodi Ettenberg use a micro four-thirds Olympus PEN E-PL3

. A Micro Four Thirds camera has removable lenses, just like a DSLR, but is normally a third of the size. It’s a good half-way between a point and shoot, and a full-sized camera.

Unless you’re a pro or a true hobbyist, we advise against taking a DSLR travelling. They’re big, they’re heavy, they’re impossible to hide away, they’re expensive to replace or to insure. Leave it behind (and if you haven’t touched it in 12 months, sell it to pay for your plane tickets).

We have some great travel photography resources here — for you with the point-and-shoot, and you with the DSLR too.

Smart phone

If all you’re doing with photos is uploading them to Facebook, perhaps all you need is a new-model smartphone. This is a piece of electronics we’d recommend taking with you. It’s:

  • Useful in emergencies.
  • Small enough to slip into a pocket, or bury in a backpack.
  • Has wifi and mobile data for communication, sharing, and trip research.
  • Can make calls if you can’t book online.
  • Has a GPS to help you find your way around.
  • Has a digital compass to orient yourself as you come out of the subway.
  • Guides don’t make you look like a tourist; unlike your Lonely Planet or tourist map.
  • Can keep you entertained with movies, podcasts, music and ebooks.

The one problem is that you shouldn’t use it to squish insects… Something that a traditional guidebook is great at.

We’d recommend checking out:

The iPhone

At present, the iPhone 4s is the latest iteration, and still has the easiest-to-use interface. Apple has a worldwide guarantee and service agreements, so you’re covered there as well. We use an iPhone 4 and an iPod Touch… We’ll be staying in the iPhone family for future upgrades at present, and would recommend new buyers head straight for the iPhone 4s

.

Nokia Lumix series

The Nokia Lumix is bringing Microsoft Windows back into the smartphone market. Worth a play, but Window’s smaller market share means it’s still going to be under-supported by third-party app makers. The Nokia Lumia 800

and Nokia Lumia 900 4G
look gorgeous.

Android

Android is the second-biggest player in the smartphone (and tablet) market after Apple. What sets them apart, is that the Android operating system works on phones from many different manufacturers — and all those manufacturers make changes to the system so they work best with their hardware. We’re not up to date on the Android market, but have had a play on the HTC Dream and Inspire. I’d check out the best-selling unlocked smartphones on Amazon

as well as dropping into a store to see what might work for you.

An important note on phones!

Make sure your phone works worldwide, by seeing if it supports the full range of GSM bands. If you want to buy local SIM cards (which you most-probably will to save hundreds of dollars on SMS, phone and data charges), make sure it’s unlocked as well. If that’s all greek to you, find a geek to double-check what you’re wanting to buy against your destination’s network technology.

Tablet, netbook or laptop

These are all useful tools, and are more efficient than a smartphone for any kind of large-scale writing, or even for researching flights and train timetables… those websites are always a real pain on a small screen. However, they fall under the same umbrella as a DSLR. How many times will you use it? An hour or two each day? Bring it along. Once a week? Use an internet café, or a connection at your hostel or hotel.

If you’re going to bring one, bring one. Couples can get away with having a laptop and a tablet, but if you’re travelling solo one is enough. Probably the lighter one!

We recommend: the Macbook Air 11″

This is getting a little Apple-fanboyish, but these are amazing travel laptops. They’re light, strong, fast, easy to hide away, and ours fits into about 75% of hotel-room safes. That’s good going! The cheapest version of the MacBook Air

is under a grand, and will last for years. Linda’s is 18 months+ and still fires up in seconds.

Do you have a favourite laptop for travel? Or a tablet? We haven’t played with a lot, so please let us know in the comments.

Connectivity

A device without an internet connection isn’t much good. Luckily in much of the world, free wifi is the norm — at least if you buy a drink. Make use of that, and check your accommodation is doing the decent thing and providing it for free or a small, all-you-can-eat surcharge.

A local SIM card won’t cost much, and there are some great pre-paid packages available for text as well as data. Here in Spain I get 50 texts and 100mb of data for about €4 a week, and I seldom burn through that in addition to wifi at home and out and about.

Companies like Droam are introducing a new model for mobile data: hire their little keyring-sized device and get wifi at a standard rate internationally. One price: no price hikes or surprise bills. I love the idea… I just wish major carriers started pricing like this.

What about backups?

One of the main reason people carry computers while they travel is to back up their photos. And that’s vital!

