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Technically less skilled travelers get questions such as: should I take my laptop with me on the road? How can I protect photos on memory cards? Is it safe to use web banking applications in public networks? Such and similar questions will get an answer with this article. At least I hope so :)

 

About taking laptop with us, we must firstly ask ourselves, for what purpose will we be using it. For basic surfing, booking hostels, attractions... 7-inch tablet or cell phone is completely sufficient. They’re also good enough for writing a mail or two. But there can be a problem if you want to write articles for some magazines, newspapers… In this case virtual keyboard on touch screens becomes a nightmare. On the other hand 10-inch netbook doesn’t solve this either. Keyboard is still unnaturally small and arms soon start to hurt. The most convenient is “normal” 15-inch notebook. But as much as it’s good for writing it's clumsy for carrying. I was challenged by this issue myself. Solution was 7-inch tablet with external wireless keyboard and mouse. Most of the tablets support USB on-the-go. Although many people are not aware, it’s possible to connect input devices to tablets with OTG cable the same way as to personal computers. Even more, to the other side of OTG cable we can connect USB hub which allows us to connect additional USB devices to our tablet (like external hard drive or memory card reader.)

Second important issue is security of your photos. The nightmare of it all happens if your camera with all photos get stollen the last day of your trip. Or if camera falls in the sea and destroys memory card (or fell from airplane - sounds like a joke but it happend to me already :)). Anyway, backups are always a good solution. I’m making it every couple of days. Usually I copy contents of memory cards just to tablet. Tools like Google Photos, Cloud Backup… automatically copy photos from device to memory locations in clouds. That way I keep three copies of photos. One on memery card, in tablet memory and somewhere in the internet. But when traveling long term we sooner or later get to the point when we ran out of memory on tablet. In such case I advise using additional memory cards and/or external drive. If you choose drive, make sure it is SSD. Those don’t have moving parts and are much more resistant to shocks. And shocks are something we should expect on the road.

Even more as photos is important security of personal data. Sooner or later you will have to sign in to your mail account. If you do so on your private computer you can expect no problems. But this doesn’t apply for using public computer (at cyber cafe, library...) On most of such computers (and believe me I’m not paranoid) are installed different tools for logging entered passwords. Luckily most of popular websites like gmail, facebook… support 2-step verification. This means that you have to enter also some time limited code in addition to username and password. You can set your account to receive this code to your phone by text message or using native mobile application for your device (like Google Autheticator.) In case you don’t have access to any of mentioned options, you can pregenerate a couple of codes that you can use only once. That way is achieved that anyone who gets your login data can’t use it again.

 

Next danger is sniffing network communication between network devices. Especially dangerous is using web banking applications when connected to public networks. Here it doesn’t matter if you’re using your own computer protected with thousands of passwords or the one in cyber cafe. When using web application a data is sent from out device to your bank servers. Someone who intercepts this data could perform similar transaction like we did. Special tools are used for such interceptions and are located somewhere in cyber cafe local network. It’s easy accessible and anyone who drinks one coffee can plant them. If it was more difficult we wouldn’t have access either. Solution is using VPN tunneling. Acronym stands for VIrtual Private Networking. The idea is to make a safe, encrypted channel between our computer and VPN server. And from VPN server further the communication will look like if we’re not using VPN. Long words short, anyone who will intercept communication between us and VPN server (entire cyber cafe network) will read only encrypted data which will be no use for him. Very popular tool for establishing VPN tunnels is TunnelBear. It offers 500MB of data transfer per month for free. I use it only when needed and it more than suits my needs. In other case, you can pay for more.

 

I remember the times when batteries of our cell phones lasted for a week or even more without recharging. But then came smartphones with wasteful touch screens which empty the battery in one day. Usualy we don't have many chances for charging while on road. Use of extra batteries or so called power banks is unavoidable. We can not be much smart here. Extra battery is charged and when the one in our phone gets empty, we can recharge it from this extra battery. Anyway I would like to point out some issues.

Batteries are much more sensitive piece of electronics as they seem. Difference between capacity of battery from renowned manufacturer and cheap chinese model from e-bay can rise above factor 10. First it should be noted that if someone is selling battery with capacity 50.000mAh, it can be only a mistake in description. But on e-bay you find over a million such for 15€ :) 50.000mAh = 50Ah is appoximatelly capacity of a battery in personal car. Although the technology differs - we use lead batteries in cars and in those power banks use Li-Po, but you can quickly get the idea something isn't right with numbers. In most cases you can find also data about how much energy (in Wh) this represents next to capacity. If you miltiply data in Wh with 5 (5V is USB output voltage) you should get the value of capacity in Ah. If values don't match, the fraud is proven.

When choosing power bank capacity we must take in consideration thre capacity of battery of device we want to charge. We find this data in device manual. Because you probably threw it away already, google will find it instead of you. Let's say we have a cell phone with capacity 2,000mAh and tablet with 4,000mAh and decide to buy to buy power bank with 10,000mAh. In ideal conditions that would mean we could charge tablet once, plus 3 times phone. Or tablet twice and phone once. In reality nothing is so nice. While charging our devices will heat up a little. It means some part of energy will get lost as heat. Let's say we can expect we'll be able to use 90% of full capacity. Also the capacity will decrease with aging. Even when our new battery will wait in a backpack for it's first use, it will discharge slightly. But what are nthe numbers in practice? I use Yoobao power bank which is compromise between renowned manufacturer and cheap shit. Capacity is 16,000mAh. After a couple of months of use I can charge tablet (3,950mAh) once and phone (1,700mAh) 4 times.

Here is also the list of useful applications for smart devices that are worth to mention:

  • MAPS.ME - very useful offline maps (also with gps guiding)
  • Snapseed - photo editing tool
  • XE Currency - useful when negotiating for price or exchanging currencies. Also works in offline mode (of course exchange rates are not updated while offline)
  • Triposo - electronic travel guide. With exception of maps part works well in offline mode.
  • Duolingo - interesting application for learning foreign languages.

 

Last update: 2/19/2017



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