Blog posts offering tips and/or tricks towards maximizing travel.

Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii

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Locals and visitors to the state of Hawaii can attest that Hawaii encapsulates tropical serenity. The views of paradise stretch from lush green hills to white sandy beaches and warm ocean waters. Hawaii’s main islands for tourists are Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Island of Hawaii. The Island of Hawaii, referred to as the Big Island, is the largest of the islands. Visitors to the Big Island will be in for a topographical shock. Other Hawaiian islands are awash in swaths of greenery. Upon landing on the Big Island you will notice lava rock stretching for miles. The lava rock throughout the island reminds you of the surface of the moon. Yet the entire island is not just visible lava rock. There are lush hills and green trees aplenty. The Island of Hawaii is diverse not only in its topography but in its climate. One could start their day at the top of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano, and on this the tallest peak on the Big Island see snow. In the afternoon you can warm up by flying over an active volcano or sunbathe at a black sand beach with turtles. Regardless how one spends their time on the Big Island the best way to end the day is by watching a sunset at one of the soft white sand beaches.

The Big Island: Hilo and Kona

To reach this island paradise visitors will arrive at either of the two main cities, Hilo on the eastern side of the island and Kona on the west. The fastest way between the two cities cuts through the island and is a 77-mile drive taking an hour and forty minutes. Another route includes more time by the coast but is over 90-miles and takes closer to two hours to drive. As the two cities aren’t close most visitors will choose to stay in one city their entire time. Others will decide to begin their trip in one city and then end up in the other. Hilo and Kona have their own airports. If you wish to see both cities the most time economical approach is to fly into one city and fly out from the other city. Hilo leans more towards the local scene with bed and breakfasts. It is the city to stay in for those wishing to explore the Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park. The Volcanoes National Park is an hour away from Hilo versus two and a half hours from Kona. Kona has big hotel resorts and is within driving distance of many coffee farms. Most tourists stay on the Kona side of the island. With a rental car staying in Kona affords you the luxury to visit coffee farms, beaches, scenic overlooks, and petroglyphs. Not to mention go shopping and explore the historic districts of Kailua Village and Kainaliu.

Kona International Airport - Big Island, Hawaii, USA

Kona International Airport

Kona International Airport

Kona International Airport is a tiny outdoor airport. Exiting your plane and feeling the warm island breeze is a great Hawaiian welcome. It’s not a perfect greeting when it’s raining so whether you are landing or waiting to leave keep an umbrella handy just in case. If you are renting a car follow the signs to the rental car van pick up location. You’ll be on your way to the rental car agency in no time. The airport has minimal shopping or dining options. When flying out if you plan on arriving early and want to eat at the airport consider bringing a lunch plate with you from a local restaurant.

Kiholo Bay Scenic Overlook - Big Island, Hawaii, USA

Kiholo Bay Scenic Overlook

Kona Scenic Overlooks

Routes 19 and 11 will be your primary highway arteries as you navigate the Kona coast. Each route has a scenic overlook worth the stop. On Route 19 the Kiholo Bay Scenic Overlook Point is a great place to view Kiholo Bay and the surrounding lava fields. On Route 11 is the Kona Coast Scenic Overlook. Besides the ocean view you will find the Ohi’a Lava Tube Caves. This historic preserve of lava tubes run underneath the ground from the spot of the overlook to the ocean. Although access to the tubes is off-limits the lava rock and ocean in the distance make for striking photos.

Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve - Big Island, Hawaii, USA

Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve

Kona Sights and Shopping

Close to the Waikoloa Beach Resorts is part of the Ala Loa Trail, or Kings Trail. This trail, once used for horse travel, leads travelers to the Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve. At the Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve you will find ancient rock carvings on sacred land. Visitors must stay on the well-marked trails, as tourists may not walk or climb on the sacred rocks. The trails are not paved so wear comfortable and sturdy shoes. Besides petroglyphs you will see cave shelters and rock shelters. For those staying at the Waikoloa Beach Resorts you will access the Kings Trail and Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve by foot. Visitors from other hotels may park at the nearby Queens’ Market Place or Kings’ Shops. Shoppers will want to spend time exploring the stores and restaurants offered at both the Queens’ Market Place and Kings’ Shops.

Mokuaikaua Church - Big Island, Hawaii, USA

Mokuaikaua Church

Kona Historic Districts

The historic district of Kailua Village Kona is off Ali’I Drive. Ali’I Drive is where the Ironman Triathlon competition starts and finishes.   Kailua Village and Ali’I Drive have two historical buildings. Visitors will pass by the Huliheʻe Palace, a museum that was once a vacation home for Hawaiian royalty. Close by is Hawaii’s first church on the islands, Mokuaikaua Church. Visitors stroll along Ali’I Drive while enjoying the waterfront and exploring the various stores and restaurants. Kona’s Farmers Market is a favorite tourist stop with over forty vendors selling souvenirs, flowers, and fresh fruits.

Original Donkey Balls Factory and Store, Dirty Balls - Milk Chocolate Covered Mac Nuts - Kealakekua, Big Island, Hawaii, USA

Original Donkey Balls Factory and Store, Dirty Balls – Milk Chocolate Covered Mac Nuts

Another nearby historic district is Kainaliu off Route 11. Kainaliu is an old plantation town that is now home to specialty stores and restaurants. A popular store is the Original Donkey Balls Factory and Store. The store sells packets of various chocolate covered macadamia nuts named by using puns. You’ll find the labels on the packaging either hilarious or offensive. Puns aside the chocolate covered macadamia nuts inside the packages are delicious morsels that make for great souvenirs. Besides sweets The Original Donkey Balls Factory and Store sells a variety of BBQ rubs, packaged in the same witty style as the macadamia nuts.

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Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii

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Mauna Kea: 19.820611, -155.468094
Hilo Airport: 19.718834, -155.041687
Kona International Airport: 19.736916, -156.042925
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: 19.419370, -155.288497
Kiholo Bay Scenic Overlook Point: 19.841805, -155.921574
Kona Coast Scenic Overlook and Ohi\'a Lava Tube Caves: 19.574186, -155.958996
Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve: 19.916992, -155.880135
Queens\' Market Place: 19.913617, -155.880590
Kings\' Shops: 19.916323, -155.882090
Kailua Village Kona: 19.637090, -155.990203
Huliheʻe Palace: 19.639334, -155.994352
Mokuaikaua Church: 19.639574, -155.993832
Kona Farmers Market: 19.637065, -155.991840
Kainaliu: 19.533105, -155.926751
Original Donkey Balls Factory and Store: 19.531545, -155.925824
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Mauna Kea
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Mauna Kea, Hawaii County, HI, United States
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Hilo Airport
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Hilo Airport, Kekuanaoa Street, Hilo, HI, United States
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Kona International Airport
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Kona International Airport, Kupipi Street, Kona, HI, United States
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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI, United States
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Kiholo Bay Scenic Overlook Point
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Kīholo Bay, North Kona, HI, United States
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Kona Coast Scenic Overlook and Ohi'a Lava Tube Caves
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Keauhou, Alii Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI, United States
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Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Waikoloa Petroglyph Reserve, Waikoloa Village, HI, United States
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Queens' Market Place
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Queens' MarketPlace, Waikoloa Beach Drive, Waikoloa Village, HI, United States
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Kings' Shops
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Kings' Shops, Waikoloa Beach Drive, Waikoloa Village, HI, United States
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Kailua Village Kona
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Kailua Village, Kuakini Highway, Kona, HI, United States
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Huliheʻe Palace
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Hulihe‘e Palace, Kailua-Kona, HI, United States
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Mokuaikaua Church
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Mokuaikaua Church, Alii Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI, United States
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Kona Farmers Market
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Kona Farmers Market, Ali'i Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI, United States
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Kainaliu
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Kainaliu Union, Mamalahoa Highway, Kealakekua, HI, United States
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Original Donkey Balls Factory and Store
Introduction to the Big Island of Hawaii
Original Donkey Balls Factory and Store., Mamalahoa Highway, Kealakekua, HI, United States

