The modern traveller’s obsession with gadgets

Here for your titillation is a photograph of some of the electrical equipment I’ll be taking to Everest next month. I use the word ‘titillation’ because I know there’s bound to be somebody reading this who loves gadgets, and much to my alarm I seem to be sliding that way too.

Cameras, batteries, chargers, adaptors, memory cards, phone, GPS, solar panel, Kindle - do we really need it all when we travel?
Cameras, batteries, chargers, adaptors, memory cards, phone, GPS, solar panel, Kindle – do we really need it all when we travel?

There was a time not very long ago that I would go to a remote part of the world on trek and love the fact that I’d be completely uncontactable for weeks. I would take a camera and a few spare batteries, but hardly anyone would ever see the photos, so I didn’t need to edit them or post them anywhere till months later. And as to the idea that anyone would want to see a video of my travels – how preposterous!

Now people expect to know what you’re up to in real time, and to tell them about it months later, as we always used to, seems terribly old-fashioned. To support this, I have three cameras: a large one for trekking with, a small one (my ‘summit cam’) to use in places where the big one’s too cumbersome to climb with, and a mini handheld video camera. These all need a selection of different batteries and adaptors to plug into the solar panel for recharging them, and for transferring the files to a laptop.

In the past the phone would have been left in storage at the hotel, as it always used to be useless on trek. But now there’s 3G coverage at Everest Base Camp, so an iPhone has all sorts of uses. The GPS unit and altimeter wristwatch are needed for navigation in case I find myself climbing in a whiteout. The Kindle is just gratuitous. I could easily be taking a library of books with me instead, and swapping them with other people.

It's standard practice now to make phone calls from summits of mountains
It’s standard practice now to make phone calls from summits of mountains

And these are just my personal gadgets. We’ll have a communications tent at base camp with several laptops, satellite phones and modems for internet access, and much bigger solar panels to recharge industrial size batteries even when it’s cloudy. Blogging won’t be a problem; it’s not even very expensive by satellite if you know how to minimise connection time. Web browsing can be horribly expensive though, as can reading email. $10 a megabyte is a typical price, and there’s always going to be someone who sends you a large unsolicited file attachment, unaware that it’s going to cost $50 for you to download it. Consequently there’s a lot more outgoing than incoming communication.

I read an article the other day about the latest top travel gadgets, and decided the most useful thing on the list was a towel. Most of the other stuff was non-essential, and some of it quite useless. When I thought about it later, though, I realised I’ve slipped into the mould of carrying unnecessary gadgets with me now as well. Perhaps my only virtue in this respect is that I never use an iPod when trekking or climbing. We only use four of our senses when experiencing the great outdoors, so to deprive yourself of one of them strikes me as a waste.

Yet despite this, at least I don’t get as excited about gadgets as this man. Here’s some footage of a very emotional Kenton Cool, complete with ‘browcicles’, making the very first 3G phone call from the summit of Everest.

I’d be overjoyed just to get there. If a great many uncertain circumstances come together and I’m able to do so, I won’t be making a phone call, I’ll probably be too exhausted to remember to take a video, and I’ll be very relieved if my camera batteries aren’t too frozen for a summit photo.

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6 thoughts on “The modern traveller’s obsession with gadgets

  • April 25, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Hi, you’ve hit on a point very close to my heart.

    Having carried everything I needed for 14 months on my back I’ve become obsessed with cutting down every gram. The biggest weight/bulk saver for me with was dumping all the chargers that came with my devices and charge everything via USB.

    I also like devices that serve many uses. My phone plays music, surfs the web via wifi, skype, GPS and a lot of apps to do about anything you want. It has a camera too! it’s not good but It can take a pic if needed. I also have an Olympus E-PL3 with a 20mm panasonic lens which I love.

    For USB charging I use
    Mains charger: XtremeMac InCharge Home Plus-2.1 amp
    12V charger: Griffin Dual USB Car Charger Micro
    For my camera batteries I use a KODAK Essential Universal Li-Ion Battery Charger UC-200.
    I also have a Brunton resync 9000mAh battery for those times when I’m bush camping for a week or two.
    For world wide plugs I use a Kikkerland UL03-A Universal Travel Adapter

    This is about as small as I can get it. I wouldn’t be without my camera or phone when traveling.
    Photographic memories and being in contact with family and friends is high on my priorities.
    I dislike people that have to be in constant contact and posting there status/position every 2 minutes. I can live without a computer while traveling and going offline for a time is actually quite refreshing. As for reading I still love real books and usually swap with others on the road.

    As for solar It is a great alternative but for me it is not a necessity.
    I can get by without it so it stays at home. I may bring it for my my next travels across Africa. Plenty of sunshine there.

    Can imagine it must be amazing to climb Everest. Got as far as Base camp in Tibet but only stopped for a day on route to Beijing over a few months.

    Thanks for sharing

  • July 5, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Have downloaded a couple of your diaries on my Kindle. Are a great read! Will download a few more. Am heading over to Nepal later this year, so your diaries and photos have got me pretty excited. Planning on taking my Kindle with me. Looking at buying an altimeter too. What do you use? Any recommendations?

  • July 5, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Hi Andrew

    I have a Casio Pro Trek wristwatch, which I’ve had for a few years now. It comes it lots of different varieties, but the one I have has compass, thermometer, altimeter and barometer, and I’m very happy with it. I’ve had Suunto watches in the past but I’ve always found them a bit flimsy and much prefer my Casio.

    For more precise measurement of altitude I also carry a Garmin eTrex Venture GPS. Again, I’ve had it for a few years now and it does the job, but there are probably better and cheaper models on the market now.

    Enjoy your trip!


  • July 6, 2012 at 5:42 am

    Hi Mark

    Thanks very much for the advice.

    Also, congratulations on your successful summit of Everest! I’ve just finished reading your travel diary, “In the footsteps of Mallory.” That’s awesome that you made it to the top. When can we hope to download your latest diary of the summit climb?


  • July 6, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Thanks, Andrew. It usually takes me a few months to get each diary published after an expedition. I scribble them in a notebook while I’m on the mountain and have to type them up by hand when I get back, which takes me a while.

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