Nothing makes a heart skip a beat like a red-flat battery icon: how will I finish off that text, email, presentation, photo or ebook? The tricks below will let you power your devices and gadgets while travelling without adding much bulk to your baggage – but the best way to avoid a battery emergency may also be to practice power-saving habits.
Charge on the go
Portable battery chargers are little boxes, smaller than a deck of cards, that can give you hours of extra phone, iPad, Kindle, camera or gaming juice while on the go; some are even solar powered. Pop one of these in your bag or pocket on a night out in your own town as a handy backup. For iPhone users, slim phone cases are available that hold hidden battery packs to double your usage time, so you don't even have to think about recharging.
Keep a wall charger in your bag to refuel your device at common chains such as Starbucks, which often offer power points and free wi-fi.
A lighter choice
Most Kindles and other ebook readers have a battery life of a month – much more convenient than the iPad's daily charging demands. So if you just only care about reading books (and not watching videos or surfing the net), ask yourself if you really need that iPad or if a cheaper, lighter and more efficient ebook reader will be a better fit.
Now may also be the time to dust off an old backup phone. Remember when phones without touchscreens lasted for days without having to recharge? If you have one lying around, take it with you on holiday so you can stay in touch without battery stress.
Perhaps the most battery-efficient device may be the one that boots instantly and has a paper-thin display: the printed book. Using a travel guidebook, map or notebook (the pen and paper kind) can be more stress-free than relying on an internet connection, Google Maps or a keyboard.
How to save your phone or gaming device's battery
Most modern phones and gaming devices such as the Sony Playstation Vita devour their battery life on the two things that make them wonderful – the monitor-like displays and the internet connection. We wouldn’t expect any phone junkie to cut these features out completely, but dialling it back can help you get through a whole day without a battery icon freak-out. Some other good tips for lightening the load on your battery:
- Turning the screen to its dimmest setting saves a lot of energy, as does not using your phone to read the time – use a watch, not the battery-hungry phone display.
- Turn off GPS and wi-fi when you’re not using either of these draining features. Data use is even more power-hungry, so in the phone’s settings, select the option not to sync automatically in the background – that way you'll only use power to check for emails or run internet apps when you manually choose to do so. If you turn off data use altogether (crazy, we know) you’ll notice that your battery life will double. An app like Advanced Task Killer (Android; play.google.com) can turn off sneaky background apps to prevent them from sapping your power.
- Turn off 3G in areas where you can’t get a signal (like underground), otherwise the phone will constantly seek a signal, which will exhaust your battery.
- Phone calls use more power than texts, so communicate by SMS if possible.
How to save your camera's battery
Any task that involves the LCD screen will chew through your battery, so don’t spend too long looking through the photos you've taken if you can wait until you get home.
Similarly, if your camera has an optical viewfinder, use this and turn off the LCD screen – or at least turn down its brightness, since a dimmer screen uses less power. Turn on the camera screen’s sleep settings so that the display dims quickly after inactivity.
Use a memory card reader to download photos to your computer, making your computer do all the work, rather than burdening your camera’s battery.
How to save your notebook or iPad's power
Just as a hot day will make any traveller drag their feet slowly through the heat, the cold helps electronic devices run more efficiently, preventing battery-hungry features (such as fans in laptops) from kicking in. So try to keep laptops cool with airflow beneath them, and keep phones out of the sun. Also, don’t make your device work harder than it needs to: go easy on watching video and turn off background applications that aren’t essential – you'll often find items that you don’t even realise are running, such as Desktop Search, iTunes or Skype.
On an iPad, also turn off sync, push notifications, location services and data if you don’t need them.
Pack a spare
With the exception of iPhones, iPods and iPads, most cameras, laptops and phones allow you to swap the battery yourself in seconds, so buy a spare battery of the same make and keep it charged up and ready to go.