Podcast #190 — My Travel Tech Stack; Imbibing for Introverts

Malort bottle and a cow skull

My Drinking Buddy Is The Quiet Type

Back behind the mic after 3 week of travel in Croatia and Italy. The trip went amazingly well up to the last leg, when United’s Newark team couldn’t get our bags on our plane. But, I’d stuffed Apple AirTags into our luggage, so we were able to track their movements ’til they got home. That experience and a listener’s tweet led to me re-visiting my travel tech stack. We then talk to Jeff Cioletti, author of the new book Imbibing for Introverts, about the art of drinking alone. All this and more – click here to download the podcast file, go up to the Subscribe section in the top menu bar to subscribe on your favorite site, or listen right here by clicking on the arrow on the player.

Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #190:

Since The Last Episode

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Happy Halloween! Coming to you from the TravelCommons studios in Nashville, TN. Finally got my body back on Central Time after 3 weeks in Europe that started in Split, Croatia and then ran up the Italian peninsula — Amalfi Coast, Naples, Rome, Florence — and then back down to Rome to fly home. And for a trip about a dozen potential points of failure between all the flights, the trains, and the Airbnb’s, it all went pretty smoothly except for the final leg — the EWR-BNA flight home, where United somehow couldn’t manage to get our luggage on our plane. But by then, it wasn’t critical — just suitcases of dirty clothes and some bottles of wine and limoncello. And United delivered them to us the next afternoon — just in time for us to start doing laundry. Annoying, yes — but not much more.
  • Which, after a summer of travel horror stories about canceled flights, lost luggage, hours-long security lines that fed our episode on Top Tips to Avoid Travel Chaos, I chalked it up to good luck and clean living or, what’s probably a more likely explanation, the airlines and airports are finally getting on the other side of the surprise snapback in leisure travel during a very tight labor market. Through Nashville, O’Hare, Frankfurt, even the Split airport — 5-minute security lines at most, and on-time flights. In Italy, all our trains were on-time. And after all of that smooth travel, it wasn’t until our last day, for our flight home, that we got pulled up short. We walked into Terminal 3 at Rome’s Fiumicino airport and smack into a huge line. It took us a moment to figure out that the line wasn’t for us; it was the check-in line for Air Canada which seemed… weird. But no matter, we didn’t have to stand in it. 
  • The next line, though, we did — the separate security line for all direct flights to the US.  We’ve talked in the past about how, post-9/11, direct international flights to the US tend to be segregated from the rest of the flights and put at the far end of departure terminals. That I’m used to. This was the first time, though, that I’ve seen a US-only security line. And on a Sunday morning at 9am, when everyone is there for the 10:30/11am bank of flights to the US. It tailed back almost the length of the terminal.  But it kept moving. And when we made it up to the security area, we could see that they had every screening station manned and operational. We got through security and passport control in less than a half hour. Not world-class timing, but not anywhere near the summer horror stories.
  • I shouldn’t have been surprised at that US security line though because every place we went in Italy was jammed/crowded, mostly with Americans. It was revenge travel in action. I asked a few guys — bartenders, shop owners, shuttle drivers — how these October crowds compared to pre-pandemic. “It’s insane!” was the consensus. And I could feel it wearing on them. Even though all these people were giving them money, their patience seemed to be getting a little thin. Last year, last October when we were in Italy, in Puglia and Sicily, these same sort of folks were saying “Welcome! We’re so glad travelers are back!” This year? I think it’s a bit more like “when are you travelers going back… home?”
  • Bridge Music — A Foolish Game by Snowflake (c) copyright 2014 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/snowflake/46164 Ft: Admiral Bob

