Travelling with a smartphone, laptop, and DSLR is undoubtedly a huge upgrade from the days of scrapbooks, phone booths and postcards – it’s never been easier to keep tickets organised, book flights and hostels, take photos and write blog posts on the go. But with these first-world luxuries come a whole slew of first-world problems. Anyone who’s embarked on a backpacking trip will be familiar with these 5 common travel tech disasters. Read below to find out the best way to prepare yourself – so you don’t end up travelling in a techpocalypse.
1. iPhone Battery Dies / Smartphone Runs Out of Juice
It’s 3AM, and you’re exhausted. Your long-haul bus has just dropped you off at a regional bus station in the middle of nowhere, and there’s not a soul in sight. All you want to do is drop your bags and get a few hours sleep. You can’t remember the details of the hostel you booked in an internet café yesterday, but you’ve saved the booking email on your phone. Pulling out the phone you notice something blinking at the top of the screen – 1% battery! Panic sets in as you scramble to open your email, but suddenly the screen freezes and then goes black.
Sound familiar? This common tech crisis could be avoided with a spare battery – or even better, a portable phone charger – like this battery pack that fits in your pocket. Or if you’re camping and need to charge off-the-grid, you could try a solar powered charger, like these that can be found on Amazon.
2. No Wi-Fi
Today people rely more on public Wi-Fi than public toilets. If you somehow manage to end up in no man’s land without a connection, life can get tough, especially if you’ve been navigating using maps on your smartphone, or have tickets in an email.
A great tip is to search the maps for the areas you’re planning on visiting before you leave: this will cache the maps and you’ll be able to access them offline. Both Google Maps and Apple Maps will automatically cache areas you’ve viewed, and you can explore them offline with just a GPS connection.
You can save more details of an area for offline use with Google Maps. If you are using the new Google Maps on your phone, you can type ‘OK Maps’ into the search box to save the current view into the cache. Alternatively, you can open the search box and scroll to the very bottom; you should see the option ‘Make this map area available offline’.
As for the tickets, it’s a good idea to download them ahead of time, and store them in an app like Pocket, Worldmate or TripIt, or alternatively, a PDF viewer.
3. Losing Your Data
It’s almost a guarantee that on any extended trip you’ll have something stolen or damaged – your phone might be pick-pocketed, your bag snatched, your laptop gets wet, camera drops out a car window – no amount of insurance can bring back photos or words you’ve written. It’s important to back up everything you do across all your devices so you can keep memories for your grandkids.
Cloud storage is definitely the way to go if you’re in a place that has Wi-Fi. Dropbox, Google Drive, Onedrive – all have similar features and have free and paid versions depending on how much space you need. You can get them as apps for your computer and your smartphone/tablet. It’s a good idea to set up an automatic syncing whenever you connect to the internet so you have effortless peace of mind.
Of course, if you’re travelling somewhere with limited internet connectivity, or you don’t want your data floating around in cyberspace, nothing beats physical storage. Go for one or more small 64GB USB 3.0 flash drives like this one – its fast, convenient, and cheap.
If you’re still worried that your digital photos will never see the light of day, you could also send photos directly from your smartphone via snailmail to family back with Postagram – the app prints and sends your Instagram and Facebook photos anywhere in the world onto a postcard, for a small fee.
4. Losing Your Stuff
Here’s another familiar scene for the well travelled: you get back to your hotel and the place has been cleaned out, laptop, camera, jewellery, all gone. At the police station you have to fill out a dozen forms you don’t understand, and the police officers all but laugh at you when you ask if there’s any chance of getting your valuables back.
Until recently there was very little more you could do, but with the recent boom in crowdfunding and mobile technology, you might be able to track down your stolen items. Attaching something like Tile, a small plastic GPS tracker, to your phone or in your bag, lets you use your smartphone to locate it. You might not want to confront the thieves yourself, but it could be useful to show the police. Most smartphones and tablets also have a GPS tracker built in to them. Apple users can use Find my iPhone, and for Android users there is Android Device Manager – you can use any computer to log in and track it down.
If you want to take tracking to the next level, try out Prey Project on your smartphone or laptop. The program can record everything a thief is doing with your equipment, including taking screenshots or photos from the webcam. This can lead to hilarious results, but more importantly, may get you your stuff back!
5. No Friends
A problem we can blame on Gen Y backpackers, more and more travellers have their head in the Cloud and are permanently plugged in to their phones. Sometimes it can be difficult to establish a human connection, especially in a new city or new country. There’s nothing more disheartening than bunking in a room full of people who won’t look you in the eye unless its on a Skype call. But if you can’t beat them, you might have to join them. It’s now easier than ever to find people around you to meet up with.
Both Tinder and CouchSurfing have big networks worldwide and are easily accessible and give instant matches – and can be great to meet locals.
If you’re a frequent flier, Wingman promises to match you with people on your flight, so you can make a connection before you even get through airport security. Another promising app is Backpackr, which claims to be a one stop shop to meet other backpackers looking to see the sights or have a few local beers.