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backpacking… upgraded

Archive for July, 2008


Luxe among the cockroaches

Sometimes flashpacking isn’t an option. Perhaps the economy’s got you down and you can only afford budget accommodations for this year’s vacation. Maybe you’re planning on going far off the beaten track and there’re slim pickings. The question du jour is can you fake flashpacking?

In my line of work you often have to stay in some pretty wretched places, including where I was last week – a $7 a night guest house, away from the usual tourist haunts somewhere in Laos. The general idea with faking flashpacking is to trick your brain into thinking you’re “in the wild” à la Meryl Streep in Out of Africa . As opposed to “in the wild” à la Lord of the Flies. Speaking of flies…

Meet the Mombasa Defender – Mosquito nets are good for more than just mosquitos. Roaches, lizards, and even rats are deterred by them, which means sounder sleep for you. So try to forget the roaches and pretend you’re actually in Mombasa…

Linens and things – Ditch the sure-to-be-disgusting bed sheets (if there are any) and bring along your own. Up the luxury with a nice, compact, silk sleeping bag. You can find these quite cheap all over Asia, but if you’re headed elsewhere, try making your own or score one online.

Avoid that mildew smell – The best way to trick your brain is through scent. You will not be able to pretend you are anywhere but a dingy, dirty place if that’s what it smells like. Even decent dwellings can smell damp and dank during the rainy season, so I always try to pack scented travel candles. Now crawl under your net in your silk sheets, light some candles, and grab a good book. Pretend it’s luxury and a relief to be staying in a place without internet…

Avoid a gross shower and cold water – Dr. Bronner’s is a fantastic organic/fair trade line of soaps and shampoos. At some eco retreats you might even be asked only use Dr. Bronner’s since it’s completely biodegradable and only vegetable based. The downside? You’ll need substantial waterflow for a good lather and rinse. I tend to travel with wet wipes because you can avoid gross guesthouse showers (or freezing cold water) for a few days and stay perfectly clean. And now I’ve found this ezine article, which explains how to make your own Dr. Bronner’s wet wipes with tea tree and lavender oils! You can make the disposable kind or put the solution in a spray bottle and use it with a quick-dry travel towel. If it’s warm where you’re traveling and there’s some privacy, try washing your hair outside and pretend it’s Robert Redford lathering up your hair with those minty suds on your very own high-altitude coffee plantation in Kenya…

Keep your daily buzz -I love these small french press solutions! Death to Nescafe! There’s no reason to drink that horror or do without your daily fix just because you’re far from café culture. Pick your roast, grind your beans, and pack your tiny caffeine savior. Pretend you’re Meryl Streep’s next door neighbor in Out of Africa and that waking up to a rooster crowing before dawn is worth it because you live right next to a high-altitude coffee plantation in Kenya….

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What’s the best social-networking site for travel?

Travel-related social-networking sites have been mushrooming lately, but are they any good? Many are just smoke screens for advertising, so which ones are the best?

Let’s start with the classics, travelpod and travbuddy…

They created the world’s-greatest-ever travel game for facebook, the Traveler IQ Challenge. Ben played this for weeks on end (out of my facebook profile..refusing to get his own…probably causing most of my friends to wonder why the obsession).

The happy: nicely links photos, video and blogs with a cute little Indiana Jones-esque world map showing your route. Easy for peeps back home to subscribe, message you, and print your blogs (so someone can go read it to grandma).

The sad: You don’t have “friends’” on travelpod. And the layout’s a little bleak.

Another master of social-networking widgets. I have the “Countries Visited Map” and the “Where are you going?” applications on facebook, both of which I find very nifty. I actually wish I could link up everyone I know with the “Where are you going?” app so I could plan to meet people for the weekend when I travel.

The happy: Has almost everything travelpod has and more. You can have friends, write reviews, and even search for travel companions by destination. It will also map your blogs, which is fun. If you blog here, people can link to your stuff on other social-networking sites with those little ‘share’ buttons (could be a positive or a negative, actually).

The sad: I have almost nothing negative to say about travbuddy. I do find the layout a little bleak, yet messy at the same time. But that’s just me insisting that the world be pretty.

On to the wannabes…

For people that that sign up for the unlimited “where u at?” text package on your mobile.

The happy: you can link your trip planning with your previous trip photos, blogs, etc. Usually this requires two different sites.

The sad: Tries to copy too many features that are better left to others (email, sms, and chat). It’s also a little cartoony for my tastes. I mean, why be a world traveler and build up your je ne sais quoi/James Bond mystique only to dash it with too many emoticons?

A nice girly site to start a blog on.

The happy: Simple, simple, simple. Friends can view your map, then easily access your blogs or photos about a certain location. Also, for once a blog with an aesthetic I dig.

The sad: Simple, simple, simple

Aimed at road warriors trying to keep track of other road warriors and business travelers looking for reviews they can trust.

The happy: It tells you where people you know are going. It can be used as an app for other sites like facebook.

The sad: This would be a fantastic app for sites like LinkedIn, but it isn’t… yet.

