Debit Cards while traveling

Starting yesterday in the afternoon I noticed that one of my debit cards was blocked or locked and I could not use it to withdraw funds or pay for services or products. I saw a bewildering variety of errors on ATMs here in Cambodia. None really told me much other than the request was declined. Since the time difference is significant for the US bank I decided to get up early and call them. 

One of the primary services I’ve mentioned before is the need to have a US based phone number that I can use to receive text messages, voice mails, and calls while on mobile or wifi service elsewhere. There are a few alternatives and some cost for the service like Skype or the Hushed App. Others are free and that’s where I’m at. The only real alternative is Google Voice now that its a true wifi dialing service from my iPhone. Simply dialing a US number from Google Voice appears to the caller that I am calling from a US number. That was really important this time since they want a number to text something back to you to verify. They won’t do email verification and really want a number to text to. What happens if you don’t have a US phone number? I asked the CapitolOne representative and they have a second escalation for that to use a US based government ID. I guess like a passport or driver’s license? We did not go there because with Google Voice I could get the text message to my laptop while on the phone with the agent and we sorted it out. 

This brings up a cautionary note and a basic need when traveling forever or for a year or whatever. US banks want to have US numbers to call you back at. They want to text verification messages or leave voice mails for you at a US number. You should plan for this eventuality a few ways and here they are:

  1. Get a second account at a completely different bank and link the two together so you can transfer funds between them. This is almost a requirement if you want sanity on the road. Don’t travel with only one card folks. Also seed that second account with a reasonable amount of security cash. I do about $1000 US in that account.
  2. Get a phone service that creates a second number on your mobile device while you live or wander in foreign places. I chose Google Voice a long time ago for this and it works very well and its free but you choose the one that provides the 2 factor authentication, the verification requirements like text messages, and one that you can get voice mails at. You can see from the debit card adventure I had why this is good.

Not saying that these two methods will satisfy every possible thing that comes up but imagine being stuck somewhere without the method to verify the request to unlock your card and you do not have a second card? Imagine only one card that gets stolen or stuck in a machine or simply stops working. How do you then get money? There are no bank branches in Da Nang Vietnam or Phnom Penh Cambodia to stop in at.

I mention all this because these are the real life things that can happen on the road and I have tried to create a virtual environment where I can bounce back from them. There are other things as well which will make your voyage better. I’ve written them down before here. Just consider the starting point to be careful but also have a backup and redundancy plan in place. Probably a no brainer rule to all this is to not bring a SIM locked phone when you travel. If your phone is locked to Verizon or T-Mobile how will you do mobile data without wifi? I see so many people even unable to use google maps in a place to find their way around. Just get yourself a cheaper phone like an android phone that is unlocked and carry it when you go. I have an unlocked iPhone 7 plus which works very well on all different carriers.

All of this creates the buffer you need to sustain yourself on the road when something happens. The most important things! Passport and copies, money and Debit Cards, personal property and the right technology with you to recover. 

Give it some thought and look at your recovery plan when you go.

Travel Planning and Workflows

For awhile I used Ulysses for just about everything that involved text or notes. My travel notes were in pieces and relied on google calendar, the websites like booking.com, sky scanner, trip.com, etc. I realized with the trip coming up next that I needed something better so decided Ulysses was simply not the best choice. I settled on primarily cross platform applications so if I moved to an Android phone, I was not locked in to IOS and MAC systems. Here are my apps and how I use them now.

OneNote. Microsoft OneNote is a very nice and capable note management solution and how it handles sections and notebook pages are really nice. I needed something that would allow better management of cutting and pasting from websites like the airline reservations or hotel names. If you receive those emails in gmail often they get inserted into google calendar, but the real thing is that google calendar is not a repository. OneNote is a repository. So I decided to create my own repository for travel. I needed a basic format for a note that would capture the dates in a place, airline reservations, hotel accommodations, and bus or cab or other reservations or needs. But I also wanted something more freeform so if I wanted to add a note, I could easily transcribe a note. It was also important to have the same experience on iPhone and my Mac laptop. The OneNote app on both does this and its free on both. You can create a basic workflow like I did below easily.

Screen Shot 2019 01 12 at 2 46 06 PM

The important things with the workflow are a few. One is to limit separate places for the travel information and make use of the graphical experience that OneNote has. Check out the screen capture of my Singapore note. In the elements are a table for destination and dates, a section for flights and hotels, bus or cab needs, and any notes on notable sights to see. Now instead of relying on each website or using tripit or some site which only allows me to send information and not really control the layout or makeup of the page, I can make use of additional fields of information as I need.

A second important thing with the workflow is that it succeeds in bringing together all the information into a single place so if I want to see the hotel I will be staying in while visiting Singapore, its right there. So is my bus information and my flight information from Cambodia.

