Helpline Question of the Month: Taking electronics on vacation — really necessary?
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A few days ago, Tami from Boulder skeptically asked which gadgets were worth taking along on a trip, and which were useless extra weight. She got immediate feedback. Here's a sampling of what her fellow travelers have had to say...
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I am just wondering if I am the only one here does NOT take any electronic equipment (except my digital camera) on vacation. No iPhone, Blackberry, iPod, netbook, GPS, Kindle, etc.
I don't have a cell phone anyhow, but it seems like some people are so addicted they can't leave it at home.
People on this site stress out so much about what will work where, adaptors, etc. Vacations are about relaxing! Does anyone ever just walk around streets enjoying historical sites, castles, fancy old buildings, architecture, fancy fountains, nice restaurants, views, etc?
I am 41 but am not ancient, so it can't just be an age thing.
Boulder, CO USA 2/28/10
2/28/10 10:11 PM
Tami: Good news, you're not the only one!
2/28/10 10:17 PM
No more wishing, going
back to Europe soon!
After my first drive through Europe with a GPS, I won't leave home without one ever again. It saves me from getting lost when trying to find the places I want to explore. Valuable time is a terrible thing to waste.
My netbook let me share my experiences with folks back home through pictures and emails. Being able to bring them "along with me" makes the trip more fun for me, and for them.
While waiting for trains and planes, I read books. Now I don't have to carry around my library in my pack. They are all stored in my Kindle for iPhone app. Saves my back from all that extra weight.
I use my cell phone to contact hotels and attractions while traveling to make arrangements, I call my wife when we separate so we can meet up again. It's invaluable when two are traveling and want to split up. Keeps me from worrying about finding her again while enjoying the chance to "just walk around streets enjoying historical sites, castles, fancy old buildings, architecture, fancy fountains, nice restaurants, views, etc."
I don't stress out about using the things there because I figured it out ahead of time and it's just as easy once you get it figured out at home.
Oh, and I'm 56, so it must be an age thing for you younger travelers?
2/28/10 10:32 PM
Tami, I'm totally with you on this, it is so much easier to travel lighter anyways. Not worrying about adaptors, chargers, will my laptop fit in the hotel safe etc.
I have somehow managed just fine with none of above items you mention. In fact, last year I didn't even take a camera (which in hindsight was a mistake as I missed taking pictures of friends I visited in London). I didn't think I'd need a camera for the sights since I have like a million scenery shots of both London and Paris anyways, LOL .
Of course one can easily travel without all the gadgets, as people have for years and years, but some do like all the conveniences of having the stuff (like being able to Google an address, or find a restaurant, hotel, etc.) and that's good for them. Everyone is different.
2/28/10 10:54 PM
There are definitely two "schools of thought" here on the HelpLine on the subject of travelling with electronic devices such as the ones you mentioned.
I don't think it would be accurate to categorize the preferences based on age. I'm in my late '50s and travel with a well equipped kit of electronics!
My present kit (with some of my reasons for packing these around Europe):
- Digital Camera: photography is an important part of travel, so the dSLR is essential; I also have a "backup" P&S model.
- Cell Phone: as I travel solo a lot of the time, I like to be able to keep in touch with family back home and so they can notify me of any urgent matters. Using text is very inexpensive.
- iPod Touch: really nice to listen to music on long train journeys and this also provides somewhat useful Email & internet access with a Wi-Fi hotspot.
- GPS: these are not infallible, but have really helped on a couple of occasions! It's also good for use in "pedestrian mode".
- Netbook (for the first time this year): provides backup for photos (important!) and also provides a unit for Email, blogging, journaling or whatever. I find it more time-efficient to use Hotel Wi-Fi than use Net Cafés (I'm usually so busy touring that the Net Cafés are closed by the time I get to them).
While this might sound like an enormous amount of gear to travel with, these devices (and their chargers) don't take much room or weight so these haven't really been a problem so far.
Each of the devices I travel with makes my travels a bit easier in some way. However, these are not something I dwell on, so they don't keep me from doing things like "just walk around streets enjoying historical sites, castles, fancy old buildings, architecture, fancy fountains, nice restaurants".
If you prefer to travel with only a digital camera, that's certainly your choice.
2/28/10 11:06 PM
Boulder, CO USA
I am glad to see I am not alone in this! I read this board a lot and love all the tips but keep seeing so much anxiety about electronics, so I thought I would ask.
I love being so free on my trips. I guess it depends on how we each travel. I don't rent cars abroad, so I don't need a GPS. Sometimes its fun to just "get lost" anyhow and see where the untrodden path takes you. (As long as you know how to get back to your hotel!) I have developed a fantastic knowledge of areas this way!
I do take a digital camera and upload my photos to my Facebook page every couple days at an internet cafe. Even if someone doesn't bring a digital camera, they can always buy a disposable camera at a shop.
