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Vacation from gadgets

BLADE ILLUSTRATION/ANDREA RODRIGUEZ-AHL Enlarge
Published: Wednesday, 5/25/2011

Take a vacation from gadgets

BY BILL HUSTED
ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Some people should vacation with a pack mule.

You've probably seen them; heck, you may even belong in this group. I'm talking about people who travel with a suitcase crammed with gadgets.

It starts out innocently enough with a GPS and a smartphone. A laptop computer can make a lot of sense. And if you're traveling outside the country, an assortment of converters that let you plug your devices into the local power often go into the bag. Batteries are needed too. Then there's the digital camera and -- for those using a fancy one -- an assortment of lenses.

With enough high-tech gear, it's no vacation at all. Instead it easily can become an exhausting high-tech caravan.

I'm sure not immune. I have painful memories of trekking along on a hot Mexican day with a huge backpack loaded with most of that gear. By mid-afternoon I started feeling a longing for the relative ease of a 12-hour day in the newsroom. That's when I knew I was in trouble.

Let me suggest that, this summer, you go on a shirt pocket vacation when it comes to technology. Let's plan a trip where your entire load of high-tech gadgets will fit into a single shirt pocket.

It should make long walks more fun. But, as you drop the high-tech pounds, you'll also find there's a weight to gadgets that has nothing to do with ounces and pounds. The notion of a vacation ought to be to get away from the daily routine, to take a break from your responsibilities and to relax.

It's no vacation to stay closely in touch. Technology makes it too easy, even from the remote cottage in County Clare, Ireland, where I sometimes vacation, to remain a part of the workaday world. Pretty soon, instead of deciding between a nap or a walk by the sea, you will be put in touch by phone or e-mail with some real world problem that needs solving.

Don't get me wrong. While technology is a mixed blessing, it's a blessing nonetheless. It can offer convenience and safety on your trip. So the notion here is to pare things down without losing the advantages high tech brings.

I realize individual family and work situations mean some of you will be able to do a better job of cutting the ties that bind than others. So tailor my vacation suggestions to the needs created by your family and work obligations.

Let's get started with our vacation weight-loss program.

Preparation

There's a lot you can do while still at home to lighten the load.

Before you leave, spend some time with sites such as Mapquest that let you print out maps. You'll save a few bucks by avoiding the need to buy the maps when you arrive. Print out city and regional maps as well as maps that offer turn-by-turn directions to restaurants, hotels, and airports.

But there's a lot more than maps available over the Web. You'll be able to do some advance scouting and get detailed information about popular tourist sites.

This advance work can turn into fun. It's almost as if you've already started the vacation while sitting at the computer. And since you are doing all this from home without the pressure of time or distractions, you'll be able to go into great detail with reviews of restaurants and other possible destinations. With any luck, you might even find a coupon or two that will cut the price of a meal or admission.

You'll end up with dozens of pages of old-fashioned paper. No batteries required, they fold up neatly and weigh no more than a decent pair of sunglasses.

Now let's talk about ways to pare down the gadgets that actually will make the trip.

Staying in touch

In my case, it's an iPhone, in yours it might be a Blackberry or some other smartphone. But, especially for trips within the United States, this tiny device lets me avoid lugging around a laptop, its charger and the various other accessories that go along with carrying a computer.

The advantages are easy to see. In one small package, I have the ability to call for help if the car breaks down, or to make reservations at a restaurant. I can check e-mail and even use the iPhone's built-in navigation system to pinpoint my location on a map when I'm lost. I can use the Web to find out when an attraction opens.

Best yet I've already shed several pounds by leaving the laptop at home.

All this applies best to trips within the United States. I take a different tack when traveling overseas. The cost of using your phone outside the states can be staggering. It might make more sense to rent or even buy a phone at your destination. This Web site -- slowtrav.com/europe/cell_phones.htm -- does a good job examining the options.

Even if you end up renting or buying a phone, it's a good idea to take your smartphone along on overseas trips. On many occasions, we've parked in front of a hotel or restaurant with an open Wi-Fi connection to check e-mail.

Also keep in mind that there are other ways to check e-mail or browse the Web. Many hotels offer, for free or a small charge, a well-equipped business center complete with printers and computers. And I've had no trouble finding Internet cafes with a computer and an Internet connection even in villages where there are more sheep than people.

A picture perfect trip

I no longer take along my professional digital camera and the knapsack full of lenses that I've accumulated. Instead I carry a $130 digital camera. Digital cameras have come a long way. In most cases, when I show off a particularly breathtaking sunset, even my most photo-savvy friends won't notice that I used an inexpensive camera.

The little digital fits into a shirt pocket and weighs just a few ounces. And I also lose the fear that I'll break or lose my professional gear, which is worth several thousand dollars. I prefer the photos from my shirt-pocket digital to those I can take with the iPhone. But if your phone's digital still and video quality suits you, leave the camera at home too.

There, we're done. That isn't much packing but that's precisely the point. You're ready for a vacation where your entire load of technology fits into a shirt pocket. You'll find that leaves more room for fun.



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