Category: Tech

The Tech Gear And Gadgets I Travel Around The World With: April 2017

foxnomad electronics

The gadgets I travel with, including the laptop I’m typing this on right now, enable me to run a business, share my travels with you, plus stay connected from all over the world. Electronics are an essential component to the lifestyle I have, though the frequency of my travels means I need to be organized, efficient, and light. Reliability is also important since replacing equipment isn’t always an easy option depending on where I am. Because of this, I tend to get a model or two behind the latest version of a phone or laptop for example. This way, any potential kinks have been exposed and the hardware is still fairly future-proof.

Although I keep an updated page of the tech I travel with, in case you haven’t seen it in a while, let me share some updates with you here.

Laptop: Macbook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2015): 2.8 GHz Intel Core i7; 16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 memory; 500GB SSD; AMD Radeon R9 M370X

macbook pro mid 2015

  • Recommended Laptop Cover: Incase Icon Sleeve – Very recently my laptop took a scary fall from an airport X-ray machine. The Incase sleeve saved it from major damage, despite a nearly 1.2 meter (4 foot) drop on a hard surface. The fall only left a barely perceptible scratch.

Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS45 [Here’s my full review.]

lumix dmc-zs45

Phone (Daily Driver): iPhone 6s (64 GB)/Space Grey

iphone 6s 64 gb space grey

Headphones: Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones [My full review.]

bose 20i headphones

Drone: DJI Mavic Pro

dji mavic pro

Backpack: SwissGear 1900 Scansmart Laptop Bag

swissgear smartscan 1900 laptop bag

  • All of the electronics in this list, including the DJI Mavic drone, fit into this one bag.

Cable Organizer: Cocoon Grid-It 10.5 x 7.5-Inch Organizer

cocoon grid-it

  • This is a major time-saver when going through airport security because you can pull out all of your cords and adapters at once. I’ve also noticed having cables organized like this means less time waiting for additional bags checks at security – a clump of cables often means re-scanning your backpack.

All Of The Accessories And Lesser Used Items

I carry a number of other phone models, to test new versions of my WiFox app, which is a continuously updated map of wireless passwords from airports and lounges worldwide.

  wifox ios app store   wifox google play android   wifox app amazon
lots of mobile phones

When I’m not using iOS, I find myself falling back on the Google Nexus 5x for stock Android time. For reading books or when I need a larger, mobile screen in general, I use a 64 GB iPad Air 2 protected by an Apple Smart Case.

apple smart caseApple iPad Air 2

amazon buy now

powertripPortable Batteries: PowerStick+ (2300 mAh) PowerTrip (6000 mAh). These batteries have a standby time of up to a year so you’re much less likely to be on a train and realize your batteries died on the road. Read my full review here.

Connectors And Converters

I almost omitted my quiet, simple, and reliable Genius USB optical mouse which I picked up in Argentina in 2010. It was an impromptu purchase to replace its wireless predecessor, stolen out of my bag by an airline employee. It’s a rough world for a mouse but at least its always got a good friend around – mouse pad Albert Einstein. Finally, if you’re a blogger and interested to know what services I use to maintain this site, I have listed them here.

How To Protect The Data On Your Laptop When Crossing International Borders

mbp incase

The number of digital devices being searched at international borders, like airports, has jumped in many countries. Recently, I wrote how you can protect your phone when traveling across international borders, but laptops are fair game as well. Since laptop operating systems are generally much more flexible than a given phone OS, they’re both easier to secure – and crack – at the same time.

These are some steps you can take to protect your laptop and privacy while traveling from unwarranted searches.

Know Your Rights – Hardly Any

The world is, of course, a big place so laws and rules vary widely depending on where you’re traveling. For the most part, you and all of the items you’re bringing in to a country, including electronics, can be searched by border control. You may be legally obligated to hand over passwords but even if you aren’t, resisting at an airport is going to cause you hassle, potential denial of entry, plus a lot of anxiety.

montevideo airport

Rather, your best bet is to digitally secure and obfuscate the personal information on your laptop so it doesn’t end up in random hands.

Encrypt In Layers

Even if you’re not traveling or particularly worried about border searches, completely encrypting your storage drive is a good precaution in case your machine is ever lost or stolen. Both Windows (using BitLocker) and macOS (using FileVault) support full disk encryption natively. Basically this means when your laptop is powered off, the data from the hard or solid-state drive can’t be read. Full disk encryption doesn’t protect your device when it’s powered up and you’re logged on to it, which might be the case during an airport search, so the next step is to encrypt using hidden folders.

