travel essentials

Travelling can be a lot of things- inspiring, rejuvenating, relaxing, an escape, an experience, an adventure etc. It can be a lot of good things. But of course it comes with its own set of baggage and hassles. Crowded airport terminals, long flights, noisy flight neighbours, changes in temperature on flight and in terminal, dealing with natives from a country who seemingly don’t communicate in English or choose not to etc. So as with everything else travel has its pros and cons. What you can do to ensure that the tilt is heavily on the positives as your take away from your holiday or vacation is plan ahead for these hassles and problems and try to minimize them as much as possible. Obviously you can’t eliminate them entirely but mitigation can do wonders. Here is a list of things which can help in various phases of travel or well at least makes my list anyway.

Travel Wallet / Card Holders

A travel wallet can be one of the most essential, time saving and hassle free items on your list. Avoid digging through your bag to search for the frequent flyer card, passport, boarding ticket and any other xyz item. Pick up a special cardholder to hold all the essential cards or documents you will need at the airport (frequent flier card, credit card, ID). Yes you might come off as a little bit of an organization nut or a control freak but you’ll be a lot less likely to misplace an important card in the rush to make your flight.

Smartphones

Not because they are funky. Not because everyone else has them. Not because they are the status quo. Not for anything else but the pure fact that smart phones have evolved into being an essential part of our overly technologically oriented lives. Love them or hate them you will feel more and more that they are way too useful to simply ignore. Especially if you belong to the working members of the society. And just as one would expect these little devils can be life savers for travelling. Music gaming or reading to kill the time on a long flight or a long transit at an airport. Alarms and reminders to store all important events, flight/tour/show times etc. Many apps that can help you on your travel journey with essential things – covered separately ahead.

Translation Apps

You can research and download whichever translation app you prefer but this is a miracle worker and a life saver. That’s right it is both those. Imagine going to a place like Beijing, China. If you didn’t have an idea of exactly how bad the communication barrier is like I did’t then trust me you would want to avoid the culture shock. People simply do not speak any English. It is very difficult and rare to find someone who would speak in somewhat English let alone fluently. In such a conundrum translation apps are essential. In the old days you could probably see from TV shows and movies etc people carrying around a language to language dictionary in their hands and frantically searching for the required word or phrase. Well this is essentially that only without the searching and franticness. All you have to do is type or speak into the app and viola translation will be done. Google Translate is in my humble opinion the best one out there. Covers a vast array of languages and has an easy to use interface. The translation can be played via audio as well making the entire experience more convenient.

Map Apps

I believe in exploring cities on foot. Whenever and wherever possible I would love to just walk around, take the local tube or taxi and just feel the city on my own. Embrace all that it has to offer from market places to malls to restaurants to activity places. I remember doing that through the various places and markets in London and also in Singapore. Really good experience. What you need to make this all the more better is a map. Download a map app for your phone which is updated and clearly has all the main places marked on it. Your location is clearly visible on it and will make it easier for you to chalk out directions on where you want to go. Again Google would top this list for maps as well. Some places have city specific map apps which also come with transport updates and guides on how to get to where (listing what transport you can take with timings and updates on whether a road might be closed and diversions etc).

Four Square

This app would be really helpful in cities or countries where people are high on technology and the social media. You want to go exploring on your own but don’t know which places are good and what to have at a particular restaurant? Well four square is the collective answer to that. It is a social media platform which guides you to the places around you giving complete ratings along with user reviews. The reviews can be really helpful. They cover almost everything that can be seen on the map from dining places to cinemas to book stores to malls to stations etc. Reviews and helpful tips can be found posted by other users which can definitely be helpful at any time. And you can return the favour by leaving reviews and tips of your own for other lost souls such as yourself.

Ear Plugs

No – they aren’t just for the ear pain you feel when landing and taking off in the aircraft. And they aren’t just for swimming or your beach visits because you can’t stand water in your ears. They are also amazing to get you through those troubled times when there may be a case of cranky toddlers, infants and small children who are wailing or crying or basically going hyper. Help yourself stay sane with these, just plug them in and block out the unnecessary noise.

