Category Archives: Travel Tips

Home again, infant travel tips, pt. 2

We are home. Theo was a terrific traveler and now has two stamps in his passport. We loved Amsterdam and walking along the canals, meeting up with old friends who now live in Berlin, seeing the art museums, and Theo mostly loved his first boat ride. Despite arriving home with a teething and jet-lagged infant, the trip was definitely worth it and highly recommended for folks who have a long enough maternity leave for it to be plausible. I think that a lot of the beauty of traveling is the ability to be present and just enjoying your surroundings — whereas at home when I’m holding or feeding Theo, I feel pressure to be managing email or dealing with the yard, while traveling I just enjoyed hanging out with my new baby, so it was a great way to spend the last few weeks of my maternity leave. A few additional tips for those considering travel with their infants:

  • We arrived home with a teething (see below) and jet-lagged infant. I definitely underestimated the potential complication of a jet-lagged infant, mostly because Theo has always (knock on wood) been a pretty good sleeper. He adjusted to Paris time quickly (going east) but is really struggling with the return home (going west) — he is WIDE awake at 4AM. The first night I fought this for hours (nursing over and over, swaddling, noise machine…) before giving up and just reading about how Dragons Love Tacos and playing with teething toys. Last night we gave up after about 45 minutes and Dan helpfully got up and just hung out with him through the small morning hours. We are trying ample doses of morning and evening sunshine and hoping that it resolves in a few days — a good friend said to remember that this too will pass, which is true, but hard to remember at 4AM. I thought these blog posts on baby jet-lag were helpful, and it’s apparently common for babies to struggle more traveling west.
  • Theo started teething on this trip (a bit early, but he’s such a precocious kid ūüôā so, I definitely recommend bringing infant Tylenol, which was a life-saver on a couple of days (and nights). Also, it probably makes sense to bring your baby’s thermometer — we didn’t do this and before it became obvious that Theo was teething, we wondered briefly whether he was sick; it might have been nice to be able to check his temperature.
  • Theo went on a brief “nursing strike” during our last few days in Paris — he would arch his head back and scream when offered the breast.  What caused it? Too much travel and stimulation? The start of teething? No idea. But it was heartbreaking for me. Thankfully, we have been supplementing anyway due to my low milk supply, so we had bottles (another side tip — I found this travel bottle brush set very helpful — probably not necessary, but it saved us having to figure out how to clean the bottles every time we landed, tired, at an AirBnB with a whole bunch of very dirty bottles) and a breast pump with us. We stopped trying to force nursing when out and about for a couple of days and just offered him the bottle at restaurants and I kept up with pumping 3-6 times a day. After really just a couple of days, the issue went away — though I am still a bit nervous every time we go to nurse. No idea whether others have experienced something like this while traveling, but a couple of tips — the Medela Pump in Style Advanced worked great for keeping up my supply, even though I had been using a hospital-grade pump at home.  You can’t plug it in abroad (even with an adapter) and it takes 8 double-A batteries so we brought a TON of batteries. But one set of batteries really lasted a week of at least 3 pumping sessions a day. And this page from Kelly Mom was helpful and reassuring, especially the parts about starting with the nursing sessions when he was tired (about to go down or first to get up) and trying to nurse when we were back in the apartment in a calm and familiar-ish place.
  • Traveling with grandmas for the win (Thanks Elaine and Mom!). It was great to have their help and it is so much more pleasant to brave restaurant dinners and international flights with an infant if there are three people to do hand-offs.
  • All our friends who suggested bringing a nursing pillow were dead-on — great bring. Helpful for naps on the flights and feedings once we got to our apartments. There will definitely be a moment going through security when you wonder why you are carrying this huge pillow, but as soon as you sit down on the plane it will be so worth it. (Bonus tip — this is the best nursing pillow –more functional shape and smaller than the boppy.)
  • As I mentioned before, we really liked having our Babybjorn travel crib — it was nice for Theo to have a somewhat-familiar place to lie down. Also, before we left, Theo had gotten really into his baby gym mat and we wanted some way to recreate that while traveling, without, obviously, carting around a baby gym. So, we took a travel drying line (great travel gadget) and strung it across his crib and dangled some of his hanging toys from it — it bought us dozens of minutes of free time several times a day. IMG_20170521_142520
  • We brought a light-weight travel stroller — and I remain agnostic on whether we needed it. It was definitely helpful for carting around baby gear — especially through the airports, but Theo was happy to spend most of his time in the Babybjorn and probably slept a bit better in the Bjorn anyway. I’m definitely glad that we had the smaller, light-weight stroller rather than a full-size, full-weight American one, since most apartments in Europe are walk-ups. We stayed on the second floor both times, but still, the stairs would have been really tough with a full-size stroller. Paris is not designed well for strollers, especially the metro, so in that city I think folks really don’t need a stroller with a young infant (though it did allow us to skip some of the lines at the Louvre). Amsterdam has good bike and stroller infrastructure, so we used the stroller more in that city, but still, Theo often opted for the Bjorn. Most restaurants, in both cities, did not have space for the stroller inside. But one benefit of a stroller is the European tradition of allowing a sleeping baby to stay in their stroller parked outside the restaurant while the parents enjoy dinner inside, so that’s an option.IMG_20170513_161759
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    Theo in the Bjorn while we use the stroller for stuff
  • We still have a lot to learn about packing with a kid. Our carry-ons were large because we wanted to be sure to have enough burp clothes, outfits, diapers, and pumped milk/formula for supplemental feeds in case of multiple airport blow-outs or a missed connection that required us to overnight without our bags — that mostly worked out OK thanks to the airline tradition of allowing families with young kids to board first, but required a lot of airport schlepping

