Keep your travel tech simple

travel tech

in order to be a more responsible travel blogger

Picture me, sitting in rural Kenya in a cyber café. I walked here for half an hour. For days, I took notes in my notebook on what to write about in my next blog post. It’s a bit of a struggle to form the notes into an appealing post, considering the noise from the people at the busy market. But I manage to focus and mold an interesting story.

As I hover over the publish button with the cursor, the screen goes blank. Blackout!

My meditation skills were greatly tested several times. In 2009 I depended on the cyber cafés to keep friends and family updated. It’s still one of the easiest and cheapest ways.

Internet

You can check nomadlist.com for a quick overview of the coverage in big cities worldwide. When I stayed in Nairobi, we got Wi-Fi installed. Easy. But if you are travelling to rural areas, free internet access is not always guaranteed.

There are also more and more libraries, cafés, co-working spaces and hubs coming up where you can access internet.

And if you carry your laptop, you can either purchase a modem before you start the trip, or you buy it locally, once you have arrived.

Sometimes, data volumes and network cover can be shaky. I had to have my laptop run for one night straight in order to upload videos.

Phone

Once you know which format suits you, you’ll find that it can probably be filled on a smart phone. It usually makes much sense to buy a line from a local provider, which is the cheapest option in most cases. You can ask local friends about that. You can buy internet data in “bundles” like airtime, or subscribe for a regular monthly fee.

If you are in a more rural place, remember that you may not be able to charge your phone whenever you want. We don’t have electricity in our house on the Kenyan countryside. I usually take my phone to the next shop that is connected to power and pay a small fee every time I have it charged.

How to simplify your tech equipment

  1. Multifunctionality

I am a very old-school person with a very old phone that’s not smart but robust. I also have an MP3 player and two different cameras. Don’t be like me! Carry your smartphone. I’m sure it can offer all these functions in one.

  1. Combine

Get one single adapter that helps you get electricity in any country. Use headphones with an inbuilt microphone. USB chargers and cables can be combined as well.

  1. Avoid

Sometimes you may need batteries. You don’t have to carry them though. They can be bought locally.

  1. Minimise

Do you have to carry your entire external hard drive or will a flash disc do the job for the short trip? One SD card with massive storage replaces many smaller ones. You don’t need to carry the cable to connect your device with a computer or laptop. Bluetooth and card readers are your friends here.

  1. Don’t forget

To avoid losses, install antivirus programmes before you start travelling.

What are your tips for travel tech? How do you keep your loved ones updated? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Choose your format for Responsible Travel Blogging

travel blogging

How and why to publish through email, on blogs, social media or WhatsApp.

My first travel blogs fulfilled the sole purpose of keeping my family and friends updated. I just wrote, added some pictures and then published without editing. The posts were long, because I wrote twice a month and a lot used to happen within two weeks. The response was scarce, but friends and acquaintances generally were interested in my journey and I was sure they were reading.

If you are thinking of opening a travel blog, these are the first two questions you need to ask yourself:

Why are you writing?

Who is your audience?

These questions go hand in hand. If you are writing to keep your family and friends updated, they are your audience. But don’t underestimate the bragging power of parents: My dad started sending the links to the blog posts to his colleagues and friends, because he liked them so much. So the private audience quickly expanded to a bunch of people I didn’t even know.

Ask yourself why, how and when they are reading or following you. Are they going to read long texts? Or are short videos better (Periscope)? What about daily quick thoughts and photos (Twitter / Instagram)?

Maybe you are a professional travel blogger, or want to become one. Or you want to journal for your own benefit. Whatever your reason to publish and whoever your audience is, they determine your platform and format for travel blogging.

Here are some options. You can combine them, and there are more. But this should give you a quick overview.

Blog

Publish on a blog for friends and family with the possibility of expanding the readership. Blogs are also great if you want to reach a bigger audience, publish journalistically, inspire others whom you don’t know personally or even want to raise money or make some political, social or cultural phenomena public.

If you want to journal just for yourself, lock it with a password, so that you are the only one who has access.

