Podcast #118 — Danger In the Travel Bubble; Switching Back to Apple

This hotel door could use some work

This hotel door could use some work

A bit less of a random walk than the last episode, we talk about safety, physical safety, when traveling. While we sometimes put ourselves in the midst of dodgy surroundings, we usually feel safe when we retreat back into the “travel bubble” What about when the bubble is no longer safe? Smartphones are the frequent traveler’s most important tool. So when an upgrade to my HTC One killed its usefulness, I found myself heading back to Apple.  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 #118:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL, less than a month since the last episode. There’s a shocker. It’s been one of my lighter travel months. No international travel, no up-and-backs across the US. Indeed, there were a couple of weeks where I didn’t even pack a bag — just did day trips to Detroit and Atlanta. There is something liberating about that — just carrying a briefcase or backpack. I guess that would’ve been the ideal situation to check out Spirit Airlines, but I don’t hate myself that much.
  • No rush to get to the gate for the start of boarding. Stroll up, sit down and then  stay seated while the agent works through the cadence of status boarding groups — really important customers, kinda important customers, fake important customers, and then everyone else. No roller board meant no need for the boarding scrum. I just waited for last call and walked on board. Kinda reminded me of the days when I first started flying when, rather than racing to be first on the plane, we’d see who could be last — how late you could show up and still get on the plane. My boss won when he talked his way past an agent, got onto the jet bridge, knocked on the plane door, which the crew opened and let him on. I don’t think I’ll push it quite that far.
  • A few of this month’s trips have been in and out of Boston Logan Airport. And for as much stick as I give United Airlines — broken planes, late flights, just general lousy service — I have to give them credit for their gate area at Logan. Parts of it look like a hip hotel lounge — cool hanging lights, non-bench seating. There’s stand-up/high-top counter space for laptops with lots of plugs. And even the self-serve boarding gates — with modern subway-style turnstiles that scan your boarding pass before letting you in — worked well. It’s probably one of the nicest gate areas I’ve been in in a long time. Nice job, United!
  • Bridge Music — Paint the Sky by Hans Atom (c) 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://ccmixter.org/files/hansatom/50718 Ft: Miss Judged

Following Up

  • I got a good bit of commentary from the last episode, so thank everyone very much.
  • Rob Cheshire posted this comment on the web site:
    • “In defense of British Airways, you stepped into the middle of their new hand-luggage policy roll-out, which is designed to reign-in the amount of cabin baggage, which had really gotten out of hand. They are being strict across the board, on elite members, as well as everyone else, and it is definitely having a positive impact on bin-space, as well as minimising the amount of messing around (checking the last few wheelie bags that can’t be stowed) that the cabin crew have to take care of in the minutes prior to push-back.”
  • Rob, thanks for that. One thing I did like BA’s luggage approach was tagging the second bag meant to go underseat — in my case, a backpack — with a bright yellow tag to keep people from putting 2 bags overhead. There is not much that’s ruder in plane travel than early boarders — status fliers — maximizing their leg space at the expense of the rest the plane. Tagging that second bag makes it easy for flight attendants or later boarders to call out bin hogging. I’d love to see that move across the Atlantic.
  • Andrew Gill left a comment on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page building on my thoughts about using the new Revolut debit card during my September trip to Scotland. Andrew said:
    • “The piece of Revolut was interesting. I’ve just spent six months living and working in The Philipines. I was lucky to be involved in the pilot of Supercard from Travelex UK (https://supercard.io/). It’s a physical card, complete with chip and pin, that can be used in retail stores and for online purchases too.
    • “The card is free, and transactions are processed at the Visa Europe Exchange rate, with no foreign exchange fees or commission added on, but the *killer* feature is it’s linked to an existing debit or credit card so there’s no need to pre-load money onto the card. transactions are processed in my home currency, so again, there are no foreign exchange fees or commission added on
    • “The pilot program has closed now, so fingers crossed, it comes out of pilot and into general release
  • Andrew, thanks for that pointer. I agree that being able to link the Travelex Supercard back to a debit or credit card is very useful vs. the Revolut model which is more like a pre-paid debit card. Looking at the Supercard website, it looks like the pilot was only for UK card holders. Hopefully, they’ll be able to expand their geographic footprint when they fully launch the card. Interesting that Revolut is also a UK-based company. Seems like London is a hotspot for these fintech companies. Last week, I was talking to a guy who moved from London to Chicago to start up the US operations for a different London-based fintech company — more based on lending than payments. He said that HSBC looked hard at buying Revolut because they were doing something HSBC couldn’t even given their global reach and scale. Between Revolut and Supercard, and big banks like Chase dropping foreign exchange fees on their credit cards, the money hassles of international travel keep going down. It’s a far cry from having to cash an American Express travelers check at the airport exchange desk so you could get a cab to your hotel.
  • In an earlier episode, I talked about evaluation criteria for my TripAdvisor reviews — the bathroom, room size, workout room, location, service quality. I decided during one of my trips last month that I’m adding a new criterion — accessible bedside electrical outlets. Most frequent travelers I know use their phone or tablet as an alarm, eliminating the need to discern operating instructions for each hotel’s unique brand of clock radio. Most hotels have figured this out and provide outlets on the nightstand — in wall, along the side of the nightstand, on the lamp base…. But last month, I hit one of those knuckle draggers — a hotel in Vegas. I practically had to disassemble one of the beds to find an outlet hidden behind it. Luckily, I carry long power cords.
  • 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 — Perfect Stranger by stellarartwars (c) 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://ccmixter.org/files/stellarartwars/45510 Ft: TheDice