The last thing is this information is presented in completely different websites with different formatting and being able to have a single note page with the details means I can be more productive and make better choices with the information or if I decide to make a change.

Day One. As a casualty of the Ulysses changes I decided to move to Day One for diary and journalling. I am a big believer in creating a daily journal with personal information, diatribes, emotional stuff, etc. Its my scratchpad of life. This is another one of the tools which are cross platform. The beauty of the app is its dedicated to journaling and diary building and it syncs to my devices and also has location information embedded so if I want I can see where I wrote a thing. If you write a daily journal or diary, I still believe writing freeform text has an advantage in that you can be writing and use MarkUp if you want to format but Day One is just nice for its features and the fact I can migrate if I want to another mobile OS and phone.

There you have it!

So there you go. If you travel or just want to control information from disparate sources and be able to view the data across laptops and mobile devices, its worthwhile to find apps that let you experience and use the data and that data should synchronize and let you always see the most updated data based on editing on whatever platform.

Both of the apps answer a basic need I have. OneNote provides a very nice and free note taking and management platform which lets me copy web data from a variety of booking sites into pre-determined fields I want to control and always see; but it also lets me add more data below or above. Formatting of the data lets me insert tables and graphical elements that I can see right away so I built a template note for traveling that I copy and paste to a new note.

The beauty of a basic workflow for travel really is ensuring you use it to centrally manage all the little bits of information you receive when you travel. You get email about flights and hotels and bus services and tours that confirm your purchases. Its all there in your email but to me email and a calendar app is not the best choice for distilling the information into a usable and modifiable source. If you travel like me and have travel plans for sometimes months at a time visiting multiple countries over 5 months, the devil is definitely in the details. I found I made mistakes in booking travel for hotels because I got dates wrong with no workflow or central repository.

I hope this helps a bit. It took me a few days of editing to create the notes and then harvest or mine the data. Try it out on a trip and see what you think!

Moving on from Instagram

After some years and two different Instagram accounts I’ve decided to delete both of them for a variety of reasons. Here goes:

  • There are whole bunches of features that will never come to make it a true photo sharing resource. I don’t think we will ever see folders or nested folders or replying with an image.
  • We will never see a desktop client. It means I have to send the photos to the iPhone first from the camera and then share them. I would like some choice and would like to have the images on the sdcard mounted on my MacBook.
  • The application’s commenting is clumsy and I don’t think it adheres to a conversation view real well.
  • The app does not treat images well and always wants to resize or crop them. I can only share however many as well.
  • Location sharing is always iffy. Sometimes it cannot find a place that Facebook can.
  • I would like a true community of users that I can join. Perhaps a Fuji x100f community.

So many things that make it a step back from a community site like Flickr. When I consider what I want Instagram does almost none of them. I guess if you are looking at it social media and followers and getting a business or other agenda going it’s cool. I don’t think it’s really made for camera users at all. If you use a phone camera it’s all good.

So on 1 January I’m gone. I shared my last image there today. I’ll be sharing on google photos to Facebook and twitter and will be on Flickr with a subset of images of my travels to share.

So long Instagram. You were underwhelming when it mattered.

Big Day in Battambang!

Every 30 days I have to renew or topup my data plan at one of the Smart Shops here in Cambodia. Last time it was in Siem Reap but now its here in Battambang. The shop is a 10 minute walk from the hotel I am staying in. Here in Cambodia it does not appear you can top up or renew early and must wait for the last day. Since I upgraded the plan now I have an app on the phone that tells me when the time is up, how much data and talk time I have, etc. One thing with Smart is that you can get service for almost free if all you do is call other Smart subscribers. That does not work well for hotels, tour guides, and shops I may do business with so I buy $5 of talk time every few months which lasts me for a long time. 

On the data side, I over buy the data plan because sometimes I also hotspot the laptop to the phone and want to ensure I don’t run out of data. For 30GB I spent $8 last month and also upgraded the service plan for free so I can use their really nice IOS app. This will be the last upgrade I do here in Cambodia for awhile since I leave in a month and will be getting a SIM card next in Singapore for a week and then on to Malaysia and ‘Thailand for phone services.

I seriously don’t know how people can be here and not have a 4G data plan. The use of an app like Grab or Google Maps is just a basic thing for me to use and rely on in any of the countries but here in Cambodia its been really useful since I walk all over the place. I also use TripAdvisor sometimes when I’m out and about. I guess a lot of people though have locked phones and cannot just add a SIM card. My iPhone 7 plus happily accepts any old SIM card which is nice! 

