Vacation Tech Planning

I’m currently preparing to take the family on vacation for ten glorious days. As if packing the right mix of clothing for Florida in February isn’t challenging enough, it’s up to me to pack the right technology to capture and preserve memories. To top it all off, every year when we get back, the group looks to me to produce a vacation video and slideshow.

Creative pressure aside, last year I felt like I was flying without the proverbial net, largely because I trusted a single SD card in my DSLR (which is my main camera on trips). Since I hadn’t engineered a way to back up photos and video on the go, I was worried that something bad would happen and I would lose everything. This year I did some planning and came up with what I think is a pretty good method to keep everything safe without spending a ton of money. Here’s a rundown:

SHOOT IT

My main camera is a Sony A57 DSLR (technically an SLT.) Now that iMovie natively supports the camera’s “best” video recording format (AVCHD, 1080p at 60fps), I will be shooting on that setting. As mentioned, last year I took my chances with a single 32GB SD card; this year, I’m bringing another one, and will swap them halfway through the trip to hedge that bet.

JUICE IT

The wife and I are both rocking new iPhone 6s Plus phones, so coaxing a full day out of the battery isn’t out of reach, but since we plan to use them as secondary/tertiary cameras, we’ll most likely need power bumps on the go. A few months ago, I picked up a LePow Moonstone charger – it can charge two devices simultaneously, and it’s small enough to keep in my camera bag. For recharging all of our gear each night, we’ll need multiple outlets, so I’ll be packing a Belkin SurgePlus along with some 1-foot Lightning cables from KabelDirekt to reduce cable sprawl.

BACK THAT THING UP

Saving photos to the cloud is really a no-brainer these days. Since I have an Office365 subscription that affords me 1TB of OneDrive storage, I’ll be backing everything up nightly using the OneDrive app on both iPhones. For that extra layer of paranoia, we’ll also push everything up to Google Photos via its iOS app (which slightly compresses everything, but hey, it’s just a safe copy, and also free.)

So how am I getting the Sony to back up to the cloud every night? This was the challenging part! I need to bring a tablet with me just in case I need to connect back to the mothership while I’m away. Said tablet has a good chunk of free space on it, and it runs Windows 10. OneDrive and Google Photos have Windows clients; add a little cloud workflow magic via a free service called Zapier, et voilà :

  1. Connect Sony camera via USB cable to tablet.
  2. Copy daily photos/videos into a folder on the tablet that is synced to OneDrive. Google Photos also watches that same folder for new photos/videos.
  3. Wait for upload to complete to both services.
  4. Every 15 minutes, Zapier polls the synced folder on OneDrive, and copies anything new to a second folder on OneDrive (which is NOT synced to the tablet).

Why make two copies within OneDrive? In case the tablet’s storage space fills up, I can then safely delete the local copy from the tablet (which will in turn delete from the synced OneDrive folder – but NOT from the second OneDrive folder). As long as I ensure the two folders are identical before deleting anything, everything up until that point in time will continue to exist on OneDrive. And, I have the copy on Google Photos as a safety. Overengineering to the rescue!

MANYTHING AND THE BATHROOM SINK

Another worry last year was the fact that I had to leave water running in the basement while we were away, since I live in the Northeast and it was a really cold winter. With no easy way to fix the vulnerable pipes in my house, and sub-freezing temperatures in the forecast, it looks like I may have to do the same this year. It’s not fun worrying about plumbing for ten days when you’re not there to see what’s going on. Enter Manything, another excellent – and free – web service.

I happen to have an old iPad Mini lying around (hey, I’m a tech guy, remember?) While the screen on it is wonky, the camera works just fine. With the Manything app installed and configured, that little iPad will keep an eye on the basement while I’m away. It can live stream to my phone, and will send me an alert if it detects motion, so it doubles as a security camera in case someone happens to break in.

WHAT’S NEXT

Even with all the above geekery, I’m sure I’ll think of something I could have done/brought once I’m away. I will write up a trip postmortem and publish it here as soon as we get home!

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