10 travel tips you might not read elsewhere.

May partner and I have been on the road for around 9 months now, travelling around Europe and South East Asia, and I’ve learned a few things about myself, the world, and how to travel. Some things are obvious, like how important it is to have decent travel insurance, buying local pay-as-you-go sim cards instead of racking up a big roaming bill, and setting some sort of spending budget…

However, here are ten tips (and a few bonus ones) that you might not read on the average travel blog.

Vietnamese lizard
  1. Everything breaks, so get good at fixing stuff, and learn to sew. Pack superglue, electrical tape, and a small sewing kit, and you can fix just about anything. I’ve repaired shoes, shorts, sleeping bags, watches, sunglasses, bags and cameras over the past few months.
    Repair on a sleeping bag.

    Sugru is also a great resource, but each pouch has to be used immediately once it’s opened, so take some, but use it as a last resort. And seriously, learn some basic sewing skills, like darning socks, sewing on buttons, or repairing rips and tears.

    solar charger, water purifier, backpack
    Halfway up to Annapurna base camp
  2. A good first aid kit is crucial. Stock up on antiseptic, plasters, bandages, bite cream, water purifying tabs, tweezers and anything else you might need personally. I even took some emergency tooth filling repair stuff, and I used it. You can also use superglue to patch up wounds, but be careful as it can get very hot when it dries, and the standard stuff sets stiff so it’s not good for cuts over skin that moves, like the soles of your feet.
    Kathmandu, Nepal

    Zinc oxide tape is great to prevent blisters and secure bandages. Electrical tape serves as a superb fix for a wound dressing if you’re going to get it wet. I cut my toes fairly badly while cliff jumping (whilst climbing up, not jumping down) and used bandages and electrical tape for a couple of weeks to keep it bandaged while in the sea.

    Cliff jumping in Vietnam
    Kayaking and paddle boarding in Vietnam

    Also stock up medicine when possible. Painkillers aren’t always available and you can go through them quicker than you’d expect. Take with you antihistamines, sleeping pills, anti-diarrhoea and rehydration salts. If you can, get some antibiotics like amoxicillin for general wound or tooth infections, and metronidazole for stomach bugs  and amoebic nasties.

    Our trekking guides, Santosh and Puskar

    If you find yourself somewhere like Nepal where you can get antibiotics over the counter, buy some. Buy more than you think you need (but not so many that you’ll be thrown in jail for smuggling prescription drugs). If you get an infection and you’re in deepest Cambodia, you really don’t want to leave it until you can find a reliable doctor.

    Walking in the Himalayas

    Buy hand sanitiser when you can find it cheaply, because it gets expensive when you’re remote. You’ll probably acclimatise to the local stomach bugs eventually, but using hand sanitiser regularly will reduce the likelihood of getting a bad one. I wasn’t careful enough in our first week in Kathmandu, and after vomiting in the street, and a very tense taxi ride, rather regretted it.

    Pub Street, Siem Reap, Cambodia
  3. Get a decent knife and learn how to use it and look after it properly. Buy one that locks open so that you don’t cut your fingers off when closing it. Keep it sharp using a decent stone or steel. Sharpening a blunted knife is really difficult, but keeping a knife sharp just takes a bit of discipline. I carried around a stone in my bag for 8 months just for this purpose. You’ll use your knife for everything from preparing food, repairing clothes, and cutting hair!

    Look after your knife.
  4. Eat local food whenever possible. Some of the most amazing food I’ve had travelling has been in the cheapest street stalls and markets. However, good local food isn’t always available. You’ll often find yourself forced to eat whatever is provided, and it might not be to your (or frankly, anyone’s) taste. Tabasco sauce can make all sorts of bland, weird, slightly off, or otherwise less-than-great food palatable. Take a little bottle of your your own with you, and even carry a few spices, salt, pepper, and sugar.
    Nepalese street food on the road to Pokhara.

