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.

Camera Thoughts – Fujifilm XT2 versus X100f

I’ve been considering buying a second camera when I reach Da Nang. I can get the FujiFilm XT2 with the 18-55 lens at basically the same price as in the states and I don’t have to wait for customs and shipping.

I think the black body camera would be the one I want. But then I look at the size of the camera with the 18-55 lens kit attached and compare it with my sleek and sassy Fuji X100F.

While the XT2 has the ability to take more lens, the real question is whether I would do that or just stick with the one. Then there’s the portability question. But we get to the real meat of the question:

what would I like about the XT2?

I think the “like” things are the flexibility of being able to change lens. I also like the LCD panel tilting this way and that on the XT2. The final thing about the camera is being able to put in two SD cards at the same time. If I were ever going to shoot RAW this would be nice. I don’t think I will ever do that since now I have no real way to edit RAW files and I’m pretty happy shooting JPEGS with the film simulations.

Here’s the other personal things;

  1. I am learning how to use different ISO values as my next learning experience. Either camera has the ultra usable top dial for that plus still having auto ISO when I walk through a place like a market where the light changes continuously.
  2. I will be learning manual exposure more and zone focusing at some point. Both cameras do this well.
  3. The existing Mark II lens for the X100f ruin the camera to me. Either one is too big or clumsy and I don’t like them. OTOH, being able to switch lens down the road might be nice on the XT2.

Here’s the real question through and its a simulation.

I am walking through a crowded street and want to record people, things, buildings, food, cars, other stuff. I want to not call out attention while doing this so being unobtrusive is a key thing. If I pull out the XT2 with the 18-55 lens I believe that factor becomes less with the size of the lens poking out. I did see the camera body with the lens at a coffee shop so I think when you compare the use factor of shooting in a market or small street the XT2 becomes more visible than hip shooting with the X100F.

I would like to do more hip shooting and being able to tilt the LCD panel out and up is very cool. It means you can look down at the camera at your waist or so and see the representation of the image being taken. The X100f does not do this but you can compensate by using settings that you have preset like Aperture Priority with Auto ISO enabled and just shoot away. When I do this, I always stop and move some images to the iPhone and check it out.

Finally, there is the cost. For the camera kit in Da Nang I will pay about $1399 before VAT. I already have received word back from the camera shop they have new ones in the kit form. I could easily just buy the camera at this point but then I have two cameras. I cannot carry two cameras with the restricted baggage I have. So I would probably leave the X100F with the dealer and have him recycle it to someone else. Then I would have to see if the batteries are different between them. That’s small but its another cost. I would want replacement batteries and SD cards.

Decision Point!

So here we reach the crux of the matter. Mike wants toys that he can use on his travels and he likes to buy toys but there is not room for lots of toys. A camera the size of either the XT2 or X100F fits well in Mike’s limited baggage space. Then there is an interesting comparison piece between the two cameras here.

I will have to apply my massive intellect and go to the camera shop and heft the XT2 around a bit and then decide. Dropping the cash is no big deal. Being happy after with it is a big deal. I would never buy huge things like a Nikon or Canon DSLR or something since I would feel like there are electric signs pointing to me that say,

TOURIST AHEAD!

I want to travel through markets and city streets grabbing images of a variety of things and really not be noticeable. At this the X100F shines. There are others too but the retro form and knobs and dials and where things are have won me over. Questions about learning on the XT2 remain. The X100F is a joy to learn on. I admit to treating it badly and getting it soaking wet when its not water resistant. It is unhappy for awhile and then just works. I also have truly enjoyed carrying it and comparing to those poor souls lugging around pounds of weight of lens and bodies and things. I want to travel swiftly and silently through the markets and streets of Da Nang. A shadowy figure spending time well on the streets of a new city.

So its an open question. I may ask a pro photographer I have struck up a basic relationship with whether there is a value for what I do with a camera buying the XT2. My gut feel is there is a value and I would find a lot of use of the XT2. Having seen and touched one, I loved the feel in the hands. It truly is a well done machine and still has the characteristic Fuji size and function thing going. Still not water resistant though so there is that. Not that I have really been concerned with the X100F over that.

Finally, there is the question of it use in a mixed setting like street, urban, building, landscape, city scape. The person I met only does intense street photography and could not really talk to me about using it in a mix of settings.

We shall see as I leave Da Lat in a few days how the urge strikes me.

