You learn a lot about your tech packing tips when you actually use them to go on vacation.
The last time my writing appeared in this space, I was on a plane to Hawaii after detailing my packing plans and making some claims about how I had become a more enlightened vacationer when it came to choosing what technology to bring.
Now that I've been back on the (relatively) cold and rainy mainland for a few weeks, I thought it might be interesting to revisit my vacation experience and judge what went right and what I need to change about my approach to packing tech for a trip.
Downloading media in advance
A lot of what we "packed" for the trip wasn't physical at all — it was media, loaded on to our iOS devices. Thanks to changes in policy from both Amazon and Netflix, a whole lot of streaming video is now downloadable video, and we took advantage. My son downloaded a bunch of movies from Netflix, and I downloaded a bunch of TV shows from both Netflix and Amazon, and our flights were full of entertainment.
Another piece of tech I brought with me on this trip also made itself handy for watching these movies on the plane: a headphone splitter with individual volume control. My kids — who are not always accommodating with one another — managed to while away an entire flight without a single complaint (except maybe about the airplane food) while watching movies on my son's iPad mini. And on the flight back, my wife and I used the same splitter to enjoy a quick binge of three episodes of the (excellent, by the way) Netflix series "Travelers."
I also brought a bunch of movies that I had bought on iTunes and loaded to my iPad just in case. I probably pre-loaded at least five movies, and we ended up only watching two of them — but that's not a bad batting average, given that I wanted to give the audience some choices.
Cables and adapters
I brought a fourth-generation Apple TV (with remote), an HDMI cable, and a Lightning-to-HDMI adapter, and used them all. In hindsight, bringing the Apple TV was overkill — I could've used my iPad as the playback device and not bothered. I had the room in my carry-on back for the Apple TV (it may be bigger than the third-generation model, but it's not big!), so I brought it, but I might not bother the next time. In fact, in our first hotel room (we stayed in a hotel for a couple of days before joining the rest of our vacation party in a different rental), I didn't even bother hooking up the Apple TV — and played a movie right off the iPad via the adapter and cable.
In both places we stayed, there were HDMI-bearing devices attached to the TV sets; in hindsight, I didn't even need to bring the HDMI cable. But I'm reluctant to travel without one, because I've stayed in too many hotels that are outfitted with fancy flat-screen TVs but attached to video sources by a coaxial cable or a weird hotel-specific video system.
For our drives around the island, I decided to bring a car power adapter and an audio cable for use with the rental car's auxiliary audio input. Only as we began our drive from the airport did I realize that, thanks to my iPhone 7, I couldn't charge my phone and play audio with the aux cable at the same time. Hindsight being what it is, I should probably have spent a couple of minutes pairing my phone with the rental car's Bluetooth audio, which would have freed me up. But like with HDMI, I'm reluctant not to travel with an auxiliary cable — it's often the only lifeline you'll find to get your own music into a rental car's speakers.
Most of our drives didn't really require tunes, as it turned out--the scenery and open windows letting in the warm, humid air were diversion enough. The charger, on the other hand, was a winner. Not only did I need it a few times for my phone, but my daughter — a professional Instagrammer and Snapchatter if ever there was one — needed to recharge constantly when we were driving between photogenic locations.
Speaking of photographs, one accessory that I used that I've never used before was a waterproof iPhone case. I happened to have one that fit an iPhone 5 that I had never used, but kept around just in case — and so on this trip, I stuck an iPhone SE inside of it and used it to shoot underwater photos. (Mindful of what happened to iMore's Serenity Caldwell, I wasn't willing to submerge my iPhone 7 in the Pacific Ocean.)
After a bunch of testing (with an empty case) to verify that it was indeed waterproof, we used it for the week, not just underwater, but whenever we were around water. The case included a wrist strap, so the phone ended up being an ever-present companion, shooting video and photos while safely attached to someone's arm.
Internet, keyboards, AirPods, and podcasts
The rest of my vacation tech notes are a bit of a grab bag. I made sure that the house we stayed in had wireless internet, because I make my living on the internet and needed to be connected just in case. In reality, the connection was so strong that my kids were able to stream YouTube and Netflix videos with ease. Hawaiian broadband has come a long way, and these days you're only isolated if you want to be.
In terms of isolation and not working, I think I did okay. I enjoyed peeking in on Slack and Twitter while I was gone, torturing my friends with beautiful images of paradise while they dealt with snow and freezing rain back on the mainland. But I didn't do a whole lot of work. I did some book editing and worked on compiling a complex story for Six Colors, but that was about it.
I didn't bring a Mac with me, but since I do type for a large part of my living, I brought the Brydge Bluetooth keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and used it on more than one occasion when I needed a more traditional laptop feel from my iPad.
I also didn't record any podcasts on my vacation, so I didn't need to pack any microphones. I did manage to edit one podcast on the flight over, however, using Ferrite Recording Studio; I then encoded and posted it using Auphonic.
Finally, a note on AirPods. I took them with me because I was hoping to find a good use for them on the vacation. I'm not sure it ever really worked out. The time I really needed headphones was on the plane, and the AirPods just didn't work for me there: They let in an awful lot of airplane noise and aren't loud enough to compensate for it. I used a set of canalphones to edit the podcast (and later, listen to music and movies) when I was on the airplane.
As with the car audio adapter, the AirPods didn't get a big workout in Hawaii. It turns out that, for a little more than a week, I considered the sound of tropical birds and breezes more soothing and entertaining than any music track or podcast. And that goes to show: sometimes the best tech vacation strategy is to leave it in your bag.