Tag Archives: Arles

Travel Technology for Late Adopters

In our last post, “Trip Technology Meltdown”, we left Paul cooling his fevered brow in the barge cabin, wondering how he might rescue his relationship with the wireless age … not to mention with Cheryl.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, home of the world-famous Côtes du Rhône wine - and a pleasant bike ride from Avignon

Châteauneuf-du-Pape, home of world-famous Côtes du Rhône wine – and a pleasant cycle from Avignon

Evening drinks in an open-air bar in the old Roman Forum at Arles took care of the more important concern.  How to make wireless technology serve us without becoming slaves to its incessant demands is an ongoing exercise.  We hate it when interruptions from cyberspace keep us – or those we’re with – from being fully present to the joys and adventures of travel.  Every device we take with us adds to luggage weight – as well as increasing potential worry over loss or theft.  Traveling light and cheap has considerable advantages.

We’ve been using the Internet extensively to plan and research our travel for the past 15 years.  However, only recently have we counted on mobile devices on our travels.  In the past five years, we’ve rarely had a problem finding free WiFi during our time in Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean.  Payphones are another matter.

Here’s our current “Travel Technology for Late Adopters”.

  • Email: even before we had any mobile devices, we found it worthwhile to maintain a special email account for holiday travel only.  That way we can stay in touch with those we need to, and not be distracted by all the noise from our non-traveling lives.  With tiny mobile devices, we find this helps us spot what’s important.  We give out our travel email address sparingly – not even the spammers have it!
  • Tablet:  Cheryl bought herself at 10” ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime Android tablet about 18 months ago.  It’s adequate for on-the-road Internet research.  She also has a docking keyboard – in future, we may take it with us when we travel: the lack of a real keyboard was one of my meltdown triggers while in Arles.  As 80 wpm touch typists, we both have low tolerance for hunt-and-peck.  Before the tablet, we had an Apple iPod Touch, received as a gift.  While it was okay for occasional email, we quickly found the small screen to be too cumbersome for on-the-road researching.  (We’ll write about our essential travel apps and web sites in a future post.)

    Ruins of the Pope's "new castle" at Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

    Ruins of the Pope’s “new castle” at Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

  • Folding reading glasses:  I’ve had a pair like this for several years – one of the most useful pieces of technology I own for travel – makes the tablet or iPod or French menus usable!  Is this technology, you ask?  Yup, “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.”  (Another piece of indispensable travel technology is a key-chain battery holder for hearing aid batteries!  I finally stopped running out of batteries on the road.  Of course, Paul’s modern hearing aids are lead-edge technology, worth more than the rest of this list put together.  Bluetooth-enabled, I think they anticipate what’s going to be said.  Real-time language translation can’t be far behind.  Even now, they make it possible to understand a wide variety of voices and accents.)
  • Skype:  we’ve had good success with skype on the tablet and the iPod, just using a basic microphone.  We’ve used more skype-to-phone time than the free skype-to-skype while on the road, so keeping some phone credits in the account with “auto-recharge” is important.  That way we can easily phone home, or even make cheap local calls when we have to.
  • Digital camera: while most tablets and cellphones have built in cameras these days, we still like the feel of a real focusing camera with F-stops, wide-angle lens, and good optical zoom.  We currently use a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 that’s a few years old.  Taking the tablet’s docking keyboard will also make it possible to upload photos directly from the camera’s SD card – something we currently struggle with.

In our next post, we’ll mention a few mobile technologies we’re considering to make longer travel easier, and perhaps less expensive.  As always, we’ll be asking ourselves the “appropriate technology” questions:

  • An Olivetan friar in Europe: "Sorry!  Didn't recognize Your ringtone!"

    An Olivetan friar in Europe: “Sorry! Didn’t recognize Your ringtone!”

    Is this new gadget really going to enhance the quality of our experience?  Take a deep breath and a “time out” – now, do we still think so?  Ah, come on, really!?

  • What’s the cost?  In up-front money?  Ongoing payments?  Disposal costs?  Security concerns and risk?  Baggage weight?  In time?  In unwanted distractions and information clutter?
  • Are the costs really worth it?  Once the novelty has worn off?  After next year’s model comes out?
  • Can we replace another device rather than just adding one more – and a bigger bag to carry them all in?

