If you are out and about these days then chances are you in need of charging your smartphone, tablet and other mobile devices. I travel for a living so I figured I would share the four ways that I keep everything charged when I’m on the go:
The external battery that’s in my pocket
The 2nd Gen Anker Astro 6400 mAh is a great external battery to keep on your person. I love it because it has a smooth surface with no buttons to accidentally get pressed while it’s on my pocket. It change charge my iPhone 6 Plus up to 1.5 times.
Having just returned from 3 weeks in the Asia Pacific region and a week in Europe a month ago I definitely have some new tips for travelers and those that travel with electronic gear or camera gear. The first thing that most travelers with tech will be concerned about is charging your devices in route and charging them once you get to your destination.
Charging in the air
More and more long haul flights are providing USB power at every seat. If you’re in an Economy Plus seat you may even have a regular AC outlet as well which would be great for charging a laptop or tablet. It goes without saying that Business Class/First Class seats almost always have both regular AC power and USB power ports at every seat. Before you get too happy about the USB power port be aware that it is more than likely a 5v port and therefore may not charge a tablet (ie. iPad).
What if you don’t have power at your seat?
If you are on an older aircraft or crappy airline then chances are you’re not going to have power at your seat. This is where you’ll probably rely on bringing a backup battery. There are dozens and dozens of different backup battery models out there. I have recently standardized on Anker products for my charging needs. Their products are quality built and reasonably priced. I have a couple of their models.
The one I now carry on my person is the Anker 2nd Generation Astro 6400 mAh portable charger. This one can charge my iPhone 6 Plus almost two times on a single charge. I love how it has round edges and no external buttons. This makes it great for a pocket without having to worry about accidentally turning it on.
The one that I carry in my bag is the Anker Astro E7. This is the mother of all backup batteries for your mobile devices. It has a whopping 25600 mAh battery capacity with 3 ports 4A. It can charge an iPhone 6 Plus or Galaxy S6 over 6 times. An iPad twice. This means that I can use this battery for several days before needing to charge it.
It’s 2015 and while Delta has the largest WiFi equipped fleet it’s still pretty rare to find a long haul (over the ocean) flight with WiFi. As a matter of fact I was coming back from Amsterdam earlier this year on a Delta 747 and I was shocked to see that I had access to GoGo Inflight WiFi for the entire 10 hour trip! Unfortunately this is more of an exception than a rule. Delta is ahead with half of their long haul flights equipped with fast (much faster than domestic 3G speeds) satellite WiFi. When it comes to other airlines like Qantas, Air New Zealand, AirFrance, Singapore Airlines, etc. WiFi isn’t something that they are aggressively adding. In fact when I had a Twitter exchange with Qantas they said they did a trial 3 years ago and there wasn’t much interest. Keep in mind that it was 3 years ago and they were charging by the kilobyte. I would imagine that there wasn’t much interest at that time with something that was likely way overpriced. No one wants to pay by the kilobyte/megabyte. GoGo has the right approach in charging a flat fee for an hour or the entire flight.
I was way more productive with 10 hours of WiFi than my last flight coming home, a combined 18 hours of flight time without WiFi. If you’re expecting to get work done on a long flight be sure you’re doing things that don’t require an internet connection. With that said I can also settle the online debate of watching an iTunes rented movie with no internet connection in the air. If you rent AND download an iTunes rental on an iOS device BEFORE you board the flight. You CAN start and watch the movie WITHOUT an internet connection in the air. This wasn’t the case when iTunes rentals first hit the scene. They required a brief connection to the internet when you hit the play button to authorize the movie. Thankfully that wasn’t the case with the movie I watched on my iPad. While you can certainly watch/listen to entertainment, things like social media are out of the question without a connection.
Once you land and get to your hotel or place you’re staying at you’re probably going to want to plug stuff in and charge. Luckily most if not all modern day electronics have power supplies that handle the higher voltage of international outlets (220-240v). The main issue will be adapting the plug to the wall outlet. I used to be a fan of universal adapters that allowed one adapter to plug into multiple kinds of outlets. This used to be my favorite:
However, I’ve been frustrated in some cases with older outlets. These large universal adapters often are simply too heavy and fall out of older, looser wall sockets. On my last trip I used specific adapters for each country. In most cases you will only need three of these:
What I like out these single adapters is that they are much more reliable in just about any situation (older wall socket, power strips, etc.) and the newer design allows you to plug in two things.