 

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Free eBooks For Your Amazon Kindle

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Before the Amazon Kindle hit the market travelers had to pick just a few books they wanted to bring with them on trips. There were only so many paperbacks or hardcover books one could fit into their suitcases or carry on luggage. After agonizing over which books to bring travelers had to hope that the books they had brought were enjoyable. If they weren’t they’d be forced to visit a bookstore during their trip and buy another book. The weight of the books and the time spent selecting which books to bring could cause any traveler a headache. Amazon’s Kindle, along with tablets that have come out since, has changed traveling forever. The Amazon Kindle weighs in at less than half a pound and can store thousands of eBooks within its internal storage. Filling up that Amazon Kindle with eBooks is potentially a quick route to emptying out your wallet. To save money you will want to add free eBooks to your device. This article describes a few of the ways you can find free eBooks for your Amazon Kindle.

Kindle Voyage Thin

Amazon’s Kindle Voyage is ultra thin.

 

Amazon Best Sellers

 On Amazon’s website and through the Amazon Kindle’s storefront is Amazon’s list of best sellers for Kindle eBooks. This list includes the top-paid sellers and the top 100 free eBooks available through Amazon. The eBooks available are from a variety of genres. Choose the eBooks that interest you and download them on to your Kindle device.

Popular Classics

Classic novels that have had their copyrights expire are available for free as eBooks. On Amazon’s website click on the Kindle eBooks department and then search using the phrase “Kindle Popular Classics” or “Free Popular Classics”. Novels by authors such as Dickens, Twain, and Verne are available. There is no limit to how many of these free classics you can download to your Amazon Kindle.

Subscribe to E-Mail Lists

If you don’t have time to wade through Amazon’s list of free eBooks you can subscribe to e-mail lists. These e-mail lists will let you know when an eBook’s price has changed to free. Three popular e-mail lists are Daily Free Books, LitFlash, and BookBub. Sign up by providing your e-mail address and selecting your favorite genres to tailor the notifications you receive. These e-mails arrive in your inbox daily and you pick which eBooks you want to download on to your Kindle.

Your Local Library

Libraries have books in their collection available for reading as eBooks. To borrow these eBooks you need a library card from your local library branch. Go to your library’s website and browse their eBook collection. Select the eBook you want and you will see how many digital copies the library has to loan out. The eBooks will be available now or you place yourself on a waitlist to borrow the eBook once it becomes available. Once the eBook is available enter your library card number and select how long you need to borrow the eBook. Your library will then direct your browser to the Amazon website to add the eBook to your Kindle device.

The Amazon Kindle Family

The Amazon Kindle product line includes the Kindle, the Kindle Paperwhite, and the Kindle Voyage.

 

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime members pay an annual membership fee. Although being an Amazon Prime member is not free membership includes two free eBooks each month. If you are using Prime just for shipping and videos you are missing out on your free eBooks.

Amazon Prime members can borrow one free eBook a month from a list that Amazon provides. Readers can take as long as they want to read the eBook, but they may only borrow one eBook a month. The quickest way to view the list of eBooks available is by going through the storefront on the Kindle itself. From the Kindle Store bring up the drop-down menu (upper right hand corner) and select “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library”. A list will appear allowing you to see the Kindle eBooks available or to sort by a subcategory of genre.

The second available free eBook for Amazon Prime members is through Amazon’s Kindle First program. Every month Amazon selects four to six eBooks from books scheduled to go on sale the following month. Each eBook is from a different genre to appeal to a wide base of readers. Prime members may select one eBook for free to download as part of their permanent Amazon library.

Loan An EBook

If you’ve bought eBooks through Amazon you might be able to loan an eBook to other Amazon Kindle users. On Amazon’s website click on “Your Account” and select “Manage Your Content and Devices”. This will bring up a list of the digital items you’ve purchased through Amazon, not just eBooks. Under the tab “Your Content”, next to “Show” select the drop-down menu and click “Books”. Each eBook listed has on the left-hand side a square “…” button you can click. Once you click the button if the eBook is loanable a “Loan this title” link will appear. Click the link and follow the directions to lend your eBook to someone you know.

 

All of the above pictures, and all copyright in the pictures, are owned by Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates.

 

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Buying a Suit in Hong Kong: Sam’s Tailor

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Discovering Sam’s Tailor

In November of 2004 I found myself flipping through an issue of the magazine GQ (Gentlemen’s Quarterly). Within that month’s issue I saw an article titled “The Quest: Find the Perfect Suit… in Hong Kong”. The author, Greg Emmanuel, was retelling his experience of flying from New York to Hong Kong. His entire reason for the trip was to buy a suit at Sam’s Tailor. To me it sounded insane that someone flew sixteen hours to buy a suit when they could just visit a tailor in New York where they lived. Except then the author detailed the cost of the trip versus buying a high-end tailored suit in New York. It was at this point I realized Greg Emmanuel wasn’t crazy but a brilliant fellow. In the article he wrote, “I found an $850 round-trip flight and a $100-a-night hotel. Factoring in a three-night stay and a reasonable budget for food and drink, I planned to spend only $1,500 on the entire trip – in other words, about half the cost of a custom suit back home” (GQ: Gentlemen’s Quarterly; Nov 2004, Vol. 74 Issue 11, p106). Flying to Hong Kong to have a tailored suit custom-made fascinated me. After reading the article I ripped it from the magazine and sequestered it in a safe place. I figured it be best to hold on to as reference just in case I ever wound up traveling to Hong Kong.

Signs on Nathan Road directing you to Sam's Tailor - Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, China

Signs on Nathan Road directing you to Sam’s Tailor

Visiting Sam’s Tailor

I’m not as adventurous as Greg Emmanuel, I never traveled to Hong Kong just to buy a suit. Yet two years after reading the article, in 2006, I found myself in Hong Kong on vacation. As I prepared for my trip I re-read Greg’s article. I knew that during my time in Hong Kong I was going to get myself a tailored suit. After I arrived in Hong Kong I made way to Kowloon. As I walked along Nathan Road a slew of shopkeepers bombarded me and asked me if I wanted to get a tailored suit. I realized how fortunate it was that I found and read that article in GQ. Without Greg’s recommendation I do not know how I could have selected which tailor to visit. Yet there I stood in front of the door to Sam’s Tailor, just as Greg Emmanuel had two years prior. Before visiting Sam’s Tailor I’d never owned a piece of custom-made clothing. I admit I was nervous but excited that my dream of owning a custom-made tailored suit was going to come true.

