How To

How to Keep Your Devices Juiced Up on the Road

You can almost date a hotel room’s last remodel by the number and location of jacks. In the old days, you’d be lucky to find a usable power outlet — one that wasn’t taken up with lamps or TV. Plug-in phone jacks were nonexistent.

We then went to bedside phone jacks and later to desktop phone jacks and on to Ethernet jacks for supposed broadband; eventually, we went over to WiFi, with no jacks. Next came flashy flat-screen, media-dripping TVs with no inputs — HDMI inputs came later.

Only very recently were we provided bedside lighting resplendent with power outlets.

We have now ended up, in the newest hotels in late 2013, with powered-USB jacks peppering in-room, now-redundant media centers — redundant already, because we no longer need hotel-provided media. Instead, we carry our own.

Scary stories abound about these USB power jacks — you don’t know what they are connected to, behind the walls, thus making them potentially unusable for anyone concerned with security. Smartphones and tablets, meanwhile, are getting too big to rest on those tiny bedside tables along with coffee cups, redundant landlines and complimentary chocolate.

We don’t necessarily want copious bedside power anymore — we want it over by large, flat, improvised charging-station surfaces, like a desk.

What to do? Well, the simple answer to this conundrum is to become self-sufficient. Bring your own media, screens, Internet connection, comms and power. I’ve spent a lot of time on the road. Here’s how I reckon you need to do it.

Step 1: Purchase a power strip dedicated to your travel kit.

Such strips don’t have to be beige. I bought a svelte-looking, 6-outlet slim-line black one that matches my kit for US$4.99 at Fry’s Electronics. It’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made — I only need to find one spare in-room socket now.

Step 2: Assemble an e-kit.

This should be a dedicated container at your home or work space that contains cables and adapters that you need to grab when headed away from base. Moreover, you need to duplicate it, because wandering around the house looking for spares before a trip does not work. It’s time-consuming, and you will forget something.

Just try finding a unique power supply for a device in a foreign country — it could take you days of fruitless pavement pounding. I know; I’ve done it.

Tip: Cables that you need include HDMI for media out; an Ethernet cable, for the now-rare occasion that a hotel provides Internet that way; and — especially important — power. You need a USB cable plus a wall adapter for each device that uses one as well as dedicated tablet and laptop bricks — if they use them.

Warning: Basic, phone-supplied USB phone chargers will not, on the whole, charge tablets. They don’t provide enough juice.

Step 3: Buy a foreign-power plug converter before you leave the U.S. if you’re headed overseas.

You only need one — matched to where you are going — because you’ve got your power strip. The best place to buy plug converters is in airports, air-side.

Tip: Perform a Google search for the plug style of the country you’re going to. Check a few sources. TripAdvisor can be helpful.

Almost all gadget-type electronics, as opposed to appliances, are dual-voltage, so you don’t need a transformer. Verify dual voltage by checking on the existing brick or adapter, not the device.

Step 4: Acquire some spare batteries and a power bank.

Buy Lithium Polymer rather than Lithium Ion whenever you can. Polymer technology is lighter. Fry’s sells a 13 Ah Tenergy power bank with USB sockets for $99.99.

Don’t forget some spares for headphones, if your headphones use them and are noise-canceling. Keep the batteries with the headphones for swift access on darkened flights.

Step 5: Prepare a dedicated auto kit.

Obtain a cigarette-lighter adapter with attached USB cable for in-vehicle smartphone charging.

A mini-inverter with cigarette lighter plug is ideal for in-vehicle laptop and tablet charging. I use the CyberPower 100W, which runs only $20 at Fry’s. It also has a USB jack.

Want to Ask a Tech Question?

Is there a piece of tech you’d like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that’s got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I’ll try to answer as many as possible in this column.

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Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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