Travel

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Airbnb’s Secret Sauce is That it Works, and Works Well.

For PAX Australia this year my friends and I were left in a rather unenviable position. All of the Melbourne residents didn’t have the space to accommodate the 6 of us visiting and trying to find accommodation that would suit us was proving troublesome.  Sure we could’ve booked multiple hotel rooms but the price wasn’t particularly great, on the order of $200 per night per room (of which we’d need 3). Whilst we’d previously used holiday homes for other adventures our usual websites weren’t coming up with anything, at least nothing in a reasonable price range. After mulling over the options I finally relented and gave Airbnb a go and the experience was pretty amazing.

Airbnb LogoSearching around for places that were close to PAX I found a couple places that were available for that weekend which could accommodate the lot of us. From the pictures most of them didn’t look like anything special but we weren’t going to be doing much there at all so I wasn’t particularly fussed. After jumping through a couple login hoops and laying down my credit card I had booked 3 nights accommodation for 6 people for a grand total of $600. If I had booked hotels to cover the same time period the cost would have been almost triple that, something which my travelling compatriots were very pleased with.

We were quite unlucky when it came to fly down as the weather saw many of the afternoon flights cancelled. I was worried that we’d get there too late and end up annoying our hosts but arriving at 9:30PM I was greeted by the couple who owned the house plus one of their friends. After dropping off all my gear I asked them if there was anywhere local I could get dinner and, to my surprise, they offered up the left overs from the dinner they had just packed up. They also gave us breakfast every morning, not that we stayed for it since we were usually meeting up with everyone at PAX.

Talking it over with our hosts it seemed like this experience wasn’t exactly uncommon as they had had several Airbnbers through previously all of which said similar things. Indeed all my friends who have used Airbnb since have commented on just how smooth the whole process is and how cheap the accommodation is when you compare it to hotel rooms of the same quality. This is even in a country where Airbnb doesn’t have that much use when compared to local equivalents (like Stayz).

It came as little surprise then that Airbnb has been shown to have positive effects for tourism in the areas in which its prevalent with guests often spending a lot more in the area than their hotel counter parts. I know that for myself personally the money that would’ve otherwise been spent on accommodation did end up in other places and I felt far more at ease with spending more knowing that my entire accommodation budget was only $100. At the same time I know that some of my friends might not have attended if the accommodation price was too high and Airbnb made it possible for them to come and not have to worry about it.

What Airbnb has above everyone else is the fact that their service just plain works, taking away all the barriers that would otherwise be required to book a stay at a non-hotel location. I was able to find a place, check it out, book it and send an email to everyone coming all in the space of 30 minutes, even without having used the service before. The only improvement I’d love to see (and feel free to correct me if this already exists within it) would be the ability to split the payment up and have everyone pay their share directly. It wasn’t too much of an issue for me however but it’s something that I’m sure a lot of people would love.

Now we just need Uber to start making their way around here, then I’ll be able to do all my travel needs from my smartphone. Now that’d be awesome.

 

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Travelling Light.

My first overseas trip is probably the best example I can give of my over-packer mentality. It was the middle of 2001, I’d only just become comfortable with the college lifestyle (for the Americans I’m referring to the 2 years prior to university) and my parents agreed to send me on a school trip to Japan something I was incredibly eager to do. Of course this being the first time they’d sent one of their children overseas my parents ensured I’d have everything I’d need whilst over there, and I really do mean everything. I managed to lug 2 giant sports bags around with me for the entire trip which contained nearly every article of clothing I owned. Whilst it was nice to not have to do laundry I think the ridicule I recieved for my rather ludicrous amount of baggage was well deserved.

DSC_0243_1The habit didn’t die there unfortunately, managing to cement itself as something that I’d do instinctively throughout all my travels over the years. Indeed this became something of a running joke of whenever I’d go to visit friends as they’d often wonder why I was waiting for checked baggage only to break into hysterics when they sighted my brimming luggage trundle past on the carousel. When travelling overseas it was a little more defensible, although my recent visit to the USA did have me questioning why I needed to bring along as much as I did. This, combined with my casual interest in minimization (I love things like those tiny, fully featured houses people build), has led me to shed much of the cruft that I used to lug with me and I’m quite happy with the results.

