TRAVEL TECH: A Gadget Girl's Guide To Packing


As a journalist specializing in travel, I pack and unpack for dozens of trips a year. As a result, I’ve learned a thing or two about packing smarter, packing less, and traveling with travel technology.

Clothes are easy: Two pants. Two shoes. Four shirts. Something dressy. Fleece for cold. Layers for hot. Outerwear for wet. Quick-dry everything. A wrap for the airplane. 

Toiletries, too, are a no-brainer: Travel-sized liquids refilled or still packed from the last trip. Nothing over 3-ounces. Nothing sharp. Done. 

But when it comes to gadgets, things get more complicated. Cords. Cables. Batteries. Back-ups. Hard drives. iPod. Smartphone. Laptop. Memory cards. More memory cards. It’s too easy, and so frustrating, to head off without the essential bits that make the gizmos go. 

For Gadget Girls (and guys) on the go, here are a few techie travel tips and must-pack recommendations. 

1. A SMARTPHONE.How the heck did we manage before smartphones? Seriously.

From essential contacts, flight itineraries, confirmation numbers, and access to online check-in and banking, to alarm clock reminders, currency conversion, language translation, and GPS navigation…on the road or at home, a smartphone (or contract-free iPod Touch) is every geek’s best friend.

But without a charge, it’s useless. Don’t forget your phone’s charge cord. And if you’re traveling internationally, be sure to purchase, and pack, the foreign outlet adapter kit for your smartphone model. 

*Techie travel tip #1:To help me remember not to leave essential cords plugged into hotel room outlets, I carry an index card with the reminder ‘DON’T FORGET TO CHECK FOR CHARGE CORDS’ written on it. This simple, low-tech solution has saved me more times than I should admit.

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2. PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT. While increasing numbers of travelers are electing to use their smartphone cameras for vacation photos, there are a few of us still toting some serious hardware. 

In my case, I carry two Canon DSLR camera bodies, 3 lenses, a flash, and a waterproof point-and-shoot in a Lowepro Stealth Reporter camera bag. And to my eternal angst, nearly each piece of equipment requires its own set of accessories: Batteries. Battery chargers. Media storage devices. 

For a visual checklist of your photographic equipment, lay out your full kit, grouping each camera body with its related accessories, and shoot a reference photo on your smartphone. Now you’ll have an easy-to-access picture of everything you need to pack.  

*Techie travel tip #2: Not only is this photographic visual helpful when packing, or repacking, but it’s also a great way to document your equipment should you need it, god forbid, for an insurance claim or trouble at customs.

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3. LAPTOP VS TABLET. Someday soon I’ll probably be able to substitute an iPad, or other tablet device, for my laptop, but not yet.

As a photojournalist working from the road, the main advantages of a laptop - larger storage capacity and ability to connect external devices using the USB ports -  still outweigh the size and convenience of an iPad.

But as with all electronic devices, traveling with a laptop means carrying extras: Power cord. Display adapters. Flash drives. Ethernet and USB cables. Etc. For keeping it all in order, I use the Grid-It organizer by Cocoon, an ingenious grid weave of rubberized elastic bands to hold digital devices and small objects in place. 

*Techie tip #3: Amidst the rush and confusion at airport security, it can be easy to walk away without your laptop. Should the unthinkable happen, make it easy for TSA to track you down by taping your business card with contact info to the body of your computer. I tape my contact info to every electronic device I carry.

What are your favorite packing tips? I'd love to hear them.

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Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog YourLifeIsATrip.com and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".