The Digital Vacation

If you're like me, you come back from vacations rested, relaxed, and ready to plan your next trip. But before you begin plotting a future cup of café crème in Paris or a pint of Guinness in Dublin, you should spend a bit of time preparing your memories from the previous trip. You can even get a lot of work done on your way home, if you've got a long flight and aren't exhausted from traveling.

Digital technology makes it all possible. In the past, I'd return from a trip with a bag full of camera film that I'd have to drop off at the local photo stop. But now, digital cameras let you enjoy digital photos and even movies while you're away, and if you bring along a notebook computer, you can offload that media, edit it, and even upload it to Web sites, if you want. I jokingly referred to this practice as "meta memories" on a trip last year with friends: I took a picture of them as they enjoyed a slide show of the day's photos on my notebook.

My Routine
Here's what I do. I try to bring a small notebook or even just a piece of paper with me so that I can jot down notes about the places we're visiting. Doing so can be particularly helpful during international travel, when names such as Jardin des Tuileries and Oberwesel are the norm. That way, when it comes time to organize the photos later, I don't have to give them generic names such as Paris or Germany, which don't really help conjure up exactly where things happened.

My current digital camera is a Canon PowerShot SD550. This highly portable device is capable of 7.1 megapixels (about 3072 x 2304)—more than enough quality for typical vacation shots, and good for huge photo reprints. I always bring along an extra battery and a 2GB Secure Digital (SD) high-speed memory card, which can store about 638 photos in the highest-resolution JPEG format. Of course, I'll almost never need space for that many photos. But the beauty of this card is that it's also big enough for a wide range of short videos. And because the camera can take 640 x 480 videos at 30 frames per second (fps), it doubles as the occasional camcorder. The video quality is fantastic.

During a trip, I'll take pictures (and jot down notes) as necessary throughout the day. Then, before going to bed, I'll offload the photos to my notebook (but leave the originals on the SD card just in case), organizing them by day and event. I also download any videos I might have recorded. By the time the trip is over, I've got a full collection of memories, and I usually save a few items—such as train tickets, brochures, and other trip-specific doo-dads)—for scanning when I get home.

If I'm on a long trip, I'll also bring along an external hard drive (I prefer the smaller drives that are USB-powered and very portable) so that I can have a second copy of the photos. Plus, this lets me free up space on the SD card if I need it. I'll also bring a battery charger for the camera, although I was recently surprised that a single battery lasted the course of a week-long trip, despite the fact that I took several hundred pictures. And if I can find connectivity, I'll upload photos to my personal Web site, blog, or other online storage.

Back Home
Now organized, the pictures I've taken are ready to be transferred to our Media Center PC when we get home, where we can enjoy them immediately on our HDTV. But I often like to create photo books from our vacations, and that's something I can do before I even get home. Mac users benefit from the wonderful iPhoto application, which can help you construct wonderful photo books through the use of a variety of templates. PC users have more options, but none of them are as elegant as iPhoto. I used—but was slightly frustrated by—'s BookMaker application, which is essentially a poor man's iPhoto. It's a bit slow, too, but it does ultimately help you create stunning photo books. On either platform, you simply save the book on your hard drive, then order it over the Internet when you get home. If you traveled with friends, photo books also make wonderful gifts.

For the videos, applications such as iMovie (Mac) and Windows Movie Maker 2 (Windows PCs) can make short work of editing and publishing your videos into Web-friendly formats. You can also use these applications to make animated slideshows of your photos, or even combine photo slideshows with videos for an all-in-one vacation experience, complete with titles, background music, and transition effects. I've often amazed fellow airline passengers with the possibilities of home video editing while in flight, and it's a nice thing to do to pass the time while you're thinking of the trip you just completed.

How About You?
Vacations are temporary, but the memories can last forever, and you can enjoy them in startlingly beautiful forms, if you just use the right technologies. I'm sure you have your own strategies for saving vacation memories in the digital age. What do you do?

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