Two things struck me the moment I entered Sam’s Tailor, how small the shop was and how many types and colors of fabric lined the walls. As I gazed upon the various fabrics I noticed photos hanging on parts of the walls. I moved closer to the photos and realized that these were not random photos, but photos of celebrities from around the world. There were politicians, musicians, actors, and athletes getting measured for a suit at Sam’s Tailor. When I saw these famous faces I realized that I was at the right tailor shop. It was my lucky day because behind the counter there was Sam himself. In an instance I recognized him from the photo in the GQ article. I came to find out that Sam’s real name is Manu Melwani, who took on the business from his father. Manu welcomed me and even asked if I wanted a beer while I perused the various color and fabric samples. The beer helped calm my nerves, and I narrowed my fabric and color selections. Manu and his colleagues answered my questions and after a while I’d settled on a black pinstripe suite. In addition to the suit I ordered two custom-made dress shirts, one white and one light blue. With my color and style of suit decided upon it was time for my measurements. Another tailor took my measurements and told me to return in two days for another fitting.

I was fortunate on this trip to Hong Kong in that I was in town for over a week. This allowed me the luxury of being able to return to Sam’s Tailor for a fitting during the sewing of the suit. If you aren’t in town that long Sam’s Tailor claims they can make a suit for you within 24 hours. Even if you won’t be in town that long you can have the suit shipped to your home. Best-case scenario though is to return to Sam’s Tailor over the course of a week to make sure that the suit being made will fit. At the fitting the suit still appeared rough, with a missing sleeve, and inner lining bare for the world to see. What this fitting ensured was that the length of the jacket sleeves and pants was correct. The tailor checked the size of the waistband and if the jacket closed without issues. After the fitting the tailor told me to return in two days.

On my next visit the tailor handed me my completed suit to try on one final time inside Sam’s Tailor. It was amazing how well the suit fit. Every part of the suit lay upon me in perfect proportion to my body. Unlike an off the rack suit there were no unseemly bulges or bulky shoulder pads. The suit just fit. I felt as if I was James Bond and I couldn’t ever again imagine owning a non-tailored suit. When I left Sam’s Tailor I felt happier than I’d ever had leaving a department store with one of their suits.

I’d heard horror stories of suits from Hong Kong disintegrating once tourists arrived back home. The pinstripe suit I bought still hangs in my closet and to this day not one seam has ever come undone. I wore the suit on many occasions, and it has withstood the test of time. The only issue I ran into was that I’d outgrown the suit. Since 2006 I’d lost over forty pounds through diet and exercise. I didn’t believe it was worth having the suit altered considering my waist size had decreased six inches. Truth is it saddened me to not have a suit that fit me so well anymore. Then in 2015 an opportunity arose for me to once again visit Hong Kong. Without hesitation I knew a return trip to Sam’s Tailor was in store for me.

Entrance to Sam's Tailor - Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, China

Entrance to Sam’s Tailor

Returning to Sam’s Tailor

On this trip to Hong Kong after I landed and checked into my hotel I wasted no time and went straight to Sam’s Tailor. Although nine years had passed since my last visit the shop had not drastically changed. Sam’s Tailor is still in the same location on Nathan Road and still run by the Melwani family. In fact Manu’s son, Roshan, is following in the family’s footsteps and these days is running things at the shop along with his father. In the nine years since my last visit the shop had become more popular, with more shoppers and more staff to accommodate them. Even with the extra people a controlled chaos emanated throughout the store and I received the same great customer service as on my first visit years ago. A woman who worked there helped me pick out a color and fabric and asked me what style I wanted for both my suit and shirt. This time around I went with a slim fit dark gray suit and a traditional white dress shirt. I was in town for a week and able to return for the fitting and to pick up my new suit. Once again Sam’s Tailor created the suit of my dreams. A year later and the suit and shirt are still in perfect condition.

Twice in my life now Sam’s Tailor has made me a happy customer. To this day I have no buyer’s remorse with the two suits I bought at Sam’s Tailor. Over the years I’ve received countless of compliments on both of the suits. When asked where I bought the suits I grin and say “oh from my tailor in Hong Kong”. If I’m fortunate enough to visit Hong Kong again I will for sure go back to Sam’s Tailor. There is something satisfying in flipping through fabric samples in person. If I’m not able to go back to Hong Kong I can contact them on-line to have a brand new suit sent to my home. Either way I will always look forward to the times I wear a custom-made Sam’s Tailor suit.

Inside Sam's Tailor - Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, China

Inside Sam’s Tailor

Tips for Visiting Sam’s Tailor

Your first visit to Sam’s Tailor is overwhelming, especially if you have never bought a custom tailor-made suit. Before you go, I recommend you skim through magazines and clip out the photos of any suits you fancy. Take those clipped photos with you and show them to the employees at Sam’s Tailor so they know what style of suit you want made. Besides the style of the suit it’s a good idea to have decided on what color suit you want. It’s hard enough deciding on color at the shop when every color has a wide spectrum ranging from light to dark. For example if you’ve narrowed your color to gray you’ll still have tons of color swatches to browse through at the shop. Along with color you will want to think ahead of time what fabric you want, for example wool or linen. This decision-making beforehand will make things easier on yourself once you are at Sam’s Tailor. If you have questions while there don’t be afraid to ask as the workers at Sam’s Tailor are knowledgeable and will help you.

One perk of being a customer at Sam’s Tailor is that each person is given a unique number. That number is kept on record at Sam’s Tailor and includes what you bought and your measurements. With that information on file you can contact them via their website, e-mail, or by phone and order another suit. In 2015 Sam’s Tailor could ship a new suit to the United States for a shipping cost of only twenty-five U.S. dollars. Even with the added shipping the final cost of the suit is still a bargain compared to having a custom-made suit made in the United States.

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Sam's Tailor

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Sam\'s Tailor 22.299237, 114.172290 Buying a Suit in Hong Kong: Sam’s Tailor

 

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Hong Kong Transportation

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A key to being a world-class city is having accessible transportation. Hong Kong transportation doesn’t disappoint with a variety of options that will get you to where you need to go. From the moment you land at the airport to the end of your trip you’ll have made it around Hong Kong with ease.

Please note that any times, prices, and currency conversions listed below are only correct for February 2016. For up-to-date pricing visit the Hong Kong transportation websites.

