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New Year’s Resolutions: 10 Ways to Simplify Your Travels

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Taipei 101 FireworksThe New Year is a great time to reduce the complexity of traveling with technology. It has a tendency to steal more of our time and bog us down, bit by bit, whether it’s lugging a bunch of power adapters or organizing your travels and receipts. But technology can also be used to help simplify things. Gadget guy Phil Baker shares 10 ideas to simplify your travels in 2010.

1. Auto-backup your computer

This is the perennial nag that most of us ignore until calamity hits. But, seriously, it’s never been easier to back up your computer, and then never think about it again. The simplest, easiest, and no hassle way to do it is using a product such as Carbonite. No hardware to buy or set up, no cables to configure. It’s as easy as buying a book online.

Just sign up at its site and download the software. Carbonite will back up everything on your computer in the background without interrupting what you’re doing, even when you’re on the road. It costs $55 per year and is available for both PCs and Macs.

2. Scan your receipts

Every time I return from a business trip I have a slew of receipts of all sizes and shapes. Now I just stuff them into an envelope while traveling, and when I get home, I run them through a NeatReceipts scanner. Plug the small device into your USB port (no adapter is needed), open the scanner software and let it devour receipt after receipt. You can save by client, date or category. When you submit an expense report, just attach the images of each receipt. $200;

3. Bank online

Reduce the drudgery of bill paying by using your bank’s online banking program from where ever you happen to be. I now pay bills in just a minute or two. Just specify the payee and the amount and, with a click of the mouse, the bills are paid. No more late payments even when you’re away from home for a long time.

4. Organize your travels

TripIt screenForget about keeping track of all your flights, hotels and car rentals. Forward your confirmations to and it does the rest: organizing the trip details, adding them to your calendar, reminding you when to get your boarding pass and letting you know of flight delays. $49 per year;

5. Use an online calendar and contact manager

If you’re dependent on your calendar and contacts and use a number of devices such as a smart phone and computers, or prefer to use your hotel’s computer, you’ll always be able to access the latest information.  Try using Google Calendar and contacts, or if you’re a Mac user, MobileMe. You can access and add data from any device and it shows up on the others. No more cables and the hassles of desktop syncing. Google is free and MobileMe is $99 a year.

6. Buy simpler products

When looking at new tech products aim for the simpler ones that are easier to use and easier to travel with. For example, instead of buying a video camera with features you’ll never use, consider the Flip Video. It’s simple to use, easier to travel with and more than adequate for most needs. My rule is when I get a new product, if I can’t install it and learn to use it within the first hour, it goes back. From $149;

7. Simplify your chargers

Buy only new products that use a micro USB charger, not those that use proprietary ones. You’ll never need to worry about misplacing it, will always have a charger that works, and will need to carry fewer of them. I’ve passed on reviewing a number of new cell phones and Bluetooth headsets because they had nonstandard rechargers. They’re anti-environmental; they’ll more likely end up in landfill than be reused for another product.

8. Get off those email lists

Even after using Gmail’s excellent spam filter, I get scores of newsletters, offerings and announcements from entities I once gave my address to, but no longer care about. The problem is each one thinks its news is important and bombards you with useless announcements or automated holiday greetings.

Most reputable mailings of this kind offer an unsubscribe option at the bottom of the mail where you can click and be removed from their list. Do it. But beware of those that then ask you for your address; they may be testing for an active address so they can send you even more spam!

Google Voice9. Manage your phones and voicemail

If you have several phones, each with its own voice mailbox, sign up for Google Voice. You’ll need only to give out a single phone number and can answer any of your phones when a call comes in wherever you happen to be, at home or away. All voice messages will go to one location and will be transcribed and sent to you by email.

10. Use a lighter computer

The difference between an ordinary notebook and a lightweight version can be as much as 3 or 4 pounds. That makes a huge difference when you want to carry your computer with you through airports or to meetings on the road.  Consider the Apple Air, whose solid state drive model is almost $1000 less than when it was first introduced. Or look at the new thin models from Toshiba or Dell.

Have a great New Year and don’t let tech tie you up; let it free you up.

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By Phil Baker for Visit Phil on the Web at, and check out his book, From Concept to Consumer: How to Turn Ideas into Money.