I went to Burning Man Festival in 2014

I arrive at San Francisco airport around midday. Despite an overnight flight from Ireland on which I barely slept, I’m feeling fresh and awake. Must be the excitement – it’s my first time in California.

I clear customs and then head towards the car rental office to collect our vehicle. We’ve booked a Chrysler ‘Town and Country’ minivan to be our home for the next week as we attend Burning Man. I’m a bit apprehensive, having never driven in America before. The car itself is cheap but additional GPS is $100 extra – a luxury I decide not to take. Stupidly, I also decide not to buy a local sim card.

As I drive out of the airport I realize I have no way of navigating. All I have is the address of the house in San Francisco where I need to meet the others. Fortunately, my sense of direction is spectacular as always and after a few hours and multiple stops to ask for directions, I eventually find it.

Bicycle Mission

After introductions and coffee, we all pile into the car and head out to get supplies for Burning Man. The only large Walmart is on the other side of the river in Oakland so we drive off there. We have ordered the majority of our campsite equipment online so all we really need are a few supplies and, of course, bicycles. Now, if you’ve ever been to Burning Man you will know that it has a fair amount of bicycles – pretty much the whole supply of California. We didn’t know this, so all that’s left when we get to the Oakland Walmart are three children’s BMX’s.

What can we do? We need bikes. So we buy them up anyway, grab some torches, batteries, cooking gear and other crap and head back. Naturally, we get completely lost on the way back, drive over the Golden Gate bridge twice, go through some tunnel, end up on an island and eventually get home late that night.

Earthquake!

I wake up and somebody is rocking my bed. Am I drunk? Where am I?

“Stop it”, I protest, groggily.

“Earthquake!” somebody shouts.

It’s dark and the room is moving but I can just make out the figure of a person as they run to stand under a door frame. I want to move but before I can react, it’s over.

“What happened?”, I ask.

“Nevermind”, someone says. “It was just a minor earthquake.”

We go back to sleep.

Road Trip

I wake up and look around. The room has not collapsed.

“I had the weirdest dream.”, I say. “There was an earthquake.”

“Oh no, that really happened.”, a friend replies.

Apparently, nobody else is fazed. Welcome to California.

We pack the car, pile in and head off for our first ever visit to Black Rock City, Nevada

On route, we stop at another Walmart and buy a ridiculous amount of water. For some reason, the girls think we need five liters per person per day. I know there is no possible way we’ll drink even half of it but I don’t bother arguing.  I buy whiskey.

Unfortunately, it means we need to strap the bicycles to the back since the car is now 50% water.

The drive is beautiful and we listen to some ridiculous Jamaican gabba-core and stop for $1 tacos at Del Taco in Reno. On arrival, there is a huge queue of cars – as expected. After a few fun hours chilling out in the car, listening to music and moving a meter per hour, disaster strikes.

It starts to rain.

Desert Driveway

The problem with rain in a hard, parched desert is that the ground soaks it up and turns to thick, solid mud. Driving is impossible. The gate staff walk around between the endless lines of cars and campervans, breaking the news to those waiting in line: we won’t be moving anywhere soon. It’s getting dark and the rain doesn’t look to be letting up, so we put the seats down and settle in for the night.

Morning brings clear skies and sun but our renewed hope is quickly quashed – until the ground dries completely we can’t move. Fortunately, we’re surrounded by a veritable gaggle of party-hungry ‘burners and it doesn’t take long for things to kick off. Behind us, a campervan sets up a sound system and initiates a dancefloor while our neighbor to the left lights up a barbeque and starts cooking some wagyu beef burgers. We dance, drink, smoke and play boomerang until eventually, towards evening, we can finally move.

Once inside we head straight for a friend-of-a-friends campsite. We haven’t actually booked into an official camp but they’ve kindly offered to let us park off in the space behind them. We set up the campsite as best we can and explore our surroundings. Despite it being our first night, nobody is too keen to party. I guess it’s been a long day. After a few drinks in a nearby wooden tower-like structure, we head to bed early.

Day 1 – Drunken Exploring

We choose to spend day one getting associated with our immediate neighborhood. After discovering the bacon stall and getting free breakfast, we find a funky little bar with sofas. We make friends with a funny American guy, have some free mojitos and mess around with an animatronic Santa Claus. Moving on, we discover a make-up stall and proceed to cover ourselves in all kinds of paint and glitter. Typical burning man styles.

The day proceeds with us exploring various camps and bars, getting progressively drunk and eventually dancing the day away in one of the many music camps. In time I find myself gesticulating to techno music in a gay bar wearing nothing but white hotpants and fading makeup.  I watch from my podium inside the pink elephant as a giant set of teacups roll past with half-naked concubines hanging from conveniently-placed windows.

Day 2 – Playa Friends

Time to check out the real Playa. After some coffee and questionable canned breakfast, we get on our child-size BMX bikes and head in to explore the center – towards the very man himself. If you haven’t been to Burning Man, it’s difficult to accurately describe how big it is. Just the surrounding campsite itself is like a medium-size, horse-shoe shaped city, and in the center is a huge open desert the size of about thirty football pitches. Even on a bicycle, it would take an hour to cross. It doesn’t help when there is an endless collection of entertaining structures and artworks along the way.

We end up playing a game of makeshift ten-pin bowling which we have to win in order to use the toilet and then spend a few hours playing piano on a tree made out of mirrors. We take numerous photographs with half-dressed passers-by and climb rickety-looking art pieces that turn out to be exceptionally stable.

The sound of a beat draws us towards Distrikt, a huge dancefloor playing some exceptionally good techno from a bizarre stage setup. As the heat becomes too much we find shelter in a chill area serving free cider and spend the afternoon lounging on pillows as sobriety evades us.

