Summer is coming and it’s the time for travel.  Whether long distance or just quick trips, chances are, you’re toting along at least a Smartphone with a charger or a full-on smorgasbord of electronics if it’s a business or family trip adventure.  No matter the distance, are you prepared??  Sometimes just the thought of lugging around these valuables on a trip can be a daunting black cloud if you aren’t sure how to pack appropriately.  If any of this sounds familiar, then read on, and rest assured, where there’s a will there’s a way to keep everything safe, organized, and running in tip top order to make your trip stress-free!

How to Pack                                     

Probably the most important and first thing to note, is to invest in a good bag.  If you’re carrying a laptop, or larger electronic devices in it, make sure it’s well padded to absorb bumps and juggling during transit.  A bag, such as this Everki Titan Laptop Bag, that provides sufficient room and multiple compartments for all accessories will eliminate the need for a second bag and will keep everything together, properly secured, and easily accessible during the trip.  Something to consider is finding a laptop bag that doesn’t look like the typical carrying case so that thieves can’t easily identify how valuable its contents are!  Messenger bags are a good investment since they cross over the body and discourage someone from trying to steal it while you’re wearing it as well.

Take organization to the next level with this BUM Waterproof Handbag, which serves as a cord organizer & accessory carry case!  Speaking of cords, if you run into a situation where you need an extra outlet to keep everyone’s devices charged don’t forget about the USB outlet on the back of the TV in your hotel room!  Plug in your phone or tablet while everyone is getting around in the morning to top off your charge if all other outlets are occupied.

Good Practices

Preparing for travel doesn’t have to be limited to tangible items to make the best of your trip, however, some other things to consider involve some extra steps you might want to take before you even leave for your trip.  For instance, a good habit to get into is to email yourself all the critical information you might need on your trip.  Travel info, phone numbers to places you know you’ll be visiting or staying at, check-in times or reservation information can all be outlined in this email in case you can’t find a physical copy of something in a pinch.

Another good practice is to take the time to back up all important data on your devices.  Make a second copy of documents or photos and save them on a flash drive that you’ll leave at home in case (knock on wood) something happens to your device during your travels.  It’s an extra step, but you’ll thank yourself later if things go awry!

Don’t forget you can also access Google Maps offline too.  If you know you’re going to be traveling to a location where you may lose service, plan your maps out ahead of time.  While you’re connected to Wi-Fi, pull up the map area that you’ll be needing and type “OK Maps” in the search bar.  You can drag and zoom to the area you’ll be needing access to and save it for offline use later.  Just go to “Offline maps” in your profile to pull it back up.

Space Savers

If you’ve been reading along here and you’re finding yourself thinking you need to invest in some new gadgets for that upcoming trip, there ARE some great finds out there that can enhance your travels without being just another distraction!

One thing to consider is how versatile the device is.  A laptop is great for its portability and convenience, but consider one that also breaks down into a tablet for the kids to quickly grab on the go without it being too large or clunky.  This Lenovo Convertible Ultrabook does just this! It serves as a regular laptop with a full functioning keyboard, and then flips around to act as a tablet!  This would eliminate the need for both a laptop and a tablet if you need to get some work done, but then still have a lite version for easier handling and entertainment.  Then you can decide if that extra tablet in the bag is really worth the worry!

Another way to save space is simply to use the cloud.  Before you leave, plan ahead what you’ll be needing or accessing during your trip and save anything you can to the cloud.  Use Dropbox, Google Drive, or iCloud for Mac to upload documents or photos.  While USBs and most hard drives aren’t overly large, this would be one less thing you have to worry about!

Portable chargers are a great addition to the gadget bag.  You never know when a wrong turn might take you off course, or a wait time at a restaurant might take longer than expected.  You won’t have to worry about running out of battery if you keep a portable charger on back up!

Now, if you’re really in the market for a fun new device, consider the Apple Watch Series 3!  This version has cellular connectivity so you can make and accept calls, right from your watch!  If you’re going to be out and about and don’t want to risk losing your cell phone, this would be a great safety net so you can stay connected without the risk of losing anything!

Tech-FREE Travel with Kids

I COULD end this here…but what about those vacations where you just want to get AWAY from technology?  It’s hard enough to stay entertained as adults and it’s even harder as a kid these days.  Technology is ingrained in our children at such a young age to the point that they’re now required to know how to type their name on a keyboard before entering Kindergarten in some schools!  If your entire family is in need of some serious screen-free time but you’re nervous about the hours of travel or long lines at a restaurant, here are some ideas to get the creative juices flowing that do NOT involve electronic devices!

Now, this first one takes some advanced planning, but if you have children at least 5 years old and up set up a store in the car.  Gather items from the dollar store or fun, quick snacks and set up a pricing structure.  For every half hour or hour that the kids are good, including regular good behavior as well as not asking “are we there yet” every 10 minutes, then they get play money as a reward.  They can either use their money right then to “buy” something for new entertainment or keep their money to combine it with the next half hour’s reward for an even better item to buy.  You’ll make the trip go faster by giving them something to look forward to in smaller increments during the drive, teach or reinforce adding and subtracting skills, as well as teach them the value of money and saving!

As I said, that’s a little more involved and requires a lot of prep, so if you want something a little less intensive head to the library or look on Amazon for books about the location you’re going to.  Let the kids do some research of their own before they even get there.  They might find something new that they want to explore or during their adventures!

For the smaller humans, it can be more challenging to keep their interests up.  Activity books with pen and paper may be too advanced or not keep their attention long, but interactive books like the Small Kids Big Day Book are great tools that are also educational and promote fine motor skills while keeping them busy!

