10 more indispensable digital tools for frequent travellers (2017 update)

My status as a travelaholic is no secret to anyone who knows me. Between frequent business travel and maximum personal travel, I’m on the road as much as possible, trying to quench a wanderulust that can never be satisfied.

Like most people, I use a lot of websites and digital tools pretty heavily when I travel. I previously posted a list of some of my favourites. But that post is over seven years old now, so I figured it was time for a refresh.

A few notes about this list: I haven’t included some of the self-evident sites like Google Maps, just because they’re so well known and I’m assuming everyone is using them already.

Without further adieu, here’s my current Top 10 travel list:

Continue reading “10 more indispensable digital tools for frequent travellers (2017 update)”

Is TripAdvisor ruining travel?

Girls walking Alpaca in Cusco
Cusco, Peru, May 2017. Photo credit: Sari Stein

A couple of months ago, I was travelling in Peru. I’d just completed an absolutely magical trip to Machu Picchu, one of the world’s spectacular Great Wonders. It was a life-altering, breathtakingly beautiful, almost spiritual experience.

And the next day back in Cusco, waiting in my inbox was an email from the tour company: “Please, review us on TripAdvisor!”

Increasingly, businesses in the tourism industry live and die by their reviews. The word-of-mouth networks of yesteryear have been increasingly replaced by travellers on their smartphones, Googling a place to eat, sleep or visit in the vicinity.

Large hotel chains can survive on their global brand reputation and marketing. But for small independent restaurants, guesthouses, tour operators or guides, a “recommended by TripAdvisor” sticker on the door can mean the difference between survival and failure.

And do they ever know it.

Continue reading “Is TripAdvisor ruining travel?”

Finding new lands

The year was 1497. An Italian explorer, Giovanni Caboto, better known John Cabot, set off from Bristol, England in a ship called the Matthew, with a charter from King Henry VII giving him and his sons authority to “sail to all parts, countries and seas of the East, the West and of the North, under our banner and ensign. And to set up our banner on any new-found-land“.

As I prepare to embark on a new adventure in my own life, it therefore seems particularly fitting that I have prefaced it with a visit to beautiful Newfoundland. Standing at Cape Bonavista – widely believed to be the site of Cabot’s original landfall more than 500 years ago, I was able to look out at the vastness of the Atlantic and wonder how Cabot and his men must have felt when they embarked on their voyage. Were they enticed by the prospect of riches, fame and fortune? Were they fearful of the unknown? A little of both? (Photo: Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland. Photo credit: Sari Stein.)

Sometimes in life, you have to take a chance. You have to leave the comfort and security of the known, and embark on a voyage to undiscovered lands.

After four and a half years working with the incredible and talented team at Twist Image, I’ve made the decision to move onto the next challenge.

It’s bittersweet, of course. But, onwards and forwards. The new lands are waiting to be discovered, and my ship is rigged and ready to set sail.

This isn’t goodbye. This is the start of something that I believe will be awesome. Watch this space.

Is it time to redefine ‘fair use’?

A number of years ago, I signed up to a free travel website to blog my travels. The site provided the opportunity to upload text and photos from the road, and to share links to the blogs. It was a fun way to involve my friends and family in my travels, and to chronicle and journal my experiences as I went along.

Fast forward a few years. The company has been acquired by a large parent company that is well known in the travel industry. All travel blogs have ads woven through them, and the only way to shut off the ads is to sign up for a paid premium account. Fair enough; they have to make their money somehow. The blogs themselves are restructured in a way that implies the promotion of specific hotels or locations, using text scraping from the entries. Not cool, but also somewhat understandable.

But a few weeks ago, I was rather shocked to find that my photos and blog entries had been mashed up to music and posted to YouTube as slideshows, promoting the blog site's parent company. I was never asked or even notified of this, and only found out months later when I stumbled on them in a Google search.

To be sure, I uploaded those photos and posted those blog entries myself. I did so knowing that I was posting them in a public space, and that the terms of use of the site I posted them to were vague, at best. In a strict legal defintion, there's probably nothing wrong with what this site did.

But as a marketing tactic, I rate this kind of tactic as a massive Fail.

Continue reading “Is it time to redefine ‘fair use’?”

Is mobile “the new Prague”?

There’s a cliché in the travel community that refers to any potentially up-and-coming destination as “the new Prague”. Backpackers love to one-up each other with tales of visiting random destinations nobody has ever heard of, before they get discovered by the mainstream travellers, while they’re still cheap and cool and unspoiled and not overrun by guidebook -wielding types and evil tour groups.

I’ve heard the moniker applied to just about any destination, from the well and already discovered (Krakow, Riga) to the obscure spots that really only appeal to passport-stamp chasers (Nauru) to the downright dangerous (quick, go to Kabul now, before it gets overrun with tourists!) But, one thing you can be sure of is, say it to any seasoned traveller, and you’ll probably be met with a fair amount of eye-rolling.

Continue reading “Is mobile “the new Prague”?”

10 indispensable tools for frequent travelers

One of the great things about traveling is having the opportunity to disconnect from real life, even if only for a short while. It’s hard to do. A new study shows that many of us find it challenging to get away from work and really enjoy our vacations – in fact, only 58% of Canadians even use all of the vacation time we have, which, not surprisingly, is bad news for productivity. And those people who do go away often end up taking work with them.

I make it a personal rule to leave reality at home when I travel. No logging into VPN, checking business emails, or sitting on a beach working on a report. After all, what’s the point of taking the time off if you can’t use it to recharge your batteries?

However, there’s no denying that the convenience of having access to certain tools can make the difference between a disastrous trip and a great one. Whether it’s being stranded in an airport during a travel crisis casued by a volcanic eruption, using Skype to stay in touch with friends and family back home, or simply arriving in a new place and looking for a place to stay, things to see, or people to meet, it is possible to disconnect from life back home while connecting to life on the Road.  

There are certain sites and digital tools that I consider indispensable for frequent travelers. Here are a few of my favourites:

Continue reading “10 indispensable tools for frequent travelers”