Eight Pairs of Underwear and Boys Toys
As I write these words my wife and I are hurtling through the Greek countryside on a bus (see picture above – yeah that’s me typing out this very blog 🙂 ), breathing through our mouths for fear of passing out if we take in the pungent aroma of a nearby man who may never have had a shower in his life. Strangely, this seems to be a common occurrence yet always somewhat traumatic.
The aim of this blog post is not to entice you to imagine the complex odours that the human body is capable of producing. Rather, I aim to provide you with some ‘tech tips’ pertaining to travel that I have collated during my recent experiences. With this I hope that you might learn something, be inspired to travel or at least have an entertaining read. Please let me know your thoughts via the comments, or by any other means provided!
The Scenic Route Home
Yep, we’re going home but we’re doing it in style, damn it! This blog comes to you live, on location, at the half-way point of our return voyage.
Just for some background and context, this is what’s going on. Two months ago my wife and I packed up our London home save for what we could fit in a backpack each and set off on the biggest adventure of our lives.
Our final destination is to be Melbourne, Australia. Prior to that; the west coast of the US, but not before a road trip from Scotland down through the UK, and that is only after attending the opening weekend of Oktoberfest in Munich.
All that is yet to come. We’re currently coming to the end of phase 1: ‘Emiterranean’. The ‘Emit’ part refers to the name some of our friends have affectionately given us (Emily + Amit = Emit). We’re certainly no ‘Brangelina’, but the name has stuck all the same. The second part refers to our chosen destinations on this leg of the trip – all within the Mediterranean.
Essentially, we started in Portugal and have been making our way east across Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece and finally Turkey.
Before I get into the tech stuff, I have to touch on this topic lightly (no pun intended) because it’s been key to our survival.
Three words: travel super light. Hell, let’s make it two: travel light! It is worth every bit of stress endured while culling ruthlessly during packing. On occasion we have felt restricted by our wardrobe choices, however, the small sacrifice was more than justified. Usually most appreciated at times when we casually strolled past other travellers laboriously lugging 25kg suitcases across cobblestones with Grand-Canyonesque crevasses and up hundreds of steps while we just had 10kg backpacks and smug faces on. 🙂
And don’t worry – you don’t have to do the old inside-out then back-to-front trick with your undies. Laundromats are never hard to find. Eight pairs of underwear and no regrets. 😉
Now on to the juicy tech stuff…
Internet access is important to me and if you’re reading this then probably to you, too. Fortunately, wifi is everywhere – even if they pronounce it ‘whiffy’. Don’t be afraid to ask for the password at cafes and hotels. My friends, followers and enemies would have noticed that they’ve barely had a day’s break from my incessant Twitter-tweeting, Facebook-posting, Foursquare-checking in and GooglePlus-streaming.
On rare occasions when in need of a net fix or in a bind and not being near any hotspots, flicking on roaming data using a Vodafone UK prepaid SIM has been the ticket for me (while travelling in the EU). The £2 for 24 hours of cyber juice might sound steep, especially with the 25 MB limit provided. However, it is more than enough for lots of email, dialling up Google Maps and tweeting a few humorous pictures of a donkey. Other providers tend to charge per KB with no cap so even if you are diligent, you’d be lucky to keep it under £2 in a 24 hour period.
Before you think that was a paid message; in the UK I wouldn’t stick a Vodafone SIM in my iPhone if my ass was on fire and that was the only sure way to extinguish it. 😉
Whether you’re a tech-addict or a technophobe, you have to travel with a mobile phone these days – if for no reason other than security and peace of mind.
My gadget of choice for this is an iPhone, and I would strongly recommend one or an equivalent. Having access to a plethora of information right there in your pocket is invaluable. In fact, I can’t fathom how we travelled without smart phones several years ago!
You don’t need to spend a fortune on data roaming or on apps either. There are plenty of free or very cheap travel apps available for any of the major platforms that give you all sorts of useful information about your travel destination. Lonely Planet have even made available electronic versions of their famous travel guides on the iPhone as apps and they are fantastic. Leave your physical copies on the bookshelf at home and save even more weight in your luggage.
The other major advantage of a smart phone while traveling is making use of the GPS chip that most of them are packing these days. GPS doesn’t cost you a cent to use, either. While chilling at your hotel or at a cafe, jump on their wifi and fire up Google Maps. Look up the areas you plan to visit that day and scroll around the surrounding streets a little. Then when you’re out and about and can’t find your way back or to the main road, fire up Google Maps again (make sure your data is off) and you’ll still be able to see the maps that you looked at earlier, even while offline. This works because Google Maps caches what you recently looked at for performance reasons. (Nerd-alert!!!).