    Cambodian market food
  5. Keep your hip flask topped up. I recommend whisky because it’s drinkable by itself and goes well mixed with lots of stuff from coke to coffee, gin is pretty nice to carry around but good luck finding tonic in rural SE Asia. Cognac could work for you if you’re an artist or something. Vodka if you’re doing the whole serious alcoholic thing. When you get invited to an impromptu beach party, or a chillout on a porch, you’ll be pleased you’ve got your old faithful hip flask with you.

    Chilling in Lisbon
  6. Buy a bunch of dry bags of different colours and sizes. You can almost never have too many dry bags. They’re really useful for simply keeping your kit organised and separated, so you’re not hunting around for your socks every day or wondering where your favourite big-night-out T-shirt is. It also means that if your bag gets wet or something springs a leak inside, most of your stuff will be ok. I used a big red one to keep dirty washing in (red for danger, obvs), and also used various dry bags for trips to the beach, backpacking in the rain, or kayaking trips. 

    Unpacking along the Annapurna Trek
  7. Be careful using squat toilets. In many parts of Asia, you’ll come across squat toilets. Once you get used to them, they’re actually pretty good, as long as they’re kept reasonably clean. However, make sure you zip up your pockets if possible, or at least put your phone and wallet somewhere else when you’re using a squat toilet. If something falls out, you really don’t want to be rummaging around down there, however fancy and expensive your phone is. 

    Riding around Koh Chang, Thailand.
  8. When travelling, if there are seatbelts, wear them. The same goes for helmets whilst riding motorbikes. It’s cool to be safe, kids. Driving standards outside Europe and the US are significantly lower, and in many places there’s not even a requirement to pass a test in order to drive on public roads. Our coach from Kathmandu to Pokhara overturned after having to avoid a speeding car on the wrong side of the road who’d miscalculated an overtake. We were fine, as was everyone in the coach apart from our Annapurna guide, who smacked his knee hard. We were lucky, but it could have been much worse.
    Everyone was fine, fortunately.

  9. Wear synthetic underwear. Seriously. If you’re walking a lot, or spending a lot of time in hot and humid conditions, you don’t want to be wearing cotton underwear, because they absorb water and will at best be very uncomfortable, and worst cause such severe chafing that you can barely move, or it gets infected. Synthetic underwear doesn’t absorb water, so it’s way more comfortable, particularly for trekking and/or humid weather. It’s also great for impromptu outdoors swimming, because your pants will dry quickly and frankly they’re also less transparent when wet than cotton pants…
    Swimming in cold water in El Bosque, Andalusia.

    Snorkelling in Thailand.
  10. Go offline. Going off-grid can be a great experience, especially if it’s for a decent amount of time. If you get a chance to get out into the wilderness, the mountains, or out to sea, then use that opportunity to go fully offline and away from the distractions of modern life. We went off-grid for about 12 days on our trek to Annapurna Base Camp, and it made an amazing experience even better.
    Prayer flags at Annapurna base camp

    Although initially you might suffer from bad FOMO, or fear that your parents and friends might worry if they don’t hear from you (by the way, you should probably tell people you’re going offline lest they spark an international manhunt), after a few days you’ll feel back in touch with the real world a little more, maybe feel a bit more calm, and able to be more present in the moment. You might even find that after a week or two of being off-grid, you really don’t want to reconnect after all.

    Taking the night train to Saigon
Jade relaxing on a snorkelling trip in Thailand

Finally, here’s a few bonus tips that didn’t quite make it to the top ten:

  • Shower gel is a fine alternative to washing machine detergent. Just don’t use too much.
  • Toilet paper is valuable stuff, always keep some with you, especially on a mountain trek. A roll of toilet paper can cost the same as a night’s accommodation high up in the mountains.

