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Travel Gadgets, 2014 Edition: The latest additions to my travel gear

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When I think about the fact that I’ve been on the road since April 2010, I realize that that’s an incredibly long time – next spring it will be half a decade that I’ve been roaming the globe!

travel gearWhile most of the things in my backpack haven’t changed all that much (I do pick up a new shirt or some pants every once in a while, but other than that, the contents of my pack still look pretty much the same they did in 2010). One thing that has changed considerably over the past few years though is the content of my travel technology bag, which now even contains some things that weren’t on the market yet when I left London! Some gadgets even revolutionized the way I travel and I can’t imagine not having them with me. The only thing that seems to get bigger is my camera equipment – while Jill Starley-Grainger mentions in her travel kit for the luxury traveler that she didn’t even bring a camera on her last trip because her smartphone camera was sufficient for her, I seem to add new lenses, filters and other gear regularly, but I just don’t feel like a camera phone produces images that are good enough to be published here and in the other publications that I write for.

When I started my round-the-world trip, I was carrying four or five heavy books, for example. These days, I carry a slim, light-weight Kindle that holds 3,000 books. I stated out with a Netbook which felt like the neatest thing compared to my clunky, heavy Toshiba laptop. While the netbook was fine in the beginning, it couldn’t cope with the amount of work I did on it over the months to come. Luckily, laptops got considerably slimmer, smaller and lighter, and when I went back to a laptop, it didn’t make all that much of a difference to the weight of my bag. I left home with a tiny MP3 player, happy about how little it was, but soon discovered that an iPod Touch, only a little bit larger, was not only a gadget to play music on, but allowed me to download podcasts, take photos, scribble down notes, access maps even when I was offline, connect to the internet wherever there was Wi-Fi, and had enough room for a myriad of apps to keep me entertained on long bus and train rides.

I can’t even imagine my life without these things anymore, and this past year, I’ve added two little electronic gadgets with a large impact on my travels:

Portable chargerportable charger

When I first picked it up, I couldn’t understand how I survived so many years on the road without this tiny device because my batteries were always about to die. With this charger you can charge any USB-powered device: iPod, iPhone, Kindle and even some cameras. Since I picked it up, I haven’t had the problem of ‘my phone ran out of battery anymore. I even added a second charger recently which also serves as a flashlight – gotta love a 2-in-1 gadget!

Flash drives with the capacity of a hard drive

I remember how amazed I was by my first USB stick – which held 128 MB… basically nothing! This year, I picked up a USB stick that holds 128 GB – what a difference! I love how modern technology is able to make everything smaller and smaller these days! For a traveler, that’s perfect. A USB-sized hard drive doesn’t only hold thousands of the photos I take (and other things I want to back up) without taking up as much space (and weight) as an external hard drive, but it’s also easier to hide. And not only do these devices get smaller – but they also get cheaper.

As for non-electronics, my favorite additions to my travel gear have been:

New headphones

This might be not important to some people, but I will always choose a company with a strong focus on social responsibility over a company that is all about listn headphonesprofits. LSTN is one such company with a strong social focus: for every pair of headphones sold, LSTN helps restore hearing to a person in need through the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

But let’s talk about the headphones themselves, which are one of the few rare headphones that are made of wood. If you are a music lover then you’ve probably heard of the acoustic benefits of wood housing. The sound quality of the headphones is excellent, and even though they don’t claim to be noise-cancelling, I’ve successfully cancelled out traffic noise, cafe surroundings and other noises in public spaces, all while not disturbing strangers with the latest Taylor Swift CD, since the headphones don’t let any noise through until a very high volume.

The headphones are very light, which I as a full-time traveler truly appreciate, and look divine with the wood housing (you can choose between ebony, cherry and beech, by the way). At $99, they are also very reasonably priced. You can buy them on Amazon.com.

