A Technophile on Vacation
What’s a technophile? Think along the line of the more common bibliophile and you might get an idea.
The mister and I are both technophiles in our own right. We were early adopters of the whole line of Apple products at the turn of the century when consumer technology was rapidly advancing and getting lighter. In part, it was due to the fact that we just started dating and these new, shiny gadgets were very convenient and not-too-expensive gifts for birthdays and anniversaries. Between us we own the iPod 2, iPod 4, iPod Mini, iPod Shuffle 4 and probably all iPhone series from 3G till 7. Let’s not even go into the iPads we have (although we did manage to sell off all the old versions we had, and are currently holding the iPad Pro and iPad Mini 4 each).
After getting married and thus having had pooled together all our gadgets, we realised we went a little overboard. Things were made worse by the fact that I take care of my gadgets very well, and never had to get them replaced because they stopped working. I still have my decade-old iPod and iPod Mini, both still in perfect working conditions, to prove it. It was around then that we decided we have to be more careful with our purchases, for example skipping one or two generations of Apple products if ours are still working fine. The world has enough electronic waste to process, and I would like us to do our part in contributing a little less to it.
As a result, we have managed to streamline our electronic toys. This translates into less gadgets we have to bring along when we travel. After years of travelling, I’ve managed to condense it to a list of 10:
1. iPhone 7 Plus
This latest version of the iPhone is simply heaven-sent. Even more so since the mister opted to buy me the 256GB version – what foresight he has! I grew up with music constantly playing in the house and it has become a habit for me to have music accompanying me whenever possible, especially on long flights, train rides or road trips. With the huge capacity of my iPhone 7 Plus, I no longer need to bring along an iPod. One less gadget to charge, to carry and to worry about dropping and thus losing.
In our bid to save the planet, we have since stopped printing our itinerary, subway maps or location maps, opting to upload them onto my iPad. However, it ever happened once in Europe when we were walking in circles and really needed direction to find our hotel, only to find that my iPad’s battery was completely flat. The mister was fuming mad since he constantly reminded me to watch the battery level of my iPad (although I think part of his anger stamped from him being the one handling most of the heavy luggage). That was a valuable lesson learnt. Ever since, we always backed up the documents onto both our iPhones.
And did anyone ever tell you that the iPhone 7 Plus camera is awesome, especially the Portrait mode? As a photography enthusiast, I understand that the Portrait mode isn’t exactly the lens doing the work to give a shallow depth of field but whatever it is shooting and post-processing, is still pretty darn good. Shocking as it is, there have also been times when my DSLR couldn’t do the job of capturing a proper shot but my iPhone could, especially in low light environment. It’s unwittingly serving as a backup to my DSLR. Also, while I try to unplug during travelling, I allow myself to indulge in Instagram since it is the most accurate real-time travel diary I can ever have. It serves two purposes: 1) in case we wish to return we can find the location again and 2) I take quite a while (read: months to years) to process photos taken on my DSLR so the posts help me when I can’t remember minute details.
2. iPad Mini 4
The mister and I love each other, but as with all other couples, we cannot be in each other’s company 24/7 without attempting to strangle each other. Now, try to imagine 24/7 multiply by the number of days we usually take for our vacations (typically 12 days upwards). We will not make it home alive if I’m without my iPad. I use my iPad for various things:
- to refer our travel documents including electronic tickets for flights, itinerary, location maps, hotel bookings and basically everything else we have planned ahead for the trip.
- to watch Korean dramas or movies when I tire of listening to music. We usually travel with Singapore Airlines or other reputable airlines when travelling with SQ isn’t possible, and they usually have a great entertainment system of the latest movies. The problem is, I have become much more picky with what I watch over the years and I’ve learnt that the best way to combat this pickiness is to choose and download whatever I wish to watch onto my iPad instead.
- to brush up on my foreign languages (I scan pages of my textbooks and notes, then upload them). I’m taking a couple of language classes and is always in need of time (and motivation) to increase my vocabulary pool or revise the grammar learnt, so anytime I feel like revising, they are within reach.