Most countries have taxis, buses, subways and trains or least some combination of them. If I’m new to the area I’m rarely brave enough to take the train/subway because I fear getting lost. Believe it or not I’m very directionally challenged. I did use the subway in Milan to get to the EXPO because it was a single train and a direct shot. Most of the time I’d normally rely on taxis. However, with a taxi there are issues of either having enough cash in the local currency or having a compatible credit card. In some places all the taxis take cards and in others like Hong Kong they look at you like you’re crazy if you try to pay with a card. This is why I’ve gained a new respect and love for Uber. Uber was available in every country/city I visited and it took the pain out of getting around. Now I had one app on my iPhone that allowed me to summon a car whenever I wanted to. The service was consistent and since your credit card is on file with Uber there are no awkward payment issues at the end of the ride. Uber worked great everywhere I went. The only odd thing was that in Hong Kong even though I would enter the destination in the App they would always ask me where I wanted to go. I could see it on the map on their smartphone on the dashboard, but I still had to restated it each time. Speaking of putting the destination in the Uber App this also cuts down on the potential language barrier. Often in Paris the driver barely spoke English and having the destination in the Uber App made it much easier to get to where I was going.
Using ATMs and Credit Cards
My corporate card for expenses is an American Express card. While this is pretty much accepted everywhere in the US these days, it’s hit or miss in other countries and especially at smaller merchants. Hotels, no problem, but trying to use American Express at shops and cafe’s will usually result in you pulling out a different card. Visa and Master Card are accepted everywhere that cards are accepted, but you should make sure that your card is a newer one outfitted with a “chip”. The EMV chip that you’re probably seeing on all your new credit cards is pretty standard outside the US and will be a standard here by the end of the year. Some of the overseas merchants can’t process your card if it doesn’t have the chip. This is for your protection too as cards with chips are less likely to be spoofed/hacked. This will be even more the case for automated payment systems such as parking garages and train stations. My ATM Debit card doesn’t have the chip yet but I’ve yet to have a problem withdrawing money at BANK ATM machines. It’s also a good idea to alert your bank that you’re going to be out of the country so they don’t flag your transactions as fraud.
Yes Apple Pay works too in many places, but not all. I was able to use Apple Pay in most places in Paris.
As a matter of fact I never realized how happy I’d be to use Apple Pay until I had to use the rest room in Milan and it was a pay toilet. I had no change!
Lastly while we’re on the subject of credit cards, it’s a good idea to remove any cards that you know you’re not going to use abroad before you leave home. Only take the credit cards that you know you’re going to use, your driver’s license, health insurance card and of course you’ll need your Passport. This way if your wallet is stolen the damage will be minimized.
Making calls and texting
International roaming is notoriously expensive. While I’m grandfathered in to an old AT&T plan for unlimited international data (I know right!), calls by the minute are still expensive and international SMS (text) messages are crazy expensive. I rarely make calls on my iPhone when I’m traveling but when I do I do it using data instead. In iOS if I’m calling another iOS user I can simply use FaceTime Audio. If not I can use either Vonage or Skype. Of course FaceTime and Skype can also be used for video calls. iMessage uses data instead of cellular for text messages between iOS users. When I want to text non-iOS users I typically use WhatsApp Messenger. This cross platform App lets you text, send photos, etc, just like SMS/MMS messages without using your expensive international text messaging rates. If you find a WiFi hotspot to use then all of the above can be done for free.
Getting through airport security with your gear
I get really frustrated by international airport security. If you think TSA is a hassle in the US, wait the you go abroad. On the plus side you’ll likely be able to keep your shoes on in most places, but when it comes to your belt and electronics be prepared to pretty much empty your bag. Things that can usually stay in your bag in the US like your iPad and camera, almost always have to come out at international airports. If the xray operator sees anything resembling a gadget or wad of cables you will be taking that stuff out and sending your bag back through. You can also forget leaving your laptop in a TSA approved bag. It will need to come out. Your camera and more often than not even your lenses will need to come out too. Empty your pockets. If you walk in prepared to do all of this then you will get through faster.
In this day of online checkin and electronic boarding passes one of the last things you’ll probably think about is having a printed itinerary. I know I didn’t used to think about having any printed documents until the one time I was coming back from India and the armed airport guard wasn’t going to let me into the airport without one. After much pleading I was able to convince him to look at the one on my iPhone. I knew from that point on to have a printed itinerary for every international trip. While you’re at it make a copy of the picture page of your passport and put it in every piece of luggage you have.
The 5 Most Useful Apps When Traveling Internationally
These are the 5 Apps that were the most useful during my travels:
FlightTrack 5 is my favorite flight management tool. I loaded all my flights in before heading out and the app kept me updated on delays and more importantly for international travel which terminal I’d be departing from in each country.
When you’re in a different country then chances are the prices you see in stores, restaurants, etc. will be in the local currency. XE Currency provides a great view of multiple currencies all at once. You can easily swap between any currency you want to be the main currency.
Unless you’re bi-lingual you will probably encounter someone you need to communicate with that speaks very little of your native tongue. Speak & Translate is hands down the best audible language translator app that I’ve seen to date.