The second real thing is that Smart does not block hotspot so in a case where hotel or public wifi does not work or exist, I can get online on the laptop if need be. This has come in handy a few times both here and before in Vietnam on viettel. I’ll just put in a positive word for viettel as well. If you are going to Vietnam, look no further than that service. Its rock solid and really well done and you can top up easily in many places like small shops or stores or markets but I always went to a Viettel Store. I just prefer the stores for both Viettel and Smart because they talk English for the most part and will explain what I need or want and its costs. 

So the other part of the big day here is to walk in yet another direction after breakfast across the street and a visit to the Smart Shop in town. I have not walked that way yet and it will take me down the river walk area for awhile and then back to the downtown area. Its nice to have a place like this where I still have three different locations I have not explored yet and a day tour in-between all that. 

Next Saturday I get on the bus for Phnom Penh for almost 2 weeks. Time to get my haircut at my fav place there and go to the Central and Russian Markets for whatever I don’t really need :-). I really prefer the Central Market because the walk back to the hotel is really a nice walk by government buildings and Mikes Burgers. I also will go to the Aeon Mall once and will probably eat at the riverside area at least once. 

Finally after 10 days in Kampot to do less and less and just kick back a notch and wander again the city, I fly off to Singapore. Then I’m gone for 5 months! I’m getting pretty excited about leaving but I also have completed the travel just about I wanted to do in Cambodia. There are places I would go back to and there is one I would not. After 4 months here, I’m glad to have settled and picked Cambodia for a home base location. Its much more centrally located than my other pick which was the Philippines. The inability to ride a bus or train or easily commute to another country is a major disadvantage to home basing there while I travel around. I may end up there end of next year for the holidays but I would never just give up the retirement visa here for theirs.

Well, gonna go have breakfast across the street at this nice little coffee shop and then get going for my big day in Battambang!

Travels to come in 2019 and Technology and Other Thoughts

I’ve gone this way and that about travels in 2019 but last night booked two months to Vietnam. I’ve come t realize its not about reaching numbers of countries or continents for me. Its about going to the places that matter whether I’ve been there or not. Vietnam is one of my favorite places and two months lets me get back to Saigon and then to Can Tho and perhaps Da Nang and Hanoi. I’m going to book two weeks to Lao as well in September.

In October I will be going to China for a month since October seems to be a good time to visit. I’d like to do three or four primary places there. Its nice having Cambodia as a long term retirement home so I can get back and not worry about visas or entry requirements.

Come January things are gonna be so much fun! Getting back to Singapore for a week and then 90 days in Malaysia and the four places I decided to visit there. I’ll be on the road for 5 months then and will see three countries. I’m also fast approaching the end of the 4 months I setup to visit some places here in Cambodia. All of the places were good in one way or another. I would not choose to go back to Sihanoukville but I’m forever in love with Kampot and Siem Reap and Battambang are very special to me. I could always just return to one of those and feel really good. 

New Technology for me!

I think when I get back to Phnom Penh I should have an iPad Pro 10.5 LTE model waiting for me at the hotel. The iPad will be a good mobile choice for me but I don’t think I would give up the laptop unless I felt some compelling reason. The 2017 MacBook 12 inch laptop is a great travel buddy to me. Its powerful enough to run a variety of applications and small enough at about 2.5 pounds to take wherever I want. Of course I have to live a dongle lifestyle and I have one that does USB C power, ethernet and USB ports plus SD card support.  I still think its important to have an ecosystem that will support you on the road and its easier if its the same. I don’t particularly love Apple stuff but the updates and support have been quite good on the road. Sharing applications is also really good when I can see the same user experience in Day One or OneNote on my iPhone or laptop. 

The real thing with technology on the road I’ve learned is that it must enable you. Enable you to blog or write or take photographs or whatever spins your dials. If your chosen stuff does not do that, you should consider moving along to another set of solutions that does. It does not have to be apple stuff. You could settle on android and chrome devices. Just as long as you can do the things you need and none of its really a stretch and it provides and promotes a mobile lifestyle which is really important when I only have a backpack and daypack to go with me. I don’t want to pack it full of stuff for technology so power too becomes important. You have to also find the power and charging devices that will work for you. 

Photography this and that…

I spend some time looking at things through my FujiFilm X100F and thinking about some others I track or follow on twitter or instagram that do photography. There is a lot of talk about genres and types of photography. Do you do Travel Photography or portraits or street photography or landscapes? I wonder how many hobbyist photographers don’t do any of those but mix them all up and shake them out and do whatever it is they want with the camera? I’ve seen people on twitter not post black and white photographs in fear of what their followers on social media may say or not say or like or not like. This is hard to believe to me I guess. It kind of short circuits the whole creative and expressive thing and I could never do that. 

I think many of us want the camera not to belong to some genre but to self express and remember and share. I take my share of decent and bad photographs but they are all saved and placed in the cloud and I can share entire albums if I wish to social media. 