Travel Photography – what is the best Camera? There ain’t one

What is the best travel camera out there? There are reviews left and right about new cameras from them all. I’ve seen ads for Nikon, Ricoh, Sony. Then there are the retro-looking FujiFilm cameras. In my own admittedly junior status of doing the fun of photography and trying a bit to understand the how; I looked at my own habits and how I chose what I did:

  1. I wanted a camera with the ability to shift from doing people photography to grabbing a lake scene to a crumbling downtown building. The camera had to be able to quickly adapt and also allow me a quick shot using proven settings on Aperture Priority. The ability had to extend to carrying. I wanted something that was innately and wonderfully able to capture fast changing scenes while I moved too.
  2. The camera had to have what I will call “soul”. It had to be fun to use and learn on. I had to feel that it was a learning experience with the camera and it was okay to over or under-exposure all in the name of learning. I also wanted the soul to extend to its looks. I don’t want seriously cool looking gear but what I did want was something that was both unobtrusive but beautiful.
  3. I wanted a mirrorless camera with a permanent lens. It was okay if zooming meant walking. Hell, that’s what I do! I walk. So taking more steps toward a thing or away is not a major deal. I do about 12500 steps each day. The camera had to be easy to stash and use without expensive doodads that came with it. In other words, it had to be all encompassing.
  4. The fourth thingamabob is that I wanted a camera which would let me learn my own style which I have dubbed as “urban” photography. What I like shooting are buildings, signs, people, lakes, hills, signs, graffiti, street art, more people. In other words urban scenes and scenes out of the window of a bus or train or from the back of a cab or whatever.
  5. Finally, because most people list the 5 or 10 things, it had to produce images I liked. In the end I am the sole judge of what I do taking photographs. I don’t sell, but do share. I don’t want or need anything from doing it besides fun, learning, and enjoyment.

The camera I chose which met the most of the criteria is the FujiFilm X100f. It has that seriously retro look with fun knobs and dials. It has a permanent lens so I don’t go hog wild buying more lens. It is so easy to carry in a backpack or camera bag. Here is a big thing folks! I only shoot jpegs so the images I want have that characteristic Fuji look with the film simulations like Classic Chrome, Acros, or Provia. I want the images right out of the camera. I don’t want to futz with RAW files that don’t have the qualities of the film simulation. I am trying to learn what film simulation is best for what kind of thing for me! The Fuji camera also is learnable. You can bracket shots if you want. Take the best!

Its not just me though. Others have weighed in like here and here with their judgements on the camera. In the end though the choice has to be yours. Its difficult to know though if you are starting. Its not a cheap deal to get one. Note that each review has a pro and con part because the camera that is great for you will be a chore for someone else and perhaps one of the cons of the camera is a deal breaker.

So what do you do if you want to get serious? I don’t know because I am not serious. I am after the fun of finding the thing and capturing it. I met a street photographer today with a FujiFilm XE2 and it got me thinking about the great street shots he was getting in black and white. Wonderful sombre images of people in Vietnam at markets and on the streets. Beautiful tapestried shots that invoked a lot of the person in the shot by the mixing of the person and the immediate environment. I loved his work. For him the FujiFilm XE2 with the 18-55 lens was the bees knees. It got him close as he needed without being too close. But we all do different things. For you travel photography may be waterfalls and nature hikes, wildlife and mountains.

What I have come away with understanding is that no one can make a recommendation for you on what is best. Even if a person does the same thing their style and habits and abilities get in the way and color the perspective. So how to go forward? You have to be willing to pay some money I think and try a camera. Perhaps that first one is not the one. Maybe the next one is not either. I don’t know how far you would go with it. It seems like packing a dedicated camera bag with 3 lens, two bodies, filters, tripods, other stuff; kinda runs contrary to traveling light but you are the one carrying it. Perhaps your real needs outweigh the weight and you decide that what you really want to capture are not the urban scenes of my style but other stuff.

Is there a website or photographer that can tell you for sure? I don’t think so. The camera is a mix of art and science. Light and thoughts. Reasons and love. What one person views as art or light another person may think little of or have no reason to adopt.

So don’t rush out and buy the Fuji or Nikon or Sony because someone uses it and posts glowing reviews. Buying the wrong camera is like getting a pair of shoes that don’t fit but you decide to give it a whirl anyways. Since I am not a photographer but just someone who likes photography, my views are slanted and keyed to a specific thing I have found. This is like so many other things out there.