Hong Kong International Airport (HKG)

You’ve landed at Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), gone through customs, and retrieved your baggage. Now you’re wondering how you will get to your hotel. Just as you leave baggage claim you will find a helpful desk that sells tickets for the Airport Express. The Airport Express is a train that runs on a track with station stops at Asia World Expo, Airport, Tsing Yi, Kowloon, and Hong Kong. Travelers with hotel reservations in either Kowloon or Hong Kong Island will want to exit at the corresponding station stop. The best Airport Express ticket for tourists that are staying in Hong Kong for three or more days is the Airport Express Travel Pass. This pass allows for round trip passage between the airport and either Tsing Yi, Kowloon, or Hong Kong Stations. In addition, the pass includes three consecutive days of unlimited travel on the Mass Transit Railway (MTR). This pass is only available to tourists and the round trip passes costs $350 Hong Kong Dollar (HKD). With currency conversion that equals $45 United States Dollars (USD).

Once you have your Airport Express Travel Pass you will walk within the airport from baggage claim to the Airport Station. This short walk has you on your train in no time. Trains leave from the airport every 10-12 minutes and will have you in Central Hong Kong within 24 minutes. Another perk is that once you have arrived at either Kowloon or Hong Kong Station you can board free shuttle buses that will transport you to your hotel. Just read the signs for which bus line goes to your hotel, board the corresponding bus, and you are on your way. This same hotel shuttle is available for you to return to the train station to catch your return trip on the Airport Express.

Airport Express - Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong’s Airport Express

Station sign for MTR, Mass Transit Railway - Hong Kong, China

Station sign for MTR

Mass Transit Railway (MTR)

Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is fast, clean, and efficient. You will find stations throughout the city labeled in English and Chinese.  With only five dedicated (color coded) subway lines the MTR makes it easy to get around Hong Kong without having to rely on taxi drivers.  Signs posted throughout the MTR stations make it easy to decipher what direction you need to head to find your next train. For long distance destinations you transfer between train lines and walk to the correct platform. Station stops broadcast over loudspeakers within the trains in both English and Chinese so you won’t miss your stop. The only cautionary thing to keep in mind is that if possible avoid the MTR during peak commute times. During commute times so many people ride the MTR that you might be squished into trains. If you did not buy the Airport Express Travel Pass to ride the MTR you can buy tickets at the various MTR stations. If you plan on riding the MTR multiple times you can buy a one-day Adult Tourist Day Pass. The Adult Tourist Day Pass costs $65 HKD ($8.35 USD). A single ride ticket fare depends on the distance traveled and the cost ranges anywhere from $4 HKD ($0.50 US Cents) to $8.50 HKD ($1.10 USD).

Star Ferry

The Star Ferry has just one purpose. It takes passengers between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon by sailing over the Victoria Harbour. Tourists will want to ride the Star Ferry at least once during their trip for the magnificent views offered crossing the harbor. Ferries run every 8-20 minutes depending on the time of day. A one-way adult ticket is $2.50 (HKD) on weekdays and $3.40 (HKD) on weekends and public holidays. Converted into USD the fare costs 32 Cents or 44 Cents. This low fare makes the Star Ferry one of the cheapest modes of Hong Kong transportation, and the cheapest way to get between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Keep in mind that the Star Ferry can get packed with locals and tourists alike during commute hours.

Star Ferry with Kowloon in the background - Hong Kong, China

Star Ferry with Kowloon in the background

Star Ferry with Hong Kong Island in the background - Hong Kong, China

Star Ferry with Hong Kong Island in the background

There are three main piers for the Star Ferry. The Star Ferry runs between the piers of Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui and between the piers of Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. Kowloon’s pier of Tsim Sha Tsui is within walking distance to Nathan Road and various shopping opportunities. The Hong Kong Island pier of Wan Chai is near the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. From Wan Chai Pier you can walk twenty-minutes to the Wan Chai District, where you will find many great restaurant choices. The Central Pier on Hong Kong Island is a short walk to the MTR Hong Kong Station if you need to get to other parts of the city. In addition, the Central Pier is where you will catch other ferries to any of the neighboring islands.

Central Ferry Piers - Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong, China

Central Ferry Piers on Hong Kong Island

Island Ferry - Hong Kong, China

Island Ferry for Hong Kong

Island Ferry

If time permits you may take one of the various Island Ferries to nearby islands. Passengers embark on these Island Ferries at the Central Piers (accessible from either Central or Hong Kong MTR Stations). Many of these boats take travelers to outlying islands where locals live. Islands of note that tourists may find interesting to visit include Cheung Chau and Lamma Island. The cost of a one-way adult fare depends on two factors and the first is the ferry you take (ordinary, deluxe, or fast). The second is if you travel Monday to Saturday or on a Sunday and Public Holiday. Regardless of the ferry or day you select, fares are still cheap. One-way fares range from $13.20 HKD ($1.70 USD) at the low-end and $37.20 HKD ($4.77 USD) at the high-end. One of the 10 piers serviced by Central Piers is the Star Ferry service to Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon.

Taxis

There are many taxicabs available to use as Hong Kong transportation.  Depending on your destination taxi fares are cheap. With cheap fares you may find cab drivers won’t take you to your destination if isn’t far enough or worth their time. Short distances are best traveled by the MTR. If you plan on taking a taxi have your destination written in both English and Chinese characters. Many taxi drivers are not fluent in English so having the place written in Chinese will make it easier for you to get to your destination.

Line of taxis - Hong Kong, China

Line of taxis in Hong Kong

 

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Hong Kong Transportation

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Airport Station at HKG: 22.316058, 113.936503
Kowloon Station: 22.304306, 114.161475
Hong Kong Station: 22.284681, 114.158177
Wan Chai Pier: 22.283391, 114.176217
Tsim Sha Tsui Pier: 22.293810, 114.168227
Central Piers: 22.287843, 114.157384
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Airport Station at HKG
Hong Kong Transportation
Airport Station, Hong Kong
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Kowloon Station
Hong Kong Transportation
Kowloon Station, Hong Kong
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Hong Kong Station
Hong Kong Transportation
Hong Kong Station, Hong Kong
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Wan Chai Pier
Hong Kong Transportation
Wan Chai Ferry Pier, Hong Kong
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Tsim Sha Tsui Pier
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Star Ferry Pier, Hong Kong
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Central Piers
Hong Kong Transportation
Central Piers, Hong Kong

 

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Travel As A Local

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When we travel sometimes it’s as if we never left home, what with the buildings being different but the corporate logos being the same. Crave a hamburger and you need only find the golden arches of McDonald’s. Need caffeine and Starbucks can fulfill your wish. Forgot to pack your favorite top and you can buy the same shirt at the Gap. This familiarity makes it easy to avoid the local scene. Yet why spend your hard-earned money traveling to another state or country just to buy what you could at home. By using the Internet and talking to people you meet along the way you can escape globalization and travel as a local.

Local Lodging

Hotel Monaco - Portland, Oregon

Hotel Monaco is a boutique hotel in Portland, Oregon

The easiest route in booking a hotel is to stay with a brand you’re familiar with, such as Hilton or Sheraton. The downside to this approach is that these well-known hotels carry a hefty price tag. Unless you’re willing to stay in out-of-the-way locations such as near the airport. The name brand hotels often lack charm and regardless which part of the world you have traveled to each location is the same.

