Traveling with “stuff” then and now

I’ve been traveling regularly for the past 25 years with occasional forays before that. I read this on the Conde Nast Traveler site just now that mentions things that used to be common in travel that are no longer a “thing” anymore and it made me think of things I used to do/bring/consider when I traveled and how things have changed.

Travelers’ Checks (Sorry, Travelers’ “Cheques” here in Canada) were the safest way of bringing your money with you when you traveled. Remember going to the bank to get them and you had to sign every one in front of the bank clerk? In my very early days traveling, I would buy them in US dollars because that was more accepted. That changed to Canadian dollars or I would buy them in British Sterling. You’d have to go to a bank, or the  Thomas Cook or American Express office to cash them in most of the time. Sometimes, a shop would let you purchase things directly with them if the TC was in the local currency but you’d have to provide your passport and an armful of ID to go with it.

Even when ATM cards started to be more commonly used and your local bank card was on a network that could be used outside the country, I took some TCs just in case though not as much. When I made it through a trip where I didn’t use them at all, I cashed them in when I got back and never bought them again.  I’ll often pre-pay a load of spending money I’ve saved on my credit card before I go to avoid interest charges, especially if I need to use it for a cash advance because occasionally the foreign ATM won’t accept my bank card. I still bring two different credit cards with me, one of which is just a backup and I always buy a bit of foreign currency to start me out. You always need a bit of cash for taxis or a snack in a cafe on that long airport/train/bus station layover.

Royal Oak phone boothHow to communicate with folks back home? I could call collect from a pay phone through an overseas number for Canada Direct, speak to a real person and the call would go through. Calling collect these days is all automated and it’s more and more difficult to find a pay phone. Then prepaid calling cards were invented and that worked pretty well but mobile phones are now our best friends and long distance rate charges are super low. I bought an unlocked phone and a local SIM card for the UK and used it there and in continental Europe. I could top it up online to keep the number active in between my annual visits and hit the ground with hit already loaded with enough to get me going. When I switched to a smartphone, the first one I bought came already unlocked. It was a Google Nexus through Telus, I think. Perfect. I’d land in the UK and pop in my local SIM and away I went. I still do that when I’m going to be away more than a few days out of the country.

For outside Canada travels on short journeys, I’ve tested out my provider’s travel package which was a bit pricey but covered roaming charges and gave us some data to work with. I see our provider has another travel scheme that looks like it might work as well, charging $5 a day if we use data, calls or text but doesn’t charge if we don’t. (wi-fi is wonderful and increasingly common!) We’ll see how that works when we go to the US in November.

Another category that site mentioned was disposable cameras. I’ve never bought one in my life to take traveling. I’ve been a lifelong photography enthusiast so I’ve always had my own camera, either point and shoot or SLR. In the old days, I would have to stock up on film. I take a lot of photos. Always did even in the days of film. I’d generally buy a dozen rolls of film, a mix of 24 and 36 exposure and shoot all of it, possibly buying more on the go if I did a lot of sightseeing . If I was traveling with a friend, we’d both takes a lot of pictures, then get them developed with double prints and share. There was always that moment of fear and excitement when getting the pictures back from the developer hoping and praying they all came out ok. Mind always did but you never knew if the exposure was wrong or if the developer messed up something.

I worried about airport x-rays ruining the film so I would buy lead lined bags for it. Later, If I was staying somewhere for a few days, I could get my photos developed while I was away and that was always great. As digital became popular, I remained faithful to my film camera but started to take advantage of the offer to be provided with digital scans of my photos on CD along with physical prints. It was great. Saved me time scanning and gave me a backup of all my photos, too.

Eventually, I went completely digital and about 5 years ago, I bought a small laptop, just a little bigger than the low end “netbooks”. It was a fully functional one with a good size hard drive and decent memory and I always back up my photos from the camera to it every night. This has saved me losing a lot of photos at least once when the camera broke and corrupted the memory card.

The things I have left behind included those travelers’ cheques, rolls and rolls of film, and preprinted postcard labels. I still send a few postcards if I’m going somewhere new to 2 or 3 people because I know they enjoy it. I used to send cards to a dozen or more people but these days, a blog post, a Facebook post or an email to touch base is far more immediate! I still often bring a printed travel guide or two if I’m going somewhere new and print off a few local maps with things marked on it. Google maps is fine and I guess I could customize them but the paper ones are better for that, I find.

The other things I bring now that I never had to before are all the various chargers and rechargers. The laptop must have a mouse and a power cord. Luckily, my phone and ereader use the same charge cable. I have a plug converter that is a necessity as well and a voltage converter just in case the laptop power cable isn’t a dual conversion one. Naturally, I have the phone, ereader, camera and laptop. I use the camera phone occasionally and reluctantly for an Instagram hit or other social media posting and I like the way it does a panorama photo better than my main camera. I don’t have a tablet because it’s more messing around to backup my photos from a camera to it and I can’t type a travelogue update on it without a separate keyboard.