The night is dark and full of color, one dance floor to the next. An octopus shoots fire from its mechanical arms as a neon yacht sails off into the night. Flashing lights, smoke, and explosions come from every direction… a carnival of chaos.

Day 3 – Temples and Castles

We awake in our tents. Somehow we made it back. It’s all a beautiful blur.

The bacon stall is calling but along the way, we get sidetracked and whiskey happens. A passing art car becomes a climbing gym and we get asked to join the naked morning run, but groggily decline. Some new friends have arrived and we join them in their campervan, a significant improvement on our refugee-style campsite. Joints do the rounds and conversation turns to the orgy dome and subtle hints of possible attendance. Someone points out that it would be advisable to go earlier on in the week while everyone is still relatively clean. Silence. Pondering.

Nobody ends up going.

Instead, we cycle over to the main Temple where we wander around inside, quietly reading the many somber notes people have written to those loved and lost. Afterward, we speak of climbing the nearby ‘Embrace’ structure but instead end up getting lost in the desert. A passing pirate ship on wheels materializes like a mirage out of the shimmering heat and guides us back to safety.

As evening descends we stop for drinks at a fancy looking campsite with a red carpet. We are welcomed in through thick, ornate wooden doors onto genuine Persian carpets and offered a seat at a mahogany bar counter.

“What would you like?” a well-dressed barman offers. They only stock the absolute top of the range liquors and everything, of course, is on the house. I take a 12-year old Glenmorangie on the rocks. It’s fabulous.

This is not a mirage.

The walls are decorated with hunting trophies, taxidermy, and original artworks. A chandelier hangs from the ceiling above plush leather sofas and a glass coffee table. I’ve certainly seen worse campsites in my life. We get talking to a couple who tell us they are staying in the camp to which the bar belongs. They paid $2000 each for the pleasure.

Later we cycle back across the Playa to a huge white castle that acts as a music venue. Somebody famous is playing, maybe Diplo or Skrillex, I’m not sure. We dance on scaffolding until the sun starts to rise and then we cycle back into the central area, weaving between artworks, sculptures, stalls and other drunken cyclists.

At a rest stop next to singing spheres of light we make friends with a random stranger who claims to have hitchhiked to the festival alone with nothing but a backpack. He tells tales of a wondrous place that dishes out free mimosas every morning and so we agree to accompany him on his quest.

Presently, we come across a tiny stall sitting smack-bang in the middle of nowhere, offering free hugs. A jovial, portly man in an animal costume emerges and enquires enthusiastically as to which type of hug we would like. Apparently, there is more than one type.

I forget which I chose but I’m confident it was the right one.

Hugged up and happy we continue on towards the rising sun, the promise of champagne and orange juice drawing us along.  Unfortunately, our new friend reveals himself to be less than reliable and takes us on a never-ending goose chase after non-existent mimosas. We eventually abandon the lost wanderer and reconvene back at the campsite, defeated and exhausted. As we flop down to sleep in what little shade our camp affords us we are left wondering if the mimosa stall, or indeed the man himself, ever existed in the first place.

Day 4 – A Sofa, a Sandstorm, and a Robot Heart

The campsite is a mess. Dusty bodies lie sprawled around empty tins of collard greens and beer bottles. The solar-powered lights have long since stopped working. Nobody can remember when they last showered. Hangovers hang on high tensions and short tempers cast long shadows.

Wearily, I make use of the one thing we have an almost endless supply of and boil some water. I have seldom encountered a problem that cannot be significantly improved with coffee and a smoke.

Bodies begin to stir. I’m unsure of the time, or day. Did we sleep through the night? Is the sun setting or rising? The smell of bacon suggests the latter but at Burning Man, one can never be sure.

Bacon is omnipresent.

After a slow gathering of thoughts and suggestions, we decide to abandon the squalor and venture out to discover a new world – presumably one with less dystopian undertones.

Our quest delivers us to none other than Michelle Rodriquez of ‘The Fast and the Furious’ fame (and, presumably, some other movies?) She’s on a Segway.

My friend says ‘hi’.

She says ‘hi’.

I miss the opportunity to make a ‘segue’ joke.

She’s gone.

Sheepishly, we enter the fancy campsite that she disappeared into and try to make ourselves comfortable on some huge, luxurious sofas. People are staring at us. Some of them look suspiciously like Hollywood actors. While nobody specifically asks us to leave we feel decidedly unwelcome. Maybe it’s just in our heads. Maybe not. We leave anyway.

Further down the path, we discover a camp called Sofa King, playing some exceptionally good drum & bass music to an empty dancefloor and the world’s largest sofa. We climb up onto the comfortable sofa and decide this is a vast improvement on Hollywood camp. As the day progresses the weather takes a turn and the wind picks up drastically.

We start heading back towards our home but along the way decide to take refuge in a friendly looking campsite with some beanbags and cocktails. A friend decides she wants to go find a recreational sedative meant for horses that she assures us we will enjoy and disappears into the gathering sandstorm.

That’s the last we ever see of her.

Until later that day when the sandstorm clears.

Sandstorm over and horse sedative unobtainable, we choose to rather go dance the night away at Robot Heart. Oddly enough, I find a man with a food cart gifting hotdogs in the middle of the dancefloor and graciously accept his offer of one while desperately trying to remember when I last ate.

Shortly before dawn, we accept an invitation onto a mutant vehicle that is actually a dragon on wheels heading off into the playa to watch the sunrise. Since we can’t take our bicycles we have no choice but to leave them lying amongst the piles of others at Robot Heart as its thumping beat fades into the distance and gives way to the rhythmic ambient sounds of the art car.