There are other alternatives and sites such as Hotels.com can help you discover local hotels or boutique hotels, such as Hotel Monaco in Portland. Other websites such as VRBO and Airbnb have listings for vacation rentals such as bed & breakfasts or apartments. By staying at these places you can imitate a local’s way of life. Be sure to cross-reference any lodgings you are thinking of staying at with websites such as TripAdvisor. You can read reviews by past occupants to make sure the lodging is up to your standards and is in a safe location of the city.

Local Meals

Aside from sightseeing the biggest thing for tourists to do is eat the local cuisine.   Still, fears of eating something you’re not familiar with can lead you to slipping back to your default and eating at restaurant franchises you can find at home. This can happen if you’re tired and don’t want to figure out where to eat. If you do this then you’ll be missing out on amazing new food experiences. The best thing to do is to research places to eat before you even leave on your trip. With a list of places to eat throughout the city you will have a restaurant choice no matter where you are in the city during the day. When hunger strikes you can eat at one of the many restaurants you’ve pre-selected.

The easiest way to avoid fast food chains is by using websites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, and similar region specific ratings websites. These websites will include both tourist and local reviews. You’ll know which restaurants serve good food, based on reviews from other travelers and people who live in those cities and eat at those restaurants regularly. Don’t be afraid to use a search engine such as Google to find websites and blogs of travelers and use their suggestions on where to dine. Another suggestion is when you check into your hotel ask the staff for recommendations. The hotel workers live in the city and will have recommendations for the best restaurants on any budget.

Food purchased at local market - Nice, France

Food purchased at local market in Nice, France

An alternative is to skip the restaurant and visit a local farmer’s market or grocery store for a meal you can bring back to your hotel. A sampling of local bread, cheeses, meats, fruits, vegetables, and candies can turn into one of your most memorable meals. If you are traveling with checked luggage bring a bottle opener with you to use on an alcoholic beverage. A local beer or wine from the market will enhance your hotel picnic even more. Cities such as Nice in France are perfect for such meals. You can dine in the comfort of your hotel room on local delicacies such as foie gras, comté, and salami. Pair your food with a slice of fresh baguette and a glass of French wine for a delicious meal.

Local Shopping

Pedestrian zone with stores and restaurants - Bern, Switzerland

Pedestrian zone with stores and restaurants in Bern, Switzerland

Chances are you packed more clothes than you’ll ever need for your trip in your suitcase. It’s human nature to over pack. What’s unfortunate is that the heavy suitcase you’re now lugging over town and over cobblestones has made you crazy. The next time you travel, consider not filling up your entire suitcase. Pack enough clothes to begin your journey and buy the rest of your clothes.

Pedestrian only zones, such as those found in Bern (Switzerland), are great places to find local brands of clothing. Shopping while on vacation is an adventure and it will help freshen up your wardrobe. Plus the clothing you wear will resemble the clothes the local population wears. If you wear local attire it allows you to blend in and trick the locals into thinking you aren’t a tourist. In addition clothes make a great personal souvenir and when your friend asks you where you bought that article of clothing you’ll be happy to tell them where.

When using your credit card if the store, or restaurant, asks if you wish to pay in your home currency versus the local currency always select the local currency. If you choose to pay in your home currency you may find your credit card company will charge you additional service fees. The service fees will be on top of getting the worst currency exchange rate possible for that day. Save yourself money and pay in local currency every chance you get.

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Transportation Options in London

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A trip to London is expensive for a variety of reasons. Americans who travel to London will have a currency conversion rate that won’t be in their favor. As of November 2015 on average 1 British Pound equaled 1.50 US Dollars. The cost of the airline ticket runs high since flying into and out of London includes a slew of various taxes and fees. Your hotel and meals will be a big part of your budget. The need to pay for ground transportation on top of everything else is daunting. Fortunately, it is possible to save money when it comes to transportation.

From London Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Express is one of the cheapest and fastest ways to get from Heathrow Airport into London. The Heathrow Express is a train that you board from terminals 2, 3, 4, or 5. Trains leave four times an hour. Depending on which terminal you board the train at it takes between 15 to 20 minutes to reach the London Paddington Station. From London Paddington Station you can connect to other parts of the city using London’s other means of transportation, such as the Underground. You buy tickets for the Heathrow Express online or at the station’s ticket office.

Heathrow Connect is a popular means of transportation for employees of Heathrow Airport because of its stops in nearby suburban districts. Heathrow Connect is a slower train alternative to the Heathrow Express, but it is useful for tourists. If you are not traveling into London but need rail connections to other parts of England then you might need to use Heathrow Connect. For example, you can buy your ticket at the ticket office and take Heathrow Connect one stop to the Hayes & Harlington Station. From there you can find a connecting train to Slough or any other train station that has multiple connections that can whisk you away to your destination.

Paddington Underground Station - London, England

London Underground

The London Underground, nicknamed the Tube, is an inexpensive and quick way to navigate London. Tickets available to ride the Tube include single ride tickets, day passes, multi-day passes, and a pay-as-you-go card. Two factors will help you decide which ticket to buy. The number of days you plan on staying in London and where in London you will be traveling. London is separated into various zones, the number of zones you cross using the Underground will help you decide which ticket you need to buy.

To save money you will want to buy either the Travel Card or the Oyster Card. The Travel Card is a paper ticket that can be used within the center zones of London for a set number of days. A seven-day Travel Card exists but is not available to buy in London and must be purchased before your trip. The Oyster Card is a plastic card that can be used in most zones. An Oyster Card has a balance that is deducted as you travel. A benefit of the Oyster Card is that it has a travel cap limit each day. This means once you’ve reached that limit any other journeys on that day are free. For that reason alone if your plans include many trips on the Tube you will want to buy the Oyster Card.

Transport for London is a UK government website with a plethora of information, including information on the various ticket buying options. Visit Britain, the “official shop of the British Tourist Board” has a page on their website with advice on which transportation ticket you should buy when in London. You can buy your tickets online through Visit Britain, including the aforementioned seven-day Travel Card.

Shard and Underground - London, England

Shard and Underground

Other London Transportation

The iconic taxis you can find throughout London are ready to take you to your destination. Each taxi driver must pass an intense exam to become licensed. The taxi drivers have memorized London’s streets and can navigate with ease without needing a GPS device. Besides taxis London has an extensive affordable public bus system. Additionally, various companies offer Hop on Hop off bus tours for a fee. Gray Line is a company that sells Hop on Hop off bus tours, specific tours of London, and day trips from London.

Taxis in front of Buckingham Palace - London, England

Taxis in front of Buckingham Palace

Destinations Beyond London

If your travels will take you elsewhere besides London you will want to consider purchasing a rail pass. It is pricey to buy just one-way point-to-point train tickets for multiple trips. With the right rail pass you can save money. BritRail Passes are not available to buy in Great Britain so you will want to be sure to buy them before your trip. Which pass to buy will depend on where you will be traveling. For example, if you will travel to popular tourist destinations such as Bath or Oxford then you will want to buy the BritRail South West Pass. If you plan on traveling through out Great Britain the best pass will be the BritRail GB Pass. Rail passes are bought for a specified number of days, used either on consecutive days or over a set number of days. The Visit Britain site has a visual breakdown of which destinations each BritRail Pass services. Besides Visit Britain, Rail Europe is another site with information on the various BritRail Passes available. You can buy the BritRail Pass through Visit Britain or through Rail Europe. During checkout the companies will ask what your departure date is to make sure that you will receive your tickets before your trip. Before boarding your first train be sure to visit a train ticket office to have your pass activated.