Its the YMMV thing.

Small things for the vagabonder in you

Here’s some minor things to consider when traveling. Not the big things but some stuff that has either got me and I had to fix in Japan or Vietnam and some things which I took care before I left. Here’s a starter list of things which I think are really important to consider when hitting the road internationally.

Power strips and adapters are the unsung heroes of the road or they are the things you curse in the hotel room at midnight. Here’s two alternatives.  See what you think!

Source: MakeTech Travel Power Strip

The nice thing about this device is the size. If you look at it, you will find two AC plugs and three USB chargers and its rated at 110 to 240. I’ve used it in Japan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam and it works really nicely and its easy to pack.

The second part of this to consider is the wall adapter. This has a US grounded plug and some Vietnamese plugs do not have the ground so you must find an international adapter. After some degree of hunting around, the one I am using now is this one.

Source: Flight 001 4 in 1 adapter

I like this one because its smaller and the plugs all fit together. That being said you may find one that works for a lot of places but not India or another place. I’ve had to go out to the local electronics stores and get one. In Japan, its pretty easy to head over to the Akihabara or Yodabashi Camera and you can find camera and electronics stores easily in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh city as well. I feel this one works pretty well though and I like the size and component part of it. It fits the first device perfectly!

Remember that this is not a converter. Its only a plug adapter so be careful with devices.

I plug into the above two things a variety of things like a MAC laptop power adapter. One minor rant. Who in the ever loving world ever decided to build MAC power adapters with that size? My gosh. The thing is huge! Anyways, it goes into one side of the Mastech where the AC plugs are. In the other side, I can plug in my camera battery charger to charge batteries outside of the camera.

Then in the three USB powered adapters I can charge my iPhone, my camera, and my portable charger, kindle or whatever. You will need the cables so don’t forget them. I forgot the micro USB cable for whatever reason and had to get one in Japan and then my lightning cable started acting weird so I got two new ones in Hanoi plus the charger for the laptop started acting kinda strange so I bought a Apple charger in Hanoi.

So for the three USB chargers I normally only use two but I have charged something in the third port and it was fine.

So these are just little things which I have collected to help in hotel rooms, hostels, homestays. Always check the power ratings on things you buy especially when traveling to Asia and remember to get things that charge other things with correct power ratings or things could go boom!

I hope this has been useful. I always find that there is a thing I bought that when I look closer it just won’t work. I started with another device that I thought was perfect for travel but it ended up not supporting the 110 to 240v requirements so I found these things which have great reviews on amazon for their use. Bear in mind that the colored and cute little plug adapter may or may not work everywhere. I don’t particularly like the big round ones with all the plugs coming out because they are hard to pack and I have had them break at inopportune times.

I’ll publish another once in a week or so that focuses more on internet and cellular service since that has been another area which has been a learning experience but thankfully now in Vietnam I have it pretty well figured out.

Services when Vagabonding – Part One

When you travel forever, how do you handle these things:

  1. Phone Service that may require a US SMS and phone number
  2. Physical Mail Services

Before leaving I gave these two things a lot of thought folks. It seemed like I could do things any number of ways. For the first thing why is a SMS service tied to a US number needed? It comes down to a few security and authentication things. Many dual factor authentication approaches use a second trusted communication method like SMS and so do banks. BofA wants to send texts to a US number and many other services like social security want a US number. Although Social Security will send authentication numbers to an email address and I guess banks can be set to send to email as well, having a US phone number that can be used has been a good thing. I’ve had to call some people that use a US phone number as a gateway. How do you handle it when you are gone? I have two ways of handling the first thing. One is free and one costs a bit. The first way is with Google Voice. You can get a US based number that receives texts and voicemails for free on Google Voice. You can make calls as though you are calling from a US number and receive calls to the number. On Android devices you can now make wifi calls. IOS is coming at some point. All of this is free and it works very well.

The second way I want to point out is finding an app for your phone that will give you a second number. I used the Hushed app. The service can be used for a so-called burner number but its equally as well suited for a permanent number. The app on IOS and Android registers a real phone number for you that you can choose and you then can get and make calls, get voice mails, send and receive SMS which are all the requirements I had. Why choose a paid one you may ask. I would answer “skin in the game”. Google frightens me at times with its desire to shake loose technologies and sunset them. While Google Voice just works and the service is actually pretty good for vagabonds, who knows how long it will be. A second thing is that Google just now is releasing wifi calling direct from the voice app. Prior to this, one had to use hangouts integration which is another story in the mixed up, muddled up Google view of messaging. Hushed just cuts through all that gives you the basic things and you can get an annual service plan. BTW, Skype or WhatsApp are not solutions for this. I would not ever trust Skype and I don’t believe they do SMS to US phone numbers. WhatsApp does not call non WhatsApp numbers at all. You want something that is a true footprint of your needs for this one I think.