To find my way around, I always Google-Map and print all the places I definitely want to see and write down opening and closing times, etc. Then as I see each place, I just toss that piece of paper.
As for the age thing, I wasn't trying to offend anyone. I was just thinking I was going to get a slew of responses asking if I'm of an "older" generation. lol.
3/1/10 12:11 AM
New Paltz, NY
The only items one really needs for travel is your passport, return plane ticket, cash/credit card, and a spare set of underwear:) Everybody brings at least one "toy" with them. For example, Tami admits that she travels with a digital camera. Whereas I rarely travel with a camera, instead the only electronics I bring along is my netbook. I have no use for an IPhone/cellphone, Blackberry, IPod, GPS, Kindle. In fact my netbook can do almost all those functions in one device. Having said that, if someone feels those other devices will make their travel easier and more comfortable, why not bring them along? My netbook frees up a lot space in my bag. I use it to store travel documents, pages from guidebooks, ebooks, and maps. I can also use it as a nightlight, white noise machine, stereo system, mini-cinema, alarm clock, and make cheap calls back home via Skype. ...and it's smaller than a Bible, and yes I can store a Bible in my netbook as well:) Everyone has different travel styles, and different things they want to get out of their journey; one size doesn't fit all.
3/1/10 12:41 AM
Seattle, WA United States
I lost you at "I don't have a cell phone" ;)
3/1/10 2:53 AM
Cedar, IA USA
I guess I noticed the same thing on a recent trip. It was for business, so I did have a netbook, Blackberry, my wife's cell phone, an iPod Touch, Camera, Video Camera, all of the chargers, and a couple of adapters.
In retrospect, if it was a purely personal trip, the decision point for each of those would change:
We only bring multiple cell phones if we are planning on splitting up, otherwise we bring only one, for emergencies or checking in, most of the time the cell phone is in the bag in the hotel.
This was the first trip with the iPod Touch, I found it great for music, podcasts (including Rick Steves), as a clock and alarm, and occasional email access. It will probably be a fixture now.
The camera and video camera, though compact, could be cut to one, but likely we'll take both, as mentioned, an integral part of travel, though the purist could argue that photos are just a token memory, we often walk for hours and never take a picture.
I never took a laptop (except on business). The netbook is certainly light, great internet access if you can find a connection, handy to have your own programs as opposed to an internet cafe, but even for a very light item, it is still bulky and an added weight. It will always be one of those things that I may or may not take.
I do wish I could reduce the number of chargers — that would help — though with newer electronics, the days of converters are gone and only simple adapters are needed.
3/1/10 4:18 AM
Back in US temporarily
Count me among the primitives. Unless I travel on business, I restrict my electronics to a digital camera. I chuckle sometimes reading these posts. It sounds like some people think they're going back in time on a safari.
3/1/10 4:41 AM
I guess I'm part of the dinosaur clan, too. This summer was the first time I took my cell phone and digital camera on a trip. And mostly I took the cell phone because we were traveling with a large group and also since we had reserved apartments where we had to call the owners the day before to make arrangements to get the keys.
I'm a recent iTouch owner, so now I'm hooked on that. Shoot. But it does have some cool apps and it's small.
As far as laptop/netbooks go, I'm on vacation. I don't want to spend any time online unless I have to. My husband's laptop is for work and I insist that he leaves that at home, too.
3/1/10 5:47 AM
Minneapolis, MN USA
Every year I try to pack lighter and more efficiently. But I'm also the "tour leader" for a family of 5.
We're on both sides of the tech spectrum. On the one hand, we have never owned a cell phone (and have saved thousands of $ and many headaches). We also shun handheld electronic games. But we have a video iPod with many movies for everyone in the family to help pass the time during transport, along with a small digital camera for each member of the family (helps keep the kids engaged in what we're doing and also gives them — and us — free "souvenirs" to dissuade us from buying too many of the other souvenirs).
This year I will be using the 4oz iPod Touch to replace more than 4 pounds of maps and guide books, as well as doing email for the first time on vacation. Now when I'm walking down a street in Budapest and want to get my bearings, I can whip out my touch and look hip instead of whipping out my guide book and look like a dork (or at least I'll look like less of a dork now).
So I vote in favor of electronics if it feels like it makes your life easier and against them if it feels like it makes your travel experience more complicated.
3/1/10 6:32 AM
Denver, CO USA
I too am one of those who leaves most of the electronics behind with the exception of the digital camera.
3/1/10 7:40 AM
Seems to me that people on this site stress about everything — should I wear shorts, what are the best shoes, should my bag have wheels, etc. It's the nature of a site like this where people are asking for advice about travel.
Everybody has their own travel styles — most of which have nothing to do with addiction and a lot to do with personal needs and situations. For example, I have traveled happily without a camera but would never dream of traveling without journaling equipment — formerly lots of paper, these days a small notebook computer. My husband is just the opposite — he takes pictures of just about everything he sees and would be unhappy without a camera. We've traveled with and without cell phones — being able to stay in touch when my dad was very ill made it possible to travel when otherwise we would likely have canceled the trip.
