The July 4th weekend is almost upon us, and soon scores of Americans will be hitting the road — whether to head out for a day of sun and fireworks or out of town for the whole weekend. Either way, if you’re among them, you can make sure your tech tools are at the ready with these handy tips.
Day trip (park, beach, friend’s bbq, etc…)
(1) Ziploc bags — If you’ll be near sand, water, dirt or revelers precariously clutching food and beers in their mitts, do yourself a favor and put your smartphone or tablet in a Ziploc bag.
(2) Spare battery — Planning on being at a beach, park, hiking trail or anywhere else where mobile or Wi-Fi coverage could be spotty? Nothing drains a battery faster than searching for on-again/off-again signals, so be sure to toss an external battery in your go bag.
(3) Car charger — Nothing like juicing up while you’re on the road. And car adapters with USB ports are even handier, and at $8 to $20, they offer an inexpensive option for various electronics.
(4) Pre-set directions — It’s always a good idea to pre-program your destination into your fav nav app, since you don’t want to do this while you’re driving. As a back-up, print out the directions in advance — old-school style — in case you stumble into a coverage hole… like I did. I had no idea Boston’s I-93 and several exits are housed underground, and needless to say, there’s no GPS in the “Big Dig.” I got horribly lost and vowed “Never again!”
(5) Travel speakers — Nothing says fun like whipping out some MP3s and a portable speaker. Plus, if someone nearby starts playing “Friday, Friday, Friday, ooooh!”, you’ll have a way of drowning that out.
All of the above, plus:
(6) Wall chargers — Here’s a tip for lightening your baggage: If you can, try to avoid bringing a separate brick/cable for each gadget. Check your specs and see if one or two USB cords/power supplies will do the job for various devices. This is easier, now that so many tech manufacturers have integrated Mini or Micro USBs — though there are some exceptions to this rule. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, iPhone, iPad and Xoom — which brings up another tip: Those petite iPhone power supplies are underpowered for the iPad. It will work, but it will be slooooow. On the other hand, the iPad brick powers the iPhone just fine, so if you’re taking only one, bear that in mind.)
(7) Earbuds/headphones — Wish I had a nickel for every time I forgot them. Now I have an extra set that’s stashed in my travel bag at all times.
(8) Cube tap — The second most annoying thing about traveling is staying somewhere with limited outlets. But who wants to stuff a bulky surge protector in their carryalls? Take a cube tap instead. They’re petite, and can offer several more outlets in one shot.
(9) Small extension cord — The number one annoying thing about travel accommodations has got to be awkwardly placed outlets. (Why is the only outlet always stuck behind a desk or bed? Grrr.) A small extension cord is a must-have, especially if you’re staying in a hotel or motel.
(10) 3.5mm mini audio cables — Here’s another hotel tip: Have you ever stayed somewhere with a dock or stereo system that doesn’t fit your existing gadget cables? You can head off frustration before it starts with two simple cables — a male-to-male mini cable and a female-to-female one. One or a combination of these will come in handy in a variety of situations.
Apps, apps, apps
Useful apps can really vary, depending on the circumstances, but here’s a short list of universally handy applications.
Navigation: Of course users with the later Android software have native Google Nav at their disposal, but there are also solutions like TomTom, Garmin and NAVIGON as well for $30 and up. For a free option (aside from the native apps), look into the crowd-sourced nav and traffic app Waze.
Geo-location: Assuming you’re not below the earth’s surface and have GPS readily available, you may find a need for a gas station or grocery store. Apps like AroundMe are pretty handy for finding resources in unfamiliar environs.
Food: At some point, you’ll need to eat. If you’re in a new area, and don’t know where to go, I can’t recommend Zagat enough. Sadly, its coverage lacks in smaller towns and regions, but there’s also Yelp to help point you in the right direction. It’s free and pretty comprehensive, though bear in mind that local tastes (and the reviews reflecting them) may not exactly match your own.
eBooks/Magazines: Download any reading material you might want ahead of time — just in case you don’t want to spring for paid internet or find yourself staying in a coverage dead zone.
Got any other essential travel tips to add to the list? Share the knowledge by weighing in below.