Go-Go-Goloshes

go go goloshesThese foldable, light-weight goloshes were perfect for my summer in New York, and my trip to Niagara Falls! While I couldn’t just slip them over my flip flops (supposedly you can just wear them over your shoes), they were a life saver on many occasions, when a sudden downpour – or more like: heavy rains – relieved New York City from the summer heat and humidity for a while. I just took of my flip flops and changed into my go-gos and was good to go! They are so light and small that I didn’t even feel them in my tote. When I went on my trip to Niagara Falls, they proved useful once again when I got soaked on the Hurricane Deck.

 A tote bagtote bag

I don’t know why I didn’t think of picking up one earlier but tote bags seem to be perfect to travel with! While I usually use my backpack when I head out to explore a place, sometimes it just feels a bit out of place. A tote bag is a little more stylish, yet sturdy and resistant, and it doesn’t add any weight to your luggage – and it doesn’t take up any room. You can just roll it up or put it flat on the bottom of your bag – perfect!

 

For a full list of things I am traveling with, check out my digital nomad packing list!

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How to earn money online while you travel

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Maybe you have a healthy lump of cash set aside for you to deplete at will while you backpack your way around the globe, or perhaps you are independently wealthy and if this is you, congratulations! For the rest of us out there, at some point, picking up work along during our around the world adventures is inevitable. A romantic notion of working as you travel has traditionally included work as bartenders or service staff at hotels and restaurants, while a less romantic but more lucrative option has been to teach English or other languages at schools or language institutes. Until the widespread reach of the internet, such work would have been the easiest way for most travelers to finance an extensive round the world trip, but tends not to be as carefree as originally intended.

One problem with this method is that in order to do location-based work, you must stay, on location, for two weeks, a month or more, even running the risk of extending your stay for much longer (maybe forever). Not that there is anything wrong with staying, but the original idea was to get out and travel the world.

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How to combine Long-Term Travel and Work

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,When we semi-spontaneously decided to start on a round-the-world trip in February 2010, such a quick decision was only possible because we were both already freelancing and so we were able to pack up and take our projects on the road with us. Why sit idly by at home slaving away when we could be out experiencing the world at the same time, we thought. Combining round-the-world, long-term travel with work means that we have a guaranteed income, but on the other hand it means that we had to plan our travels around our work schedule. So, how is that working out, you ask?Five months in to a work-travel lifestyle, we say that ‘digital nomadism’ is definitely a feasible option – but only if you know from the outset that you will be traveling slowly. For those on a fixed schedule who can or want to only spend six months or a year on the road, fitting in a full work schedule with sightseeing and travel will be a difficult balance and probably also very tiring.

It took us a long time to find our rhythm, which involves traveling AND working AND blogging, but we have found that if you follow a few simple rules, you’ll have no problem of combining work and travel:

Prioritize

Keeping clients happy is priority number one, as work means money and money means longer travel. This can be hard with a Caribbean sunset beckoning you on the beach, but no matter how long it takes to finish, work must come first. Both of us work mainly on deadline-focused projects, and so we usually finish up what we’re working on before heading out to explore a place, or take full days in sweaty hostels working away when we would rather be sitting on a plaza somewhere watching the world go by.

Schedule

It helps enormously to schedule your days. List what you want to achieve and make a plan to hit your targets. Plan what time you need to start and finish work in order to keep in perspective how much there is to get done each day. During a heavy travel phase, we prefer to spend whole days working and whole days playing where possible. When we have an apartment and are staying somewhere for an extended period of time (two weeks, a month) we can better schedule working mornings and exploring (or beach!) afternoons.

Get up early

For those who have taken a year just to travel, sleeping in or sleeping off a hard night come with the territory. When you have undertaken a work/travel lifestyle, however, starting work on time each day is a must. We found that starting to work as early as 7 am enables us to fit so much more into a day. Because we both work for Europe-based clients and we are located in Latin America at the moment, it is important for us to get up as early as possible in order to be online when our clients are online.

Discipline

While it’s true that all work and no play makes a dull traveler, adopting a lifestyle as a digital nomad means that you have to be willing to work, and work hard! Sure you would rather be out exploring than sitting in front of a laptop screen. Sure the people in the hostel are partying it up and having a great time while you struggle to meet a deadline for a client thousands of miles away. In order to travel and work, however, you have to stay strong and focus on your need to work to continue your income stream. Some people might just say ‘f!ck it’ and join the party, but if you want be successful in the long-term, you need the discipline to get your work done. Tell yourself that this is a lifestyle, not a gap year. Plus, if you schedule your time right and find your rhythm, you should be able to join the party anyway!