Consider when you are on the road with the camera what it is you are after. The best feeling or belonging to some genre. That one thing that may mean you are not a landscape photographer but you express yourself down an alley in Hanoi. Do you do it? I hope so. Its not really the camera that matters at all when you get down to it. It may go to the old advice of “F8 and be there” but it will becomes a thing if you have fun with the camera, you enjoy taking it with you and creating. I think for the millions of hobbyist and avocational photographers we simply want to enjoy and express and have fun. Then share. But the primary thing is the expression and joy of just doing it. As I’ve said before, shoot on automatic or shoot on aperture priority or use manual focus. Find the fun and joy in it and the learning will follow. 

For me, the FujiFilm X100F has become the best after dismal experiences with the X-T2. I won’t be buying another camera for awhile because I feel that what I have now satisfies the fun and use things and also gives me the JPEGs to share.

In the end, it is the fun of it all for someone like me.

Photography Attitudes — don’t be that photographer

I read an interesting story on PetaPixel which I link to here on arrogance and attitude in photography. It seems amazing to me with such a wonderful medium of expression that we still find people willing to judge if someone chooses to shoot photographs in film or digital. Even hobbyist photographers are not left out it seems from the first paragraph of the review. Here is the thing about photography and I’ve said it before. Its not up to “them” to decide what camera, whether you shoot in black and white or color or decide to shoot in film. Perhaps if you make your living with the camera the “them” out there can stipulate the delivery and execution but if you are enjoying the creativity found during a walk or stroll in Ho Chi Minh City its not.

The article goes on to question how any group can impose a will or sanction on creativity but not just for the professional photographer. For us hobbyists as well. We should do things the way they say because they know best. Here’s a quote from the article,

But that doesn’t answer the question of why many still think they may tell others what to do and what not to do with their work, with their creativity, with their lives, and with their time. Why is chemical photography perceived to be a threat to some? Another question I can’t answer: if it isn’t perceived to be a threat, why would anyone even bother to try to discourage people from doing it?

But really the question is more basic. Its the my way or the highway thing. If we don’t do digital photography or if we want to shoot in film to spark the creativity or personal fulfillment its not wrong or right. It’s our choice.

This is a fundamental thing with the whole art and science of it. Its not just the JPEG shooters and the post processing argument. Its not whether one camera is better than the other. Its not the size of the lens unless you have lens envy. We need to take care not to make photography so hard to enjoy for the avocational or hobbyist that they stop experimenting and sharing. We’re not all gonna do things the same way. The article goes on to say,

Instead of focusing on divisive arguments like Film vs. Digital, Canon vs. Nikon, Mirrorless vs. Mirror, Bayer vs. X-trans and so on, we should give a chance to the uniting aspects of photography. Because as with every other form of art or creative expression, photography can create and sustain joy. The joy of having created something beautiful worth sharing with the world, or at least giving the world a little insight into oneself, through photography.

So this is the essence of the whole thing to me. There is no right camera. No right way. No autofocus versus manual. No aperture priority versus shutter priority or just shooting on automatic. What its really about is the creativity, the zeal, the wonder of creation. The next thing is sharing it. To me, the creation is the moment when you see a thing. The top of a building, the smile of the tuk tuk driver, the sideward glance of the person. Perhaps a discarded building in urban ruin. Maybe a moment of sheer creativity where the thing grabs you and insists. If the first thing is the moment of creation, the next thing is the moment of sharing. I think others are constrained by what they see on the Instagrams and Twitters of the world. Their followers and attachment rates and somehow they strive to get the approval of those that follow them. Want to do black and white photography but what if your legion of 10.5 thousand followers dispute and don’t like? Want to do candid street photography?

I think that here is where the arrogance of photography starts and ends. The real truth is that I bought my camera and you did not. I’m saddened that people cannot let self expression and creativity rule the day. I’ll never claim to be a photographer because I’m not. I’m just a guy that enjoys taking the odd photograph and not being constrained by a set of imposed values that a group of others seem to hold.

The article concludes with this,

Whatever works best for you is okay for you, as long as you can express yourself through it, even if it’s something as simple as a portrait of a grumpy looking cat.

If photography ever becomes so elite that a chosen few can tell us the how and what of things, the art of it is lost and the thing that replaces it are the norms and values of those elites. Photography needs all of us from the professional with the great gear to the wanderer of streets with the Fuji X100F. Without the sum total of them all, the parts are lessened and we will drive people away.

That’s my take!