As the sun slowly rises we dance away on the rooftop, the mutant vehicle taking us in a wide loop that connects one end of the horseshoe city to the other. There it stops and lets people off while others come on,  like some bizarre desert ferry. We hop off to look around but there isn’t much in the way of music playing this side and while looking we miss the chance to board the ferry back.

With our bicycles on the other side of the playa, we have no option but to make the long walk back through the desert. Fortunately, the trek affords us some excellent photo opportunities of which I take full advantage.

A few hours later back at Robot Heart, which is now completely deserted, we discover one bicycle is inevitably missing. It’s my favorite one too – the prettiest one, with little pink handlebar tassels and a sparkly green frame. Nevertheless, we grab the remaining one and attempt to give each other lifts back to the campsite.

Day 5 – The Man Burns

We sleep most of the day and then awake towards the evening to prepare for the burning of the man, which is set to happen around midnight. We have hotel reservations in Vegas tomorrow night, meaning I will have to drive throughout the day and can’t really party tonight. On reflection, not the best planning.

However, after five days most of us are fairly ready to get going anyway and decide it would be best to pack up now and be ready to leave as soon as the burn is over  – that way beating any build up of traffic.

We wearily tear down the campsite and pile the car full of dust-covered tents, sleeping bags, and shade cloth. By the time we’re done I’m already exhausted. With the remaining bikes strapped to the back of the car, we embark on the long walk to the man where already a huge crowd has gathered.

We watch the burn, which is impressive but otherwise fairly uneventful, and then make the long walk back to the car and get ready to leave. Fortunately, we are one of the very few cars leaving and have a completely clear road out.

After driving for an hour I pull off on the side of the road to have a nap.

Everyone else is already asleep.

(SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE PICTURES)


 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Solo Travel

Ah yes, solo travel, that thing I never shut up about.  Whoever you are and wherever you’re from, at some point you will find yourself out there on the road alone.  Whether it be a business trip, a visit to the parents, or simply a desire to just get away from all – at some point, everybody must brave the long, dusty road alone.

Let’s look at some of the benefits, pitfalls and general nastiness of solo travel.


THE GOOD:

1. Solo travel is cheaper.

If you’re like me, you will probably find you can travel much cheaper alone. I’m not very picky and don’t mind cheaper things. I can happily eat the cheapest street food without being bothered by the questionable quality of it. If I’m on my own I seldom go to restaurants, I usually just grab some bread or fruit from the local market.

When travelling with other people there is always someone who wants to go to a proper restaurant, someone who is vegan, or someone who wants meat, etc. Unless you are travelling with a person of similar tolerance who is happy to eat basic cheap food, you’re inevitably going to end up spending a lot more than you want to or need to.

I also don’t mind staying in accommodation of questionable safety or hygiene, or in an undesirable location. I don’t mind walking two kilometres instead of getting a taxi. I don’t mind doing a 20-hour train ride in 3rd class on a wooden bench. It’s very seldom I meet other travellers who are happy to sacrifice their comfort to the level I do just to save a few dollars – but those few dollars here and there add up to a lot over the long run.

2. You become more independent and brave.

brave

One of the main psychological reasons that everyone should travel alone is overcoming the fear of being out of your comfort zone. This may seem unnecessary if you have no desire to ever live anywhere other than your hometown, but there are still so many aspects of life that are potentially improved by this experience.

Confidence can be greatly increased simply by becoming aware of what you are able to endure and learning how well you react to certain situations. Your ability to socialise, think quick, make decisions, trust yourself – all these things benefit from the lessons learnt through travelling alone.

“Wandering is the activity of the child, the passion of the genius; it is the discovery of the self, the discovery of the outside world, and the learning of how the self is both at one with and separate from the outside world.” (Roman Payne)

When travelling with other people you tend to adapt and limit yourself, to what they want to do. You project upon them the things that scare you and instead of overcoming them you succumb to them because you believe those you are with would succumb to the same. You don’t test each other, rather limit each other, through a shared belief – or doubt – in each other’s abilities.

When alone you have no choice but to face challenges and frame challenges within your worldview and come to your own conclusions about what you can endure – without any outside noise to obscure your vision.

3. You can follow your own itinerary.

coffee

Travelling alone means never having to do anything other than exactly what you want to do, right then, at that moment.

You can change your mind at will, leave when you want or stay indefinitely. You can sit and watch TV in the local pub all day if it pleases you, or do a marathon visit to ten museums. You can make friends with some strangers and if they decide to do something that doesn’t interest you, you can abandon them with no excuses or guilt.

You have nobody to answer to, nobody to please, nobody to burden. Just you. Alone. In the big, big world.

4. You are more likely to meet people and make new friends.

There’s nothing better than arriving at a new destination with a bunch of mates, dumping your stuff in the hotel room and hitting the beach with a few beers.

But how often do you make the effort to meet other people in this situation, especially locals? Sure, you may have a brief chat with a guy at a local store or another traveller at the bar, but you don’t really develop strong connections because you are always distracted by the ease of conversation with those you feel comfortable with.

The fear of being alone can be an incredible motivator – especially for naturally shy people – to break through the mental constraints you have trapped yourself in and burrow into the reality of a completely foreign world.

5. Reality gets put in PERSPECTIVE.

beggar

This is dependant on where you come from, but let’s assume you’re a spoilt brat like me – because really, at the end of the day, most of us are.

I grew up in South Africa so for me third world poverty was something I was relatively accustomed to from a young age. However, moving to London in my early twenties and living there for ten years clouded my worldly immunity and made me soft to the rough edges of reality. Convenience and comfort can quickly change from things you appreciate to things you expect, and it doesn’t take long to forget your privilege.