Video

I kept getting similar questions about how and what I was doing in Kenya. But I myself find emails addressed to many people not very personal and sometimes even boring. So I record a video every month, upload it and send the link and password to a growing number of people.

I don’t have special equipment. Neither do I have a script. I just start talking in front of the camera, insert some photos or scenes I recorded previously and sometimes add some music. I always keep them around six to maximum ten minutes.

Watching a video is less effort to many people than reading a long email. And I feel more authentic towards the people who are genuinely interested in what I am up to.

There are plenty of options for platforms, tech equipment, professionality and formats. Some audiences may be satisfied with only seeing you talking. However, travel vloggers often have great cameras and microphones and their videos are full of action.

Shooting the video is only one quarter of the work. Vloggers usually have thought about a story before, and edited it later. And then there are data volume requirements and not everybody has internet everywhere.

If you want to do videos, you can also just record short clips, a bit like taking moving photos, and upload them on Periscope, in your WhatsApp or Facebook group or on Instagram.

Email

Emails will definitely be found in someone’s inbox. There is no escape and people can’t miss it. And you know exactly whom you are sending it to.

Consider your audience here: Hardly anybody, apart from your biggest fans, take their precious time to sit down and read 3 000 words of continuous text about their friend or niece, who is currently travelling through a country they can hardly imagine.

If you want feedback, a WhatsApp or Facebook group is more attractive than email, simply because people can quickly like something or leave a short comment with one single click. Also, your messages might be shorter, more regular and not these big bites that nobody in the boring non-traveller’s daily life has time for and enthusiasm to read.

WhatsApp

On WhatsApp or other messenger services you have more control over who gets to read what you are writing, and you will more likely get feedback, because it’s easier and quicker to answer.

Social Media

Social media is usually more public. You can change the settings for who will be able to read and share though, or open a separate, closed group.

Photos, videos and voice messages will be easier to handle on social media, like Periscope, or a messenger service like WhatsApp.

Podcast

Voice messages or podcasts are only suitable for people who know you personally, because they can imagine your face with the voice. Describing a different culture in a ramble for a podcast is a real challenge, and I would like to dare you here to be the next best travel-caster! However, most of it works better visually or when you have written it well.

This worksheet will help you getting an overview over all the points made so far and pick the right medium for you.


If you are thinking of establishing a professional blog or brand, or you have already started out: There is a great blogpost by Regina of byregina.com  where you can find out whether blogging, Youtube, Periscope and other platforms are right for you.

Some general hints

  • Short is always good, especially online. People don’t have time anymore – unfortunately. Unless you are a predestined travel writer, keep your posts around 800 words, your videos under ten minutes and sort your photos before publicly uploading them all.
  • Regular works better than long. If you can write once a week or three times a month, do it. This automatically helps keeping things short. It also “teaches” your audience when to check for news about you. You can announce new posts via email or social media. Or blog on a specific day so that people know, every Tuesday or every 10th, 20th and 30th of the month they can check back in with you.
  • Different platforms give you different ways of control. Do you want control over who is reading or is it okay if it spreads? (Consider password protection, groups with invitation vs. Facebook pages, for example.)

Insider hint for lazy bloggers

Maybe you are already familiar with one or several of these outlets – and you don’t have much time to start learning how to use a new one. Then the best is to go with what you are comfortable with. Register a blog, open a group or set up a profile. If you need to practice, start talking about your preparation, announce your flight, or answer questions you are already getting about your trip.

Do you have any favourites of formats for travel blogging? What did I forget? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Presents for the host

Presents for the host

Ideas for what to bring when you want to reward people for their hospitality

As a guest, it is always nice to bring presents for the host. As a foreigner, it is even more interesting to bring something typical from your culture.

Different things for different people

When you are traveling to an African country or volunteering there, you might meet many different people who will have different roles towards you. Therefore a good hint is to bring several things that you can divide accordingly.

Sweets and balloons

Children will frantically appreciate cliché presents like balloons and sweets, but they only last for a few hours. Afterwards, people remain with plastic waste from burst balloons and sweets wrappers to be disposed, which in some areas is not as easy. Dental health care is rare in rural areas, and the sweets you wanted to spread in a good intention can leave people with big problems.

