Digital Life

Family holiday tech - what do you take on the road?

When it's time to get away from it all, do you take it all with you?

School holidays are approaching and plenty of people will be thinking about heading out of town for a few days. A change of scenery is always good, but these days most people are reluctant to forgo the technological comforts of home. Where do you draw the line when it comes to taking your tech on the road?

If you're self-employed like me then every family holiday is in part a working holiday, you don't have the luxury of simply disappearing off the face of the earth for a week. Of course even if you are on a payroll you might not be able to escape the clutches of work. This means at the very least you're likely to throw a notebook or tablet in your travel bag, plus maybe a wireless hotspot or USB dongle. If you manage your time wisely, it's possible to slip in a few hours of work without ruining the holiday for everyone.

I stopped buying USB Wi-Fi dongles as soon as standalone Wi-Fi hotspots came along, because they're just so much more useful for people who carry around a gaggle of gadgets. My tiny Vodafone Wi-Fi hotspot is the cornerstone of my tech travel kit, because it can support my work gear along with any other tech which the family brings along.

Relying on a standalone Wi-Fi hotspot, sitting on the kitchen bench in a holiday house, is a lot more convenient than relying on a smartphone to generate a Wi-Fi hotspot for everyone's gadgets. Especially if the owner of the smartphone needs to go out for a while and doesn't want to leave it at home.

I also like the redundancy of having a Telstra smartphone and Vodafone hotspot at hand – Vodafone's wireless data is cheaper but I can always fall back on Telstra if I run into coverage issues. Even during the rest of the year it's very handy to have the two to fall back on if my home power/internet is out for the day, or I'm working away from home.

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If you're getting away from the big smoke these holidays, don't trust the telco coverage maps – they're wishful thinking at best. It's best to ring ahead. I got burned a few years ago when Vodafone's online maps assured me I'd have great mobile broadband coverage in East Mackay, but I couldn't get a decent signal. A call to the local Vodafone store confirmed that East Mackay was a massive blackspot and they were regularly forced to tell customers that the coverage maps were wrong. Having Telstra to fall back on saved the day, but every network has its rough spots.

Every holiday our family tech travel bag seems to get a little bigger. Apart from my work notebook, these school holidays we're likely to lug along another notebook, a few tablets, an e-book reader and a two hand-me-down iPhones which are now used as SIM-less iPod touches.

I've also got an old clock-radio with a 30-pin iPod dock and auxiliary input, which is handy to keep on the bench. This year I might step up two wireless speakers and perhaps even throw in a media player to hook up to the television. It's more flexible than throwing a pile of CDs and DVDs in my bag. I could even stream music and video from my home Plex server, assuming I've got bandwidth to spare.

Don't get me wrong, we don't spend the entire family holiday sitting on the couch staring at gadgets. Every day we get outside, whether it's the beach, the playground, the shops, a round of mini golf or simply kicking around the ball in the backyard. We'll also pack scooters for the kids – which are easier to transport than bikes – plus books, board games and all the other family holiday standards.

The family holiday is a time to unwind and I know I'll get flamed by some people for not going cold turkey with my tech, but I don't think it's mandatory to completely unplug in order to relax and spend some quality time together. What lives in your holiday tech travel bag?

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