Must-have gadgets for a trip abroad
By Harold Glicken
It’s been my dream after eight trips to Europe, Asia and the Middle East to fly first class or business class instead of suffering through 10 to 16 hours banging my knees against the seat in front of me in economy. During my latest trip abroad, I finally got to see what was behind the curtain in front of economy on a Boeing Dreamliner.
It was everything I dreamed of.
Cabin service is impeccable. Food is plentiful and quite good and it’s served in china on starched linen. The comfort level is without compromise.
I write about computer gadgets and software, so talking about seats that recline into beds might seem incongruous. But hear me out.
On the two airplanes I took – the double-deck Airbus A380-800 and the Boeing Dreamliner – the gadgets amazed me. There were 15-inch touch-screen TV monitors and Bose sound-canceling headphones on the Lufthansa segment of my trip. A diagram on an arm rest guides you through positioning the seat just right. A removable remote allows you to operate the monitor, find soundtracks for all genres of music, and even play video games. Leg room is endless and the airlines even include slippers, a blackout mask and toiletries in a designer travel case. But it’s the seat-beds that sold me. With a touch on a screen, the seat converts into a bed, a comfortable one at that.
Somewhat puzzling, missing were electrical outlets, wi-fi and USB ports. But I hardly missed them, focusing instead on a book stored on my iPad Mini. Purists might choose one of Amazon’s Kindles, such as the Paperwhite ($129) for reading books, but I brought along a refurbished iPad Mini 2 ($209 at Apple.com), since it would allow me to use wi-fi for email and the Internet at the apartment I rented.
I also brought along a Lumsing battery bank ($25 on Amazon) that has the capacity to charge an iPhone 6 up to six times and an iPad Air 2 up to two times, according to its product description. Be sure to get one rated at 15000 mAh (milliampere hours) or higher to get the maximum number of charges. The model I bought has five USB ports that charge both phones and tablets; the ports are labeled for the voltage requirements of each device. Sounds confusing, but think of a portable battery bank as the battery in your car, except this one weighs less than a pound.
If lugging around another pound in your carry-on is a deal-breaker, I recommend getting an outlet adapter with USB ports that will charge at least two devices directly from a power outlet. And don’t forget: foreign countries have different electrical outlets from U.S. outlets. They can be bought inexpensively on Amazon just by searching for the countries you’ll be visiting. Apple makes a collection of seven adapters that work in Europe, Australia, Korea, Hong Kong and Brazil for about $40, less at www.bestbuy.com.
If you’re bringing multiple devices that require different charging cables, go for a charging station. It plugs into an electrical outlet and some feature charging cables for lightning, Android and older Apple devices. Amazon sells dozens of different models starting at $15. Again, you’ll need a country-specific electrical adapter in order to use the charging stations.
If you just want a USB charging bank, there are dozens that feature six or more USB outlets. I like the ones that have multiple connector cables (described above), since they negate the need to bring individual charging cables. The downside is charging stations tend to be heavy and bulky.
If you need to make phone calls home, I like the MagicJack Go device that works on wi-fi. You get a U.S. number, which the folks at home can call at no charge. And you can make calls to U.S. numbers at no charge. The device fits in a shirt pocket and costs $35, which includes a year of service and is available from www.magicjack.com.
Another, more practical way is T-Mobile’s international plan. For $15 a month you get unlimited data and messaging. Both incoming and outgoing calls cost 20 cents a minute. Calls are free if they’re made on a wi-fi network. When you return home, the service can be canceled. If you don’t buy the international plan, calls cost $2 a minute. (www.t-mobile.com) . Or you can rent a phone that gives you unlimited calling within the country you’re visiting. SIM cards for international use can be purchased, too. I like the information in this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/travel/how-to-pick-a-cellphone-plan-for-traveling-abroad.html?_r=0.
Guide books, such as the ones Fodor publishes, tend to be heavy and have small print. If you’re lugging suitcases on trains, buses and airplanes, you might want to download Kindle versions of guidebooks. They’re cheaper and the type size can be customized. Search for the books at www.amazon.com. They’ll work just fine on tablets as well as Kindle devices.
My kids occasionally visit my home when I’m gone to check things out, but there is a 24/7 ways to secure our house when they can’t stop by. Ring, which is a doorbell with a built-in fish-eye camera, notifies you whenever someone is at the door, whether or not they ring the bell. Half-way across the world, I was able to see, on my phone and tablet , who approached the door, and I could even hold a two-way conversation with them. In case you’re not near your phone, a paid service will keep video footage in the cloud of people who approach the door. I used it several times a day. While there were no scofflaws attempting to break in, I was able to greet my sons when they came to wash clothes and raid the refrigerator. The doorbell, available at www.ring.com, costs $200. Ring makes other security devices, such as the Stick Up Cam ($199), which provides surveillance from other areas around the house.
Another security service, alarm.com, lets you turn your home security system on and off remotely. It’s a handy feature for times when a maid, for example, needs access, and you’d rather not give the maid the key. When the work is completed, the maid calls you, and you can arm your security system again. I pay $10 a month, on top of the $50 a month for security monitoring. Alarm also makes more sophisticated devices, such as ones that do video monitoring.
My trip abroad was full of pleasant surprises and random acts of kindness from the natives. The flight was great, the people I met were amazing and by doing some research and planning, I was able to keep tabs on my home, use my electronic devices and communicate with people at home and abroad. Then there were those seats that turned into beds. A gadget lover’s Dreamliner.