I’ll admit that the catalyst for it was my Sydney trip last week where I was only going to be staying a single night. It really didn’t make sense to check in baggage for that, even if my back pack felt a little swollen with clothes plus laptop, and the experience of getting off the plane and being able to head straight for a cab was something I felt I wanted to repeat. Thus I set about seeking out the biggest sized carry on I could find and was surprised at just how much I could get away with.

I settled on an Antler Cyberlite International Cabin Suitcase and to my surprise it’s plenty big enough for me to fit up to a week’s worth of clothes and other supplies, more than enough for any business trip I’ll find myself on. I was a little worried that it might be a little too big but I had no complaints from the cabin crew this morning and indeed the amount of space in the overhead locker seemed to dwarf my supposedly huge carry on. In theory it’d be enough for pretty much anything then although I don’t think I’ve shaken the over-packer bug for everything just yet but at least I won’t be lugging around a massive bag for short domestic trips anymore.

I’m sure there are those out there that can take it further than I have, indeed many of the people who scoffed at my over-packing previously would routinely show up in Canberra carrying nothing more than a single backpack, however this feels like a happy medium. It still allows me to have a little fat in my packing (I’ve brought along an extra days worth of clothes in this round) whilst also giving me the advantages that I didn’t know I was missing out on before. Going any further would be quickly met with diminishing returns and I’m sure I’d end up sweating what I forgot.

But I’m weird like that ;)

 

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My Hotel Ritual.

Whilst I’m not a jet bound workaholic like I thought I’d be when I was this age (ah the naivety of teenagers) I have done my fair share of travel for work. I’ve come to find out that I’m not in either of the extremes of the two camps on it as I’m not particularly adverse to it but neither do I look forward to it like many I have met. Indeed many of the exotic places that I can say I’ve been too were because of work related travel and they truly are experiences that I treasure but should they have become the norm for me I can see myself swiftly becoming sick of it. New places are always fun to visit but I’ve never been on a work trip that wasn’t primarily about work.

DSC_0236It occurred to me that I’d developed a kind of ritual when it came to hotel rooms, something that upon reflection hasn’t changed in quite a while. As far as I can tell I developed it back when I was travelling the USA which I can only assume was because of the multitude of different places we stayed in over the course of the month we spent over there. The reasons for it are simple: I need to know what facilities I have access to and, in the event of the absence, arrange for alternatives. I’m sure this isn’t unique to me either but it was quite interesting to see what habits I had ingrained in myself over the past couple years.

For instance, and this might be a telltale sign of my generation, the first thing I’ll do will be to seek out what kind of Internet connection I have at my disposal. For the most part I’m bound for disappointment, as is the case with my current accommodation ($10 for 24 hours, 700MB limit), but the process of discovering what I’ve got to work with can be quite fun. If I’m in a particularly vindictive move I’ll bust out my network scanner tools and see how well their Internet access scheme has been set up (which, if you’re wondering, hotels seem to be getting better at) but for travel in Australia I’ll usually just tether to my phone.

The next one, which is something of a guilty pleasure of mine, is to crawl through the various pay TV channels to see if they have any of my favorites on them. If Discovery is on there then I’m guaranteed to binge on it for at least an hour each night, usually at the cost of a decent night’s sleep. It gets even worse when you consider just how bad most of the programming on there is and how much of it is continuous repeats but for some reason when I’m in a hotel room that’s one of my top things to do.

I also have to inspect the bed to see if I’ve ended up with a proper bed or the notorious faux-queen (as pictured above). My fellow giants will understand just how irritating those kinds of beds are, especially if they’re paired with an equally tragic mattress.

I think this whole thing just caught me off guard because I didn’t really think of something I had to do after every check in but thinking back to all my stays the first hour or so spent in the room is almost always spent methodically going through each of those items. Is this something that you do? (please say yes, I don’t need another thing that I might be potentially OCD about).

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New Orleans: Day 5 and 6

I had that feeling, you know the one, when you wake up and everything just feels a little…off. It wasn’t due to any self inflicted torment (although that is the reason why this post is a day late, which I’ll get into later) but it felt distinctly like the beginnings of a cold, almost on cue for the same time I did this last year. Great, I thought, I’m going to have to ride out the last day of the conference a blithering mess and then be that guy on the plane that gets everyone sick. Thankfully though that particular feeling didn’t last long , although the extreme humidity outside and the near freezing temperatures inside didn’t do much to help that along.

