Tips on travelling with technology

31 Mar

March 31, 2008

By Geoff Meeker

Do you spend a fair bit of time on the road, for business, pleasure or both?

If so, chances are you travel with some – and possibly a lot – of technology in tow. There’s the digital camera, video camera, iPod, portable speakers, cell phone or handheld, and, of course, the ubiquitous laptop computer.

Perhaps you’ve already had a few painful lessons in how to handle such items while traveling. If not, let me share what I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, in hopes that you can avoid the pitfalls I’ve stumbled into.

As a rule of thumb, technology doesn’t benefit from being clunked around in a bag, which is what happens when you travel. As well, fewer items mean less things to keep track of, and reduced chances of theft. So right off the top, you should take only what you need.

Be firm about this. Don’t take along the Gameboy and 14 cartridges “just in case” the kids get bored. If you’re going on vacation, there should always be something to do. If you’re concerned about long stretches in the air or on the highway, there are some neat, trouble-free pieces of technology called books. Pack these instead.

And I shouldn’t need to say this, but if you are going on vacation, leave the laptop at home. The iPod, on the other hand, is an essential piece of gear. It’s small, durable and carries a lot of music.

Once you’ve narrowed down what you’ll bring, here’s the primo, number one rule: Don’t Put It In Your Suitcase.

For years, that’s exactly what I did, packing my camera and other sensitive pieces of technology in around my shirts and socks, thinking that was the safest place for them. A few years ago, on a return Continental Airlines flight from Florida, an airline worker (presumably at the connecting airport in Newark) rifled through my suitcase and stole my iPod, digital camera and all the necessary connecting cords and adaptors, which were stored in side pockets. In other words, they took their sweet time. In the heart of a supposedly secure terminal.

A small lock on the suitcase offers false security. If thieves want into your luggage – and they can tell which pieces contain more than clothing – those locks can easily be broken.

Most airline insurance policies don’t cover anything of value beyond shirts and socks, for damage or theft, and there’s a reason for that – theft is always a danger, and perhaps more common than we realize.

Therefore, every piece of valuable technology should be carried onto the plane – another reason to travel light.

In the two or three years after 9/11, all electronics in carry on bags had to be switched on at the security counter, to verify that it wasn’t a dummy, containing weapons or explosives. I learned this the hard way, by bringing a cell phone with a dead battery. I switched it on for the security guard, and we saw the screen light up for maybe a second before it shut down. That was close.

Lately, I’ve noticed that carry-on technology is screened differently. It is run through the xray machine and scrutinized for suspicious components (which makes sense, given that any techno-wiz could create a false ‘power on’ screen, while scooping out the rest of the item and replacing it with nasty things). Nonetheless, make sure that all your carry-on gadgets are fully charged and ready to switch on, in case this policy changes suddenly.

Finally, a piece of information that is critical to anyone who plans to spend some time at the beach. Be very aware that fine particles of sand (even windblown) can destroy any piece of precision technology. I have watched people shoot videotape of children frolicking in the sand, then casually toss the camera onto the beach towel, apparently oblivious to what would happen if they missed. Once you feel that grinding sensation, when you try to fiddle with the buttons, it’s already too late – the sand is in there, and the damage is probably permanent.

Another danger at the beach is salt water, which begins to corrode sensitive machinery pretty much on contact. Don’t take your camera close to pounding surf, especially when the wind is off the water. If you do get a splash of salt water on your gear, wipe it clean immediately.

Finally, if you are flying off to someplace warm anytime soon, I’d me much obliged if you take me with you.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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