Sunday, July 30, 2017

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Went to Santa Cruz yesterday despite my broken toe. I wanted a day away from the computer, work, and thinking about either. It is important to maintain a work/life balance, and sometimes just getting away is the best prescription. I hobbled around all day, putting 14,790 steps (7.27 miles) on my FitBit, but enjoying the sun and fresh air.

The Boardwalk is a "tourist mecca," so anyone traveling there during the summer, or holidays, should expect crowds. It is also a bit on the pricey side. You can purchase a wristband that gets you unlimited rides and attractions, and/or a card that lets you do the same and to play midway games. One of the interesting things I found with the midway games is that children under 12 get an automatic win just for playing. I think this is a great idea, and certainly fair to the parents who are spending money for their kids to entertain themselves. It keeps the kids happy, and of course encourages them to spend more money, but at least you are always getting something for the money you shell out. There are also non midway games such as miniature golf, pool, shuffle board, etc.

The rides themselves, are on par with most fair style rides, but not at the level of the big amusement parks. There are a few roller coasters, spinning rides, and a couple drop rides, as well as a sky tram and a few others. But don't forget the Pacific Ocean, wild life, and all the scenery and of course food. According to Google most people spend 3 1/2 hours here, but you could easily spend an entire day if you take it slow and take in everything the location has to offer. There are also Friday night concerts and Wednesday night free movies on the beach at certain times of the year. There is also copious amounts of beach activities including volleyball and barbecues. Lots of people bring tents or canopies and spend the day on the beach as well as visiting the boardwalk.

The downtown area is less than a one mile walk away, and has a lot of really great restaurants and shops. As for accommodations, they are everywhere and range in price, but are within the affordable range. I've written reviews for three of them that can be found on TripAdvisor and/or Google. If you don't want to stay close to the beach there is a fantastic Hilton hotel about 10 minutes away by car on 17. I highly recommend it.

There are also a few other beaches in the area, as well as surfing, kite flying, and a various boat trip offerings. The red wood forests are within a short car drive away as well. I think about four days would give you the time you need to do everything at a relaxed pace.

And make sure to enjoy the sunset!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

TSA and Customs - Security Theater

As a frequent traveler it is important that you take steps to expedite moving through obstacles as much as possible. One of the biggest obstacles is TSA and a close second is customs. The unfortunate thing is that both of these, well the TSA anyway, are merely "security theater" to make the traveler feel like they are actually safe.

I have a bit more confidence in customs, but that is apple to oranges comparison. Either way, they are an obstacle that has to be overcome, and to that end I strongly encourage any frequent traveler to get TSA Pre. And if you are an international traveler, consider Global Entry for getting into the US, or NEXUS for Canada. I actually discovered that NEXUS is superior to Global Entry in that it includes Global Entry and is half the cost at $50. (Note that if you are coming into a US customs location from Canada, you use Global Entry entry via your passport.) The downside is that it is a bit more difficult to get since you have to go to a Canadian entry point that offers it. I got mine when traveling to Vancouver. But it is well worth the effort if you travel frequently between the US and Canada. My first time into Canada I waited in a customs line for almost 45 minutes. Subsequent visits were about 5 minutes. And coming back into the US it is a wonderful experience walking past hundreds of travelers waiting in line and walking straight up to the customs agent. The time saved easily pays for the cost. Also, because both systems are automated, you don't have to go through the interview process, you simply present a receipt to the agent and get maybe a question or two and then on you go.

Mexico also has a similar customs access, called SENTRI, but that is for car travel rather than airline travel, and requires using a specific vehicle every time. I don't travel to Mexico for business, so I didn't get this service.

Back to the discussion about the TSA. Here are some tips: do your research regarding TSA requirements before you go to the airport, even if you have TSA Pre, and have all your ducks in a row. If you have TSA Pre, know what you don't have to do and have to do, and be prepared to comply before you get to the agent. When you get to the agent, smile, be polite and friendly. You can imagine what a thankless job they have. A little friendliness, tends to help a smidgen and when they profile you (don't be fooled, they absolutely profile) they will be a bit more forgiving if there is a question about something in your bag - sometimes. Also, being prepared and moving quickly through the process, also tends to make the agents a little happier and less frustrated. Don't get me wrong though, they still have to comply with their "security" required checks, so you aren't going to be able to get out of a search if you do something you shouldn't, even if you do it with a smile.

I hope the above proves helpful to you on your next trip.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Privacy is Good

I backed a campaign on Indiegogo a while back for creators of a super thin, as small as possible webcam cover, and they arrived today, and I'm quite pleased. They are so thin that they were mailed in a standard envelope. I've already handed two of them over to family members and will be using up the last three in short order for my own devices and one more family member.

