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.)
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.
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 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 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.”
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.