Travel and tech go together like skis and snow. I love tech if it helps me to be more productive. As the autumn and winter approach I open up my kit bag and reveal my “material self”. Read on for the best in travel tech from charging leads, adapters, earphones to computers, phone and apps.
This summer, when travelling out of Bansko and exploring yet more of Bulgaria, I took my tech with me. It got me thinking what tech tools for travelling are working well — and what tech I’ll leave behind next time, and what the future holds for technology and the traveller.
This article accompanies the audio podcast — click on play below to listen. What tech do you take with you when travelling for ski and snowboarding trip. Please share your views in the comments or on Facebook.
The mobile phone is the internet.
Photos and video are mainly taken using my iPhone 6+ (UPDTE: 6s+ is great, but I won’t be upgrading). The more I think about it, I can see that the mobile phone is now the internet. The collision of the phone and the internet means that some of the tech stuff I used to find useful is absorbed into the smart phone.
Music, and especially video and podcast creation and listening, are always a permanent priority for me. On my iPhone, I use 8tracks and soundcloud apps for streaming music. I’m finishing off the 90-day free trial period for Apple Music. There service and app are surprisingly good, butI won’t be continuing the trial. $10 / £9.99 per month is not a fair deal for my low level of utilisation; although the family share plan really is good value if there are four or five in the family.
Soundcloud, Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, Tidal and many other apps are worth trying. For podcast listening, I use Overcast app (iOS only) but the iOS free Podcast app, Stitcher and SoundCloud are all excellent alternatives.
A mobile device needs internet, so I think it is worthwhile getting a local SIM card with a good amount of data. In Bulgaria; Vivacom, MTel and Telenor are the three to choose from. Prices are reasonable and it ensures you can have the pleasure of using your phone to call, and message each other, whilst on the mountain.
As everyone knows, it’s always hard to find each other to meet up if you get separated. Vivacom top up cards can be bought at the Lafka street stores in Bansko and elsewhere in Bulgaria. Alternatively, negotiate lots of free data from your provider back home.
Another great option for Bulgaria is Max Telecom. (maxtelecom.bg). I’ve used their 4G router for four years and their portable 4G wi-fi “Biscuit” for around 12 months. The max telecom reception in Bansko is mostly good, but it does not work when up the mountain. Coverage is good in most towns, and all cities in Bulgaria. In rural areas do not expect any reception. You can find maxtelekom in Bansko Mall, near the gondola lift.
Headphones and speakers
When walking or exercising, I use the NOCS 500 in ear buds. Their tangle free wire is a bonus, and the sound is good for the money (£45 approx).
The Audio Technica ATH-50x over ear headphones ar my favourite vehicle for both music and sound when relaxing or when in a plane. For approx £100 they’re good value — Ive tried loads of others, whilst killing time in airports, and you have to spend £200+ to get more comfort over the ear and a significantly better sound.
For shared sounds I take my Jambox Big Jambox Speaker. I like the design of this bluetooth speaker but a smaller version is probably better for travel. It fell off my table and lived for another day — impressive — see picture above.
My Nikon DSLR rarely gets out these days. But when it does, the fixed focus 50mm Nikon lens creates that impressive blurry bokeh effect that is still the preserve of DSLR’s — but I have to admit it probably will be not long before the mobile device can do the same job.
But travel is about recording the experiences — especially if they involve skiing, paragliding, mtb, rafting and son. The GoPro still leads this market and, whilst my GoPro 2 is relatively old, it still takes nice video. But yet again, looking at the high price of its replacement I’m thinking that these action cams will soon be replaced by our mobile device.
Update (1): iPhone 6s Plus comes with image stabilisation and 4k video. Wow unbelievable progress for the iPhone camera.
Update (2): New iPhone 6s and 6+, iOS9 and the Apple Special Event Podcast
Rambling on about the Apple Watch
My left wrist gets stared at from time to time with the Apple Watch standing out. I’d rather it didn’t receive attention, but it is impossible to hide it on the wrist with T shirt on in the hot summer. Most questions I receive relate to what does it do, do I like it and, then from die-hard Apple haters, a tirade of reasons why it’s no good and why they will never buy one. I’ve heard all this before from the smart phone haters.
