Podcast #115 — A Decade of TravelCommons

Been on Duty for 10 Years...

Been on Duty for 10 Years…

Hard to believe that I’ve been prattling along for 10 years. Looking back, I see that I’ve become less of a TSA-hater, but am still pretty clear-eyed about the tediousness of the frequent travel experience. It’s tough to pack 10 years into a 30-min episode, but I think I’ve cherry-picked some good snippets. Before that, I talk about spending Semana Santa (Holy Week) in southern Spain and “smart luggage.” The listener mailbag continues the conversation about mass transit to airports. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.

Here are the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #115:

    • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
    • Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL, so no video “uncut” version like I did last episode from New Orleans. No maid service in the TravelCommons studio to tidy up before the podcast.
    • We’re deep in the bipolar weather roller coaster that is Spring in the Midwest — 70’s one day, 40’s the next; bright sun at 10 in the morning, pissing down rain at noon. Which is as good an explanation as any why Chicago’s two airports, O’Hare and Midway, own the basement of the DOT’s on-time departures ranking.
    • My travel has been a bit more interesting since the last episode. Did a few of my normal runs down to New Orleans, but broke the pattern a bit with travel to Denver and Charlotte. And even one of the runs down to New Orleans broke the usual down-Monday-back-Thursday routine. At the beginning of April, I flew down Thursday night with my wife and daughter, met up with friends for the French Quarter Fest weekend. It’s one of my favorite music festivals. Free music from local bands; stages and food stands spread around the Quarter — a bit lower key than the 460,000 people who descended on the Fair Grounds for Jazz Fest a few weeks back.
    • The big trip, though, was a couple of weeks prior to that when we went to Andalucia — southern Spain — for Spring Break and found ourselves there during Semana Santa — Holy Week. Cordoba, Granada, Sevilla, the hill town of Ronda. Processions (plural) almost every night. My wife said it was like the Tour de France for Catholics. And as a Catholic, I couldn’t argue — it was pretty full contact. I posted a Vine video of a Granada procession to my Twitter feed and then a couple of minutes of GoPro footage from the last Holy Thursday procession in Sevilla on the TravelCommons Facebook page and YouTube channel. It was close to midnight, after which I think they took an hour break and then started up the Good Friday processions. We went to bed. When we went out the next morning around 8:30 to grab some breakfast — our usual of cafe con leche and tomato bread topped with jamón iberico — the restaurant was jammed with people who just finished a procession. It just kept going.
  • And so do we. I drained my United account for a trip next month to Japan, and then in September, we’re heading over to Scotland so my daughter can start at the University of St Andrews, so I should have enough content to keep TravelCommons rolling into an 11th year.
  • Bridge Music — All Around by Jel