In case you are not aware, webcams can be hacked and controlled without you even knowing. In this day and age, you really have to protect yourself. Software isn't always the solution, and sometimes a simple piece of tape is all you need. However, when you do want to use your webcam, you really don't want tape residue making the image bad, so enter the webcam sliders. There have been a lot of models made to date, but this one is by far the best I've seen thus far.

Each one is only 1 mm thick, and the opening is just slightly larger than a standard webcam. I believe they actually come in a few colors as well.

So if you are interested in keeping just a little more privacy, or are concerned that you might not have the level you think you have, you might want to get some of these.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Hilton Garden Inn San Diego Mission Valley/Stadium

The first room that they put me in was on the fourth floor, which I would normally prefer--high floors tend to be quieter--but the room was actually located right next to the elevators and ice machine, which seasoned travelers know is a terrible location for a room. But the staff was very understanding and happy to move me to a different room on the third floor that was near the end of the hallway, which tends to be the quietest rooms. The pictures below reflect both the rooms, so you can see the differences, or lack thereof, between the rooms.

The Good: There are a lot of good things that can be said about this hotel. First and foremost, the rooms are very dark at night and very quiet. I never had any problems falling asleep, and there were no "extra steps" that I had to take to make it easy to fall asleep. The staff were all friendly and helpful, and I never once had anyone deny a request and they were always happy to help. The room was also very clean, and well maintained. The hotel restaurant is quite good, with only one thing disappointing me (see the mention of bacon below). I ate dinner there every night except one, and every meal was great. The Internet access was very good and I never had any problems connecting. The room had adequate space, including the restroom. The hotel's location is also very good - depending on where you need to go - being located right off the freeway, and on a non-main road for commuters.

The Bad: The location of the couch next to the bed led to me literally breaking my toe on the foot of the couch my first night as I was going to bed. The bacon at breakfast was kind of hit or miss with it be firm, thick bacon on one day and limp and paper thin on others. The parking spots are incredibly tight, so much so that most people double park just to fit in, which means fewer spots for everyone. There is a "parking garage," but it is very small, and the large columns make parking in a lot of the spots challenging. To add insult to injury, they charge $14/night for parking, which still amazes me that hotels are still charging for parking separately. Why not just roll the cost into the nightly stay and spread it out to everyone and lower the overall individual cost for the parking, but still have enough to pay the bills?

The Ugly: Nothing would prevent me from staying here again.

Suggestion: Hilton needs to start looking at what competitors are doing regarding the modern traveler and technology needs and desires. I stayed at a Marriott a couple months ago, and they had an integrated entertainment unit that allowed guests to easily plug in devices like Chromecasts, laptops, etc. But even better, the TV was a smart TV which directly allowed me to use my Netflix account, and then automatically deleted my account data upon check out. We need to see more of this happening in the hotel business.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

When Things Go Very Wrong

Sometimes things can go very wrong while traveling. I have been learning how to drive crutches thanks to a terrible accident involving a broken toe. How did I break my toe? I stubbed my foot on the leg of the couch in my hotel room. It was an incredibly good(?) shot because I hit the corner of the leg in such a way that it snapped my toes apart cracked the bone. At one point my foot had swollen so much that it was pushing against my shoe. On the plus side, I should be able to get pre-boarding on my return flight. Please note, I don't recommend going this route just to get a better seat.

Hobbling around on crutches is not a fun experience, especially if you've never used them before. But the really good lesson has been how to get medical help while traveling, and just how long it takes. You really appreciate home and the resources that you take for granted.

The next eight weeks are going to be quite interesting to say the least.

Monday, July 17, 2017

How Does This Happen?

When I see articles like this from respected travel bloggers, I really get a icky feeling. The first thought that comes to mind is "sellout," followed by "misleading." I understand that these sites and bloggers need to make money (why do you think I have ads turned on for this blog?), but so much of this article is full of just blatant misleading advertising that it leaves me scratching my head.

If you are an experienced traveler, you should know the pitfalls of days travel, and not be recommending things that will not only not help, but could actually make the travel experience worse. It's bad enough we have to contend with the airlines. Why would you want travelers to waste their hard-earned money on toys that are unnecessary?

I want to run through the list real quick to provide clarity based on my own personal travel experiences.

Charging Case

I completely agree. You have to have power available to you, but there are a lot of options out there. I prefer the largest power battery pack I can find that isn't too large or heavy. Honestly anything touting recharging more than three times, isn't worth it because it is very rare to have a situation where you are going to burn through that much power without being able to use an outlet along the way.

Laptop Charger

An extra battery is all you should consider. Laptop charging packs tend to be MASSIVE, and I would hate to travel with something that weighs just shy of a tank. An extra battery is bad enough.

