Loganbilian Travel Diary
This is the travel log of Dana and Scott Loganbilian. We're headed west across the whole of the world. Click here for a copy of our itinerary.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Thursday, March 13, 2008
How It All Started
My wife and I had a life-long dream to travel the world. We gathered whatever wedding money we had after the wedding checks cleared and we put it down on two tickets that would ultimately get us around the world through 23 countries. Our travel itinerary started in Hawaii, through Fiji, through New Zealand and Australia, Japan, China, Southeast Asia, India, Africa, Eastern Europe and, finally, Western Europe.
As a passionate techno-maniac, I designed a plan that would allow us to stay connected to friends and family through the duration of our travel. Did it work? Surprisingly, there isinternet in corners of the world where I didn't expect to find it. However, the method of accessing it was not as I anticipated.
I was the one in the airport waving my cellphone around studying intently at an empty WiFi reception bar. We left the United States expecting that WiFi would be about as ubiquitous as it is here. At the very least, we'd be able to follow on the coattails of business travelers by gathering bandwidth from airports, hotels and Starbucks. In actuality,WiFi is pretty hard to come by. Most of the airports and hotels that had WiFi barred us from using it with exorbitant prices that take advantage of business travelers' expense accounts.
In most countries we visited, shops catered to tourists by offering lines of desktop computers for hourly fees. We found that many of these places were pretty steep in cost, almost equal to those paid in the United States. While discouraging at first, they were often the most convenient way to access the internet, as they were closest to our hotel. Less discouraging were the costs of internet phone calls also available. In many areas we were able to seek out internet shops that catered to gamers. These boutique dens offered the most affordable deals.
There are always risks involved. Internet security is always an issue on a computer shared by strangers. There were lesser risks too: I braved the bird flu by finding a live chicken tied to the sink in Vietnam in one Internet Station's cramped bathroom.
It is probably the most difficult to find Internet in East Africa. Internet was available in some scarce internet cafes in tourist areas and hotels. However, it wasn't nearly as easy as in other parts of the world. Connections were painfully slow. There are plans to connect East Africa to fiber-optic cable. In our experience,internet seekers were loathe to work off the barely adequate satellite bandwidth source.
There is often debate as to whether to bring a laptop on vacation. On the surface, it makes sense. When not using it to connect with friends and family, my wife and I could conceivably watch movies during the various transports we were bound to take. Ultimately we made a wise decision to not bring one. Laptops are bulky, and like our digital camera, it would make us an obvious target for theft in many parts of the world. In addition, we only had one converter for charging electric appliances. To prevent theft, any items of value were stored away when we weren't around. This left evenings and those rare times when we hung around the hotel room as the most opportune time (however brief) to charge our electronic gadgets. We were more likely to charge our phone or electric shaver than we would a laptop. It was also very unlikely we would wake up in the middle of the night to transfer power to the next power-hungry device.
A WiFi-equipped cellphone seemed to us like the perfect replacement for a laptop. There are limitations on the browser, but those limitations weren't substantial. The sites we would visit the most already had mobile versions of their page optimized for small screens. This is especially so after the release of the iPhone. Prepaid cellphone cards were all the rage and perfectly affordable. The phone would be priceless in case of an emergency. Plus, there were perks, like computer Solitaire and Skype internet VOiP available for Windows Mobile.
One of the first items we bought in preparation for the trip was a top-of-the-line 3-G phone with Internet Explorer. I equipped the phone with a Bluetooth GPS receiver. My plans were to keep a journal of my exact position in the world preferably using Google Maps for Windows Mobile. It was unlocked, so I could use any phone network's SIM card.
The cellphone came in handy when we would arrive in a country without a place to stay. In Thailand, we were able to buy a prepaid phone card and were helped by someone who could read the card. They dialed in the SIM card's password and we used the phone-card minutes to call local hotels on the cheap.
The reality of the cellphone was that while calls within countries were cheaper than using our United States carrier, long-distance calls weren't. Let's face it -- besides the occasional call to a local hotel, who else do vacationers call if not friends and family at home? The prepaid phones were convenient enough but we were rarely in a country long enough to use all the minutes we bought, and were unable to justify the cost. We relied on Internet VOIP calls, charged cheaply by the minute, in Internet stations instead. That said, I'm convinced that an unlocked phone and these prepaid cards would be beneficial for longer visits and in big groups.