Following Up

  • Before we get into the meat of things, just a quick pointer to let everyone know that TravelCommons is available on the Stitcher radio smartphone app as well as on SoundCloud. Since iTunes started handling podcasts — June 2005, right around episodes 6 or 7 — it dominated the TravelCommons download stats. Now it’s only responsible for a third of the downloads.
  • Rummaging through the mailbag…
  • Back last November in episode 112, Dan Gradwohl sent me a pointer to the website To and From The Airport, a collation of airport transit options. In that episode, I talked about reviewing the ORD listing and sending in a few updates. Toward the end of March, I received a note thanking me for my contribution and apologizing for the delay. Whatever issues were happening there now seem to have passed; it appears the site is back to being actively maintained.
  • Tom Brown, a longtime TravelCommons listener, sent a note following up on last episode’s riff on Nate Silver’s 538 blog post about mass transit times to major US airports. He wrote:
    • You noted London as the gold standard of public transport out of the airport. I would put it at bronze at best.  Decaying infrastructure, not so comfortable trains and destination not so friendly to business traveler in London doesn’t help its ranking. Singapore is the best in my opinion with Hong Kong 2nd. Tokyo even ranks above London to me.
  • Tom, thanks for that, expanding our sample size. My past trips thru Hong Kong and Singapore were family vacations – late arrivals from the US, tired kids, too much luggage – and so opted for taxis instead on mass transit. I missed the opportunity to add those trains to my personal sample, but I did end up with one of the wackiest cab rides while in HK. It was kind of a hoarder cab — newspapers filling the trunk, tchotchkes all over the dashboard and hanging from the roof. I don’t know how we got 4 people and 4 bags into that cab. As I mentioned earlier, we’ll be flying in and out of Narita at the back half of June and given the distance and cab fares, we’ll take the Tokyo train at least once.
  • Our Spring Break trip to Andalucia started with a flight into Madrid airport. Our plans had us landing in Madrid, then making the 20-min schlep in from Terminal 4 (could they have put that terminal any further out?) and then heading downtown to catch the high-speed Renfe train to Córdoba. After I booked the tickets on-line (a process made infinitely easier than 2 years ago now that Renfe accepts PayPal) I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across a TripAdvisor post saying that the tickets included a free train ride down to the Puerta Atocha train station. It wasn’t the fastest ride – a local train that made 4-5 stops before Atocha – but it was clean and not beat up. And since we were headed downtown during Friday rush hour, it took the same 30 min that Google Maps estimated for the cab.
  • And continuing on the transit theme, Nick Gassman sent a note about comments I made in episode 111 about the proliferation of pre-paid cards for subway and mass transit systems. Nick says about the London Underground:
    • You can use your own contactless payment card (Visa, Amex etc) without having to buy an Oyster card, and get the same rates. You can register the card if you wish, to track spend.
  • The link to the Tube web page is similar to the Chicago L page — it feels a bit ambiguous, probably because the contactless technology is still a bit young, a bit ambiguous itself. Both London and Chicago say they’ll also work with NFC mobile phones — like the latest Samsung Galaxies, the HTC Ones, and the iPhone 6. I think I’ve just got to get over to an L station and give it a try. But it’s probably not the kind of experiment I want to try and debug during rush hour when there’s a couple hundred hard-core commuters storming the 3-4 tap through gates. Seems like more of a midday or weekend morning thing.
  • Reaching back again to episode 112 where I talked about funding the Indiegogo campaign for the Bluesmart carry-on bag, what they call “The First Smart, Connected Luggage” complete with a smartphone app that acts as a digital lock, a scale, tracks location, and sounds an alarm if your smart bag wanders off. They’ve gotten huge press; they blew thru the funding goal by 3800%. But now they have to deliver the bag. They’ve been doing a good job of pushing out updates and seem to be sticking to their August ship date. Which would be good for them because competitors are starting to move into this space. I tweeted out a link to an Engadget story last week about Samsung and Samsonite partnering up on a line of smart suitcases with functionality that sounds very similar to Bluesmart’s. Then I received a press release in the TravelCommons e-mail box from Planet Traveler announcing a Kickstarter campaign for the Space Case 1 line of smart luggage which will have all the functionality of the Bluesmart bag plus fingerprint unlock and Bluetooth speakers. As if the gate areas aren’t noisy enough.
  • And if you have any thoughts, questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com — you can use your smartphone to record and send in an audio comment; send a Twitter message to mpeacock, or you can post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — La Tra (basephunk mix) by Omar Sosa


A Decade of TravelCommons

  • It was ten  years ago today that I recorded the first T/C podcast in the bathroom of the Wardman Park Marriott in NW Washington, DC
  • [tc1-opening & 1]
  • It was an interesting mix of topics…
    • TSA problems in ORD, LGA and DCA, the first of many TSA rants over the years;
    • The first sighting of a “puffer” security screening machine, don’t know if you ever walked through one of those, but we also talked about their multi-million dollar demise in an episode a some years later;
    • Hungarian roadside prostitutes — a topic that I don’t believe I’ve revisited
  • And it was the first in a long string of what one listener referred to as a “pottycast” — using the tile of hotel bathrooms as a poor man’s reverb chamber
  • [tc74-hotel medley]
  • Listening to that, I now understand why I have lifetime Marriott Platinum status.
  • One of the more noticeable changes over the years has been about the TSA. Early podcasts railed against the TSA — the security theatre, the shoe carnival, liquid bans, and of course, the power trips
  • [tc45-finding tooth powder]
  • But with some much needed customer service training and, most importantly, the introduction of PreCheck, the TSA isn’t the podcast pinata it had been for the first 4-5 years — especially when compared to airport security in places like India
  • [tc109-mall cop, umbrella]
  • Travel technology has been one constant through the TravelCommons decade
  • [tc87-briefcase]
  • [tc91-too much technology]
  • And while I’ve cycled through a number of phones, tablets, and laptops, the Bose noise-cancelling headphones remain the official headphones of the TravelCommons podcast
  • [tc48-bose lust]
  • Food has also been a common theme…
  • [tc97-food]
  • Never one to be accused of being a travel industry cheerleader…
  • [tc92-not-so-upbeat]
  • But I always try, if only partially successfully, to maintain some perspective
  • [t61-zen]


  • Closing music — iTunes link to iconPictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #115
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • Links to 3 prior anniversary episodes
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or audio file, to comments@travelcommons.com or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or post them on our website at travelcommons.com. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in e-mails, Tweets and post comments on the website
  • Bridge music from the IODA Promonet
  • Follow me on Twitter
  • “Like” the TravelCommons fan page on Facebook
  • Direct link to the show
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  1. Thanks for the retrospective – good stuff! Also, this link is broken: “Like” the TravelCommons fan page on Facebook

    Sorry – but broken links freak me out! Safe travels to Japan and Scotland! I’ll be checking out the fan page (argh – broken link) for photos.