Saturday, May 16, 2015

Family Tech for May 15, 2015: Family vacations coming soon – get tech ready

The Family Tech columns that are not published at, the online home of Northern Virginia Media Services newspaper including Prince William Today, will be published here at

We have fewer than 30 days of school left in the county. It’ time to start planning the summer vacation.

No matter how you go – car or plane – technology can make the trip easier than our parents had it in the 60s and 70s, and also add some new burdens they did not have.

Smartphones can help reduce boredom on long car rides, plane trips or while waiting in airports. Yet, power can be a problem. Phone batteries rarely survive a day of active web surfing, watching movies, or playing music – all activities one might do to avoid travel boredom.

Portable chargers can be a godsend.  Portable chargers are nothing more than large batteries you connect to your phone with a standard recharge cable. You see them at checkout lines now for about $20 for one that looks like a lipstick.

Those are bad deals.

They have about 2200 mAh of power. That’s enough for one charge of a phone. For $40 you can get a 15,000-mAh one, good for about six charges.

One charger can charge multiple devices – iPads, iPhones, Android phones, tablets, etc. – although maybe not at the same time.

Some of your devices such as tablets may depend on Wi-Fi for Internet access. In cars, you can use a phone’s data connection with your non-cellular devices. You can do that by hotspotting your phone. You’ll need to check with your cell provider to see if they offer the service and if your phone supports it. Hotspotting turns your phone into a Wi-Fi access point for your other devices such as tablets. Log in and then connect to the Internet via the cell network.

Sprint lets me hotspot our phones for $20 a month for two gigabytes of data. The really nice thing is they will prorate for a day or two if that is all I need.

If hotspotting your phone is not an option, your provider may be able to sell you a MiFi.  This is a small device with its own cellular account. It sends and receives data on the cell network, and lets several devices connect to it via Wi-Fi.

If you are off for a long drive, you likely are planning on using the navigation system in your phone. You should also install Waze. Waze is a social navigation system. Drivers ahead of you can report accidents, construction, speed traps, etc. and it shows up your display.

Waze is carefully designed to not allow using it while the vehicle is moving, unless the operator declares they are a passenger.

Lone drivers can wave their hand over their phone twice to get Waze’s attention then make their report by voice.  Waze prompts you by voice.

Waze measures the speed of all the users, so it can tell you roughly the traffic conditions ahead.

Our phones are often our cameras.  Before you go, download the photos on your phone to your PC, and then delete them off your phone.  This frees up space on your phone.  If you are taking a laptop with you, plan on downloading photos from your phone during the trip both as a backup should you lose your phone, and to free up space for more photos.

If you have a separate camera, make sure you take memory cards for it.

Going on an adventurous vacation? You might want to consider a GoPro or other wearable camera to record the adventure. You can buy underwater enclosures for them if you’re going on a snorkeling or diving vacation.

And be certain to take chargers and charger cables for all your devices.

If you leave one behind, check with the desk at your hotel.  Apparently so many people leave chargers behind when they check out, that many hotels have boxes full of chargers they are happy to give away.

All Android phones use the same charger, and many pharmacies and other stores sell Android and iPhone chargers good enough for use in a pinch.

Laptops and cameras often use unique chargers so be especially careful not leave them behind.
Make a checklist of all the tech things you want to take so you remember to pack it at home and make sure you have it when you leave each place you stay. Record the serial and model numbers of your devices should one get lost or stolen.

And finally, do not let technology diminish your trip.

The Grand Canyon looks better through your eyes then through the viewfinder of your camera.  Don’t be like the kid in a photoset I’ve linked to in this week’s link post at

His parents have photos of him playing Gameboy at Stonehenge, Big Ben and along the Jordan River.

Don’t be that kid.

For links mentioned in the column, go to  For more of Mark’s online activities and contact information, visit on the web.

Links for this column is here.

To subscribe to the print edition of Prince William Today, visit their website.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.