We carry several hard-drives to deal with all the photos, video, podcasts and other client data we burn through each month. But I wouldn’t recommend that. SD cards are now cheap enough to replace that option for most people.

Buy two 8- or 16-gig SD cards and copy your photos to both of these each day, or each week. Keep one copy on you, and one — safely locked away — at your accommodation. When they fill up, post one home and keep one on you.

There are some great online backup providers — we use Mozy.com — but you’re limited by the speed of your internet; and 500 photos of Angkor Wat are going to take months to upload while you’re in Cambodia. Not recommended unless you desperately need the redundancy.

Kindle

After all this talk about eliminating “extra” devices, I don’t think we will ever travel without an e-reader again. The Kindle has knocked down the amount of books Linda carries from 15+ to three or four… and that’s something!

We’re voracious readers: both on over 50 books read this year. Even if you’re not so book-crazy, the Kindle is a great replacement to your book collection, and also allows you (basic, slow) 3G internet access for checking your couchsurfing requests, booking accommodation on the bus when you realise there’s a festival on in your destination, or you need a phrasebook now because you and your host can’t understand each other. Yep… those are real user studies from the turn-up-and-see-what-happens world of indie travel.

There’s the Keyboard, the Touch, and Fire. Whatever you get, the 3G version without ads is the best. We have two of the Kindle Keyboard 3G models (even if one is stuck in New Zealand right now).

Is it safe to bring expensive electronics with me?

No, not really.

Well, yes… Kind of.

The chance of you having stuff stolen isn’t much greater than at home. Since 2006 we’ve had two pieces of electronics stolen: pick-pocketed from an unlocked bag on a busy day. We’ve never had anything stolen from our accommodation, or had our most valuable gear (our laptops) stolen. 99% of people we talk to have no problems: travel is generally safe.

Whatever you decide to bring, make sure your insurance covers it. You can read more about travel insurance here.

To listen, hit play above or check in iTunes, Stitcher or Soundcloud.

We’ve shown you ours…

What brands do you love? What do you travel with? Are you using a tablet over a laptop? What’s the best camera? What are your questions? Hit the comments!

Your thoughts on "Best electronics to take travelling podcast"

  • Some thoughts on tech from non-Apple or Kindle users: We have 2 HTC Android phones (both unlocked) and they worked very well on the road. Android is catching up on the number of apps available, but it's not on the same level as Apple yet. Samsung looks like it's going to be taking a greater share of the Android market--we saw far more of them than iPhones in Hong Kong, for example. I'm definitely considering one for my next phone. A great site for tech reviews that are in-depth but still comprehensible by laypeople is techradar.co.uk. They also have a section of the site that compares SIM card deals, which can be really useful for people travelling in the UK. We brought a Packard Bell netbook with us--it was smaller, lighter, and less valuable than my laptop. It measures about 27x18 cm, so fit in hotel safes with no problem. I'm still ambivalent about iPads--the portability is great, but I'm not a fan of touchscreen typing. As for e-readers, we have a Sony that was a leaving gift. Pricewise it's comparable to the Kindle and uses an indentical e-ink screen and is the same size, so it fits in most Kindle cases. It has wifi, but not 3G, so the Kindle has an advantage there. We found it useful because our local library back home does digital lending so we were able to download e-books while travelling, which was great to be able to update our reading material on the go. I think most people probably use the devices you mentioned, but I just wanted to offer some alternatives that can work just as well.

    on May 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm Reply
    • Thanks Rachel, great to have some specific brands from other travellers! Those new Samsung S3s look pretty cool as well. Android is coming along.

      on May 30, 2012 at 4:33 am Reply
  • Great article. Thanks for sharing.

    on May 29, 2012 at 5:45 am Reply
  • We travel with our Canon G12 (while not super thin, this is the best pseudo-professional non-DSLR camera!), our MacBook and an iPhone 4. One great thing about Apple products is the ability to utilize internet sharing between the devices. Also, we keep several external hard drives on us to dump photos and videos and send them home when they're full.

    on May 30, 2012 at 10:02 am Reply
    • Hi @dustinandtheresa, we looked really, really closely at the G12... Almost got it! Do you have a backup of the hard-drive you're sending home, or do you just cross your fingers that they'll actually arrive?

      on May 30, 2012 at 10:19 am Reply
      • We've actually been sending them home with family and friends who visit us on the road, which has happened twice in seven months. We'll have to see how the pace of those visits stay throughout our long-term adventure, though. So, we haven't gotten to the point yet of having to actually mail them.

