Tech? Or no tech?

As an early adopter of both home computer technology (Apricot xi back in 1985) and mobile phones (in 1995), you may think that I’m all for taking and using tech products whilst on the road. But the short answer to that is NO!

A laptop has been packed on just two occasions in the last fifteen years. The first was for a work trip around Aviemore and Aberdeen in the days of dial-up connections whilst the second was a case of needs must. A magazine deadline was approaching so the piece had to be written and sent before I headed off for the ferry to Orkney. The piece was written, sent and acknowledged on the day of the sailing, so I could rest easy and enjoy the next fortnight away.

That was in 2008 and since then, the iBook has been used at home, over lunch breaks at my old day job and at a couple of copy meetings over lunch down at Salt’s Diner, Salt’s Mill, Saltaire. I use it when Caroline’s using the Mac Mini desktop or when I need to download any photos from a camera before emailing them to myself so they can be picked up and used or forwarded to magazines or websites as the case may be.

It’s been interesting to see people in backpackers hostels or hotels sitting over their netbooks, laptops or tablets for whole evenings rather than getting out exploring the locality and what the nearby nightlife’s like. It’s been good to people watch on those occasions, just to see how often the faces move away from the screen and how many times these users speak to someone else. Or just grunt as the night wears on…

You can play the same game with smartphone users too – no matter how young or old they are. One ‘princess’ spent the length of a three course meal messing around with her iPhone last year rather than joining in with what was going on at what appeared to be a family event.

It’s got to the point at home now that we ask people to either switch their phones off or put them in the other room whilst we have a sit-down meal. That came about after a couple of family meals out where the under 30 blokes at the table spent more time messing about with their phones than they did eating…

I could go on griping, but there are more practical matters to take into account. Does the amount of kit you have mark you out as a thief magnet? Does your travel insurance provide enough cover for all eventualities should one or more pieces of tech stuff go AWOL or are damaged beyond repair?

Can you get a wi-fi signal in all of the places you need one – especially if your laptop is one of those which requires wi-fi in order for various programs to work at all? Is the wi-fi source a secure one? Can you trust it whilst you do your online banking for instance?

And that’s before you taking into account packing the piece of tech and protecting it from the elements. One other thing to consider is the compatibility of chargers, differences in electricity supplies and the availability of places to plug in and charge your piece of kit.

So what do we take with in the way of tech kit? A fully charged Kindle each and one charging lead plugged into an appropriate adaptor plus our Pentax and Nikon digital compact cameras and respective chargers. My Sony DSLR has been used in Cyprus, but it now stays at home as the shots from the Nikon are just as useful to illustrate any written work. And the Nikon can be slipped into a shirt or trouser pocket, something that the Sony can’t do.

I used to take my old talk and text phone with me on holiday, but that’s no longer the case. My phone stays at home so my trip can’t be interrupted by unimportant calls or stupid texts (one of an old boss’s specialities at 1am…). Caroline did take her smartphone with her to Portugal last year, but apart from a trio of texts to her youngest son, that was it. The phone didn’t work when trying to make calls, so we ended up using a hotel lobby phone or went in and talked to people instead.

And emails or web access? Again, most people are primed when we’re heading off, so emails have to be important ones. These are checked about once a week on lobby computers if they’re available and if they aren’t then so be it. Although I’ve been using the web since 1994, if there’s a weekend, week or fortnight that I don’t log on to check out websites, then it’s no big deal.

Last September’s web access in Portugal amounted to looking at weather forecasts on chained down iPads in a bar in Sagres and that was it. The forecast was for sunshine over the next couple of days. So how come we got drenched in a longer than average rain shower? Did we question the parentage of the forecaster whose material was on those iPads? Oh yes!

Will I get a tablet or a top end laptop to use whilst out and about to keep this blog on a roll when I’m away from base? I still don’t know the answer to that one yet. I’ve tried iPads and spoken to friends with them. I’ve tried the MacBook Air and spoken to Caroline’s youngest son who runs his business from one and I’ve tried a Kindle Fire too. I’m just not convinced by the necessity to buy any of these just yet. Reckon that I’ll still be using Moleskine paper notebooks on my travels for the foreseeable future. I’ve been using them for about fifteen years so far and if they’re good enough for Hemingway and Chatwin, then they’re good enough for me.

And whilst I’m on the subject of paper, I still take paper copies (or parts thereof in either cannibalised book or photocopied formats) of guidebooks when I head off. I’ve got a few guides on my Kindle, but I find that the paper version is still the most convenient to use, doesn’t attract that much attention in a street or cafe and doesn’t need charging up in order to work either! And I’m not the only one either as that question was posed on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree Forums recently and a few people came out in favour of using paper guides on the road.

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About Keith Rickaby

Fiftysomething writer and occasional photographer who has worked in the tailoring trade and the outdoor/travel clothing, equipment and footwear game. Past lives include working as an outdoor instructor, managing three bands and doing PR work through an agency or my own contacts. Was a student in the mid-90s and whilst I'm originally from the North East, I'm now firmly based in't Yorkshire...
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