We were surprised about the incompatibility of phone calls within the same cell network. In Egypt, we bought about $20US on a Vodafone phone card intending to share the minutes when we left for Greece only to find out Vodafone Egypt minutes does not translate to Vodafone Greece. We found that all calls made from a country outside of where the originating phone card was purchased were counted essentially as expensive long-distance phone calls.
The emergency aspect of the cellphone wasn't all too useful either as evidenced when my wife had a 104 degree fever in the middle of a Tanzanian safari. I had a cellphone, with a single bar of reception. I failed to prepare for the fact that other countries, including those in East Africa, had no version of 911. I had no embassy phone number, and no specific clue where I was in the middle of a vast savanna. Ultimately, my wife made it out alright after a visit to a regional doctor who was able to reduce her fever with aspirin and attack her stomach infection with penicillin. We nursed her to life the next day in one of the fancier hotels inArusha.
The best usage of our cellphone came from the Solitaire program. It came in very handy on long ferry rides and trains. We would pass the time by passing the phone back and forth in between games. In fact, we kept the phone on a lot of the time just for the solitaire game. We would turn off the phone,WiFi and Bluetooth functions as much as possible to minimize the drain on batteries. These phones take a lot of time recharging, particularly during hot weather when lithium batteries drain faster. We brought an extra battery which had a trade-off. Having two batteries often meant having to charge the phone twice.
The MP3 Player
We brought an iPod MP3 player for sanity's sake and it would often wrestle for charging time with the cellphone. The phone also came in very useful as an MP3 player until the 2 gigabytes of music grew tiresome after a week or so. TheiPod , whose music catalog was only 40 gigabytes, wore thin after a few months. We still consider it an essential. It put us at ease in less comfortable places. Along the longer stretches of travel, theiPod and accompanying travel speakers would make our small hotel room feel a little more like home and stave off homesickness for one more day.
The digital camera is essential. We brought a 2-gigabyte card with us, which tended to get full.
On longer trips, it's highly advisable to bring multiple high-capacity memory cards. Clearing cards for space becomes a time-expensive chore that can take away valuable site-seeing time. Having a spare on hand eliminates the need to make trips to internet stations often. A spare card also comes in handy if one card gets damaged along the way.
Making Use of Web Applications
In this Web 2.0 world, more and more traditionally desktop applications are migrating online. This is a blessing for travelers. No web application was more useful to us than those available to offload our camera's memory to the internet. The most popular photo sharing web application is Flickr. We used Picasaweb. Picasaweb came with one gigabyte of free online storage. This can be upgraded to 10 gigabytes for $20US a year. Flickr offers 100 megabytes and unlimited storage for $24.95 per year.
Most of the internet shops we used were equipped with card readers to allow us to download photos from the digital memory cards to the computer. We made efficient use of the time it took to download pictures by checking email. However, uploading through the web interface became a challenge. Luckily, both web applications provide free tools that allow uploads to Picasaweb or Flickr servers.
To get around administrative restrictions on public computers, we installed picasaweb uploading programs and browser programs directly on a thumb-sized USB flash drive. Using a flash drive ensures that the installation is a safe one and free of suspicious spyware. Be particularly careful when navigating to bank websites to pay bills or check account balances.
Any travel website will recommend keeping the following documentation on-hand in a sealed waterproof bag:
- Your itinerary (including reservation numbers)
- Social Security Card
- Health/Travel Insurance
- Personal Medical Information
Get set up with an online e-mail application to keep in touch with friends and family members when away from a phone. Scan and send copies of this information to your online e-mail account in case the originals are lost or stolen.
Keep a third set of copies on the flash drive. Having this information on hand will help embassies replace lost passports, for instance.
My wife and I were both wary of social networks until we started meeting up with fellow travelers who would ask us for our Facebook names in lieu of contact information. When we informed them of our decision to stay off "the MySpace thing," our new friends would scoff. We made it all the way to Sarajevo before we started our surprisingly in-demand Facebook profiles.
Finally, set up a WordPress, MovableType or Blogger account to use as an online travel diary. Flickr and Picasaweb both have ways to embed your slide shows on blogs. It is a great way to keep track of funny stories, useful information, contacts and memories that will keep over a lifetime.
The Future of Connected Travelling
It may well be the calling of Web 2.0 to cater to mobile techies. As web applications get more streamlined, the function of the operating system relies heavily in the capabilities of a light and fast browser. With this in mind, travelers should keep a close eye on the following technologies.
