Are you looking for a place to plug in to the Internet and get work done while traveling? Singapore is the No. 1 city for budget travelers looking for Wi-Fi in accommodation, so says a study by Hostelbookers. The next cities following were Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Siem Reap and Seoul.
If you work over the Internet, the good news is that connectivity is getting better and better. On the flip side, it makes it harder to escape work and get away from people back home who try to contact you. Ah, technology is a double-edged sword.
On a related topic, how many of you travel with laptops, tablets or smartphones? Until very recently, I carried none of these and made do with Internet cafes and public computers in hostels. The nice thing was not having to carry as much stuff and worry about things getting stolen. The downside: I once lost almost all my photos of Laos due to a virus on an Internet cafe computer that infected my memory card. Yikes.
Engineers at UCLA are working on converting an iPhone into a small laboratory. Weighting less than 2 ounces, the iTube attaches to your phone and analyzes a food sample in about 20 minutes using a colorimetric assay test. The user grinds up a small sample of food with hot water and places it in the tube along with an extraction solvent. After several other testing liquids are added; the phone then captures an image of the sample using its built-in camera and a program app optically analyzes the image for allergen particles down to parts per million. It doesn’t just confirm the presence or absence of peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, eggs or gluten; it also tells the amount within the sample.
As someone who suffers from severe food allergies; the possibility of such a gadget intrigues me. However I am still skeptical. When in doubt about the specific ingredients of a food, I simply opt not to eat it. True, this practice limits my culinary variety but I figure I can find thrills other ways.
How about you? If you suffer from food allergies would you consider the iTube a useful gadget for home or travel use?
Business travelers, also known as “road warriors,” are some of the most experienced trip hackers around. Although here at Vagabonding we espouse slower wandering, these hard-core types have streamlined the process to a science. Their advice appeared in this New York Times article: How the tough get going: Silicon Valley travel tips. Prominently featured in the article is Tim Ferriss, known as the author of “The 4-Hour Workweek” and the “The 4-Hour Body.”
Naturally, there are many websites and apps that get mentioned. It’s interesting to see these guys apply a hacker ethic of “lighter, faster, more efficient” to their journeys.
My favorite tip was how to get a new charger and adapter fast if you lose yours. Ask your hotel to see their “lost and found” box. If you’re staying at a place that gets a lot of businesspeople, a lot of those things get accidentally left behind.
The CLEARcard was new to me. This enables cardholders to pass through airport security faster. While it’s a useful tool, a quick check of their website reveals that the card can only be used in four airports. If the card were more widely accepted, it would be more handy.
I did research, and found Global Entry. This is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that can help members speed through security. Global Entry has been deployed in many major American airports, making it far more convenient than CLEARcard.
Some of the advice was risky though, like packing a starter pistol and declaring the firearm to TSA, as a way of making sure airport staff don’t lose your bag. With security being a big concern these days, this is not something I would recommend to anyone.
How do you pack light for your trips? Any tips for speeding up the check-in and boarding process? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
We often think of the Internet as existing in the ether, not a physical, tangible place. Wired magazine writer Andrew Blum flipped that notion on its head by visiting the Internet we don’t get to see: the data centers, the underwater cables, the “series of tubes” as the late U.S. senator Ted Stevens described it. Visit the author’s website for more details.
Here’s an excerpt on how Blum’s journey to the center of the Internet took him around the world:
From the room in Los Angeles where the Internet first flickered to life to the caverns beneath Manhattan as new fiber-optic cable is buried; from the coast of Portugal, where a ten-thousand-mile undersea cable just two thumbs wide connects Europe and Africa, to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, where Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have built monumental data centers—Blum chronicles the dramatic story of the Internet’s development, explains how it all works, and takes the first ever in-depth look inside its hidden monuments.
The Internet has grown almost as a parallel world to our own. The fiber-optic tubes are the new railroads, delivering data from one computer to another. The big data centers are the equivalent of major airports where traffic passes through on it way to somewhere else. More worryingly, Internet service providers (ISPs) and web companies are acting as gatekeepers to control the flow of information, a power that once only resided with governments and media.
For more on this topic, check out this video titled, “Bundled, buried, and behind closed doors.”
Savvy travelers probably know these things, but I know some who are still behind the curve and going abroad soon. So here’s an update: Though many report having no problems at all using their US mag-stripe cards and ordinary ATM cards abroad, make sure your credit or debit card has a smart chip. The global standard is “chip and PIN” technology, meaning you’ll need to enter a PIN after the terminal reads the card’s chip. Call your credit card company and ask for a new card with a smart chip for the “chip and signature” option. Most cards without the chip will still work sans-PIN at most automated kiosks though, since a signature is generally not needed for purchases under $50.
Another thing to keep in mind when pulling out the plastic abroad: When in doubt, go with the debit card. Though your bank likely charges a currency conversion fee in transactions abroad, credit card fees are usually almost twice as high as debit card transaction fees. Capital One does not charge foreign transaction fees at all, so it may be worth getting one just for your travel use. If you want other card options, the helpful site NerdWallet.com has a list of cards that don’t charge them either.
Roaming charges for calls can be another “under the radar”-type budget buster. Smartphone users can rack up big roaming fees unless they remember to switch on the device’s Airplane Mode and Wi-Fi when boarding the flight to a far-off place. Also remember to switch off the cellular mode.
