It’s All in the Details

Know before you go is one of our primary goals. To afford to travel more often, we work hard at getting the best prices and look for deals and packages. Kathey is registered with Travel Zoo and a few other websites to keep an eye out for such deals and to know what things are going for. She receives weekly, or more often, emails with hot deals for airlines, hotels, rental cars and travel packages. Travel Zoo sends out their Top 20 travel deals every Wednesday.

But, the devil is in the details. If you are looking at traveling from San Francisco to Washington DC for the spring cherry tree bloom and start looking for airfare, you might get really excited when you, as we did recently, see a $99 round trip fare. You might be ready to jump on that, until you’ve read the offer dates, mid-December to early March. DC is darned cold in winter.

Similarly, you can get great package deals to Ireland—for January. Or, as we did once, an organized tour of China for November. Beijing and Xian are seriously cold in November. We still had a great time.

Too, read up on travel restrictions, cancellation fees and layover duration. We’ve many stories about finding great airfare and happily booking the trip, only to later find out we had a 13 hour layover in say, Chicago—in December. Burr!

Dr. Bronner’s Soap

Even on longer adventures a small bit of multipurpose liquid soap in a re-closeable plastic bag goes a long way. My hands-down, all-time favorite is Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile soap, in their 2 oz. bottle. Two ounces doesn’t sound like much, but during a recent three week thru-hike, I still had a tiny bit left over when I returned home. Dr. Bronner’s advertises on their bottle all kinds of uses for their soap. I use it to sanitize hands and showering of course and it’s great for washing clothes, but I draw the line at using it as my toothpaste, which they advise.

Also, Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile soap comes in a wide variety of scents, from peppermint to hemp and lavender, or un-scented. Something for everyone.

Even reading the bottle is entertaining.

The Pub Scene

I’m not much for the American bar scene. Especially in the west, where I call home. The pub scene in Ireland is completely different. The pub is where friends come to meet, where community happens, where old men talk about the past and young men talk about hurling. It’s men’s night out (most nights) or lady’s night out. I once saw a group of women in Kilkenny that were headed out for a bachelorette party or some such event all dressed in short black dresses with white sashes, all with blonde Marilyn Monroe wigs. 20 or more. What a sight.

What you don’t see is stupid drunks or fighting. You seldom see even so much as a disagreement. Oh yeah a matter of rivals or the like, but very rarely a fight. Not doubt it happens, but in America, by my experience, it’s like part of the entertainment. 
In Ireland, the pub scene doesn’t get warmed up until well after 9:00 and the music sometimes doesn’t start until 11:30. 
Live, usually traditional, music is almost ubiquitous in Irish pubs and restaurants. Live music in American bars is somewhat of a rarity. Not in Ireland. Live music in Ireland is another of the many artistic outlets. No wonder so many great bands, musicians, poets and writers call Ireland home.

Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking America. We have a completely different history (a good bit of our history made up of Irish lads coming to America) and I don’t see this as a competition. However, it would be nice to see us slow down, trust one another, not judge, and encourage the arts. Not the giant works of Christo and the like, but the guy or gal that really likes to sing, play a tune, tell a story, read a poem or play a bit of classic rock and roll. You know, traditional American music.

Data Security

When it comes to the security of your data online there are only five words: Your data is not secure. That said; don’t go through life worried about it either. But, do take precautions and be aware.

If you do find yourself in an Internet café on a public computer never use your personal passwords or do any kind of financial business, including purchases. Just assume there is software on that computer that is mining your information for less scrupulous types to use whenever and however they like. Realize too that avoiding the use of your passwords is hard to do and still be able to check your personal email using a web browser. So, what to do? Have a password for your email that is completely different from any other passwords that you use.

And if you are using your smart device on a Wi-Fi hotspot that does not require a password to connect to the Internet, make the very same assumptions and avoid using your personal passwords or performing any kind of financial business online.

Now, if you are on a Wi-Fi hotspot that does require a password to connect to the Internet, please know that you are not much better off. If you are in a park on a public, wide-area Wi-Fi network or in a busy coffee shop with many Internet users—take caution. If in a remote hostel with a couple others on the Wi-Fi, use your common sense; the odds are forever in your favor.

If you perform work online or otherwise spend a lot of time exposing your data to the Internet, there are applications that should be used to help with your security. What I’ve discussed about is for the average traveler, smartphone in hand. To find information on these apps for advanced users, check out www.toomanyadapters.com.

Phoning Home

When phoning internationally, the use of country codes is required. To place phone calls internationally from a mobile phone simply dial the “+” sign, followed by the country code, city code and local phone number. If you plan to use a number often, save it into your list of contacts including the “+” sign, saving time and hassle the next time.

If dialing from a landline you must use the International Direct Dialing (IDD) number and the respective Country Code.