Danger Within The Travel Bubble

  • In the last episode, I talked about attending the Papal Mass at Catholic University in northeast DC which has never been one of the nicer sections of DC. I had taken the Metro up from the airport and would be getting back on it to catch my evening flight to Detroit. The Brookland stop at Catholic isn’t a big stop and I figured it would get overwhelmed at the end of the Mass by the 25,000 people there. I started thinking of alternatives. Getting a cab or an Uber would probably be just as tough, so my best alternative would be to walk down to the next stop south on the Red Line — Rhode Island Ave. From my days in DC, I remember that neighborhood being a particularly rough one. That would not be a pleasant walk. I decided to skip Communion and leave the Pope early to beat the crowds at the Brookland stop.
  • Most of the times when we talk about travel security, we talk about airport security or digital security, but not often about physical security. Yet very often, travel drops in unfamiliar settings — usually by our own choice — where we could unknowingly wander into a very unsafe situation
  • I did exactly this some years ago when visiting Cape Town, South Africa. I was shopping through some craft stalls set up in a park and just kept wandering along. I kinda looking at the buildings, up and around… Oh, and I have my big Nikon SLR slung over my shoulder. Not sure I could’ve looked any more like a tourist unless I was wearing a big “Don’t Mess With Texas” t-shirt and a Dallas Cowboys baseball cap. At some point, I finally regain some situational awareness — and, from my university years living in Northeast DC and on the Southside of Chicago, realize that I’m not in the best neighborhood right now. I move to the middle of the street — so I don’t get jumped from a doorway — and walk, with purpose now, back the way I came.
  • I did a little better this spring in New Orleans. I was standing on St Charles St in the Garden District watching a Mardi Gras parade. After a while, I got a bad feeling about the atmosphere around me. Nothing that I could put my finger on, but enough to make me give up a prime spot on the parade round and walk up the street a bit. In the next morning’s paper, I read there had been a gun fight at that spot about 30 minutes after I’d left.
  • There have been other times in Joburg, Bangalore, Guadalajara, but considering how much I travel, they’re rare events — I’ve wandered all through Madrid, Beijing, Tokyo, Edinburgh, Saigon and never felt unsafe — but they get your attention. But then again, that’s outside the “travel bubble”. We’ve talked about that in past episodes, how travelers can often seem to float above the places they visit unless they make the effort to “pop” the travel bubble and engage.
  • When those outside problems penetrate our bubble, now that’s more disturbing. Like the time some years back when I was visiting Rio — years before the World Cup. I was checking in with a colleague who had done a lot of business there. He saw my room was on the second floor. “No, that won’t do,” he said, “we need to get you on a double-digit floor. At least 10 if not higher” “Why?” I asked. “Because,” he explained, “when the smash-and-grab gangs break in, they start on the first floor and work their way up until their bags are full. The higher you are, the more likely they’ll fill up before they get to you.” The logic was brutally impeccable. And this from a guy still sporting a couple of bruises from an earlier mugging on Copacabana Beach.
  • Or a few years ago, when another colleague had to take a taxi to connect between Delhi’s domestic and international terminal — before the latest renovation. He’d forgotten to print out his international itinerary, so they wouldn’t let him on the transfer bus (I’ve talked about, in prior episodes, the need to have a printed flight itinerary in India). He couldn’t find anyone in the terminal to print one out for him so he walked out to the cab rank. He piles his bags into and on top of a taxi and off he goes — to some out-of-the-way place under a highway overpass where the cab driver and a friend shake him down for most of his money and his watch — they leave him with his luggage and enough money for cab fare to the international terminal. A polite mugging; no bruises with this one.
  • My most disturbing bubble burst happened in the US — in a Westin in Connecticut. A friend checked in and, since the hotel was oversold, was given one of those rooms that’s a conference room with a bathroom. They rolled out the tables and rolled in a bed for him. The next morning, as he’s getting dressed, he’s missing his watch, his ring, and the money and credit cards from his wallet — all which were next to him on the nightstand. As he put it together, someone had broken into the room — he saw that the conference room’s double doors had enough of a gap between them that you could open the lock by slipping a credit card or room key through the gap — and they had stood next to him going through his stuff on the night stand. He’s lucky he’s a sound sleeper.
  • And I consider myself lucky. I don’t lock myself away in the hotel. I make an effort to step outside the travel bubble — to engage — and after 30 years of heavy travel, other than having my camera and passport stolen, I’m really no worse the wear. Certainly no bruises to show for it. I’m not sure I’d do it any other way. Though I do pay more attention to hotel door construction than I used to.
  • Bridge Music — Foolish Game by copperhead (c) 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://ccmixter.org/files/copperhead/46390 Ft: Snowflake,Sackjo22

