Oct 21

Three Phones in the Galapagos Islands

While traveling to the Galapagos Island I traveled with not 1 or 2, but 3 different cell phones. I like to be prepared. But the results of how well they worked were a bit surprising and I thought worthy of writing a post about them. As a point of reference I was on a G Adventures tour on the Monserrat in September of 2015.

The three phones:
iPhone 6 Plus on the AT&T Network with International Plan

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iPhone 4s with local Claro plan for Ecuador

FullSizeRenderBlackberry Bold on the Verizon Network with International Plan

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Results:
Overall data service in the Galapagos Islands was severely lacking, often relying on the Edge Network. The first half of my trip was a “Southern Galapagos” itinerary and had a decent level of coverage. The second half of the trip was “Western Galapagos” and had very little cell coverage. We landed on Baltra, which did show a signal, but it was extremely weak. In Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island we had the strongest signal for our whole trip. The Island of Isabel had some weak service. Other than that, there was little to know service while in the Galapagos, just occasional spotty service. I would usually check my phones at night or in the morning when we were stopped and I think the longest I went with absolutely no coverage was around 24-28 hours.

iPhone 6 Plus:
The international plan I had included unlimited texts and 120 mb of data. I turned the data off for all of my applications to keep from accidentally using the data, this kept me to using only about 30 mb of data during my almost 2 weeks in Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands. While in the Galapagos Islands I was never able to send a text with a photo. If I had 3 or more bars of cell coverage, I was able to send texts with only words. That only happened a few times.

iPhone 4s:
At some point late in the trip my service plan ran out, that also corresponded with the period of the least internet service. But it didn’t really matter, I never used the phone for texts and outside of Puerto Ayora, it never downloaded emails, or worked on Facebook. It might have worked once with the Twitter app.

Blackberry Bold:
I only used my blackberry for email and if there was a cell signal, it would send and receive emails, including emails with smaller pictures. Aside from the 24-28 hour gap with no service, it usually worked when I checked emails in the morning and at night, though not every time, but at least one a day.

Conclusions:
When you leave for the Galapagos, let everyone know they might not hear from you. But, if you NEED to keep in contact with the outside world, take a Blackberry, it’s your best chance.

Happy Travels!

Dec 10

Review: Borrow Lenses – Camera lens rental

A few months ago I recommended Borrow Lenses as a good service for trying out new lenses, or renting a lens for a trip.  This past May I finally had a reason to use the service to rent a lens for my south Africa trip.
I rented a Canon 28-300 for almost 3 weeks and paid around $275 for the rental, shipping and insurance.
Once you choose your lens on the Borrow Lenses site and make your reservation you will receive a confirmation.  If you are requesting a high end or specialty lens that they may not have a lot of stock of, I highly recommend reserving the lens in advance. I did not experience any issues, but I have occasionally seen that there would be a waiting period for specific lenses.

On the designated day of delivery the lens should be delivered (it must be signed for). I gave myself a one and a half day buffer for delivery. This gave me extra time to get familiar with the lens and also an extra day in case the lens got delayed in shipping. I am happy to report my lens did arrive on time.

The packaging was very well padded, reusable and included instructions for my lens (it’s a push/pull lens) and rental.  When I returned from my trip I packed up my lens in the same box I had used and dropped it off at a Fed Ex shipping center, got a receipt and a few hours later received confirmation from Borrow Lenses that I had met the requirements of the agreement.

The hardest part was getting myself out of the house to drop the lens off at a Fed Ex center.
As for the lens, I loved it! There were a few times that I wanted more zoom, but there were some times I was glad it went so wide too.  No lens is perfect, but this was a great range for my 2 days of Safari.

Sep 24

Hotel Wifi Test

USBI recently heard about a new website and service called hotelwifitest.com where you can check the wifi speeds of potential hotels. If you’re like me and like your wifi, then you’ll love this site.

The site shows hotels by location and reports expected speed, confidence in that speed and if the wifi is free or a paid service.

Aside from the ability to know better hotels to say at and what to expect from their wifi, I think this service offers even more. I think it will force hotels to up their game to keep guests coming.  Yes, there are some people who are frequent travelers who only stay in certain chains. But, many of us have choice and if we need or want wifi, this is important.

Hotel Wifi test has launched a browser extension to help display their data via popular booking sites like Hotels.com, Expedia, Booking.com and Tripadvisor – I think this will only make it a more powerful service with greater influence.

Oh, and don’t forget to test your wifi connection when in a hotel to help create better reporting!

Jun 06

Rome2Rio Website

Have you ever planned a trip where getting from point A to point B was not as easy as you thought?  Well then check out the website Rome2Rio.com

Rome2Rio.com allows you to insert your starting and ending point of a trip you’re taking and finds you a variety of different ways to get there, with a focus on the cheapest way.  I haven’t had to use the site yet, but my friend who is planning to do the Camino de Santiago is and his brain was hurting from the different options.  This helped him narrow down the options and helped his thinking about them in a different way.  It also meant he was bugging me less about the options.

