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  • Gemma Fottles

Packing for travel: the burden of travel technology

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

Whether you are going away for one week or one year, one of the most anxiety-inducing elements of preparing to travel is packing. On longer trips, it's logical to settle for the bare essentials, right? And, for the broke student or young professional, the things that you can afford to lose. But in the ever-evolving world of travel-technology, more and more items are now essential - many of them items that you would care a lot more about losing than your microfibre towel...

Backpacking before the boom of the internet was a different game. Essentials included clothes... toiletries. Passports and documents which you should probably keep in a safe place at all times... If your bag was stolen, you had a problem... I'm sure it was annoying and inconvenient and all the rest. But you didn't really have to worry about the value of those clothes or toiletries. But travel today is different. We have access to affordable, portable, AMAZING technology. From iPods to iPhones, Kindles to the whole goddamn internet.

What essentials can I afford to lose?

Today, some people would class an iPod as essential. Other people may class hair straighteners as essential. I am a person who considers both essential. But the problem with these items is their value - particularly if you are travelling to a disadvantaged or developing country. All of a sudden it's not just sentimental jewellery and your favourite sweater that you have to consider the chance of losing, but the most recent Nikon camera or a Macbook or even the latest iPhone. And I can tell you, as a poor student, if I lost one of those things, I would feel the hit. Hard. (I'm poor, okay?)

And I did, actually. I experienced this first hand when I was in Thailand. Not really thinking too much about where my iPod was, it somehow went mysteriously missing somewhere between leaving my hostel and travelling on an overnight train from Bangkok to the Thai islands of the south. In hindsight, the matter wasn’t helped in the slightest due to my iPod being of the full view and probably pretty easy to take out of my bag without too much trouble. What wasn’t so easy however was the rest of the travelling I was doing without the relief of music.  9 hours on any kind of transport is pretty soul-destroying, never mind transport of the questionable Thai kind.

The benefits of travelling with technology

Regardless of this bad experience though, I would still without a doubt bring my new and considerably more expensive iPod Touch travelling with me. The ability to use the internet, the various amazing apps that you can now download from Google Maps to XE to Hostelworld and, of course, the hours of music offering a relief from various modes of boredom are some of the most important things I consider when I’m away. I travel on a budget, and strict budgets often mean looooong travel times.

Aside from the benefits of technology to eliminate boredom, some items can be a more practical alternative to their traditional counterpart. The relatively inexpensive or even free apps that you can download to your phone or iPod can prove to be absolutely invaluable when on the road, especially if you’re prone to remember everything but the most important things. Tickets and public transport times and routes are just some of the things that if forgotten can provide hours of unnecessary stress and hassle when you should be enjoying yourself. Having a product that almost completely eradicates this possibility definitely has its benefits.

The Amazon Kindle, as another example, can store hundreds of books at any one time, and many of the more famous texts are free to download. For someone like me that likes to read a lot whilst away, a Kindle could be invaluable. Not only will your backpack or suitcase be 10 times lighter, but you will also have a huge choice of what you want to read and eliminate the risk of having to reread your battered copy of Shantaram for the 400th time. (I don't actually like e-readers at all. I hate the feel of them, I hate not being able to turn the page, I hate stressing about it at the beach. But I see the benefits...)

On the other hand, a book can’t really break. If you drop it on the floor, accidentally stand on it, spill water over it or just generally don’t look after it as well as you should then it doesn’t matter. Chances are you’ll still be able to read it, no one is actually going to want to steal it and you won’t be racked with guilt over effectively clumsily throwing £100 down the drain.

When travelling anywhere the best advice is to only take what you can afford to lose. Chances are you’ll be able to live without your laptop for a few weeks or months, and you probably won’t die without your GHD’s, and maybe your Kindle isn’t the most important thing to ensure you bring along.

Sometimes leaving behind some of those home comforts can help you embrace a completely new culture and open your eyes to the places around you, even if it is a bit less convenient.

A version of this article was first featured for the University of Birmingham's official student newspaper, Redbrick. I regularly write for the travel section and film section of the award-winning newspaper as a third-year English Literature and Media studies undergraduate.

*2020 REVISIT - re-editing this post was a bit embarassing... and confusing. Has travel technology really developed so much since I was backpacking at the tender age of 20? Was it really still so alien as to warrant a blog post that discusses whether or not bringing an iPod on your travels is worth it?!Read about how technology and travel has changed in the past 10 years since I started this blog here.
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