Another type of rather unique sweets like liquorice from the Netherlands or Salmiakki from Finland have ever led to funny faces among the people who tasted them. They end up being eaten mostly by the people who brought them.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot bring sweets at all. Just mind the amount and the disposal later on.

Cultural Food

People appreciate other food stuff. I am always hitting the jackpot with my dark German bread and sausage. Usually Kenyans regard Japanese food with less enthusiasm, but they are all the more appreciated by international volunteers.

Things like butter, cheese and chocolate obviously melt easily and are hard to store. But I gave out flavoured tea or instant cappuccino and people liked them.

In case you are participating in a work camp or any other event that will involve a cultural day, keep these food items for that occasion.

Photos

With photos you can often spark conversations. I glued together some photos of my family, friends and home and up to date it’s one of the favourite books of a small girl in the village. She knows all my relatives in there by name.

Put together some photos of your family, where you stay, what you do, and maybe a bit of the surrounding area.

Equipment

Another thing we always get orders for are solar lamps. People actually pay us back the expenses. They deem anything that says “Made in Germany” on it to have good quality, be it a clock or something else.

Textiles

And finally there are things like table cloths, dish towels or other textiles or clothes that may have the national colours on them or are typical and significant in another way.

Being the guest

Whatever you bring, try to give it from your heart instead of just disposing stuff on people. Since I am usually the visitor, at least in Kenya people don’t actually expect a present from me like they would in Germany.

Buy locally

Finally, you can also always buy things in the country and bring them. When I visit women, a bag of sugar, salt, rice, flour or a bottle of cooking oil is a common and valid present and I just buy it in the local shop.

What are your suggestions? Share them in in the comments below and add to the list!

4 checklists for your visa, flights, travel documents and money

4 checklists for your visa, flights, travel documents and money

Everything you can prepare for your trip – with helpful printable checklists

In this post I focus on all the technical, pragmatic stuff you should take care of before you start your trip. I tried to keep them as general as possible, but different countries of destination have different processes. Since these things are sometimes overwhelming, you can download and print the checklists at the end of the posts to keep track of what you have to do.

Visa

The first thing to check, even before applying for your visa, is your passport and its expiry date. Will it be valid until you return to your home country? Is it damaged? Does the photo still comply with your appearance?

Then collect information about visa requirements for the country or countries you want to visit. Check the websites of embassies, trustworthy guidebooks, blogs or forums. Also check back with people from your own country who have been there. Contact bloggers or websites directly and ask them for specific advice for certain countries.

What are the specific requirements? Do you need specific vaccinations? A certain amount of money on your account? A letter of invitation? (Sometimes it must include specific information or be written in a certain format.) How much does it cost?

Sometimes you can get the visa at the airport upon arrival. Check which currency you can pay it with. If you have time, though, doing it in advance is what I’d advise you to do. It saves you time and stress when arriving. If you apply for visa or other documents in advance, make copies before you send out originals.

In addition to the visa, when arriving in Kenya I always had to fill an entry form. Sometimes marking “voluntary work” as the purpose of entry was a bit tricky. It is often easier to tick “tourism”. A tourist visa may not officially allow you to do voluntary work.

In case you want to travel to several countries:

What makes more sense? One multiple-entry visa or several single visa for the specific countries? Compare finances, flexibility and conditions. Will you be able to change your plans if you have the single visas fixed in your passport?

Bureaucracy in your country of destination may work differently. If you continue your trip into the neighbouring country, make sure to find out in advance where you can do that and what documents and procedures are required in that case. Not all border crossing places issue a visa.

Carry all documents you can imagine being helpful, especially if they have a government stamp. Consider that translation might be necessary. And remember: It takes time!

For some countries there are commercial visa agencies you can pay to do the work for you. Be a bit careful and trust other travellers who successfully have used them before.

Don’t risk to overstay the expiry date of your visa. Make sure to start the process for the extension a couple of days in advance.