What is your indispensable travel technology?  How do you keep information overload at bay and manage the balance between instant access and over-accessibility?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Trip Technology Meltdown

“And they all moved away from me on the bench…”  Alice’s Restaurant it was not, but rather the dining room on a Rhône river barge.  Through the haze of my technology-induced rage, I sensed our cycling shipmates looking sideways at me.  Cheryl urged me down into the cabin.  As Betsy Talbot of MarriedWithLuggage.com has advised, when traveling as a couple, only one partner at a time can have a meltdown.  This one was mine.

For the past half hour, I’d been fighting Cheryl’s tablet computer, trying to navigate the website of the French national railway SCNF to find a train stop closer to some suburb of Avignon that I’d never heard of.  The technology was winning.  Apart from my not knowing how to approach the route question, the web site kept timing out, and my fingers were struggling with the touch-screen keypad.

Two of our cycling group ponder the Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard.

Two of our cycling group ponder the Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard, a short distance from Arles.

The sun was now warming our cycling days, but the rains of earlier in the week had now swollen the Rhône to the point where authorities had halted all passenger boats.  Our accommodation and transport were stuck in Arles – a wonderful place to be stuck, but stuck nonetheless.  A day and a half later, our most generous Couchsurfing hosts from the Avignon area had promised to meet us at the pier near the Phillipe-le-Bel tower.  Now we had to do something involving trains instead of ships, and I was determined not to make it their problem to plan our route change or to drive even farther to pick us up.  Hence my doomed attempt to find a train station closer to their home.  I felt I had to do it quickly, since our only communication channel was the Couchsurfing website, and time was running out

Cheryl in her current role as the non-meltdown partner suggested I settle for telling our hosts we’d be at the Avignon main station and leave it to them to suggest any alternative.  Obviously, she was right.  In the end, that’s just what happened.  They met us at the station entrance, and we enjoyed two wonderful days of French food and conversation – relaxing and sightseeing in Provence with two wonderful people.

The Roman amphitheater in Arles is now used for Provence-style "bloodless" bullfights.

The Roman amphitheater in Arles is now used for Provence-style “bloodless” bullfights.

The episode with the tablet started us thinking it was time to update our relationship to technology.  If we were to be traveling longer and more often, we would need this kind of last minute planning to be easier.  There are better uses for travel meltdowns.

Having written my first computer program in the late 60s – and still coaxing computers for a living – I should be versed in all the latest gadgets.  However, with Cheryl and me both in long computer careers, we’d made a conscious decision to govern the rate at which electronics entered our family life.  We never had cable TV and we still don’t.  For years, the family had a “screen-free” day every weekend.  We resisted cellphones until we could no longer find a payphone, and even now, we often carry them switched off.  We don’t value being contactable 7×24.  We spent many summer holidays with our boys at an off-grid island cottage, and I left “Search and Rescue” as my contact info for the office.  It worked for us!  You might call us Technology Late Adopters – and only when we think the technology in question enhances our quality of life.

Meanwhile, technology for travel was undergoing a transformation.  In the 70s, the only technology I needed was how to find the metal fiches for the payphones in Europe or South America.  When our family traveled in Costa Rica for half a year in 2000, spending an hour a week in a crowded and sluggish Internet cafe was about it.  Asking directions used to be one way to interact with residents with traveling, and maybe practice some Spanish.  On recent trips, however, people just started telling us to Google it. “No lo sé. Búscalo en Google.”

Our Couchsurfing hosts explained that the dancing was under not on the Pont d'Avignon.

The famous Pont d’Avignon.  Our Couchsurfing hosts explained that the dancing was under not on the bridge.

We’ve been using the Internet extensively to plan and research our travel for the past 15 years, but it looked like it was time to consciously accelerate our entry into the wireless age.  Marital harmony required it.

(In our second half of this post, “Travel Technology for Late Adopters”, we’ll talk about the wireless technology that works for us, while we continue the good fight against the growing tendency to be “over-available”.)