Traveling Smartly with a Portable Player or Phone


When packing for a trip, you may not think twice about taking along a portable player or media-loaded phone, but there are important accessories you can throw into your bag to insure that the player won’t become dead weight.

A checklist of just-to-be-safe accessories includes:

  • An extra set of headphones, especially the noise-cancellation type for use on a flight.
  • A Y-splitter for turning a single earphone jack into a dual jack so that you can share the entertainment with a traveling companion or with children who can watch quietly together.
  • External speakers for sharing the sound or jettisoning the earphones.
  • A chamois or cotton cloth for removing distracting fingerprints from the screen, especially a touch screen.
  • Extra batteries or an AC power adapter—especially a cigarette lighter adapter if you’ll be traveling by automobile. Also, electrical plug adapters if you’re traveling abroad.
  • Protective cases that double as holsters so you can travel hands-free, and screen guards that ward off scratches.

Headphones, like shoes, need to fit comfortably or you tend not to wear them. So, it’s a good idea to try out new earphones before inviting them along. Earbuds that slip off too easily can be fitted with ear tips, also known as bud-huggers. If you’re taking noise-canceling phones, look for a pair that continues to work passively when the power runs out.  Headphones that cover the ear help isolate you from ambient noise, but the extra weight may not be welcome while you’re running or exercising. So, it’s better to pack more than one type than to be locked into a pair you wouldn’t want to use everywhere. Also, with misuse, a headphone sometimes gets a loose wire. Having a backup pair handy is so much more pleasant than one-ear listening.

A Y-splitter―also referred to as a port doubler or duplicator―is available as a petite adapter or Y-split cable. The cable type is less likely to block an adjacent port. Make sure you’re toting at least two sets of earphones to exploit the extra port. Note: some portable DVD players are equipped, out of the box, with dual headphone jacks.

Not all media players contain a speaker, so another way to share the sound is by attaching battery-powered travel speakers to the earphone jack. Keep in mind that pumping a soundtrack into a public conveyance isn’t likely to win friends, but in the right circumstances―like on a beach blanket or at a picnic or even privately while you’re shaving in the hotel bathroom and wired headphones just won’t do―a miniature portable sound system can turn an “i”  into a “we.” Even if the player has an internal speaker, external speakers enhance the sound field and bass.

When you’re back on the road again and prefer the personal music library in your media player to commercial radio, you can take advantage of the superior speakers in your car stereo. If you’re driving an older car that has no dedicated auxiliary input, take along an FM transmitter compatible with the media player and tune in the matching frequency on your radio. Even as the car battery powers the FM transmitter, it can charge the media player.

Maintaining a clean screen is crucial for enjoying video or a slideshow, but finger food and fried chicken conspire to cloud the picture. Sure, you could always gamble on the chance you shoved a tissue in your pocket, but if you pack a dedicated cleaning cloth, you’ll never rely on serendipity alone.

Since the battery on an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad is embedded, carrying a spare isn’t an option. However, several power packs are available which sit outside the player sometimes in the form of a case or skin. They can double the playing time. Other players use removable rechargeable batteries. If so, you could always charge a spare or two ahead of traveling so your entertainment is in a constant state of swappable readiness. The same players may also accept disposable batteries, so tossing double- or triple A’s in the bag is a hole-in-one. If you’re traveling abroad, kits are available that cover most types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter.

No accessory category for iPods offers as many choices of color, texture and design as cases. Since portable players are meant for mobility, it’s only right that you afford your player some sort of protective shell. Since many cases can be slid onto a belt or clipped to clothing, the payoff is having the player available at all times without hand-holding.

Finally, consider the value of the screen. The display is not only the focus of your attention but, increasingly, also the player’s entire control panel. A thin yet resilient layer can cuddle the surface to defend against scratches, dirt and grease. Unlike the underlying electronics, the transparency can always be peeled away so the screen gets to live another day. Taking into account that the display is typically the player’s most expensive constituent, adding a layer of protection seems prudent.