By Randee Dawn
We live our lives in a plugged-in world of instant information, instant access, and instant connection. But when we travel, all of that instant gratification can go out the window – low reception, no plugs, no battery, no chargers.
For some, that’s the whole point – unplugging is the perfect way to unwind and disconnect. But for others, actually knowing tomorrow’s weather ahead of time, or the address of that great local restaurant, or the name of that possibly-poisonous wild plant we just touched is just as relaxing.
So if you’re someone who’s eager to get away from most of it all, rather than all of it all, think about stashing these four devices in your travel pack. You’ll thank us when you need to send mom a quick email to let her know you arrived safely!
- Solar Charger
These days, everything benefits from a little bit of sun. Having a solar charger in your kit means you can leave it to charge all day on a rock near your tent or by a window in an electric-free hut and return to power up everything from a headlamp to your cell phone. Innoo Tech’s Solar Power Bank gets high marks for its waterproof, dustproof and shock resistant abilities, and it’ll charge up anything that will connect to it with a USB cable. Another interesting development is the goTenna a small device that links to your phone via Bluetooth and allows you to send messages or GPS to fellow goTennas.
Drawbacks: Best used as a last resort, since many solar chargers can take dozens of hours to charge fully.
- Mobile Hotspot
You may have heard it referred to as “MiFi,” as in “my wi-fi,” but whatever you want to call it, a mobile hotspot is crucial for travelers who might not have easy access to the internet. A portable hotspot uses 3G and 4G cellular networks – like your smartphone does – to wirelessly share the data connection with other devices nearby. CNET called Verizon’s Jetpack MiFi 6620L its top choice for 2016, and noted that it – like many of the other top devices – comes with a long-lasting battery (so presumably you won’t need to re-power it with your solar charger). Another option: rent a mobile hotspot through a company like TelecomSquare .
Drawbacks: Initial investment cost can be high (but lowers if you sign on to a contract), and keep an eye on your data plan – using all of that 4G and 3G means you might find yourself socked with overage charges.
- GPS Navigator
Google Maps, Mapquest and other app-based mapping devices are terrific when you’re on the road or in a relatively settled area. But when it comes to real off-road orienteering, a high-sensitive GPS receiver trumps an app any day. Garmin’s Foretrex 301 may look super-basic, but don’t let the lack of complicated graphics fool you: It allows you to store routes by combining waypoints and ultimately connect the data to your computer. (Garmin’s BaseCamp software will help you plan before you get to the woods.) Plus, you can wear it on your wrist!
Drawbacks: Batteries will be batteries (Foretrex runs on two AAA), so no matter how classy your GPS is, bring a compass and a map for backup.
- Satellite phone
For those who want the extra comfort of knowing you’ll always have a phone you can use, a satellite phone is the way to go. A phone that connects with orbiting satellites (instead of cell sites on the ground), it allows you to send voice and text messages, as well as providing low-bandwidth internet access in most cases. Mobal has a rental agreement that currently goes for about $14/day; there are pros and cons for both Iridium and Isat phones.
Drawbacks: There are many: A whole satellite phone kit adds a lot of weight if you’re backpacking; most look like glorified walkie-talkies. Additionally, a clear line of sight is needed for them to be used. But as with any device, if you actually truly need it in an emergency, cost and heft factors fall completely by the wayside.