  • Hidden Volumes – Although my once recommended option TrueCrypt is no longer supported, the (also open-source) VeraCrypt has semi-officially taken its place. VeraCrypt has many encryption features but of particular note is ‘hidden volumes‘ which encrypts a folder in two ways. Essentially, entering one password decrypts a given folder to reveal certain files while another password unlocks other files. So, in this sense you could give over a password that only decrypts or makes visible the files and folders most sensitive to you.

Use Multiple User Accounts

Creating multiple user accounts on your laptop is also another way to feel more confident against a routine physical search. Using innocuous names (e.g. family, general, etc.) it’s safer to hand over a machine logged in as a user with reduced (non-admin) privileges, giving you some piece of mind. Changing folder names might also be prudent; from things like “Important Company Documents” to “self-sealing stem bolts” potentially making them less appealing.

Leave It At Home

Obviously, what you don’t bring with you isn’t searchable but for many business and other travelers, not having a laptop with you isn’t feasible. You could bring a blank machine, or simply load the data you want to keep secure on an encrypted USB (or portable charger like this) drive. (VeraCrypt can be used to encrypt and created hidden volumes on removable drives as well.) Alternatively, you could upload important files to CrashPlan, delete them off your laptop, and reload everything once you’ve arrived at your destination.

All of the above obviously comes with varying degrees of hassle but depending on where you’re going, your company’s policies, or other privacy concerns, might be worth exploring.

How To Protect Your Phone And Privacy When Traveling Across International Borders

phone edinburgh

You are traveling in a world that’s getting smaller while at the same time carrying more information about yourself than at any time history. As international travel becomes easier, more and more travelers are confronting the legal reality that many rights you may have in a country don’t apply at the border. Earlier this year, Sidd Bikkannavar, an employee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (and a US citizen), was detained in Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and his NASA-issue phone searched.

Such cases are more common than you may realize. In the United States in 2015, an estimated 4,444 phones were searched or seized at the border. It’s important to understand your digital rights as a traveler and protect your personal information from unwarranted searches and seizure.

What Are Your Rights At A Border?

Not all borders are the same but broadly speaking borders don’t have to be lines on a map either. Sea and airports are considered borders themselves, which is why you haven’t technically entered a country until you pass the immigration line. The United States Supreme Court, for example, has repeatedly ruled that the American 4th Amendment to the Constitution doesn’t quite apply at the border, even if you’re a U.S. citizen.

Your phone, all the social media accounts its logged into, photos, and other personal information can be searched, confiscated, or downloaded without probable cause in most countries. There are however, some measures you can take to protect yourself faster than you can say, “I have nothing to hide.”

Tactics From Simple To Drastic

First of all, know your rights depending on where you are going. Not bringing your phone with you is the first, most drastic option. Leaving your smartphone which serves as camera, GPS, fitness tracker, and more isn’t feasible for most people. Many companies (not to mention journalists and lawyers) whose employees travel with sensitive company information on their devices, opt for a less drastic maneuver. To protect their proprietary information, sources, etc. they back up their phones to a hard drive, cloud service, or somewhere else; then wipe their phones before traveling. Once they arrive at their destination, they simply restore their phones from the backups.

Other tactics include getting a “burner” phone, one you only use while traveling that’s not logged into your social media or email accounts. (Maybe a new Nokia 3310?) Obviously, you’re shifting your data elsewhere and inconveniencing yourself to varying degrees depending on how concerned about your privacy you are.

Digital Resistance Band

In many countries, it’s legally more difficult for border agents to compel you to give up a password, than a fingerprint. Some privacy advocacy groups recommend removing fingerprint unlocking capabilities from your phone; or turning the phone off so you can legally refuse to give up your passwords. (Be careful though, in Canada for example, this can get you charged with obstruction.) And in pretty much all cases, resisting is going to get you a lot of hassle.

Ultimately, this is an issue that will continue progress (or not) in the various legal systems around the world. In the meantime here’s how to boost the privacy of your iPhone, improve privacy settings on Android, and come up with your own personal travel security plan.

How To Track Steps Using Your iPhone (Hint: It’s A Built-In Feature)

lisbon 25 de abril

Many of you want to track the number of steps you’ve taken during the day or know the distance you’ve covered sightseeing. Activity trackers like Fitbit are good options, but if you’re an iPhone user mainly interested in tracking distance and steps, this functionality is already built-in your phone.

fitbit charge 2 Fitbit Charge 2 Heart Rate + Fitness Wristband

amazon buy now

All you need to do is activate the feature from Apple’s Health app and remember to keep your phone on you at all times. Here’s how to do the first part, the second part I’m guessing you started a long time ago.

