Electronics for the road

As I’ve planned for travel, I’ve thought a lot about what electronics I’ll bring with me — finding balance between keeping the weight down, keeping the cost reasonable, making sure the electronics are durable, and making sure I can do all the things I want to.

Here’s what I’ve decided to take with me:

In addition, to keep everything charged and connected:

In choosing items, I had a few principles in mind:

  1. Keep it light. I will inevitably end up hauling around too much stuff. I can at least start by paring down the weight of my technology.
  2. Keep it cheap. Who wants to spend a ton of money on something that may well end up at the bottom of a river in Laos?
  3. Keep it USB-chargeable. When you see laptop weights, they never include the weight of the charger. And what do you do if you lose or break your specialized charger when you’re halfway across Java? Micro-USB chargers will probably always be around to buy or borrow. And anything that’s USB-chargeable can be charged on the go with a backup battery.


HP Chromebook 11-1101

Some of the loneliest moments in my life have been in hotel rooms, when I felt too tired or sick or overwhelmed to go out but totally isolated inside. Back then, your only option for connectivity was an Internet cafe.

But Wi-Fi is replacing Internet cafes, and it’s a great comfort to be able to hide out in your hotel room and get on Facebook or Skype, or just watch episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. (There are other things on the Internet that it’s also probably better to look at in the privacy of your own hotel room.)

I considered a tablet-plus-keyboard setup, but laptops are just more comfortable to type on — especially if you happen to like typing in bed — and I type a lot (cf. the thing you’re reading now). That meant picking between a MacBook and a Chromebook. (I haven’t used any Microsoft software in years, and this didn’t feel like the moment to go back.)

A MacBook, either Air or the new gold thingie, is more graceful and powerful than any Chromebook. But the chromebook I chose — the HP Chromebook 11-1101:– has a number of advantages:

  • Price. Listed at $239.99, I got mine for about $25 plus some points that had mysteriously accrued in my bank account. Even a used MacBook Air is more than that.
  • Weight. The MacBook Air plus the charger weighs 3.16 pounds, while the HP Chromebook 11-1101 weighs just 2.38 pounds. (The new MacBook is lighter, at 2.02 pounds, but a lot more expensive, plus it requires its own power adapter.)
  • USB chargeability. No risk of wandering around Cambodia in search of a MagSafe 2 charger or a USB-C power adapter.

I’ve had the Chromebook for a while now, and it feels good to use, plus it has good looks for a cheap device. And if you’re going to look at something every day, it might as well be decent.


Sony DSC-RX100M III Cyber-shot Digital Still CameraI have a camera. Several, actually. Plus also a phone. So why get a new camera?

A while back, the artist and photographer Gina DeNaia let me in on a dangerous secret. She taught me about sensor size. It turns out that the size of the sensor in a digital camera makes a huge difference to the quality of the photos, especially in low light. I got myself a Fujifilm XF1, which has a 2/3″ sensor — much bigger than a typical point-and-shoot, much less a phone — and I like it. Sort of. But it has the annoying quirk that the way you turn it on is by twisting the lens barrel, which means you can’t shoot one-handed.

In the meantime, there are now point-and-shoots with 1″ sensors. The competition came down to the Sony DSC-RX100M III Cyber-shot and the Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II. They’re both impressive cameras that can fit in your pocket, but ultimately the Sony won out. I got mine used for $689.

  • Big sensor. OK, they both have big 1″ sensors, so that’s a wash.
  • Viewfinder. Yep, that thing’s cool. I’ve used it a bit, and it’s fun to try holding a camera up to my face again like I did with my old film camera.
  • USB chargeability. There it is again. No risk of leaving behind my charger and battery in a hotel room somewhere. If the battery dies in the middle of the day, I can toss the camera in my backpack with the backup battery charger and power up again.

Was it really worth it? The camera will be the most expensive thing I carry, though it’s pretty cheap compared to a typical DSLR rig. But I’m going on the trip of a lifetime. I want to record it well enough that I could print the images later for professional use. Compromising to save a few hundred bucks probably wouldn’t seem so clever in the end.


A smartphone is a necessity for world travel these days. With a local sim card, you can get maps and figure out where you are. You can send messages to locals and other travelers. You can function like a normal person.

Right now I’m likely to take my Nexus 5 with me. I already own it, and it’s a perfectly capable phone. And why spend a bunch of money now, when there will inevitably be newer and cooler phones by the time I get to Korea in 2016?

The only thing that tempts me about pricier phones is the memory capacity for downloaded music — nice if you’re going to be away from Wi-Fi for a while and want music for the road — but that’s probably not enough to get me to spend $800 right now. And I can always change my mind and get a phone later on, whenever Google rolls out its next Nexus or whatever.


Not exactly a necessity, but nice to have. Reading on a phone is a drag and a battery killer. And since I already have it and it’s tiny and light and cheap, I’m taking my Kindle Paperwhite with me.

And guess how it charges? Right.

Other stuff

I decided to get myself a backup battery to charge on the go. Plus I got a card reader so I can upload photos to the web via my Chromebook without having to go through a Wi-Fi or USB link.

Addendum: I’ve added a JBL Clip portable bluetooth speaker. at 5.6 ounces, it doesn’t add much weight, but it means I can add reasonably good-sounding background music to any room I’m in, or watch TV on my laptop without headphones, or throw a little party somewhere. We’ll see if it turns out to be worth it.