Following Up

  • I’m going to hold my thoughts about my Croatia and Italy trip for the next episode; do one of my stream-of-consciousness “Notes on a Location” topics. But I do want to follow up here on a couple of things from the last episode. First up, is last episode’s eSIM rant because, through watching with my travel companions and texting with Allan Marko, a long-time TravelCommons contributor, I sorta refined that rant, getting it down to two decision points. 
    • First, how much data do you expect to use? If you’re out of the US for a week or less, staying in a place with good WiFi, and can wait until the end of the day to do all your social media posting, you can probably be good with 5GB of data — which gets you under T-Mobile’s non-throttled international data cap (which is what a couple of the folks traveling with me did), way under Google Fi’s 50 GB cap, and probably fits into a $15-20 eSIM from someone like aloSIM or Airalo. It’s the low-hassle solution. But for a longer stay, like my 3 week-er, or if you’re fully invested in building Instagram stories, like my wife, 5GB just isn’t going to cut it. I reset my iPhone data stats on the flight to Frankfurt and then looked at them as we were taxiing out to the runway in Rome. I used 77 GBs of data. Now, 11 GB was from hotspotting because the WiFi in our Florence Airbnb was pretty useless. But even pulling that out, 66 GBs is still a whackload of data. Which is probably because I didn’t really pay any attention to my data usage, because the Telecom Italia plan I was on gave me 600 GB of 5G data, essentially unlimited data, for $15. So while my T-Mobile-using companions were scrounging for a bar’s WiFi password to do Untappd check-ins, I was uploading pictures and refreshing my podcasts.
    • The second decision point  — do you need to make regular phone calls; do you need a local number? This is more and more of an edge case with people primarily texting, and when there was a specific need for a voice call, people rang me through WhatsApp and Telegram. But on this trip, I got us last-minute tables at a couple of good restaurants because I could call them over the regular phone network, something I couldn’t have done with a data-only eSIM. I’ve also run into the need for a local number when trying to register or create an account for an on-line service. My Telecom Italia SIM also came with a local Italian number and unlimited voice minutes. 
    • So while I sharpened my thinking on this trip, my conclusion didn’t change. I know I’m an edge case — I don’t want to have to think about data consumption and I want local phone service — and until the in-country wireless carriers offer the same pre-paid plans on eSIMs that they do on physical SIMs, I’ll be keeping my phone with the SIM tray… and a straightened-out paper clip to pop it open.
  • Second, following up to Kendra Kroll’s travel tip in the last episode about knowing the names of cities in the local vernacular. Kendra talked about people missing their train stop because they didn’t realize that Florence, in Italian, is Firenze. So riding the train from Rome (Roma) to Florence (Firenze), I was on the lookout for this. All the train tickets used Italian city names — Roma, Napoli, Firenze. But the signs on the platforms of the Florence train stations said “Florence”. Indeed, the real confusion wasn’t Florence vs Firenze, but which Florence train station to get off at. My group thought we had a direct train from downtown Rome  (Roma Termini) to the downtown Florence station (Firenze Santa Maria Novella), so when the train stopped at a station with “Florence” in the sign, they all scrambled to get their bags and head for the station — which would’ve left them hanging around in a suburban parking lot figuring out how get a ride downtown. So not only know the name of the city in the vernacular; know the full station name of your stop.
  • I mentioned earlier that the first leg of my trip was from BNA to ORD, and I was kinda surprised to realize that it was my first time in ORD in 10 months, since returning from the UK last November. Prior to moving down here to Nashville in July, I’d been flying Southwest out of Chicago Midway; easier to get to and Southwest fit my travel plans better. So as “Welcome Back,” I got the full ORD experience — landing on the far north runway, which feels like it’s just short of the Wisconsin state line, with the requisite 20-min taxi to get within sight of the terminal. Then, just as you think you’re almost there, the plane stops across the road from the terminal and waits 5 minutes for a gate to open up. Then, once we get moving again, we take the scenic route, past all the American planes in Terminal 3 and the Delta planes in Terminal 2 until we finally get to the United terminal in Terminal 1. All told, at least 30 minutes from tires hitting the runway to the door opening and the agent saying “Welcome to ORD”. Yeah, thanks. Great to be back.
  • And in other “Great to be back” things, Irene and I used Lyft for the first time in forever to get home from the Nashville airport — the wait time and the price were much lower than Uber; which is weird because I’d think, by now, the ride sharing market would be a bit more price efficient. But anyhow, Lyft is so excited to see me resurface in Nashville that the app is flooding my phone with notifications with ride offers and suggestions for things to do. Three days of this was enough to drive me into the hell that the iPhone Settings menu has become to figure out how to shut them up. Probably not the behavior Lyft was trying to prompt, but there you go.
  • And if you have any travel stories, questions, comments, tips, rants – the voice of the traveler, send ’em along to comments@travelcommons.com — you can send a Twitter message to mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page or the Instagram account at travelcommons — or you can post comments on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — ABANDONED BUTTERFLIES by THE_CONCEPT_OF_ENERGY (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/THE_CONCEPT_OF_ENERGY/55008