I guess I haven’t really saved myself much space in the suitcase. Technology has made some things easier but I’m not 100% there yet. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wi-Fi in the Sky

I notice more and more airlines are allowing wi-fi service on board the flight. That’s pretty cool. You won’t be able to access it until the plane rises over about 10,000 feet or close to that, so you can’t go online on the way up or down but hey, on a long flight it’s especially handy.

I remember the old days when you couldn’t use anything electronic. Then you could, but only after the seat belt sign went off but you still had to have things like phones in “airplane” mode, that is, so it isn’t getting a signal. I don’t know if that’s still the case with these wi-fi enabled planes. If you are allowed to get a wi-fi signal, wouldn’t you be able to use your phone? (if you could get a phone signal, that is) Actually, I hope you still can’t use the phone. Haven’t you noticed that when people are on mobile phones, they speak a lot louder? Dozens of people in an enclosed space shouting on their phone would be utter cacaphony.

Anyway. Wi-fi. Don’t everyone jump up and down and cheer just yet. It’s available but it’s not free. Of course it’s not. I discovered this week that Air Canada Rouge (the no-frills category) is installing Wi-Fi on some of their jets starting this summer.You actually buy a pass from Gogo. A one hour pass is $7 which is next to useless, really. If you’re on a short flight, you’re barely up in the air and down again. The 24 hour pass is $19 which isn’t too bad but if there are two or more of you in your group and you all want to use it at the same time, that’s one per person. Add to the fact that, if you aren’t flying in Premium, you’ll have to buy any food you want (Canada, U.S. flights). Pricey.

Still, it’s available and it will be appealling, especially for long flights. Rouge does have an onboard entertainment system that they stream over smart devices via the Air Canada app. You can rent an iPad for $10 if you don’t have something that will pick up the streaming service. Premium passengers get the iPads for free. We don’t have a tablet but we have our phones. I don’t think there’s a laptop-compatible app (unless you have a Chromebook or possibly a Mac Air).

I don’t know how good their streaming service is, probably fairly decent, so there should be enough there to keep you occupied without a connection to the internet. Once the novelty of checking in to Facebook at 40,000 feet wears off, and email isn’t all that popular anymore, anyway, you’ll probably go back to streaming the movies anyway. I would imagine someone flying for business will take advantage and they can right off the expense.

Air Canada’s 777-300, Not as big as the double decker planes but pretty frigging big all the same

Air Canada has had wi-fi on their regular service flights already, with a different plan again for flight duration. They have a short, one hour pass and the next one they offer is for the duration of a one way flight. It doesn’t say if it includes connections. It’s $21, a bit more than Rouge’s 24 hour pass. Both Rouge and Air Canada offer a monthly pass for those of you up in the air often.

Air Canada’s nearest competitor, Westjet, also has a streaming service and on board wi-fi. They stream through the Westjet app, naturally, and their wi-fi prices seem cheaper than Air Canada’s. No surprise there, actually. Their passes are 30 minutes, 3 hours and flight duration for the longer journey. I think that’s quite sensible, actually though if you have a lot of transfers to get where you’re going, the price of Air Canada’s 24 hour service is better.

Again, I’m sure business travelers would find the wi-fi service handy but for me, I think I’d be just as happy with the in flight streaming service. The regular Air Canada flights mostly have the touch screens on the seat backs for the streaming service and I think they have or are upgrading that.

I’m not pushing people to pay for wi-fi passes, I’m only putting it out there that it’s available and what it’s going to cost you. I’m pretty sure most other major airlines have or will soon have similar services. It’s a bit of a cash cow. The no-frills airlines already make you pay for pretty much everything.

I was particularly interested to research this topic because our flight to Hawaii from Vancouver will be on Rouge and it’s a 5+ hour flight. I think I’ll more than likely stick to the streaming service. It’s a far cry from the days when there was one movie playing (maybe two if it was a really long flight) on overhead screens that you couldn’t always see depending on where you were sitting.

 

Wifi in the sky

Using the wifi on the train

Using the wifi on the train

The availability of Wifi during a flight is not new. It’s been around a good 5 – 8 years but in Canada, the two major airlines, Westjet and Air Canada, have only been offering it since 2014 and that, only on domestic flights. This was something I wasn’t aware of since I haven’t flown either of them inside Canada in that time frame. I read today that Air Canada is going to offer wifi via satellite in the fall on their international wide body aircraft. You might know I’d miss it by 6 months!

What the press release doesn’t tell you is how much it will cost because you know damn well they aren’t going to give you something for free. Air Canada has been hitting customers with fees for everything it seems, more and more and I’m sure most of the other airlines are on the same bandwagon. Even though the cost of fuel has gone down, the “fuel surcharge” hasn’t gone away. They just call it “surcharge” now which is just a vile money grab. A ticket to the UK  more than doubles from the base flight fare due to high landing costs at Heathrow and those damn surcharges. But I digress.