    The Himalayas at sunrise
  • Always carry snacks, because you will definitely find yourself in places or on journeys for considerable lengths of time with no access to food. Individually wrapped cereal bars are great. Try to avoid things that melt.
  • Take digital photos of your passport and other important documents, in case you lose them, or in case you need to show them to someone but don’t have the documents on you.
Putting our feet up during a Himalaya trek.
  • Take rechargeable batteries for torches and other gear, and a charger for them. 
  • Learn to open beer and wine bottles without openers. Don’t use your teeth. 

    Mucking about (fallen angel pose) in Lisbon.
  • Carry some US dollars for emergencies. Almost everywhere accepts them as currency, or at least to change them. They’re often essential to pay for visas at the border around SE Asia too.
  • If it’s within your budget (or someone else’s), get yourself a proper adventure camera. Jade bought me the amazing Olympus Tough TG-5, which is waterproof, drop-proof, and packed with features.

    Olympus TG5 camera.
  • Get a Curve card. It’s a Mastercard, so it’s accepted nearly everywhere, and you can use it instead of your credit and debit cards, so you can keep them safe somewhere and only expose your Curve card to potentially risky ATMs and restaurant owners. Curve also converts currencies for you, saving you money on fees. Shameless promo: sign up for Curve here with code NPWZA and you’ll get £5, and so will I.
  • Take a tablet or laptop with you in order to work, research and book travel, or simply watch Netflix. We spent many, many hours on shonky wifi connections from nearby cafes watching Anthony Bourdain on Netflix. Try to download stuff to watch or listen to later if you know wifi might be patchy.

    Lemon tree in Prado Del Rey, Andalusia
  • Practise mindfulness and meditation; you’ll many have periods of time when all you can do is sit and wait, so you may as well put it to good use, and you can continue to practise when you’re back in the “real” world. If you’re new to it or prefer a little guidance, there are some great apps out there for meditation practice, such as Headspace.
Getting to Annapurna base camp

Travelling is very much about experiencing abstract, intangible things. Meeting new people, seeing different parts of the world, experiencing other cultures, eating different food and finding ways to be at ease with discomfort such as sleeping in bad beds or walking for hours with a heavy pack on your back.

Don’t worry about buying souvenirs. They’re just added weight. Take photos, record the sounds, make memories and friends.

Vietnamese fishing boats

As Bourdain says: “It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realise the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realise how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have still to go, how much more there is to learn.

Wild swimming in a pool in Koh Chang, Thailand.
Jade at Ninh Van Bay, Vietnam.
Getting bamboo tattoos in Thailand
Barcelona beach

Leave a comment with any travel tips you have.

Going solo

This is the view from where I’m living now.

I’ll explain. A couple of months ago, my partner was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live and work in Andalusia, doing digital marketing for an organisation that is part retreat centre, part permaculture farm, and part yoga teacher training school. With brexit looming and faced with such a great opportunity to do something very different, we both rapidly left our jobs in the UK, packed up what stuff we didn’t get rid of or put in storage, and moved.

All of which means I’m now working with the organisations here (suryalila.comdanyadara.com and froglotusyogainternational.com ) alongside developing my own consultancy business and working as CTO for ydentity.com (so new we still have lorem ipsum text). I will freely admit that coming off the salary drug is a tough task, but having the freedom to do my own thing, develop my skills and work the hours that I want is proving very satisfying so far.

For the moment, I’m getting involved in a really wide range of work, from project management, tech consultancy, AWS engineering, to digital marketing and analytics, security consultancy and more. The reason for me getting stuck into such a wide range of tasks is so I can really work on evaluating what the most suitable area is for me to focus on in the future, both from a perspective of what I’m good at and enjoy doing, and also what I find there is most demand for in the marketplace.

If you would like to work with me or you’d like to discuss an opportunity for us to collaborate, drop me a line through LinkedIn, email me at tom@tomgeraghty.co.uk or pop in to see me in Andalusia, if you can get past the goats on the highway.

Embrace the silence

When i am silent, i have thunder hidden inside me.