They all own a smart phone now, bar none.
I think in four years 20% of them will have a smart watch and, in ten years, it will be close to 50%. That said, I did feel initially how useful it really is and a little of the post purchase blues crept in. Thankfully that dissipated and I found whilst travelling I started to like it more and more.
I see the apple watch as an accessory to the iPhone. There are lots of small conveniences, and often they’re just a few seconds long, but they add up over time. The Apple Watch takes a few weeks to start to make sense. If you are not interested in the fitness tracker function or Apple Pay, then it’s probably harder to justify.
Is Apple Watch a need to have? Not at all. A luxury and a nice to have — oh yes!
The taptic engine which gently taps you on the wrist to provide notifications also offers turn by turn directions. It’s super for finding points of interest without having your face down onto a phone screen. The airports boarding cards, for some airlines, are not required when you have the watch — for example my Easy Jet boarding pass is stored in the phone. Receiving notifications, without struggling to pull the phone out, is the use-case for Siri. Replying and sending message are quicker on the watch are some of the features I’m appreciating.
In time, Apple Pay will come to Bulgaria; but, for now, it’s a feature that makes the watch more compelling for countries that have it. It’ll be nice to be able to go out without a wallet and waft your hand in the general direction of the NFC reader. First world problems, I know!
Overall all the apple watch experience is good for me, and will get bet better and better. Best of all it tells the time very accurately and I think it looks really nice. There there are apps — Uber is a cool app, telling you when your taxi is arriving on your wrist (in Bulgaria, it’s only good for Sofia in BG).
Not using UBER app soon your smart phone yet? Then use my promo code lancelotn and get a ride for FREE. A nice freebie for when in a place has Uber — e.g. Sofia. Note I get a free ride too if you use the lancelotn promo code.
If in Sofia, or interested in spending some time in Sofia maybe after skiing in Bansko then take a listen to this series of Sofia tours that point out the main places (and bars) of interest:
The Bansko App upgrade version 2.0 is underway and, by mid December, the Apple Watch Bansko App takes one of its design cues from the activity rings found on the Apple Watch. Nasko, my co-founder at App Factory Ltd (at http://www.appfactory.bg) and long time iOS engineer, Kris and I are exploring ways to make our apple watch apps genuinely useful for travellers to Bansko.
There are many glitches with smart watches — but they’ll be fixed. The future of interfacing via voice is already here with Google Now, Cortana and Siri — and, potential privacy issues aside — I’m interested to see that the voice control of TV (UPDATE: Siri in the handset of new Apple TV), lighting / other home devices with Amazon’s Alexa unit which is seemingly very popular with the early adopters in the US. The wearable devices, including Android ‘s Tizen system shown in the very nice Samsung Gear S2 is pretty much the same for those in the Android ecosystem. I must add that I use both systems for testing but, for daily use, I’m wedded to the Apple eco system.
Right now, I’m focsussed on making the Bansko App with a watch extension in WatchOS2. I want something that will offer real utility when my iPhone is in my ski jacket and I’m wanting to check my ski distance and speed — but without pulling out my phone whilst on a ski lift or on the slopes.
But if you’re into exercise — or rather wish you has the motivation to — then the gamification of exercise, using the Apple Watch, is still very motivational for me. Attempting to move the green exercise ring round its complete circle indicating my target for 30 minutes of strenuous exercise is just that. It’s seriously hard work.
But tracking heart rate, recovery rate is at the heart of the internet of things (IoT). Soon this data saving lives. Privacy issues aside, the upside for the watch as a personal life extending aid is game changing.
I recently discovered Anker — unbelievable, but true, they sell one in three chargers sold on Amazon. They are now my first port of call for USB to lightening cables.
All Anker cables last longer than apple’s own brand and most other brands too. They and are fully certified cables, which is more important than you can imagine. The Amazon own brand ones are good but the gold braided one from Anker matches the computer — so there!