Bebe Goes to Paris

What we have learned so far:

— We packed more as¬†carry-ons alone for this trip than¬†we did in all our bags for our entire 5-month trip around the world. Had everything we needed, but we will have to work on getting the volume down. It was only possible because we had Gigi’s extra set of hands. +1 infant = +4 pieces of luggage?

— Airplane bassinets for the win — kiddo slept for 5 hours straight across the Atlantic.

— This website is awful, but the service was incredible — TaxiBabySeat¬†picked us up at the airport holding a sign with my name on it and had an infant car seat in the cab to transfer us to our apartment. And when we forgot a piece of luggage at the airport (there were so many to remember!) our driver circled back to help us retrieve it. We reserved our beautiful Paris apartment on¬†AirBnB, which allowed us¬†to search for a place¬†with a washer and dryer.

— Kiddo loves Paris, though he’s always been pretty good at restaurants, and the inside of his babybjorn travel crib looks the same as it does at home.

and of course bebe’s first passport photo is adorable.

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Our Around-the-World Packing List

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A note about the ordering — this is the order I always pack in — tech¬†items and incidentals, kit bag, clothes. (Also smallest bags to largest). I know many fine folks who go in the opposite direction, so feel free to start from the bottom.

We technically packed the absolute largest carry-on size allowed by international carriers, but because of liquids restrictions and my desire to have a pocket knife for food preparation, we generally checked our main bags, which allowed us the luxury of two carry-ons. So I would often pack a smaller, front-carry sling bag, to put under the seat, and stow my larger backpack in the overhead bin.

Final note — this is obviously all from a chick perspective. Men should adjust accordingly. Dan carried slightly more of the adapters and tech gear, used a packable backpack instead of a shoulder bag, carried a water purification system, and carried the extra sunscreen.

Sling Bag

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small front bag/under the seat bag

First, the bag. I LOVED my old sling, but after 10 years of consistent use and one epic trip, it absolutely disintegrated. My old one went ¬†cross-body over my left shoulder, easily slung around to my front (when walking on a crowded street, boarding public transit, or using a squat toilet), and had an optional waist strap which helped relieve¬†the burden of particularly heavy, liquid-filled loads when hiking. I haven’t found anything quite like it. I tried¬†this Waterfly bag. It has some advantages over my old bag including a water-bottle holder, its price point, and that it collapses for packing. But, I found the lack of structure or a real waist strap to be deal breakers. I ran into a fellow traveler here who raved about her Patagonia Atom Sling, and I might give it a try. It lacks the drawstring for additional storage¬†that my old bag had, and it’s waist strap is somewhat less usable. Does anyone out there have any other recommendations?

What’s in the front sling bag?

