When relaxing on vacation, you don’t have to leave all your technology behind. There are a few things I’ve found to be genuinely helpful, from software to clever hardware add-ons.
I don’t want to reflexively equate “summer” with “vacation,” but considering I’ll be on a train headed for a week away when this column publishes, I can’t help myself. It’s also an opportunity for those of us who’ve spent an inordinate number of hours behind screens during the wet Seattle winter to discover the great outdoors.
These days, of course, that doesn’t mean all of our technology is left behind. I’m not suggesting a swing toward bringing the office or every gadget with you, but there are a few things I’ve found to be genuinely helpful, from software to clever hardware add-ons.
TripMode 2: It’s easy to get comfortable in our various Wi-Fi bubbles, whether it’s the network at home, work or favorite cafes. When I travel outside that range, I turn to the Personal Hotspot feature of my iPhone. You’ll find it in Settings, but note that some providers may charge extra to activate the feature.
With Personal Hotspot turned on, the iPhone creates its own Wi-Fi network, so any device you connect to it, such as your Mac, can take advantage of the phone’s cellular internet connection.
Since most cellular plans include data caps, however, a Mac that thinks it’s connected to broadband can burn through that data quickly. Typically, the Mac doesn’t care about how much data it’s using, so Web browsers load full pages that can contain hundreds of megabytes; the Photos application synchronizes images in the background if you use iCloud Photo Library; and all sorts of applications check or download updates.
That all adds up quickly. I found that out the hard way once when I burned through my cellular data plan in a day.
The solution is to buy and install TripMode 2 (www.tripmode.ch), an $8 utility for macOS that gives you control over which applications and processes use the network. It appears as a menu bar item with a list of applications; simply click the checkboxes for the items you want to grant internet access.
It keeps a running count of how much data is being used during the current sessions, so you can see at a glance if something unexpected is gobbling up data.
A new feature in TripMode 2 for Mac (but not the Windows version) is the ability to set a data limit so you don’t accidentally blow through your cap.
TripMode is also smart enough to know when you’ve connected to a mobile hot spot and can turn on automatically.
For example, I use the BackBlaze service to maintain an off-site network backup of my MacBook Pro, and although I could go into BackBlaze’s preferences and pause the backup, it’s never the thing that’s top of mind — that’s the whole point of automatic background backups. When TripMode is on, though, it prevents BackBlaze from connecting.
USB power fun: Once on a camping trip, I made the mistake of thinking I could charge up my phone and iPad using an adapter in my car with the car’s auxiliary power on. Then I started cooking breakfast and forgot about the phone until later when I had a half-charged phone and a dead car battery.
I vowed that would never happen again, and in the years since, the market for personal USB charging devices has grown enormously. You can pick them up nearly anywhere, and as you’d expect, they vary in quality and capacity.
I’m currently using a Jackery Bolt (www.jackery.com/products/jackery-bolt.html), a 6,000 mAh portable battery that is small enough to carry in my everyday bag. It retails for $70 but is priced at about $35 or less online. What’s nice about the Bolt is that it has two built-in connectors, so you don’t need extra cables (except to charge the device itself): one Lightning plug for iOS devices, and one microUSB plug for nearly everything else.
A new USB power discovery was also handy when I went camping a few weeks ago. The Luminoodle (powerpractical.com/products/luminoodle-led-light-rope) is a 5-foot flexible, waterproof strip embedded with LED lights that can be draped or hung almost anywhere.
It doesn’t have a built-in power source: You plug one end into any USB charger. It has sliding magnets you can use to attach the rope to metal or rubber ties to wrap around almost anything else. The 5-foot Luminoodle costs $20, and a 10-foot one is $30.
Lastly, since I’m evangelizing USB power, I decided I was tired of having to wait until I was back at a power plug to recharge my camera batteries, so I spent $9 and bought an OAproda Micro USB Battery Charger that fits the battery for my Fujifilm X-T1 camera. (Many companies make these for various batteries; search Amazon.com or Google to find one that is compatible with your camera battery.)
It’s just a slim battery charger, like others that I own, but plugs in via USB instead of wall power. That means I can top up a battery using my Jackery Bolt while traveling or after a long vacation day making photos and not have to worry about running out of juice.