~ travel tips ~

Advice on planning a quick trip or taking the career break plunge…

* Get tips from experts like these sites:

  • Sherry Ott took a break (from GID!), still going six years later: http://www.ottsworld.com
  • Sherry co-founded Meet Plan Go to help career breakers make the jump: http://meetplango.com
  • Chris Guillebeau blogs The Art of Non-Conformity, he’s about to visit his 192nd and final (UN listed) country before his 35th birthday, great resources: http://chrisguillebeau.com
  • Chris started this site to help people figure out how to take advantage of travel incentive programs: http://travelhacking.org
  • Chris Heidrich and Sean Keener have over 100k follows: http://www.bootsnall.com
  • They just launched an awesome resource for multi-leg travel, I priced out a 6-leg flight, their site searches all possible flights (unlike alliance programs) and returned results in seconds, exactly the schedule I entered and a great price. I’ll post a comparison soon, it ain’t pretty for Delta. http://indie.bootsnall.com
  • Very comprehensive resource for train and ferry travel in many countries. http://seat61.com (thanks to Chris H. for the tip)

Unfortunately, I found the above resources a few days prior to takeoff… Here’s my list, will update with the good & bad as the trip progresses.

  • Limit the amount of time you have to prepare for a trip – you will use it all, no matter how much you have.
  • Borrow (thanks V!) a backpack that seems way too small, fill it with your stuff, then remove a third of it. Traveling as light as possible is at the top of the list for most serious travelers.
  • Take pictures of your family, friends and places before you leave so you can share with people you meet along the way.
  • Technology will suck up as much time as you let it. Lots of ways to go here, but if you get new toys, be prepared to invest time to learn how things work and don’t work. Operating systems won’t get along, cables won’t connect, tablets use apps instead of drives, and so many passwords…
  • Highly recommended: get a password/info management app. mSecure has good reviews and seems to be safe, easy to use so far.

~ Stuff that made the cut:

  • 35 liter Osprey backpack, light and sturdy, overfilled at first, threw out 1/3 of the stuff, compressed everything (see below), more than enough space
  • 13″ Crumpler laptop/messenger bag, has water bottle pockets, separate space for tablet or docs, and several small organizer pockets
  • Mosquito net, several people recommended, may end up being a waste of space or my best purchase (using right now in Chiang Mai)
  • Cotton/silk sleep sack for trains & cheap hotels (used at a cheap hotel in Chiang Mai and a nice place in Pai on a cool night, very good purchase)
  • Headlamp, hands-free flashlight (used in Chiang Mai when a storm knocked out power)
  • Sun hat
  • Sun screen (found the same kind at Central market in Bangkok, and you can find options at pharmacies or 7-11 everywhere)
  • Mosquito repellent – went with Avon skin so soft with SPF30, DEET-free, hope it works as hyped. Jan update: works great on Thai mosquitos, they approach & retreat. Have found several DEET-free options in Thailand pharmacies, they work well if you reapply every few hours. Feb update: got eaten alive at resort in Chiang Mai after unusually rainy weather, had to give in and use a 13% DEET repellent from 7-11, worked pretty well. Dengue is in the air, sounds rough…
  • Potable water tablets, for extra-sketchy water situations
  • Sea to Summit Lite Line, 11’6″ clothesline, super light and takes almost no space. Update: has been very helpful at every stop.
  • Ziplock freezer bags to pack clothes and anything that can smash down, used at least a third less space for a few bucks. The compression bags from Amazon & REI get poor reviews.

    Camera & iPad:

  • Canon PowerShot SX260 HS, 12.1 MP with 20x digital zoom and GPS (coordinates only, not landmarks like some other models.) Not the easiest thing to grip, but quality and speed are definitely good enough for my skill level. (Point, shoot, hope.) Update: happy with this camera after one month, easy to use and seamless upload to iPad.
  • Case Logic compact case, it’s a bit tight with a spare battery and memory card, but it works
  • Extra rechargeable camera batteries (Wasabi has good reviews)
  • Two 16GB memory cards. Lots of discussion around speeds and brands, look for class 10, and pay attention to high write speeds if you have a high-end camera or take fast-action photos such as sports shots. For most photos and videos with compact cameras, consensus seems to be that any class 10 should be sufficient.
  • Test all batteries and memory cards before your trip, Amazon is full of stories of counterfeit camera gear that doesn’t work. Give yourself time to return them, just in case.
  • iPad Mini with cellular. The iPad has a removable SIM card, so I’ll be testing out local services in Thailand & India. I hear they’re generally good and cheap, unlike using your US phone abroad — Verizon is $2/min if you use their network.
  • *Update: See Verizon warning below* Since the iPad uses the cellular network for Internet but is not a phone (took me a while to pick up on this detail), there’s an international data package of 100MB for $25/month that sits on top of the base US data package of 2GB for $30/month. Not a great deal since I can’t use the 2GB US data, but I’ll be able to suspend this with no charge when I’m not using it, there’s no service contract, just month-to-month. I’m guessing it will come in handy between service zones. I’ll use Skype to make calls to cellphones/landlines when I need to make a reservation in the next town. For other Apple users, FaceTime and iMessage are free using an iCloud (or mac.com/me.com) email account.
  • This was the big decision. Option B was to upgrade to an iPhone 5 since it has a SIM card like the iPad, and phone plans are cheap in Thailand & India. If I went iPhone instead of iPad, I would have skipped the Canon and gone tech-light, one device and one charger. Tempting, but I wanted a real camera for all of the places I plan to visit, and blogging on the phone sounded unappealing.
  • With Verizon, I was able to suspend my iPhone service, with no billing for up to six months, although it pushes my contract out by that duration. Easy online process, but you can’t schedule the service discontinuation in advance, it takes effect almost immediately.

Bad Verizon

Verizon rant & warning about international data plans…
Before leaving Oakland, I spent a couple hours talking to several Verizon store and support employees, they talked me through the options for international data usage so I can have coverage when local SIMs aren’t available. As noted above, I got the $25/month 100MB international plan, plus the obligatory unusable $30/month 2GB base US plan, not a good deal to start with. Turns out there’s no way to monitor your international usage, and usage was higher than expected. (iCloud synching behind the scenes?) Instead of increasing my plan pro-actively like they had said would happen, I got the lovely email below AFTER I had incurred $50 in excess usage fees in just a few days while being careful to use free WiFi when possible. The nice representative endured my rant and offered a $10 credit, but they’ve got one more very dissatisfied customer. (Not that they care, what am I going to do, switch to AT&T?)

**ATTENTION*** International Data Roaming Usage Alert. As of 01/26/2013, 510-xxx-xxx has incurred approximately $50 in international data roaming charges.

Account suspended, no more money for Verizon, got a cheap SIM card from AIS in Thailand, 2GB of data for about $30.

~ end ~

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