  • Hand sanitizer.
  • USB drive (for the sharing of pictures with fellow travelers).
  • A good international travel phone — I love my European-banded Nexus 5 — it has a great camera and does almost everything well. The downsides are that it is now a generation old and the European bands limit your reception in the States.
  • Sea/car-sickness bands — I am not sure if these really work or if it is just the placebo effect, but I still use them.
  • A “tree book” in case your Kindle breaks.
  • A paper-white Kindle — an absolute travel necessity — holds a book, plus a back-up book, plus 13 travel guides and you don’t need much light to read by.
  • The best inflatable neck pillow in the world.
  • Tampons and pantiliners. So, I suppose this is as good a time as any to go into this. Tampons are not widely available in all countries, so bring enough to get by, especially if you are particular about the brand. (Some travelers swear by the Diva Cup, I didn’t love it,¬†but I encourage giving it a try. ) The pantiliner trick is something I assumed all long-term travelers knew, but I explained it to more than one person on our trip who hadn’t heard about it, so here goes — change your pantiliner every day (or even twice a day), and your underwear can last for a couple of days.
  • Band-aids — always be prepared. Be really prepared, if you, like me, have a sensitivity to latex — it can be really hard to find latex-free bandages on the road.
  • A good travel wallet. Dan LOVES his Pacsafe wallet.
  • Your passport in a very secure pocket.
  • An international SIM — in the 120+ countries where your T-mobile plan works, use it — it mostly doesn’t work in Africa, so buy local — just ask what folks are using.
  • Toilet paper — restrooms around the world do not always have toilet paper.
  • A small adapter.
  • Headphones.
  • A headphone splitter to mooch entertainment off of other travelers.
  • Chapstick.
  • A fully-charged back-up battery — we have enjoyed this one, but a smaller one would also do.
  • Water bottle.

Backpack

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backpack

The bag — just find one that works for you and fits you well. Mine is all right, but I didn’t LOVE the fit.

What’s in it?

  • A travel hat — never be caught without it.
  • A good, lightweight, effective, travel rain jacket.
  • More toilet paper.
  • Some extra plastic bags.
  • A money belt. I almost never use it as a money belt, but find it an incredibly convenient place to keep the following super important items:
    • Some of your cash, including at least a couple of hundreds of US currency in case¬†of an emergency. Never keep all of your money in one place.
    • Some back-up credit cards — keep at least one credit and one debit card separate from the items in your travel wallet.
    • Photocopies of all of your important documents including: your passport, your birth certificate, your yellow card, the fronts and backs of your credit and debit cards, and any other photo ID you have in addition to your drivers license and your passport. A few more words about how important these back-up copies are: You will need a copy of your birth certificate to get a passport if yours is lost or stolen. We have heard of folks getting through boarders with just a photocopy of their yellow card. When Dan lost his debit card in Kenya we didn’t have power or internet, so we used the paper copy of the back of his card to report is missing and get a new one Fedexed to our hotel in Nairobi.Yes, I did use my dive card as an additional form of ID on a military base in South Korea. COPY YOUR DOCUMENTS. Scan them into Google drive (or somewhere), but keep paper copies handy too.
  • Anti-malarial pills.
  • Pepto-Bismol tablets — always be prepared.
  • Immodium —¬†for when the pink tablets can’t cut it.
  • A pain reliever — nothing creates headaches like hours of long plane flights and bus rides.
  • Anti-diarrhea antibiotics and any other potentially really important medications.
  • Nyquil. During¬†our international travels we have been consistently impressed¬†with how rarely we have had serious GI issues (knock on wood). But we have¬†also been impressed with how often we have had viral, upper-respiratory colds. As we traveled around, we constantly encountered viruses to which we possessed no immunity and they would take us out. Nyquil (or Night Nurse to the Brits) is an absolute blessing for sleeping through a runny nose and unending cough.
  • Keep a toothbrush and toothpaste handy.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Extra hair ties.
  • Good batteries (buy them in the U.S. — they are hard to find and very expensive in the rest of the world).
  • Luggage locks (if you are so inclined).
  • Ear plugs (if you are so inclined).
  • A headlamp (MANDATORY). We picked up these for our most recent¬†trip and have been impressed so far — very bright with only one double A battery — also, a local Colorado company. If you are going on safari it is a big bonus to have the red light setting — lake flies aren’t attracted to the red light, so you will be able to do your dishes while all your friends run for cover.
  • A travel journal and glue stick. My preferred way of documenting a trip on the go is by cutting up any little pieces of paper I get along the way with the scissors on my pocket knife and then gluing them into my journal with a few notes.
  • Another travel pillow. I sleep with three pillows, like this, and did that every night on our trip — and many basic hotels will provide only one.
  • Bathing suit — never be caught without one, there is almost nothing as disheartening as wanting a bathing suit and not having one.
  • A good travel camera. I am not that into photography — I mean, I like looking at it, but can rarely be bothered. To be honest, we used our phones for the vast majority of our shots. (So make sure your travel phone has a good camera.) But, if you are going on safari, bring a really really good camera — the folks with the 400x optical zoom cameras had the most fun. The lens can double as binoculars.
  • Compression socks — may I never take another international flight without them. These ones are great.
  • One easy-to-wash and fast-to-dry back-up outfit — a pair of socks, underwear, lightweight pants, a t-shirt, and an over shirt (in case you are separated from your main bag).
  • A laptop or tablet if you are so inclined. We really enjoyed having our Chrome books on our big trip. They are super lightweight, have a huge battery life, have a keyboard, and really encourage saving to the cloud, so if it is stolen, all your data is still in the cloud, and replacing it is pretty cheap. There are all sorts of options now, just pick one with an 11″ screen or smaller.
  • Your chargers and adapters. I really recommend having one of these universal adapters with two extra USB charging ports. The universal adapter worked every but South Africa. Freaking South Africa.
  • A guide book.
  • The best insect repellent in the world¬†— easy to apply without getting it on your hands and it doesn’t leak in your luggage.
  • An extra water bottle — these are super handy when you want to start out with a bunch of water but be able to compact it down as the day goes on.

