Sunday, September 15, 2013

RTW Trip - Electronics for the 46 Year Old

My Mom's mother, Isabelle, recently died, her mental faculties fully engaged and sparking to the end. She was always a role model for me in terms of moving with the times - of not getting stuck in one particular era, or way of thinking. I will be forever grateful for her legacy, and although I don't believe in an afterlife, it would be nice if she could read this and really understand how much she meant to me.

I have really needed her wisdom over the last few weeks as I've researched and tried to come up with an electronics game plan for my big trip across Sweden, Russia, China, Thailand and Vietnam (and maybe Taiwan).

I am 46 years old, and was not born in the technological era. The first computer I used was when I worked as a secretary for the Director of Admissions at the University of Missouri-Columbia during my freshman year there. That was 1985. It was very large, and had a blue screen. The word processing program was called WordStar, and everything had to be programmed - HTML style. There was also prolific use of function keys.

In my generation, there were no computer centers at University; students didn't own or use them. There weren't even any cell phones yet, unless you were uber-wealthy and had one of those gigantic car phones. I certainly never saw one. I'm not even sure that what we called "walk around phones" had come into the picture yet. We were still all tied to phone lines.

Technology moved fast, I'll give it that. By the time I got to the Gannett Journalism school at UMC two years later, we worked in a lab with Macintosh computers - desktops with huge floppy discs. Five years later, I found that my law school, McGeorge School of Law, UOP, had a computer lab, and was selling desktop Macintosh computers at a discount to incoming first years.

By the time I got to my first law job, we were all equipped with desktop PC's with the Windows operating system, such as it was in 1994. The internet and email started to make its debut in the late 1990's, and I had my first Hotmail account in 1996. It was a younger computer guy at the firm that set it up for me. I don't think my colleagues started in with the email for a few years.

Let's leap forward, past the advent of laptop computers, widespread internet use (first with dial-up; then cable; then routers), cell phones (again, late 1990's), and jump into the present. I have long since given up a desktop computer (my last was in the early 2000's), and use only a laptop. Currently, I have an ASUS with an Intel i5 that runs Windows 7. It's not even three years old, and already is being threatened by the Windows 8 revolution. I think I'll wait to see if 8.2 can fix some of the more horrific bugs until I download the newer version.

I also have an iPhone 4S. I love this phone, and don't need any of the fancier, newer versions. My Kindle Fire is sufficient for my other needs - ebooks and web-surfing, etc. when I'm out and about.

For my trip, though, I don't want to lug my "big" laptop, but my Kindle Fire just isn't enough of a machine to allow me to do some writing, both on-line and off.

And, so, I was off to the races, searching for something in between my laptop and my Kindle. Everyone screamed (well, not really screamed) iPad, iPad. But, I don't use a Mac operating system for anything. I considered changing up my entire way of working within the electronic virtual world, but decided I just didn't want to. I'm a writer, not a visual arts person. I don't need big, fancy Photoshop or video or music making abilities. I just need to be able to use my writers software, Word, and a basic photography editing program.

What else is out there? There are a lot of tablets going around these days. I did research and then went to Best Buy, and got talked into a Microsoft RT tablet. It had my familiar desktop, MS Office, and some neato Windows 8 touch screen app capabilities. But, it wouldn't work with Skype for some reason, and the apps wouldn't connect to Facebook or Twitter - and the FB and Twitter downloaded apps were not interface friendly. It moved slugglishly, and I just wasn't being able to use it effectively. Also, the charger is not a USB type and is specific to the Microsoft RT - I'd have to buy at least one more in case I lost one. I hated it. Now what?

I scrubbed it, returned it and got a mini-laptop: an ASUS Vivo Smart tab. It's working much better - $100 more, but hey, it's what I need for this trip.

Of course, more research hours later, I realized I'd need some accessories. The Vivo Smart tab has a mini-USB, so I needed converters to attach my phone, camera and international internet stick.

I also needed a Bluetooth keyboard.

Also, I'd need an all in one carrying case to protect it on this long journey (I got a cheaper keyboard that has a case + the full case for both the pad and the keyboard for less than buying just the keyboard from ASUS).
Just to be on the safe side, I got a surge protector power strip with an extra USB port.
Then, Laura brought me a little USB stick thing that she says I'll need for internet oversees. I did a little research, and realized it may be helpful, but also, that what I should have is a mini-router so that I can plug in cable internet connections in less than first world countries, as well as boost signals from less than stellar internet networks. The one below fits into your hand!