Over the years in my career so far, I’ve found that in some (many) situations, my speaking style in meetings doesn’t always “work” effectively.

Some background: when I was young, I was diagnosed with dyspraxia, and had trouble forming sentences and speaking properly. I had speech therapy until the age of around 8 years old. The word “hammer” was a particular challenge for me, apparently. I don’t know why. I can say hammer really well now. Try me.

As a result of this (or maybe it’s just coincidental), I often pause before speaking, particularly when in a larger group, or in a situation where what I say really matters. It’s partly to formulate the content, the idea, the concept, but also to establish the “how” of it; i.e. how to structure the sentences, what phrasing to use, and how the statement is to be delivered.

Now, this pause is useful for everyone. It allows for a more cogent, relevant and useful discussion.

But, people seem to feel the need to fill this audible space. Whether that’s a result of a discomfort with silence, or a desire to be the one speaking and presenting their ideas instead of me, I don’t know. I suspect both, in different scenarios. I don’t really care though, as it gives me more time to build my response anyway.

I guess I could be concerned that some might interpret a pause as a weakness, as some kind of hesitation because I don’t understand the subject matter, but I choose to ignore that concern, and focus instead on being me, and how I function best.

I wonder if we should all try to pause a little more. Think about what we say, how we say it, and how we deliver it. Imagine if meetings were 30% less talk, but with 50% better quality contributions as a result.

Embrace the silence. Embrace your own, and allow others to use theirs.

Get rid of tuition fees. All university education should be free.

All university-level education should be free. Those people crying out for the good old days when fewer people went to university have got completely the wrong end of the stick.
100 years ago, the same could be said for high/secondary school – why do we need our working classes to be able to read and write, do reasonably complex maths, understand any scientific principles at all?
We live in an age where (almost) everything we do, everything we work with, play with, consume and produce are linked inextricably to very complex scientific products and concepts. Some of the people arguing here went to school before DNA was discovered, for heaven’s sake.
School children now learn about the structure and principles of DNA, particle physics, climate modelling, computing science, software development, and other stuff that didn’t exist 30 years ago.
It’s simply not the case that there’s an “ideal” percentage of the population that should have a university education. As society and technology progresses, there is simply more to know and more to understand. This has been the case since the dawn of human civilisation and will continue to be the case until civilisation ceases to be.
As a society, we owe it to ourselves to aim to provide a university (and higher, if possible) education to every person that desires it and is able to do so. The progress and survival of the human race to some degree relies upon us getting this right, not penny-pinching and making people pay for the “privilege” of developing their (and as a result, society’s) skillset and knowledge.
Just as we reap the benefits of all children going to school up to the age of sixteen, the benefits of nearly everyone in society having a higher level education wouldn’t take long to be realised, through the development of life-enhancing and preserving technologies, to more rapidly developing alternative energy sources and mitigating climate change.
There is also such a thing as knowledge for knowledge’s sake. A more educated society is a fairer, more equal, and (hopefully) happier society.
Put simply, higher education benefits all of us, not just the person being educated.

Streaming music services and the future of consuming music

I’m listening to Spotify while I write this. I’ve been a premium subscriber since early 2010, which means I’ve so far paid spotify £390 of which around 70% has gone to the artists. It took me a while to get used to the idea that i didn’t “own” the music I was listing to, but the benefits of being able to listen to anything I wanted to, whenever i wanted, and the chance to discover new music made up for it and I now believe that as long as streaming services exist, I’ll never buy a CD again. I won’t bang on about how great it is, because you’re generally either into streaming or not, and that usually depends on how you listen to your music.

There’s a lot of bad press about streaming services and the supposed bad deal that the content creators (artists) get paid from it.  Atoms for Peace pulled their albums from Spotify and other streaming services, with band members Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich criticising these companies for business models that they claimed were weighted against emerging artists. I disagree. Anyone that thinks they can create some music and make a living from it using streaming services is living in a dream world. The music business has changed, and for the better in my opinion. Gone are the days when a band could release a CD, sell hundred of thousands or millions of copies and rake in the big bucks (but don’t forget the record labels and other third parties taking their lion’s share). Some people compare streaming to that old business model, and that’s where it looks like the artists are getting a worse deal, but it’s not a fair comparison.

