Clothes. It’s surprising that so much design and technology has been embedded in fabrics and clothes, and you can take advantage of it.
- Very compact, quick drying towels. They aren’t terry cloth resort towels, but you can wring them out and they dry quickly. I don’t know what kind of materials these are made of, but you can roll them up for travel and they really work.
- Anti-pickpocket pants. There’s a company that sells anti-pickpocket pants and shirts. ClothingArts. But they ripped me off a bit on charging me for shipping, then failing to deliver some of the products, and then not refunding me the full shipping costs. Their pants are like cargo pants, but they have pockets with latches and zippers that even have zippered pockets inside of them. Very secure. I only bought one set of pants and one shirt, and then I took another pair of inexpensive slacks to a tailor and had him modify them to accomplish the same effect. Different, more business look, with the same sort of solution, and cheaper. The shirt appears to be more difficult to replicate, so I modified a travel vest that I had. You can look at them online, and then go to your tailor; that will be cheaper too.
- Dark clothes. Basically, you will blend in better with dark pants and shirts. In Bulgaria, people like black. I haven’t seen so much black clothing since New York City, and I find that a somewhat amusing. What you want to avoid, of course, is shirts with American symbols (e.g., teams) or English writing; wearing them is an invitation to be hassled or ripped off.
- Shoes. Twenty years ago, high-tech looking sports shoes would have made you stand out. Not anymore with inexpensive Chinese manufacturing. Even so, darker is better. Older and dirtier is better. Don’t stand out.
Batteries. No need to worry about AA or AAA batteries. I’m talking about rechargables for phone, tablets, etc. I got two, one lighter weight, one heavier-duty. Phones and tablets are always operational, and you won’t get stranded without maps or capacity to call.
Mapping. I prefer to work offline when I am on travel for good reasons. First, put your phone into airplane mode with all the transmitters off, and your batteries will last a LOT longer. Second, cell service can be spotty, or even if it is available, it may not be your brand and so you are roaming and that is expensive. So, overall, it is best to have standalone capabilities in your mapping.
- GMaps. Yes, it’s the big gorilla, but it has issues. First, the maps may not be as complete outside the US. Second, you can download specific areas, but you only get to have them for a few weeks before they expire. This means that you can’t prep your equipment before you leave. On the bright side, the names of the streets are in English; on the bad side, the offline search doesn’t really work. I’m not sure that routing works when offline, and setting up destinations is not so easy. Maybe I’m just not a pro and that the more you use them, the easier they get. I find GMAPS zero hassle when online, but don’t be surprised if you are disappointed and frustrated if you lose your cell signal.
- The preceding paragraph made me want an off-line alternative, and there is a GREAT one. It’s called NavMii, and it is fantastic and I can’t say enough good things about it. You can download entire countries; you can update them a month later, but you don’t need to do so. The maps don’t take up a lot of space on your phone or tablet. The application is free, and so are the maps (Android only). The number of interest points is amazing. The search function works great. In short, it is EVERYTHING that you need, except one item. If you’re in a non-latin language country (e.g., cyrillic alphabet, pictographic symbols), then the good news is that the roads are all in a language that is replicated on the street signs. The bad news is that it probably isn’t what you are reading when you book your hotel online. And while the search function is fantastic, I don’t even begin to know how to key in alternative alphabets on my tablet. But, setting a destination is easy. If you are online at the hotel and run a search on Google Maps and see where you are going, then you just touch your screen and hit Navigate, and you have great offline navigation! I downloaded the entire continent of Europe on to my tablet in advance. No matter where I am, whether there is a cell signal or not, I know, within a few feet, of where I stand. I’ve navigated in Kyoto, Malaysia, the streets of Paris with extreme precision. It is an incredible application.
Also, there are a wide range of map-enabled site-seeing apps for tablets. They have walking tours and can also be used for just wandering. As you walk, you can see on the tablet that you are near a site, and then you can wander over to it and read about it. The descriptions tend to be politically neutral and not very in-depth, but they will give you about what you can get off of a plaque which is probably in another language. They are best used in highly urban environments with many sites. Cost for a city app is $3-4, and are a nice tour guide convenience.
Next post: Entertainment.