Leaving the manufacturer’s cable from your device in the box is my policy now. Just get one of these instead. The future charging gadegts may be charging pads — a bit like the one for the apple watch, but for the foreseeable future cables are a necessary evil.
I have blog articles to write, Apps, websites and podcasts work flow. This Spring I retired my 4.5 year old MacBookAir. As soon as the new retina MacBook was launched, I ordered — and then waited. My Apple orders are made in the UK, via the Apple Store app. It is virtually impossible to get special builds ordered here in Bulgaria — and the launch of new Apple gear is usually at least two or three months behind the US and the UK.
As it happens, both the new MacBook, and my Apple Watch, devices make perfect travel companions. Great for flights combining a movie with work. The MacBook’s attractions apart from it’s sleek looks are it’s ultra light <1kg, and super thin, form and the fabulous retina display. It’s such a good computer that I’m happy to have made this my main work computer. I need a proper keyboard for typing and a full operating system in the shape of OS X. Good battery life is also useful.
If you don’t need a keyboard, then I think it it’s best to just take a large phablet phone. There’s no need for a separate tablet or iPad when you have a big phone. The future maybe integrated cover and keyboard as per the new iPad Pro — but it’s a big price for a machine without OS X — but as a replacement for an old home computer I can see tablets regaining some renewed interest.
I’m glad I ignored all the critics on the MacBook– yes one USB-C is not exactly generous — but I can live with that. The upside is that this is a machine that is great to type on, has nice sound from its built in speakers and, best of all, there’s no fan to make noise. The charging brick is the smallest and lightest I have known. Have you seen the size of HP’s charging brick? You’ll then appreciate this detail.
Reducing weight of tech in my bag is one of my goals and it is so easy to buy a little snap on plug for the US or European countries if you’re from the UK.
Some tech insiders thought the MacBook is not be fast enough… but I specced it up to the max with 1.3 Ghz and 512 mb storage. Some love it some still claim to find it inadequate — but that’s because they require more ports, bigger screen etc. I find no issue when using intensive power hungry apps for podcasts, short video editing and picture editing. 8GB of RAM is standard and Yosemite and soon El Capitan (OS X) wizz along impressively. If you were making long pro movies, then the answer would be different.
The over priced USB-C adaptor is something that is required if you wish to power the laptop and use a regular USB lead. Cheaper third party adaptors will be coming from my favourite lead supplier, Anker.
Sometimes Apple are plain stingy — and this a gripe of mine and most others who commit to an Apple ecosystem. But being part of one eco system, be it Android/Google or Apple/iOS brings the full benefits of the technology — and this is a price I must pay, or shut up.
Best strategy? I is to wait and buy from a MFI (Made for iPhone / Apple) certified supplier. My prediction is that the iPad (and the
forthcoming now announced iPad Pro, with its stylus and a bluetooth keyboard, will offer a perfect solution for those needing a graphic drawing tool. Ot maybe want to entertain children with movies on a huge 12.9″ screen. The phone will be adequate for most others.
What I’m missing
1. A selfie stick for the iPhone 6+ is on my wish list for the ski season. The ability to upload video to the Bansko Blog Facebook Page video and images whilst still on the slopes is something I really need.
Gimble (for iPhone, GoPro) — too expensive at €200+ by late 2016 these things should be getting close to the €120 level. There a kickstart waterproof gimble but price too high.. but the results look pro. Lustworthy stuff. The iPhone 6s Plus (just announced) has image stabilisation for video as well as still photos.
3. Smaller travel speakers such as the Bose soundlink beats the Jambox on sound and size..
4. Anker portable 2nd Gen Astro Mini 3200mAh Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank with PowerIQ Technology.
5. To go “off grid” for more than two days, I would buy the Anker 14W Solar Panel Foldable Dual-port Solar Charger with PowerIQ Technology for 5V USB-charged Devices. Potentially this is a life saving piece of kit for adventures far from civilisation and provides real power. The rest I’m look at just don’t prove enough charging power.