First Great Western train - England

First Great Western – one of the train companies operating in England

 

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Sightseeing in London

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In the course of my travels the first international city I could envision myself living in was London, England. I initially selected London as a destination to visit most likely for the same reasons many Americans do. There is an immediate sense of familiarity. Part of the roots of America can be traced to those same English streets. Several buildings and streets remind you of American cities such as Boston. Although they say loo instead of toilet, no language barrier needs to be overcome. The biggest hurdle to American’s visiting London is that cars drive on the other side of the road. Even that isn’t a big issue as they’ve written on the pavement which way to look to cross the street. A trip to London is a good gateway to further international travel.

Deciding on traveling to London is the easy part. The difficult part is deciding which sites to visit if you will be in London only a few days. An entire paragraph can be written just listing out the sites to visit. Any trip to London has to include a plan of action. After a couple visits to London my goal with this article is try to simplify the sightseeing landscape. I hope that the suggestions I’ve written below will help you decide what to do during your trip to London.

The London Eye

London Eye - London, England

If you’re looking to take aerial photos of London your top three choices are the London Eye, The Shard, or St. Paul’s Cathedral. If your time is limited my suggestion is to choose the London Eye. St. Paul’s requires climbing a narrow staircase while The Shard’s entrance price is the most expensive of the three choices. The London Eye is a Ferris wheel that provides aerial photos of The Palace of Westminster. The Parliament buildings, which include Elizabeth Tower and the “Big Ben” bell, are one of the most recognizable sites in the world. For photos it’s impossible to capture the entire building from street level since the buildings are just too big. Since the London Eye is just across the river it allows you the opportunity for that photo you crave. The risk of rain in London is always high, but within a London Eye capsule even your rain soaked photos come out beautiful. If you’re scared of heights an alternative for a photo that captures The Palace of Westminster is on a cruise on the River Thames.

Views From London Eye - London, England

View from a London Eye capsule. The photo on the left side was taken when it wasn’t raining, the photo on the right side was taken when it was raining.

The Theater

A visit to the theater in London makes for an enjoyable afternoon or evening. For historian buffs a good choice is Shakespeare’s Globe. The building is a replica of the original Globe that premiered many of Shakespeare’s works. The current Globe allows one to watch a Shakespeare play just as it was centuries ago. Another choice besides the Globe is The West End, home to world-class play productions. With runs of popular musicals and dramas it can be difficult choosing which one to see. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is a solid choice. The Mousetrap’s first performance was in 1952 and ever since it has continued to be performed. The Mousetrap is the longest running play in the world. When you watch the actors in The Mousetrap you become a part of that history.

Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap at St. Martin's Theatre - London, England

Abbey Road

Even if you’re not a Beatles fan chances are you’ve seen their famous Abbey Road album cover. The fab four stride with confidence through the crosswalk. Many Beatles fans enjoy traveling to London to reenact the album cover. To those who have never been to London the album cover’s crosswalk looks unique. One of the sobering moments upon arriving in London is that other crosswalks look the same as Abbey Road. In fact, making the trek out to Abbey Road can be disappointing for many people. For starters it’s a thirty-minute journey from the center of London (Trafalgar Square). The actual Abbey Road crosswalk looks the same as the surrounding crosswalks. What makes Abbey Road different is a ton of graffiti on the walls of the nearby recording studio and on the Abbey Road street sign. With nothing else of note in the region one could recreate the album cover anywhere in London and get the same effect in a photo. If you are pressed for time and not a die-hard Beatles fan you could skip visiting the actual Abbey Road.

Abbey Road - London, England

The real Abbey Road.

10 Downing Street

10 Downing Street is where the British Prime Minister lives. Similar to the White House in Washington, DC the building is gated, has a ton of security, and your chances of seeing a political figure are slim to none. Unlike the White House one cannot stand in front of 10 Downing Street. The government building is on a narrow street blocked off from pedestrian access. There is no lawn in front from which you can view it yards away. The clearest view you have is that of a crowd of tourists trying to peek through the gated bars to see something of note. If a crowd of tourists sounds fun then hail a black cab and head to 10 Downing Street. If you don’t enjoy crowds you should have no hesitation in avoiding this site.

Downing Street - London, England

The only view tourists get of 10 Downing Street.

Harrods

If you love shopping then visiting Harrods is more than a must it’s a life calling. Even if you are someone who doesn’t enjoy shopping a quick visit to Harrods is an essential part of visiting London. The department store is humongous and you can shop for a variety of products within its walls. You can buy clothes, books, electronics, toys, jewelry, and food. A large department store means you can lose track of time and unintentionally spend hours there. In fact, like a casino in Las Vegas, finding an exit in Harrods is difficult. It’s as though the people behind Harrods want you to spend as much time as possible in their building. The longer you stay the higher the chances are you’ll find something to buy. To maximize your time as you enter Harrods be sure to pick up one of their maps. The map will help you find an exit and locate the departments and merchandise you are most interested in exploring.

Harrods - London, England

 

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Sightseeing in London

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London Eye: 51.503324, -0.119543
The Shard: 51.504382, -0.086279
St Paul\'s Cathedral: 51.513845, -0.098351
Palace of Westminster: 51.499480, -0.124809
Shakespeare\'s Globe: 51.508076, -0.097194
Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap: 51.512858, -0.127646
Abbey Road: 51.536791, -0.183003
10 Downing Street: 51.503364, -0.127625
Harrods: 51.499405, -0.163234
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London Eye
Sightseeing in London
London Eye, London, United Kingdom
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The Shard
Sightseeing in London
The Shard, London Borough of Southwark, United Kingdom
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St Paul's Cathedral
Sightseeing in London
St. Paul's Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
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Palace of Westminster
Sightseeing in London
Palace of Westminster, London, United Kingdom
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Shakespeare's Globe
Sightseeing in London
Shakespeare's Globe, New Globe Walk, London, United Kingdom
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Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap
Sightseeing in London
St. Martin's Theatre, West Street, London, United Kingdom
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Abbey Road
Sightseeing in London
Abbey Road, London, United Kingdom
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10 Downing Street
Sightseeing in London
10 Downing Street, Downing Street, London, United Kingdom
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Harrods
Sightseeing in London
Harrods, Brompton Road, London, United Kingdom

 

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Manage iPhone Data Usage Abroad

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Article Last Updated September 2016 to reflect iPhone software update iOS 10.0.1

Having an iPhone available to you while traveling is useful. When traveling abroad you do not want to worry about data charges that might be imposed on you by your cell phone carrier. Here are the steps needed to use your iPhone in another country and how to control the amount of data you are using. Unless otherwise specified most of these settings will be available to you while your phone is on Airplane Mode. Make use of your flight time by adjusting the settings during your flight so your phone is ready once you land. After landing and switching Airplane Mode off you can adjust the remaining settings.