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The sessions I had lined up with a specific topic in mind (I wanted to dive into the backup/disaster recovery stuff that they just put into Azure) turned out to be complete wastes of time. One of them being another vendor junket and another a 400 (expert) level class that was realistically a 200 (beginner) class and the only reason I could think of for it being labelled as such was due to the over-inflated ego of the presenter. The final one was interesting to a point, but I’d already seen the majority of it through various other sessions that were tangentially related. Thankfully the interview I did with Don Jones turned out quite well despite me not really knowing what to do, which can be wholly attributed to the fact that Don is a really switched on guy.

However this was only a small part of the day since tonight was the closing party which promised to be quite an amazing event.

After we’d all filed our posts for the day and rested up a little bit we trundled down to the Mercedes Superdome to get our drink on courtesy of Microsoft. There was no shortage of entertainment with all attendees greeted by a marching band at the door and the main floor thriving with people in front of a live band. We spent most of the night checking out the various side shows they had running (like a hand writing analyzer, the one that doesn’t use science) whilst slowly making our way through a good chunk of Microsoft’s booze. That was all mere distraction however as they announced the “special guest” they had been alluding to all evening.

Tina Turner.

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Now don’t get me wrong, the instant her name was said the entire TechEd population flocked to the center stage so she still has drawing power, but the performance that followed afterwards can only be described as atrocious. Sure I enjoyed myself, and so did a lot of other people there I’m betting, but I’d hazard a guess that most of them enjoyed it for all the wrong reasons. Indeed it was a bizarre performance in its own right as she didn’t have a band and, whilst all credit should be given to her for not lip syncing, she was essentially singing over the top of her own performance. You could do worse when you’re pushing 70 though.

The band that followed (Mojo Band) we’re quite excellent, playing songs from Elvis all the way up to the Black Eyed Peas, nailing them all. They certainly did a lot better job of getting near immovable crowd dancing (although that’s to be expected when you cram 12,000 nerds in the same room with nary a computer to be seen) than the other band did and we spent the rest of our time there chatting and enjoying their covers. The TechEd party closed at midnight and with all of us sufficiently intoxicated Bourbon St started to sound like a great idea. In retrospect it was, although the current dull headache I’m nursing might attest to otherwise.

We meandered around a bit looking for a place to pick up a couple of roadies (walking around with an open container is legal here, surprisingly) but we ended up finding a bar to settle into. Before we could get drinks though we were accosted by one of the shot girls and of course, we all obliged. Suffice to say I have a photo for one of my friends who requested I do “something stupid in Bourbon St” for him thanks to her. After that we barreled around looking for another place to grab some more drinks and ended up in a divy jazz bar where one of the competition winners was parted with 20 of his dollars for the pleasure of standing on stage for 5 minutes.

By this point (I think it was around 2:30am) I was getting seriously hungry and ended up in one of the local burrito places. I have to say that it was actually pretty well done, even upon reflection the next day, and the others picked up a couple roadie slushies to tide them over. I was nearing that tenuous point where Drunk Dave was about to come out and, knowing that I had to endure 18+ hours of flying the next day, decided not to continue and wandered off back to the hotel. It was halfway back there that I caught up with Gus who’d gotten separated from us an hour previously and, with no one but me with international roaming enabled, was out of contact with us.

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Of course that meant today I woke up feeling a lot less than optimal, especially when I saw I only had 30 mins to pack everything and check out. I managed to get it all done, of course, however the TechEd bag and my new Surface have proved to be problematic leaving me with 3 bags to carry around. Once we were all sorted we headed over to Mother’s, a Zagat rated restaurant across the street that always had a long line snaking out the front door. The food there was pretty great, especially for the price, and was most definitely better than the usual Maccas run that I seem to fall into every time I’m hung over.

We spent the rest of the day aimlessly wandering around New Orleans since we didn’t have time to really do anything thanks to our late start and need to get to the airport early in the afternoon. The highlight (and this says a lot about our state of mind at the time) was sitting in one of the ferries that crosses the Mississippi river. After that it was a quick trip to the airport where I’m currently awaiting a connecting flight to Dallas before the 15 hour flight back to Australia.

All in all it’s been a pretty good trip and whilst I haven’t seen as much of New Orleans as I would have liked I did get to check off pretty much everything on my “must do” list, although the list of recommendations I got from friends is untouched. It’s definitely an interesting city, one that definitely requires more than one night of drunken stumbling to explore properly. I don’t think I’ll ever make the trip out here specifically to do that, however, but should I ever find myself doing a second tour of the USA it’ll be one of the many stops on my list.