Musician Zoë Keating earned $808 from 201,412 Spotify streams of tracks from two of her older releases in the first half of 2013, according to figures published by the cellist as a Google Doc. Spotify apparently pays 0.4 cents (around 0.3p) per stream to the artist. When artists sell music (such as a CD), they get a one-off cut of the selling price. When that music is being streamed, they get a (much smaller) payment for every play. Musician Sam Duckworth recently explained how 4,685 Spotify plays of his last solo album earned him £19.22, but the question is just as much about how much streams of the album might earn him over the next 10, 20, 30 years.

If you created an album yourself, and you had a choice between two customers – one who would by the CD, giving you a £0.40 cut, and one who would stream it, providing you with £0.004 per stream, which customer would you choose? Part of this actually might depend on how good you think your music is, and how enduring its appeal will be. If it’s good enough, and al the songs on that album are good (all killer, no filler!), then it’s going to get played a lot, making streaming more lucrative over time, but if it’s poor, with only a couple of decent tracks, and maybe not as enduring as it could be (think Beatles vs One Direction), then a CD is going to be more lucrative, because after a year or so that CD is going to be collecting dust at the bottom of the shelf never to be played again.

I can’t easily find a way to show the number of plays per track in my spotify library, apart from my last.fm scrobble stats, which won’t be entirely accurate as they only record what I listen to in online mode, but I’ve pasted the top plays per artist below:

The Gaslight Anthem (621 plays)

Chuck Ragan (520 plays)

Frank Turner (516 plays)

Silversun Pickups (425 plays)

Biffy Clyro (305 plays)

Ben Howard (302 plays)

Sucioperro (241 plays)

Eddie Vedder (225 plays)

Blind Melon (173 plays)

Foo Fighters (166 plays)

Iron & Wine (141 plays)

Saosin (121 plays)

Benjamin Francis Leftwich (119 plays)

Cory Branan (116 plays)

Twin Atlantic (112 plays)

Kassidy (101 plays)

Funeral for a Friend (94 plays)

Molly Durnin (89 plays)

Crucially, of the 18 artists above, at least 4 or 5 are artists that I discovered on spotify. The radio and “discover” tools on it are actually really good (90% of the time), and of those 4-5 discovered artists, I’ve seen two of them live in the past year or so. If we stop trying to think in pure instant revenue terms, streaming services provide a great part of a business model that includes long term small payments to artists and allows consumers to discover new music more easily.

Artists need to build themselves a business that incorporates records, songs, merchandise and/or tickets, and look for simple ways to maximise all those revenues.

Crucially, they also need to start developing premium products and services for core fanbase – fans who have always been willing to buy more than a gig ticket every year and a record every other, but who were often left under-supplied by the old music business. Which is why, for artists, the real revolution caused by the web isn’t the emerging streaming market, but the boom in direct to fan and pre-order sites.

Frank Turner believes we may eventually move towards a model where all music is free, but artists are fairly compensated. Talking about piracy and torrenting, he says:  “I can kind of accept that people download music without paying for it, but when the same people complain about, say, merch prices or ticket prices, I get a little frustrated.” “I make the vast majority of my living from live, and also from merch. Record sales tick over.”

If you look at Frank Turner’s gig archive, you’ll see he’s performed at almost 1500 live shows from 2004 to 2013. Most of the musicians I know do what they do because they love playing music, and particularly so in front of an audience. I personally believe that live music should be the core of any musician’s revenue stream, with physical music sales, streaming, merchandise, advertising, sponsorship, and other sales providing longer term revenue. Frank seems pretty hot on spotify, and has released a live EP exclusive to the service.

