Oct 28

What I should have packed – Galapagos Islands

The more I travel, the more I find packing to be an unfortunate and inconvenient chore. Subsequently, on my trip to the Galapagos Islands, I did a really lousy job packing. I’ll also blame the weather predictions I read about that were WRONG!

I’ll explain the weather first. The weather in Quito was forecast to be in the lower 60s and raining everyday. It NEVER rained and, I think, because of the altitude and dry conditions the temperature felt 5-10 degrees warmer.  The forecast in the Galapagos I only got for one island, Santa Cruz, and it would be in the mid 70s and foggy everyday.  The temperatures were probably in the mid 70s to lower 80s and really humid with very little fog.  Of course the forecast matched the information I read about the weather during September so I thought it would be a good gauge for packing.

So here is what I should have packed for a 7 day Galapagos Cruise:

(some of this I did actually bring and found useful)

2 pairs of shorts (preferably quick drying)

Or 1 pair of shorts and a pair of zip off pants

2-3 short sleeve shirts to wear during the day

2-3 short sleeve shirts to wear at night

LOTS of sunscreen

Bug spray (a small amount)

Sneakers/Hiking boots

Athletic sandals

Flip flops

2 Bathing suits

1 pair confortable pants or jeans

1 Sweatshirt

Hat (I didn’t wear one but most people would like a hat)

Camera with zoom lens and lots of memory

A few packaged snacks – you cannot bring organics into the Galapagos Islands and there isn’t much opportunity to purchase once on the islands.

One thing of note is that due to the humidity and the fact that you’re on a boat surrounded by water, nothing fully dries. Most of the boats seemed to have a laundry line on the top and clothing got 95% dry very quickly. But it’s best to bring things that dry quickly, you’ll get wet on the zodiacs and it’s nice for your clothes to dry in minutes. I would not bring jeans to wear during the day, only at night when lounging around. They’ll take too long to dry and aren’t practical if you have a “wet” landing (climbing into the ocean at the beach instead of from the boat to land)

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

iPhone 4s with local Claro plan for Ecuador

FullSizeRenderBlackberry Bold on the Verizon Network with International Plan

FullSizeRender (1)

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.

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 27

Leave My Undies Alone

I’m frequently listening and reading tips on packing for a trip and it never fails that I hear the recommendation to bring less underwear.  And I always wonder, what the heck is wrong with me bringing a week or two worth of underwear????

Yes, if you’re trying to squeeze into a carryon for more than a few days, yes, I could see this as a potential strategy.  But, under normal conditions, I have enough room for as many pairs of underwear as I want to bring.

Seriously… If push came to shove, I can wear a shirt more than once between washes, pants, etc.  But underwear? Things have to be REALLY bad for me to wear dirty underwear.  Which means, I need to be able to go longer with my underwear.

But then it occurred to me, I’m usually hearing this from men.  Granted, this is a bit of a generalization, but men typically have lower standards of hygiene and there underwear does take up more room than most woman’s underwear. So I can almost see where they are coming from.  It also means, I can bring as much underwear as makes me happy, so stop counting how many pairs of underwear I take!

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.

May 09

The Ethical Traveler

I know many of my readers have long lists of places they want to visit. I also know that the strangest things can get us to choose our next destination.  But, what if we were more intentional about choosing our next travel destination?

The Ethical Traveler is:

Ethical Traveler is a nonprofit organization, founded to “empower travelers to change the world.” We seek to use the economic clout of tourism to protect human rights and the environment.

They review different locations around the world and seeks to find the ones where your tourism will make the biggest impact on the world with a focus on: Environmental Protection, Social Welfare and Human Rights.

Not every vacation needs to change the world, but once in a while when we’re considering different locations it’s good to consider how we can make an impact.

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.

weatherbase 2

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.


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.


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?




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.