Things to consider for a successful travel-work lifestyle

Internet / wi-fi

Almost all Digital Nomads rely on the internet, so make sure that the place you’re staying has reliable wi-fi. Nothing is worse than losing internet connection in the middle of a telephone conference via skype or not being able to attach the documents you’re supposed to send because of a weak connection – ten minutes before deadline. This need does limit your accommodation choices as not all of the hostels offer wi-fi / internet (yet) but with some research before heading to the next place you will always find a hostel or apartment that has wi-fi. Inevitably, some hostel somewhere will promise an excellent connection and it turns out they are stealing a weak connection from a neighbor. So far, we find that there is definitely somewhere in town with a strong wi-fi connection if you are anywhere that is ‘backpacker’ friendly. Find the place right away, because if the town really has no good wi-fi, you’ll need to re-schedule and set up a new plan to get your work done.

Laptop / netbook

This might be self-explanatory and obvious, but do not rely on the hostel computer(s). Ever. You might think you can get some work done on their computers, but in reality, you have to wait, there are time limits, the connection is often slow, keyboards are different to your native language and sometimes keys are even missing. We use our Asus netbooks, which weigh next to nothing and work just as well as a laptop. We are able to work from anywhere, be it in a private room at the hostel, the gorgeous coffee shop up the road or even on a shaded town square with wi-fi, and maybe even catching that beautiful sunset while you work. After all, wasn’t working from anywhere part of the dream when you first started playing with the idea of long-term travel?

Plan in extra time

Plans are always a nice thing to have, but most of the time, things don’t work out exactly as you thought. The best thing to plan in is extra time. Taking into account things like slow internet connections, broken down buses, noisy neighbors and the fact that maybe you DID just say f!ck it last night and joined the party, your work might take longer than you think to finish. Scheduling more time than might seem initially necessary to complete a project creates a buffer against the factors that are out of your control. That way, should everything go right, you’re far ahead of deadline, thus keeping clients very satisfied, and should just about everything go wrong, you still manage to meet your deadline and your clients are none the wiser.

If you are currently on the road and live the lifestyle of a ‘digital nomad’, feel free to share your tips how to successfully combine travel & work in the comments below.

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The Kodak zi8 pocket camcorder – the best could still be better | Travel Tech Review

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Tomorrow we are heading on a trip to the waterfalls of Agua Azul and Misol-Ha and the Mayan ruins of Palenque. No doubt, there will be spectacular scenery, wildlife and local customs that would be great to get on film, and I’ll certainly catch some of it on my Kodak zi8 pocket camcorder. However, the footage that gets uploaded to our YouTube channel won’t be edited, unfortunately, because of all the hi-tech, user-friendly and useful aspects of the Kodak, the editing options are terrible.

Don’t misunderstand; the Kodak Zi8 is a fantastic device which has moved the pocket camcorder market up a level. Though we’re not an overly tech-savvy pair, we dig in and do our research before committing to a product that will form an integral part of our travel (blogging) experience.

We snapped up the camcorder in the UK for ₤109; an excellent price for a sturdy, compact camcorder. The zi8 is a vast improvement on its older sister, the zi6, and this version has also surpassed the more famous and funky-looking Flip Video camcorders. The device films in standard and High Definition; the top HD mode is 1080p, plus there are two 720p modes – one at 30 frames per second and the other at 60, good for grabbing sharper images of fast-moving objects. This means that the footage you record looks great even when hooked up to most massive HD flat screen TV, and there is a cable included for this.