Days to the Left and Right – Fuji cameras gone and around

Slowly transitioning from one city to another is not so difficult when you are the slow traveler anyways. I’ve been in Siem Reap for almost a month now and each day has built on the day before in some ways. In other ways though each day is unique. I wander in a different direction with the camera. It does not matter if I’ve seen the street before because to me each day with the people, the weather, the environment is different. That same tree or street looks one way on a beautiful blue day but when clouds come the street gets bathed in some shadows and the photography is different. Down goes the aperture and since I vary from somewhat light to somewhat shadow on goes the auto ISO. I just let the camera decide what works.

I have found on the FujiFilm X100F the sweet spots for photography are somewhere between F/4 and F/11. If you settle on F/5.6 or F/8 you are gonna be safe because these seem to be so dead on whether you wander in clouds or bright day and let the camera decide the ISO you will probably get a good shot.

This works wonders for me since each day is a bit different starting from a bakery to have some morning coffee and a nice donut or other goodie. I have liked doing the pastry thing since Vietnam. I’ll just say in Vietnam the bakeries were oh so good! Here I have found the smaller places for coffee that Cambodia seems to specialize in. Particularly the neighborhood stands. Kind of street food for coffee. I have one across the street from the hotel here and there was a delightful one in Otres Village when I was there. Unfortunately while I wanted to get a picture of her and the coffee stand before leaving, she was not there and the cab driver to the airport arrived early.

Anyways back to whatever the main topic was if there was one. Oh yeah… The days. The days with the camera and the wonder of each day and that which makes it unique. The city streets in Siem Reap are like others I have seen but then again not at all. There is the mix of older colonial architecture buildings, government and city buildings, stately hotels, and beautiful restaurants and bars. In Kampot the mix was even more delicate. Streets there were graced with smaller coffee stands, neighborhood pastry shops and then the older buildings. Wonderful! Each day I went with the camera was something new. How the light struck the river or how the boats looked at night running the river. It all seemed so different each day.

So I figured out that the slow travel, the wandering with no real purpose in sight and the slow camera things all figure in to what makes the mode of travel I do the best for me. Relaxing after 3 hours of doing the wandering and back in my room I realize that tomorrow is the countdown. I will only have a week left and then will get to the bus station and move along. I always ask whether I would come back and an equal question is whether I should revisit places. Should I go back to Vietnam in June or July next year? I spent 6 months there already. I feel it would all be different this time but I also look at the other places I could go with the same time. I could go to:

  1. China
  2. Korea
  3. Philippines
  4. Taiwan
  5. Lao
  6. India

So many places I have not really been to yet. I would like to get the last 6 months kinda defined for travel because I have to be back in late September to get the retirement visa extended or move to the Philippines and get their retirement visa. Truth be told, I don’t want that visa. I like it better here. Its easier to get the visa here and I can travel all I want to and its not an island where buses and trains simply won’t work.

But for now the next few weeks beckons. To Battambang and then back to Phnom Penh and finally to that lovely little city Kampot by the river. From there I fly off to Singapore and perhaps see old friends there (or not). Then off to Malaysia for 90 days and traveling in many directions. Its not everything in Malaysia. I hand-picked places like Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Port Dickson and Penang to represent different cardinal locations in the country. Each places gets weeks so I can explore with the camera.

Final Frustrations with the FujiFilm X-T2 camera…

Yes, that camera was so frustrating and anger and irritation producing. I bought that camera in Da Nang to replace my original X100F which had gone through rain storms, been dropped in a puddle, dropped on the floor, slammed around in luggage and still mostly worked. The X-T2 camera to me is a piece of crap. I had the camera’s shutter button repaired after only two months. That took effort. Then I get it back and it starts sticking again in two weeks. I have only had that camera for about 4 to 5 months folks. Cameras are supposed to last longer than that. I have no faith now in those camera lines at all. I also will never buy the X-T3 because of its proximity to the X-T2. The X100F just is the best for me. Its small and resilient and reliable day after day.

I am no photographer nor do I want to be. I don’t crave instagram moments at temples or desire to catch the perfect shot or composition. What I like to do with a camera is capture what I like. How a simple building looks with the sky and clouds. How a tuk tuk looks against the backdrop of a building. How the light crosses the shadow in black and white shots. My interest in getting better is not to be called a photographer (ever). I want to be able to express myself better with the camera but still only capture that silly building or the darkness and light vying for the building.

The X100F does all this for me and it has never had a problem with the shutter button. I guess there is no next camera for me in the FujiFilm line unless a camera is released that builds on the X100F tradition with a fixed lens.

This whole thing brought me all the way around and back to the streets I love to walk and the pictures I want to take. A famous photographer when asked how to do the best photography said,

F/8 and be there

I’ll add you have to have a camera that’s fun to use and be glad to be using it. With no camera you will not be there and a smart phone camera will never be the same folks. It will never let you have the experimentation or fun. Its too “been there; done that”.