When I was in Hong Kong it was raining most of the time. The standard built-in iOS weather app just wasn’t accurate enough to let me know what time the rain would clear for me to go out and shoot. On the other hand Accuweather was very very accurate giving me the most accurate times of day when there would be no rain.
Travel is constantly evolving. It’s fun going to new places and seeing different cultures. Once you solve the typical connectivity issues I addressed above then you can concentrate on having a good time and enjoying the trip. I would also recommend keeping a pen on your person especially on flight days to fill out customs forms and a small travel umbrella is a must have depending on where you’re headed. Every hotel I stayed in had in-room safes that are free to use. I recommend that you store any valuables and gear that you’re not going to be using before you head out sightseeing. Safe travels and sound off in the comments if you’ve got any questions. I hope my tips for traveling internationally help you out.
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If you’ve been following this blog then, you know I got an Apple Watch on day one 4/24/2015. I also bought an extra charging cable that could remain in my suitcase for travel. I take my Apple Watch off every night and put it on the charger for the night. I hate wearing any kind of jewelry when I sleep and even if Apple Watch never needed to be charged I would still take it off every night. I knew from day one that I would want a charging stand to put it on. Even before Apple Watch shipped there were companies showing their stands and I was shocked by the price of some of them. Let me explain why. An Apple Watch charging stand has NO ELECTRONICS in it. It’s simply a stand that you supply with your charging cable and it gives you place to simply lay your Apple Watch on and because of the magnetic charging cable it would simply float there on the stand. The stands are usually made of plastic, metal or wood. For something that has no electronics I couldn’t believe what some companies were charging for theirs. For example, this one goes for a whopping $99! Granted it’s made of walnut, but still that seems like a lot of money for a small piece of wood. I don’t mind spending money on engineering and R&D, but the only thing to really figure out with these is to make sure the hole is the right size to hold the Apple charging cable. The first one I got was by Spigen and it’s OK. It works. However, for just $5 more you can have the BEST one.
I ordered three different models including one that I had 3D printed from a design I downloaded from the web and I’m happy that I found the Griffin Technologies WatchStand. It’s by far the best one I’ve seen for the money. Like most of the others, there are no electronics in it and you need to supply your own Apple Watch charging cable. However, unlike most of the others the design is well thought out and provides great cable management and most importantly great weight at the base. There is no way that this one will tip over (a common problem with the plastic ones, like the one I 3D printed). I also really like the “lip” on one side that allows you to easily lean your iPhone up against it. While there are more expensive models that actually have a lightning adapter in them for your iPhone/iPad, the lip is all that I needed. Sometimes I grab my iPhone in the middle of the night to check messages and if I had to look for the dock to set it back on in the dark it would be a nuisance. With this one I can leave the lightning cable attached to the iPhone and just lean it back on the stand when I’m done.
The center column detaches so that you can wrap any excess cable inside. You can also face the center column in a different direction. For example, I wanted to lean my iPhone on the side vs. the front. I was worried about those that have Apple Watches that have bands that can’t open, how would you use this stand. Then I saw this shot on their website and it became clearer:
If you’re an Apple Watch owner and you want the Best Apple Watch Stand for the money, then look no further than the WatchStand by Griffin Technologies.
Last year I wrote a post called "International Power" and the purpose of that post was to recommend adapters and accessories that you might use when you travel abroad. Since that time though I have been experimenting with different solutions and have just about completely revamped my list of travel adapters and plugs. The first goal was to reduce the amount of adapters needed and the second goal was to accomodate the ever increasing number of mobile devices that I'm traveling with. Since my job now not only involves showing Adobe Creative Suite on the desktop, I now show tablet and mobile apps on both iOS and Android devices too. On my current trip I'm traveling with a MacBook Pro, iPad 2, iPhone 4, Motorola Atrix and Motorola Xoom. Not to mention a Nikon D7000 DSLR, iPod nano watch and camera GPS device. That's a LOT of batteries to keep charged each night. One of the other big problems is that many hotel rooms can have as few as one single accessible AC outlet for you to use! Here is my current crop of adapters and gadgets to accomodate charging and powering on the go.
The Universal Adapter
All of my devices either can accomodate the higher voltages in other countries or charge via USB. Therefore I only need a couple of "adapter" plugs to adapt the US prongs to the sockets of foreign outlets. The one above is one of my new favorites. I like it because the prongs fold into it so that they don't protrude in your bag. I typically have at least two of these in my suitcase to leave in the hotel while I'm out and about and one in my computer bag for meetings and presentations.
I don't want to have to adapt every single charger to a foreign plug and as I mentioned you may not even have the luxury of multiple outlets in the room. So just like at home I would love to use a power strip that plugs into the Universal Adapter above. This Power Strip not only works on US current and the higher European 220v outlets. Also the plugs work for both US and European based prongs.
