The Wiki Man

Four gadgets to take on holiday — and two to leave behind

In the age of the Kindle, holiday reading is a simpler question. But there’s a new packing dilemma in its place

2 August 2014

9:00 AM

2 August 2014

9:00 AM

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 The downside, however, is that this old dilemma has been replaced by an entirely new one: what bits of electronic crap need you take on holiday and what should be left at home.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 (, 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.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.

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Show comments
  • Kate Gowers

    Crikey – the ‘gang’ idea – so simple, yet I’ve been travelling to the States on average of once a year for 26 years and it never occurred to me. Doh!

    • Rory Sutherland

      It belongs in that curious category of “ideas which are only obvious in retrospect” – like Archimedes and the bath!

      • Ian Walker

        The only downside is the nagging sense of regret when you are responsible for hundreds of deaths in a hotel fire.

        • kyalami

          Oh? Do these come with a heater as well?

        • leshall

          AC chargers draw very little power. But if you had a kettle, curling tongs and a hairdryer all going at once….

  • Next: some sort of classy identifier so I can tell which cord/charger goes with which particular device….

  • MaxSceptic

    Keep the headphones, ditch the wife?

    Headphone are great for shutting off the world – especially when travelling. And they don’t actually have to be connected to anything to work.

  • davidshort10

    Mr Sutherland might like to know you can get ‘gangs’ with plughholes that accept both continental and UK plugs in the same socket. I have one I bought in Kenya that has three plugholes and wish I had bought another one. The trouble with using UK only extensions is that whatever you unplug in the hotel room – and it may be a precious lamp – remains unplugged without a Continental to UK adaptor! I agree that hotel rooms rarely have enough plugholes but some modern hotels are catching up. One that I stayed at in Majorca earlier this year even had plugholes for USBs and HDMI…..and of course the plugs you should take should be those that accept USB. Then you can charge just about anything, including your satnav….

  • davidshort10

    I have a UK ‘gang’ with an extremely long cable and about six or more plugholes. I use this in my work at conferences abroad where tables are arranged in a square in the middle of vast conference rooms far from the walls where the electricity supply is. I use one continental adaptor to plug it in and therefore have plenty of power sockets to pump up my devices, which always includes a spare computer. Less organised people from outside the UK eagerly try and plug in their devices…to no avail!

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Transformers, adaptors to recharge your i-pad, mobile phone… do occupy a lot of space and add to the weight on the third-world Asian backpacker trail.