So I still love the Fuji cameras and would buy another one. Just not that X-T line of cameras. I don’t trust them and I think their quality control and build is lousy. I also know that I am not the norm with doing photography. I am the person who gives a shit less and just wants to capture and see what I did on a day on a tour. I also never edit photos. If I cannot take the picture and save it off as a JPEG what’s the point? I don’t have the time or inclination to learn Lightroom or Photoshop. The Fuji cameras pride themselves on the quality of their JPEGs so why should I be different?

At the end of the day, its me, the camera and the world in front, behind, to the left and right of me. I make the choices. I capture the photographs. Its me and the street and the camera. The X100F. The camera that just works to capture the world there around me. To me, the best camera ever.

Technology doodads, gadgets, and ideas for the long term traveler

Traveling with Technology is both the reason and the bane of existence on the road. You have to track all the cables and plugs and adapters and while I really like my 12 inch MacBook the charger is something else. Whoever dreamed up the bricks of chargers for Mac laptops… There are replacements for power over USB that are smaller and I’ve been tempted to get one simply because the weight and size of the original and limited space for techno goodies when I move from place to place. For the slow traveler like me, I think we have different core needs than the person in a place for 3 days and then another place for a week, etc. What we need is more of a balance for charging things.

What I have found that works the best is this thing.

The nice things about the Mastech charger pictured above are a few. One thing is there is an AC adapter on each side plus three usb charging ports in front. This thing lies flat on a desk and the size is rather nice. The other thing particularly for the apple charger is that it plugs in and sits flat on the desk or table as well and I have room for my camera charger on the other side.

This is a type of device really made for the slower travelers I think. The longer power cable is common sense because how many of you have been in a room where the electrical power outlet is here and your desk or bed is there. You need something with a longer cable. This has worked for me about 90% of the time very well. Where it has not worked is where the budget hotels I spend time seem to think we all travel with 10 foot long extension cables. The other thing about working or not, is that this is not power transformer type thing. It will not adjust the power down. Hopefully by now you have all read the power requirements for gadgets and doodads and have it covered.

The second thing is an international plug adapter. I’ve tried the wall wart kind with 1000 usb plugs and one ac adapter that makes the plug fall out of the socket every time. Useless folks. My advice is do not buy one of those especially if going for a longer stay. Not that I have found the best but this one seems to work pretty well in Japan, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

It kinda plugs into itself and I have not found a place (yet) where it won’t work. But places like India I have my doubts so its probably gonna be time when I get there to have a friend take me down to the electronics zone street in Chennai so I can get something. I don’t know about China either. But if I could not find a plug in China, I would probably give the whole thing up.

Combining things for long stays…

So these are the two things in my bag of tricks that just work. The other thing you should consider is a portable charger. I have one that has meant the difference for me on buses and trains more than once. Mine is very small and portable and fits into a pocket on my daypack. Truly a life saver at times!

When you combine all things above into your backpack or daypack, you are looking for things that add value and not weight. Things that can be used for a multitude of uses. Count how many devices you want to charge at the same time. Do you have the requisite cables either Type C or lightning or microUSB? I never charge my camera from USB because its stupid especially in countries that may have some questionable power to start with. Take the battery out and charge it separately. It will go faster! Other things you may want to charge at the same time are phones, kindles, laptops, etc. Count them and see where you are.

Bringing the kit together and leaving

Then its packing the kit up. I have a cheap little zipper pouch that carries it all for me. You may have something more elegant or refined. My bag costs about $7 on amazon and you can find similar bags or pouches in the Russian Market in Phnom Penh. Just consider the footprint of the kit and what you will end up carrying. Do you need a laptop and a tablet and a phone? Maybe. I would not mind having a tablet as well. But perhaps you don’t or you need more stuff. Whatever you decide will have an accompanying weight and cost.

If you are good with that weight and cost go for it! Be happy on the road. Forget the minimalism stuff folks. Its just telling you to get rid of stuff but you already knew that if you are a realist. But most of all be happy with your choices. If it adds a few ounces to weight and you are good, no one is gonna pronouns a sentence on you. For the longer term traveler perhaps the devices make even more sense. Consider staying for a month in a place or three months. What is your expectation for comfort and use and technology?

Maybe not mine at all. And that’s good. This post is just about getting you to thinking about how you do a thing. My examples are just that. Now go out and get traveling. Just do it slowly and savor each place for what it is.

Mikes Concept Workflow – Ideas, Discussion and what works and does not

Awhile ago I built a basic workflow in my productivity tool named Ulysses to try to help me stage information and have it flow through different stages. I have not really followed the approach I had lined out but now feel its time with writing other content more to try again. So in the interests of sharing here is a post on how it works. Just as a background, I use the Ulysses App which is on Apple platforms for this but you could use Google Docs just as well.

