Cover from a Martha Stewart Good Thing book

Does Martha Stewart still say, “It’s a good thing”? Hearing her say that on her TV show soured me on the expression forever, yet there are so many occasions when I could use the phrase. This is one of them.

Warning: geeky stuff ahead, but useful geeky stuff. Especially if you travel to far-away lands. Below is a list of tech solutions that travel with us and have proven to be indispensable. I’ll be brief.

Photo of our KindlesKindles. We each have one, what Amazon calls the “Paperwhite” model. They glow in the dark (from within, somewhat magically) so you can read them in bed without disturbing your partner, and they’re easy to read out of doors, the more sunlight the better. Kindles hold over a thousand books (whatever for?) and weigh a little over half a pound. They’re about as thick as a pack of matches. Kindle books (buy them with the Kindle itself wherever wi-fi is around) are often available for free and those that do cost money almost always cost less than their respective printed versions.

Photo of battery-based USB chargerBattery-based USB charger. Speaking of Kindles, they are battery powered and since they discharge so infrequently (about every three weeks), you sometimes forget to charge them and get the critical-battery message just when there are ten pages remaining in a Baldacci novel. What to do? Plug it into the wall outlet? You’re in bed, Sherlock. The wires are in the other room, the outlet is down near the floor, and the wires will probably strangle (or electrocute) you as you fall asleep anyway. The solution is a battery USB charger. It’s just a big battery (relatively speaking – mine’s about the size of a salt shaker) that you plug your Kindle (or phone, or camera) into so you can keep on doing whatever it was that you were doing in the first place. What’s more, it will operate and charge your device while it’s connected. The one that’s pictured will charge my phone twice before it needs to be charged itself. No more long wires in inconvenient places at inopportune times!

Photo of USB chargerHigh-power, multiple-outlet, dual-voltage USB charger. When you must plug things into the wall to charge them, a high-power USB charger is the solution. The one that’s pictured retracts its plug for convenient storage, and offers two one-amp (or 1,000 milliamp) USB connections. Oh sure, you can charge things like phones with the USB connection on your computer, but that’s usually rated at 250 to 500 milliamps, thus requiring as much as four times as long to do the job. Get an adapter and be sure the one you select is rated for either American (110v) or European voltage (220v). I’ve noticed that a lot of things that require charging via USB cable no longer come with a USB adapter (just a cable), so as long as you’re gonna have to get something anyway, get one of these.

Photo of outlet adapterOutlet adapter. The (white) one pictured is for European outlets. There are others for UK and Australian outlets. They don’t change the voltage, they just change the pin configuration. They’re cheap, and since everything you’re traveling with is rated for either 110 or 220 volts (it is, isn’t it?), all you need are the right holes in the right place. I think I bought six of these for about eight dollars.

Screen shot of VPNVirtual Private Network. This is especially geeky, but worth whatever it takes. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a way to spoof trolls who eavesdrop on public network traffic in places like Starbucks, where the harvest is sometimes account numbers and passwords. You’d never want to log into your bank, for example, when you’re using a public network. Instead, you route your data through a VPN and the trolls are foiled.

A side benefit is that many VPNs are in the US, so anything you’re connected to thinks you’re in the States, no matter where you really are.

Netflix warning messageLet’s take Netflix. If Netflix determines you’re outside of the US (where they don’t have the necessary licenses), you’ll probably get the message that’s pictured here – and no Netflix. Ditto Pandora and scores of other entertainment sites. My VPN is in Florida, I think (“Hotspot Shield” – it’s free with unobtrusive ads). It’s software. There’s nothing to buy. And it works.

Everything I’ve mentioned (except the Kindles) fits into a small zippered bag. The bag and everything in it is an essential to travel nowadays (if you have phones or cameras), and quite inexpensive. It’s a Good Thing.

I’ll deny I said that of you ever quote me.

(Photo credit for Martha Stewart book: Amazon.com. The book is here.)