7 Essential Apps for Traveling

IMG_4526.jpgOver the last few years, I’ve tried quite a few apps related to different aspects of traveling. And deleted most of them. Currently I have nine apps in my travel folder, seven of which are extremely helpful:

  1. Hopper. This is one of the best apps I have ever used for finding the best airfare deals, and buying tickets straight from the app. Unlike most airfare apps, it starts with the date of travel and shows you the most expensive to the cheapest dates in that month, marked as red, green and yellow!
  2. Airbnb. If you are looking for inexpensive and unique places to stay, or a homestay with a local family, nothing can beat Airbnb. Also great for getting local advice from hosts through the built-in messenger, even before you book.
  3. TripAdvisor. Great to find local local attractions, restaurants and things to do in that city or in cities nearby. Or to read other travellers’ reviews about the suggestions you hear from the locals, and write your reviews to help other travellers.
  4. Google Maps. Indispensable whether you are walking, cycling, on a taxi or even on a public transportation. You know where you are, and where you are going, especially for people with poor navigational skills (like me).
  5. Speak & Translate. The fastest way to communicate to anyone in almost any language. Click, speak in your language, click. Then it repeats in the local language selected! I still have the Google Translate app when I want to practice speaking the local language, or showing the translation to the other person. But I miss the days of communicating just through body language, actions and expression 🙂
  6. PowerPlug. Helps you pack the right plugs for your devices. I don’t carry the bulky universal adapter any more. It also tells you the voltage and frequency for the country you are traveling to, though I don’t know what to do with that.
  7. Currency. Check exchange rates before changing money, or instantly convert local prices to your home currency, and multiple currencies at the same time.

The most recent addition to my travel apps is Travelpod, the online travel journal which I started using to keep all the photos, videos, maps and stories in one place. Needless to say, you need to have a local pre-paid sim with Internet access to make full use of all these apps 🙂  Hope you find this useful. Please share your most useful travel apps too.

10 Reasons You Should Travel Solo at Least Once a Year!

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The first time I wrote about ‘five reasons I travel solo‘ was in August 2012, after my trip to Chenzhou in China. Since then I’ve been blessed with many more solo trips and experienced the endless joys. Earlier this month, I was in Da Nang and Hoi An in Vietnam, for a week, all by myself. I got to experience for the first time…

  • Living on USD20 a day, including accommodation, meals and transport!
  • Riding a scooter, and that too on the right side of the road!
  • Learning to make ‘Vietnamese fish rolls’!
  • Homestay in the middle of rice fields (way different from the B&B above the rice terraces in China)!
  • Taking a tour with a traffic police officer!
  • Starting an online travel journal on TravelPod!

Most of these wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t traveling solo. So here’s my expanded list of benefits, and why you should travel solo at least once a year:

  1. Plan easily. Pick your own dates and destination. The places-to-see on your list are not the same as the places your family or friends want to see. And finding a time that suits everyone is not easy.
  2. Try new things – accommodations, means of travel, food – and get out of your comfort zone.
  3. Have conversations with fellow travelers and locals. You learn a lot more about the people and places when you are on your own.
  4. Be more flexible with your time, destinations and decisions you make. Wake up for sunrise or sleep all day.
  5. Overcome your fears. Whether it’s fear of new places, fear of being on your own or fear of darkness… the more you travel the less you fear.
  6. Gain confidence by handling problems and situations on your own. You take your own risks and learn.
  7. Indulge in whatever you want, without being judged.
  8. Stay within your own budget. No compromises or overspending.
  9. Become a better traveler by observing more. You engage more fully with the people and places when you are on your own.
  10. Get to know yourself better. When you are on your own, it’s easier to listen to your heart and focus your mind. The extended me time is an opportunity to dream, plan, think, and even reflect on your travel experiences.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy traveling with family, friends or groups… solo travel just a different kind of great experience!

PS. One of the most common questions I got asked by fellow travellers and locals: ‘Your wife doesn’t mind your solo travels?‘ And the answer is, one of the reasons we have been so happy with each other for over 30 years is that we accept, understand and appreciate the differences between us. And we allow each other to do our own things. [Thank you, Salma!]

You may view all the photos from the Vietnam trip and the daily journal on TravelPod here, or a selection of photos on Facebook through this link. And more of my travel videos here.

Travelogue: Olango Island

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I have started taking time out to explore new places nearby or around the cities where my work takes me. Yesterday, I had half a day in Cebu before the evening flight back to Hong Kong. There are many islands around Cebu where tourists go on chartered boats for scuba diving, snorkeling, water sports and seafood restaurants. I asked the locals for an island that’s not too far, non-touristy, populated and accessible by public boats. The answer was Olango! But I was warned about bad weather, unreliable boat timings and the risk of getting stranded on the island. That added to the excitement, and I am so glad I went ahead!

Olango was a 40-minute ride on a small boat. There were rickshaws available at the pier to take you around the huge island. On one end is the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary, on the other are beaches and in between is a huge village/town. I insisted to go to the Wildlife Sanctuary through the village, so I got a chance to stop at a local shop for coffee and conversation. At the sanctuary, I found out it was the season to watch migratory birds. There were guides available with powerful telescopes and information about all the birds. It was a beautiful walk up to the bird-watching tower in the middle of the wetland. I was shown Bar-tailed Godwits, Golden Plovers, Rufous-necked Stints, and a few other birds on their winter/summer break from Japan, Korea and China. I also saw Ruddy Turnstones and few kinds of Egrets from amongst the local birds! Continue reading

10 inspiring quotes about travel

  1. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain
  2. “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine
  3. “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
  4. “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” – Lin Yutang
  5. “All travel has its advantages. If the passenger visits better countries, he may learn to improve his own. And if fortune carries him to worse, he may learn to enjoy it.” – Samuel Johnson
  6. “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
  7. “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark
  8. “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
  9. “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes
  10. “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

Which one did you like best? And would you like to share any other inspiring quotes?