For perfectly relaxed visa planning download and print this free checklist.

checklist for visa

Flight

If you apply for a visa in advance, you may need to know the time period you will be in the country. I haven’t found a proven strategy for booking cheap flights. But here are some common strategies for cheapest prices:

  • The earlier, the better. Start looking for flights even ten months in advance!
  • Compare prices.
  • Countercheck on the website of the airline you consider flying with. Sometimes booking can be cheaper there than on a platform.
  • Are there cheap airlines from the country you want to go to? Sign up for their newsletters. When do they announce sales?
  • Set up an alert.
  • Fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
  • Book at night.
  • Check blogs that provide information about error fares and special offers.
  • Be flexible with dates and location, if you can.
  • Use Privacy Mode or something similar in your browser, in order to avoid cookies and the collection of your data. If the booking platform realises that you are comparing certain flights over and over, they automatically raise the price.

Things to consider:

  • Consider consulting a travel agent or a special student travel office at your university.
  • Consider how much time you want to spend in a transfer. Are there special packages to be able to get a refund in case you have to cancel the flight?
  • How much luggage are you allowed to bring?
  • What time of the day will you arrive? Is it convenient for someone to pick you or will you have to wait?

Stress free flight booking works well with this free checklist.

checklist for booking flights

Documents

It’s advisable to walk everywhere and anytime with a copy or a registered / certified copy of your passport, including the visa. Like that, you can prove your identity if necessary and if you lose it, you still have the original.

Some countries require you to prove certain vaccinations. Make sure to have those.

Leave copies of all important documents, including front and back of any money cards, at home with someone you could get in touch with while abroad.

Scan your documents and save them in your email or the cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.). If you feel comfortable, give someone else access to these files, in case you are not able to access internet. You can also store the documents on a flash drive that you carry.

These documents include:

  • tickets
  • passport
  • ID
  • international driving license. How to make it international?
  • vaccination certificate(s)
  • insurance policies, forms to be filled by the doctor in case of sickness, phone number
  • PIN / TAN-list for online banking
  • emergency number for the bank
  • (certified) copies of everything
  • any additional documents for special cases: research permit, disability certificate, student pass, invitation from the host, …
  • contact addresses and phone numbers of your host, friend, organisation etc.at the destination
  • passport photos

Some embassies offer registration of their country people in the new destination. If you want, you can let them know that you are in the country, provide them with your address and local phone number.

In case you have donated blood before, you may have a passport-like document showing your blood group. It is a good idea to carry that as well.

Store these things flat, stable and waterproof.

I had a couple of my certificates laminated, because they went through so many hands that they started to get small cracks.

Empower somebody who remains at home to be your legal representative with a letter of attorney, in case something needs to be signed, collected etc.

Don’t fear to forget anything. This printable list is complete.

checklist for travel documents

Money and banking

Collect information about the currency in your country. Maybe you can get information from your bank about what is best for your trip.

Check whether your cards are valid long enough.

Not everywhere can you pay with credit cards. Are there ATMs around?

Schedule or pay all necessary expenditures in advance, for example rent, and cancel all subscriptions for the time you will not be around.

Some countries have cultural specifics when it comes to money. In D.R. Congo, for example, people would accept US dollars, but only in specific contexts and only if they looked like freshly printed and were not folded. In Kenya, the best places to change Euros were the casinos in town because they had the best rates, not the exchange bureaus.

Should you get the foreign currency ahead of time or just change upon arrival? How much is necessary, for example, for visa and transport from the airport?

The best advisors for these cases have proven to be travel websites, guidebooks and especially people who have travelled there.

Yes, I also have a printable checklist for your travel finances. Right here.

money

Did Imiss something? What is your biggest piece of advice? Let me know in the comments below!

All you need to know about the infrastructure when travelling

All you need to know about the infrastructure when travelling

Here are some hints on transport, logistics, phone and internet (not only in Kenya) you should consider when travelling.

Transport

Once you know where you want to travel, you may wonder how to do so. Most likely you’ll be flying, but how do you continue afterwards? Guidebooks can be a good option to check different possibilities for different routes within one country and how to get from one country to the next. The guidebook for Kenya by Lonely Planet, for instance, often describes the exact routes of public transport or which line to use to get to a specific sight.