Apr 25

Weather Base

Are you planning a trip and wondering about the weather?  I used to use WeatherUnderground (and I still do) to help me plan my packing for different trips. But I recently found the website Weather Base.

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Weather Base isn’t as flashy as WeatherUnderground, but it provides the same information, and it a little easier to use and probably better for the less tech savvy vacationer.  I also wonder if, because the site is a little less low tech, if it will load up faster when you’re working with lower internet speeds.  Just a thought.

Apr 04

Travel App – Globe Tipping

Ever been traveling in a foreign location and wondered how much to tip your waiter? Well, there’s and app for that – GlobeTipping.  For less than the price of a tip (99 cents), you can have an app that could save you embarrassment and the risk of insulting a lovely host.

Here are some screen shots of the app:img_tips_canada img_tips_japan

As you can see, the app doesn’t just tell you what the custom is, it also gives you hints of how to work a tip for better service, if you want to. Sometimes you just need a drink at the Canadian bar and then you’ll go. Other nights, you want your drinks coming quick!

So if you’re traveling to foreign lands, this is a great app to help make it easier.

Mar 14

Phillip Island Penguin Parade App

On Wednesday I wrote about the Phillip Island Penguin Parade tour that I did when I was in Melbourne. Today, I want to talk about the Phillip Island Penguin Parade App that was created by that nature park that operates the viewing of the parade. Even if you’ve never been or aren’t planning a trip, I think this app is fun and educational.

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First of all, you can watch live footage of the Penguin Parade – so even if you can’t make it to see it live, you can get a little glimpse of what it’s really like. And there are also cameras into the burrows that some of these little guys live in.

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The app has a lot of educational information about the smallest penguins in the world, and the rest of the penguins of the world.

There’s even games on the app, some for fun, some to test your knowledge.  Anyone going on Jeopardy soon?

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Finally, you can also adopt a penguin in the app, which is way better then taking one home with you and trying to take care of it yourself.

The app is available in iTunes and the Google Play store and in the following languages – English, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German and Spanish.

My only complaint about the app is that although it allows you to watch the parade live, it does not allow you to view a previous parades, so if the time of the parade is a time when you’re normally asleep or at work, you’re out of luck.

Jan 31

USB, the new power adapter?

USBWith the growth of portable devices it seems most of the stuff we carry has a USB connector.  With that has come an increase in USB ports on trains and planes.  While my iPhones were plugged into the plane or train seats I wondered if the USB was slowly becoming the new universal power adapter?

I remember on my first trip the biggest issue was plugging in my travel hair dryer.  It was easily solved by flipping a switch to adjust the power voltage and using a plug adapter.  But now it’s more complicated.  People travel with laptops, phones, ereader, tablets, and digital cameras.  The problem is how do you charge all of these things if you only have one plug converter?

Most of these devices have USB plugs so you can either plug into a USB port or use the provided plug. New hotels are being built with lots of outlets and USB ports, making it easier.  As USB ports become more common (I did have them in one of my Australia hostels) I’m wondering if the USB port will become the new plug?  I don’t think refrigerators or stoves are changing.  But how about laptops and travel hairdryers?  How far is the USB from being able to run a laptop?  And how much will it cost for older hotels and hostels to upgrade their systems to have outlets and USB ports?

I’m sure someone with more knowledge of electric systems has the answer, but it’s fun to speculate one a little piece of how the world might change in the next 5 or 10 years.

Jan 08

Flying Through Adversity

The day I flew to Australia started like any other – waking up early from insomnia, traffic going to work, packing a suitcase…  Ok, it wasn’t totally normal, but not too crazy.

Work was crazy that day though, really crazy.  I love when god does that little thing just before a trip to make you really appreciate your trip. With all that craziness and running around that day I opted to shower before leaving for the airport, but right before that happened the news showed an incident at LAX.  It didn’t seem out of control or anything and I went to take quick shower. I was thinking ahead to the 6 hour flight, layover, then 14 hour flight, followed by a day in Brisbane before flying to Melbourne.

When I returned from my shower LAX was closed, there had been a shooting with multiple injuries.  The date was November 1, 2013 and incase you’re unaware of the incident, or just forgot, here is the story from CBS. As much as I thought that sucked for those in LAX, in particular the victims I was trying to reason with myself – would my flight to LAX be canceled or just late.  What would happen to my flight to Brisbane, the plane should have already landed in LAX that morning, so at least there was that.  This was not the most stressful flight I’ve ever flown, but it was definitely stressful.

With that I left several things behind in my office, including Rasputin, and went to the airport.  I’ll leave much of my antics of that day for another post, but I will say that I was able to get Rasputin before my flight took off.