Examples:

Phoning to US with a mobile: +1 555 555 5555

Phoning to US with a landline: 001 555 555 5555

Phoning to Spain with a mobile: +34 555 55 55 55

Phoning to Spain with a landline: 011 34 555 55 55 55

Example of use: When in, say, Europe and using a mobile phone with a north American service provider, dial as if you are phoning from North America. Example: When calling on an AT&T (for example) phone brought from the US and calling a number in Burgos from your hostel in Pamplona, first dial +34, then the number provided. Most businesses along the Camino list the +34 with their numbers.

Travel Info Recovery

An advantageous use of technology and one that also reduces the weight of your bags or backpack, is to store useful information and travel documents on the cloud, Internet based storage sites. There are various free cloud-based services on the Internet where documents, important phone numbers and addresses, even your pictures, can be stored. This method of storage allows for access almost anywhere in the world and is extremely secure. By secure I mean the data is stored under a user name and password only you should know, behind ultra high tech firewalls in redundant computer networks with reliable power supply and backup.

When I’m making trip plans with other people, we use Google docs to develop these documents, each of us in the group collaborating on schedules and packing lists. From almost anywhere in the world you now have access to this information. Save a copy of important information to some sort of cloud based solution. Also, I save all my contacts, notes, calendars and photos to my iCloud (Apple) account. This occurs automatically anytime my phone is connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi. Another simple method is to email all such data to your own email account. Make sure you are able to—and you know how to—access your email from a web browser on any computer.

Imagine you lost your phone, your ID and all your important documents and you have made your way to the nearest embassy representing your country. If you have scanned a copy of your ID (passport), insurance cards and other important documents to PDF and saved them to a Dropbox.com account, emailed them to yourself or taken pictures of them with your smart device and saved them to a Flickr.com or similar account, then all you need is Internet access. In such cases this will seriously expedite replacement of a passport and allow you to put your hands on any other documents you may need. There are several options and approaches to meet this possible scenario. Check them out and determine what works best for you.

What’s Your Carbon Footprint?

We often suggest determining the carbon footprint of any travel plans you have or plan on and arrive at some type of offsets acceptable to you. For an online carbon footprint calculator, check out calculator.carbonfootprint.com.

Carbon offsets can be purchased online for each trip you take, but for my recent European trip, I calculated a footprint of about 6 tons CO2. To offset that carbon footprint and any other trips in our future, Kathey and I had installed on our home a 9,000-watt solar system. It produces an 8-10 ton CO2 offset each year. We don’t own the system, opting for a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the company that installed and maintains the panels. Thus, zero dollars out of pocket to start and annual savings in excess of 30 percent on our power bill—plus the CO2 offset. Sweet deal.

Air & Train Fare Price Checking

Here are a few lessons learned while planning my 2015 trip to Europe to walk the Camino de Santiago to research my upcoming book, SU CAMINO… and then to Ireland where Kathey and I would work on an article on traveling the B&B circuit. The plan included, a flight to Paris, train to Bayonne and bus to St. Jean Pied de Port, France, and then (following completion of the Camino) train from Santiago to Barcelona Spain for a flight to Dublin.

This was all easily arranged over the Internet using various travel companies to price check then going to the respective transport company to secure our fares. I use Expedia.com, Kathey likes Kayak.com and many of our friends have their favorite sites. Go with the one you get used to, though they all operate pretty much the same way and from the same databases.

Once you have found the lowest priced fares, go directly to that companies website to book. We found the Aer Lingus had the best rates and flight schedules for us. I’ve found this method removes any hooks that the travel company adds to your required service. The price is usually as stated on the other sites, without additional hassles or fees if you need to make changes. These days you normally get a ticketless confirmation number that you can print out or keep on your smartphone. Once at the airport you normally only need your passport to secure a boarding pass. Unfortunately, you cannot receive and print boarding passes in advance for international flights.

For train tickets in Europe, you can follow the same advice as for flights. Seat61.com, Raileurope.com and other sites will provide useful information and ticket pricing. Too, tickets can be purchased at one of those sites or go directly to the train company’s website and purchase. I used Raileurope.com to buy tickets from Paris Montparnassus station to Bayonne.

Safety Pins

Good advice for the long distance backpacker: A small assortment of safety pins weighs less than one nappy pin, and great for many other uses: draining blisters, mending broken pack straps and hanging damp clothes to dry from your pack or on a clothesline. In recent years I’ve witnessed the use of clothespins by young people from Asia. Not sure the connection, simply an observation. Clothespins are cute and retro. But, safety pins work much better: They come in different sizes, when closed they stay put on your pack, and are much lighter, if not adorned by animals. (Good thing I watch BBC America or I wouldn’t know what a “nappy pin” is.)