Main Bag

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main bag

Alight, on to the main bag. First, again, the bag. We went with these: The¬†CH 22 Tourist Expandable Carry-On, based on an argument made on a great travel blog whose domain has since expired. It meets most carry-on requirements, barely. Part of the reason I went with it was that the square-ish corners offer more internal space than similar bags with round corners. Also, I didn’t really want a bag that came with a day pack, since I wanted to find a backpack that really fit me. We never once used the backpack function of the bags, which might really say a lot — we dragged our bags through Asian metro stations, over the beach in Ghana, and stored them for two weeks in the bottom of our safari vehicle (we only used small expandable duffel bags as our day-to-day bags on the safari). And they held up pretty well. Still though, I like the comfort that a convertible brings, knowing I could use it as a backpack if I ever really needed to. All¬†of this said, and Dan and I spent our whole trip RTW coveting these bags, just like our friends said we would. If I were to do it again, I don’t think there is anyway you could talk me out of the Meridian¬†Travel wheeled deluxe luggage,¬†60 Litres.

What’s in it?

Clothes
  • 9 pairs of socks — bring more socks than you think you need — for reasons I don’t understand, they go fast in Africa, and when you wash them, they take forever to dry, no matter how expensive they are. At least two of these pairs should be tall enough to tuck your pants into them if you are going to Africa — it’s the only way to prevent safari ants from climbing up your legs.
  • 1¬†sports bra.
  • 4¬†regular bras.
  • 13 pairs of underwear — including a bunch of these exoficio ones — they are super easy to wash and dry.
  • 2 sporty, quick-drying short sleeve shirts or tank tops — quick drying, should¬†fit under your over shirts.
  • 1 somewhat-dressy tank top or t shirt.
  • 2 more t-shirts.
  • 4 casual tank tops.
  • 1 safari/travel long-sleeve shirt.
  • 1 sporty, fast dry long-sleeve shirt.
  • 2 nice over shirts/sweaters.
  • 1¬†fleece or light jacket
  • 1 packable puffy coat — it gets chilly in Arusha and the highlands of Africa during good parts of the year, so check the weather.
  • 1 pair of elephant pants — if you don’t know what these are, don’t worry, you can buy them on the road — I loved having them with me.
  • 2 quick-dry dresses.
  • 2 skirts — at least one should go passed your knees.
  • 1 pair of athletic shorts.
  • 1 pair of casual travel shorts.
  • 1 zip-off travel pant.
  • 1 pair of skinny jeans — they actually dry pretty quickly.
  • 1 sarong.
  • 1 scarf — it can help make things look dressy and might be nice to have in some countries to cover your shoulders and/or hair when entering a mosque.
  • 1 pair of long underwear bottoms — I love sleeping in a tent in them — others might not.
  • 1¬†more bathing suit — your two bathing suits should serve¬†vastly different purposes — one should be sporty for scuba diving, and one should be more of a stringy, lounging one.
  • I found having a bag like this to separate dirty clothes was helpful.

What you should plan to be wearing during your travel day? Good, comfortable travel pants (probably not zip off since you are about to be on a bus or a plane for a long time and those zippers can be annoying), ¬†a travel short sleeve shirt — a good time to bust out one of your icebreakers — I LOVE my cool-lite crew, (a t-shirt works better with your backpack on than a tank top), and one long-sleeved travel over shirt.