I have yet to receive all my goodies in the mail - I don't really understand the workings of the router yet - I understand why it will be more than helpful on an intuitive level - but I hope the install onto the Vivo Smart tab isn't an hours long exercise in frustration.

I also have a handy-dandy outlet converter that Laura lent me - it allegedly will transform into any outlet needed. She used it in Iraq and Afghanistan and Germany, so...I'm confident it'll work in Sweden and Moscow, and hopeful that it will be fine in China,Thailand and Vietnam!

I'll have to check back in later with an update on how the install of all this lovely electronic equipment goes...if anyone reading has suggestions, ideas, alternatives, etc., please let me know...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

RTW Trip - Round and Round...

I want to travel everywhere. All over the world. Every continent. As many countries as I can. I want to see all the old and new wonders of the world. I want to go places with such natural beauty that I feel that I'm on a different planet.

Within a week of deciding I was going to do this trip, I came to a crossroads. I had to actually choose a finite itinerary in order to continue planning. At that point, I almost resorted to dropping slips of paper into a bowl with country names on them and just picking at random.

Eventually, I came up with my first "firm" itinerary. I was going to go from January to March:  Puerto Rico, Columbia, Peru, New Zealand, Bali, and Vietnam. I discovered this was going to be more costly than anticipated, and the weather situation wasn't good for half of the countries. So, I decided to divide my trip into two parts.

My second "firm" itinerary was 1) Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Burma/Myanmar and Southern India in October and November; and 2) Barcelona, Morocco, Istanbul, and Greece in April and May.

And then, my friend Kelly decided that Thailand would be a good place to celebrate her big Five-Oh. Of course, I totally agree. So, I changed the dates of my first trip to December and January, and still planned on making the European trip in Spring 2014.

I then read a comment on a travel blog about the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian train trips. The first brings you from Western Europe to Moscow. The second from Moscow to Beijing.

I love to travel by train. I took a lot of trains in Europe in 1991, and then a lot more in India in 2006. Also, I'm a weirdo who thinks the Oakland to Sacramento Amtrak is fun just to ride, forth and back.

More research ensued. Taking these trains would mean two additional Visas - Russia and China. China is like Vietnam. Paperwork and money, and trips to the Consulates. Russia, on the other hand, requires a letter of "invitation" before you even get to the rest of the paperwork and the Consulate. They all cost $100. Ugh. So, should I or shouldn't I?

I should.

Then, I realized I'd have to get a Visa for Belarus -- unless I went through Scandinavia. Hmmm...

I am seriously considering one trip, about 10 weeks, that looks something like this:  Stockholm to St. Petersburg, Russia via St. Peterline cruiseline; St. Petersburg to Moscow, Russia via Trans-Siberian train; Moscow to Beijing, China via Trans-Mongolian train; Beijing to Taipei (Dharma Drum Mountain school/monastery); Taipei to Bangkok, Thailand (Happy Birthday, Kelly!); Thailand (not sure from where yet) to Hanoi, Vietnam; Vietnam (not sure from where yet) to the good ole' USA.

I'd be happy to hear from anyone reading what they think; if they've been to any of these places and what I shouldn't miss - or should miss!

Happy travels...

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

RTW Trip - Insider Information Trumps Halong Bay

Looks like insider information is going to trump my google dreams...

My girlfriend Laura has a friend from high school (they were the first boy and girlfriend of the same girl!) who lives in Vietnam. We finally connected, and he tells me that Halong Bay has become infested with tourists and grime. I'm so disappointed it sort of hurts.

On the other hand, he loves Hanoi, as tough and gritty a city as it is, so I think I'll still land there. Sapa and Mau Chai are other destinations he mentioned. Chris is also considering more ideas as he sips his coffee and eats his oatmeal cookie.  When I wake up in the morning, I hope to have a new email with some fresh ideas.

I don't know who reads these entries - 100 people did today. I'm wondering if any of you care to comment on Vietnam!? Thailand!? Burma/Myanmar!? Taiwan!?

Happy journeys...

RTW Trip - Pesky Details

The pesky details!  This is a more technical sort of blog entry - maybe for those others out there traveling to look at, comment on if they so choose.

There are many details to work out for all of this travel, and I started sifting through them this morning. I sent in my passport for renewal (Priority Mail there; overnighted back to me.) I also bought extra passport pictures in case I need them for Visa issues (Burma for example).

I went to REI and tried on backpacks for almost 2 hours. I fell in love with and bought an Osprey Aura 50 backpack (one of the cheaper ones, thank goodness!) and a Gregory Miwok 18 daypack (expensive, but wow!).

