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Electronic equipment for Africa tour

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Electronic equipment for Africa tour

Old 03-04-09, 04:52 PM
  #1  
takeonafrica
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Electronic equipment for Africa tour

I'm hoping that the huge knowledgebase on this forum will be able to clarify things for me a little. My problem:
I'm getting completely confused by all the different gadgets available and can't work out the best option to minimise the number of devices / weight and total cost (initial and recurring) to cover everything i want to be able to do and am hoping someone here may be able to give some good advice.

Ideally, I want to be able to write a blog / regular articles (netbook perhaps?) and also am keen on photography so photographic editing capability (RAW) is preferred (netbook? or more powerful notebook?)
Also, I was going to get a cycle computer so i can record check speed/distances but it has been suggested that a GPS device could do this.
I was semi-considering GPS (e.g. Garnin HCx) but this would be completely new to me - I'm not bothered about it giving directions although a nice addition, but being able to locate exactly where i am could be useful if i get lost or want to head off the beaten track a little. If I got GPS I would presumably need maps also.
There is then having some way of getting in touch to let family etc know I'm ok or if there's a problem (I'm not bothered about this, but the family are!) - a mobile perhaps? if so, what is the cheapest way to do this? PAYG or contract or could i get an internation simcard? Of course there are devices like Spot, but this seems to have a single use which a GPS device and text from mobile would do the same thing (where there is coverage).
Then there is the ability to get online to upload journal/photos - how would i do this? - again, would the mobile phone cover this (e.g. N95?)?
Of course then there is the possibility of taking an external portable hardrive for storage of photos or lots of USB sticks etc and also a solar charger like the power-monkey explorer/gorilla.

Concerns apart from weight are carrying lots of valuables making me a target for theft/mugging, durability and another consideration is coverage in Africa i.e. for mobile phone/internet access.

I realise this is a broad series of questions, but if you have a recommendation for a minimum combination of devices to achieve as many of these requirements as possible, at the cheapest cost, I'd appreciate it.

Alternatively, I could always make do with my Michelin maps, compass, notebook and pen, lots of memory cards and hope i don't get into trouble/need help and use internet cafes along the way!

Thank you. Helen
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Old 03-04-09, 05:15 PM
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Use a normal cycle computer.

You're going to need paper maps. A "mapping GPS" will help, but as far as I can tell, there aren't many electronic maps available for most of Africa. The GPS will be, at best, a backup to tell you your location in case you get lost; you'd then have to figure out where you are on the paper map.

Most decent digital cameras will save an image simultaneously as JPEG and RAW. I'd leave the RAW processing for after the trip, and use the JPEG's for the blog, i.e. I wouldn't worry about any serious editing until the end. Ergo a Netbook, and a separate storage method to back up your photos, should be sufficient, as well as light and cheap.

You should also check into Internet access, not sure how common it is. My guess is "very common" in the big cities, "non-existent" in rural areas.

The SPOT device might be handy. It's a GPS beacon, which people can log into a website and check your location and may offer some kind of emergency alert coverage in some of the areas you're traveling.

However, I expect that with a trip like this, you will simply have to let go of the constant (two-way) communication that we take for granted in heavily electronic societies. It's not like someone in Los Angeles could do very much anyway, if you're in Kenya and activate an emergency GPS beacon.

I'm not an expert, but I expect you will have much more to fear from going into a conflict zone than from theft. "Dress code" may also be an issue, especially in places like Morocco.

Good luck....
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Old 03-04-09, 05:21 PM
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I wouldn't want to take a laptop on tour, a netbook on the other hand seems like a great idea - no moving parts, so it ought to be reasonably tough, and it's smaller and lighter. Or you could get one of these: http://laptop.org/en/laptop/hardware/index.shtml

But I don't think either of those are powerful enough to cope well with editing RAW images (is there something wrong with JPEG?)

A standard wired cycle computer is cheap, light, and reliable - they last for months or years on a single watch-type battery, and have all the info you could need. I haven't been impressed with GPS devices, but as you say it might be useful to be able to figure out where you are.

