December 4, 2014

Carpooling sites for travel in Europe

While frequent flyer miles can help alleviate the costs of flights to a destination in a game-changing way, the travel that happens once in a destination can really add up too. This is particularly true in an affluent place like Europe.

But, as a continent that has a fabulous infrastructure for public transit, it should come as no surprise that even those with their own personal cars find a way to contribute to the public’s transit needs.

Indeed, carpooling is yet another task that the internet is revolutionizing in some way. Europe has a number of websites that exist to connect passengers to carpooling hosts, much as Couchsurfing.com or Airbnb.com do for travelers’ accommodation needs or Uber and Lyft do for local transportation needs

Unlike the short, local jaunts that Uber and Lyft accommodate however, these carpooling sites help you connect with drivers going long distances. For instance we’ve gotten rides for 150 miles or more such as Salzburg to Vienna or Berlin to Hamburg. Or even London to Paris in one case.

 

How it works:

Signing up for many of these sites requires registering a text number. If you do not have a phone that works internationally, we usually communicate with someone back home to use their text number and have them send us the code to complete registration.

Once registered, you have the ability to connect with drivers who have posted the routes they intend to do along with the payment required. Unlike Couchsurfing, the guest pays the “host”. It’s more like AirBnB in that way. However, we have always found the prices to be cheaper than the other public transit options, not to mention the trip is almost always quicker than these options as well.

 

Car-pooling sites you for Europe travel, by region:

UK carpooling sites:

1.) Liftshare.com/uk

2.) Carpooling.co.uk

German carpooling sites:

1.) Mitfahrgelegenheit.de -(the German version of carpooling.co.uk)

Non-region-specific carpooling sites:

1.) blablacar.com -(the site that seems to be most popular here in Europe.)

2.) Carpoolworld.com

3.) Carpooling.com

 

A few extra notes/challenges:

1.) As suggested above, some of these resources can be challenging without a phone. Even if you have a web-generated text number from apps like “TextMe” and “TextPlus”, sites like this do not seem to function properly with web-generated text numbers. (This is true for resources like Uber and Lyft too.) So even if you have a travel-friendly phone alternative like those mentioned here, not all of them will cooperate with these resources. Specifically ones relying on web-generated numbers.

2.) Even though Europe has a pretty decent coverage when it comes to these car-pooling sites, some regions of Europe are still lacking. For instance we’ve had trouble finding carpooling options to the Balkans.

3.) This car-sharing strategy is virtually impossible if you are a person who doesn’t like to pack light, because drivers often try to fill every seat in their car. Do not assume you are the only passenger taking advantage of any given car-share. If you have more than one or two pieces of luggage, include that in your correspondence with your driver ahead of time.

4.) Sometimes you can suggest the meet-up location and sometimes the driver will suggest a spot that works for them. You may have to do a little traditional public-transiting in order to catch your ride.

 

Conclusion

Of course, another reason I love using carpooling resources is because, like all the other people-to-people resources, it connects you with locals and other travelers.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 11.40.16 PM

I mean, in some ways it gives me the thing I love about hitch-hiking without the exhaustion and uncertainty. When people connect with locals, and locals connect with travelers, there’s a host/guest mentality that’s naturally built in and it produces conversations you simply wouldn’t have in the service-provider/consumer environment of traditional public transit.

We’ve had so many fascinating conversations with drivers and most times the hours spent driving just fly by. Next time you are in Europe, remember this carpooling option for your semi-long-distance journeys.

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Category: Backpacking, Europe, Travel Tech

November 14, 2014

The Future of Travel?

Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard

I just spend the last 3 and a half days trying to get from Rapid City to Bangkok. Due to the Polar Vortex (or whatever they’re calling it this year), massive storms blew through RC and Denver, dropping off a foot of snow and plummeting the temperatures. Flights were canceled, delayed and connections were missed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining or venting. Matter of fact, I’m not upset about it – it’s just an experience that is fresh in my mind.

Then, while browsing through photos my photos from this summer, I came across the one above – of the Google Cardboard contraption. If you don’t know that that is – basically it’s a Oculus Rift headset built from a piece of cardboard, 2 lenses and your smartphone. Don’t know what an Oculus Rift is? It’s an advanced virtual reality headset that creates stereoscopic (3-D) images, extends beyond your field of vision (you can’t see the edges of the screen) and has sensors so everything moves as you move your head around. Do a search on YouTube – it’s amazing and hilarious to watch people wearing it react to their virtual environment (like these). This is the VR we were promised when we were kids.

That’s when it hit me – is this the future of travel? Soon it will be difficult to differentiate between real and virtual environments. Imagine being able to go anywhere and everywhere in seconds. Being able to intereact with people anywhere on the globe – and not being limited to a little Skype window. Co-existing in an environment – being able to look into each other’s eyes – key off of each other’s body language. Sharing the experience of seeing incredible wonders. Avoiding long, uncomfortable flights (not to mention the reduction in carbon footprint).