 

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New Orleans: Day 4

I don’t know what it is about holidays or trips away but I seem to spend the first half dreading everything about the place I’m in and then once I’m past the halfway point I seem to yearn for it not to end. This trip is no different as I wasn’t too crash hot on the whole idea but late yesterday I felt like I hit a turning point. My article that I dreamed up went down a treat and today the vague layout I had given myself helped to focus me on the important points of the sessions I was attending. Now I feel like the little amount of time I have left here isn’t enough and I curse my former self for being so impudent.

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Most of today was fairly uneventful as I had managed to choose a few sessions that had significant overlap with each other. This is despite them claiming that “no one else has seen this content yet” so I ended up spending an undue amount of time on Reddit just waiting for it to finish so I could move onto the next one. Thankfully I had 2 sessions that were really quite awesome, especially the Azure Internals one done by Mark Russinovich who’s fast becoming my favorite presenter for everything Microsoft. I’m less worried about what I’m going to see tomorrow since I can do a reflective post about everything and I expect the chances of me finding out anything amazing on the last day are slim to nil.

I finally decided to brave the line for a Surface¹ as I knew I’d kick myself if I didn’t take them up on the offer. Like most I was planning to go for the duo, getting one of both to take advantage of the price difference, however thinking about it I have no need for 2 tablets (my wife swears by her Macbook Air and I my Zenbook) but for $99 I figured the RT was cheap enough for those rare times I’ve found myself thinking “Hey a tablet would rock here”. All told I was in the line for about an hour or so when all I would’ve been doing otherwise was surfing the web so it wasn’t time wasted and the short line for lunch afterwards was a nice bonus.

We all managed to catch up for beers and dinner after we’d all finished writing our posts which was bloody fantastic and was most definitely one of the key things that had been missing from this trip. It was also very interesting to hear the journos war stories about the various tech press and the media in general and even better still being able to relate to them as a blogger (and not be ridiculed for it, omg). I did feel a little bad for the other guys though as whilst they we were all talking shop I felt like we might’ve been excluding them a little bit, but thankfully the conversation didn’t circle around journalism for the whole night.

Tomorrow is shaping up to be a pretty excellent day with the sessions stopping early and the big Microsoft piss up happening shortly after. I know we’re all looking to exploit this for all its worth so it should be a good time to get loose with everyone after a hard week’s blogging. Whilst that might preclude doing anything particularly interesting the day after it’ll all be worth it if we enjoy ourselves. I’ll just have to make sure to not get too wrecked as we’ll be shipping out the next day and flying hungover isn’t exactly one of my most favorite things to do.

 

¹For those not in the know they’re offering them to TechEd attendees at a ridiculous price point, $99 for the RT and $499 for the Pro.

 

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New Orleans: Day 3

I’ll have to admit I was a little bit stressed this morning. I’d spent the majority of the night previously thinking about the narrative I wanted to put forward for my post for Lifehacker and the night’s sleep didn’t bring about any sudden moments of clarity. This isn’t completely unusual, indeed there are many times when I go through a similar process for my daily entries here, but the thought of not being able to deliver something (well, something that was up to my standards) to someone else for publication wore on me heavily. Still I’m not one to dwell on problems that don’t have an immediate solution so I trucked myself out to TechEd.

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My writer’s anxiety wasn’t helped by the fact that the first session I had chosen turned out to be a 75 minute long advertisement for NetApp. Now usually I’m ok with sessions like this, especially if I’m interested in the particular tech they happen to be peddling, but no where on the session information did it say anything about this being all about whatever NetApp could do rather than, you know, what the session description led you to believe. Thankfully the second session I went to was with Mark Russinovich (of SysInternals fame) who’s presentation was not only great the stuff he talked about it was the inspiration for my post on Lifehacker. That’s also led onto me figuring out where I want to go with it for the next 2 that are due which just makes everything a lot easier.

The lack of a common meeting point (like the press room was the last time around) has led to this weird situation between all of us. Since we’re all in sessions for most of the day and the majority of them don’t overlap I actually didn’t see anyone else from the Lifehacker crew today. Sure there were a couple emails shot about but apart from that I’ve had no contact with them. After the experience I had travelling with DFAT it certainly feels a bit weird to me as we’d always meet up after work for dinner and a chat, something which was always fun after you got over that initial getting-to-know-you hurdle.

