Cycle Touring Question of the Week #2: Touring with Electronic Devices

CTQ2-Question

What electronic devices do you tour with? Any tips on packing, charging or maintenance?

Why are we asking this question? Off the bike, gadgets play a big part in our day-to-day lives. We carry our smartphones everywhere, and use our laptops, eReaders or tablet almost every day. We’re curious about other people’s technology habits when cycle touring. We’re also interested in how to care for and charge devices on the road. We cast our research net widely. We asked cycle tourists via Twitter and delved into touring journals. This a cross-section of our Twitter responses.

CTQ2-Twitter

Everybody here tours with a camera, and at least two other devices: eReader; mp3 player; GPS; computer (either laptop or tablet). Cellphones and smartphones, which combine several functions, also featured often. The touring journals we explored yielded a wider range of results, but with broadly similar findings.

Cyclists Locale (link to journal) Electronic equipment
Adam and Beth Asia and Europe netbook, iPhone, Kindle, 4/3 camera
Peter Newberry Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand video camera, tripod with fluid head, microphone, audio recorder, headphones, GoPro, Macbook Air, digital camera, smartphone, external hard disc
Andy Yap Northern Europe cellphone, GPS, camera, iPod
Brent Irvine Istanbul to Lisbon camera, card reader, radio walkman
Julian McCarthy UK to Gibralltar camera, laptop, Kindle
Ken and Tricia Copenhagen to Milan cellphone, camera, laptop, eReader

Every cycle tour is different, and every cycle tourist has different technology preferences. Cyclists take many kinds of electronic devices on tour. We think they fall into five different categories based on how they are used.

Recording – that sunset as you rode through the Pyrenees, that truck driver who shared his coffee, that nail sticking right into your wheel, that frosted dewdrop outside your tent – images capture the flavour of your time on the road. Taking photos and writing journal entries lets us share the amazing memories we’ve made. Updates from the road are entertaining for friends, and a great way to document your trip.
devices: camera, smartphone, dSLR, laptop, card-reader, extra hard drive

Communication – access to the internet means access to news, maps, weather and local information like details of campsites. Email or telephone means contact with other people. With public wi-fi and the right device, opportunities to connect are everywhere. Whether arranging a place to meet your Warm Showers host, or wishing your mother a happy birthday from the other side of the world, it’s good to have the option of getting in touch.
devices: iPod, smartphone, Kindle, tablet, netbook, laptop

Multifunctional – The choice between packing one device that does several things, or several devices that do one thing is an easy one, provided that the multi-functional device does all its jobs well. My smartphone is a camera, music player, web browser, and video edit suite, as well as a phrasebook and GPS. An eReader loaded with guidebooks is a great planning tool, as well as a relaxation aid. The versatility of a laptop might persuade you that its weight is worth carrying.
devices: smartphone, Kindle, tablet, netbook, laptop

Specialised – Sometimes you need a specific tool for a specific job. Peter Newberry chose to take high quality video equipment on his filmmaking trip around SE Asia. Heavy gear can lead to compromises in how you tour – Peter didn’t carry a tent, and stayed at guest houses with power sources. At the lighter end of things, a dedicated GPS device is a popular choice for travellers moving between several countries, where a using smartphone’s GPS function is prohibitively expensive.
devices: GPS, audio-recorder, microphone, video camera, lighting

Leisure – after a hard day on the road, it’s important to refresh your mind, as well as resting your body. An iPod or Kindle offers hours of entertainment for very little packing weight. Devices that help pass the time are good for evenings and rest days, and are especially useful when you are unexpectedly stuck somewhere waiting for a visa or a transport connection.
devices: mp3 player , Kindle, smartphone, radio, speakers, laptops

So what should I take with me? That’s for you to decide. If you think a particular device is worth packing, then it probably is worth it – for you. Choosing equipment is always a compromise between utility, portability and cost. As useful as the gear mentioned above may seem, none of it is essential. If you want to, you can ride around the world three times without any of it. In the same way that bicycle touring isn’t a contest about who can ride furthest or for longest, nor should it be a contest about who carries the least. On a short tour, it can be a nice change to do without your gadgets and gizmos for a while. On an extended tour, it’s nice to have an occasional taste of home comforts that are rare on the road.

If you’re able to carry it, and you want to, you can take almost any gadget with you. Is that a good idea? You decide.

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We haven’t dealt with the second and third parts of the question we asked, about charging on the road, and about packing and caring for electronic devices on a tour. We’ll cover that in a later #ctqotw. If you’re itching to find out more about charging on the road, we recommend visiting this page by Dave from Tired of IT, and this article by our friends at Cycle Traveller Magazine. If you’re interested in packing devices for a tour, check out the second part of this article on laptops by Andrew and Friedel over at Travelling Two. Thanks to everybody who helped out with this Cycle Touring Question of the Week. Thanks especially to @cycletraveller @davecollett @cyclingeurope @rollingtales @cyclinghobo @DavefromTWJ @TwoWheelTravel @alexscycle and @pikesonbikes, to the journal writers above, and to Dave from Tired of IT, Andrew and Friedel at Travelling Two and Tim Travis of Down the Road Keep an eye on the hashtag #ctqotw for more cycle touring questions and answers.

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