This page is now quite historical as GPS, Cell Phones, and Batteries have changed significantly since 2009. We now carry only items that can be charged via a USB cable, such as lights, camera, iPad and smart phone. This “keep it simple” approach has worked well.
Post Trip Warning:
We have found that the non-rechargeable batteries available in developing countries are of extremely poor quality. Two normal AAs purchased in Canada last 3 days in our GPS, but those purchased in Romania or Tajikistan lasted one hour. We strongly recommend using rechargeable. We took about 10 batteries on the one year trip and the deterioration of these during the year was minor.
We took on our Bangkok to Paris trip:
1. SteriPEN Classic for water purification with 4 AA rechargeable batteries
2. ASUS Eee 900 laptop (with USB port) and charger
3. USB charger for AA and AAA rechargeable batteries
4. Digital Camera with rechargeable battery
5. Garmin GPS Legend HCx with AA rechargeable batteries
6. Petzl Headlamps with AAA rechargeable batteries
7. Cell Phone with charger
8. Spare rechargeable batteries
9. Adapter for European electrical sockets
10. Adapter that makes a light bulb socket into an electrical socket
We soon sent item 10 home, because power sockets are available in all towns.
1. Water Purification
In the past we have used a 2 micron filter that requires pumping. On a previous trip our pump broke. Researching the replacement options we realised that, with clear water, the UV purifier has now become our best option. It is lighter, faster, and probably more robust. The only major problem is that in very bright sunlight it is difficult to tell if the unit is working.
2. Laptop Computer
Deciding to bring one
The are many advantages to bringing a laptop. It allowed us to:
- Prepare blogs and emails prior to going to the internet cafe (if available) in the relative quiet of the tent or hotel room with familiar (but small) keyboard.
- Store electronic copies of guidebooks, maps, travel documents, bike repair instructions and so on; save weight of these items.
- Charge batteries using the laptop USB port; leave heavy AC battery charger behind. The computer acts as a battery charger.
- Enter routes on the GPS using the easier computer interface.
- Show or review/edit photographs in a larger format than camera allows.
The big disadvantage is that we are very sensitive to computer failure or theft. We did make the mistake of plugging in the computer to a plug in Tajikistan that was probably providing DC voltage. It blew up the computer power supply.
The ASUS Eee 900 weighs 1Kg (including charger) with 20GB of storage, 1GB of memory, and fan as the only moving part was the obvious choice. It is used by many motorbike travellers, which made us confident that was rugged. We will also carried two memory sticks for taking material to the internet cafe for upload. We considered leaving the protective bag behind to save weight. We were glad we did not, because dirt gets into the keyboard.
3. Battery Charger
The lightest option we could find was the Energizer Duo USB Charger. It worked without any problems for the year. Unfortunately Energizer no longer make a USB charger but there are several other makes available (but beware you want a unit that charges your aa/aaa batteries not a unit that is uses aa/aaa batteries to charge another device such as a cell phone … both types are called battery chargers so it can be confusing).
4. Digital Camera
We own a Canon IXUS 980IS camera. The memory card goes in a slot in the Eee laptop. We carry a separate charger for its battery.
On the Bangkok to Paris trip we used Garmin’s World Map along with local paper maps and a compass. The Garmin map has 1000 ft contours, and also has obvious errors (water flowing up 2000 ft hills), but is good for planning the route. The Garmin GPS Legend HCx seemed the best economic and lightweight GPS compatible with this map. The memory card in its adapter goes into the Eee laptop.
The GPS is not essential. Maps, compass, and common sense are far more important. But we did find the GPS useful for:
- Navigating out of large towns
- For easy navigation in areas where GPS tracks are shared by fellow travellers
- Providing exact sunrise and sunset times
- Providing a route record, including elevation profiles
- Amusing the locals
- Knowing your elevation
We carry a headlamp for camping use, cycling through tunnels, and for emergency after-dark cycling. We carry several small “blinky” lights as well, including red ones semi-permanently affixed to the backs of our helmets.
