Ha Long Bay boat sinking

This morning I was surprised and saddened to see news from Vietnam that a tourist boat had sunk in Ha Long Bay.

Back in 2005 I took a very similar trip and it was a highlight of my visit to Vietnam.

evening in Ha Long Bay

The story is really horrible.  The boat sank – fast – at about 5am so most of the vacationers were asleep in their beds.  There were no rough seas, there was land (and other tourist boats) nearby.  This was an easily survivable accident had it happened at any other time of the day.

I’ve often read about tragedies like these around the world and wondered how close I’ve been to something like this.  When I think about these incidents, I always assume that I’ll be able to survive – that I have the right instincts that will show me the way (kind of akin to George knocking over the grandmother while running from the apt. fire in that Seinfeld episode, truth be told).  But an accident like this – in the middle of the night – it’s kind of hard to be ready for something like this.

Photos from Greece

I’m getting around to uploading photos from our trip to Greece.

The first batch is from the beginning of our trip – around the Southern coast of Crete.

This photo was taken during our stay in Plakias, a small touristy town surrounded by a nice large bay on one side and mountains on the other.

We saw a few rain showers during our stay in Plakias but all in all the weather was really nice – warm enough to swim but cool enough to enjoy walking around.  More often than not, storm clouds like this would just threaten without really producing any rain.

In the coming days I’ll be posting pics from the rest of our trip including Northern Crete and Athens.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of traveling with electronics

I just returned from a couple of weeks in Greece: Crete and Athens.

The trip was great and I’ll post some photos soon but I wanted to briefly mention what went well (and what didn’t) with the electronics on the trip.

The Good?

I left my laptop behind.  How awesome not to carry that weight.  A smartphone works totally fine for keeping in touch. The only need I’d have for a laptop is backing up and processing photos.  Backing up I can do with a dedicated backup unit (that’s the size of a small portable hard drive). Processing photos can wait until I get home. For this trip, Meghan brought her laptop so I backed my photos up to that.  I think in the future she won’t be bringing along the laptop either.

Another good?  USB charging.  It’s so nice being able to use USB cables to charge.  It’s nice to be able to carry around a couple of small USB cables and charge so many things.  What’s not good?  Having dedicated chargers for the different camera batteries, headphones, iPhone, etc.,

Another?  Public Wifi.  Not only the usual cafes, etc., but Athens provides a few locations throughout town with publicly provided Wifi.  Nice!

The Bad?

My iPhone is unlocked so I brought that along and purchased a Vodafone SIM card.  While I was able to make a call or two, I couldn’t for the life of me get anything else to work.  The Greek text messages that Vodafone sent didn’t help!  On previous trips I either purchased a SIM card in a language I could understand or I had an international AT&T plan. Purchasing a local SIM is the way to go, but dealing with the language barrier will be tough.  In retrospect, I could have looked into buying a SIM on the layover in Germany – at least I could have better understood the language..

Another bad, my iPhone is painfully slow.  I have the 3G (not the 3Gs) and with the latest OS installed it’s just awful to use.  Especially compared to my newer phone.

One more bad?  Many of the places we stayed didn’t have WiFi (or only had it in the lobby area).  This was a minor nuisance. We could plug the laptop into the ethernet connection but my smartphone was out of luck.  I was surprised by the lack of embrace for Wifi.

The Ugly?

I decided to download a free app on the iPhone (while in a public square, connected to free public wifi).  What an awful experience.  For a free app (in a controlled app store) I had to enter my password only to learn that my credit card info needed to be up-to-date (I didn’t have a salutation and my expiration date was old).  Despite the fact that I have credit available in my iTunes account and DESPITE the fact that I was trying to access a FREE app I had to update my credit card information before I could proceed.


People can complain about the Android app store all they want but I find the experience to be SO MUCH BETTER than the iPhone app store.

Packing tip: bring some older clothes

One of the tricks that I use when packing for a trip is I always plan on bringing some beat up clothes.

These are the items that are destined for the rag pile (or trash): older socks, boxers, t-shirts are prime but so are shirts I’m no longer crazy about or that might have a little stain.

It’s kind of funny to me to think of folks who go out and purchase new items for an upcoming trip.  I essentially am doing the exact opposite.

The reason for bringing these older items along is that they only make a 1-way trip.

As the trip proceeds, I simply throw these clothes out once they’ve been worn.  My bag gets lighter (or more accurately, gets more space for items I might purchase along the way) and I know I’m putting to good use items which otherwise would have just hit the trash a little earlier.

I do bring with me some stained items that I would no longer feel comfortable wearing to work, etc., but it’s a fine line to draw not to bring anything that would be obviously gross or flawed.

And of course I bring along enough clean, newer items to cover all of the necessary outings.

But I also find that part of the enjoyment of a trip can be picking up clothing along the way – to cover for when you might not have exactly what you need.  It not only creates an event that’s not just sightseeing, it allows you to interact a little more like a local and it gives you something to remember the trip by.

And of course, I’ve got plenty of room in my bag to store those items for the trip home.

packing for the trip

Whenever I get ready to embark on the next trip, deciding what to bring always floats around the back of my mind during the weeks leading up to the departure.

Yes, that’s right – weeks.

I’ve got this iterative process that I go through where I think about what I’m going to be doing, what I’ll need and then what I can leave behind to make my bag lighter.  That process repeats and repeats at first in my head, and then in piles of stuff on the floor, until it eventually comes time to pack and leave.

There are a few items that I’ll always bring on any trip – belt, hat, toothbrush, etc., and there are others that are pretty trip-specific – hiking boots, down jacket, tent, zoom lens, etc.,  These are the easy things.  Over the years I’ve taken enough trips to know what I want to bring and what I want to leave behind.  The difficulty is always in the middle – the big pile of junk that I thought I might like to have along, just in case… And usually, this is the stuff that I’ve just learned to leave at home.

So in reality, I usually have a good idea of what 90% of what I’ll bring with me is.  And all I have to figure out is the other 10%.  But I’ll still go through the exercise of thinking through all of the options, weighing their value (and valuing their weight).

For this upcoming trip, as with many, where I’ll spend a good amount of time is thinking through which photo equipment I’ll bring with me.  Will I haul the tripod?  Which lenses?  A second camera body?  And in reality, the computer goes in the ‘photo equipment’ category, since the primary reason I’d bring a laptop would be to backup and review photos.

Ultimately, all of this, the whole thought process, the exercise of thinking about what to pack, building and tearing down piles – it’s a form of getting excited for the upcoming adventure and extending the enjoyment of the trip to well before I’ll depart (and processing the photos and posting them after the fact is a way to extend the enjoyment after returning).