However this also afforded me a little freedom to do what I pleased after TechEd finished. After battling with dodgy Internet to get my post and pictures uploaded for the better part of an hour I finally made it out of the hotel and set out to look for some local cuisine. I’d tracked down a decent looking restaurant called Luke and, after walking in circles and almost giving up on finding it, settled in for a nice meal of baked oysters, a burger and an Oaked Arrogant Bastard ale. The food was quite incredible as the following photo will attest:

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I had thought ahead and brought my camera with me to the restaurant (none of the pics I’ve uploaded so far are from it, however) and afterwards I went on a bit of a tour around the area near my hotel. There was no limit of interesting subjects, at least for someone like me, and looking over the photos shows that I should have at least a couple keepers, maybe more once I get done with them in Lightroom. I was going to install a copy of it on this laptop however I don’t really have the time to go through them right now, unless I want to cut sleep out completely. It’s enough to satisfy me should I not get another chance, but I’m hoping to spend the better part of Friday doing the same thing again, only during the day.

So two days and two more posts to go. I’m feeling an awful lot better about this whole thing and I feel like its going to be reflected in my writing. Hopefully I luck into some more of those inspirational sessions as whilst I’ve got a general idea of what I want to write those kinds of posts always feel a whole bunch better. We shall have to see though and I’d better stop prattling on here in favor of getting some decent rest before tomorrow.

 

 

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New Orleans: Day 2

Due to our late arrival yesterday we had to be up pretty early to get to the convention center for registration. Thankfully I’m still in the throws of jet lag and was awake from 5:30am onwards so the 6:40am start wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be. Whilst I was getting ready I noticed that my camera battery was a little low and then realized that I had left my charger at home. One of the Lifehacker guys is using a Canon though so hopefully I’ll be able to bum a charge off him so I can spend what little free time I have taking pictures as I found today that spare time is going to be at something of a premium.

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The keynote turned out to be a lot more interesting than I had expected, mostly because my expectations were in the toilet after last year’s TechEd Australia. There was the usual over the top parts, the keynote speaker playing a James Bond-esque character and trundling up in an Aston Martin being chief among them, but thankfully that was essentially it with the rest of it focusing on good old fashioned technology. As the other’s remarked there was a lot more newsworthy stuff in the keynote than we’d expected and whilst I won’t cover it here (mostly because I’m sure it’s already been done to death everywhere else) suffice to say that instead of walking out feeling confused and slightly angry I was instead pretty eager to dive into some sessions to get my hooks into the newly announced features.

My choice of sessions was probably a bit sub-optimal though as the first couple we essentially retreading the same ground with not a whole bunch of new insight. Indeed the best session of the day was the one I hadn’t planned to go to since it was labelled TBD but my press buddies informed me they would be the ones to watch out for since TBD was code for “covers as of yet unannounced features”. With that in mind I’m taking a good long look at my schedule for tomorrow as I’d rather spend my time being interested in these sessions than nodding off halfway through them.

This time around has felt a whole bunch more disconnected than last year as after the keynote we all kind of went our own ways and we didn’t have the convenient press room to retreat to. It wouldn’t have been much of an issue but it seems that they couldn’t arrange the powered seats like they did last year which put me in the unenviable position of having to ration my use of the laptop, which meant my notes were pretty brief. It seems like an odd oversight given that they had it at TechEd Australia but I guess it must be a limitation of the venue.

I wasn’t so fussed about the relatively long hours last year since I’ve already seen most of what Brisbane has to offer but it does feel like a right shame that I’ve been here 2 days and I haven’t really seen much of New Orleans. Since TechEd won’t be providing dinner tomorrow though that might give me a little bit of a chance to get out and see a little bit of the place while I search for something edible. There seems to be a really cool little amphitheater/restaurant across from me that had live jazz playing tonight which is quite intriguing but it might have to wait as I’ve got a couple suggestions from friends to check out first.

I guess I could just go AWOL… ;)

 

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New Orleans: Day 1.

As most of you are aware sine I won the little blogger competition that Lifehacker ran last year they invited me to tag along for the culmination of their World of Servers gig at TechEd North America. That meant I’ve spent the better part of a day travelling from Australia to New Orleans and whilst I won’t bore you with the details of the rather uneventful journey (save for me being “that guy” who was late for his flight because he simply didn’t hear the boarding announcement) I thought I’d give a little comparison to the last time I was here, nearly 3 years ago now.