There are others you can find as well. Find one that suits your need. It may be that Google Voice just works and you are good! The main thing is to consider the needs you may have to get and receive calls and SMS when you vagabond. I have found that this is one thing that has been vital for me with banks and security and dual factor authentication and validating access.

Lets talk about Thing 2. Physical mail service when you are gone forever. Popular choices may be getting a mailbox at UPS, the USPS, or sending mail to a family member and letting them judge what is important. To actually see the email though you have to get a picture taken or have the mail scanned and sent. What about packages? You may think you will never need a package from Amazon but don’t count on it. I have found that at least in Vietnam and probably other Asian countries on my list in the future, I can find many things like hats, shorts, belts, and other things. I have not been able to find T shirts that fit this old retired body. So I tend to order things occasionally and have them shipped. But where does this stuff go? Many US services do not send packages to places like Vietnam directly. You need another service in-between that will do that for you. There are services that will have the package shipped to them and then send via FEDEX or UPS. But what about regular mail?

Its better to have a service that takes care of you without involving family members that will sooner or later go crazy with receiving your email. If you are going for independence, why not find a virtual mail service? If you google it, you will find many that do this. The primary idea is that there is a clearing house of services that will receive your mail to an address, arrange to scan that mail with your approval or junk it, forward parcels as you need. Some charge per piece of mail received. I’ll make a pitch right here to get services online and get out of paper submittals but some agencies like IRS and Social Security are not there. I need to receive the mail that matters and I don’t want to burden my family. So again, enter the idea of a virtual mail service. It basically takes the responsibility back to you to deal with your travel and independence. My ex-wife has some patience in dealing with sending things to me but its better to simply leave her out of it and find a service that will provide the support you need.

The one I ended up with is US Global Mail. The differentiation is in the service to me. They charge a base rate for no matter how many pieces of mail you get. You will pay for scanning services so its another pitch to go through all the people that send you real mail and do something more permanent. Opt out! Get rid of debt and things. When I had a car, Allstate sent all manner of emails wanted and not. Once the car went away, I stopped receiving mail from Allstate, the DMV, and other things relating to the car like service announcements. Goes to show that simplifying your life, removing debt and creditors, can act in your behalf a number of ways.

Two things! More to come…

I had mentioned in a post I would create a story or static page about how I dealt with things moving out and vagabonding full time. My goal was to remove others from the responsibility where possible and not leave the needs around mail especially up to family members. Even though I pay an annual service fee for the mail service, the degree of independence is liberating.

Consider just these two things and ask yourself how you intend on handling the basic things when you cut the ties that bind. If you are doing what I did, I will never go back to the states so I need long term solutions. Paying for a quality solution can be good but like I pointed out for calling Google Voice works. Leaving your physical mail to a family member is not free. You are simply shifting the responsibility to some poor ex spouse, brother, sister, son, daughter who probably have enough on their plates.

Give it some thought before you hit the road. Have you considered lessening your footprint of real mail? How will you receive calls that for whatever reason want a US phone and SMS? Its easier to deal with things head on when you are taking a big step. There are always a series of smaller steps to consider that make up the big one.

I want to add one thing here since I am updating this post a bit. If you are vagabonding forever or on an extended trip, for heaven’s sake get yourself a VPN! Do not believe that a coffee shop or airport is safe folks. I use Express VPN. Its not free but the security is bulldog like. Protect those passwords. Use a password manager that encrypts and not a text document! A VPN is also handy for things like watching Amazon Prime videos since they check where you are coming from. With a VPN you can look like you are coming from the US based on a thing called an IP address that they source. The final thing is that neither of the services are good unless you use them. Do not trust to banking anywhere on wifi without security for your connections. Just a word to the wise. There are bad people out there that will grab that information that is over public or coffee shop wifi and use it for nefarious means. Be wise! VPN and use a password manager. You can do this not only on laptops but on phones and tablets. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Use a trusted connection all devices that do sensitive transmission of details.