Of course, there’s always the good ‘ole tried and true games that have been around since we were children too.  Hand them a pad and paper and have them make a list of all the different states they see on the license plates that drive by on the highway.  Hangman is a good way to pass some time too, and here’s a fun Magnetic Hangman version to boot!  I Spy can be a good filler, but sometimes it’s a quick run if you’re only spying things in the vehicle since outside items will be flying by too quickly.  Whether you’re all-in on the electronics or going screen-free, the overall goal is stress-free, care-free, and enjoy the ride!

Now that Spring is here (as I look outside to 36″ of snow), it’s time to do a little PC cleaning. Saving space on your PC has a lot of benefits. Not only does it mean your machine files stay tidy, it also keeps it running smoothly.

Most users aren’t aware that there are hundreds – if not thousands – of unnecessary and unused files sitting on their PC, just gathering virtual dust. Some are tiny note files, others are larger installation packages, but big or small, you don’t need them and they are a useless waste of space. If you want to give your PC a good clean, follow these tips.

1. Uninstall bloatware and unused software

Bloatware are programs that are already installed on your PC when you buy it but you don’t necessarily need. These can range from free trials of anti-virus software, to DVD players – you don’t really need these at all, so you can just uninstall them.

Are there other bits of software you installed ages ago but don’t use? These could also be uninstalled to free up a lot of space.

To do this, open the Start Menu, select the Settings cog and click Apps. You will see a list of apps on your device which you can install – a word of warning, it’s probably best to keep anything marked as ‘Microsoft Corporation’.

A good way of seeing whether you use something is by looking at the date next to the app’s name; this indicates when you last used it. If it has sat idle for a while, you should consider getting rid of it.

2. Clear temporary files

Your PC stores loads of temporary files which aren’t needed. They’re small, but over time they will build up and take space.

To clear temporary files, search ‘Disk clean-up’. Tick all the options in the list and then click the “Clean up system files” button.

3. Disk defragment

Defragmenting the hard disk is a classic way of keeping your PC running efficiently. The defragment tool basically tidies up how everything is stored on a hard drive – think of it as a librarian putting books back in the right places on the shelves so they’re easy to find.

To defragment your PC, search ‘Defragment’ in the search bar at the bottom of your screen. Select the (C:) drive and click the Analyse button. To defragment the drive, click Optimize.

4. Tidy up your files

It might take a little bit of time, but tidying up your documents, photos, videos, music and more will help.

More often than not, people discover duplicate photos that are just wasting space. Get organized and gain some space.

5. Move files to Cloud

You could go one step further and move your files to a cloud service. This will not only save up a lot of space on your hard drive but will also save them from any potential loss should your PC breakdown.

Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft all offer reliable cloud services.

6. Delete old downloads automatically

Many people forget about files they download and all those little images, PDFs, and other documents can soon add up. Windows 10 has a nifty way of letting you manage this without having to do anything. You can set your PC to delete any downloads that have been untouched for 30 days automatically – however, this only applies to anything in the Downloads folder and it’s always best to check that there isn’t anything you want to keep before doing this.

It’s all around you.  Chances are, your life is becoming filled with Wi-Fi devices, all of which are competing for your router’s attention.  If there’s not enough signal strength to go around, it can be a dreadfully frustrating situation and cause strain on your day to day activity.  There are so many factors that can play a part, so understanding what causes low signal strength and things you can do to improve it, might help you overcome many issues before ultimately picking up the phone for customer service.  So what can you do to test the signal strength in various locations in your home, and what is there to be done with the low signal areas, you ask?

Let’s start with verifying your issues are coming from your Wi-Fi.  Sluggish internet browsing, interrupted streaming, Wi-Fi signals cutting in and out, or just complete dead zone areas can wreak havoc on your life when you rely on these devices and services to complete your tasks.

Since Wi-Fi is like an umbrella encompassing your home, it goes without saying that the more obstacles that get in the way of that umbrella spanning out, the weaker the signal is going to be past those obstacles.  With this, you’ll have to expect that the rooms in your house that are farthest away from the router or have more walls or floors between them, are going to provide the weakest signal.  This also goes for rooms that have other Wi-Fi devices in them or standing between it and the router.  Some devices, especially some phones, don’t play well with others and suck up all the fun for the others.

So what can you do?  First and foremost, put your router in a central location that most directly covers the main areas you will be accessing the signal the most from in your home.  Remember the umbrella and stick the handle right in the center to cover the majority of your house.  You can also make it a habit to update your router’s firmware.  Some devices have an update button, while others require you to go online to the manufacturers website.  These updates can increase performance, give better features, and apply security updates.  If you have a dual-band router, you’ll see a 2.4 GHz and a 5 GHz option under your wireless setup options.  If you change the frequency settings to the 5 GHz it could help improve your signal because it is not as commonly used as the 2.4 GHz.  Ultimately, you might want to just update your hardware.  You can’t expect amazing things from outdated devices, so maybe it’s time for a replacement router to ensure you’re getting optimal signal strength.  Instead of replacing the entire router, you could just replace the antenna first or get a wireless range extender.  Both will help boost and spread your signal more efficiently.  The wireless extender is great if you have thick walls or many rooms that the signal has to pass through.

Side note, if you’re curious about mapping out the Wi-Fi signal strength throughout your entire house, you may be interested to know that Roomba will soon be coming out with a new version of these little vacuums that will do just that!  While it is intended to let you know which rooms it might struggle to connect in by showing the signal strength in each room, it will, nonetheless, act as a gauge to let you know how well your Wi-Fi is doing across the board!