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For starters the flight over was much better than the last time I went, all because instead of flying Delta I was on Qantas. My wife and I lucked out somewhat last time as we managed to score a whole row of seats to ourselves on the way up (not on the way back) but flying solo this time around I was pretty impressed by the little marginal differences between Qantas and Delta that made the experience a little more tolerable. I’ve also become a bit better at sleeping on planes than I was back then (I think that was my first truly long haul flight, actually) and I managed to sleep through most of it.

Not that it helped my jet lag at all, as the headache I’m currently enduring will attest to.

New Orleans seems like a great place, all of the locals I’ve talked to so far have been really easy going. I didn’t get to see much of it as we got in at around 6pm and we’re going to be heading out to the venue at 6:40am tomorrow but there’s an odd dichotomy going on in the buildings, much like that I saw back in Montreal. I figure that’s mostly due to the destruction that hurricane Katrina wrought here all those years ago but thankfully it looks like quite a few of the older buildings survived.

Tomorrow we’ll have the opening TechEd keynote and then we’ll be off to our first round of sessions. I’ve predominately aligned myself with the enterprise/cloud space and whilst I haven’t been able to fill every session with something along that idea there’s been more than enough on offer for each time slot to keep me occupied. I’ve already had a couple clashes which has led to some tough choices about which ones I actually want to attend. That was made somewhat worse when Angus Kidman (the man behind much of Lifehacker Australia’s tech news) said that the TBD sessions would all be Windows Blue related. I’ll probably have to have a look at reworking it once I get a little downtime, probably during the keynote.

So if you’re coming here for your daily dose of tech/gaming/whatever related news I’m going to disappoint you for a little while but I’ll be doing wrap up posts every day over on Lifehacker Australia which I’ll be sure to retweet on my Twitter account. Mostly I’ll just be posting about the various exploits I find myself in whilst I’m over here in New Orleans and, time willing, sharing a few photographs that I manage to snap.

Internet Shopping Has Ruined Me.

I’m not what you’d call a big traveller, the longest trip of my life was done just last year and only lasted 4 weeks, but I’ve still been to more places than both my parents combined. I have the commoditization of air travel to thank for that and it’s the reason why many Australians of my generation spent their early twenties in other countries. Like any traveller I’m always keen to dive right into the culture of the place I’m visiting and always want to bring back a momento that’s distinctly from that country. Since I have a distaste for useless things and a heavy interest in tech my options are usually pretty limited though, especially when I go to places that are supposed to be tech centres.

Most recently I saw myself in Singapore for business and thought this would be a good opportunity to grab some of the gadgets I hadn’t bought yet (I.E. a Motorola Xoom). I knew I could get it online for just under $600 so I figured if I could get it for that or within 10% more it would be worth it so I set out to 2 of the biggest technology malls in search of one. The first one I tried was Sim Lim Square, and whilst the number of IT shops there was astounding I failed to find anyone willing to sell me the tablet for less than SG$900 (~AUD$684). It was also a bit of a challenge to find one in the first place since most places didn’t stock it, favoring instead the new Acer Iconia. My frolic through the Funan DigitalLife Mall prove to be equally as irritating, so I ended up leaving there empty handed.

I had similar frustrations looking for some distinctly Singaporean gifts to bring back from my travels. This could be due to the heavy amount of westernization that Singapore has undergone but even trolling through local markets had me finding the same items I could either get online or back in Australia. It’s not just limited to Singapore either, any business running in a modern country is more than likely going to have some kind of web presence which will allow you to get their products without having to enter the country. Thus the actual value of travelling to a location to get things that you can only get there is somewhat diminished, especially if you’re someone with particular tastes like me.

My wife and I had the same trouble when travelling through the USA. We struggled to find anything that they couldn’t get elsewhere and indeed many of the gifts we ended up bringing back could have easily been acquired with 10 minutes on the Internet and a credit card. Sure people are still appreciative of things that have made the journey from faraway lands (especially if you carry them yourselves) but it just seems unnecessary when you could have the package make that same journey without taking up space in your suitcase.

Perhaps its just a result of my particular tastes and chosen travel destinations but the more I travel the more I get the feeling that the world is becoming far more homogenous thanks to the communication revolution of the Internet. It’s also just good business on the part of the multi-nationals who can afford to have a presence anywhere they choose which explains why I continue to see the same products and brands nearly everywhere I go.