Fast forward to the hot and dusty streets of some impoverished nation – amputee beggars grasping at your legs for change, war-deformed children plaguing your dreams, over-population, rampant pollution, nations bankrupt by corruption!  You will return to your hometown with a sparkling new appreciation of law, order and even the most basic of conveniences.

 



THE BAD:

1. In the event of accident or sickness, you’re alone.

This is the real clincher, the one thing that can overshadow all the positive of travelling alone. Nothing sucks more than being sick, miles from home and feeling like you might just die here in this hotel room and nobody would even know.

But you won’t. You will live on. You will survive. Today will be your independence day!

People, in general, are actually very quick to help the sick and injured and it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever find yourself in a position where you are suffering alone and without help. (Do get travel insurance though. For real, that shit’s important.)

2. You will be judged and/or targeted.

sadface

As a man travelling alone you may well be seen as some kind of weird social outcast or friendless loser, but fear not – a confident attitude, clear loud voice and good arsenal of politically incorrect jokes will quickly have you surrounded by a veritable gaggle of other unsavoury characters such as yourself.

Make sure you are well moulded into the group before attempting to drop your best pick-up lines on any fair maidens in the vicinity, as the only thing that will judge your loneliness more than the male of the species, is surely the female. Unless you have some mad good game, there are few things more creepy than a solo male traveller hitting on every girl in the hostel.

As a solo female traveller, you have an entirely different bag of challenges to overcome. A common one is trying to decipher whether a guy is being genuinely friendly or just wants to sleep with you (just to clarify, if he’s not gay then it’s the latter).

On a more serious note though, solo female travellers have to deal with a laundry list of problems so long that I could write an entire website about it, let alone a blog. Men with less than savoury intentions are more likely to target a woman on her own, and even in a safe space like a backpacker hostel or hotel, not everyone is an innocent tourist.

It’s a sad fact, but for women travelling alone life can sometimes be very tough. It varies greatly by country but for the most part even just trying to get a tuk-tuk or taxi can mean possible harassment, or at worst facing real potential danger.

 

3. Lack of confirmable knowledge.

alcohol better

Without anyone to question or get advice from, you must research everything yourself and rely on your own ability to make the best choices. Basic travel advice is always available from books, other travellers or the info desk.  However, some things you don’t want to ask strangers about – like why your poo is green, is porn illegal in this country, or whether that girl is actually hot or you’re just drunk.

If you’re a bad decision maker like me it can get very tiring constantly making mistakes, but then again – it is the best way to learn! At the end of the day we’re all clueless anyway so sometimes you’re better off alone.

4. Some things are more expensive.

money

If you do feel the need for some privacy (which I guarantee you will at some point), then renting a private room is significantly more expensive when you’re alone. Similarly, getting a taxi or any form of private transport will cost you at least double. Even eating at a restaurant can cost more when things like a bowl of rice could be shared.

If you have access to a kitchen, cooking for one usually ends up costing almost as much as cooking for two. If cash machines charge a flat rate to draw money, you can take turns drawing money for each other and save on charges. However, in the long run, I think this cost will be offset by the savings you can make from solo travel.

5. Nobody to share the experience with.

lonely sunset

This one is pretty self-explanatory. A beautiful sunset, while still enjoyable to watch alone, can be greatly improved with some company. Going out to enjoy the night-life can often be difficult to the point of down-right miserable if you have nobody to share it with. Life-changing experiences are often easier to understand when conveyed into words and bounced off the consciousness of someone else.

But in this day-and-age of social media – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – are you ever really alone? Just upload that perfect snap, check-in to some exotic country or post a status of how much fun you’re having and watch the likes rolling in – you’ve never felt more surrounded by friends!

Until your battery dies and the digital sun sets on your sad, lonely existence.


THE UGLY:

1. You. You are the ugly. Because you are travelling alone and don’t need to impress anyone, so after awhile basic hygiene and grooming fall to the way-side and you turn into a wookie.

 

For more travel bits and pieces check out : Travel Tips

Budget Travel: Saving Money

money

Income vs Expense

Despite what many people may believe, saving money is actually a lot easier than you think.  The reality is that most people are simply spending far more than they need to, but have become so complacent with their situation that they don’t realise what they could be saving.

The two main elements involved in saving money are:

  • Income
  • Expenses
Well, that clears that up.

In order to save money of any kind, you will initially need some sort of income.  This can be in the form of a salary from your job, profits from your own company, or any other kind of payments you receive, like benefits or support.

Most people will receive a set amount of money monthly, but even if you don’t you should be able to calculate the total average income you receive by dividing your last year’s income by twelve (quick mafs!).

Once you know your average monthly income, all you need to do is adjust your monthly expenses to be lower than your income.

No matter how little or how much you earn, you can always save something.

Ways to Save

Budget, Budget, Budget

budget
If you still don’t save enough, sell your calculator on Antiques Roadshow

Creating a realistic and comprehensive budget is the number one element required in an effective saving plan.  Even if you only do one thing on this list, do this one.

Being able to see in clear numbers your exact monthly expenditure is key to knowing where you are overspending and where you can save.  Bills such as rent, utilities and debt payments are often unavoidable, but everything else such as groceries and entertainment can be curtailed to provide you with savings.

Download a budget app to help you.

Get a Savings Account

money
Are you a drug dealer? No, put that shit in the bank!

Leaving all your money in your current account is a sure-fire way to burn through it every month. Most banks provide a savings account included in your normal account, but if yours doesn’t, inquire about what options they have for you.

At the beginning of each month, pay your required bills and rent and then move all your remaining income to your savings account.  This will encourage you to save because you will be aware of exactly how much you are moving back to your current account each time you use your card. If possible, automate this procedure with your online banking portal.

Pay off your Credit Card in Full

cards
Check this guy with all his cards. So cool.  Until the debt collectors show up!