Shoes — I swear that I was completely happy and always had what I needed with just three pairs of shoes:
  • Flip flops — helps if they are black/semi-dressy and can go to a nice dinner.
  • Chacos — would not have traded them for anything.
  • Light-weight waterproof trail runners or hiking shoes –I hate being cold and wet — and these were pretty necessary on our gorilla trek.
Other gear
  • A travel towel.
  • A packable shoulder bag that will go to the beach.
  • A laundry kit, including: a universal sink plug, some good travel clothes wash, and this awesome packable clothesline — we used it ALL the time.
  • A first-aid kit, including: gloves, bandaids, a thermometer (a good way to know if you are just a little sick, or a lot sick and better start learning a new country’s health system in a hurry), bandages and tape, Neosporin (wounds get infected easily while traveling), Benadryl¬†cream in the event of a contact allergy or bug bite, water purification tablets, (REI has a great article on water purification techniques. But if you get stuck and thirsty you can always throw these tablets in water, wait four hours, and drink), Gatorade¬†powder (to prevent dehydration and cover up any iodine flavor), safety pins, in the event that you need to do some wardrobe repair, and scissors as part of your pocket tool (see below).
  • Your pocket tool: I think that spring-action scissors are key, as is a knife for cutting into an avocado or a mango, and a bottle opener and a screwdriver, or something you can use to get into wine in a pinch. I’ve¬†had less of a need for pliers on the road. If you aren’t carrying on, the Micra¬†or the CS will work. If you are carrying on, try the PS, but be prepared to show all of the tools to the TSA.
  • An anti-theft travel purse, for nights when you want to have your room key, your phone, and some money on you, but don’t have pockets in your dress.
  • Yet more bug repellent — this Sawyer stuff is terrific and even works against sand flies, you might want some in a spray bottle too to save from getting it all over your hands on the go.
  • This awesome sleep-sack — super comfortable, breathable, adds warmth, repels bugs, makes me feel at home ANYWHERE.
  • This awesome lantern — hangs in a tent like a champ — hangs other places too. If there are two of you traveling, one person should have a hanging lantern and one should have a lantern that stands up on a table. It was great to have light camping, and in places where the power was unreliable, but also sometimes we would just be in hotel rooms that didn’t have enough lights, and it was nice to have them then too.
  • Emergency coffee — do not leave home without some back-up instant coffee. Via is a nice travel size.

And, your kit bag, including:

  • this awesome self-cleaning, quick-drying¬†wash cloth.
  • liquid body soap to lather with your wash cloth.
  • shampoo and conditioner.
  • hair gel and spray — I use a lot of hair products.
  • hair ties.
  • vasaline.
  • more toothpaste.
  • face and body lotion.
  • sunscreen.
  • more motion sickness pills, and a transderm patch if they help you.
  • any other meds for anything that ails you — occasionally get migraines or yeast infections? Bring medicine with you.
  • a comb.
  • some cleansing towellets — it’s impressive how much cleaner they can make you feel when you can’t shower.
  • make-up? It was occasionally, though rarely, nice to have eye shadow, mascara, foundation, and lip stick.
  • condoms —¬†bring extras. And if you are sensitive to latex, bring TONS, it can be almost impossible to find latex-free condoms on the road, since they are slightly less-effective at preventing STD transmission — and its awkward to have to go to up to pharmacists to ask for them, though we spent an afternoon in Ghana so engaged.

Aruba Advice

A couple of times now we have been asked something along the lines of, “You guys did your honeymoon in¬†Aruba, right? ¬†Where did you stay? ¬†Do anything fun in specific?”

Now before giving any real advice, I want to preface this with a warning. This trip wasn’t our typical kind of travel. We were going for our honeymoon the primary goal was to do nothing and have no guilt about feeling that we should be doing something.

Quick Thoughts:

  • We liked it quite a bit if you are looking for a very relaxing and easy worry free vacation
  • Culture isn’t something Aruba has to offer so if you wanted to ‘see the sites’ or ruins, this is not your place. If you want very pretty beaches, it has you covered.
  • I normally think folks could really ‘do Aruba’ in 5 days, I just think a honeymoon is one of the once in a lifetime trips, so we wish we had been there longer than the nine days
  • We stayed at ‘Manchebo Beach Resort and Spa’ which was nice and but basic. The hotel wasn’t quite as nice as we were expecting, but the beach was secluded and lovely without the crowds, which is exactly what we wanted.

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American vs. European Style

There are two primary areas to stay the ‘European style’ side or the ‘American style’ side.

