Remember the days of internet cafés? Long-distance phone booths? Cumbersome paper maps and hefty travel books? It wasn't long ago that upscale hotels bragged about their ethernet sockets. Now you can pick up Wi-Fi in the Amazon rainforest.
When it comes to travel, the terrain has completely changed. With the right SIM card, you can theoretically FaceTime your mother from the Ganges River. You can live-stream your hike through the Andes Mountains. You can use Google Docs as your travel journal and never worry about leaving your memories on a Latvian bus.
But if you want to use all these wonderful tools, you have to be prepared. Just as it's easier to use a smartphone's GPS to guide you through exotic locales, it's also easier for your data to be stolen or your motherboard to fizzle.
Here are five tech tips for pro travelers.
1. Bring the Right Adaptors
By now, you would think someone had come up with a universal power outlet. Alas, each country has a different preference for sockets and voltage. If you show up in Germany with your regular three-prong cable, you'll be out of luck without an adaptor.
Luckily, these adaptors are very inexpensive, as long as you buy them at home. You can find a $5 attachment online, or you can swing by Home Depot and pick one up. Some devices double as batteries, so you can use their USB ports on the road to juice up your phone and tablet. Whatever you do, make sure to research the countries you'll be visiting and find out what they use.
2. Scan Important Documents
Getting in trouble in the U.S. is bad enough, but getting in trouble in another country is inherently worse. If you have ever seen an episode of "Locked Up Abroad," you've probably been scared straight about bad behavior in foreign countries. Some people don't even have to pick fights or smuggle contraband to end up in hot water; they just lose their most important documents.
Before you hit the road, remember to scan your passport and save it to a cloud service. If your passport is ever stolen, this simple precaution could save you many stressful hours at the American Embassy. When you visit a country that requires a separate visa, take a photo of this on your smartphone and save that as well. Visas and stamps can be vitally important, especially in nations that have a colorful relationship with yours.
Also, make sure that your cloud service is secure. Your passport is a very powerful document, and hackers would love to snatch your scanned pdf.
3. Get Your Own VPN
These days, a virtual private network is cheap and easy to access almost anywhere in the world. This is convenient, because you may need a VPN to use safe and unregulated internet.
Some countries, like China, restrict certain Western services like Google and Facebook. If you want to type a new status in Beijing, you'll need your own VPN to log on. This is standard practice in certain parts of the world where governments can be a little heavy-handed about what their citizens do online.
Another issue is hacking: Some of the most sophisticated hackers in the world live in places like Taiwan and Eastern Europe. If an identity thief can break into your account from 12 time zones away, you'll find yourself even more vulnerable when you're on his home turf. A VPN can help you fend those criminals off.
4. Protect Against the Elements
Waterfalls look gorgeous in postcards. Sand dunes look mysterious and enticing in wall calendars. Who could say no to the dark beauty of Scandinavia's fjords?
Well, all of these places will wreck your devices if you're not careful. Water and dust are definite tech-killers, and extreme temperatures can fry your machine.
If you anticipate being outside or having to deal with aggressive meteorology, remember to water- and dust-proof your gear. Sometimes this means buying Goretex-lined luggage and special zip-lock bags. Other times, it might mean a new Otterbox and a few extra trash bags.
5. Find Laptop Alternatives
Most modern business trips require a laptop. You'll probably need full access to your hard drive and regular programs, such as Excel and PowerPoint, in order to lead a successful meeting.
But if you're on vacation, you might consider leaving the laptop at home. Even the lightest and most versatile laptop isn't nearly as durable as a phone or tablet. Their battery life is comparatively brief, and an expensive Macbook Pro or Dell Latitude 12 makes you a prime target for thieves. Meanwhile, TSA may hound you about your laptop, whereas phones and tablets are generally left alone.
Nowadays, tablets pack all the entertainment you could possibly need, and you can find external keyboards for writing emails and doing basic digital chores.
The only downside is that tablets don't usually have USB ports, so it may be more difficult to download photos from a regular camera. This is tough for travelers who want to update albums right away. But if you're on vacation, consider waiting until you find a proper computer, or rely on your smartphone for pictures. The less expensive tech you take, the less you have to worry about it.