Data usage costs more money overseas, but the International Data Plans from your provider are rarely the best option anyway; use Skype or Truphone instead (I’m a big fan of Skype) and, with a decent Wi-Fi signal, you can make international calls for dirt cheap. Estimate how much usage you’ll need. There is the ever-handy pay-as-you-go option or a monthly, flat-fee plan that allows unlimited calls in certain countries.
Alternatively, Facebook’s Vonage Mobile app enables globetrotters to make free international calls over Wi-Fi to Facebook friends who also download the app. If caller and recipient have iPhones, FaceTime is a great deal with one flat fee.
Now go have some fun!
Planning a trip can be a logistical tangle. At any one time, I’ll have more than half-a-dozen tabs open in my web browser, each a different website. For example:
Cross-checking between so many sites can be daunting, even for an experienced vagabonder. The new site Georama aims to change that by tying together different travel needs into one online platform. The slogan is “Plan. Book. Share.” Still in private beta, but you can sign up to get advance access.
It’s certainly an enticing prospect. You’d save a lot of time from flipping from one site to another. On the other hand, it seems very much like the same idea behind web portals. Yahoo and MSN are prime suspects that the portal model can seem bloated in this age of lean, agile, focused applications.
Would you use Georama? What sites do you use for travel planning? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Are you a digital nomad? Chances are, you wrestle with dodgy Wi-Fi, electrical adapters, and figuring out what apps could help you travel more efficiently. You don’t care which startup just had a big IPO or the latest viral meme. What you’d like is a convenient guide to what gadgets you need.
Enter Too Many Adapters. A site by digital nomads, for digital nomads. They cover all the different types of digital tools a modern-day vagabonder might use. The back story behind the name is appropriately international:
Suggested in Siem Reap, refined in Reykjavik and completed in Chiang Mai, developing this site ended up being a truly global experience. Brainstorming for a name took a while, but looking at the mess in our respective backpacks eventually told us what it needed to be.
The site is already off to a good start, with articles on a wide array of electronics. One of my favorite recent posts was, Could I travel with just a smartphone? Goes beyond a simple tech review to really dive into the feasibility of using a single mobile device for your daily necessities while on the road. With smartphones becoming multipurpose devices, it’s certainly an attractive idea. But can its functionality rival that of of a laptop?
I’m amazed at how far things have come along. Only a couple of years ago, the only electronics I brought on my travels were a digital camera and an unlocked cell phone (not a smartphone).
How about you? Do you bring a lot of high-tech gear with you on the road? Or do you keep it simple? Share what’s in your backpack in the comments.
Intro video for inbed.me
Over the years, there have been several attempts to combine travel and social networking. The latest on the scene is inbed.me (that name is just asking for double entendres).
The idea is to solve the problem of that first-night loneliness in a new hostel. You’ve just arrived, and all the previous guests have formed their cliques, so you don’t have anyone to talk to. With inbed.me, you can connect to travelers who will be at that hostel before you arrive. By reading their profiles, you can find common interests and make plans to hang out. Ideally, you land in a new hostel with some ready-made friends.
It is a cool idea. I tested it out by entering a few cities: Taipei, San Francisco, and Bangkok. Your mileage may vary, but I often only saw one traveler in each hostel. Since the site is so new, I think travelers haven’t widely adopted it yet. If the site gains a bigger audience, then it would become more useful. Something to keep an eye on.
What do you think of this idea? Do you know similar websites that do a better job? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
The media lit up with commemorations of Steve Jobs, the legendary CEO of Apple who passed away on Oct. 5, 2011. While talking about his full impact on technology is beyond the scope of this blog, we can talk about how his products changed our trips: How Steve Jobs helped make Apple a major disruptor in travel.
The iPhone was not the first smartphone that could access the Internet. However, it was a level ahead of its competitors in offering a fuller web experience. At the time, web surfing on phones was much more limited. The iPhone made touchscreens and apps popular.
Photos used to be developed at stores, then painstakingly assembled into binders as photo albums. Now with the right apps, you can snap a picture with your phone and send it out to your friends instantly. Apple’s devices pulled off the feat of making the world smaller, more personal, and more connected.
This is only the beginning. About a year ago, there was news that Apple was developing iTravel, an app for the iPhone. According to patent filings, iTravel would integrate transportation booking, check-in, and social networking. It would turn your iPhone into an electronic ticket–and ticket agent. We can only imagine how Jobs would have presented it at a future Apple summit.
Do you use Apple products? How have they affected your travels? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University:
Many of my best travel experiences have come about through recommendations from friends. The Taiwanese guy who took me to a stylish lounge bar in Taipei with the hidden entrance; the Australian expat who showed me his favorite ramen restaurant in Tokyo; and the list goes on.
Thanks to the Internet , old-fashioned word-of-mouth is now exponentially more powerful. Instead of being limited to our own circle of friends, we can tap a website’s entire community for good information. Many of these new websites were featured in this article in The New York Times: Crowd-sourcing for travel advice.
The sites themselves have varying business models. Some are independent social networks, while others are add-ons to Facebook and existing platforms. So you might end up getting advice from strangers, or from your own friends.
How do you feel about using these tools? I prefer to reach out to friends I’ve met on previous trips, since I’m more likely to get a good response. These friends know me and my travel tastes, so their advice is more likely to be a suitable fit. But it’s hard to pass up on accessing the collective knowledge of a bigger community.
On a related note, the social media news website Mashable.com. produced a great video on how to use Twitter Advanced Search to mine tweets for travel information. The trip-planning section starts at 1:14 minutes in:
What websites do you use to research for trips? Please share your tips in the comments.