The basic idea for me was to kind of get organized. I don’t have massive amounts of information coming in and I don’t have a team on Slack collaborating with me. What I do have are these sometimes extemporaneous ideas that come to me walking with the camera or when I am reading something. I could find another app which captures it but truth be told, Ulysses is my one home for all text. I don’t need separate tools for the jobs when there is only one of me. So, information kinda comes in in various ways and I write little notes. These notes are free form things like,

look at www something or other and read their idea about Vietnam

So that is in what is called a “sheet” to use the Ulysses parlance. Does each little crumb have its own sheet? Not at this point. It may end up there next. We are at the Inbox level of things where these sheets get filed. Its here where things have gone awry for me and ideas propel with alacrity to other points in the workflow so I have decided to attack the problem head on here in Otres and try again. To ease the discussion, here is the workflow and how it’s used.

Inbox. The home of the little ideas captured in sheets. These are freeform ideally although that folder is empty now because I have not been good at maintaining this part of the workflow.

Stuff to do. Often the thing becomes something I want to do. A place to go or see on a walking trip. The sheets move here with some additional classification such as the where, maybe a map, a time, etc. I am still not good at this point but I have used it.

Ideas. At this point, the stuff to do yields ideas. Formative plans that I can act on. This is a good stage for me since things burst through on walks or over beers or when I’m reading. I have repositories for these things like :

  • Blog Posts. The idea is destined to become a blog post. When it gets here, its created and published using Ulysses publishing to WordPress tools.
  • Mikes Journal. The idea is not good for a blog post. It’s become too personal. The journal is a freeform text document using some markup but mostly its just typing into one sheet for each year. Ulysses is damned good at longer documents!
  • Travel. A catchall folder with sub folders for this year and next that needs some reorganization.
  • Stories too Edit. It may become a story. I only have one now I am working on. It kinda came this route.
  • Fuji Camera Notes. Infrequently I find a thing I want to keep on photography like a website or an author or something. I try to keep sets of notes on this stuff.
  • Blog Articles. The original idea was to create static content or “pages” on WordPress. The idea may end up as a blog article or static post.

So this is what I came up with as far as a workflow in Ulysses. What are the problems? Well, there are lots of little places for things to go. So the first thing I’ve decide to lessen the number of folders. I will pull down to only an inbox that will then feed the blog posts, journals, etc. The second problem is discipline. We all are spontaneous creatures and ideas come willy nilly at the dead of night when you wish they would not. My idea was having the same tool on the phone and the laptop meant I would be able to deal with this. I still believe that. Its just not how I use the mobile app on my iPhone. That is going to change. I want to have the mobile app play more of a key role as I slim down the workflow folders.

Some folders require reorganization. The travel folder has sub folders and lots of sheets and attachments of maps and pdf files. No real organization within the folder. I am going to study that problem and come up with a more elegant solution for travel. Its not just some app like TripIt. I don’t particularly care for more apps to store things in. Since my tool is Ulysses and its so well built for organization and function, this is it and I must learn more how to use it.

Finally is the journal. There is not much to be done there. I could simply move to something else but for me it breaks the basic rule of use. Why would I pay for Day One when my journal is a freeform text document and it just works for me?

Integration and Exporting

I want to finally discuss integration and exporting. If you decide to implement a workflow I think its important to find a central repository that you can live with and that’s integrated into how you do things already. I think Google Docs is really superb at this. But there are others too. So the simple rule is pick one you already feel good about. Don’t just buy a subscription to Ulysses or find X tool because legions of people swear by it. This is a tool for you folks. Make it stand your use test and it integrates, if you want, to mobile platforms.

Exporting finally is huge. The tool you choose should export to other formats. You may want a sheet in clear text or pdf or even a word docx. Make sure you can do these things. At some point, I may change back to Google Docs and I want the export path well paved from Ulysses.

Conclusions or such…

So there you have it. A workflow I don’t use but that is a start to trying to organize how I use information and maintain it in a single organizing and integrated tool. Rather than the helter-skelter of a tool for each thing which may work for you, my limitation is finding the nugget of information when it could be in Google keep or a Google Doc or perhaps in a text file somewhere. I dealt with this by buying the subscription to Ulysses. Its still a learning thing so the final conclusion is not written. But it works! And it works to help me find things and write things and publish them. I do feel the need to simplify the folders which I am going to do here in Sihanoukville while the rain falls and and days are slow.

Give it some thought folks. Do you want a home for things that you can then turn into a workflow to help you? I thought yes and no at first. Now I think yes with some caveats. It needs change. But life is all about change! Embrace it or ignore it at your peril.