        on May 30, 2012 at 10:32 am
      • Got you! That's a good option if you've got friends coming to visit. We're always super-cautious about post actually arriving, but I think you (and us!) have bigger data needs than most travellers. That's why I'm now recommending people carry a couple of spare SD cards: superlight, so you can have one backup on you (in a wallet), and another in your hotel. If you get mugged and your hotel burns down at the same time, you're just damn unlucky! They're much cheaper and easier to post home than a normal hard-drive too.

        on May 30, 2012 at 10:49 am
  • I'm very happy with my two little Fujifilm point and shoot cameras. Never would have thought to look at a Fujifilm but they got good ratings on camera sites. A professional photographer once warned me to always take 2 cameras. And the one time I didn't, I dropped one in Madrid and had no pictures for the remainder of that trip. For Internet and computing and photo storage, I take an ASUS Eee. Very happy with it right up until I spilled a glass of water on it (at home--thank goodness not in the middle of a trip) and now it is dodgy. But I'll happily get another one. NOT being a part of Apple Fandom, I have an H-P Android phone, but have not used it for international travel yet. The pictures and particularly videos are terrific. And the biggest advantage is the price--way cheaper than I-Phone. The other gear thing I like is a carrier for all those charger wires. It's just a flat board with lots of elastic bands made by Grid-It. I keep everything there all the time, so when I travel, it is just a matter of throwing it in the suitcase. (Helps the security people to have stuff a little better organized than when they see wires snaking through your suitcase, too!)

    on May 31, 2012 at 1:32 pm Reply
    • We've had camera's stolen before, and been cameraless for weeks. I know that pain, but don't think I'd want the weight (or price) of a backup camera. Good advice if you're not moving a lot and have an older camera to bring though. Would you recommend your specific model? If so, what is it? We've never carried an organiser for cables, but we do have a little nylon bag that most of them get jammed into -- along with the harddrives and a scarf or two for padding. You find the weight/usefulness ratio works out?

      on June 1, 2012 at 8:33 am Reply
  • Hi guys, Great tips here, On the Smart Phone Department I would like to add one more. Carry a Dumb Phone as well. Here in India, we have something called a Samsung Guru. It costs just around 35$ and comes with a flashlight and a huge battery. Its battery can last upto a week if you are using it for calls and text regularly, if you just use it for less than 20 minutes a day, it can last about 2-3 weeks. (could be useful if you go into remote places, like some places here in India) Plus the flashlight is always handy. Also, you do not have to be too conscious about stolen phones :)

    on June 1, 2012 at 5:24 am Reply
    • Hi Arun, yes - great advice. We long carried a 'dumb' Nokia phone, until it got so old the GSM bandwidth just wasn't supported in a lot of countries. Thanks for the specific brand recommendation for India -- great!

      on June 1, 2012 at 8:29 am Reply
  • i plan to travel with my canon s95, iPhone4 and new iPad 32GB (3rd gen). without sounding too apple-obsessed, they really have nutted out being a global company. i love apple because of items like their world adapter kit (http://store.apple.com/us/product/MB974ZM/B). when you buy it in your home country, it comes with every other power plug you would need for any apple product you have! also loving their camera connector kit. i will be able to take a photo from my canon s95, plug the SD card into my ipad instantly and upload! i can pixlr-o-matic it, facebook it, tweet it, etc. a lot quick than pulling out a laptop. same goes with general photo storing/showing off. the new iPad's display is brilliant and i can't wait to take good shots that i can share with family/friends along the way.

    on August 7, 2012 at 6:51 am Reply
    • Hi Fiona, yes - that's a great combo. The new photo editing software on the iPad is quite good to use, and replicates all the sharpen/soften/colour adjustment and red-eye removal that you might normally do. What about photo backups? Will you leave copies on your camera SD card; or use an online backup system?

      on August 8, 2012 at 3:47 am Reply
      • ya well that's the other thing about apple. iCloud. if i'm connected to preferably stable internet, i can just backup everything on my iPad on iCloud. music, photos, games, movies, documents, emails, calendar, everything. so i'll have copies on my SD card, on my iPad and on iCloud. I'm sure that would be enough haha. and if i'm still nervous about losing photos, i'd go to the effort of buying USBs, transferring copies and mailing the USB back home ASAP! ridiculously streamline.

        on August 8, 2012 at 4:51 am
      • True! We've just upgraded our two laptops from OSX10.6 to 10.8, so we're just discovering what iCloud can do.

        on August 9, 2012 at 6:13 am

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