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No-stress travel with gadgets

| Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Many families are now setting their sights on Christmas and year-end vacations. Once they hit the road or line up at airports, bags will be stuffed with smartphones and tablets and — most likely — a rat's nest of chargers and cables.

As much as we love visiting family and friends, traveling during the holidays can be maddening. You can smooth out some of the bumps by keeping your tech gear safe, powered up and organized.

Before you leave, make sure your gadgets are passcode-protected and loaded with apps that will help you track and find them in case they get lost or stolen.

For iPads and iPhones, there's the free Find My iPhone. Android users can try Lookout Mobile Security.

The nice thing about these apps is they allow you to remotely wipe the gadgets in a worst-case scenario. You don't want to risk sensitive information falling into the wrong hands, which could expose you to identity theft.

Set your gadgets to automatically back up to the cloud. You might receive some important documents or email that you wouldn't want to lose. You'll also be taking lots of family photos and videos. Gadgets can be replaced; memories can't.

You'll probably be leaving gadgets and valuables behind when you travel. It's a comfort to be able to monitor your home while you're away. An inexpensive indoor security camera will keep an eye on things. You can watch your home remotely via iOS- and Android-compatible apps.

We ask a lot of our gadgets. They're cameras. They're portable GPS units. They entertain us with games and movies. Some people even use them to communicate! All of that drains batteries fast.

If you're reading a book and need to keep a little juice in a gadget until you can get to an outlet, tweaking a few settings will help conserve power.

Turn off Bluetoothif you're not using a headset or wireless keyboard. If you're nowhere near a Wi-Fi connection or don't need one at the moment, toggle that off, too.

Lower screen brightness or use the gadget's auto-brightness feature. Turn off or limit notifications and location services to only essential apps.

Power Saver Mode for Android will manage these power-sapping features for you. Going into airplane mode on an iOS gadget instantly shuts off the cellular connection, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and location services.

Here's a bonus tip: If you're traveling out of the country, airplane mode is a great way to keep your gadgets from connecting to cellular services at international roaming rates. Your phone bill will thank you!

Portable recharging/backup battery gadgets and battery cases for phones and tablets will give your gadgets a few extra hours of useable life. You might have e-readers and other gadgets that need to charge through mini USB cables. Bring an adapter that turns a wall outlet into a multiport USB charging station.

There's nothing worse than arriving at a destination and then spending hours untangling all your gadget power cables! Fortunately, there is an easy solution. Grab some twist ties for a few bucks. Then roll up your cables and tie them to keep them in order.

Happy trails.

Email Kim Komando at techcomments@usatoday.com.

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