Traveling Light, Lighter and Choices to Make on the Vagabond Trail

I started considering the clothing I have been carrying since leaving six months ago and came up with a new direction. I need less clothing here. I still want sufficient clothing to last a week but lets be honest. Being on the road does not mean changing clothes every day. I can be clean but maintain my clothing at much lesser levels. Here is something to consider if you are traveling carry on with a 45L backpack like me. This is based on Southeast Asia only so use carefully but maybe some of it works for you.

  1. T shirts. I left with a set of six shirts plus the one I was wearing which means 7 all told. This is too many to carry I believe. So I slimmed down to carrying three t shirts and wearing one. The magic about this number is that its still enough to get through a week on but you wear the clothing longer. I will replace all 4 t shirts in Da Nang when I get a package from California in Da Nang.
  2. Underwear and Socks. Same rule applies. Its easier to replace socks and I don’t really worry about underwear that much. So down to carrying three pair of socks and 3 underwear.
  3. Jeans and long pants. Simply put; don’t do it. In most places Jeans are just gonna be too hot. I roasted in Hanoi my first weeks and then decided to get cheap cargo shorts in a stall for about $7.50 US each pair or less. You can get these anywhere in Asia in a market and its all good. Lose the jeans and buy lightweight cargo shorts.
  4. Toiletries. This is the biggest waste of space and weight ever folks. Trash the shampoo and bar soap and stupid little TSA containers and just buy it when you get there. You may need meds and eye stuff. That’s important!
  5. Camera Gear, lens. This is probably a personal thing but do you really want to carry that Nikon or Canon DSLR with all those lens and that bag that weighs like 10 pounds? Get a smaller and compact mirrorless travel camera. For me, I want to record my travels. Cities, roads, buses, planes, people, buildings, landscapes, cityscapes. Unless you are a pro photographer what more do you intend to do? The Fuji X100F can be a fantastic travel camera and it has been voted as the best for 2018. Or just stick to your phone. For me, the camera is a learning thing so I wanted something small and portable. Your choice! Your shoulder.
  6. Electronics and Charging. You need to have the ability to charge multiple devices but the chargers need to be small and flexible and also able to be used across the voltages you may find. The best is to find a multipart charger that can take two AC plugs and up to three USB ports for charging. Consider what that means! You can basically charge everything with this setup. You also need a plug adapter. This is not a converter but it will adapt the plug for your international ready multipart. Shopping at amazon will be good for this item but replacing things on the road can be difficult unless you have a mail service at home or a willing ex-wife to help out sometimes.
  7. Laptops and phones. The lighter the better. Do you need a 6 pound windows laptop or a Chromebook? How about the MacBook 12 inch 2017 model instead of the larger MacBook? Don’t forget the phone and make sure its unlocked and you have correct cables for both of the above. Don’t forget the software that runs on your ecosystem. This unites my travel having the same ecosystem apps on both the laptop and the phone. This can be Google Docs or some other app. Google docs is good across so many platforms.
  8. Reading. Reading can be a big or little thing for the weight on your shoulder. Carrying hardback books may give you the thrill of the page and paper and the feeling but there is another feeling. The backpack on the shoulder feeling. For me, the kindle paper white works a charm and I share the hotspot on my iPhone to download books to the kindle.

The final dynamic is how you travel. Do you pack a suitcase and check it in? A bigger backpack you cannot carry on? Do you carry a personal item? How does your bag deal with your needs? I travel with the Tortuga Outbreaker 45L bag. Its the king of organization but you pay a bit of weight. I also carry the Tortuga daypack as a personal item but also when I head out for the day.

A few other things I have noted in six months are other bags like camera bags and laundry bags and toiletry bags and small zip bags to carry the electronics and charging stuff. All of these combine to make more weight on your shoulder. I use packing cubes but I could just roll the clothing but the cubes seem to separate the weight out while making things easier to find. So many choices but I’ll leave you with a few things.

Final Comments on Packing it Light and Making it

Traveling in Asia is not difficult. The planes, trains, buses are not inherently hard to do. In Vietnam especially there is an understanding of how the backpacking tourist industry works. The buses and plane flights I’ve done have been very considerate of traveling with gear. If you are on the road try to consider the way you will use the devices you pack. A backpacking backpack loads from the top while a travel backpack opens like a suitcase. What seems easier to you with frequent or even long term stops in countries or on trains?

I think everyone at times decides to lessen the load they carry in favor of making new decisions about what is road worthy. If you are on the road forever vagabonding the idea you need 7 days worth of clothing is probably overdo. Consider carefully how you record the sights and sounds. Maybe a smartphone just works for you. Finally look carefully at the laptops and electronics you choose. A laptop that weighs 6 pounds is 6 more pounds on your back or shoulder. A Chromebook can make the difference.

Thanks for reading along up to this point of my voyage. Its been a grand and never ending solo voyage.