[Photo of sunset at the Monkey Temple in Bali, during a 12-hour holiday. Some more amazing photos here.]

Inspiration from traveling…

This is a re-post from March 2010 – Three life lessons from traveling:

Many frequent travelers learn a few ‘tricks of the trade’ and develop certain attitudes that help them deal with the stress of traveling and keep sane. I believe some of these provide useful lessons for life:

  1. Travel light. It’s perhaps the most important advice on traveling. Packing a smaller bag requires planning, discipline and focus on the essentials. It saves time at check-in counters. It’s easier to unpack. Less clutter means better focus, and fewer chances of leaving something behind. You can also move on at short notice. Doesn’t that apply to life too? Whether it’s your desk/desktop, wallet/purse/bag, wardrobe or the house… fewer things mean less clutter, less time wasted on finding stuff, less energy on the maintenance. The same applies to having thousands of ‘friends’ on Facebook, receiving tons of junk mail, maintaining dozens of credit cards… the list goes on. Less is more; lighter the better; quality over quantity.
  2. Be prepared for surprises. You learn during traveling that everything is not in your control, and things don’t always go as planned. Flights can be delayed or cancelled; your special meal onboard is often mixed up; bags don’t always make the connection; hotels can be over-booked; Internet doesn’t always work… And it’s not because the world is conspiring against you and everyone is out to get you. You can accept these situations with calm or fight and argue and get upset. I often remind upset fellow passengers: There are usually three reasons for a flight to be delayed: there’s something wrong with the plane, or the pilot, or the weather. And I am glad they have found out while we are still on the ground. The same applies to life. Despite great intentions and excellent planning, things do go wrong. And we have to learn to distinguish between situations (that can’t be changed) and problems (that can be solved). Unfortunately, so many people waste so much of their time and energy fighting with situations.
  3. Enjoy the moment. Just like the unpleasant surprises, Continue reading

3 Life Lessons from Traveling

This post was inspired during my recent 24-hour journey from Hamza’s place in Cardiff to my home in Hong Kong. Multiple connections combined with various modes of travel always result in exciting surprises. And then the movie, ‘Up in the Air’ provided some more impetus. Many frequent travelers learn a few ‘tricks of the trade’ and develop certain attitudes that help them deal with the stress of traveling and keep sane. And I believe some of these provide useful lessons for life:

  1. Travel light. It’s perhaps the most important advice on traveling. Packing a smaller bag requires planning, discipline and focus on the essentials. It saves time at check-in counters. It’s easier to unpack. Less clutter means better focus, and fewer chances of leaving something behind. You can also move on at short notice. Doesn’t that apply to life too? Whether it’s your desk/desktop, wallet/purse/bag, wardrobe or the house… fewer things mean less clutter, less time wasted on finding stuff, less energy on the maintenance. The same applies to having thousands of ‘friends’ on Facebook, receiving tons of junk mail, maintaining dozens of credit cards… the list goes on. Less is more; lighter the better; quality over quantity.
  2. Be prepared for surprises. You learn during traveling that everything is not in your control, and things don’t always go as planned. Flights can be delayed or cancelled; your special meal onboard is often mixed up; bags don’t always make the connection; hotels can be over-booked; Internet doesn’t always work… And it’s not because the world is conspiring against you and everyone is out to get you. You can accept these situations with calm or fight and argue and get upset. I often remind upset fellow passengers: There are usually three reasons for a flight to be delayed: there’s something wrong with the plane, or the pilot, or the weather. And I am glad they have found out while we are still on the ground. The same applies to life. Despite great intentions and excellent planning, things do go wrong. And we have to learn to distinguish between situations (that can’t be changed) and problems (that can be solved). Unfortunately, so many people waste so much of their time and energy fighting with situations.
  3. Enjoy the moment. Just like the unpleasant surprises, there are often unexpected pleasures in traveling. It can be the most beautiful sunrise over the horizon from your window seat, a divine local meal, an unforgettable encounter with a stranger, and other memorable unplanned experiences. At such moments, you don’t want to continue reading the book or checking your email on the iPhone or responding to an SMS. In an age when electronic communications enable us to be permanently connected to (and distracted by) the virtual world, there’s a thrill in throwing yourself into a single place, a single moment. When you travel, you get to embrace the privilege of witnessing life as it happens before your eyes. This attitude need not be confined to travel. For all the pleasures of the virtual world, there is no substitute for real-life conversations and connections with the people and places around you. Even at home, there’s good reason to unplug from the world and really connect with the people you love.

Do you have any interesting experiences from your travels? Or any tips for life? Please share through comments.

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Taj Samudra Hotel, Colombo – plug in!

Most business travelers carry a notebook computer, mobile phone and a digital camera amongst many other things. Then why is it that most hotels, including five stars and top brands, can’t provide 3-4 power outlets near the writing desk. There are usually only two power outlets hidden under the table and one of them is connected to the table lamp. So I often end up charging my phone and camera by unplugging the TV or the fridge or the standing lamp if I am lucky enough to be able to move them and find the hidden power outlets!

Taj Samudra in Colombo is one of the very few hotels that understand their customers’ needs. When I checked in tonight, not only there was a power extension fitted right above the desk with four outlets, it could take different power plugs! WOW!