Please note all the Settings application navigation listed below are correct as of iPhone software update iOS 10.0.1. Images displayed below are from Apple’s iPhone, with the step being described circled in red.

Get an International Data Plan for you iPhone

Prior to your trip contact your existing cell phone data provider and add an international data plan package to your cell phone account. Select the amount of data you feel will best suit your travel needs and find out how much added data may cost if you need more during your trip. If you plan on making calls on your phone also ask your cell phone provider about calling rates.

Enable your iPhone to Work Abroad

Upon arriving in another country you will need to turn data roaming on to allow your iPhone to pick up signals from international carriers. This allows you to access data and receive calls and texts.

Step 1: Open the Settings application and tap Cellular. (Please note: Cellular is unavailable in airplane mode)

Step 2: Tap Cellular Data Options

Step 3: Turn Data Roaming on.

Data Roaming setting for Apple's iPhone

If you plan on making calls on your phone you will need to make sure that the iPhone includes the correct country prefix when dialing.

Step 1: Open the Settings application and tap Phone. (Please note: Phone is unavailable in airplane mode)

Step 2: Turn Dial Assist on.

Dial Assist setting for Apple's iPhone

With dial assist on you can make phone calls to people in your contacts list and you won’t need to add the prefix for your country code.

Decrease iPhone Data Usage: Mail, Notifications, and Locations

Mail

It takes a lot of data for your phone to automatically pull in new e-mails into your inboxes so you will want to turn this feature off.

Step 1: Open the Settings application and tap Mail.

Step 2: Tap Accounts.

Step 3: Tap Fetch New Data and on the next screen switch Push to off.

Step 4: Under the Push tab you just switched off you will want to tap each e-mail account, including the Holiday Calendar, and for each account under Select Schedule select Manual.

Step 5: Return to the Fetch New Data screen and scroll down to the Fetch section and select the Manually option.

Mail Fetch setting for Apple's iPhone

After turning the push feature off to get e-mails you will need to open the Mail application and refresh your inboxes by swiping down within the application.

Notifications

Turn off all of your notifications except essential alerts such as texts and phone calls. Also keep on notifications for calendars and reminders if you use them for travel plan alerts.

Step 1: Open the Settings application and tap Notifications.

Step 2: Select each application listed under Notification Style and switch Allow Notifications to off.

Notifications setting for Apple's iPhone

Locations

You will most likely use location-based services while traveling, such as Maps and any transportation or dining applications. You will however need to turn off applications that use location-based services but are not required for your trip.

Step 1: Open the Settings application and tap Privacy.

Step 2: Tap Location Services and turn off the applications you will not need during your trip.  To turn off the application’s location access click on the desired application and select the Never option under Allow Location Access.

Step 3: At the bottom of the list of applications is System Services. Tap on it and to decrease data usage turn off everything listed except for Find My iPhone. Although they all sound important most are not needed to run your phone but rather what Apple calls “crowd-sourced location data”. For more information read Apple’s support article: About privacy and Location Services in iOS 8 and later.

System Services setting for Apple's iPhone

If your phone automatically sets what the time is then your phone is constantly using data to verify the correct time. To turn this feature off you will need to open the Settings application and tap on General. Select Date & Time and turn Set Automatically off. Under Time Zone select the right location so that your phone displays the correct local time.

Time setting for Apple's iPhone

 

 

Limit iPhone Cellular Data Usage

 

It is possible to turn off the ability to use cellular data for specific applications. This ensures that you do not by accident open an application and use unnecessary cell data for that application.

Step 1: Open the Settings application and tap Cellular. (Please note: Cellular is unavailable in airplane mode)

Step 2: Scroll to Use Cellular Data For and turn off applications you know you won’t use over cellular.

You may also turn off iCloud’s ability to save information over cellular data.

Step 1: Open the Settings application and tap iCloud.

Step 2: Tap iCloud Drive and scroll to the bottom. Switch off Use Cellular Data.

iCloud setting for Apple's iPhone

 

 

Keep Track of your iPhone Data

 

If you go over the allotted amount of data on the international data plan from your carrier you will have to pay for more data or be charged fees. By setting your cell usage counter to zero once you land in another country you can track how much data you are using.

Step 1: Open the Settings application and tap Cellular. (Please note: Cellular is unavailable in airplane mode)

Step 2: Scroll to the bottom and tap Reset Statistics and select Reset Statistics.

Cellular Reset setting for Apple's iPhone

During your trip go back to the Cellular screen and under the Cellular Data Usage section you will find the statistics on how much data you have used since the reset.

Use Wi-Fi When Possible

The easiest way to make sure you are not using cellular data is to use Wi-Fi. When using Wi-Fi log into secure Wi-Fi zones. Many restaurant chains abroad (including Starbucks) allow for customers to use their Wi-Fi. Your hotel may offer Wi-Fi service either in your room or in the lobby. For increased security consider purchasing a VPN (Virtual Private Network) such as from Private Internet Access (PIA). VPN’s encrypt the data you send over Wi-Fi ensuring extra protection no matter which Wi-Fi hotspot you are accessing.

Gather the information you need over Wi-Fi and you can save your allotted cell data for times when Wi-Fi is not accessible. If you aren’t purchasing an international data plan, you can keep your iPhone always set to airplane mode. Even on airplane mode you can turn on Wi-Fi to access the data you need. Open Settings, make sure Airplane Mode is on, and tap Wi-Fi and select the network you wish to join.

When in Doubt More is Better

 To have to change all the settings listed in this article is time-consuming and tedious. The alternative however is winding up with an expensive cell phone bill. It is easy to use up your data allotment so any step you take to mitigate cell data usage is worth it. If you are in doubt about any setting the best thing to do is just turn that feature off. Your iPhone will alert you if a feature you want to access won’t work because of a setting you changed.

The settings listed above are all suggestions. To make absolute sure you do not go over your international data allotment speak with a representative of your cell phone carrier.

 

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Apps to Ease the Stress of Travel

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When traveling you may not realize that your biggest enemy is time. You have a set agenda that has to be accomplished within a set number of days. You work out the details of your trip and without even trying something comes along to disrupt your plans. This is inevitable, but how you handle the issues that arise will set the tone for the rest of your trip. Wallow in self-pity and your trip has become a horror story. Meet whatever comes head on and you’ll continue your vacation as if nothing ever happened.

Smart Traveler

Thankfully with a multitude of travel apps (short for applications) available for our smart phones we are able to access the tools to tackle whatever comes our way. If you are traveling abroad a great app is the United States government’s Smart Traveler app. The app includes information on various countries and those countries current relationship with the United States. You can check to see if the U.S. has issued its citizens any travel warnings for specific countries. Additionally you might want to consider enrolling in the U.S. government’s STEP: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This program allows you to alert the local US Embassy or Consulate with which days you will be in their country. If an incident occurs while you are traveling it will be easier for you to gain help from the US Embassy or Consulate staff.

