Random Travel Tips – Part 2 – Thorn Tree, Uber, and Kindle

Montreal          We are continuing to double down on travel tips.

Let’s start with Lonely Planet.  For a current generation this used to be the go-to place to get a sense of what’s possible and what’s affordable in a new country.  It’s still valuable, but rarely as current as a traveler needs it to be in the internet age.  By the time a country publication is updated, it’s already out of date.  The antidote for that problem used to be Lonely Planet’s website offering at thorn tree. Recently, fellow travelers have reported that the site is also losing value as well.  Like any bulletin board and inquiry site, thorn tree depends on crowdsourcing for its content.  When travelers use it less, there are less queries, and of course fewer helpful tips and responses.  On even popular destinations like Mexico, some of the postings that are most current are now years’ old.  So, don’t throw away your Lonely Planet travel books, but match that with a check on thorn tree to reconfirm the information from hotel and café closings to museum times and pricing to whatever, and then double check with a Google search.  Seems too complicated doesn’t it?  That’s why people are going around Lonely Planet and similar publication pages and directly to Google or whatever your search engine.  Ok, Google.

How about transportation?  There are still some great bargains like the $10 bus from Trudeau airport into the city of Montreal or the train into Chicago and Toronto, and there are still disappointments like the late train opening times in Portland for example.  Uber sucks, but it is unavoidable and invaluable in places like Mexico City.  In Kenya, people recommended Taxify.  We ended up on a 2 ½ hour jornada de morte with a Taxify driver who was really a bank clerk who was both afraid to go to Korogocho and took us through downtown and one jam after another.  In Uganda, Taxify isn’t taxis but motorcycles, that are not called motos as they are in many countries, but are called bodabodas in Uganda.  Matatus in Kenya are just called taxis in Uganda.  Almost everywhere in Latin America, Africa, and India, three-wheeled buggies are the transportation of choice whenever you are off the main streets.  I find them strangely safe, because their top speeds are so low, meaning they are also slow.  Makes sense to find out who is running these routes before you, though at this point, I wing it, and just do whatever the locals do and ask for the prices before jumping in.

Since we’re on the interface between the US and the rest of the world, and Amazon is also trying to run the world to our objection, I still can’t imagine traveling without a Kindle.  They are indestructible compared to any of the iPad deals, and they don’t make it hard on you if you forget your password or randomly change it, like Apple does.  Apple is one of the only things that makes me like Amazon a bit.  Anyway, I used to travel with several books, until I found my first adapter for Kindle.  I’m on my fourth.  Some were stolen or lost.  Some died.  Some they replaced, but in each case, I recovered all of my books, highlights, and notes, because they were on the cloud, and did so instantaneously.  That’s hard to beat.  Plus, if you underline your books, tell the truth, you never open them again in most cases, but highlight on Kindle allows you to copy and paste all of your notes into a searchable file on your personal computer.  I must have 500 or 600 books on my Kindle, since the crummy offerings of onboard movies gives me lots of time to read my 100 plus books per year.  My highlights file word count is over 300,000, but if I’m looking for a book or a note, it’s an easy search.  I think Kindle and its Amazon overlord have now made my books more searchable on the cloud as well, but either way it’s hard to beat for constant travel, the memory life is outstanding, the price is within reason, and the weight is insignificant.

Just saying.


Travel Tips!

Charlotte   I always make a mental note on my last work-trip of the year.  As usual, it’s for the ACORN Canada Year End/Year Beginning meeting.  After a multi-year run through cities largely in the Midwest, we’re all heading for Montreal.  Somehow, it’s appropriate to offer some travel tips at this point in a year where I may have logged more road miles than any other.  I’m going to say it is by popular demand though, rather than personal privilege.  I got several emails from longtime readers and friends, one reporting a nightmare where he was stuck in my $20 situation, but instead was at a hotel in Tehran with only an hour to make the plane and scrounging for cash before waking up, with the cashier a 26-dollar bill.  The other was looking for advice for a son about to intern in Cambodia.  From those kinds of comments, I will claim a mandate, rather than an obsession.

Hiding cash and carrying multiple cars:   I’ve already detailed this, but it’s worth repeating.  No matter what you read in the Wall Street Journal, Economist, or the Financial Times in the real-world credit and debit cards continue to not work, as often as they do work.  Booking a flight on Kenya Airlines, no matter what the website said, they only took American Express.  Usually, it’s the other way around, and one will only want Visa or Mastercard, pretending they are Costco’s or something.  Any new card that has a chip is supposed to mean that you no longer have to call the company or the bank issuer to use the card around the world.  I say supposed to mean, because many on the road are finding the opposite.  Ok, and cash, bring a pile in different denominations of the greenback dollars, but also fifty or more in euros, pounds, and whatever currency of countries where you travel.  Dollars are best.  Everyone takes them eventually, no matter how finicky.  Hide them well, but not so well that you forget their location.  Who really wants to go somewhere with someone to find an ATM while in a foreign country?  I mean really?

A helmet:   In Cambodia, just like Uganda or Cameroon, you’re going to be riding recklessly on the back of a motorcycle or scooter, because that’s what a cab usually is and that’s what you can afford.  If you’re going to be there a while, bring a helmet, and live to tell about it later.

Jackets and Shoes:   Even when in sweltering climates, find a jacket with lots of pockets (some secret-ish, as discussed above).  This way you have plenty of places to put stuff when you go through airport security.  You don’t want to leave change around even there.  I was once asked for a bribe in Johannesburg by the worker pulling bags out of the screening machine.  I used to travel in “runners,” as my Canadian comrades call running shoes or sneakers.  Now, if I’m international or on any kind of schlep that isn’t pre-TSA, go slip-on.  I picked up a pair of Sketchers in Cardiff this summer which have been great in Honduras and Kenya  Winter is here, so I’m sporting Merrell’s.  Just saying.

Global Entry:   Along with a lifetime pass to the United States National Park System, this is without a doubt one of the government’s best bargains.  In fact, I gave the resources to acquire one to everyone in my family last year.  Once you clear, and it’s easier now than when I first signed on, but that’s a longer story, the Global Entry number is also the one you add when you’re checking in on-line and that automatically triggers a pre-TSA, so you just doubled your money, my friends.  It’s $100 for 5-years, that’s $20 a pop, and it’s worth it.

Stay tuned for more to come!