One inarguably good thing about electronic publishing is that it solves that old quandary about what books to pack for your holiday — you just take a tablet or Kindle and buy books on a whim. The downside, however, is that this old dilemma has been replaced by an entirely new one: what bits of electronic crap need you take on holiday and what should be left at home.
One thing you will never see on these pages is a review of headphones. I have owned lots of these over the years, costing between £10 and £150. Unfortunately all of them are completely useless. This is because I am married. I don’t know where this rule appears in the wedding vows, but two seconds after I put on any kind of headset, my wife will appear from nowhere in front of me and start mouthing in a state of agitation. Once I find the pause button, she will ask me one of a series of pointless questions stored up in reserve for moments of spousal headset use: ‘What is the capital of Ecuador?’ or worse, ‘Can you remember the name/age of some random person’s child?’
My solution is to take a portable Bluetooth speaker on holiday instead — speakers being more wife-friendly, somehow. The better, slightly pricier version of these — Bose, Philips, Cambridge Audio, Loewe — are now astonishingly good. But the speaker then creates another problem. Should you now buy yet another plug adapter to charge the damned thing overseas? Actually no.
It took me a decade to realise this, but the answer is to stuff in your suitcase a four, six or eight ‘gang’ extension lead from the UK. (The word ‘gang’ refers to the number of sockets at the end of the lead, and using this word will help you find the item on Amazon, or at least make you seem competent and manly when enquiring in Robert Dyas.) Plug this into a socket using a single adapter and you have all the sockets you need. If this is too bulky, try the Anker 40W 5-Port Desktop USB Wall Charger (Amazon, £20) which gives you five USB sockets to charge a family’s phones and tablets from one plug. One or other is essential: hotel rooms never have enough sockets, and many foreign double-sockets are too narrow to allow for two adapters side by side.
Another useful thing to take on holiday is at least one ‘unlocked’ mobile phone. Just buy a local pay-as-you-go SIM card for about £20 — worth it for any holiday longer than a week. Otherwise don’t forget to turn off mobile data roaming on your phone once you land. My children recently ran up about £60 of data charges on the 40-minute journey from the airport into Singapore. Roaming charges of £5 for 15MB are pure thievery; I worked out that my home internet connection charged at this rate would cost £2 million a year.
Two more things. If you are driving through France, you may like to know the Télépéage system for paying motorway tolls now has its own British website to order your tag (www.saneftolling.co.uk), useful in any right-hand-drive car, and with the additional bonus that it confounds French motorists, who aren’t expecting les rosbifs to use the express lane.
Last, if visiting a major city, it’s worth knowing that quite a few taxi apps such as Uber and Hailo work in many cities around the world. It’s good to get lost wandering around a city knowing you can always call a cab at a click — without the language barriers you suffer with taxi drivers in Paris, Madrid, or New York, come to think of it.
Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.