European

The European is a lot less crowded, has the nicest beaches, but the buildings are older and not fancy. Not taken the best care of from the places we walked through. The rooms often have mini kitchenettes so you can make food or snacks, which is nice. Many of the hotels offer rooms with full kitchens, and you see people there that cook their meals and don’t eat out much. On the European side, only a handful of restaurants are nearby. The hotel you are in likely has one or two, and each hotel along the beach has one or two. Every hotel offers all-inclusive, but it is easy and fun to walk to eat at different hotels during the trip. If you want night life or ‘better’ restaurants, you need to go to the American side.

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American

The American side, has all the night life, the fancy modern hotels with jacuzzi, crazy showers, flat screen TVs, casinos, and more. The beach is OK, but not as good. There are more docks here so if you are scuba, snorkeling, or day tripping by boat most of the launch points are in this area. The pools over on the American side were much nicer if you like spending time in and around the pool this is the place to be. All the night clubs, dancing, and all the restaurants are in walking distance of this area. There are lots of fun restaurants and places to eat.

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The Food

It is all good, but nothing is outstanding. The prices and the selections in restaurants are hilariously the same. As in the fish special from place to place on a given night is the same. Every place will have a chicken, beef, and seafood house specialty. Mostly that is the same too. It is pretty funny when you can start predicting specials before they even tell you. Erin and I are convinced they have the same french fry supplier for the entire Island. The fries are delicious but taste exactly the same everywhere where you go, Amazing! That being said it is still fun to go out, and everyone is friendly. Restaurants seemed to specialize more with drinks, live music, romantic atmosphere, spectacular views. Erin and I had a very lovely dinner in a little hut out on the beach during sunset, which someone bought us as a wedding gift.

Activities

The dancing was OK but nothing great, but Clubs on Caribbean islands always seem to be a bit hit or miss. The strip has the Senior Frogs, and 2 or 3 other dance clubs all on the same block, if you want to dance at all. Walking the ‘strip’ on the American side was always fun. Ice cream parlors, snacks, and other souvenir shops line the strip.

It is super windy, everywhere. So don’t plan on beach volleyball. You will see lots of kits surfing, wind surfing, and it makes for great waves to play in as they break around you. We really didn’t take advantage of many activities so not a lot to say here, we read books on the beach and lazily search for the best burgers and tacos.

Final Thoughts

Erin and I prefer the European style based on quite resort and calmer beach. It was easy enough to mix it up some of the nights, every other or so, heading to the American side. We would bus or cab to the American side and enjoy the night life. If you want to do the Euro style, just budget some time or money for getting cabs. It is about 5-10 minutes away, and the bus is cheap if you are willing to wait for it.

Overall Aruba was a great place for a honeymoon and because of the weather it is awesome for an island during hurricane season. If I were just hitting an easy beach vacation out of that, I would probably do Jamacia, Mexico, Virgin Islands, or DR over Aruba. For our trip and planning around our wedding, Aruba was perfect.

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best articles I read while traveling

I recently shared the books I read while traveling. I read a lot of longer articles while traveling as well. I thought they might be fun to share as well. If you are looking for some good things to read hopefully some of these articles will catch your eye. I read nearly all of these on my kindle, so I recommend using Amazon’s send to kindle. This will let you easily add any articles you find interesting to your reading list / kindle to enjoy later and away from the computer screen to be easy on your eyes. I am not sharing all the programming articles I read while traveling, as they won’t interest most friends and family, I’ll post them on my developer blog later.

Education

Health

Happiness

Interesting

Career

Reading while traveling

A Tuk Tuk taking us through Angkor city
A Tuk Tuk taking us through Angkor city

I have enjoyed to read while traveling for a long time. It fits in well with travel schedules and being away from easy access to media, but more than that I enjoy reading books themed to where I am traveling. We had quite a bit of time to read through some books while we were on planes, buses, trains, trucks, ferries, and tuk tuks. I wanted to share my reading list from our latest journey. I got through 14 books while we were traveling for about 5 months, not bad!

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with friends tuk tuking through Cambodia

 

I know I will have far less time to read as I return to work. I do want to try to keep up with the habit so, I was motivated to sign up to goodreads reading challenge for the year. I am shooting for 18 books in 2015. I have a few in progress which should help me get there.

Beyond books I read a lot of long form articles some of the best I hope to share in a later post. I think a good mix of books and smaller articles is a nice way to keep current and dig deep. Anyways without further ado, my book list.