I've never been to Africa, I don't know what the infrastructure is like, but as I understand it mobile coverage is surprisingly good - much better than fixed line!
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Old 03-04-09, 10:28 PM
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I don't know about infrastructure in Africa, but I can describe what I had and how I used it in crossing Russia:

1. I wrote journal pages on paper.
2. I carried the equivalent of a netbook. I never plugged it into a network. Instead, I copied things from the netbook onto a USB drive and took that with me to internet cafes when I came across them. So that included some photos I wanted to post and also some of those journal pages transcribed from paper onto my laptop (doesn't take me long to type and I can organize the words better on second review).
3. I would upload journals and some photos every week or so as we came across a city with internet cafe. I would have organized what I was going to upload on the netbook the night before and then take my USB stick with me to cut/paste the uploads. I relied on a common posting for "news" rather than maintaining too much separate email correspondence.
4. I did have a cell phone with SIM card. I didn't use it for 2/3s of the trip. I also set expectations with family and friends that contact from me would be via internet and certainly not voice. I also set expectations that there could be large gaps between services and hence a ~10 day to two week gap of not hearing anything wasn't a bad sign, but more likely that there weren't any internet cafes for a while.
5. My brother did show up briefly to join us east of Baikal for eight days. He did also bring a GPS, so I ended up with that as well. Through the most remote gap with gravel road, we actually did provide more frequent updates by sending a brief onliner text messages to twitter. That text message included geographic coordinates. Texting wasn't very expensive and at least every two or three days we came across a village with cell phone coverage.
6. I had a basic cycle computer for distance.
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Old 03-05-09, 09:54 AM
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Paper maps will work just fine. The Micheline series are the best. A regular compass on your handlebars will help when you come to unexpected intersections. A regular bicycle computer is sufficient. If you choose to carry a gps there are may websites of previous travelers where waypoints are listed.

The choice between a netbook or notebook computer will depend on how important photo editing in RAW is to you vs. size and weight. You can do basic editing of large photos with either a netbook or notebook using the free GIMP or Photoshop. Higher end features will require the horsepower of a notebook. You will be able to plug in many/most evenings so a solar charger may not be terribly useful. You may want to carry one of those plugs that screw into a light bulb socket.

For us, one of the best pieces of equipment we carried was a small shortwave radio. I really like this one. It is nice to have that simple contact with the outside world when in the middle of nowhere.
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Old 03-05-09, 07:20 PM
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get a netbook, put linux on it. install gimp. lots of netbooks available that have harddrives of 160gb. there is no need for a external harddrive. if you research beforehand, you can find out what kind of cell phones there are that you can hook up to your netbook and use as a modem, so you can still get internet if you can get a phone signal. that would be the way to go, i think.
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Old 03-05-09, 11:31 PM
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I've never toured in Africa, but paper maps, a cycle computer and the compass bell on my handlebar has always kept from getting lost. A netbook would be the best way to go in terms of power usage. Asus makes a models that have a battery life up to 7 hours (Asus says 9.5).

If you would really like to know where you are and track your route, take a look at GPS loggers. They keep a log of points where you are throughout the day which can be uploaded onto a map. They are very small (some are the size of 35mm film canister). At the end of the day just up load the log onto your computer and you will know where, how far and how high you rode. It can be nice to know how high that endless hill was.
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Old 03-06-09, 07:17 AM
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Hi Helen,

I think you'll take a lot of photographs during that trip. In the Raw Format you need a lot memory. I produce 5 GB every week on tour. So you need a place to save it. Because you want to write a blog I'd prefer to type it directly electronical. So I netbook would be sufficient but does not have enough memory to store you're photos and typing is difficult because the keyboard is narrow. I'd take a subnotebook with a DVD burner.

I use a cycle computer to messure the distance. I bought in January the Garmin Vista HCx. Why GPS? Backup if the cycle computer doesn't work (Battery, not suitable in tropical rain) and to generate track (visualisation for the homepage). Why Vista HCx? Runs 25 h (2 days). The GPS opens another topic. Electricity on tour. I bought 6 packages of AA chargeable batteries and fast loading charger. This means I can "survive" 12 days without electricity (the same time my camera battery lasts). I will not use the GPS for navigation. Why? No Maps available and I prefer to ask people (Did this the last 12 years). I prefer paper maps because of the better overview. But I have no experience on tour. Only some companions which travelled with me and in Ghana for instance we had sufficient power to track the whole trip. We never used the GPS for navigation. Navigation in Africa is often: follow the better road

Cell phone (I hate these). Take an old one there the batterie lasts long. Local Prepaid cards are everywhere availalbe (even in villages without water and electricity - I still wonder where the locals charge their phones) - This is the cheapest way. Public international phones disappeared dramactically.