My top travel apps
1. 1Password stores all your passwords, passport details, credit/debit card numbers, special codes, and so on, all in one app. Nothing beats 1Password — I used its competitor, LastPass, for two years and not only was there a non critical hack on LastPass, it is just nowhere near as polished. 1Password can be accessed from any computer if you lost your phone. I use the Mac version and the mobile app version. I consider this an essential day to day app for convenience and security. That said, I hope one day soon there is a better way for security than using passwords.
2. Google Maps and Apple Maps. I mainly use Apple Maps due its seamless integration with the watch and pretty maps– but Google Maps is better for traffic data.
3. Telegram app. Telegram is messaging app that beats all the great due to both privacy and utility. An amazingly easy way of sharing your location with your fellow travellers as well as day to day messaging. Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, Skype are okay — but remember there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Snapchat, Line, Weibo and WeChat all have their devotees — often based in certain age groups and country.
4. Photo app. iOS native app works seamlessly through the phone to the MacBook. Use iCloud to back up helps ensure photo get stored in the cloud rather than clogging up precious memory on your phone.
5. ByPost App. Share your travels with loved ones. None gets any post any more. Simply upload your photo and send to anyone you know in the world. I’ve been using this app for three years now and use it to send birthday cards. Similar apps that print out your photos are all good.
My LoweApline camera bag has been robust for daily use. It has carried laptop, tech and DSLR camera for four years now. It’s taken quite a beating and is still not is only holding up well, but looks still new!
The best aspect for me are the adaptable pockets protect your DSLR camera and lenses and the outside zip pocket is handy for items I need quickly access. Other travel tech bags I’ve seen are Samsonite — which is probably netter if you don’t have a DSLR to catty around — it is less deep and therefore more comfortable to carry on the back.
Paying for goods and services when travelling
Paying is a tech tool that could be the most important one to consider. Get it right and you’ll be saving — get it wrong and you’ll lose. Transmission and payment is such and important part of the future of travel tech that it deserves consideration. It’s also an area where saving money is more than possible. The pros and cons of various methods are often country specific. If in Bulgaria using cash is often so much quicker and more convenient than plastic (bank cards). There are places in Sofia that are especially good for low cost foreign currency exchange.
Excuse blatant self promotion, but now I’lll take the opportunity to say that our private transfers will take you to the best FX place near the NDK in Sofia; for rates much better than banks or indeed in Bansko. In Bansko there are many booths, with varying exchange rates, but almost all of them only display the SELL rate; i.e the rate if you were selling, for example Leva to the currency exchange provider. In reality, you need the BUY rate — which is lower and not usually displayed.
Shame on them. Be careful.
Bitcoin, the future for travel?
I believe that the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin is the payment solution of the future. It will be adopted by travellers, and the tourist industry in general. Once it is more established in the non tangible software /ecommerce space I think I’ll be including it as a payment option here on BanskoBlog.com and Bansko App. Companies such as the well respected Coinbase, make setting up and managing Bitcoin payments super easy, regulated and secure.
Those people living in countries with a record of unstable governments and wildly fluctuating currencies may turn out to be the surprise early Bitcoin adopters.
Bitcoin brings the promise of lower cost payment for goods and services — it’s complicated so you’re best starting your Bitocoin research on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitcoin PayPal have indicated that they are working to adopt Bitcoin technology in the future.
In August 2015 it was announced that Barclays Bank would become the first UK high street bank to start accepting bitcoin, with the bank revealing that it plans to allow users to make charitable donations using the currency. The gradual integration of Bitcoin is well under way with some huge investments being made by the investment banking community. It seems they’re placing bets now. I’ll review Bitcoin’s progress, or otherwise, in twelve months time and we’ll see if the promise of creative disruption that digital currencies, the blockchain and the distributed ledger really does materialise.
Why is this Bitcoin thingy relevant? Simply put, it’s the potential to avoid expensive merchant and currency exchange fees. The removal of the traditional financial middle men, for example Visa and MasterCard, is the thing that will bring transmission of money to a fraction of today’s cost.
I predict we’ll have to wait until 2017/18 to see Bitcoin being more widely adopted. I’ll be following the developments closely, along with other cryptocurrencies such as Dogecoin, Litecoin and the soon to be released, Neucoin.
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