The first weird thing that happened was while waiting on line to check my bag.  I’m standing there minding my own business when the girl behind me says, “You’re going to LAX, they just shot up the place.” (nervous) giggle, giggle.  I tried to say that I thought security would be tighter in LAX because of it, which I did believe.  She made some other nervous comment and then I was saved by a guy who wanted to check my luggage in.

The next weird thing, I did not hear one peep about the shooting once I was inside the airport.  Most airports seem to have CNN or some news type program on.  I didn’t happen to see many TV’s to start at Delta’s Terminal 3 at JFK and if they were on, they were not on the news.  It was nice not to have that extra bit to add to the stress, but it was also surreal that things were so calm.

My flight to LAX took off on time and our pilot did update us on any potential impact to our flight and what they were doing in response.  Many flights had been sent to other airports earlier in the day and although they were expecting an on time arrival they did give us additional fuel incase there were landing delays.  We were updated closer to landing time that we were going to land early, but would have a delay in getting a gate.  We could expect an hour wait for a gate, which later changed to a half hour wait, but was in reality just over an hour.  Apparently someone stole our gate then there was an accident with a luggage handler truck – you can’t make this stuff up!

I used that time waiting for a gate to chat with people on social media, but mostly to figure out what to do in LAX.  My Virgin Australia flight from LAX to Brisbane was supposed to take off from Terminal 3, which was where the shooting was.  Obviously that wasn’t going to happen.  The lounge I had access to (Virgin America) was also in Terminal 3 and lets face it, if you want a lounge on any day, it’s a day like this.  I used social media to find out that my flight would go out of Tom Bradley International Terminal and got close to accurate information about where to check my bags for the flight. I say slightly accurate because the desk #’s were off by a few numbers so I had trouble find it.

I expected chaos and mayhem in LAX. It wasn’t that bad, but the check in desks at Tom Bradley were crazy!  Virgin Australia has 2 flights a day so they were trying to check in the people to Sydney first since that was the earlier flight, but they did check me in earlier, probably because I was in business class.  The poor girl had to hand write each ticket. I’m not exactly sure why, but I know they didn’t have the right equipment at Tom Bradley and had to do manual boarding checks instead of the usual electronic scan they do.  I’m assuming it’s part of some procedure they have for times like these.

The line for security wasn’t any worse than at Orlando’s airport, but there was certainly a long.  And no TSA Precheck line either (I’ll write about how much I love TSA Precheck another day).  I figured I should just be glad the airport was open.

Now that I was in the terminal I got a light meal and a drink before looking for my gate.  Apparently, when your airline does not normally fly out of Tom Bradley you end up with the furthest gate from civilization possible.  I think I walked 10 minutes, a solid 5 from the last real shop or food place.  It was a big room with some seats, gates and bathrooms.  I wanted to charge my iPhone, which was now dying, but outlets that weren’t being used were scarce.  Eventually the guy I was sitting next to left and I was able to charge enough to get me onto the flight.

I know it sounds all “first world problem” to worry about my phone being charged.  But, we were getting very little information in the terminal (I don’t think they had much to give). My flight that was supposed to take off at 11 PM didn’t board until 2 AM, and changed gates several times.  Being by myself, that was stressful.  I had also been up for 27 hours by the time I boarded the flight and was getting punchy.  At least with Facebook I was able to update my friends and family and just complain in general.  And actually some of my friends did help me track down information about my flight.

So what did I learn from this whole experience?

Social Media is your friend.  I know there are people who think Facebook will only get you into trouble and they don’t get Twitter.  That’s fine, you can think what you want.  But without Twitter it would have been much harder to figure out where to go at LAX for my flight.  Virgin Australia used Twitter to post updates on their operational changes and answered DM’s for those who needed assistance.  Try calling an airline when 500+ people want to know about your operational change during an incident.  All you want to know is what terminal to go to and you have to fight to talk to someone with the people who are afraid to fly and now they want a different seat and can they get a kosher meal at the last-minute.  Or whatever it is that people call about.

If you’re flying (or using any type of public transportation) charge your phone.  It seems so simple, but in times of “crisis” everyone wants a wall plug because they’re stuck waiting around a long time with little information and need information.  Even better, buy and extra battery pack before you go to the airport, they’re more expensive there and at times like these, your phone might be your lifeline to information and combating boredom.

As crazy as that day was, things went pretty smoothly.  I could complain about the lack of information, or the delays, but in the world of air travel, you have to expect them.  On a day like that, I was just happy to make it safely from point A to point B with minimal disruption.

Dec 20

Tip of the Week: Public Messaging and Notify NYC

For this weeks tip, I’m going simple.

Being from the New York City area I subscribe to Notify NYC, a public messaging program offered by the City of New York. It offers information on everything from fireworks warnings to emergency incidents with areas to avoid.  While it might be a bit much to subscribe to such a service if you’re just visiting for a few days you can always follow their Twitter feed. Typically the same information is provided and it might be enough to keep you out of trouble.

Of course many other cities have such services outside of New York City. If you’re going to be in a location for a few days or more, it’s worth looking into the services of that city.