Much better, though, are people who are or have recently been there, and those who live there.

Often it is sufficient to make bookings one day prior to your tour or day trip, if at all.

Try to settle first, for a day or two, in the town where you land. Then you can get helpful information on how to continue. Hotels, organisations and hosts often have contacts and can help you organise the continuation of your journey.

In Kenya, a common means of transport are matatus, small vans with 10 to 30 seats. Depending on their route and whether they operate within Nairobi or carry passengers from town to town, they are pimped and tuned, play the latest Kenyan or Nigerian music very loudly and they may or may not carry excess passengers.

The German embassy warns of using these vehicles for transportation, but for me there is no other way, since I don’t own a car. Here the best advice is to stick to what your hosts or friends say who use these vehicles daily. There are certain times or places that you shouldn’t use them. You shouldn’t expose your phone close to the window or door. And it is advisable to carry the exact amount of money for the fare with you.

At the Kenyan coast and also in some places in Tanzania there are routine methods for indicating that you want to alight. You may knock on the inner roof of the van or answer in a certain way, when the conductor announces your stage. You will learn these with time.

Transport in the global South is often stereotyped as being chaotic and if you have these expectations, they will fulfil themselves. Try to be open, flexible and not judge or compare everything with your home country. Be careful with describing everything as extreme if it appears to you like that. A ride on a matatu won’t make you a hero. People use it every day because they must.

General logistics and infrastructure

  • People who stay longer can consider to open a P.O. Box.
  • You may not be able to get free Wi-Fi everywhere. Instead, cyber cafes or co-working spaces and hubs are becoming more popular in certain areas in the global South.
  • Find out about the requirements for driving. Left or right? What type of driving licence is accepted? How can you get one?

Contacts

We have made the experience that people sometimes don’t read their emails as regularly as we expected – if at all. Mobile phone numbers are expensive to call, but often a good way to confirm things from abroad.

Not every organisation has an address that may make sense to you. Not all houses have numbers, not all streets have names and not all places have streets. Often, there is the postal address with the code for the P.O. Box, and then there is a description of where the office is.

You may need all these information upon arrival for visa application and general information at the entrance.

Officers want to make sure that you have someone who is responsible for you, or at least that you know where you are going. Carry these contacts with your other travelling documents.

Phone / Internet

You may have seen the stereotypical photo of a Maasai using a mobile phone. In Kenya, almost everyone has a mobile phone, because landlines never really made it.

The idea – and the practical execution of it – to send money through the phone came from Kenya.

You don’t need to come with an extra, “Africa compatible”, robust, old Nokia phone. People also use smartphones there and may ridicule you for thinking that “modern” phones are not suitable.

In most cases, the easiest option is to get a national sim-card. You can easily buy credit for calls and bundles for internet. Ask other travellers how they communicated with the people at home and which one is the cheapest or best connection. Maybe Skype or other services are better.

As I said before: The Wi-Fi coverage may not be as broad as you are used to. But with bundles on your phone, in more urban places and in hubs, cafes and hot spots with many expats you will find connection.

What are your tips and experiences with logistics, phone and internet while travelling? Share them in the comments below.

Choose the format for your travel blog

How and why to blog about your travel through email, on blogs, social media or WhatsApp

My first travel blogs fulfilled the sole purpose of keeping my family and friends updated. I just wrote, added some pictures and then published without editing. The posts were long, because I wrote twice a month and a lot had happened within two weeks. The response was scarce, but friends and acquaintances generally were interested in my journey and I was sure they were reading.

If you are thinking of opening a travel blog, these are the first two questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. Why are you writing?
  2. Who is your audience?

These questions go hand in hand. If you are writing to keep your family and friends updated, they are your audience. But don’t underestimate the bragging power of parents: My dad started sending the links of the blog posts to his colleagues and friends, because he liked them so much. So the private audience quickly became a bunch of people I didn’t even know.