Mobile Scanner

Use the camera on your phone. I've never ever found a need, or wished I had a mobile scanner. If you get the ExpenseIt app, that will automatically move receipts into Concur, and fill in all the expense details via your phone's camera. There are also apps that you can use for document scanning, business card scanning, and even language translation--all done with the camera you already have.

USB Ink Pen

Are you kidding me? Seriously? I need a pen maybe once a week, if that, and something like this is just an unnecessary expense. Get a decent sized USB drive, which the pen won't be, and toss it in your bag. If you need an occasional pen, toss one in your bag, but most people have a pen in their office when you really need one. Most of your work can be done on your laptop or tablet.

Smart Luggage

I just posted about this the other day--NO! It's a complete waste of money. I just purchased and received a TravelPro bag that has a nice pocket on the side for a battery pack to be dropped in to, and a port on the back to plug a device into. That's the furthest I would go with luggage. Anything else is a waste of money, and will definitely inconvenience you when you try to get through TSA.

Micro Projector

I have yet to see a micro/mini projector that can project a satisfactory professional level image. It might be useful in a pinch, but you're much better off using the proper tool. I make sure all my customers are aware of my requirements before I arrive and never have a problem providing a projector or monitor. What I would suggest is a multi-video adapter that has all the possible connections on it.

Mobile Hotspot

I agree with this section. I've saved my sanity many times by having a Mi-Fi available.


This seriously doesn't belong in this article. You either have a watch or you don't. I wear a FitBit Surge to track steps and because we have competitions at work, but it isn't even close to being essential for travel.

Noise-canceling Earbuds

I agree with this one as well. Fantastic for planes.

Perhaps somewhere along the line, if people are interested, I'll do a post of what I carry. Let me know in the comments if that is something you would be interested in seeing.

Friday, July 14, 2017

1 Year Ago Today - Toronto

One year ago today, I was in Toronto and was amazed at all the cool architecture in the city. I also learned that this was where the TV show Suits is filmed.

I also had the opportunity to go up in the CN Tower, and experience the city from an incredible height. If you look very closely near the top of the tower in this picture you can see the people in orange jumpsuits doing the sky walk--the hook you up and you walk around the edge of the tower.

And here is a great view of the city skyline from up there:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Getting Started...

I'm quickly approaching my three year anniversary with my company and I'm always amazed at how much travel I've done since starting work here. Basically, I go wherever there is a hospital, so yeah, wherever there are people.

I wanted to share my Google Location History with you to give you an idea of everywhere I've been to date. This will also serve as my launch post to doing more travel blogging. Expect updates on Sundays and Wednesdays. I think twice a week is the best I can manage with my busy schedule. There will be pics of food, landscapes, hotel rooms, and other manner of randomness. As well as non-travel content that I want to share with the world.

So, without further ado, I give you my travels thus far:

And while they look fairly sparse, that is an artifact of being zoomed out, but it gives you an idea at least.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Lots O' Luggage

With all my extensive traveling, I've put a lot of wear and tear on my luggage. It is TravelPro, so I thought it would last longer than it has. It could also be that it hasn't lasted because it bought it from a secondary supplier I think, and this may have been more of a "quality assurance issue." Regardless, I'm now on the hunt for something to replace my existing carry on. A lot of luggage that I'm seeing these days is "smart" with on-board battery charger, GPS tracking, etc. Quite a few models are popping up on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and I've been a little curious about them.

My initial thoughts are always that the features being sold are not practical for actual travel and my experiences have really shown me that these "smart bags" really are not a smart purchase. As an example, I saw this series of bags today:

And on the surface, they look "cool," "neat," "perfect for the traveler," but the number of reservations I had far exceeded my desire to make a purchase. But I thought that perhaps the issue is that I'm being biased, or stingy, and I wanted to gather more information. So a brief search of reviews and the like, found a video that addresses the exact concerns I was having:

My hope is that this post serves as something to think about should you ever need to shop for luggage, and you consider getting a "smart bag" of some sort. But please note, I'm sure there are smart bags out there that are practical and useful, so always do your research and if you have any suggestions for I might like, please let me know in the comments.

Friday, July 7, 2017

I've Been Absent

My goal is to start posting more frequently again. Specifically, I'm going to make this a bit of a travel blog. I'm not going to go overboard with details, and it will likely just be a copy of all my Google Reviews, but it will hopefully prove helpful to travelers from time to time, and be a place for friends and family to see what I've been up to. I'll also occasionally post stuff I find interesting, so if you care to see what I find interesting, make sure to subscribe to this blog. Perhaps at some point, I'll be able to say goodbye to Facebook once and for all.

Stay tuned!