Always ensure you pay off your credit card every month, in full.  Credit cards are dangerous if not properly managed, but can also be incredibly useful in building a credit score and ensuring you can get loan approvals in future, should you wish to buy a house or similar.

Any debt left on your credit card means you are simply throwing money away in interest fees. Never spend more on your card than the monthly amount you have left after rent and bills.

 

Stop Eating and Drinking Out

clamped wallet
Seems somewhat impractical but hey, whatever works for you!

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s easier said than done.  Friends, family commitments, business meetings, dates – they can all add up.

To avoid eating out too often you need to be militant with yourself.  Prioritise your monthly engagements and ensure only to attend those that are entirely unavoidable.  Invite friends round to your home, or agree to meet them at theirs, for drinks and other social meetings.

When eating out, avoid alcohol as it’s generally the most marked-up item and can double the cost of a meal.  It can also lead to other “unnecessary” expenses…

rolled notes
I have no idea why they are rolled up officer, they just came out the ATM that way…

 

Check your Utilities and Insurance on Comparison Websites

comparison
Ok don’t go all ‘Rainman’ on me bro, just use the website – it does it for you!

Many people are paying far more than they need to in gas, electricity, phone and insurance bills.  The recent popularity of Online Price Comparison websites has forced rip-off companies to bring down their prices to compete with competitors.

Often you won’t even need to change providers – simply inform your current provider you can get a better deal with someone else and they will almost always agree to match the price in order to keep you on as a customer.

 

Take on a Second Job

arm wrestle
Any work is respectable, even giving other men hand massages.

If you have tried everything else and can’t find any way to reduce your expenses, then the only other option is to increase your income. These days earning additional income online is more popular than ever, and almost everybody will find something that fits their skill set.

Examples of online jobs that require little or no experience include ad-clickers, data entry, website testing and even online jury duty.

 

online jobs
I was devastated to find that this is not how online jobs work!

 

Find out more about all things saving, budgeting and travelling: Travel Tips

 

IFTTT – A Game-Changing Automation Service

“If This, Then That”

I don’t know exactly how old this service is, but there is a PC Mag review of it from March 2016 – which means it’s been around at least two years.  That’s two years longer than the amount of time it should have taken me to hear about it!

Well, I’m certainly making up for lost time, and so should you.

IFTTT
  

IFTTT stands for “IF This, Then That”.  It’s basically a magical piece of wizardry that connects YOUR ENTIRE DIGITAL WORLD together.

I discovered IFTTT while researching how to get my blog posts to automatically post to Facebook.  It’s a simple enough thing but can save a lot of time in the long run – especially if you’re scheduling ‘out-of-hours’ posts on WordPress.

Well, what I discovered was far more than simply automating Facebook shares.  Within a few minutes, I had managed to automate all my Social Media sharing tasks: Twitter, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, Pintrest, Youtube.  One simple click of Publish on WordPress and my new post is shared everywhere.

connected tasks
Just two of my many connected tasks

Even if you don’t have a blog, this can be useful while travelling.  It means less time spent updating social media and more time actually talking to REAL people.

The only thing missing is Instagram.  I was really hoping they had a function to auto-post to a new Instagram story using an image and title text from WordPress – but that’s probably asking a bit much.  You can, however, automate Instagram photos and stories to post to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc.

instagram to pintrest
Insta to Pinterest

That’s Not All Folks

Yes, IFTTT can do so much more!  In fact, it’s functionality seems endless.  Once you start going down the rabbit hole you realise just how interconnected everything is.

It’s a little scary.   There appear to be apps written for almost any task related to the internet – online services, apps, websites, mobile phones – you name it.

Look at these for example:

 

autowifi android
Activate wifi when home. Could be useful, I suppose.
youtube to spotify
Add Youtube likes to a Spotify playlist. That is very cool.
auto snapchat
Automate your Snapchat promotion
ios to google
This one is great if, like me, you have an iPhone but use Gmail

There is also functionality to connect to Google docs and do some very useful admin tasks, like populate spreadsheets and calendar entries.  If you want to really get nerdy, it even has MySQL functionality to automate database maintenance.  That’s where I checked out and went back to the twitter stuff.

spreadsheet
Narcissistic much?

So that’s all great though, but do you wanna really BLOW YOUR MIND?  Check this one:

iss
Say what now?

Yes, you read correctly.  If you have smart Philips Hue lightbulbs (lightbulbs that connect to your wifi) then you can set them to turn purple when the International Space Station passes over your house.  There is literally ZERO practical functionality to this applet, but it’s by far the coolest one I found.  Why are you even still reading this and not on their website!?

Fast and Free

It’s completely free to sign up and to activate applets takes one or two clicks but there is some limitation to how customizable it is.  It also includes a ‘Published by IFTTT’ tag on any post, so depending on how anal you are about maintaining a feeling of ownership to your posts, that might be a problem.

ifttt
So far, it hasn’t bothered me.

It isn’t 100% perfect of course, and I’ll admit while clicking through and adding applet after applet, I did expect some things not to work.  From what I gather, it works with your browser’s cookies or cached passwords.  It’s also open-source and users create and upload their own applets, so understandably there is room for error.

The below failure could simply be because I wasn’t logged into Pinterest at the time:

failed
A failed applet

Brave New World

At the end of the day, it’s not going to make you rich or change your life overnight.  But it’s one of those services that once you start using it, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

If for nothing else, it’s astounding to browse through it and realise just how insanely connected our world has become.   Whether or not that’s a good thing, I guess we’ll live to find out…

..or will we!

 

rain
Never get wet again.

 

 

Photo Editing Made Easy

Most people probably already know this, but if like me you’re a bit slow then the following will be great news for you.