- to read ebooks when the mister doesn’t allow me to bring along my kindle. He is not being mean, by the way. It’s just that I’m not exactly good at travelling light so he tends to be quite strict with what gadgets I bring along (he ever tried with my skincare products and let’s just say he isn’t as successful in his endeavour 😆 ).
This used to be a no-brainer until Apple decided to remove the earphone jack. And till today, I’m still convinced they did that solely to generate sales for their EarPods. I refused to take the bait and it just so happened that my Beats in-ear headphones broke, and so I went around searching. And found Sudio Sweden bluetooth earphones, which was every bit affordable, functional and pretty at the same time. I really love the earphones and have brought them with me on 3 vacations with me thus far… but I have recently detected a fatal flaw in its design for flight travel. I don’t know if this is the case with all bluetooth earphones but its blue light (that shows that it is connected to my iPhone via bluetooth) continues blinking every few seconds, throughout. Now that isn’t usually a problem during normal usage, but it poses as a huge problem when you are in a completely dark aircraft cabin. The blinking blue light becomes very bright, and intrusive. I could easily resolve that by wearing eyeshades, but the problem doesn’t really go away since it will also disturb passengers around me.
Much that I love the Sudio Vasa Bla Wireless Earphones, I suppose I have to revert to using my wired earphones during travel instead, until I find a way to block out the blinking blue light. I thought of permanently blocking it off with a tape or something similar, but I also do need to see the colour of the light since it tells me if it is connected, on low battery etc. Does anyone have a viable solution for me?
4. Travel Camera System
I’m deeply entrenched within the Canon system so the question of Canon vs Nikon or even Panasonic or Lumix is all water under the bridge. What I’m going to briefly touch on is the camera system that I, a female not quite capable of lugging heavy equipment, will bring when I travel with my spouse (who sometimes helps with the camera load).
- Canon 60D: I started out with the Rebel series and outgrew it after a couple of years, so the mister bought over a colleague’s 60D for me. I’m loving it and am not ready to change over to full frame so I guess I’ll stick with this camera for a while more.
- EF-S 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 Ultra-Zoom Lens: this is my staple travel lens and I’ve been using it since 2009. I love it so much that this lens is almost permanently attached to my camera body. It had much to do with my photography style in general – I prefer photographing inanimate objects that don’t mind if they end up looking distorted. Definitely helps that it is not a heavy lens.
- Canon EOS M3: Typically I like using a wrist strap support while I grip my 60D instead of slinging it around my neck, and I found my wrist greatly weakened after an 18-day photography-intensive vacation to Europe. It took me months of careful nursing to get my wrist to stop hurting and I’m not ready to injure it again. Therein also lies the rationale in getting a lighter camera. I started looking at Canon’s mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, and found M3 to be a rather good investment.
- EF-M 55-200mm F4.5-6.3 Standard Zoom Lens: the EF-S18-200mm F3.5-5.6 Standard Zoom Lens used to be my go-to lens because I was lazy like that. The only problem is its weight. And since my wrist has greatly weakened with age, I’ve abandoned this lens for vacations, instead opting to attach this EF-M zoom lens to the mirrorless camera that is M3. It greatly reduces the weight without compromising much of the specs since I have other lens to compensate.
- EF 50mm F1.4 Prime Lens: Personally I’m not too used to shooting with a prime lens since I don’t do portraitures. Yet many reviews of well-known travel photographers always recommend the 50mm prime lens to be added to one’s repertoire of travel lenses. For starters, I definitely can appreciate its wide aperture. Very good in dark environments like museums, restaurants or night photography. Going to bring it along for the next vacation and see how it can fit into my travel system.
- Tripod: Very, very important piece of equipment. I shall not go into how selection should be done because that’s going to take another 1,000 words. Just make sure to bring it if you are into night landscape or long exposure shots. My own mantra now is, when in doubt, bring.