Since I wouldn’t expect the wifi onboard to be free, I’m curious what the charges will be. According to this CBC article, the wifi service on Air Canada uses the Gogo network service and the costs seem to be $5 an hour and $16 for a full day pass (which you can buy on their website) which is useful if you’re transferring to another flight. Westjet has their own service, Westjet Connect,  and they’re charging  a stinging $5 per HALF hour but, more reasonably, $8 for a flight pass. But Westjet Connect is also part of their inflight entertainment system, using a free Westjet app or a web browser on a laptop, and if you use it for that, it’s free, it’s only the internet part that costs you.

From where I live, aside from a few short regional hops where there’s barely time to boot up the device anyway, most flights are going to be a minimum 90 minutes. I expect AC will charge you two full hours even if the flight is less than that. Westjet’s flight pass seems like a good deal, especially if you’re going to take their new summer non-stop service from Halifax to Vancouver! That’s about a 6 hour flight, by the way. To get to Vancouver from Halifax on Air Canada there’s at least one stop, Toronto or possibly Calgary if you’re lucky, then another jump to the west coast. The day pass would be a nice thing to have.

Now they’re going to have it on international flights. I’ve waited all these years of being at the mercy of their in flight entertainment system, frustrated by headphones or the jack that doesn’t work quite right, interruptions on the screen every time there’s any announcement. Now the frequency of my international flights may be reduced just when the ways of killing time on a long flight are getting more interesting! I wonder if the fees will be higher, though, since it’s not the ground to air Gogo system but relying on satellite. There’s nothing I can find on Air Canada’s site yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s higher. Still, I’m sure people will pay it. I might not be likely to on an overnight flight unless I need to contact someone for a flight delay, that sort of thing, but I probably would for a daytime flight.

There’s no word if Westjet will follow suit. They have been venturing across the ocean to the British Isles recently offering spring to autumn service to Gatwick, Dublin and, I think, Glasgow which is their newest destination. As much as I prefer Air Canada mainly because I’m a larger person and there’s a bit more room on the wide body aircraft, a direct flight to Glasgow or Vancouver is tempting and I think Westjet is part of the same rewards system as British Airways to which I belong (OneWorld) as opposed to Air Canada’s Star Alliance membership.

Even now, you can get wifi in most airports. Some are free, some are not. There’s free wifi on a lot of transportation these days though Canadian transportation still has a little way to go. Via Rail does provide it for free on many of its trains though on one long distance service, it’s only in some areas of the train. “the cars nearest the dining car” is how they put it, according to their website. I guess that’s where the hub is!

In the UK, we’ve taken advantage of free wifi on Virgin trains albeit in the first class car. It’s available in the whole train, but it’s pay as you go in regular class. In the US, it was free on the airport bus into New York. I suppose ground transportation makes it easier but even so, it’s still offered free with the price of your ticket. Since the price of airline tickets with the associated charges are so high now, why not offer it as another optional fee when you book?

With many planes now providing USB ports as well as electrical outlets and with wifi becoming more common, I guess flying won’t be quite so dull in future.  Now if we could just have more comfortable seats and better food….

Go inside the British Museum with Google

Closeup of an Egyptian Sarcophegus, British Museum, London

Closeup of an Egyptian Sarcophegus, British Museum, London

Google has done it again. They’ve sent the Google camera inside the British Museum and now you can use the Street View feature in Google Maps to visit the museum without leaving your house. It’s pretty cool, too. You can “walk” through the rooms or jump from floor to floor.  I think it would help if you had a map from the British Museum’s website, though. You can drop the little gold “man” onto a place on the museum map and there’s a series of numbers on your right that says what level you are on. If you click a different level, you find your self in a different room or gallery but you might also find yourself in a hallway or in a staircase, in which case, that map might prove useful.

Google map of the British Museum, London

Google map of the British Museum, London

It’s also possible to read a lot of the large information signs on the walls by the various displays. I think this is a great thing. I hope a lot of the major museums and sites in the world will be mapped out like this. They’ve done Machu Picchu as well. I think a site like Pompeii would be another good one to do with Street View and please, Google, do some more of the major museums and galleries in the world like the Smithsonian, the Vatican, and the Louvre.

This first photo is a screen grab from Google Street view of the Egyptian gallery with the mummies and sarcophegi. Below that are a few photos I’ve taken in the museum on visits in the past. (The photo at the top of this post is also mine, a closup of one of a sarcophegus)

British Museum Egyptian Mummies, London

British Museum Egyptian Mummies, London

Neried Monument, British Museum, London

Neried Monument, British Museum, London

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London