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Pros & Cons of Bringing a PDA on Your Trip

by BootsnAll

Once upon a time, the term “PDA” ellicited giggles and stares because it meant someone on the schoolyard was making out in full view of the rest of the world. These days, however, the acronym has graduated to have a much less exciting meaning in the tech world – we’re talking, of course, about Personal Digital Assistants.

PDAs, sometimes also called palm computers, were first introduced in the 1980s but didn’t really get into the mainstream until the 1990s, when the Palm Pilot became almost must-have equipment for the modern business person. Today, when lots of mobile phones serve so many of the same purposes the PDAs used to serve and laptops are getting smaller and more portable, it’s not as common to hear someone talking about their PDA anymore – instead, they’re just entering stuff right into their cell phones or computers.

But for travelers, PDAs present an interesting mix of tools you might ordinarily rely on either a computer or a mobile phone or a digital camera for. PDAs aren’t going to replace a computer outright, nor are they going to help you win any photography awards, but the models with the most features will include the functions of several different electronic gadgets in one handy (and small) piece of equipment. In this article, we’ll explore whether you should bring your PDA with you on your trip – and, if you don’t have one, whether it’s a good idea to get one in lieu of carrying a laptop.

Why You Should Bring a PDA

  • Stay organized: PDAs are small devices that allow you to record all your trip expenses, notes, etc. in one spot. You can sync up your PDA with a computer and download all of the information, without having to transfer it from scraps to paper to your spreadsheet or online log, for instance. The PDA’s address book will let you keep track of contact information for not only the folks back home (you owe your grandmother a postcard, by the way) but also anyone you meet along the way. The scheduling feature also allows you to keep track of planned events and you can even use the world clock to see what time it is in the country you’re heading to next.
  • Combining gadgetry: When you’re traveling light, the last thing you need is one more electronic thingamajig to carry, especially since every high-tech toy just makes you more of an inviting target for thieves. With many PDAs, you can combine several tech gadgets into one, lessening the burden you have to carry and keep track of.
  • Security with banking and other transactions: If you want to do banking management while you are on the road, doing it on your own personal device versus a computer at an internet cafe will greatly decrease the risk of being electronically robbed by something that’s installed on the cafe’s computer without your knowledge.
  • Go online: Many PDAs are now equipped with WiFi or wireless internet access. Wireless access is available to varying degrees. Many internet sites, including will allow you to search for places to surf.

Why You Should Not Bring a PDA

  • Gadgets Galore: There are various components to working with a PDA. A docking station or cords to ‘sync’ your palm with a computer, a charger if it doesn’t run on batteries, convertors for the charger – you get the drift. All of these things take up room and the weight can add up, especially when you’ve been wandering around Paris lost for three hours trying to find your hostel.
  • Hard to upload data: Internet cafes won’t have the software compatible with your PDA, and most won’t let you install it. So, your PDA may be full of great stuff, but you might not be able to put any of it on a computer.
  • Flakey WiFi access: It is difficult to get access to WiFi in certain areas on the world. Even if a website tells you places you can get access, there is no guarantee that the hotspot (a WiFi router or ‘host’) will still exist there by the time you’re visiting.
  • Alienation from others: Not a lot of people have PDAs outside of the working world – this includes both backpackers and the people you’re staying with in that yurt in Mongolia. This tech device can mark you as a rich show off – or worse, a target – and will definitely make some people jealous.
  • Not necessary: Sure, the extra gizmos can be cool, but can’t you just figure out the time in China the old fashioned way, by counting? And you can automate most of your credit card payments and do your best to check security at internet cafes before you go typing in passwords.

Should you bring a PDA with you?

BootsnAll Sez: Nope. Sure, it can be a fun little gadget, but if you’re even considering a PDA that means you’ve probably got another tech toy that’ll do the things you wanted the PDA for – whether it’s a small laptop, a mobile phone or an MP3 player – which makes bringing the PDA more of a pain than it’s worth. And besides, you’re out on the road to relax and go with the flow, right? Who needs that scheduler, anyway?

Recommended PDAs

Of course, just because we say a PDA isn’t worth the trouble doesn’t mean you’re not going to bring one, right? You’re an independent traveler, so you must also be an independent thinker… Or something like that. At any rate, if you’re still planning to bring a PDA on your trip and you don’t already own one, here are a few PDAs that you might consider getting.

Also keep in mind that if you’ve already got a BlackBerry or an iPhone for your mobile phone, or an iPod Touch, any of these devices have pretty much everything you would want a PDA for anyway.