Road Warriors: The Essential Gadgets
Life on the road can be difficult for a variety of reasons, and gadget headaches can only add to the stress. Though devices are constantly reducing their proportions, mobility has not changed in many aspects. Even smartphone batteries tend to deplete after a day of normal use, and if you don’t have a charger handy, you’re out of luck.
There are, however, some specialty solutions that can help a frequent flyer, hiker or road warrior use technology without worry. These extras usually focus on solving core problems, like how to power a laptop in a car, or how to print from a hotel room. Here’s everything you need – and perhaps a few things you don’t.
Power is the number one problem for frequent travelers. At the very least, you’re likely to have a smartphone and a laptop; many people have other devices like portable printers, GPS units, and etc. How can you power them all?
Those who travel by car will want to look into a power inverter, a rather old gadget which turns a 12-volt cigarette lighter into a multi-purpose AC outlet (or DC, depending on where you live). They come in various shapes and sizes, from basic bricks to models designed to fit in a cupholder. An inverter with USB charging ports is your best bet because it will let you leave bulky AC/DC adapters at home.
Travelers who often end up in a hotel will want to check out miniature travel power strips instead, like this Belkin 3-outlet mini travel swivel charger with surge protection and dual USB ports. This simple device will make managing your devices much easier because you can power everything from one outlet instead of roaming around the room, plugging in devices wherever you can.
A few readers might wonder what they can do if central power isn’t available . A solar charger is the best answer. Though expensive, and often bulky, this is the only way to reliably obtain power off the grid. Be warned, though, that solar chargers do not charge quickly, usually charge one device at a time, and rarely deliver enough juice to charge a device (even a smartphone) while it’s powered on.
A wireless hotspot is the typical starting point for those who don’t want to hope a WiFi signal is nearby. Hotspots are available from almost all major mobile data carriers, though pricing for both the hotspot and the plan can vary greatly.
The iPhone has had the ability to act as a hotspot since the iPhone 4, and most Android phones can do the same, but this feature generally has to be unlocked by your carrier or hacked in by using a jailbroken iPhone or rooted Android . Smartphone tethering is convenient because it means you don’t need to carry around a hotspot, but it also drains the battery rapidly, which will be a problem for who want to go all day without recharging.
While most travelers seek the widespread availability of mobile data, a few will find themselves in a situation where wired or wireless Internet is available but mobile data is not. In this case, Internet connectivity can be extended to phones and tablets from a laptop. You can do this via hardware, using a PCMCIA card or USB adapter with hotspot capability , or do it via software with a tool like Connectify or Virtual Router .
The final, most extreme option is mobile satellite Internet. Though available, I frankly have no experience with it, as it’s a specialty service that often costs thousands of dollars to install. Most people won’t be able to afford this solution, and it’s generally targeted at businesses working in extreme environments and owners of private jets.
In this category the good ole’ GPS unit is the obvious champion. Yes, phones now have GPS functionality built in, but it won’t work for navigation if mobile data isn’t available because smartphones retrieve map data from the Internet instead of storing it internally. A dedicated GPS does store map data, so it always works.
You can work around this by purchasing a GPS app like those from Garmin and Magellan [No Longer Available]. These are usually priced between $40 and $50 and are a good alternative to a dedicated unit. But remember; using your phone in this way will drain the battery quickly.
The vehicular models have big touchscreens and the best road data, while handheld versions are built for durability and tend to provide more data on local terrain and walking paths. Hikers might want a aterproof unit, too.
Printing & Scanning
A mobile printer is perfect for creating a document in a pinch. There are many models, from the relatively affordable Canon PIXMA iP100 to the much more expensive Brother PocketJet 6 Plus, which uses thermal paper to print documents without the need for ink. Prices tend to go up as size goes down, and the smallest models (like the PocketJet 6) are usually at least $300. While all of these printers will do the job, don’t expect them to work wonders; most print slowly and image quality isn’t on par with larger hardware. Thermal printers, which are the smallest available, can’t do color.
Scanners are a bit more affordable, with most coming in between $90 and $200 dollars. Brother’s DS-600, which is less than $100 on Amazon, is a good example of what mobile scanners can do. They can only scan documents one at a time, of course, and most support a resolution of 600 pixels per inch. I recommend looking for a USB model, as it will be easier to use on the go.
You may not even need a scanner, however. Modern smartphone cameras are extremely good and apps like CamScanner can easily convert a photo of a document into a .PDF file. This won’t be a great option if you need to scan a photo or a document with extremely small text, but it otherwise should work well enough, and is much more affordable.
If you’re traveling by car you’ll almost certainly have to think about mounting your gadgets. Having all of the above isn’t of much help if you can’t use them with ease.
The most basic mount to consider is a car mount. My personal favorite is a universal one-touch mount like the iOttie and TaoTronics TT-SH02. These are easy to use, inexpensive, compatible with almost all phones, and don’t require that anything be permanently attached to your phone or car. There are also tablet mounts like the Exogear ExoMount that work the same way.
Mounts for laptops are a bit more complicated and expensive (most are between $100 and $200), but they do exist. Mobotron, RAM Mounting and TaoTronics all make laptop stands, and they’re all installed by bolting under the passenger seat. Unfortunately, these mounts take a few minutes to attach or remove and can reduce space in the passenger area.
Not every moment spent traveling will be devoted to work and productivity. Indeed, many people simply want to be able to stay connected while enjoying a vacation. And there are a few gadgets that are particularly handle for pleasure seekers on the move.
Frequent flyers will want to back a pair of noise-cancellation headphones. Though once a premium feature, noise cancellation can now be found in affordable cans like the Audio-Technica ATH-M30 and Sony MDR-NC7. Those who don’t want the bulk of traditional headphones should instead look at in-ear headphones with the same feature.
Those who’d like to enjoy movies or games on a notebook, but don’t like the small display, might want a second monitor. There are several options on the market like AOC’s 16-inch USB monitor and HP’s 15.6” portable LCD.
Another top choice for portable entertainment, albeit a more unusual one, is the Wii. Besides its affordable price, the Wii is built to work well with older (i.e. not high definition) displays via component cables, an invaluable trait for anyone who frequents not-so-expensive hotels.
Trying to stay connected while traveling can be difficult at times, but these gadgets will help road warriors stay in touch. And most don’t even cost that much; with a few exceptions, most of these helpful add-ons can be purchased for well less than $100.
Are you a road warrior yourself? Then let us know what you’ve found helpful in your own travels by leaving a comment below.