I found on-line some other necessaries (I know from my 2 months in India in 2006): 3-in-1 hiking pants (zip off to make Capri's and shorts); good hiking shoes; lightweight raincoat; thin wool hiking socks (splurge on socks, avoid bandaids/anti-biotic cream for nasty blisters); luggage locks; backpack rain cover/duffel bag combination thingy; Lonely Planet guides; and some packing ziplocs (huge ziplocs with air vent that you roll up and make clothes flatten out).

The front costs are not negligible if you have to buy this sort of stuff. I had about 1/2 of it, but it got "lost" in the divorce. Another opportunity for some dharma practice in equanimity:

Next up? I need to finalize my destination countries and research Visa requirements. Taiwan is easy - there are none. I know I can get a Visa for Burma at the Bangkok American embassy in three days as long as I have an extra passport photo. That leaves Vietnam and Thailand. Also, I want to have the address and directions from my first hostel/hotel/guest house to the American embassy in all countries lined up before I go.

Then, there's all the medical stuff. I have to go to Kaiser and see how many shots I'll need (had a bunch in 2006). These may include Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Meningitis, Yellow Fever, Tetanus booster, Typhoid/Diphtheria, MMR booster (measles, mumps and rubella) and Polio. There are also country specific shots that I have to ask my doctor about - hope I don't have to do ALL of these again!

I also have to put together my basic first aid supplies. I'll need to get my personal prescriptions re-filled, and for bacterial dysentery, a 7 to 10 day prescription for Ciprofloxacine (they gave me three days last time and it was so not enough); and a Z-pac for Cipro resistant strains. I bought Cipro over the counter in India (more like, out of the stall); I wonder if this can be done in Asia as well...?

Here is my over the counter first-aid supply list:

a.   NSAI
b.   anti-biotic cream and powder
c.   burn gel
d.   Dicloflenac (anti inflammatory cream)
e.   Metronidazole (giardia or ameobic dysentery)
f.   Immodium (for long bus trips)
g.   benedryl
h.   band-aids
i.   matches
j.   sewing kit
k.   Moleskin and/or 2nd Skin for blisters
l.   Charcoal tablets for your stomach (to help absorb the bad stuff after a bout of food poisoning)
m.   Oral rehydration salts
n.   Diflucan (for the ladies)
o.   Anti-mozzie spray plus 100% DEET (for spraying drains in showers/sinks)
p.   Sterile syringes
q.   Alcohol wipes
r.   Tweezers
s.   anti-bacteria gel

That's where I am today...

RTW Trip Planning

I've come a little further in the planning of my big round the world adventure. It's a lot of work. I know, I know, poor me, right!? Well, it's all exciting and interesting, even the pesky details. And, a lot of work.

Here are my tentative itineraries: November/December in Taiwan-Vietnam-Thailand-Burma.  April and May in Barcelona-Morocco-Istanbul-Greece.

I have great friends, and I'd love to travel with them. However, most of them have 9 to 5 jobs and can't do it, including my girlfriend, Laura. A few might be able to join me en route, though! My friend Kelly is turning 50 in December, so she's trying to finagle a trip to meet me in Thailand or Vietnam for some diving. That would be so much fun! I'm also trying to convince my friend Jennifer to meet me in Greece for a little sun and blue water (and a little history!).

Here's a picture of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Isn't it amazing!? Ha Long Bay sealed the deal for me about going to Vietnam.

There are also historical/political reasons for visiting Vietnam - at least, for this American. I grew up in the Vietnam "conflict" era, and would like to visit a country that I've heard and seen so much of over the last 46 years. In fact, my Uncle David (my Dad's sister Jane's significant other of 30+ years) is a Vietnam vet and has a LOT to say about his experience there.

Also, Laura did her senior thesis in college (Anthropology major) on the Hmong people, and would very much like something made by the Hmong.
Thanks to for this picture of a Hmong woman and her

A note about airfare:  I decided to split the trip up when I realized that with some research and advance planning, I can buy separate airfare for each location cheaper than buying a RTW (round the world) ticket. I'll have more flexibility, and can purchase on the spot vs. being stuck to a schedule. Also, the months I chose hit an optimum weather vs. too many tourists balance. I couldn't do that with a RTW ticket - I'd end up somewhere in the worst weather.

Thanks to Laura for sending me a link to Easy Jet - inexpensive airfare in Europe. If you can find a cheap round trip to a larger destination in Europe, then you can fly easily throughout Europe - including Morocco.

Intra-Asia travel can be accomplished with Malaysia Air and Tigerair/Mandalay - both have good safety records, and both relatively inexpensive. San Francisco to Taiwan is an easy ticket to find as well. it's time for the pesky details...