Recently my free Photoshop trial ran out and being the cheapskate I am, I didn’t want to pay for it, nor could I be bothered with trying to get a cracked version.

Since all I really used it for was touching up photos, I figured there must be some free, Instagram-style app for PC that I could download.

Enter: Adobe Photoshop Express.

photo editing

Fast, free and effective.

Now, I must make it clear that this is no Photoshop replacement. It’s super basic. Like, I think even more basic than Instagram. All you can really do with it is give your lame holiday snaps a little bit more pazzazz, BUT for that simple use, it’s great!

It’s quite digital and will add some noise to your photos so I wouldn’t suggest using it on high resolution or DSLR pictures – all it’s going to do is reduce quality. But for simple facebook or blog photos taken on a basic mobile phone camera, it’s ideal.

photo editing

Functions

It comes with the usual generic filters, but like Instagram, it’s best to use the manual corrections tool. My favourites are ‘vibrance’ – to bring out colour and tone, and ‘clarity’ – for giving blurry photos a bit more edge.

Once you get more advanced you’ll find some great tricks, like the ‘white’ and ‘black’ modulation tools which are ideal for fixing over-exposed or blurry underwater photos.

It also has basic crop, rotate and flip functions, and has an ‘auto enhance’ function, which can work well if you’re in a hurry but can also get it very wrong at times.

photo editing

Alternative

During my search, I did also find another program called Aviary Photo Editor.  I don’t think it’s as good, but it has these silly text and picture options so some people might like it:

photo editing

Suggestions?

No doubt there are better apps out there that do the same thing, and hopefully some smart-ass reading this will tell me in the comments section. Thanks, smart-ass!

 

EDIT:  You can technically get Snapseed on your PC, and obviously that would be the best free photo editing software.  BUT, you have to run it through Bluestacks and if you have used Bluestacks before you’ll know it’s a hassle to setup and slows your PC down a lot!

 

 

Budget Travel: A Note on Haggling

market

It’s important to note that budget travel, especially when haggling, does not mean getting the cheapest possible deal on everything.  Saving money is the aim, but saving money at the expense of someone else is not.

The aim of a budget traveller should not only be to save money but at the same time, promote the economy of the country.  And although it may seem counter-intuitive, going somewhere and just spending loads of money is actually not productive to the overall economy either.

It needs balance.

shop

Haggling

Let’s take tuk-tuks for example since they are prevalent in almost any travel story.  Tuk-tuks (or rickshaws, moto-taxis, jeepneys, etc) almost never advertise their price.  They know their customers come from all walks of life and a rich person might happily pay $10 for a ride that should cost $3.  However, due to the nature of haggling, some people might try to get a ride for $2 or even $1.  If it’s a quiet day, the driver might accept that just to make some money.

This doesn’t mean you should try to get a ride for $1 that should cost $3.  This is not productive to the local economy.  While he might take you at that price, he’s losing money and you’re giving travellers a bad name.  At the same time, it’s equally as bad if people are all paying $10.  If all tuk-tuk drivers are earning far more than they should, locals in other businesses will quit their jobs and all start buying tuk-tuks. The result?  WAY more tuk-tuk’s than required and not enough business for any of them.

For any economic system to work, the price must be right. Not too high, not too low.

tuk-tuk
Tuk-tuks: Everything else blurs in comparison

So what is budget travelling?  It’s about knowing what the price should be and aiming for that.  Of course in certain situations, supply and demand will affect your bargaining power.  A shortage of tuk-tuks and influx of customers might mean you’ll have to pay more but this is where the responsibility of the driver comes in.  He might make a quick buck overcharging you but in the long run, he’s not doing himself any favours.  Unsatisfied customers will find other means of transport and he’ll put himself out of business.

Sustainable Saving

When you are looking for ways to save money while travelling, don’t do it at the expense of the local community.  You wouldn’t go to a hostel and try haggling on the price.  If it’s £5 a night it’s £5 a night, no question.  But you can save money on accommodation without ripping anyone off – by housesitting, Couchsurfing or camping.  Even sleeping in a hammock on a beach or in an abandoned building is fine – as long as you don’t make a mess or upset anyone.

hammock
I wouldn’t have pitched it so high up over rocks, but hey – yolo!

You can also save money on things like transport by hitch-hiking.  This is not costing anyone anything – the person giving you a lift is usually going that way anyway.  It’s still nice to offer them something, especially if they’re going out their way.  Nine times out of ten they won’t accept it because they genuinely just wanted to help you.

hitch hike
Arm wanted to see the world.

Pay it Forward

Haggling, or bargaining, is great.  It’s part of the travel experience and an important aspect of the economy, even if it is unregulated.  However, it shouldn’t be seen as a way to get something as cheap as possible.  The people you are buying from work long hours to provide these goods or services.  One-off tourists have no interest in the future of a country’s economy, but for travellers, this might be a place you end up living or working in the future.  If people can’t put their kids through school, next time you visit, crime could be worse or the quality of services deteriorated.

Spending that little bit extra is not just an investment in them and their country, it could also be an investment in your own future.

They didn’t teach you this at school kids, but this is how you invest money!

Read more on  : Travel Tips

Da Nang and Hoi An – Hidden Gems of Vietnam

Beach

Vietnam’s coastal towns of Da Nang and Hoi An are some of its lesser-known tourist attractions.  While admittedly the ancient village of Hoi An is famous for being a Unesco heritage site, the larger area surrounding it and the beach-filled coastline up towards Da Nang are some of the best-kept secrets of Vietnam.