My Travel Tech Stack

  • Back to that problematic last leg of our trip — the flight home to Nashville from Newark. I knew we had a lagging luggage problem even before we left the ground courtesy of the latest addition to my travel tech stack. I’d bought Apple AirTags just for this reason — to track our luggage. When I had to check my bag on the Vueling flight from Split to Rome, I could see on my iPhone’s Find My app that my bag was on the plane; it looked almost right underneath me. But in Newark, my bag never left the terminal. Irene checked her app; same thing. As we taxied out, I took a screenshot showing the growing distance between me on the plane and my left-behind bag, and tweeted it out to United saying “I’m guessing I won’t be seeing my luggage in BNA.” 
  • As I said earlier, I was pretty annoyed with United, but at least the AirTags saved us the 30 minutes of suspense watching all the other bags come out. Instead, we went straight to the baggage service agent, filed our report, and headed home. And then, waking up the next morning, I could see that our bags made it on the late flight from Newark, and then could see them on the delivery truck heading to our flat. Saved a lot of agita. 
  • It got me thinking back 6-7 years to the first wave of smart luggage — Bluesmart, Away. I bought a Bluesmart bag off their Indiegogo campaign. Those bags also let you track their location, along with charging your phone — for about 2 years until the airlines banned them, or at least the ones with non-removable batteries. Those travel use cases haven’t changed — “Where’s my bag?” and “I need to recharge my phone so I can rebook this canceled flight” — but the tech has moved on — replacing the smart bag with AirTags or Tile trackers and a 10,000 mAh battery pack.
  • Long-time listener and Twitter follower @Ab3Fr0man pinged me during my summer move podcast pause with “question for the next podcast >> Are there any new devices or apps you are using for travel?” which is what got me spelunking through my travel tech stack, which then turned into a stroll through my past “What’s in My Briefcase” episodes. And what struck me was, other than the AirTags and a small phone tripod for video calls, it hasn’t been what I’ve added to my kit as much as what I’ve been able to take away.
  • The consolidation to HDMI for video seems to be just about done and that’s let me drop all the VGA cables and dongles I used to carry around just in case I ran into an old conference room projector or hotel TV.  The slow and still in-progress consolidation to USB-C power supplies has let me do some subtraction by addition, dropping my MacBook Air power supply and an old dual USB-A charger for a single charger that’s smaller than either of them, a 100W gallium nitride charger that can charge my laptop, my phone, and my headphones all at once. Indeed, the only reason I still carry an old USB-A Apple Lightning cord is for plugging into the charging port on rental cars. 
  • But the subtraction thing doesn’t always work. Last year, when we were traveling in Italy (Puglia and Sicily) for a couple of weeks, I wanted to leave the laptop home and run everything off my 8-inch Samsung tablet. That wouldn’t be a problem except for a couple of programs I run on my office PC, and I didn’t want to have to migrate to their cloud versions just for the trip. So instead I used Amazon Workspaces to set up a PC in the cloud. Not quite sure why I thought this would be easier. The Amazon setup was, let’s say, less than straightforward but I got it to work, and was able to run what I needed off my tablet, albeit a bit slower than usual. Getting ready for this last trip, I thought about it again, do I leave the laptop at home? Then I remembered the time sink the Amazon set up was, and tossed the laptop back into my backpack.
  • No new apps. Indeed, I tend to be brutal about deleting those I’m not using right now. I’ll download, say, the VRBO or Airbnb app when I need them for a trip and then dump them when I get home. I also just deleted the Clear app. I had a year free from some credit card and never used it. So I canceled it before they charged me for another year and deleted the app. Yelp is on the bubble right now. I also find myself using it less and less, just defaulting to Google Maps’ restaurant suggestions and ratings since I usually already have it open for directions.
  • The carriers’ apps continue to improve incrementally. I used to use an app that had maps of all the major airports, but found I was using it less and less as the carriers added similar maps to their apps. Indeed, while waiting to de-plane in EWR, I checked the United app and it had an animated step-by-step map showing the path from our arrival gate, through Customs, to our departure gate. Too bad the guys moving our luggage didn’t have the same map. 
  • As I’ve mentioned in past episodes, I still use the free version of TripIt to consolidate all plane, train, hotel, and Airbnb confirmations into a single itinerary. I know Google Travel can do something similar if you live within the Google ecosystem, but I don’t so I use TripIt. TripIt keeps pushing their $50 Pro offering with real-time alerts and airport maps. I had the Pro offering once, but now I get all that stuff for free on the carrier apps. Now, if I was going to pop $50, I’d spend it on the Flighty app instead. I trialed Flighty back in the spring on a trip to Santa Fe and thought it was a great app. If I was still flying every week, it would be a no-brainer. Indeed, I’d figure out a way to expense the $250 lifetime membership and be done with it. 
  • But the one piece of travel that’s been with me since the beginning and that continues to earn its keep — a bottle opener. Even as craft beer has moved to cans, that stamped metal New Belgium bottle opener has saved the corner of many a hotel dresser.
  • Bridge Music — H2O by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/49674