Maybe I’m just pointlessly ranting about the diminishing value of travel or perhaps I’m getting crotchety in my old age, not wanting to travel because I like what I’ve got back at home. Both are valid points and looking over this post it does seem kind of a silly point to make. Still though I think there’s something in the idea that the world is becoming more homogenous thanks to the better flow of information and that one of the flow on effects is that the idea of bringing gifts back from overseas is now a quaint notion that could soon be seen as an outdated custom.

Or maybe I’m just shit at finding good places to shop, that’d work too ;)

Goodbye, Dearest America.

The last day of any holiday is always filled with a wide gamut of emotions. We woke up naturally a good 3 hours before we needed to check out and spent that time lazily packing our bags for the day ahead. Our flight wasn’t until 10pm that night so we would have a good 10 hours before the time we had to leave the hotel and the time we had to catch the plane back home. Whilst we still had tickets to the San Diego Zoo I wasn’t too keen to drive the 2 hours there to see it, nor was I too confident that the drive back would be less than 2 hours. Instead we decided to spend the day shopping in downtown Los Angeles for gifts and generally lazing about before the 14 hour flight home.

After checking out and grabbing our car from the valet we headed towards a mall I had managed to find through Yelp. It was a traditional American outlet mall with everything being outdoors and the only indoor area being the food court on one of the upper levels. We spent many hours perusing through the various shops, picking up gifts for our family members that we hadn’t yet accounted for. Time was passing slowly and after what seemed like forever we collapsed in Barnes and Noble for some coffee and free wifi. It was only 4pm around that time meaning that going to San Diego was out of the question so we decided to hit up a movie to pass the last few hours before we’d charge over to LAX.

Arriving at one of the local theatres we discovered that the movie we had decided to see, Skyline which had been endlessly hyped during our entire trip, wasn’t available at this cinema. Undeterred we decided that we’d check the others to see if they were showing it. Strangely none of the theatres near us were showing it meaning we’d have to choose something else. Not really enticed by any of the options we went for Due Date since it was a comedy, figuring some light hearted fun would be the ticket. We bought our tickets but the show wasn’t on for another 45 mins, so we went into the attached mall.

Just as we entered the mall we spotted a puppy store (yes just puppies) and like any young couple we decided to go and ogle those cute little things. Really it wasn’t unlike any other pet store apart from the fact they had 3 “play rooms” set up at the back where you could pick a puppy and then take it there to play with it. I saw 2 families in separate rooms falling for this ploy, knowing full well that they’d be hard pressed to leave without their children’s new found playmate. Afterwards we spotted a Disney store and went in to grab a couple things that Rebecca wanted to get but hadn’t had the chance to last time we were there. We made our way back to the cinema which had the smallest rooms I’ve ever been in. It was really nice though as all the seats were comfy leather couches and the front most rows were giant futons you could lie back on.

After the movie was done we started the drive back to the rental car place to return our ride of the past week. I always remember these kinds of trips distinctly as that’s usually when it starts to sink in that the holiday is really coming to a close and all the memories start to flood in. I remembered so many things: the blazing Florida sun on my skin, the roar of the Corvette, the bitter cold kiss of Montreal, the sleepless city of New York and the child like wonder I rediscovered in Los Angeles’ theme parks. All of this was running through my head as we dropped off the car and took the shuttle to LAX where we checked in for our flight home.

The flight home went by much quicker than the flight there with the working entertainment system making sure many of those hours passed with ease. As we landed in Australia I felt those mixed feelings that any traveller has when they return home. Relief at the familiarity yet a sense of mourning that the trip is over, not wanting to let go of it. The feelings continued all the way back home and stayed with me until I fell asleep that night.

And now here I sit 3 days later recalling those experiences and the emotions come flooding back as if I was just boarding the plane back in Los Angeles. They will not soon be forgotten as the month Rebecca and I spent in the Unite States of America was more than just a holiday to us, it was our first true escape from our everyday lives that either of us have had. Sure we’ve both travelled before but never independently for this amount of time and because of that our perspective has changed radically. Time will tell if these feelings stay with us, but I feel this is tantamount to what happened to me almost 12 months ago which resulted in The Plan. One thing is for certain though, my heart now yearns for more experiences like these and my determination to make them happen has never been stronger.