Ask yourself why, how and when they are reading or following you. Are they going to read long texts? Or are short videos better (Periscope)? What about daily quick thoughts and photos (Twitter / Instagram)?

Maybe you are a professional travel blogger, or want to become one. Or you want to journal for your own benefit.

Whatever your reason to publish and whoever your audience is – they determine your platform and format for travel blogging.

Here are some options. You can combine them, and there are more. But this should give you a quick overview.

Blog

Publish on a blog for friends and family with the possibility of expanding the readership. Blogs are also great if you want to reach a bigger audience, publish journalistically, inspire others whom you don’t know personally or even want to raise money or make some political, social or cultural phenomena public.

If you want to journal just for yourself, lock it with a password, so that you are the only one who has access.

Video

I kept getting similar questions about how I was doing in Kenya. But I personally find emails to many people not very personal and sometimes even boring. So I record a video every month, upload it and send the link and password to a growing number of people.

I don’t have special equipment. Neither do I have a script. I just start talking in front of the camera, insert some photos or scenes I recorded previously and sometimes add some music. I always keep them around six to maximum ten minutes.

Watching a video is less effort to many people than reading a long email. And I feel more authentic towards the people who are genuinely interested in what I am up to.

There are plenty of options for platforms, tech equipment, professionality and formats. Some audiences may be satisfied with only seeing you talking. However, travel vloggers often have great cameras and microphones and their videos are full of action.

Shooting the video is only one quarter of the work. Vloggers usually have thought about a story before, and edited it later. And then there are data volume requirements and not everybody has internet everywhere.

If you want to do videos, you can also just record short clips, a bit like taking moving photos, and upload them on Periscope, in your WhatsApp or Facebook group or on Instagram.

Email

Emails will definitely be found in someone’s inbox. There is no escape and people can’t miss it. And you know exactly whom you are sending it to.

Consider your audience here: Hardly anybody, apart from your biggest fans, take their precious time to sit down and read 3 000 words of continuous text about their friend or niece, who is currently travelling through a country they can hardly imagine.

If you want feedback, a WhatsApp or Facebook group is more attractive than email, simply because people can quickly like something or leave a short comment with one single click. Also, your messages might be shorter, more regular and not these big bites that nobody in the boring non-traveller’s daily life has time for and enthusiasm to read.

WhatsApp

On WhatsApp or other messenger services you have more control over who gets to read what you are writing, and you will more likely get feedback, because it’s easier and quicker to answer.

Social Media

Social media is usually more public. You can change the settings for who will be able to read and share though, or open a separate, closed group.

Photos, videos and voice messages will be easier to handle on social media, like Periscope, or a messenger service like WhatsApp.

Podcast

Voice messages or podcasts are only suitable for people who know you personally, because they can imagine your face with the voice. Describing a different culture in a ramble for a podcast is a real challenge, and I would like to dare you here to be the next best travel-caster! However, most of it works better visually or when you have written it well.

If you are thinking of establishing a professional blog or brand, or you have already started out: There is a great blogpost by Regina of byregina.com  where you can find out whether blogging, Youtube, Periscope and other platforms are right for you.

Some general hints

  • Short is always good, especially online. People don’t have time anymore – unfortunately. Unless you are a predestined travel writer, keep your posts around 800 words, your videos under ten minutes and sort your photos before publicly uploading them all.
  • Regular works better than long. If you can write once a week or three times a month, do it. This automatically helps keeping things short. It also “teaches” your audience when to check for news about you. You can announce new posts via email or social media. Or blog on a specific day so that people know, every Tuesday or every 10th, 20th and 30th of the month they can check back in with you.
  • Different platforms give you different ways of control. Do you want control over who is reading or is it okay if it spreads? (Consider password protection, groups with invitation vs. Facebook pages, for example.)
  • Maybe you are already familiar with one or several of these outlets – and you don’t have much time to start learning how to use a new one. Then the best is to go with what you are comfortable with. Register a blog, open a group or set up a profile. If you need to practice, start talking about your preparation, announce your flight, or answer questions you are already getting about your trip.

Do you have any favourites of formats for travel blogging? What did we forget? Let us know in the comments below.