- Remote Controls: Goes hand in hand with a tripod, mostly. I have both a wired and a bluetooth remote control and are extremely useful for all situations when you require a tripod. And they are rather inexpensive, so definitely worth the investment.
- Extra SD Cards: No brainer, but instead of getting 64GB or 128GB SD cards, I prefer to buy them in smaller capacity i.e. 32GB SD cards. Since I no longer bring along a laptop with me on travels, I don’t back up my shots during trips. To ‘spread the risk’, I’d rather have many SD cards than to put all eggs in a basket and lose everything.
- Extra Batteries: This is another no-brainer, especially in cold weather when they deplete much quickly than usual. Something I might omit for a short trip.
- Battery Charger: Of course, another no-brainer, but something I might completely omit for a short trip.
5. Wifi Router
Gone are the days when mobile phones are used solely for voice calls. We now work, network, quarrel and do just about everything under the sun with our smartphones. Technology is never evil in itself, it’s how we human beings assimilate it into our daily lives with the awareness that it is here to stay, that matters.
We decided to embrace it. While renting a wifi router for the whole duration of vacation does translate into the inability to truly unplug and enjoy ourselves, it brings upon other conveniences especially when we need to find our way.
6. Selfie Stick
A truly great invention, when used in moderation, with due consideration. Given that I’m usually the one behind the camera (and that H isn’t keen on being photographed much + I don’t trust strangers with my cameras) my shots often lack the human factor. Herein comes the usefulness of a selfie stick; the mister has taken to it like duck to water. And thanks to his quick adoption, we now have the occasional couple shot to brag with on FB. 😆
7. External Battery Pack
With so many techie gadgets in my arsenal, it’s little wonder I will be needing an external battery pack to complement them. After cycling through almost 5 of them in the last few years, I have this word of advice: invest in a good one from a reputable brand. Anker is a good brand, by the way. Yes, they may cost more, but they also last much longer. It’s not worth it saving money to buy an unreliable battery pack that fails you at critical moments.
8. Portable Fan
Considering that I’m someone who has lived near the equator her whole life, it’s sort of an irony that I hate perspiring. And I loathe still, stuffy air conditions so I’ve always carried around a fan of sorts: battery-operated portable fans, paper fans, and now a rechargeable portable fan. Especially useful for an aircraft window-seat lover like me. If you don’t already know, window seats tend to get extremely stuffy because the air vents are usually situated along the aisle seats and circulation don’t quite reach the window seats.
9. Fitbit Alta HR
I sleep badly. To monitor my sleep quality, I recently jumped on the bandwagon and got myself a fitness tracker. And it’s growing on me despite my usual preference for automatic and mechanical watches with large faces. Used to wear my understated JLC Reverso on vacations but this Fibit might just my go-to watch for travelling from now on.
10. Kindle Paperwhite
Sometimes I am not permitted to bring this along because the mister thinks it is the same as reading on the iPad. I know he means well (one less item to bring) but it is just NOT the same. The kindle was invented to eradicate glare and the E Ink technology to micmic the experience of reading an actual book. This, the iPad cannot achieve. My eyes get very tired reading on the iPad so much so that I just give up reading after a short while. With age comes an increasing inability to concentrate for long periods of time. Distraction all round doesn’t help. The last thing I want is the equipment I’m reading on deter me from reading when I want to.
As you can see from the list, the bulk of my gadgets are for photo-taking. I do sometimes wish I’d never gotten into photography. I really, truly envy women who manage to travel lightly, bringing only their branded handbags as carry-ons onto flights and then taking pretty pictures of themselves on vacation. This will never happen to me, unless one fine day I decide to give up this hobby because being fragile, all my camera bodies and lens have to be with me on my hand-carried haversack. It weighs me down.
At this point, I can only hope that one day, Canon will build up a good EF-M lens selection for me to completely give up the heavy DSLR system. Do you hear me, Canon?