You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and sometimes that includes leaving South Africa and going to places that aren’t quite as pleasant, if a bit more civilised. There’s enough hassle to deal with before you leave, what with passports, visas (and the lines/costs involved in getting them arranged – oh, the lines…), travel arrangements and that one item you inevitably leave at home and remember at the airport.
But you can at least get your tech/travel game sorted before you embark on your adventure to other places where people speak English with a slightly different accent to yours (but their version’s wrong, of course). It’s one thing to just show up in a country, it’s another thing entirely to have everything you need or, failing that, the means to get it when you land. Here’s how you survive a trip overseas, as Stuff has discovered through trial and error. Mostly error.
In The Airport
Shoes – Your call
“There’s no need to stand on ceremony, no call to impress anyone”, to quote Captain Barbossa. Nowhere is that more true than when faced with undead pirates but it’s also pretty good advice when you’re going to be roaming around airports and cities where you’re likely to spend most of your time walking. Whatever makes you feel comfortable is the key here, make sure you’re travelling with shoes that you can wear for six hours or more without feeling like you’ve had your feet sawn off at the ankles. Stuff tends to favour their Nike running shoes for extended trips but that’s the cushioning speaking. Pick your most comfy shoes (or buy some for the trip) and WEAR THEM TO THE AIRPORT. We’ve made that mistake once. Never again.
Cost: From Free (if you already own some)
Backpack – Thule Crossover Rolling 22”/58cm Upright with Suiter
Your backpack needs wheels. No, we don’t care if it makes you look dorky. You’re in an airport, the only people who look their best either work there or are there to collect someone. Being able to pull your luggage along is a must. Thule’s Thule Crossover Rolling 22in/58cm Upright with Suiter is designed for overseas travel, fits into overheads bins, features enough compartments to keep all your stuff separate (as well as space for a suit) and there are squish-proof Safe Zones for your sensitive/fragile items. It’ll expand if you need the space and has room for all your bits. Including cables. This will become important later.
Cost: From R5,500 | leatherland.co.za
Headphones – Sennheiser MM 550-X Wireless Bluetooth Travel Headphones
Nothing eases the pain of a journey – especially one that involves an airplane –better than Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones. And nothing beats Sennheiser’s MM550x headphones, the upgrade to the same model (without the x) that our ed swears by – and doesn’t leave for the airport without. The over-the-ear format already muffles the sound, but it’s the clever software built into the headphones (and the extra microphones) that pick up the noise of your surroundings and introduces a similar but opposite frequency to cancel out that ambient noise. The MM550x are well-made, rugged and fit snuggly on your head. As you’d expect of a travel headphone, they fold up into a kind of headphone foetal position so they take up very little space when you’re not using them and need to be stowed in your carry-on bag. The battery life is about 20 hours with constant use and there is a supplied cable and two-prong adaptor for using with airplane seats. All of which makes them worth every cent.
Cost: From R5,800 | sennheiser.co.za
Luggage – Samsonite Cosmolite 81cm Spinner
Yeah, you need to transport more than just a backpack most times. And if you’re not going to be carrying the backpack, why the hell would you carry luggage. Samsonite’s Cosmolite Spinner has a 123 litre capacity, so you could probably get over your weight limit if you wanted and the hard shell should protect your innards from errant luggage porters with a penchant for roller-surfing (don’t ask but it happens behind the scenes at O.R. Tambo every third Friday night). And the combination lock is TSA-approved so they should be able to access your undies without busting the lock. ‘Should’ being the operative word.
Cost: From R7,000 | ibags.co.za
Battery Pack – Swiss Mobility 10,000mAh Power Pack
The thing about airports is that there are never enough charging stations to go around, no matter how well-equipped you might think your terminal is. Which leads to camping and there’s always that one guy charging the equivalent of an entire Incredible Connection aisle during his 16-hour stopover who bares his teeth and barks at anyone who tries to use a plug socket. So, yes, having a portable battery pack is definitely a good idea. You want it to be fairly compact, with a high power storage capacity and, preferably, have enough space to charge two devices at once. This Swiss Mobility charger fits the bill and it has a 1,500 hour standby time so it’s going to last till you need it.
Cost: R850 | mantality.co.za
In The Hotel
Phone – Motorola Moto G (2nd Gen) + OneSimCard
Your Galaxy S6 might be an awesome phone but we’re not so sure if you want to be taking it overseas. Things happen and hauling around R10k+ worth of tech in your pocket is an easy way to get an expensive insurance claim going. Even if you’re set on taking along your usual handset, having a second phone (one that is set up to handle the country you’re in) is generally a plan. You can grab a second generation Moto G for under R3,000 and it’s not that expensive to get yourself a OneSim Card which will give you call, SMS and data access in over 200 countries. The Moto G is a dual-SIM handset so you can also switch your standard SIM to the phone for the duration of the trip. And that OneSim can be set up to give you a native number in more than 60 countries, but it’ll cost you.
Battery Extender: Mophie Juice Packs
Okay, so you didn’t listen and you’ve packed in your iPhone 6 or another major flagship for your trip. That means that you need to make sure that it doesn’t run out of power while you’re driving through Death Valley in the middle of the America summer. Because then you’re attached to another object by an inclined plane which is wrapped helically around an axis. Enter Mophie, whose range of Juice Packs will give your Samsung and iOS devices a boost while acting as a casing. Think of it as travel insurance. No, seriously, you don’t want to run out of phone while in a new city with no idea where your hotel is.