Sci-Fi Books

African Books

Asian Books

Other Books

Books In Progress

 

Travelers Beware, the case of the stolen SIM card

So, we survived our trip and really ran into surprisingly few issues. We both lost our Fitbits, we each ended up on Pepto-Bismol for a few days in a row, and we both caught¬†a 40-day cough that started around Kenya. But, really, nothing major. A few days before the trip was up we kept discussing how shocked we were that not much had gone wrong (knock on wood) — no issues with Visas or border crossings, and nothing major had been stolen — but then we learned about the biggest FAIL of our trip. Luckily, it still falls into the category of #firstworldproblems, but it was our¬†“travel disaster” — and something other travelers should be¬†careful about — a stolen¬†SIM card ran¬†up about $1000 of roaming calls in Tanzania, Africa.

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TL;DR: We are on T-Mobile, which has great roaming and data in 120 countries. It worked great in Asia, but struggled in many countries in Africa. So, in Africa, we often bought¬†local SIM cards since T-Mobile either didn’t work, barely worked, or had excessive costs. After swapping SIM cards at some point, we lost one of our T-Mobile SIMs. Someone found it, or or stole it, and ran up a massive bill.

We contend that we are not liable for the entirety of these bills for two reasons.

1) As soon as we had internet access once we noticed that the SIM card was missing, we suspended the lost card.

2) Though the¬†unusual¬†usage was not visible to us via the online system,¬†¬†T-Mobile had noted the unusual usage, but did not notify us about it (as required to in the FCC’s bill shock agreement), despite the fact that charges were quickly adding up to 10X our normal bill. T-Mobile has both of our email addresses, and another phone line connected to the account. The only method of notification that they used was to SMS¬†the STOLEN PHONE NUMBER about odd usage patterns!¬†

Legally, in this situation, T-Mobile has no further obligations and can pass the entire cost onto the consumer. After hours of back and forth, T-Mobile, as a courtesy, covered 2/3 of the charges, while we agreed to pay 1/3. Still costing us over 3X more than our standard monthly bill.

While our specific problem was with T-Mobile, this is a problem with all US mobile providers. There isn’t strong¬†consumer protection laws for stolen charges, like those that exist for credit cards. There are ways to help prevent this,¬†the best way is add a SIM PIN lock. You can read how¬†to lock a SIM on Android, or lock a SIM on IOS. You can also avoid issues by having pre-paid SIMs which is what much of the world uses. T-Mobile, however, does not allow their pre-paid plan to be used internationally.¬†

The Stolen SIM Story

As we traveled around, we were swapping our SIMS often. We are on a 24 day overland Safari that went in and out of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. One evening when swapping SIMs we noticed that we couldn’t find one of our original T-mobile SIMS. Considering we had been moving bags every day as we setup and tore down our tents, we figured it got left in the tent of left in one of our bags. It was dark, after sunset, so we figured we could search for it tomorrow. The next day with light we sorted through our tent and bags but couldn’t find it. We decided we should deactivate it just to be safe. Although we couldn’t do that immediately because driving around east Africa means you are often out of cell reception. Later that day we suspended the SIM and noticed no odd usage being reported online with our T-mobile account. We thought no worries we likely just misplaced it and it will turn up… It didn’t , but with no usage showing and it being suspended we didn’t worry about it.

Fast forward about a month when we have better internet and are checking our bank accounts, bills, etc… Logging into T-Mobile we notice our bill is for about $1000, which is around 10X our normal bill. The usage shows tons of roaming charges over 3 days or so in Tanzania up until we suspended the number. At this point we are in South Africa, and afraid of using T-mobile in case we incur further excessive charges. We use the T-mobile online chat to contact them. Originally offered a $50 credit adjustment, eventually explaining the case a bit further we are offered a $250 credit adjustment. We claimed they need to be responsible for consumer protections and contact us opposed to allowing the completely abnormal usage. We are told they sent a abnormal usage warning as a SMS to the stolen phone number. Considering the overage usage notice is legally enforced, I feel like T-Mobile¬†isn’t fulfilling their requirements in contacting us. Opposed to SMSing the stolen number, we have two phone lines and two emails on file, I consider messaging the stolen number¬†both insufficient¬†and incompetent. The number they contact is always the primary number on the account, so if you loose a phone or SIM card, it is just dumb luck if they will contact an appropriate other number. After using online chat, twitter, and calling T-Mobile when I got back in the states, they accepted my offer that we could stay customers and not cancel our account if they would cover 2/3rds of the cost while we would cover 1/3. I do assume some responsibility because we should have contacted them sooner — though where we were in Africa without power or internet it was very difficult to do so. While traveling, we also definitely should have PIN locked our SIM cards (I didn’t previously know about that). So in the end we had an extra 3.5X mobile bill to cover, which considering all the craziness of travel isn’t too bad.