I know people who wonder why I waste money on guidebooks when you can just go places and play things by ear. Me, I research compulsively.
So the question about electronics is just a subset of the big question — is there one right way to travel? Looked at that way, the answer is obvious. But the forum is helpful I think both to reassure people that their personal choices are reasonable and to give people advice about aspects of their choices that perhaps they hadn't considered.
3/1/10 8:06 AM
I'm a proud member of the dinosaur clan. A camera and that's it.
I think you hit the nail on the head when you used the word "addictive". My best friend and I are the same — but his wife can't stand to be "unplugged". Everywhere we go, she's connected — Facebook, Notebook, iPhone etc., etc.
Now ask her, and she'll give you the same excuses you'll hear here "in case of emergencies", "keep in touch with friends and family" blah, blah, blah. The truth is, she *needs* to be connected. Her Facebook postings aren't about her friends—it's about her.
With very rare exceptions, I don't buy a minute of it.
Other than that, I have no opinion...
3/1/10 8:23 AM
I'm with you, Tami. I travel with a digital camera only. Vacations for me are to relax and get away, and I don't want to hear the news or keep up with my email or listen to music or watch movies. I'm pretty low tech at home too so that's probably part of it. I bring a guidebook and a novel and a small journal and have no intention of trading them for something electronic, no matter how small and light. Just a personal preference. I don't begrudge others from taking their electronics and understand how they can be useful but I have to admit it drives me crazy to see tourists with their noses buried into their iPhone or netbook rather than looking at the scenery etc.
3/1/10 8:24 AM
Back in US temporarily
From the responses received thus far, it would appear that us dinosaurs have not gone extinct just yet.
3/1/10 8:31 AM
New Paltz, NY
Dinosaurs:) What I'm getting from this thread is that it's the "other" travelers who always bring along all the toys "not me...even though I always take my digital camera...of course that doesn't count";) Like I said in my original post, everybody brings something; and in my book, digital cameras do count.
3/1/10 8:50 AM
Always dreaming of Europe
We took three cell phones for four people, one of which was the iPhone, a netbook, video camera (was staying with my sister over Christmas, so purely for that reason), and GPS.
To drive in Europe without one can be quite tricky, and it can even help while trying to find a place on foot. Having the netbook was extremely important since we were in London during the chaos with Eurostar and needed internet access. The iPhone was important too because I would be using the netbook, while my kids or hubby were using the other to make contact, or check something we needed. Usually internet was slooooowwww so that was helpful. And yes, lots of extra adaptors to lug around, but this has all become necessary in a way, and as Steve put it, makes life a lot easier.
We aren't as hip as Steve yet, because no one has shown an interest in Kindle. :-) Way to go Steve!
3/1/10 10:11 AM
On vacation, I take an iPod Touch.
Why? Simple...it does so much and lessens the weight of my bag.
For 4.4 ounces, I get:
- Travel Apps: hotels, flights, trains-schedules, reservations, etc
- News: I like to know what's going on both around the world and where I am;
- Weather: I preset my destinations and know if I'll need to take my umbrella;
- Audio: I have some music but mostly audio books, podcasts and radio shows. Some are for knowledge, others are to help during the long train rides.
- Kindle, B&N Reader, Stanza: download books to read;
- Banks & Brokers: I can take care of financial business should it arise;
- Email: stay in touch and up to date;
- Translator: helps with the words I don't know;
- Games: I am on vacation;
- Alarm Clock: when you got to get up early for that cheapo flight;
- Flashlight: I've been in hotels where the power goes out.
- Phone Calls: Skype — very cheap to call home or ahead if necessary.
- Maps: keep me from getting lost;
- Download my itinerary: as stated in another thread, I don't look so touristy.
Those are just a few things that come to mind and the reason why I won't travel without my iTouch.
3/1/10 10:20 AM
I take my DSLR camera with one extra lens, a GPS, and a cell phone which I use very rarely but like to have in case of emergency. That's it. At home I feel as if I cannot go without reading the newspaper every morning, or get on the internet, or watch the news, history channel, sports channels and such. Then I find that when I travel and don't have access to these things or choose not to access them even if available it is like a breath of fresh air and relaxes and refreshes me. What I feel is a necessity in my daily routine really is not. Another valuable lesson that travel has taught me.
3/1/10 10:35 AM
Keizer, Oregon USA
I take my camera. Last year I took my cell phone to call home once a day. However, I do have a new iPhone and frankly I'm addicted to it! I will take it.
3/1/10 11:04 AM
Phoenix, AZ USA
iPhone covers it all for me — as mentioned a few posts earlier about the iTouch — they cover a lot of ground. The only function I don't use it for, ironically, is the phone. In 10 years time, we'll all be carrying iPads to Europe...
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