DSLR

You might not be into photography. You might have a smart phone with a real nice camera in it. But believe me especially given the ease of use and competitive prices you simply must not travel without a DSLR. Photography is one of the best ways of grabbing the memories and experiences you have on travel outside of your own mind. Over clicking can be a problem but that is something you can control. But having a DSLR means you can capture that perfect sunset on the beach in Langkawi or the big 5 on safari at the Kruger National Park in Johannesburg with brilliance. The picture quality will be fantastic and you can use them to make copies and frame them later on as well to cap off your memorable times from your trips. All you need really is a basic lens or two and you are all set. The DSLR will help you do the rest. A picture is worth a thousand words after all.

Multi-Plug Adapter

Ever reached your destination only to find out that the hotel you are staying at doesn’t have a matching adapter or electrical socket for your phone charger, laptop, shaver or pretty much any other device that you carry with you for your travels? The answer to that long question is probably yes. It happened with me in Sri Lanka. Beautiful hotel in Negombo the day I landed. Turned out the entire country was on a 3 pin socket system and my phone charger, laptop charger and camera charger all had different plugs. Would have been less hassle free if I had known in advance and had just packed a multi-plug adapter from home!

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Of Social Media

I came across this cartoon joke once regarding the various social media forums (Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+). It puts all these different social media forums in the sort of light where the entire domain of online networking through one of these is non-serious and non-sensible activity. I for one am a big fan of social media. Of these different channels or forums of staying on the grid, staying connected and having the ability to share happy,significant or generally the kind of moments or things that you would want to with family and friends. Or in the case of linked in your professional profile with as many people you can because you never know who might see it and where the next opportunity might pop up from. Facebook is such a great way to stay in touch with family and friends with whom you might not be able to otherwise. At least not in this day and age where as it is life has become fast paced and lost in the world of concrete and corporate slavery. In the old days I think people may have taken the pains to write someone a letter. That advanced to emails. And now facebook has made it even more easier. Share and stay up to date. Twitter has made it possible to just stay in touch with the latest happenings whether it is the breaking news or the latest talk of the twitterati. Instagram is a wonderful app for people with an appetite for taking pictures and sharing them with the public at large (I for one think it should be limited to pictures which aren’t really personal but more towards the shokia photography element). Foursquare to be honest I can’t really vouch for .. at least not in Pakistan. I have twice started using foursquare and lost interest and stopped using it. The thing is I don’t really feel the need to check in to every place and just doing so for points and becoming the mayor without any of the benefits or discounts or offers to be availed in doing so loses its charm after a little while. I mean what’s the point. I know it is a growing app especially in the more tech savvy markets where there are actual discounts and offers up for grabs but not the case here.. as yet. Google+ is just a failed copy of facebook. You have one and chances are 90% of the people who read this blog would have a facebook account- then you don’t really need the other. There is no difference except maybe in the way it is presented. And to be honest I am so used to facebook now that Google+ is a little annoying to try and sit down and understand.

LinkedIn is a fantastic website for professional networking and the best part is that the fine people at LinkedIn are doing their best to keep it that and not let it stray into becoming another socializing forum. It has still not caught on in Pakistan to its full potential quite yet but fingers crossed that it will soon enough.

I know people who have there misgivings over social media being well not private enough or fears that it can get hacked and anybody can get your information. My view is that if you fully understand how to maintain your privacy settings then you are good to go. As far as the hacking bit goes.. well then you might as well become a hermit and go completely off line because the same people can also have the capability of hacking your email! And if facebook or LinkedIn is using my data for making various products being marketed to me better or more appealing then so be it. I am perfectly ok with that (yes I am a marketer by profession myself and that’s probably also a reason I am saying I am ok with it). As long as it is not being used for any negative purposes I don’t have an issue. And no I don’t think there is any point in buying into conspiracy or hermit like theories that Facebook or Google or the fine people at LinkedIn will be using the data for negative purposes.

There is also this other argument that people have become so engrossed with staying connected online especially with the advent of smart phones that the social interactions in person have gone down. Or that people have become prone to constantly be glued to their smartphones and not really develop a human connect. Well to be honest this argument I can’t deny. There is definitely a case of people being too engrossed in the smart phones. Facebook, Whatsapp, BB Messenger etc all being available on your phones also means that regardless of whether you are sitting with people in person you are bound to be constantly fiddling and checking your phone. That is definitely a negative and well should be curbed by the individuals themselves. There is nothing more important then making human contact with people and not just online contact.

Anyways .. kudos to social media for its positives. Cheers and enjoy what seems to be a soggy night in Karachi (yep .. its raining like cats and dogs at the time of this blog being posted).