Seven Geeky Essentials for my European Trip
I was fortunate enough this year to be able to take a considerable amount of time off and explore some absolutely stunning regions in Europe. This wasn't one of those "disconnect from the world" trips, however. While I did remove my office mail profile, Microsoft Lync, and my work OneDrive from my phone, I still stayed connected with friends a family through my phone, ipad, and DSLR. Before leaving, I did a little research, a little downloading, and some purchasing so that I didn't end up disconnected. Below, I've described my seven geeky essentials for getting through around ten European hotels across four countries.
Mophie Juice Pack Plus (2,100mAh)
In over 30 days, my phone never dropped below 20% thanks to my Mophie Juice Pack. While this phone case does add a little bulk to my iPhone, it also took a few drops like a champ and protected my device. There is a battery wrapped up in this case that you can turn on at any time to start charging. When social media, photo taking, or GPS drained my battery down to 20%, I would flip the switch and it would charge me right back up. There were a few nights that I forgot to plug my phone in and this was a battery saver - combined with my phone's slightly older internal battery, I got about two full days of use between needing a full charge. Unrelated to the trip, I picked up the Mophie Desktop Dock for my office desk.
Anker PowerCore 20100 (20,000mAh)
The Anker PowerCore 20100, my third Anker (replacing the previous two only because of the additional capacity) is a big battery with two ports on it that can be used to charge anything that can be connected with a USB cable (up to 2.4 amps). For me, this was three phones, two iPads, a couple of bluetooth headsets, my Mophie Juice Pack, and a point-and-shoot camera. It was great having it so we knew we'd never be out of power on day trips, and was also a huge help in making sure that our iPads stayed charged for two 8 hour flights so that we could play games and watch videos. Let's face it, there's not much else to do on a plane. While it isn't light, weighing in at 3/4 of a pound, I had no problems carrying it around in the camera bag.
FosPower Universal AC Adapter
It's 2015 and somehow we still can't all agree on a plug type or voltage. To thwart this issue for the trip, I picked up two FosPower FUSE Universal AC Adapters. These guys will plug into wall outlets in the United States, Europe (including the UK), and Australia. You can then plug-in your device which can also be from any of those countries. A very important note - these are just adapters, they do not reduce the voltage! If your device is only rated for 100-125 volts you cannot use them with this adapter in Europe. That said, I couldn't find a device in my house that I would travel with that wasn't rated for up to 240 - 250 volts. Every phone, tablet, and laptop adapter I had worked fine, and they were all purchased in the United States. As an added benefit, these adapters come with two USB ports so you can also charge your USB devices at 3.1 amps (I assume combined).
iPad SD Card Reader
I'll admit that I had no idea this existed until I searched for it. The Apple Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader plugs into my iPad's lighting connector. When an SD Card is inserted, the built-in Apple Photos application treats it as just another set of photographs that you can quickly import into your iPad and then clear off the card. In a future post I'd like to dive deeper into how quickly it was able to do this, but for now I'll say that it was plenty fast enough. Once I had my photos on my iPad, I was able to clear the SD Card and then upload the photos to OneDrive. By doing this every night or two, I was able to always have a clean card (well, two, since we had our point-and-shoot and DSLR), and make sure that our photos were safe if anything was lost or damaged during the trip.
This one isn't so much a 'product' as it is an app and a service. TripIt will import various types of itineraries by either reading your email, or by having you forward individual emails into your TripIt account. It then builds out your calendar for the entire trip, including things like maps of the area, confirmation numbers, local travel options, etc. It keeps an eye on your flights and let's you know when you're ready for check-in, and also when there are delays. I forwarded all of my airline confirmations, hotel confirmations, local travel arrangements, and tour company emails to TripIt and it was able to bring it them all automatically except for two hotels, where the format of the emails was a little strange. I added those manually with no problem. I had to include TripIt in this post not only because it was an awesome resource, but also because it showed me that I had forgotten to book a night at a hotel for one night of our trip well before we even left the states.
In Europe, at least in the touristy areas, WiFi is everywhere. I thought wireless was big in the U.S., but we have nothing on our friends overseas. Easily 95% of the restaurants we ate at had WiFi, all but one of the hotels was connected, you could link up in museums, and some places just had random hotspots that seemed like they weren't connected to any specific business. Obviously, they're almost all password protected. The owner doesn't want you connecting up if you're not going to throw a few Euro in for food or a drink, right? Sounds great until the staff can't find, can't remember, or can't be bothered to get you the password, or when you realize you have to trek back to an information booth to request it. In steps WiFi Map Pro. While the ethics of such an application might be slightly questionable, basically what it does is allow users to share the names and passwords of local hotspots so that you don't have to ask for them. I used the free version for a few days before upgrading to the $4.99 paid version, which allows you to use the maps offline. I would venture a guess that about 75% of the time I needed the password for the network of the business I was a patron of, it had it in the database.
Finishing off my list is a SIM card I purchased from OneSimCard. While this might not be necessary for everyone, about two years ago I gave up my personal mobile and took on a corporate one. I wasn't quite sure my employer would be too appreciative of my racking up global calling charges while I was on this extended vacation, so for $30 I picked up one of these and put an older iPhone. In order for this to work, your phone will have to be unlocked my your carrier. Since my old phone wasn't, I had to jail break it to get around this requirement. I added $50 in credits to it, which was pretty easy on their website. I had originally planned to hold on to it as an emergency phone only, since I can Skype or FaceTime over WiFi on my regular phone, but I ended up using it to call home a few times towards the end of the trip to burn up some of the minutes. I was never anywhere that it couldn't find a carrier to attach to, and I never had a problem placing or receiving a call.
So - that's the end of the list of my essentials. Did I miss anything huge? Feel free to post it in the comments!