As you travel, however, most likely the footage is seen either on YouTube or on the device itself. The zi8’s wide, bright LCD screen is much better than  the smaller Flip screen, and makes watching footage on the device much easier. YouTube clips need only footage in a standard film setting, which allows for many more hours squeezed onto the SD card. (You will have to purchase an SD card with the zi8, unlike with the Flip which comes with 4G of space. Although this is an extra cost, it also means that fresh cards can easily be swapped into the device on a busy filming day without deleting or uploading clips onto the computer first). Also an improvement compared to the Flip is the 5 Megapixel camera. After all, if phones can take snapshots, why shouldn’t a camcorder be able to? The zi8 takes great pics.

Like the competition, the zi8 has a built-in USB stick to transfer files off the device. Even better, however, is that the Kodak comes with a rechargeable battery which charges whenever the USB is plugged in and until recently, the Flip depended on 2 AA batteries. The newer Flip Mino does come with a rechargeable battery, but the Mino still doesn’t film in HD and only has a 2x zoom. The zi8’s 4x zoom is high-quality, if not a bit too jumpy. Traditional camcorders have a much better stabilization element while filming as compared to pocket camcorders. An additional feature unique to the Kodak zi8 is the external mic jack which allows users to get a much higher sound quality than relying on the built-in mic. This is very useful for travel bloggers who are conducting interviews, filming tour guides or creating online travel videos.

But it is this last little snippet – editing the video – that has been the challenge with the Kodak. Between the .mov format of the HD footage and the downright medieval software which accompanies the product, editing the footage has been a complete flop so far. From experience, the iPhone 3GS allows users to edit/trim footage directly on the device with one finger. Literally. With the zi8’s free software (which is not made by Kodak and for which the company claims no responsibility), even trimming the files is a pain, and as of yet has been impossible. Much less useful editing options include adding a bit of sound or text over the video before uploading, but the footage would still remain uncut. There is free editing software available online, but apparently the .mov file format requires QuickTimePro.

In principle, we are not opposed to purchasing this or similar software, but for those travelers like us who have moved over to the lightweight and practical netbooks, it might not even be possible to use the program at all – the RAM does not allow for large software programs to run without seriously slowing down everything else on the computer. In fact, after speaking with a few tech-geeks much more knowledgeable than ourselves, it seems that doing any editing at all on a netbook is out of the question.

If anyone out there can advise the best way to edit footage from Kodak zi8 HD .mov files on my Asus Eee PC netbook, we would be eternally grateful. Of course, then we’ll actually have to take the time to do all the editing! But it’s worth it. There have been so many moments that we have recorded and wanted to share, but couldn’t thanks a blip or a beep or a sneeze or busting out into laughter inappropriately that should be edited out before being added to the infinite eternity of the web.

C|Net Review: zi8
C|Net Review: Flip Video
Read this fellow Kodak zi8’s love-hate relationship with the device.

Here are two of our unedited videos with the Kodak zi8 so far – the quality and zoom are excellent, the sound quality (no external mic) leaves a bit to be desired but overall we are very satisfied with the device.

Voladores in Chapultapec Park as filmed with Kodak zi8

San Francisco Cable Cars filmed with Kodak zi8

Kodak Zi8 camcorder - smaller than a postcard!
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iPad envy? Not yet.

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On the top of our priority list for before setting off on our round the world trip was the purchase of a top-notch netbook. At the time of our purchase, the choice of netbook over laptop was clear. That was before the iPad landed.

However, despite a few geeky twinges of initial iPad envy, there is no question that the netbook is by far the best choice for a Globetrotter Girl.

We chose the ASUS Eee PC 10.1-Inch Netbooks due to the right balance of price ($278 each), weight (2.9lbs, 1.4 in thin) and battery life (9.5 hours).

Advantages of a netbook over a laptop or iPad tablet

  • The weight

For backpackers and business travellers alike, every extra ounce of weight counts. The netbook is lightweight (2.9lbs) and small (1.4 inches). The iPad is only 1.5 lbs, but extra keyboard is required (see point 7).

  • The price

We bought 2 Asus netbooks from Best Buy for less than $700. including taxes and Geek Squad insurance, which includes one new battery each within 2 years. An iPad starts at $500, and can hit $800-$900 for a 64GB device. The extra games and goodies tend to cost as well – from iTunes to eBooks, making the actual price of the iPad much higher.