I also believe the format of live shows will change too. I love small gigs in dark little venues such as the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham, but as artists become more popular and play larger venues, there is naturally some loss of fan interaction. With the use of mobile technology, social networks, and heavy duty wifi (802.11ac for example), large venues can begin to allow the artists to interact with fans and provide a more immersive experience. Prior to or while the artist is on stage, content can be pushed to the mobile devices of those in the audience, telling them what track is being played for example, with links to download or stream it later, provision of exclusive content such as video and photo, merchandise, future gig listings, and event the ability to interact with other fans in the venue or otherwise.

The future is a healthier relationship between services like Spotify and musicians, where both can find more ways to make money by pointing fans towards tickets, merchandise, box-sets, memberships, crowdfunding campaigns such as songkick’s detour, and turning simple concerts into fuller experiences for fans.

Snowdon in the snow

I recently took a week off work to go biking, snowboarding, climbing, and hiking and stuff. Part of the trip included a visit to Wales to stay at penmachno after riding llandegla. I was going to ride penmachno the following day, but the weather was dreadful, so I walked halfway up snowdon instead 🙂

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DPD couriers

Recently, i had another hardware failure of my Asus G73JH (the GPU seems a bit dodgy in these units, and the TFT screen will quite suddenly fail), for the second time in a year. Disappointing, but at least it’s covered by warranty and Asus do seem to have a quick turnaround for repairs. However, their choice of courier is terrible.

Both times that I’ve had to deal with DPD couriers, I’ve been left frustrated by their inability to carry out the basic tasks required of a delivery company.

  • They will only tell you (by text) one day before that they plan to deliver the following day, but not what time. They don’t, at this point, give you the opportunity to change it.
  • The following day, they will text you and inform you of their delivery window. This isn’t particularly useful for people who plan their day more than a few hours in advance.
  • You can change the delivery day, but not the time, but even then only with a choice of three subsequent (week)days.
  • You can pick up the parcel from the depot, but chances are that they’re a long way away, you have to book your visit in advance, and they’re not open until 9am.
  • You can’t redeliver to a different address.

I’m not the only person to be disappointed by DPD couriers performance, either.

If you want to call them, and speak to someone, it seems that the only way to do it is to call 0845 556 0560 and simply don’t select any of the options, for ages. Eventually you’ll get put through. Of course, when you do, you’l most likely get put through to someone like “Vanetta” (whom I spoke to today, but I don’t think that’s a real name), who will just answer your questions like you’re insane, and will make you work incredibly hard to tease out the details of how you might actually obtain your goods. Not that she could just provide some help, no, you’ve got to investigate the options and work out it out for yourself.

So in the end, I decided that the easiest thing would be for me to drive out to the DPD depot on monday morning to pick it up. It’s a 40 minute drive, but better than hanging around and waiting for someone to turn up whenever they fancy.

UPDATE: I drove to the DPD depot on Monday morning to pick up the laptop. You have to ring the doorbell to be let in, and there’s a little sign saying that you might be searched. Nice touch.

dpd couriers depot nottingham

I provided my details to a lady who then disappeared off to find my laptop. She was gone some time, and eventually returned about 15 minutes later to inform me that the laptop’s been sent out for delivery to my home address, and that I could either go home and wait for it, or arrange to pick it up tomorrow. I’ve about had enough of this by now, so I change my plans for the day, head home, and wait for DPD couriers to deliver, again.

Is it really this hard to deliver packages from one place, to another?

2ND UPDATE:

DPD still hadn’t delivered by 2:30pm, so I rang them. They checked the consignment number and apparently, it’s still at the depot, waiting for me to pick it up. They are now “looking into it.”

3rd UPDATE:

They sent a guy round at 3:50pm, after I kicked up a little bit of a fuss. The laptop is now back in my possession, and I’m never going to let DPD couriers anywhere near it ever again.