Cost: From R2,000 | orange.com/za
Notebook: Macbook Air
If you have to take a notebook, it’s going to have to be a Mac. A Macbook Air, to be specific, but that’s because of the relatively low weight you’re going to be stowing in your bag. But there’s another reason you’re taking a Mac and Windows fans aren’t going to like it… If you’re travelling with a Windows notebook, you’ll be able to do everything (work, watch movies while waiting for room service, etc) that the Windows setup does but you’re less likely to encounter a catastrophic software problem while abroad with Apple’s hardware. It’s no fun trying to troubleshoot a PC in a hotel lobby.
Cost: From R11,000 | istoreonline.co.za
Fiddly Bits – Charge cables and socket adaptors
You need cables. You also need to remember to pack your cables and it’s a good idea to have a dedicated set of charge cables and adaptors designed for overseas use on hand. If you favour Android, you need a decent ribbon charge cable and you need the same thing if you’re on iOS. TYLT makes some good ones for Android (R165 | takealot.com) as well as for the newer i-Devices (R300 | superbalist.com) that are durable and won’t twist up into your other wiring. Thanks, ribbon design. You’ll also need wall-plug adaptors and here we’d recommend at least one SA to UK and one SA to USA converter. This is the most-frequently overlooked item for travellers, which is why you can buy them in every international airport in existence. But if you have one of each and, most importantly, keep them stowed in your luggage at all times, you’ll be covered for most of the world.
Cost: From R90 | mytravelshop.co.za (Or at a mad markup in the terminal. Your choice.)
WiFi Router – Huawei E5730 MiFi
A mobile router, able to distribute a single internet connection to several devices, is a must when travelling overseas. Whether it’s to allow the family to update Facebook or just get updates to several devices, you occasionally want to broadcast your data connection. The Huawei E5730 is ideal because it can share to several wireless devices, as well as an Ethernet-only device, acts as a battery pack (5,200mAh FTW) and is small enough to take up almost no space/weight. Just… good luck finding one in SA, they’ve been nigh sold out since they launched.
Cost: From R1,100 | afrihost.co.za
Around The City
Cash – No, really, bring cash
Don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that your credit card, or any other bit of plastic, is going to be universally accepted. If you’re new to the city, odds are that you’ll find a handful of the local currency goes a long way. How are you going to buy a tram ticket in Germany? (Hint – it involves coins.) Getting on the Tube in London? Trying to pay a taxi driver in New York? Cash is your friend. Not everyone will take a card and finding an ATM once you leave the airport is a lot harder than you’d think coming from South Africa where the things are literally everywhere. Maybe it’s easier if you’re a local but not having some notes and coins on hand makes for stressful travel. Who cares if the line by the Forex counter is long, you need money!
Cost: Up to you (The equivalent of R2,000 is a good idea, depending on the exchange rate)
Apps – Google Translate, Nokia Here Maps, currency converter
Unless you’re Disney’s Goofy, you’re reading this whole thing before leaving for your trip. So go, right now, and download the apps that you’re going to need while abroad. Google Translate, which translates in just about any way you could imagine including via your camera, should be your first port of call. There’s no more Imperialism, so don’t expect everyone to know your language. That’s so 19th century. (Free | Android and iOS) You also have a reason to download Nokia’s HERE Maps app (Android, iOS), which will get you around stores and things in a large number of countries (offline, naturally) – though Google Maps will also do. A currency converter is also a nice-to-have.
Cost: From Free
Fitness Wearable – FitBit Charge HR or BYOD
Let’s face it, you’re going to be doing a lot of walking. If you’re wearing a fitness band or something similar, then at least you’ll be able to brag about your distance and stamina on the trip. Plus, if you’re using something like the Charge HR, you’ll have access to call notifications, your heart-rate (really should not be eating all those burgers in the States…. never again) and how badly jet-lag has body-slammed you with the sleep tracking functions. Or you could, you know, just use your preferred wearable while overseas. We’re not going to judge you for that.
Cost: From R2,500 | dionwired.co.za
Camera – Sony DSC-HX60v
Unless you’re travelling overseas with the express intention of going photography-mad (and if you are, your luggage is a lot weightier than ours), all you’re going to need is a compact camera. Don’t use your smartphone, it doesn’t take nice enough images for cataloging your trip. Take the Sony DSC-HX60v instead. Why? Because it’s one of the best compact cameras you’re going to get your hands on at the moment. 30x optical zoom, that BIONZ X processor, and Sony’s EXMOR R 20.7MP sensor are all a powerful combination. It’s got a built-in flash as well as GPS so your geotagging is accurate (told you we were standing right there, Daniel). It doesn’t hurt that this thing can slip almost unnoticed into a pocket either. Yeah, use your smartphone for apps and messaging rather.
Cost: R5,000 | cameraland.co.za
Just In Case – Leatherman Charge TTi
We can be boy scouts sometimes, wanting to be prepared for any eventuality. That’s not always possible though. For those times, there’s always a multi-tool. You never know if you’re got to have to perform impromptu surgery on the side or the road or break into a complex to avert World War 3. Or fix a wobbly table in your hotel room or something else far more likely. Having a multitool, like the well-prepared Leatherman Charge TTi, can help you out of unexpected jams. To paraphrase Connor MacManus, “You don’t know what you’re gonna need it for, you just always need it.” Rather have it and not need it, etc, etc. Just… stow it in your checked luggage at the airport, they’re not going to let you on the plane with one of these in your backpack.
Cost: R2,800 | capeunionmart.co.za