7. Choosing a Cell Phone for Trans-Asia
We have purchased a quad band Motorola V235. We tested this phone on a trip to England, where we purchased a SIM card & top-ups from Vodaphone. It worked well. On our Trans-Asia trip, we purchased SIM cards in most countries we visited, and the cheapest Canadian pre-paid service (currently 365 days @ $100 at the local Seven Eleven store) when we returned. The cell phone was mainly kept for emergency use, with most calls home made on our laptop using Skype.
How we chose:
A cell phone for emergency use and occasional phone calls home seems essential. Read Heather’s description of dealing with Russian police on her Crazy-Guy-on-a-Bike blog to see a phone’s utility in a dicey situation.
1) What would work
2) What was cheapest
There’s a lot of information available on the web, though it’s mainly pitched at Americans and Europeans. Adjusting the information for Canadians is not difficult.
A good general review of the situation is given at in a nine part series in the Travel Insider. On reading this, we decided to purchase a new clamshell unlocked GSM Quad-Band phone. Globally, there are four possible network frequencies, so such a phone will work almost anywhere in the world that a network exists. (Japan and Korea have a different system.) A worldwide map of availability shows that all main towns on our proposed route have network coverage.
The biggest up-front cost is the phone (comes with international charger) which we purchased for CAN$125. Phone with charger weighs about 150g.
The other up-front cost is the SIM Card that gives the phone it’s number. There are two options for SIM cards:
- Buy from an international service provider. This is more expensive, but means we’d have one phone number for the whole trip.The international service providers have a complicated sets of calling charges. A good review of providers is given at Intouch Smart Cards (US biased, a commercial site) and Pre-Paid GSM (European biased, reasonably non-commercial site). The SIM card itself typically costs about 15 Euros. The calling charges are complex, so we compared the cost of phone calls from China to Canada. These ranged from UK1.15 Pounds to 0.74 Euro per minute.We looked at an international SIM card and package from 09 Mobile. 24 Euro to purchase and 0.74 Euro per minute China to Canada. Based on 6 hours of use over 12 months, this came to 24.2 Euro/month
- Buy a card from each major country we pass through. This changes the phone’s number for each country, and provides the hassle-challenge-entertainment of purchasing the card in each new country.
We decided to buy as we go, even though this means the phone number changed with country. This decision minimized the cost and allowed us to choose a good coverage network in each country.
Post Trip Note:
For the most part, we succeeded in getting new SIM cards upon entering each new country. In Uzbekistan, you cannot get one unless you have a permanent address, so we used Skype when we had internet. In Turkey, our SIM card stopped working after a month. We understand that this is standard. In Europe, we crossed to new countries so quickly that we didn’t get SIM cards till we got to France, where it was useful for final logistics. We used Skype, on our netbook, extensively for international calls, and the cell phone for local calls.
We enjoyed the challenge of buying a SIM card in each new country.
The quality of rechargeable batteries has improved drastically in recent years. Until very recently, we would have purchased batteries as we travelled. Although this might still be a good choice from a weight point of view, it is not environmentally a good option. In addition good quality batteries are not universally available.
Looking into recharging batteries for our accessories, we decided we would use the laptop’s USB port as a lightweight charger. So we carried a laptop with USB charger (125g), and 2 AAA and 2 AA rechargeable batteries as spares (72g), as well as batteries to operate:
- 1 Cell phone
- 2 Petzl Headlamps (three AAA)
- 1 Camera (two AA)
- 1 Garmin eTrex Legend HCx GPS (two AA)
- Standard batteries (not rechargeables) are still required for:
- 2 Bike Computers (one 3g batteries)
- Several MEC Turbo Turtle Red LED Rear Lights (two 3g batteries)
9. AC Power Adapters
We found we always could find eitherorplugs.
10. Socket Adapter
While there are many types of plugs used in Asia, we understood before we started on the trip that light sockets are relatively standard. Threaded sockets are very common, so we can increase our chances of being able to recharge batteries by taking this item purchased from our local hardware store. We soon sent it home as power sockets are available in all towns.