I’ll be posting a few more as we go of the things I found in my adventure of one to meet needs I had. Stay tuned!

Vagabonding Ways and Means – There’s a way and means to do it

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about personal choices and how we do things or have to do things when we travel long term. We have to make choices about basic things and how we will manage our affairs if time finds us in Cambodia or Vietnam or elsewhere.

I found a few things that have come up in my experiment of one that were significant. Luckily there are solutions for these things with how the cloud operates to our benefit. See what you think about my things:

  1. Postal Mail Service. If you are gonna be gone what happens to your mail? Do you rely on family to help out with picking it up, sorting through it, finding things you need to deal with? Do you rent a USPS or UPS mailbox and let it go? Give that one some thought.
  2. Dual Factor Authentication and retaining US Phone Services. I have a need to have things like SMS and phone calls go to a US phone number but I am in Vietnam. I need to get the SMS authorizations to a number in the states. I also want to be able to send SMS as though they are from US phone numbers too. Secondarily I want to be able to make and receive calls from US Phone numbers and also have voicemail. What do you do about this?
  3. Debit and credit services while traveling. I believe you need to have two different accounts with different banks with different travel philosophies. I use BofA because its what I have used but in all honesty their travel stuff sucks rocks. So I also got a Capitol One 360 checking account and its debit card. I don’t use credit cards at all. They are evil incarnate. What do you do?
  4. Personal technology like laptops, cameras, phones and charging them. You need to be able to carry the devices with you easily but you need to charge them in a variety of rooms in a variety of countries. What do you do?
  5. Personal luggage solutions. Do you check your bags or carry on? What kind of bags? Does it really matter? Short answer is yes it does.

I purposefully am not posing answers to the questions because I am working on a longer document which relates how I have solved these problems which I will be posting as a story on my blog. I spent some months planning each of the things, looking at alternatives, and finding finalist things which now I use on a daily basis. Each one of the things is significant for traveling but remaining in contact at home and there are services you can find that will solve the problems for you.

I have solved every one of these and found the solution to be very easy to maintain. There are some prerequisites to them though which I will also be discussing.

The main goal with long term travel or forever vagabonding is feeling secure that your basic needs which still require some kind of presence in your home country can be solved. It may cost some dollars to get there but the goal is to find the services and products that will be the best fit. The second need is to find solutions which scale for you and identify whether you have to have things like two debit cards with completely different banks or institutions. The final things are around personal choices you make to hit the road. What technology, what bags, what choices do you make for your life on the road?

The difference can be wide as you travel to new places. Its one thing to let some randomness seep in and let things happen. Its another thing to not be able to get cash from a ATM machine in a new country. Do you wanna eat, sleep, need a SIM card? Basic stuff folks.

My Story will be…

Some answers to the questions and perhaps more questions to go explore. I will look at what I did to retire overseas and try to take care of the needs I had in the states still. I have not found a way around the need to have US based SMS and voice phone services even though once I thought a smartphone was the height of luxury and not needed. Forget that part guys. I hope also to pose questions about how you travel and what you do to prepare and do the travel. Finally the story will pose some personal tech questions and whether you will chronicle the voyages with camera, blog, journal and diary.

Stay tuned for the story on my blog. I hope that it may help answer or pose some additional questions on how I did things and the why of them.

Photography for Fun and no Profit besides my own

So this post is about cameras and not so much about travel or vagabonding. I have a few interests in my every day retired life. One is to make every attempt at getting over 12k steps done each day and I have been pretty good. The second is to take my FujiFilm X100F camera with me and blaze new frontiers. The last or maybe the first is to simply enjoy life, drink the beer, eat the food, and remind myself every day that this is not travel.

In the interests of the camera and what I do with it, I have been messing with a variety of customization options and since I’m new I tend to do research online to find more experienced people that may have done the same thing. I’ve come to find out that there are a number of things particular to the Fuji X Series cameras which need testing and experimentation. The first are the film simulations. There are over 7 I believe and some have multiple options like Standard, Red, Yellow, Green. I cannot possibly test on all of them so I narrowed down my choices to two and I based this on the quality of the images. The two I like on the Fuji X100F are:

  1. Classic Chrome
  2. Acros

Both bring you back to the film days one way or the other. Classic Chrome has this wonderful look to it that to me is made for daily exploration in a city with vibrant colors. Acros on the other hand is a black and white simulation but it has this funky look and it has four options to try that each have different use cases. I’m sticking with Acros Standard and Red for now.