Why frustrate your happy loyal customers?

I really blame the mobile industry for most of this mess. The one thing I entirely blame T-Mobile for is how poorly they handle the customer support for this situation. My chat transcripts are almost comically sad, and are just this side of someone trying to cancel a Comcast account. The time we spent trying to deal with T-Mobile to come to an agreement was almost more annoying than the charges. As they offer to buy out contracts to acquire new customers at $350 per line. They didn’t seem willing to put $600 towards keeping two customers happy. In the end, after lots of escalating discussion while trying to pack up and return to the US, ¬†we ended up where I wanted to be. I had suggested the 1/3 and 2/3 break down about a hour into our first discussion, we wasted days of back and forth and and stress before we could reach a agreement. At one point in a odd move, a support rep tried to revoke a offer $250, credit and only offer $50, because he thought all the charges should be valid. This was an absolutely terrible move, which nearly made me cancel both lines on the spot.

Protect Yourself

1) Make sure you know which number is your primary account and if anything happens to that phone or SIM card report it immediately.

2) If you are swapping SIM cards or traveling set up a PIN lock (lock a SIM on Android, or lock a SIM on IOS). If you can use a prepaid mobile service (I was using prepaid T-Mobile, but switched to post-pay because pre-pay doesn’t include ANY of the international roaming).

3) If you end up having what you consider unauthorized charges that your provider is forcing you to pay, file a online complaint, as the bill shock protections means they should have at least notified you about unusual billing. Also, it is hard to estimate how much mobile providers are overcharging customers until the FCC gathers enough complaints to have a better idea of how common this is. From the bill shock site, “If you have tried to resolve a billing issue with your carrier and cannot reach an acceptable resolution, you may complain to the FCC.”

Final Thoughts

I still think T-Mobile is actually one of the best mobile companies in terms of consumer friendly policies. T-Mobile’s¬†120+ roaming free countries is pretty amazing. It isn’t always as fast for data and doesn’t always have the best coverage, but it worked very well for us, especially in Asia. It saved us from having to deal with and buy SIM cards in every country and considering we were in some countries for less than 5 full days, that is really helpful.

I don’t blame T-Mobile for the bad policy and protections specifically. I blame ALL US mobile providers (lobbying as¬†CTIA). ¬†I think the entire mobile industry is exploiting the weak consumer protect laws and profiting on stole phone and SIM charges. Offering inadequate, inconvenient, and poorly implemented consumer protects to prevent charges like this from occurring. If you are curious and want to know more, or how to help improve protections take a look at the various links, resources, and stories below.

Industry Profiting from Stolen Phones, SIM cards, and unauthorized billing

The Consumer Union (part of consumer reports) has been calling to limit liability for lost and stolen phones for years.

a stolen phone leads to a £1,700 Orange mobile bill.

a stolen phone leads to a $1000 Vodafone bill.

T-mobile fined for cramming charges on bills.

AT&T fined for cramming.

Sprint sued for cramming charges.

AT&T has phone insurance that doesn’t really cover what you think¬†(like theft).

by not protecting customers, mobile carriers push insurance policies and 3rd party solutions putting the cost back on consumers.

Mobile Industry Pushing Weak Consumer Protection Laws

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, requested the FCC look into mobile providers services. The FCC found 5 issues, the first two are (1) the potential liability for unauthorized charges using prepaid or stored value products; (2) the unfair billing practices on mobile carrier bills; both of which the CTIA, has been dodging since 2011 at least.

The CTIA has been pushing against cellphone kill switches for years, and profiting about 2.6 billion a year from stolen phones.

Lobbying against net neutrality for mobile providers.

The CTIA (mobile provider lobbying group), has been avoiding cramming on all providers for years (what is cramming?).

The mobile industry has bad fraud protection on calls and now is pushing for mobile payments without protections similar to credit cards.

Mobile industry has lots of warnings about the lack of consumer protect for mobile payments.

in fact the Consumers Union is calling for better protection including limited liability for lost and stolen phones (and being able to set a monthly cap which cuts off costs).

Opposed to having laws that might limit them, they push weaker voluntary commitments as the solution to these problems (which means when they fail you have no actual legal recourse).

In fact the often cited in this post bill shock consumer protections, aren’t a law but another ‘voluntary commitment’. Which really weakens consumers legal standing.

The protections on mobile charges has been stalled since 2011, even with advocates pushing for improved consumer protections. It varies wildly contract to contract and state to state.

Follow various FTC complaints about the mobile industry.

Do something about it