Dust Off Health

It’s easy to ignore the Health app, which has been a part of iOS since version 8.0. Trust me, it’s there, because Apple doesn’t let you delete it – but unlike a number of fairly useless apps Cupertino forces on you, Health, although clumsy, is a convenient way to track your daily movements.

  • In case you can’t find it, ask Siri to “open Health” or swipe down from any screen to search for Health.

Once you’re in the Health app, if it’s your first time using it, you’ll be asked to either enter (or skip) your medical data and emergency contacts. After you’ve completed or ignored those steps, you’ll see the Heatlh Data screen shown below.

ios health data

Tracking Activity

Tap Health Data, then Fitness > Walking + Running Distance. Next, toggle on Show On Dashboard, and go back to the Health Data screen. From there, in about 24 hours after your phone has had a chance to collect some data, you should see a graph of how many steps you’ve taken, flights of stairs you’ve climbed, and the overall distance covered.

ios walking steps

There’s no need for any additional equipment except the phone of course, it can’t track how much you’re walking if it’s not in your pocket. iOS also has a list of recommended apps, which can expand your fitness tracking ability, but for simple sightseeing step counting, Health is a handy tool.

With some data on how much you’re walking, you can better calculate how many calories you burned sightseeing, and potentially encourage yourself to 10,000 daily steps, even at the airport.

Simple But Powerful, Currency Is An Essential App For International Travelers

currency app

For nearly as long as I’ve been traveling with a (then) iPod touch, now several mobile phones, there’s been one app so consistently useful I’ve overlooked how integral its become to my travel routine. Currency is a free app for Android and iOS that lets you convert between multiple currencies, easily and offline.

Current Conversion

Currency is a pretty simple app to set up. Once you’ve downloaded it [iOS or Android] you add the currencies (e.g. dollars, euro, pesos) you want, then pick one to convert the others to an equivalent amount. So, let’s say the U.S. dollar is your home currency, you would choose dollars, then add the other currencies you might be using the near future. Set your home currency to one dollar, to see how many euro or yuan that happens to be. You can also quickly tap on the euro to change it to 1 (or 2, 3.5, whatever) to see how much it is in all the other currencies you’ve added.

currency app

The conversions in Currency are set to update automatically, so whenever you have an Internet connection the rates are as up to date as the time of your last Internet connection. When you don’t have an Internet connection, you can see do conversions with the last rates that were synced. Most currencies don’t change enough over a short period of time to where that should cause a major concern in most cases (save for some local financial collapse).

Constantly On Hand

Currency is extremely handy when you’ve arrived at an international airport so you don’t have to walk up to an ATM with no idea how much money you’re actually withdrawing. You can also help yourself when bargaining abroad because our minds tend to evaluate costs best in our home currency.

There are two versions of Currency: one that’s free with ads – to remove them you’ll need to pay $3.99. The ads aren’t intrusive but if you want to support the developer, it shouldn’t hurt your travel budget at all to purchase a well-designed app that provides a very handy function.

A Review Of The World’s Thinnest iPhone Charging Case: ChargeTech ThinCharge

The ChargeTech ThinCharge is a such a simple piece of technology, it’s hard to appreciate how useful it is, until everyone who sees it asks you about it. ChargeTech sent me a ThinCharge for the iPhone 6s, which I’ve been using for the past few months. You can see more in the video above on how it works, how thin it is, and what a benefit it is to expand your iPhone’s battery capacity by 1.5 times in an 85 gram, 11 millimeter-thick protective case.

chargetech thincharge  ThinCharge: World’s Thinnest iPhone 6 / 6S Battery Case [Black]

amazon buy now

The ThinCharge takes around 4.5 hours for a complete charge, which should comfortably get you through the day (or a long flight). An LED light on the side indicate how much charge the case itself has (the more it flashes the less power is left).

Nearly Perfect For Case Haters

The buttons of the case where the LED light is located is my only real gripe with the ThinCharge. Although you can charge the case and sync your phone with iTunes on your laptop without having to take it out of the case, you need to turn the case on by long pressing the top volume button. That means every time you turn on or off the ThinCharge, your ring volume will jump to maximum and you’ll need to remember to turn it down.

thincharge chargetech

Otherwise, the ThinCharge is an ideal charging case for people who both hate cases for adding bulk to a phone and hate Apple for making anemic batteries. iPhone 7 and 7 Plus users, ChargeTech’s Indegogo campaign was successful, so those should be available for purchase soon. I’ll post links here when the iPhone 7 model is released; available now is the ThinCharge for iPhone 6 and 6s which you can find here.


About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More

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