Then there are a whole slew of customization options and here is where the rubber meets the road. Its easy to go bat shit crazy and find whole bunches of different options to try. The customizations are:

  1. Noise Reduction
  2. Sharpening
  3. Shadows
  4. Highlite Tones
  5. Color

You can see the problem, right? Too may options and every photographer has a set of favorite changes. The problem is when you see their images and you do the changes rarely do you get a similar look. What to do? I decided. I went back to a resource I use which is a book written by Dan Bailey on the Fuji X series cameras. I basically reset them all to defaults since I was getting frustrated and the quality of the photographs were starting to flag and the fun of the whole thing was going down the drain. Photography is not a job for me. Its supposed to be a fun adventures where I learn, test, try, record and save. Yet all these settings frustrate me. I decide to try yet another set of customizations and then I’m calling out in pain so to speak. So I visit Dan’s ebook for help. The help is reset all of them to 0 and start with the basics. The next thing to learn is Exposure Compensation since most of us shoot in Aperture Priority mode anyways. This has an immediate affect on what you see in real time. Darken, lighten. Make immediate choices and see the results.

These other settings I have decided are important but I will only go after two of them. One is Highlight and the other is shadow. If I use them, I will want to build this subtle S curve in the camera. One either turns down or up the highlights and the other turns up or down the shadows.

Now that is an achievable target. Not 5 or 6 of them. Enough to test with. Lets first get the basic stuff working and learn the two film simulations better. Then lets learn the direct effect of Exposure Compensation. Then lets start with the settings that can change the images by adding or removing shadows or highlight tones. This is achievable. Reading settings that Fuji Pro’s use is not. I will never be able to duplicate nor would I want to their settings. What I really need is my own style so I created one.

My style I dub “Urban Photography”. I want to take pictures of people, buildings cars, parks, trees, historic sites, whatever but I want them to be done with my settings so they are marked as mine. I also do not want to edit RAW files or shoot in JPEG+RAW. Its too much damned work and I don’t want to sit around and edit files that have all the color simulations pulled out that I am so carefully learning. So the uses of Lightroom or Affinity Photo or Photoshop go away except to perhaps minimally edit the JPEGs.

Fun then comes back and life becomes better for my goals. I get to enjoy the photography and the walking and not deride myself that I cannot create an image in the likeness of some Fuji master. I am not a master nor do I want to be. I want to create images I save and share and perhaps are somewhat good. But, in the end, they are my images.

If you do photography, what are your goals? Do you have your own style or approach? Do you shoot in RAW format and then edit the photographs in Lightroom?

I think each of us has a style or approach or a knowledge thing we want with something. Whether it was before making projectile points from Edwards Plateau Chert or now shooting photographs in Hanoi. We cannot emulate the masters or our work is not our own. And the fun goes out and is most likely replaced by misery. Misery which my ex-wife would tell me is “optional”.

Glue for my Travels

Working my way back to using Ulysses for blog posts. I use it for all else pretty much. Since it runs on my Mac laptop and iPhone it becomes much easier to start a post and then pick it up on the Mac later in the room.

A lot of my posts are about the travel and photography and the philosophy of it all. You need glue too. Glue keeps all the little parts together and lets me share across devices in just about real time. Glue allows the start of an idea or thought and decide what I want to turn it into. Blog post, article or story I will publish, or amplify into a diary post.

It’s hard to have glue if the adhesive comes in all different containers. I’ve tried before to move off the tool. It changed to a subscription model so I tried Byword. I tried Day One for Journals. Nothing works when it’s all in pieces. Byword has the components but not the organization or integrated model of groups and sheets and document management. It’s a push for me to adopt it.

No matter what though I think when you hit the road and want to chronicle the life ways you need a central repository. It’s the place where ideas spring forth and travel plans are kept. It’s central idea is the home for your words. Long, short, bullets or free form. Find a thing that can give you the power to create and use it.

It could be Google docs as well. It has power across platforms. This Ulysses thing to me though has a central essence that is missing in all else. Perhaps it’s power or control or freedom.

What do you use as that central tool to help you track and manage the moments, creativity, plans of your life? If on the Apple ecosystem check out Ulysses. If not, google documents is very powerful.

All in all, it makes the travel easier to manage and quickly capture ideas that are then presented back to me in my room at night. Ideas are good. Capturing them and getting a workflow is key.