Whether you're headed to Bali or Belgium, a good holiday can become a great one with the addition of a few tech items to your suitcase. Here's how to tech yourself to paradise in a few easy steps.
So you've shelled out for the ticket and saved like mad, and you're counting down the days until you can flee your grey-tinged existence to embark upon the adventure of a lifetime. Before bidding farewell to your nearest and dearest over several pints of ale, you'll need to get your packing list sorted.
Should it stay or should it go?
Being gadget enthusiasts, we salivate over the notion of carting a full-blown arsenal of tech toys on our travels. However, if you'll be trekking in the Himalayas accompanied by only a backpack and a desire for self-discovery, you won't want to be doing so with a hefty laptop in tow.
What to pack depends on a number of factors: where you're headed, how long you'll be away for and how addicted you are to Facebook, Twitter or obsessively checking email. Then there's the cost considerations — for example, communication with the folks back home can cost a pretty penny when you're roaming via your home mobile network.
Here's our breakdown of what is essential and what should be left behind. This list is geared more towards your intrepid traveller than a businessperson who'll be getting cushy in five-star hotels, but even those seated at the pointy end of the plane could benefit from a little simplification.
A definite travel staple; how else will you bore people to death with slideshows upon your return? Just make sure you load up on memory cards, or upload your pics frequently — you don't want to run out of room at a crucial moment, or, worse, lose the memories if your cam is lost or stolen.
To capture landscape snaps that you'll want to frame, swot up on our travel photography tips before you depart.
It doesn't matter whether you roam from home or buy a dirt-cheap prepaid handset at your destination — just make sure you have a phone. It's a communication device, it's a contact database for all of the new and interesting people you'll meet and its alarm function will ensure you don't miss your flight back home.
If you're going continent hopping, you'll want it to be quad band. If you plan to stay put for a while, prepaid is the go.
For more on phone options, read on to the Phones: should you roam? page.
MP3 player with video playback
These babies are indispensable for those times when you're stranded in transit and bored out of your skull. If you nab a model that supports MTP data transfer, you can back-up your photos and store digital versions of important documents.
The iPod Touch is an excellent choice for travellers. It's very thin, it has a luscious screen for video and the inclusion of Google maps, a calendar, a web browser and Wi-Fi make it an all-round winner.
If you're not a fan of packing multiple devices that will also need separate chargers and/or batteries, then consider a smartphone that can do all of what we listed above and more.
Smartphones have GPS capability, so you can avoid getting lost in the maze that is Venice, a digital camera to snap those memorable moments, go surfing in the virtual world that is the web, play games when your flight has been delayed and, depending on what apps you have installed on your phone, it can be a torch to light your path in a dark dorm room, be your guide book and so much more.
There are, however, a number of downfalls. One is that they will consume battery life if you use all of the phone's features, so it won't be suitable if you're trekking in the Himalayas. On average, a phone will need to be charged every night if you use it as an MP3 player, making calls and surfing the web. Secondly, you're limited to your phone's storage, without much hope of simply swapping the memory card when you run out of room.
(Credit: CNET Australia)
Your MP3 player allows you to stay entertained, but what if you meet a bunch of raucous Swedish backpackers and need to have an instant party in room 304 of Backpacker Palace? A set of battery-powered speakers will allow you to pump up the jam and dance until dawn. Or at least until you're forcibly removed from the premises following noise complaints, and told to never return.
While some MP3 players, such as the iPod Touch, have built-in speakers, sound quality is pretty shonky. Owners of a music player will be well served by X-mini's Max v1.1 Capsule Speaker , a compact, egg-shaped speaker with an in-built battery that is charged via USB.
A combo USB key/card reader
These nifty little USB devices have a slot on the side that accepts multiple memory card types. Pack one and you'll be able to drop into an internet cafe, plug it into a PC and upload a slew of photos to sites like Facebook, Flickr and Picasa, just to name a few.
A combo solar charger
A solar charger will give all of your electronic devices some much-needed juice, and will come in handy no matter where you are, such as Wireless Power Starter Kit. Unless, of course, you're travelling to a country that only gets the midnight sun, such as Svalbard, Norway, for a number of months.
Solar chargers will be especially handy to those who plan to travel where there will be no power source at hand. The Backpack Solar Panel may come in handy to hikers and campers: it can be attached to your backpack, and it generates 6 volts of electricity, so it can charge most electronic devices as you traverse the wilderness.
These days, we have a device for just about everything, and having to remember to pack each charger does weigh down your luggage. There are numerous chargers out there that will charge via USB or AC outlet for your phone, tablet, laptop, camera — you name it.
Before you add your laptop and bulky charger to the packing list, take a moment to assess whether you'll really need it. Granted, a notebook can be handy for storing holiday snaps, composing those poetic travel blog posts and taking advantage of free hotel Wi-Fi in those early hours of jetlag-induced insomnia. But consider the practicalities.
If you pack your lappy in your carry-on bag, you'll need to remove it at every airport security checkpoint for x-ray scanning. It will add a few kilos to your luggage, which may be the difference between a full suitcase and a few hundred dollars in excess baggage-weight fees when you finally head home. Then there's the security issue — holidays are for relaxing, which is hard to do when you're worrying whether your hardware will get nicked.
If you simply cannot live without a computer, consider investing in a netbook or tablet for your travels. These are compact, feather-light and in some cases much cheaper than a full-sized notebook. If you get a solid-state version rather than a hard-drive one, you'll also reduce the risk of losing your data should any blunt trauma occur.
If you still find it hard to decide, then read our feature on Tablet or netbook?
Some may see this as a controversial choice — in the age of YouTube, surely you'd want to shoot a bunch of footage and edit it into a scintillating visual diary upon your return? Well, maybe, but one downside of being a cam-toting traveller is that you tend to spend your holiday seeing the sights via an LCD screen, instead of with your own sparkling eyes.
If you feel you can resist the temptation to film everything — thereby missing out on a proper travel experience — then by all means pack the camcorder. If you're looking to save space, Sony's Bloggie Duo is a minuscule camcorder that allows you to easily record scenery and yourself in 720p resolution. The downer is that it it's fine to view in small sizes, like a computer screen, but not good on a large HDTV. For more camcorder options, have a look at our selection of the best pocket camcorders.
Of course, the vast majority of still cameras are capable of capturing video, so you can always record a short clip on your digicam if you suddenly find yourself in a scene that must be recorded to be believed. The Olympus XZ-1 and Canon PowerShot S95 are some examples of compact cameras that can capture video in high definition. For more serious photographers who prefer dSLRS, there are the Canon EOS 600D and the Nikon D7000, which can record in full HD video (1080p).