Flights

Staying informed extends not only from information on the country you are visiting but to the airline you are flying. For whichever airline you are traveling on be sure to download their specific app. With their app you will be able to get updates on flight times, gate changes, and other useful trip details. The airline’s app may even allow you to change your seat. To help you select your flight’s seat assignment use SeatGuru. With SeatGuru you enter your flight number and the app brings up a seating chart of your plane. The seating chart highlights the best seats and which seats customers have found to be uncomfortable. Additionally you can see which seats have amenities, such as an electric port for charging cables.

Navigation

For getting around once you’ve reached your destination you can always use the maps app provided to you by your smart phone’s operating system or Google Maps. If you’re traveling internationally and worried that cell phone data charges will pile up you can use Genius Maps. Genius Maps allows you to download maps you can use off-line. Be sure to download the maps you need before leaving for your destination. Another useful traveling app is MetrO. By entering in two destinations the app will let you know the quickest way between the two points using public transportation. MetrO will show you how long the journey will take, which transfers there may be, and the number of stations you will pass before your stop.

Translation

Once you’ve gotten yourself to your destination, if you are traveling to a location where you are not familiar with the language Translate by Google can be useful. Select the language you wish to translate and type in the word you need translated. The app will give you the translation and you can have your device read out loud the translated word. This can come in handy when you are trying to speak to someone who doesn’t understand you. Additionally if you are too shy to use the diction feature you can display the words in bold by holding your device horizontally.

Conclusion

These are just a fraction of the many wonderful apps that can help you in your travels. There are many more apps available. Don’t be afraid to try other apps out before your trip. Just search through your phone’s app store and see what other apps might be useful. Read reviews by other travelers on how useful the app is to help you in choosing the best apps. Before you know it you’ll have more than enough useful tools at your disposal and you’ll be able to enjoy your vacation in no time.

 

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Tips on Wine Tasting in Napa Valley

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It’s easy to spend your travel budget on wine tasting fees alone. This article offers tips on how to get more for your dollar when in Napa Valley.

The Tasting Fees

This is anecdotal but before the dot-com bubble of 1997-2000 if you were to visit Napa Valley wineries only offered free wine tastings. During the dot-com era the number of folks who moved to the Bay Area and had disposable income skyrocketed. They wanted to spend that money and Napa Valley was an easy hour to two-hour drive away. With this sudden influx of new visitors the wineries had to adjust their procedures and institute tasting fees. This allowed the winery recoup money lost on the wine being served in the tasting room. Even after the dot-com bubble burst the wineries kept the tasting fees.

There are wineries in the industry that have priced their tasting fees at $25 or higher per person. This tasting fee might garner a visitor tastings of five different wines with pours for each tasting being minimal. The quantity might equal one glass of wine. Mind you, a tasting need not mean a full glass of wine. Wine tasting is not to get drunk. You are wine tasting to see if you enjoy the wine or not. Yet these wineries are selling bottles of wine that cost less than or the same as the tasting fee. Proportionally the cost of wine tasting is too high. Additionally most wineries have stopped waiving the tasting fee if you buy a bottle of wine. If you and a friend buy a tasting fee and each buy a bottle of wine a single visit could cost a $100 per winery.

Of course, a tasting fee is understandable. The wineries can’t just give away their wines for free. It is an extensive production to make a bottle of wine. It takes years from the moment the vines grow the grapes to the time a wine bottle hits the shelves. Plus, many people are involved with the production of the wine. This includes the employees in the field, wine makers, and tasting room attendants. If every person who wine tasted bought a bottle of wine it’s possible tasting fees could stop. Except there exist individuals who go wine tasting with no intention of buying wine. Regrettably this practice of tasting fees hurts those visitors who are new to wine and those who love wine and want to try out different wines and wineries.

Those new to wine may find tasting fees to high and avoid ever tasting at wineries. This leads to wineries loosing potential customers and prevents a person from even finding out how much they may enjoy that winery’s wine. For long time wine drinkers that same high wine tasting fee may stop them from visiting a winery and that too is a lost consumer. My suggestion to wineries is that their tasting fees should not be more than half of the cheapest bottle of wine in the tasting flight. If someone will buy a bottle of wine you don’t need to comp the entire tasting fee, but you should give a percentage off the total sale. Rewarding customers is a good practice and could land you a consumer for life.

Internet research can help you find wineries with no tasting fee, a low tasting fee, or tasting fees that go towards buying a bottle of wine. If you have a winery you want to visit but don’t want to pay the high tasting fee, my suggestion is to skip the tasting room. Instead, buy a bottle of their wine out right. For example, pack yourself a picnic lunch. Go to Frank Family Vineyards, buy a bottle of their wine, and ask them to uncork it for you. Snag a spot at one of their picnic benches outside and you and your group can split the bottle while eating lunch. If you have a big group you can buy more than one bottle. You’ve gone from a small pour in a tasting center to savoring the wine in a relaxed setting.

Crowds

Regardless of which wineries you visit there will be crowds. The number of people visiting Napa Valley has increased over the past couple of decades. If you’re with a big group and you’re just there for a fun outing this may not be an issue. If you’re there only for wine tasting it can be annoying. You don’t want to struggle for a spot at the wine bar or be jostled while trying to sip your wine. The only way to avoid crowds is to visit Napa Valley during the off-peak season, or weekdays. Visit wineries the moment they open in the morning to avoid crowds. If you are visiting Napa Valley with a large-sized group try calling the wineries ahead of time to let them know when you will visit them. There are wineries that offer group rates, with discounts on tours of the winery or packaged deals that include wine pairings with food. There are wineries that have specific tastings areas for larger groups that you can reserve ahead of time.

Release Day Events

Another tip to get the most out of your dollar is to attend a winery’s release day event. There are wineries that offer one or two such events a year. There is an entrance fee that may appear steep but includes unlimited tastings plus hors d’oeuvres. The best part of these events is the chance to try higher end bottles of wine. The wineries are attempting to sell cases of newly released wine, including cases that can run upwards of over a hundred dollars a bottle. If you’ve never tried wine that expensive these events allow you to do so. A lot of people attend release day events, be sure to arrive as early as possible. Even though it’s crowded, these events are wonderful for a group outing. Release day events are held outside or in event halls, which means more space than if you were inside a tasting room. Wineries that put on great release day events are Silver Oak Cellars and Groth Vineyards & Winery. Check on-line for other wineries that may host such events.

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Napa Valley on a Budget

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Frank Family Vineyards: 38.559106, -122.521703
Silver Oak Cellars: 38.440849, -122.381457
Groth Vineyards & Winery: 38.449131, -122.379458
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Frank Family Vineyards
Tips on Wine Tasting in Napa Valley
Frank Family Vineyards, Larkmead Lane, Calistoga, CA, United States
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Silver Oak Cellars
Tips on Wine Tasting in Napa Valley
Silver Oak Cellars, Oakville Cross Road, Oakville, CA, United States
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Groth Vineyards & Winery
Tips on Wine Tasting in Napa Valley
Groth Vineyards & Winery, Oakville Cross Road, Oakville, CA, United States

 

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