Imbibing for Introverts

  • When frequent travelers are on the road, we spend a lot of time alone — in our hotel rooms, and in spite of the advice from a former colleague who wrote a book titled Never Eat Alone, we do… a lot. So when I saw an upcoming book about drinking alone, it seemed a perfect fit for the podcast. So I reached out to the author, Jeff Cioletti, editor-in-chief of Craft Spirits Magazine.
    • Mark: Jeff, thanks for joining us on the TravelCommons podcast today. Your upcoming book…
    • Jeff: Technically the release date is November 15, I tried to get them early for an event on October 20, but they got held up on a freight train somewhere in the United States, so it’s like…
    • Mark: That damn supply chain. So anyhow, your upcoming book, Imbibing for Introverts: A Guide to Social Drinking for the Anti-Social. Over the years on the TravelCommons podcast, we’ve talked many times about solo eating, eating alone on the road, what you might call eating for introverts. So when I saw the title of your book, it mapped right into things that we’ve been doing. And again, in past episodes, we’ve talked about the best ways to eat alone and so, what are your pro tips for the best ways to drink alone?
    • Jeff: It depends on the venue; it just depends on what your objectives are. If you want to quietly contemplate what you’re drinking; if you’re in one of these high-end whiskey bars or a brandy bar or something like that; where you’re sitting and you really want to just contemplate. Sometimes you just want to be present and just be in your thoughts, think about what you’re drinking, think about its connection to the point of origin, that kind of thing. When you’re drinking alone, probably more often than not you’re going to be sitting at the bar. A lot of times they’re going to give you a 2-top, but sometimes I feel bad about taking it up, especially when things are busy and I just want to sit at the bar.
    • Mark: When I started traveling, which was a long time ago, you’d end up in that same situation, at a 2-top or a 4-top and then you’re the sad person sitting in the corner table because you were taking up revenue space. “Look, I got spots for two and you’re only taking up one.”
    • Jeff: And I think that if you’re not sitting in a corner, if you do get to sit at the bar, that’s a great opportunity to strike up a conversation with the bartender. Sometimes it just happens organically. I don’t know whether they feel like they need to talk to you because you’re not with anybody and they feel bad for you. But one thing that I do find is when you order something in a way that shows you know what you’re talking about — like you’re at the bar and you say give me a gin and tonic, if you don’t really specify what gin you want, they may not have a really broad selection, but a lot of these more sort of mixology oriented bars, they’re going to have a selection and a good way to start is “What kind of gin you have; do you have anything that’s not juniper- forward?” — bartenders can be really primed to geek out with somebody that they detect maybe as passionate about the things they drink as they are, as they are about the things they mix. So when you show an inkling of interest or knowledge related to that spirit or whatever ingredient you’re putting in the cocktail, that may pique their interest a little bit and they might get a sense that this person knows what they’re talking about. I’ve been in situations where that snowballs to a point where the bartender says, “Hey, by the way, I’m entering a cocktail competition, this was my creation, I want you to try and tell me honestly what you think about it.” It’s moments like this that present themselves. Not always, but you know, sometimes they do. Sometimes a bartender will also have a secret stash behind the bar, could be a rare whiskey that’s on their list. Sometimes they will sneak you some of that. It’s not going to necessarily be free, but they’ll give you a pour of something that they’re protecting and hoarding and not really giving to just anybody. So moments like that are good. It’s not necessarily that you’re being antisocial. It’s sometimes conversations can create themselves organically and so that’s why it’s sometimes good to be alone and sit at the bar rather than at the table because no one’s really going to be spending the time with you to do that.