This little trick has helped us numerous times when in a hurry to catch a train or a plane and of equal importance; in preventing us from doing unwanted exercise by helping us find the most direct route to restaurants, bars and our hotel. 🙂
Mobile Computing & Entertainment
Usually on a weekender or even a one- or two-week holiday you wouldn’t worry about loading up your bat belt with too much tech. Grab your phone and charger and throw a book in your bag and you’re set. However, a few months on the road is a different matter altogether.
My gadgety goodie of choice here, unsurprisingly, is an iPad 2. I don’t want to get into why the iPad is better or not better than other tablets and I have
blogged about the iPad 2 recently anyway.
What I will mention is that for me, personally, the iPad 2 does the things that I need better than it’s competitors. Meanwhile, my wife chose an Amazon Kindle for her needs and it’s been great for her – more on that later.
So how did I land on the iPad 2? Firstly, for practical reasons I decided a tablet would be better than a laptop or netbook for travelling. Basically, the superior battery life and portability made it a no-brainer. The only other device I would consider is a MacBook Air, however, it was the price tag mainly that deterred me.
Now, with a tablet as the chosen form factor, there were two main categories that landed me squarely on the Apple bandwagon. One, the super-sexy hardware/build quality and two, the apps.
Sub-category, under apps (whoa!):
– I wanted to leverage my investment in apps I’d already purchased and was familiar with on my iPhone.
– I absolutely love some specific iPad apps (GarageBand, Noteshelf, Photoshop Express, WordPress to name a few) that appeal to my artistic side (music production, drawing, photography and blogging, respectively).
– I love the fact that there is an app for just about anything.
Thus far the iPad 2 has faired very well for me. For both of us, in fact. It’s been incredibly helpful for looking up trains, planes, ferries, hotels, researching cities, sights and attractions on the go. Then on off days we can settle in and watch a movie or some TV shows. ‘Buzz Player’ is my app of choice for video, by the way, since it doesn’t rely on iTunes and can play virtually every video format.
We’ve also been able to Skype with family on the go, which is all too easy on an iPad. I could go on and on but I promised that I wouldn’t. Just one more point, if I may. 🙂 I’ve grown quite fond of iBooks. Having an entire library of books on hand electronically has it’s obvious advantages, such as saving space and weight with not having to pack old school paperbacks, but I am also loving the fact that it keeps my books in sync between my iPhone and iPad. If I start a book on my iPad one night then find myself with a bit of time to kill on the bus the next day but with only my iPhone on hand, I can fire up iBooks and it just picks up where I was in the book. Brilliant.
On the topic of reading, I mentioned that my wife went with a Kindle for her tech toy of choice. Initially I scoffed at this most preposterous idea and went on to list the numerous ways in which my iPad 2 is far superior to a Kindle. But the simple fact is; my wife just doesn’t need or want all those extra features. And she powers through books at a rate that I find difficult to fathom.
I’d love to do the maths on the size and weight of the bag she would have had to carry if she brought a physical copy of every book she’s read in the past two months!
But here’s the real clincher; being a Kindle 3G, she’s had free access to the Internet twenty-four/seven, anywhere anytime! The experimental browser on the Kindle may be no match for Safari on my iPad, however, on a number of occasions I’ve relinquished to just reading an ebook due to the lack of wifi around. Then I’d glance over to see that my wife is sitting there blogging or checking her email… on a Kindle! That’s irony. To clarify, I do have a 3G iPad but am not usually willing to pay for data roaming unless it was to do something that couldn’t wait.
There’s been one other scenario when I’ve looked enviously over at my wife with her fancy little Kindle. When we’ve been relaxing outdoors, whether it be on the deck of a boat, on the balcony of our hotel or on deck chairs at the beach, she can quite comfortably read for hours on end whereas I find myself perpetually distracted with seeing my own reflection on the mega glossy screen. I mean, by the time I fixed my hair for the second or third time I just want to get on with the book. 😉
So with an iPhone, iPad and Kindle between us we’ve had all we’ve needed at our fingertips to last computer-less for two months so far. And we’re confident we’ll last another two with ease.
I must stress that the winning formula here is the smartphone/tablet/eReader combo and not so much the particular brands or products that we have gone with.
The only thing we both really miss is a full-sized keyboard for power-typing. Yes, I’ve already begun researching a bluetooth keyboard. 🙂
I started this blog post while on a bus in Greece. Then I worked on it in a hotel in Istanbul and on a plane flying into Heathrow. And here I am finishing it in a flat in London. Every word has been typed on my iPad. Even the picture was imported straight onto the iPad via a Camera Connection Kit.
It might not have come through fully in this post but I immensely enjoyed writing it because it marries together two things I absolutely love – travelling and technology. I hope you enjoyed the read on some level. 🙂
Follow me on Twitter for a live stream of my travel adventures – I like to think of it as micro-blogging. 😉
And another post will follow after we take on Oktoberfest, road tripping around the UK and the US!
Safe travels, and don’t forget to switch your electronic device to flight-safe mode before switching it off… Or whatever.