Infrastructure in Africa.
In every city you'll find the possiblity of charging your batteries. Internet cafe are everywhere but often it's modem connection shared this 10 PCs. Ask travellers where in which cities are highspeed internet cafes. It's not a good idea to upload your files to the internet from Africa. I would burn DVDs send them home. If you arrive at home you can delete the files on your notebook.

Regarding valueables:
Electronics doesn't increase the danger. Even travelling with nothing. You're white and you can travel through Africa - so you are rich. It's always a risk of being robbed, mugged. Take an insurance for the electronical stuff - so you get at least money back - if you're a victim of crime.

Michelin maps are a good options - I would always take paper maps which me.

I hope it helps a bit. If you have further questions please ask.

Thomas
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Old 03-06-09, 07:21 AM
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Originally Posted by chrishg View Post
lots of netbooks available that have harddrives of 160gb. there is no need for a external harddrive.
I've brought along extra small usb drive and/or keys not for capacity reasons but for redundancy reasons. Even better if it also has a bootable version of an alternate OS. I did have a disk drive fail on my laptop when touring around Australia and I was happy I had redundancy in that case. I also had a USB key fail on a Russia trip and it was nice to still have the original data. I lost a photo flash card in China, and sure wish I'd backed up those photos first.
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Old 03-06-09, 01:58 PM
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then get a solid state hd. jeez.
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Old 03-06-09, 02:35 PM
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Africa is a big place. Where are you going? You'd plan quite differently for a trip to Namibia or S Africa vs, say Sudan or DRC.

Havent toured Africa on a cycle yet but have been several times to most parts of eastern and southern Africa (trips ranging from 1 month to 5 months) and am going to do a cycle tour of Namibia this Aug hopefully.

My advice - combine devices as much as possible, and try to get devices which all charge of USB if you can to minimize # of chargers carried. Take a solid state PC and grab a couple of the 30GB pendrives for robustness (as a photographer myself, I cannot stress enough - each image needs to be stored in 2 separate devices kept in 2 separate locations).

A mobile phone should be enough, especially if it has GPS. Coverage varies by country. If you really want to be in touch 24/7, take a satellite phone. Also, IMO, unless you are going way off the beaten track, you dont really need a separate GPS, IMO.

HTH,
Vandit
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Old 03-08-09, 04:14 PM
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thanks for all the tips and advice - loads of good stuff.
i think i'm going to go for a netbook and usb drives for back-up. i think the weight and small size outweighs the extra power of a notebook.
i'm still debating about the GPS - if i take one, it'd be as a back-up to paper maps, but i'd like to get 'off the beaten tracks' in some places and think i'd be more confident doing so if i had GPS (again as a back-up) - Africa is indeed a big place and i'll be cycling through parts of West, East and Southern Africa... central africa is a vague possibility too if a safe route opens up between now and then (www.takeonafrica.com).
Think I'll forego the 24/7 contact and happily enjoy the freedom. Might take my old mobile though and at least i can twitter if i want when there's coverage.
i like the idea of a radio - will look into it.

Thanks again, Helen
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Old 03-13-09, 08:44 AM
  #13  
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Short Wave Radio Reception?

How is reception with the pocket Short Wave radio you have?

Originally Posted by Losligato View Post
Paper maps will work just fine. The Micheline series are the best. A regular compass on your handlebars will help when you come to unexpected intersections. A regular bicycle computer is sufficient. If you choose to carry a gps there are may websites of previous travelers where waypoints are listed.

The choice between a netbook or notebook computer will depend on how important photo editing in RAW is to you vs. size and weight. You can do basic editing of large photos with either a netbook or notebook using the free GIMP or Photoshop. Higher end features will require the horsepower of a notebook. You will be able to plug in many/most evenings so a solar charger may not be terribly useful. You may want to carry one of those plugs that screw into a light bulb socket.

For us, one of the best pieces of equipment we carried was a small shortwave radio. I really like this one. It is nice to have that simple contact with the outside world when in the middle of nowhere.
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