Three Pieces of Travel Tech Advice You Can Happily Ignore


Like most other travellers, I had no idea what I was doing when starting out. I bought an enormous, badly-made 90 liter backpack, filled it with nothing useful and hauled it uncomfortably round the world for the next three years.

I had more quick-dry shirts and pants than I knew what to do with – but nothing to wear to a bar in the European cities I was spending my time. The bottom of my pack was filled with film canisters, but I had no way to keep them dry or from being fried by X-ray machines. I didn't even have a bandaid when I cut my finger on a blunt knife in a Dublin hostel, never mind antibiotics for the nasty stomach bug I picked up in Kenya.

My tech choices weren't any better. On the advice of a friend, I bought an insanely-expensive digital camera back when they'd just come out, then spent far more time deleting photos than taking them when I couldn't afford any extra memory cards.

I had an ancient Nokia phone with me for a while, but gave up on it when it didn't work anywhere I needed it to. The slightly newer version that came on my next trip stopped working properly in the first week, despite the salesman's assurances it was the best thing out there for travel.

I've worn uncomfortable shoes for months, carried an unused sleeping bag around multiple continents and thrown out far more travel laundry soap than I've ever used.

When trying to figure out why my gear choices had been so bad, I came up with one common thread: I'd listened too much to other people, especially those with no real experience doing the same things I was. Opinions are like bellybuttons – everybody has one – but useful information is rarer. I've stopped taking most generic travel advice these days, and come up with my own way of doing things based on experience rather than theories. To that end, here are three common pieces of advice I completely disagree with -- and what I choose to do instead.

“Travellers Need Macbooks”

The number of Apple logos I see in hostel common rooms grows by the month. Pretty silver Macbooks are everywhere, and if you ask their owners why they're carrying one, they'll waste no time explaining why it really is the only sensible choice. They're apparently easier to use, more reliable, more sturdy and more everything-else-good-in-the-world, and travellers totally need them.

No, they don't. Most travellers don't need a laptop at all, since a phone or tablet can do whatever's necessary in a device much smaller and cheaper. For the few who genuinely do benefit from them, the same software, performance and reliability is available in Windows laptops costing far less.

Of course, you can easily find terrible Windows machines – anything under about £500 will likely fall into that category for travellers. Spend a bit more, though, and you can get something as good as a high-end Macbook without spending anything like the same kind of money.

My old Asus laptop cost £700 and spent three years on the road, surviving everything the tropics could throw at it and more.  I bought a new model from the same company a couple of months ago that is thinner, lighter and has better specifications than a Macbook Pro costing several hundred pounds more. End result? An incredibly fast and attractive laptop – and a much healthier bank balance than if I'd gone down the Apple route.



“You Have to Have an iPhone”

For a few years, if you wanted a good smartphone for travel, you bought an iPhone. The hardware was better than anything else, sure, but more importantly, most decent apps were only available for iOS. I once travelled with an iPhone 3G for several months and it was a great little phone, doing everything I needed and even surviving being kicked down a potholed Chiang Mai street when it slipped out of my hands one rainy night.

Now, though, the market has changed. Android phones dominate the sales figures, and have driven prices down and app support up. There are very few good travel apps you can't find on the Play store – and when you can't find your personal favourite, there's always an alternative.

You can buy a perfectly decent unlocked Android device for well under £150 that'll do almost anything you need it to, or a sub-£300 match for the latest iPhone models. I've been carrying a Nexus 5 for the last year, for instance, and couldn't be happier with it.

If you want an iPhone, by all means buy one – it's still a great phone, and if you've got the spare cash, you won't be disappointed. Just remember that you've now got plenty of other, cheaper choices as well.



“Only a DSLR Can Take Good Photos”

As in every other artistic field, it's skill, not equipment, that makes for great photos. A huge camera that costs thousands of pounds won't provide a better shot if you don't know how to use it – it'll just give you a sore neck by mid-afternoon.

As technology has improved, cameras have shrunk in size to the point where a mirrorless or good point and shoot can give very good results without changing any of the default settings.

In reality, you're unlikely to notice a difference between shots from a budget DSLR kit in automatic mode, and those from a premium point and shoot like the Sony RX100M III that fits in your pocket.

If you're still considering buying a DSLR for your trip, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to learn what to buy in terms of both body and lenses, and how to use them properly if you want to get the most out of your investment.

Of course, like any other travel advice, you're welcome to ignore mine as well – that's the great thing about other people's opinions! If so, I look forward to seeing you out there on the road, Macbook under one arm and DSLR under the other, looking stylish in a pair of those gorgeous brown quick-dry pants.....


by Dave Dean

Photo credit under Creative Common 1 2 3