I never thought I would miss my smart home until I started traveling again

Using a stylus with the Google Pixel Tablet on a desk
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Turning your house into a smart home is the kind of thing that starts small but can quickly grow out of proportion if you’re not careful. 

As I spend most of my time working from home, I’m rarely away from my smart home. However, it wasn’t until I left for vacation and went on a few work trips that I realized how having a fully decked-out smart home has ruined analog living for me.

My own smart home journey began when I wanted to add a few of the best smart lights to my apartment. Of course, I needed another way to control them besides my phone, so I picked up one of the best smart speakers for those times when I needed to turn them off and on by using my voice. From there, it made sense to put a smart speaker in every room.

It wasn’t until I moved into my first home that the best home security cameras got added to my smart home. I originally had just one to watch my dog back in my apartment but with a baby on the way, I mounted one to the ceiling in all of the major rooms of my house. This way, I’d be able to keep an eye on him throughout his terrible twos and beyond.

An Echo Show 15 in landscape mode mounted to the wall

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Just like with my smart lights, keeping an eye on all of my cameras from my phone proved to be a bit of a hassle. Fortunately though, the best smart displays were there to help. For instance ,I have an Echo Show 5 on my desk to watch over my house while I work and an Echo Show 15 in the kitchen so that others can also see what’s going on during parties and other big events.

Getting out a bit more made me realize just how accustomed I’ve grown to having a smart home instead of an analog one.

Missing my smart home

A Nest Hub Max controlling smart lights

(Image credit: Future)

Once you grow accustomed to having Google Assistant or Alexa at your beck and call, it’s hard to go back to flipping light switches and using your phone to look up the weather or to answer simple questions.

It’s one of those things where you don’t really miss it until it’s gone. I notice this the minute I step into a hotel room, when a request to  Alexa to turn on the lights goes unanswered. It takes a few days to get used to having to turn on and off all of the lights by yourself. I also forgot how awkward it can be controlling lights that aren’t reachable by a switch, like that lamp in the corner of the room.

Another one that gets me almost immediately is not being able to ask Google to cast a movie or show to the TV. Granted, we now use a Roku Ultra solely in our living room but the other rooms in my house still have TVs equipped with a Chromecast.

Normally when I’m on business trips, I spend so much time working that after a few days, I don’t even notice my smart home isn’t there. It’s a different story on vacation though. For instance, the last time I visited my grandmother in New Jersey, I packed a Google Home Mini with me for the trip. I know I can use “Hey Google” on my phone to accomplish the same thing but since I have so many Google Home speakers and Nest smart displays throughout my house, I usually have this functionality turned off.

A few years ago, my family and I rented a beach house for the weekend. I wasn’t sure how the TV situation would be there, so I brought my projector with a Chromecast just in case. In order to use it though, I had to set up a separate home in the Google Home app which proved to be quite annoying, especially when I got back home and I had to choose which house to add every new device to. 

Home is just a tap away

While getting reacquainted with not having a smart home is one of the worst things about traveling, once you do, there is one big upside. Your smart home is able to travel with you in your pocket.

Just a week or so ago when I was in Taiwan for Computex, I was easily able to check in on my family right from my phone. Whether it was seeing my dog lying down on the couch or my son getting ready for bed, it was nice to have another way to see what was going on back home without having to do a video call. Don’t get me wrong, we video-called plenty during my trip, but those slice-of-life moments I got to see from my security cameras really kept me going when I missed my family the most.

A screenshot of a live video feed from the Echo Show 5

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Besides informal check-ins, I used my smart home devices to make sure all the lights were turned off, that any new packages were brought inside and that nothing was askew in my office while I was gone. One of my favorite things about the Echo Show 8 and Google’s larger Nest Hub Max is that they come equipped with built-in cameras for those blindspots where you might not have a proper security camera installed.

Having a bird’s eye view of your home and all of the devices in it just a tap away does help soften the blow of not being able to control all of the gadgets in your hotel room or beach house with your voice.

Your experience may vary

Depending on how you configure your own smart home, you might not feel like you have a phantom limb while you’re traveling. If you only have a few smart home devices you don’t rely on in your day-to-day life, it’s probably a lot easier to leave them behind.

Likewise, if you’re the kind of person who requires a digital detox every now and then, leaving your smart home at home could be just the thing for you. I’m not one of those people, though and while I couldn’t bring my smart home with me, I did leave for Taiwan with a bag packed full of gadgets.

Even now though, I wouldn’t do things differently. Having a smart home and adding new devices to it has taught me all sorts of things and has genuinely made my life better overall. I just need to find a better way to take the best parts of my smart home with me and then I’ll be set.

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Anthony Spadafora
Senior Editor Security and Networking

Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.