Switching Back to Apple

  • After your government ID, the smartphone is probably the most important thing you travel with. And while I quickly whip out my ID a few times a trip to prove my identity  — to the TSA agent, to hotel clerks, to car rental check out folks, I use my smartphone constantly — maybe too constantly. Be that as it may, the smartphone is the critical tool for today’s frequent traveler. A carpenter has his framing hammer, the auto mechanic his Snap-On wrench — for the road warrior, it’s the smart phone.
  • And so it wasn’t without a good bit of thought that I bit the bullet a few weeks ago and switched back to Apple; dumping my HTC One for a new iPhone 6S. I wasn’t thrilled to do it; I put it off for at least a month. And in the end, it was more a frustration with hardware — with the slouching-toward-bankruptcy mess that HTC has become than it was excitement for the latest iThing.
  • Which I guess is the pattern for me. My first smartphone was an iPhone 3G and I’d had just about every iPhone model up to the 5. And it was the frustration with its truly horrid battery life that led me to the HTC. The cause this time was the lousy performance of my HTC One after they pushed their Android upgrade — “Lollipop” — at the beginning of this year. It just trashed the phone — the lag was awful. The hardware components have the specs to handle the new version; it’s just that HTC’s implementation of it is crap. Now, it’s not like Apple nails their OS upgrades every time. The IOS 8 release didn’t exactly cover them in glory. But at least they worked to resolve the problem by iterating through releases in a fairly timely manner. After the initial “Lollipop” release, Google iterated through updates  — I think ver 5.1.1 is the most recent — and I’m waited for HTC to use that as an opportunity to clean up their 5.0 mess. They would say on Twitter “It’s coming, just wait”, And then “Oh, we’ll just skip 5.1 and give you 6.0 by the end of the year”. That was it. I’d suffered through 6 months of lousy performance and now they were saying I would have at least 3 more — not that I have any reason to think that the near-bankrupt company has gotten any better at software estimating.
  • I don’t think that either Apple’s or Google’s operating systems are inherently better than the other. I’ve used them both. They both work. There are things I like about each of them, and since they seem to be stealing/emulating (?) each other’s best features, they’re more or less converging on each other.
  • For me, the difference is the hardware — which is what is actually in our hands each day. I’ve always thought Apple is a better hardware company than a software one. I loved my MacBook Air, but was very “meh” about OS X. It’s really the Android equipment manufacturers that are pushing me away. It seems that most of the Android hardware innovation is at the large end — large screen sizes — 5 ½ inches and up — which is way bigger than what want. And then there are the delays in Android upgrades as each manufacturer gooses Google’s release — my 18-month old Samsung tablet is still on version 4.4 “Kit Kat”, now two version levels down, with no update in sight, let alone any security patches. With mobile devices becoming more vital, that foot dragging on upgrades and security patching very uncomfortable.
  • I was holding out for Google’s updated Nexus line, reading all rumor articles with spec leaks and blurred pictures. The 6P was too big for me, but the 5X — I could do a 5.2-in screen with fast updates and patches. But then, when they unveiled the 5X, it topped it out at 32 GB with no expansion slots. For me, that is just too tight for my music, podcasts, pictures, video. So that’s it, I walked into the Apple store and bought a 64GB unlocked GSM 6S on their new upgrade plan — new phone comes out, I trade mine in. It’s like leasing a car — some people like the newest model. It’s all about the hardware.
  • Now if I can just keep iTunes from crashing on my Windows 10 box…

Closing

  • Closing music — iTunes link to Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #118
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • 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 Podshow Podsafe Music Network
  • Find TravelCommons on Stitcher, SoundCloud, and iTunes
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  • Direct link to the show
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