Yeah, it’s far from perfect. Much of the fun and experience of travel is just getting to where you’re going. Learning to deal with the issues you encounter and remaining flexible to overcome them. Plus, I can’t imagine breaking bread with people would be nearly as enjoyable in a digital environment. Unless they figure out some way to replicate smell, taste and texture. It would be like exploring the world via Google Images or YouTube, but totally immersive.

I’ll be clear – I believe I’d prefer “real” travel. Then again, much of my travel is driven by either adventure oriented (seeing if I’m capable of a journey) or breaking bread with friends. I’m less drawn to monuments, sites and structures. I can imagine using it to replace the other travel I do – business trips, collaboration, brainstorming.

I’m excited for where this technology will go – what it will enable. I don’t believe it would be a replacement for “real” experiences. It would leave more time for the travel that we enjoy most. More time to get lost and meander. More time to explore.

What do you think? Is this growing technology going to become a part of your travel experience, or is it blasphemy?

Chris Plough writes and podcasts at oznog.com, where he shares stories and advice from his adventures and from the incredible people that he’s met along the way. You can also follow him on twitter: @chrisplough.

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Category: On The Road, Travel Tech

June 13, 2014

Working on the Road: Austin, TX

WorkingInAustin-VintageHeart

(Working on this article in Austin – Vintage Heart Cafe)

My last couple of articles have been a bit higher-level (How lessons I learned while traveling have helped me through family tragedy and Becoming a better person via the kindness of strangers). Today, though, I’ve decided to post something much more tactical – the places I’ve enjoyed working over the past couple of weeks while in Austin, TX.

I’m riding my motorcycle across the western United States, in order to catch up with friends and interview them for my upcoming podcast. That means balancing a lot of work with a lot of fun. Austin seemed like the perfect starting point, since I’m considering moving down here. It was also a central place to meet up with my dear friend Stephen Blahut, so that we could decompress and brainstorm on our upcoming creative projects.

While I was here – I started looking for places to work. Coffee shops are always easy to find and Yelp reviews help – but I couldn’t find the info I was looking for: Internet speed, access policies, likelihood of finding a table, power outlet options, …); so I decided to start compiling it myself. In the process, it’s made me aware of the specialties of each place. Bennu is great for late-night work because they’re open 24/7. Hot Mama is a great place to record podcasts and to upload videos. Vintage Heart is a great place to come download a bunch of media. Cenote is just plain cool.

Now, this is by no means a comprehensive list – hell, it doesn’t even cover a fraction of Austin. If you’re caught on the east side, though and are looking for a place to work, here’s the places I can recommend. Got a favorite spot? Leave a comment and recommend it.

(Note: I’m not affiliated in any way with these shops – just appreciate what they offer.)

WorkingInAustin-Cafes

(Cafes in Austin – click to enlarge)

Chris Plough writes and podcasts at oznog.com, where he shares stories and advice from his adventures and from the incredible people that he’s met along the way. You can also follow him on twitter: @chrisplough.

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Category: General, North America, On The Road, Travel Tech, Vagabonding Life

March 11, 2014

5 Apps to aid your travels

Paper Map

I have to admit that I am not a techno-junkie. I resist the pull of technology assiduously, but even I am forced to admit that there are some really fantastic new “toys” out there that make travel easier and provide possibilities for the independent traveler that didn’t exist in the era of paper maps.

mtrip

Mtrip provides travel guides for 28 major cities including customizable itineraries, your own points of interest and ratings, create postcards to share via FB or email. Features include off line maps and navigation, up to date travel guides and the ability to keep a trip journal in the app.

 

TourPal

Tourpal allows you to purchase individual tours of places in the cities you’re going. Walking tours, museum tours, river tours and more, in multiple languages. They can be purchased one at a time, for far less than an in person tour, and you’ve got the freedom to do it “your way.”

 

TripIt 

I recently discovered TripIt and I’m in love. It lets me email my confirmations and travel plans and the app creates a personalized itinerary, keeping all of my trip details in one place. I can add my own photos and maps and share my itinerary with friends and family.

 

Google Translate

Struggling through language barriers is one of the hardest parts of traveling. Stuck on the border of Myanmar, trying to secure dinner and lodging for our exhausted tribe, a local lady rocked our travel world by pulling out her ipad, firing up Google Translate and asking, “You look lost, how can I help you?” There’s no question that technology has changed how we travel, and there are debates about whether those changes are a benefit or a detriment over all. Debates aside, there are moments where it is an absolute godsend.

 

Bound Round

I’m a mom, so I have to throw in one for the kids. Bound Round is a fun travel app for kids. It will maximize their learning and engagement even before you take off. The passport feature makes a game of exploring a new place, and your kids can even keep their travel journal in the app. They can send virtual postcards to their friends with their own pictures and rate destinations for other kids.

So, what about you? What are your favourite apps for travel?

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Category: Travel Tech

September 10, 2013

Getting lost? There’s an app for that!

Get lost

There’s something to be said for getting lost. 

I rather like it, actually. Taking off with no destination, exploring a city by braille, and the serendipity that inevitably arises as a result are intoxicating. There are days in which the last thing I want is a map, or directions, or to “get there” in the most expeditious manner.