    • Mark: Eating alone sitting at the bar, it used to be that you couldn’t get much more than a bar snack menu at a bar. Nowadays, though, you can get a full menu at a bar and so I’m always eating at the bar. You’re right about the bartenders. You get blips of human interaction. I think usually the bartender is good for, I don’t know, 3-4 quick interchanges. Obviously they got a job to do, so you’re not going to have an ongoing conversation with them, but they’ll come by and if they think you’re interested or you’re an interesting person, you’ll get blips. I don’t know, it’s either they think you’re interesting or they’re taking pity on you. I’m not quite sure which…  What drove you to write this book Imbibing for Introverts? What was the kernel on this one?
    • Jeff: I just been traveling a lot and I’ve been doing a lot of solo travel, especially work-related stuff and, over time, I really just got comfortable in my own skin going out alone. It just became something I realized I actually enjoy my own company and it just came together in my head. One time I was sitting at a bar and I wasn’t alone at the time. I was having a drink with a friend in a bar that I had often had a drink alone and I thought I’d really love to do a book about just being an introvert and just enjoying being by yourself and drinking alone and normalizing that too because some people are just weird about going out alone.
    • Mark: When you do a lot of travel, you’ve got to get comfortable with your own company because oftentimes that’s it. You’ve got clients, you’ve got other people you’re meeting and they’re going home, they’re going to coach their kid’s ballgame or do whatever. And if you don’t get out of that hotel room, that hotel room turns into a cave after a while.
    • Jeff: And also sometimes you just want to decompress, especially when it is a work trip and you are having meetings. For instance, I got a lot of trade shows where I’m just walking around the convention center going from booth to booth, talking to a person after person after person, always having to be on. Just having that energy, that kind of interpersonal energy, is frankly very exhausting. By the end of the day, after like seven or eight hours of doing that, sometimes you just want to be by yourself and you just want to quietly sip something in a place that’s got the music’s down low, it’s a good mix that they’re playing. It’s low enough that you can hear yourself think, you can also eavesdrop on other people’s conversations. That’s kind of fun sometimes. A lot of people talk about people watching; I’m more of a people listener because you can tell a lot more about a person by the conversations you hear than what they’re wearing or what they look like.
    • Mark: Jeff, this has been great. I really appreciate it. I’m looking forward to reading your book when it comes out. Jeff Cioletti, author of the new book, the upcoming book coming out November, Imbibing for Introverts: A Guide to Social Drinking for the Anti-Social. Jeff, thanks very much for stopping by the TravelCommons podcast and chatting to us about drinking.
    • Jeff: Thank you so much for having me. This has been a lot of fun because it seems to be my people that listen to your podcasts.


  • Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #190
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