An Bang Beach
An Bang Beach

DA NANG

For the most part, Da Nang is a large metropolis with an uninviting, busy and polluted city centre.  However, it’s gifted with a fortunate geographical advantage in the form of a river dividing the main city centre from a beautiful strip of land that serves as a beachside haven. A mix of fancy and affordable hotels stretch for miles along white sand beaches from the Son Tra mountain in the North all the way down to idyllic ‘An Bang’ beach in the South.

Da Nang benefits from a comfortable mix of local and expat influences, with a string of excellent traditional seafood restaurants lining the beachfront up north.  The south has a stronger foreign influence in the form of informal western-style beach bars and fancy, upmarket resorts.

A La Carte
The Rooftop Pool at A La Carte

Popular Attractions

Son Tra and The Lady Buddha

Son Tra mountain dominates an outcrop of land that forms a natural border and defines the northernmost reaches of Da Nang.  Here, amongst the traditional Vietnamese architecture of Linh Ung Pagoda, you can find the famous ‘Lady Buddha’ – the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam at 30-storeys high.  The statue is so tall it can be seen from anywhere in Da Nang, and from the hill upon which it sits the entire city is visible – all the way down to the extraordinary Marble Mountains in the South.

 

Lady Buddha

Marble Mountains

The Marble Mountains can only be described as bizarre beyond imagination. Carved deep within two imposing marble outcrops, jutting from the flat and coastal landscape, is a maze of caverns.  These are decorated with cult-like adornments – sculptures and artworks that would instil a deep sense of unease in even the most hardened of souls.  The structures are part of ancient Buddhist and Hindu grottoes which depict the suffering of souls banished to hell.   

If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can also take a lift or walk up to the top of the mountain, where you will discover some pagodas and be rewarded with a 360-degree panoramic view of the entire area.

Marble Mountains
Marble Mountains

Ba Na Hills

Ba Na Hills is a hill station consisting of a collection of botanical gardens, a wax museum and a faux-French village built high up on a mountain overlooking Da Nang.  The station is accessible by one of the longest cable cars in the world, at 5801m.  It features daily performances of both traditional and European music and dance and hosts a number of restaurants with cuisine from around the world.

The high altitude can cause the weather to get a bit chilly, so additional warm clothing is advisable. Due to the size and number of things to see, it’s worth spending a night at the fabulous (and affordable) Mercure Hotel.  This will also afford you the opportunity to experience the moody nighttime atmosphere as the village becomes engulfed in a thick mist.

The Dragon Bridge

Da Nangs Dragon Bridge is the most beautiful and ornate of the many bridges that cross the Han River.  Completed in 2013 by an American engineering firm, it supports six lanes of traffic and spans 666m. Every Saturday and Sunday evening at 9 pm you can relax on the eastern shore of the river and watch the ‘dragon’ breathe fire and water from its nostrils.

Entertainment and Accommodation

For evening entertainment notable stalwarts of the music scene include The Village – a fabulous live music venue on My Khe beach, and Minsk Bar – a very relaxed Rasta-themed bar just off the beachfront on Ngo Thi Si street. This area, An Thuong, is generally considered to be the expat and tourist area of Da Nang and is loaded with accommodation for all tastes – ranging from budget backpacker hostels to 5-star hotels and resorts.  For some excellent rooftop swimming pools, check out A La Carte and The Queen’s Finger hotels.

Rooftop Pool at the Queens Finger
Rooftop Pool at the Queens Finger

 


HOI AN

Ten kilometres south of Da Nang you will find the ancient Unesco heritage village of Hoi An, a world away from the bustling city of Da Nang.  Hoi An town is primarily inland and focused around the Thu Bon River, but also stretches west and includes the nearby beaches of Cua Dai and Cam An.

Hoi An
Hoi An Bridge

Architecture

Hoi An is colloquially known as ‘Lantern Town’ due to the prevalence of the beautiful, multi-coloured Chinese lanterns that adorn every building and street.  Adding to this visual feast is architecture unlike anything you will see elsewhere in Vietnam, with heavy influence from both ancient Chinese and colonial French styles.  

Hoi An Architecture
Hoi An Architecture

Its heritage status means it’s one of the best examples of a well-preserved 19th-century Vietnamese trading port.  The streets abound with many timber-framed buildings, old wooden bridges, traditional riverboats and ornate monuments.  

The Japanese Covered Bridge is one of the most popular tourist attractions in town.  Dating from the 18th century, it’s a small, wooden pedestrian-only bridge featuring traditional carvings and a small museum depicting its history.

Hoi An River
Hoi An River

Accommodation and Food

Hoi An is awash with some of the finest cuisine you will find anywhere in the country, and its street food is world-renowned.  

Cao Lau, a pork and noodle dish, is arguably its most famous and consists of ingredients only found in Hoi An, including Cham island noodles and local organic vegetables.  It is such a speciality that the dish can hardly be found anywhere else in Vietnam!

Seared Tuna
Seared Tuna

Mi Quang is another popular dish and can be accompanied by any range of meat, including chicken, pork, prawns or fish.  Like Cao Lau, it’s a noodle dish, but it’s the range of spices, roast peanuts, fresh herbs and sesame rice crackers that make it special.

To have your taste buds tantalised check out local eateries Tuan Cafe, Nahn’s Kitchen, The Hoianian and The Claypot.  For more western-inspired dishes head to White Marble, Herbs and Spices or the amazing Greek restaurant MIX.  It serves what is quite possibly the best Greek food you will find outside of Greece.

Greek platter at MIX
Greek platter at MIX

Accommodation in Hoi An won’t leave you wanting.  While less focused on the backpacker crowd, there is still a good selection of cheap hostels around.  These include The Sunflower, Leo Leo Hostel and the slightly more upmarket Hoi An Backpackers in Cam Chau, near the beach.  Quality hotels abound, ranging from affordable but fancy 3-star options to opulent 5-star resorts like the Anantara.