And then… there are the other days. The days when I’m lost and it’s maybe not comfortable, or fun, or safe. There’s that moment when you look around and think, “Well this is no good…” and you realize you’re in the wrong neighbourhood, it’s almost dark and you have no idea where you are.

My husband pointed me towards an article about new app called Kovert this week that is a savvy solution in that moment. It’s a GPS for your phone that gives directions via vibration in your pocket rather than voice or visual. One blast for port, two for starboard; that kind of thing. So now, you’re walking down the street, feeling your directions instead of with your nose in your phone display. Your mind and your eyes are free to take in your surroundings. You’re not painting a target on your ass with the double whammy of an expensive piece of equipment and the announcement that you’ve got no idea where you are since you’re clearly following it down the street.

I like this idea from two perspectives: 1. increasing safety and decreasing the presence of obvious high-theft items. 2. increasing presence in a place instead of face time with a device.

What are your thoughts? Any travel apps that enhance your experience?

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Category: Travel Gear, Travel Tech

June 4, 2013

On the internet & experiences, apples and dragon fruit

Take off...

It has occurred to me that the internet is, perhaps, the single greatest boon to the traveling world and, simultaneously, the biggest detriment. 

On the one hand, the ability to keep in touch with the people who matter and are left behind, the ability to quickly search destination focused information, the ease of book tickets: plane, train, event or movie in just about any country in the world have made the travel experience so much “easier.” Travelers no longer need to feel like they are “alone” in the world or their experience. Blogs and online communities provide a thriving pool of fellow adventurers who “get it” and who are eager encouragers and a wealth of information for the newbie traveler who is nervously taking his first steps in the great big world. The old standard guidebooks are giving way to first hand, up to the minute information available online with a quick search that delivers a double handful of blogs by likeminded folks who’ve been where you want to go within the last month and are happy to share their favourites as well as their list of “don’t be bothered” for anywhere you want to go. It’s great, right?

Except when it’s not. The thing is, I don’t think most people even realize that it’s not. We’re all so irrevocably “plugged in” that we don’t even realize what we’re missing, but I promise you, we’re missing. Gone is the joy of authentically discovering something new without the pre-read experience of six other bloggers to frame your thought process on what you’re seeing. Gone is the need to hit the ground running and struggle through without “help.” Gone is the quiet within your own mind that comes from being alone in your own soul, without the tether to “everyone and everything.” Gone is the slow blossoming of deep thought and self discovery that comes with that quiet, and that intentional void. Our experiences are constantly compared and measured by those of others, so easily available online. We read our favourite blogs with longing, wishing our lives could be as cool and full of adventure as theirs, without realizing that they are also reading someone else’s blogs, comparing in some other way. The internet has become the ultimate tool for idolizing and one-upping one another in an endless comparison of “experiences.” Only what we’re doing is comparing our weaknesses (which we know all too well from the inside out) to someone else’s strengths (or our perception of them.)

Experiences can’t be compared. It’s like apples to dragon fruit.

It seems hypocritical for someone like me, a blogger, a writer, someone dependent on the internet and the online travel industry to even say such things out loud. I know. Part of me apologizes. But part of me also begs you to unplug, stop reading blogs, quit booking tickets and “experiences” online months in advance and lining out your itinerary like pool balls expertly aimed at velvet pockets. Part of me begs you to step into the void, with faith in the world and trust in your own ability and just go it alone in your own mind for a while. Take a book for company, and a journal to write in. Travel with someone you love or would like to know better. Leave the clamour of the online voices out of it. Those things that are “gone” as a result of our endless connectivity aren’t really gone. They’ve just been beaten out by the incessant beating of other peoples’ drums. You’ll find yourself, your own authentic thought process and experience right where you left them, patiently awaiting your return. I would go so far as to argue that until you’ve found a way to cut that cord and be in one world at a time, you haven’t yet seen the world, really seen it, through your own eyes.

What do you think? What are your experiences? Does the proliferation of travel material and tools online help, or hinder the experience of travel? Have you ever truly unplugged? What happened?

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Category: Travel Tech

January 28, 2013

Singapore and Southeast Asia cities top list of best-connected cities for Wi-Fi in budget accommodation

Man and women using laptops on a train.

Man and women using laptops on a train. Photo: Marco Raaphorst / Flickr

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.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
photo credit: Marco Raaphorst via photopin cc

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Category: Travel Tech

December 27, 2012

Suffer from food allergies, there’s an app for that

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.

image courtesy of: UCLA Newsroom

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?

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Category: Food and Drink, General, On The Road, Travel Gear, Travel Health, Travel Tech

July 23, 2012

How Tim Ferriss and Silicon Valley techies hack their trips

Packing light.

Packing light. Photo: Amina Elahi / Flickr

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.

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Category: Air Travel, Lifestyle Design, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Gear, Travel Tech

July 9, 2012

Writing about the Internet–as a travel destination?

Man at work in a data center.

Man at work in a data center. Photo: Leonardo Rizzi / Flickr

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.”

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Category: Travel Tech, Travel Writing
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