This one’s still in beta; we’ll see if it lasts. Others (like trip up) haven’t.

The happy: Very destination focused — it provides you with recommendations based on other places you liked. It also has interactive maps where you can move your cursor around to see what other travelers say about a location. TripSay is very useful if you know that you want to go to a particular country or region, but aren’t sure exactly where.

The sad: Gasp, no blog!

The winner? Travbuddy! As soon as they add a feature where you can customize your wallpaper, I’ll join…

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Flashpacking as art?

[With technology progressing so quickly and relentlessly, it's difficult to keep up with each new device/synergy/application/mashup. I'm still getting over the fact that my cell phone has an alarm clock AND a tip calculator in it...]

On the heels of advances like digital cameras that can geotag the locations where photos were taken, and in the heels (literally) of the latest generation of satellite-trackable athletic gear, GPS technology is now edging forward the boundaries of self-expression as well. But before we get into that, flashpackers, let’s catch up a bit.

In the past couple of years, digicam producers have been constantly innovative. It seems like every week, new models are released that up the industry standards for megapixels, zoom, video capture, auto-adjustment, even adorability. One of the more flashpacker-relevant advances is the fusion of digital cameras with global positioning systems. The first devices began to appear a couple years ago; accessories like the Sony GPS-CS1 could sync up with digicams to geotag (or identify GPS coordinates of) locations where photos were taken. The newest generation of cameras includes built-in GPS for geotagging on the fly: the GE E1050 and the upcoming Altek camera.

Moving into the athletic realm, Nike and Apple recently teamed up to give you the Nike + ipod. The Nike ‘+’ shoes have a tiny slot carved out in the heel of the left one, beneath the insert, into which you slide a sensor that communicates wirelessly with your ipod. As you run satellites relay information to the ipod, which displays your pace, distance, and calories burned, all the while continuously tickling your auditory nerve with your chosen workout jams. Pretty amazing.

Out-hustled but not outdone, Adidas has joined forces with a Japanese mobile service provider to counter with the GPS Run, an armband with a pouch that cradles your cell phone, whose function is analogous to the ipod in the above description, except that the phone is GPS-enabled. Strapped to your arm as you scurry about, the phone receives real-time information not only on your pace and distance, but also on your route. Assuming your phone also has mp3 playback, it’s a slight step up from the Nike + ipod, albeit one that’s currently only available in Japan.

OK, so we’ve covered digital cameras with built-in GPS and athletic equipment that communicates with satellites as you move around; where does the titularly promised ‘art’ come in? Here.

“Position art” is a concept created for Nokia’s N82 cellphone marketing campaign — I’m not shilling for Nokia, here, I just think it’s an interesting idea — and its occasionally hilarious, eccentric, self-styled genius mascot, Stavros.

Mating modern mapping technology with the human yens to explore and to create, position art turns human beings into paintbrushes, our movements into brush strokes, the planet into a canvas.

Here are some other examples of position art, some more rudimentary than others. But hey, as with all art, my ‘rudimentary’ might be your ‘devastatingly brilliant’.

To find out how to create position art using an N82, check out this blog.

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Fun in Norway: more ways than one

(continued from last post…)

In researching yesterday’s post, I came across several excellent sites offering adventure trips in Norway. These were a couple of my favorites: Arctic Pathfinder and Sami Adventure (here’s the English version).

Arctic Pathfinder arranges a wide variety of trips — this is the full list — and judging from the website alone, they seem to be the better organized of the two. Here is a sampling of the trips they organize:

  • On August 1, 2008, there will be total solar eclipse visible in nearby northern Greenland. A few days before the event they’ll fly you to Greenland, where you’ll camp out in the wilderness and take an arctic survival course before heading to the eclipse-viewing camp at Cape Morris Jessup. Here you’ll share camp duties with other participants, including a shift on night-watch to guard against prowling polar bears! If you’re not that into the possibility of being devoured — and where’s your sense of adventure?! — they offer some less perilous trips for your consideration, such as…
  • Ever dreamt of spending a handful of subzero Norwegian nights pushing thousands of reindeer across a blank, icy landscape, taking part in a millennia-old tradition with indigenous Laplanders, the Sami people? Of course you have, and you can arrange exactly that here.
  • A stay at a Sami summer camp. Spend a few nights in a lavvu (also lavvo) and learn the ropes (literally) of reindeer herding, followed by a three-day trekking expedition through the national park. Don’t forget your liggeunderlag.

All of these trips are on the expensive side — the cheapest of them costs about $2,500 per person — but hey, for Americans the whole world is heading to the expensive side.

If you’d prefer to tailor a trip for yourself, check out Sami Adventure, which offers reindeer herding, snowmobiling, hunting in the autumn, fishing in the summer, a wintertime three-night stay in a lavvo to see the Northern Lights, whatever you want to do. You can even take part in the World Championships of reindeer roping. The original Norwegian-language website is only partially translated into English, so I had my friend Google work on it: “This is the tours that provide memories for life and hair on the chest for real karfolk.” So there you go.

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