Travel Tips: Keeping Gadgets and PCs Powered

Gadget Travel Guide Part I: Keeping Powered

Power is the pulsating lifeblood of every gadget, and unless you find away to keep the battery cells in your army of electronic gizmos topped off, all you’re looking at is a black screen. Though advances in battery technology and more efficient circuitry have done wonders to keep your gadgets alive for longer in recent years, keeping them juiced up on longer trips can still be problematic. Here a few simple tricks to make sure your digital life doesn’t come to a grinding halt right as you need it.

Turn off features you don’t use

Wi-Fi, 3G Internet and Bluetooth are all notorious power thieves that will kill your laptop or cell phone’s battery life much faster than just using it for the basics.  While you might think that they’re not affecting battery life because you’re not using them, automated tasks might be using them in the background anyway. For instance, many smartpgones will automatically scan for Wi-Fi and download e-mails using its 3G Internet access even as they sit in your pocket. Turning these features off can help extend the life of device significantly.

Adapt for any outlet

The three-prong plug trailing out of your laptop’s power brick is great when you’re at home or in the office, but you may find yourself out of luck when travelling abroad. Power options vary all of the world, even from country to country in Europe, so be sure to investigate the power options in your destination country ahead of time and pick up the proper adapter or converter. Also beware that the shape of the outlet isn’t always the only thing that’s different – the voltage in many countries comes out of the wall at 220V – twice what we have here in North America. Though many power supplies accept this natively (your laptop probably does, check the label on the brick,) simpler, less expensive products may not, so consult the manual if in doubt. You can always invest in a converter that will turn 220V to the North American 110V if you need it.  If you’re planning on hitting multiple countries in one trip, or just want to be prepared for spur-of-the-moment travel, some companies also offer kits that include multiple tips for different countries. And don’t forget, even here in the U.S., you might encounter older buildings and surge protectors that only offer two prongs, so a three-to-two prong adapter makes a cheap and lightweight addition to any travel bag.

Buy another battery

It’s an obvious suggestion, perhaps, but still worthy of consideration. Besides doubling the life of your device, having another battery around will also allow you to charge one while you use one, giving you zero downtime as you wait for a charge. This can be a major advantage if you’re using something wireless but can’t afford to be without it, like a digital camera on a busy vacation. As an even better option, you can buy a larger second battery, which will give you extended run times between charges. Though these can both be expensive options, snagging a third-party battery on eBay can be a good way to save.

Restore your existing battery

Have an older laptop that dies within five minutes of unplugging it because it refuses to hold a charge? You’ll never get it back to that like-new state, but there actually is a trick that might help you revive it to a usable condition: freezing it. Drain the battery completely, put it in a plastic bag, throw it in the freezer for a solid day, then let it warm up and charge it again. Repeat this process a few times and you should notice a measurable improvement in run time. Though you’ll definitely find a lot of skepticism for this method on the Web, it worked in our own tests, after repeating it a few times. Also note that cold Northeastern winters make a convenient substitute for the freezer, if the lady of the house doesn’t want battery packs next to the steaks. Just don’t expect miracles.

Leech off another device

You’ve only got one cell phone battery, it’s on the brink of death, there’s not an outlet in sight, and you’re expecting an important phone call in 45 minutes. What do you do? Charge off your laptop battery. Many devices like phones and MP3 players will charge through their USB data cables, so a laptop can effectively act like a giant secondary battery pack. Since cell phones use so little power compared to a notebook computer, it won’t sap much off your laptop life, either. Beware that most laptops won’t power their USBs ports by default when the lid is closed, though, so you may have to sift through a few menus of power saving options to enable it.

Go solar

Sometimes, learning to preserve battery power or tap it from a different source isn’t enough, you’ll need to actually generate it for yourself. Fortunately, many companies now offer a huge range of solar-powered chargers from everything from cell phone batteries to the more universal rechargeable AAs. Sure, they’re not as fast as grid-powered equivalents, but when you’re 100 miles from the nearest outlet on a remote camping trip and want to capture that surreal sunrise, you’ll be happy you invested in one.

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