  • Battery life

This is where Asus was the clear winner over all other netbooks. The 9.5 hour battery life (compared to Dell’s 4 hours) is no joke. As long as it’s fully charged, we can spend an entire afternoon at a café and not worry about plugging in. This is especially relevant for travel in lesser developed areas who will not have built their cafes around the needs of the hi-tech nomadic types. The iPad also boasts a 10 hour battery life, an absolute advantage over some other netbook brands out there.

  • Space + Ports

The Asus Eee PC has 160 GB, almost 3x the iPad’s 64GB. The iPad also does not have USB ports, meaning that all new content needs to be downloaded from the web or through a cable connected to your ‘real’ computer. Essentially, without USB ports to easily transfer documents, music and video, the iPad remains a secondary device rather than a stand-alone travel companion. With the iPad we would have no real way of transferring video from our Kodak zi8 HD camcorder onto our devices and eventually onto Youtube, for example.

  • Multi-tasking

Asus makes the motherboards for all Apple and Sony Vaio products. This means that iPad (and iPhone) users are getting Asus hardware with an Apple operating system.  Oddly enough, while the iPhone 4 allows multitasking, the brand new shiny iPad is using the older operating system, which makes the iPad a one-task-at-a-time device.

With the netbook, we have multiple web-browsers open with several tabs, plus text documents and image editing software, just like on any laptop (though open too many and the netbook slows down considerably due to limited RAM and memory). I can’t imagine writing a blog post in a document and having to exit out to go online to find a website to hyperlink.

However, when working on too many images or with Word, Firefox, Excel, Photoshop and Skype running all at once, the netbook is definitely slower than a laptop.

  • The keyboard

This makes the choice of a netbook over an iPad a simple one. Netbooks have keyboards, the iPad doesn’t. For someone who writes thousands of words a day for Globetrottergirls posts and travel articles, doing without a keyboard is not an option, especially when considering how many mistakes I still make with my iPhone when texting. The iPad has a $70 keyboard, but now you are lugging around a 1.5lb tablet and a keyboard. No thanks.

  • The netbook closes

There is something poignant about finishing an article or a post, hitting save, and closing the laptop. True, maybe I’ve watched a little too much of Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City, but also, the iPad screen is constantly at risk for damage, even when the tablet is not in use. Globetrotters need a device that can handle the occasional drop, knock, or spill. Plus, the greasy fingerprints are apparently also still a major issue on the iPad.

Dani blogging @ airport

Disadvantages of the Asus Eee PC netbook

The netbooks we have are by no means perfect, and there are still plenty of improvements that can be made.

  • Image+Video Editing

Both image and video editing would be so much easier on a Mac. With the limited RAM and processing power, running a video editing software is neigh on impossible.

  • Screen resolution

A major disadvantage to the netbook is the small screen. The Asus has a 10.1in screen. Reading longer posts or articles requires a lot of scrolling.

  • Entertainment

The iPad is essentially part-ebook reader, and it is possible to download thousands of books without taking up any space in the backpack. This includes guidebooks for the entire world. However, imagine standing on the streets of Delhi or San Salvador and getting out your iPad to see what Lonely Planet suggests to see and do. Sometimes a good old fashioned guidebook is much more functional.

For the ‘app’ addicts out there, yes iPhone / iPad apps are awesome. There are some really great apps out there for traveling bloggers which would only look even better on a bigger screen (and after all, the iPad is just a larger version of the iPhone in so many respects). If you are already traveling with an iPhone, however, then this last point is also moot.

Conclusion

The netbook is a slimmed down, fitter version of the laptop, and is 15 years in the  making, with everything you need, but no frills.  The all-frills iPad is the first generation of user-friendly tablets, and like its cousin the iPhone, the next gen iPad will be better than the first, and the 4th will be better than that.

The fact is, the Globetrottergirls are not ‘a Mac’ or ‘a PC’. Brand loyalty is of no importance. We are simply globetrotters, looking for a dependable, lightweight device fast enough for our amateur techie requirements of fast speeds and easy blogging. So, do we have iPad envy? Not yet, but maybe next year, or the year after that.

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