- The Browser
If the browser is your new OS, then the speed and standardization of new versions of Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 3 are the next big thing.
- WebOS or Webtop
Desktoptwo is a Flash based OS that opens up in your browser. Similarly, an EyeOS web server can be installed on your web host. Damn Small Linux is a minimized linux distribution that fits on a thumb drive.
- The Portable and Personal Wiki
Tiddlywiki is a innovative little piece of HTML you can download to your thumb drive and use for notes and diary entries using a browser -- nointernet required.
- A Portable Office
If you can't stay away from business suites on vacation, you might as well do it without packing a computer. Google Docs & Spreadsheets has the minimum you need to create pie charts and write your manifesto while away from your computer.
Monday, December 31, 2007
Euro Car Touring with the Varros
Vienna photos- and our first year anniversary
Friday, October 12, 2007
So good to be back here, folks. Is this thing on?
"OK, would you rather eat Islands chicken salad or sushi right now?"
"OK, would you rather eat sushi or a Chipotle burrito right now?"
"Hmmm.....how about Chipotle or turkey meatloaf sandwich?"
In any case, we're now looking for an apartment in SF. I've also got to find a job or another viable way to make money.
We're really looking forward to connecting with all of our friends and family and will keep you all posted on a get together. Scott's band has a gig in November, which we'll post about too.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Our trip with Adam and Sarah was an experience we will not soon forget. It was so great to see friends again- we'd been sorely missing everyone at home, and it was so much fun to catch up and have someone (else) to talk to. We haven't laughed so hard in ages. Consider this snapshot of one day of our trip together:
We're driving together from Ljubljana to Austria, no hotels booked, no real idea of where to go other than a vague notion of a quaint B&B, possibly with a roaring fire as it was pouring rain. I mean really really pouring. Like so much that the rivers were flooding. Poor Adam was driving for hours as we searched for a fun place and explored the countryside. After making our way into Austria, we decided to pull off the freeway as a certain sign for Schloss Seggau caught our attention. It looked like a big castle or similar and it looked like fun. We wound our way through the lush hills of the Austrian countryside in the growing darkness and finally came upon a large medieval looking building on the top of a hill. We were unsure at this point what Schloss Seggau actually was. Scott and I run inside to see if: 1) this place is a hotel 2) If so, do they have rooms available and 3) why is it so creepy?. As we run in, a large streak of lightning slices the sky and illuminates the castle(?). We walk in to the dimly lit room and notice that there is no one behind the reception desk. Except, there is one man alone waiting in the room: a priest, of course. We wait for a while, no one shows up and we leave with the mystery of Schloss Seggau still intact.
Jump ahead a few hours and a few fruitless searches for hotels. We think we may have stumbled upon the Austrian wine country in the middle of harvest season. Anyway, we're getting hungry and restaurants close early here. So, we see the sign for McDonalds. We enter the drive through, pull up and Adam asks "Sprechen zie English?". "Nien" says the tinny voice from the speaker. Scott, with a deep aversion for over-mayonnaising of food is con viced that he will receive a hamburger covered in mayo, especially if there is a language gap. So, Adam says to the drive through attendant: "danke!" and we pull forward, intending to screech through at a high speed and avoid the drive through window after our awkward exchange. However, there are now 2 cars ahead of us and we have to wait in line to leave. We are all inanely giggling and somewhat embarrassed and still hungry. As we finally approach the window, we quickly drive pass and sigh with relief.
Now, we're still hungry, so we decide to park and walk in. This is somewhat embarrassing as we'll have to face the employees inside who know that we're the Americans from the drive through. We walk up, and begin ordering in broken English/German and it's immediately apparent that they know who we are by their giggling and pointing. Sarah orders the Austrian favorite: A Mr Fantastico! When the McDonald's girl says "Eine McFantastic?" Sarah exclaims "Si!". Again, more laughter. Adam also orders what he believes to be a 6 piece chicken Mcnugget. However, when we open the bags of food at the counter, we realize we've received: most of our order, and an additional 6 McChicken sandwiches, plus 3 extra fries! At this point, we're all crying with laughter, along with the girls behind the counter. Eventually, the girl adds a free apple pie and shrugs. We leave immediately to avoid further awkward exchanges.
We had such an amazing time with Adam and Sarah and they really did an amazing job of showing us the sights in Budapest. We also got to see Adam's parents and meet their family friend, Tommy. We miss all of them already and it's only been one day!