Vietnam Backpackers Hoi An
Vietnam Backpackers Hoi An

 


Read more about Vietnam here: Motorbiking Vietnam

 

Travel Smart : Safe Banking on the Road

Smart banking while on the road doesn’t just mean looking over your shoulder at the ATM.  There are a number of other concerns and problems that may occur when you aren’t within the safe borders of your home country.

 

cash
Don’t forget your mini-globe!

Inform your Bank before leaving.

Card fraud is more common than ever these days and, as a result, banks are getting more and more paranoid.  If suddenly, out of the blue, your debit card is used to draw £500 from an ATM in Vladivostok, alarm bells are going to ring.  More often than not, if your bank doesn’t know why this is happening, they’ll instantly block your card.

Always let your bank know where you are going, and for how long.

gone
Actual note

Make a note of your details

Use an online program like Google Drive, or a secure password app on your phone, to keep a note of your sort code, account number AND the three-digit security code on the back of your card.  This way if you lose your card, at least you can still book accommodation online (or if worse comes to worst, a flight home!)

Personally, I memorise these details, but a secure online backup isn’t a bad idea.

locked phone
“How did you crack your phone screen?” ” Don’t ask..”

Ask for a backup Debit Card

Losing a debit card while travelling can mean the difference between eating or not.  If you’ve done point two above, you should still be able to book accommodation, but there are few places where food can be bought with anything other than cash.

Most banks will give you a second debit card that you can keep securely at your hostel.  This means that if you lose your card while abroad, you won’t need to wait for a new card to arrive at Barbados Hostel in Vladivostok (a real place), especially after it inevitably ends up at Vladivostok Hostel in Barbados (hopefully not a real place.)

Enquire with your bank about getting a second card.

two cards
Try get a Mastercard and Visa if you can

Get a Card with No Fees

New online UK bank Starling is offering new accounts with NO FEES on any transactions or withdrawals while abroad, in any country.  Another good travel card option includes Travelex Cash Passport, a card that can be pre-loaded with foreign currency. Monzo seemed promising when they came out last year, but now have a huge waiting list and don’t appear to offer anything better than the Starling Card.

A no-fees travel card can save you tons of cash!

starling
Does your online banking app have an uber-cool green circle? Not likely…

Register with Online Banking

With no access to a bank branch, often online banking can be your only connection to your bank while overseas.  Sometimes setting up online banking requires a text notification, so if your local phone number is not working while abroad, you may have trouble setting it up.

Ensure this is all done and working before you leave.

phone
Where’s your banking app mate? Sort it out!

 

For more excellent travel tips check out: Travel Tips

 

New NO FEES Travel Card (UK only)

Starling bank is a new ‘online only’ UK bank offering debit cards that charge NO FEES for withdrawals or transactions, anywhere in the world!

They work with all ATM’s just the same as any other debit card, but don’t charge the usual 3-5%  per transaction that most other banks do!*

It’s the perfect card for frequent travellers.

starling

NO MORE ATM WOES

I know when I travel, drawing cash is one of the most annoying things.  Mainly because you need to plan ahead – if you are out one night and run out of money, you can’t just go and grab £10 out of the ATM.  Even though it’s advertised as only charging you a percentage, there is usually minimum charge of £2 – £3. 

So when drawing cash, you have to draw enough for at least a few weeks to make it worthwhile – the more the better.  But then you have a huge wad of cash on you, so you need to immediately head back to your hotel or hostel and put it in a safe place.

ONLINE APP

 

The Starling online app is also far more intuitive than most banking apps, providing you with accurate descriptions of purchases, correct retailer details, currency conversions and even spending patterns.

All it takes is three minutes to download the app and apply for a new account.  No need to go into a branch, since they don’t have any branches!

starling

Furthermore, if your card gets lost or stolen, you can instantly disable it from the app – no need to call your bank!  The app is secured with a PIN or fingerprint security, so if you lose your phone it’s still secure. The only issue is you will need to get another phone and download the app before you can do any online banking, but your debit card will still work.

JUST LIKE ANY OTHER BANK

Every account comes with the standard sort code and account number, so they can be used for online purchases, direct debits and EFT payments just like any other bank – but with no extra charges!

Currently, they are only issuing Mastercard debit cards, but I would imagine they will start doing Visa soon.  Either way, this shouldn’t be an issue, as in my experience Mastercard and Visa are equally prevalent around the world.

Click HERE to sign up now.

 


*Some ATM’s will still charge their built-in transaction fees if run by an independent company, but this is unavoidable no matter what bank you are with.

(Disclaimer: I am not a qualified financial advisor. This is an independent report about a product of Starling Bank, with whom I have no affiliation, and is published for information purposes only.)

Best Summer Job Ever – Vlog in Iceland

Budget Icelandic airline Wow Air is looking for someone to hire as a ‘travel guide’ who is willing to move to Iceland for 3 months this year and work for them.

In addition to living and working in Reykjavik, Iceland, you will also be sent on eight trips to international destinations!

The job runs from 1 June to 15 August 2018 and requires you to vlog and make videos for the airline.

Iceland
Iceland

Incentives

The job offers an incredible $4000 a month salary, plus transportation, travel and living expenses!

Not only this – the lucky winner will also get to bring a co-worker, friend or partner of their choice!

The majority of the work will involve creating tourism content for Instagram about the city you’re visiting. Basically, if you’re a big Instagram vlogger you’ll be doing what you do anyway, but getting paid for it!

Iceland

Get Involved

Applicants must be 18 years of age, have a Facebook account and create a two-minute video of their hometown in order to enter.

I’d imagine the competition is pretty stiff though, so if you apply you better pull out all the stops!

CLICK HERE TO APPLY