Tech and Travel revisited

Having done quite a bit of travelling over the years, I wanted to share some tips on some of the tech, tools and life hacks which make journeys that bit more bearable…

Apps (ioS and Android):

AppInTheAir: Back around 2009 I started to use the excellent travel itinerary app called TripIt. It was a greatway to organise all aspects of my travel into a single place – such as flights and accommodation details. However, over the last few years I’ve been using an even better itinerary organiser app, call AppInTheAir. It works on both iOS and Android plus it has the additional benefit of being able to important any TripIt data you may have accumulated over the years too. In short what the application does is import any of your flight details into the app. Once inside the app, you get some incredible dashboards and stats from your flights. It will do things such as tell you how many flights you took during a given year, plus the types of aircrafts and airlines you flew on. Additionally, it will plot all your flights on to a map. Another feature that’s nice is that you can compete with other friends/app users on a leaderboard. At the end of each year you can also generate a fun little video which runs through all the flights you did that year. But the best feature is that it automatically generates a globe with all your flights and you can view it using augmented reality through your phone (iOS only I think for now). It’s free – but there’s a paid upgrade which I opted for (I’m a big believer in compensating developers for their work).

Evernote:  I’ve been using this note taking app since 2008. Despite strong competition from the likes of OneNote, I still feel that Evernote just about has the edge. It’s quicker than others and I like the way the tags work. It also plays a bit better than competitors when offline – which is important when travelling. I put my life in it and it’s something I always use when traveling. For example, I have copies of all my key documents such as passports. Another feature I really value is the OCR capabilities (which I feel are still way ahead of competitors). For example, I can scan in business cards and Evernote will extract the details, such as the name and email address and add it directly into my phone contacts.  Another killer feature is the ability to email notes into Evernote. So ahead of any trip, I’ll often forward any information I need to Evernote. Arguably the UI is not as intuitive as, say, OneNote – but I tend to value less design over speed. The app is free, but I pay an annual subscription which gives me more functionality.  Worth adding, that you can migrate your Evernote notebooks to OneNote (which I recently did). As I type, I’m currently experimenting with OneNote – so I may end up switching after-all. Watch this space.

Tile (hardware and an app): One of the biggest fears travelers have is losing their luggage. I’ve experimented with different hardware solutions over the years (such as Bluetooth receivers on luggage belts) but they were all pretty hopeless. Then I discovered Tile. In short, a Tile is a small Bluetooth device which you can put in your suitcase (or in anything for that matter). Whilst Bluetooth has a limited range, the nice thing with Tile is that it crowd sources across it’s massive user base. So using a combination of Bluetooth and crowd sourcing, the app will give you a nice update as where your suitcase is.¬† It”s a comfort to know exactly where your suitcase is and, importantly, whether it made it to your destination. Highly recommended. Just make sure you go for the slightly more expensive Tile Pro which comes with a swapable battery. There’s a competitor to tile I’ve played with called TrackR – I don’t recommend it.

The Bellroy ‘all conditions essential pocket’

Cables/gadget case. I always travel with a small cable/gadget case. This goes with me everywhere (not just on planes). The nice thing with this case is that it’s small and compact. So ahead of sitting down on a long flight, I’ll take it out of my bag and keep it with me for the duration of the flight. One of my ‘things’ in life is wallets/cases. Specifically, compact ones. I love them. This case is from an Australian start-up called Bellroy. They are incredible. They may a range of compact, quality and elegant wallets all with outstanding industrial design.  This model is called the All Conditions Essential Pocket and I love it. It also includes a tiny/slim pen too. So perfect for completing immigration forms onboard.

Cables and gadgets:

I always travel with these items in my Essential pocket (pictured):

  1. Small Anker 5100MaH battery. This is enough to charge all smartphones at least once over.
  2. iPhone lightening cable: standard, with another length (important if you want to charge your iphone/ipad on the USB port on your seat).
  3. MicroUSB cable: again, a standard length.
  4. MicroUSB to type C adapter: connect this to your microUSB cable and you have a type C charge cable.
  5. 3.5mm phono to phono cable. Useful if you want to plug your headphones into the entertainment system onboard.
  6. Phono to two pin phono adaptor: to plug your headphone cable into the flight entertainment system.
  7. Two Kenu tripods (lightening adaptor and type C). These simply plug into the port of your smartphone and you instantly have a stand. Typically I’ll use them when I’m watching a film, show or podcast on my phone on the flight tray.
  8. Lastly a short combined microUSB cable with a lightening adaptor. Just in case.

Mu: fold-able UK travel charger : This gadget is great. It’s a UK 3 pin charger with 2 USB ports and folds up, making it easy to slip into your carry-on bag. It goes with me everywhere, and I can easily pull it out when I’m traveling through airports/lounges – plus it serves as my main charger when I’ve arrived. Highly recommend.

GUARD Worldwide Travel Adapter, 4 USB Ports Universal Travel Adapter International Power Adapter Plug Adapter Converter UK USA EU AUS Asia China Ireland Thailand 150+ Countries – Blue : I quite like this adapter as a solution to countries using different sockets to the UK. It also has the benefit of 4 USB ports.

The Bellroy Passport wallet – I never travel without it

Passport wallet: I use the excellent Bellroy passport wallet for carrying my passport. Bellroy is all about compact form factor wallets – and this wallet is no exception. In addition to carrying my wallet, I use it to carry my various airline cards – plus it can easily hold cash notes and boarding passes. It also comes with a tiny pen built  in – very handy for filing in immigration forms onboard.

Headphones: Generally, I will always travel with two sets of headphones. Firstly, a set of wired Sennheiser earbuds and secondly a set of over-ear noise cancelling headphones. In terms of my noise cancelling headphones , I’ve recently invested in the outstanding Bose Quiet Comfort 35 (series II). They aren’t cheap, but from my experience of buying a set of JVC headphones which literally fell apart – I’m hoping I’ll get what I paid for. So far so good. I’m very impressed with the audio quality and the sound cancellation is incredible.

VPN: Up until very recently I used the excellent VPN service called MyPrivateNetwork, but they sold out to a new company LeVPN (which haven’t been great). I also ran a VPN service on a Asus N66U router I hacked during my time overseas and the service was excellent. Additionally, I had it running on my various hardware when I was off the network. Why do I recommend a VPN service? Simple. Security. I’m generally slightly paranoid connecting to the internet through any local ISP (including the UK). In some countries, services such as WhatsApp might also be blocked. Secondly, a lot of services such as BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime and Netflix ‘geo fence’ their services. Essentially what that means is that you are often unable to access these services outside of the UK.

A VPN service routes your internet traffic securely through UK servers – and ‘tricks’ the service you are connected to into thinking it’s in the UK.  Most importantly though is that it’s a lot safer to connect to secure services such as banks etc via a VPN.  Most recently I’ve been testing a new VPN service called X-VPN. I’ve been impressed, it plays nicely with BBC iPlayer and NowTV. Just remember if you do have Amazon video or Netflix – disable any VPN service first.