Another common problem is that the single available power outlet in the room may be located across the room. This is when I pull out my retractable extension cord. Granted it's only 5' long, but it can make all the difference in the world.
My phones, camera GPS and iPod watch all charge via USB. Therefore I can get away with one of these multiple USB charging devices. Yes they work on the higher 220v current too and deliver standard USB power to up to 4 devices simultaneously and yes I've charged 4 devices at once without issue.
While the iPad will charge over standard USB, it will do so at a slower rate. In this case I always travel with an iPad 10W adapter to charge the iPad/iPad 2 at top speed. This adapter also works at the higher voltages.
Since the only available outlet in the hotel room is sometimes behind furniture or across the room it may be necessary to have longer USB and iDevice cables. I found some nice long ones here.
The Bottom Line
When I have all these things plugged into a single outlet, it's not pretty! However, it works. I can easily charge 6 devices without any problem. It definitely cuts down on the number of little adapters I have to carry and I don't have to worry about not having enough of the right adapters for the country I'm in .
The other night I was walking through my house and the lights were off, but I was amazed by the number of things that have LED lights that are on all the time. I like to sleep in a TOTALLY DARK ROOM. I've gone as far as putting black tape over some of the most annoying LED lights in my bedroom. In most cases these LEDs are used to tell you the current status of the device. For example, on the TiVO Premiere a red LED comes on when it's recording something. A blue one comes on when it's transferring a show from from another TiVo. However, there's a green LED that's on all the time that simply means the device is on and has power. Since you never turn a TiVo OFF I question do we really need to see this green LED 24/7. I guess you'd want to know if it had become unplugged or lost power, but as I far as I can tell no one is climbing behind my TV and unplugging things. It gets worse.
Update: TiVo does give you the option to turn them off (thanks Martha). It would be nice if MORE vendors offered this!
My bedroom TV has a red LED that is on when the TV is OFF. Again this simply means the device is plugged in and getting power. When you turn the TV on the LED goes off. I'm guessing that if there's no picture for more than a few minutes that the TV is not on. I'm also guessing that if I press the button to turn it on and it doesn't come on for some reason that there may be a power problem. In other words I don't need a continuous reminder that tells me that it's plugged in, has power and is OFF.
Most of these devices have internal clocks. At a minimum it would be nice to be able to disable the LED at night automatically as a preference or simply turn it off altogether for those that don't need to see it. I was happy that Apple chose not to put the annoying pulsing bright white sleep light from the MacBook Air. Sadly it's still on the MacBook Pro, but clearly it's not essential as it was not deemed necessary on the Air.
If you are an interface design engineer and reading this post, please kill the unnecessary power wasting LED displays wherever possible. We'll all sleep better 🙂
Back in the spring of 2007 I had a whole house natural gas backup generator installed. After the big black out of 2003 that took out the whole East Coast, I knew that I never wanted to be without power for an extended period of time again. Like many preventative measures, you sometimes never have the problem you're trying to prevent. I used to joke all the time that buying that generator was the best (and most expensive) insurance I've ever bought. Since I had the generator installed the power never went off for more than 5 minutes in 3 years. Well that was until last week. I had gone out to run a couple of errands and just as I was wrapping up my last stop the sky had turned very dark (should have taken a picture) and I could tell that it was about to pour down raining any minute. I made it to the car right before the big rain hit and drove home. I noticed that it seemed a little darker than usual, but just figured it was the very heavy rain. When I got home I noticed a huge tree had fallen on my lawn. Although I knew that I was going to have to pay someone to clear that thing, I was very thankful that it didn't hit anything like the house or a car.
I hit the button for the garage door and pulled into my garage. As soon as I stepped out of the car I could hear the generator running on the opposite side of the rear wall. I walked into the house and all was fine. The house was cool, the lights were on and it was like any other time. However, the entire street was without power. That's when I said, "I'm finally getting some use out of that generator!" The beauty of it is, if the power is out more than a few seconds, it fires up and switches over automatically. When the power returns, the generator switches back and turns off. I love this type of automation. Most of my important gear is on UPS backups (see below), so for the most part the batteries in those units handle the switch overs quite nicely.
The next day, the generator was still running. As a matter of fact the power wasn't restored until that next evening. Although I don't wish for power outages because as a gadget junkie, they suck big time, I gotta say this was the first one that I actually enjoyed 🙂
For minor power disruptions I still highly recommend APC Battery Backup Units. These are not designed to power your electronics for extended periods of time. However, for your computers they will generally give you time to properly save your work and shut down. For other gadgets in your world (DVRs, Cable Modems, Routers, etc.), they'll preserve your settings and continue recording if the power is restored before the APC's battery dies.