A new blog follower asked me a question today, so I have decided to try to answer it in a post. I’ve been thinking about doing a post like this for a while, but more from the psychological perspective than the practical one. I’ll try both.
Warning: I just re-read this post and it is a rambling disaster. But I can’t be bothered to tidy it up, so it is what it is. Read it or don’t.
Psychologically, I have found my extreme dependence on the internet a little disconcerting. I wouldn’t have classed myself as an internet junky before we started planning this trip, but I guess I may have become one. I say that because of the feelings of isolation, vulnerability, and sometimes downright fear I have when we are cut off. This seems wrong somehow. I mean, people have been travelling Europe for a long time, way before we had internet and cell phones. My sister and I travelled for a month in the late 80s. No way to contact anyone. No looking at accommodation reviews, no online booking – no nothing. In fact, I think we made two calls to our parents, collect from a payphone (which my children thought was just something Maroon 5 made up for the song).
Aside: as a parent, I cannot imagine the torment of my children being off in the wild blue yonder and only hearing from them once every two weeks; I think it would send me to an early grave. But again, that’s another self-help post for some time in the future…
Back on topic. It feels a bit pathetic to rely so heavily on the internet, but I guess that is just indicative of the world we live in. That’s how we operate. I didn’t make any phone calls to book accommodation for this trip. I didn’t speak to a travel agent to book our flights. I didn’t go to a ticket agent to buy our ferry tickets. I did it all online. And granted, sometimes I wish I could just let someone else do it for me, and I have complained more than once about the number of hours I have spent online planning for this trip, but in reality, there is an unlimited amount of information out there that we would never have been able to access without the internet. I can see multiple pictures of any hotel room or apartment we might want to book, and I can usually find out anything else I want to know thanks to traveller reviews and detailed websites. It’s amazing.
And it’s annoying. Often, there is just too much information, and if you read it all, you will never have any fun. Because you’ll spend your entire life online weighing up the pros and cons of accommodation A versus accommodation B, based on price, location, parking (included or not), breakfast (yes or no) and the favourability of the 342 reviews posted online. Possibly on 4 or 5 different websites. Oh, and then you need to figure out which of the sites you should book it on. Trip advisor, Booking.com, Hotels.com etc etc. My policy has always been to find the accommodation on one of those sites, then go directly to the hotel site, and book there. Always the best price. However, that has backfired a couple of times. Once when we got lost but had to keep pushing on to get to our hotel, despite the fact that it was close to midnight and our kids were losing it, because it could not be cancelled. Apparently some of the booking sites allow cancellation without penalty. The other example is when our chosen hotel showed up full on their own website, but I found a room available on Booking.com.
Oh, dear, I digress again. Take my advice on this. Find one, and if it looks ok, book it. Do not agonize over the details and worry about whether the next one on the list might be nicer. Just do it. Oh, but wait. Make sure it has free wifi first:)
OK, back to the purpose of the post. The 3G ipad has been fantastic. When we can find a sim card for it. And when we can find a place that will let us do a pay up front plan. Which should be easy, but hasn’t been. Airports are a good place to do this, we have recently discovered. You can get a sim card for most devices which is operational within 10 minutes. In Italy, we had to wait 24 hours after buying the card for it to become operational, but you could buy it easily in any little electronics shop.
In England, this was much more difficult. We found the right company, Three, after much research and time. Here we could get a 1gb sim card and pay for it up front. We also bought a cheap phone and got a pay up front sim card for that from Orange. This has been great, and has worked in all other European countries so far. A little more expensive than in England, but usable, and we are able to top up online. Oh, but only because I have a British bank card…that’s another issue for a future post.
Back to the ipad. In Italy, we could quite easily get a sim card, but the provider TIM, didn’t always come through, and it was a weak signal in many areas. Still, it worked. Until we crossed the border into any other country. Which is the big problem with the ipad really. The sim cards only work in one country, so even if you have usage space left, it disappears when you leave the country. Not too expensive though, so doable. You can usually do it for about $25 for 1gb or a month, whichever comes first.
I did see, after we left Canada, that you can actually buy your sim card for France online, and have it delivered to your home before you leave. That would have been well worth the effort. Not sure if you can do that with other countries or not, but what you don’t want to do is arrive in a country with kids in tow and then try to find a store where you can buy an ipad sim. That’s not fun. And not always possible either.
Thinking back to Cinque Terre for example. Not much wifi around there, except at an internet cafe. So, here the 3G would have been really useful. But no place to get a sim card. And you sure don’t want to brave those winding little mountain roads again to go back to civilization and find a place.
Which takes me back to the psychological side of things. Finding that first internet cafe after the culture shock of Cinque Terre, and logging on after three days to check emails and post our whereabouts on facebook gave me such a feeling of relief. It was almost euphoria. Like I had just injected a potent mood altering drug directly into my bloodstream…
Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But you get the idea. I actually don’t feel safe without the internet. Which is frightening in itself. These feelings and reactions are, I’m sure, in the dictionary under physical addiction.
Oh, and the cell phone, which has actually been much more necessary than I expected. Especially when you’re somewhere off the beaten track with no internet! I texted our host upon arrival in Cinque Terre and he came and found us. Without that phone, it would have been pretty tough to find our accommodation, especially since no cars were allowed in the village. And the ipad map wasn’t working due to no internet.
And speaking of the ipad map; it has saved us many many times. It’s just another thing I’m completely addicted to….oh, my.
Good thing I’m not a gambler or a big drinker. I think I may have been in trouble. Or in a Betty Ford Clinic while my family enjoyed the trip without me.
Posts Tagged With: ipad
We just spent a night in Halifax, all of a three and a half hour drive away from us. We have done this many many times before, but this time, my focus was very different. I viewed this as a little practice for the big thing – a very tiny glimpse into what could be…Now, I know you can’t compare a 3 or 4 hour road trip with driving to Mexico (for example), but you can learn from it. And we did. On the way home, we asked the kids what they had learned from the experience, and they said “Be Prepared”. That about sums it up, and it’s really good advice. But here are a few more things we learned as the parents and planners of the upcoming trips:
- Having the right clothing, footwear, and “accessories” can make or break your day. We stopped in Truro at Victoria Park, a great park for hiking complete with waterfalls and streams (to play in, as it turned out). So, when we arrived, we got the kids to change from flip flops to sneakers for our little hike in the woods (sensible.), but then when they insisted on getting wet, turns out flip flops may have been more appropriate. So, now we know we need some all terrain sandals that will go in water and still be ok for hiking. Check. Also, naturally, one child “needed” to swim in the waterfall, but wouldn’t take off her pants out of modesty, so then we had the issue of wringing wet pants for the walk back to the van (I had brought towels, but they were in the trunk). So, we need a backpack of fresh clothing and a towel next time. Check. It was hot. Unexpectedly hot. Only one of us had a hat, and only one of us put on sunscreen prior to leaving the house. I brought sunscreen, but it was in the suitcase, buried under other toiletries, teddy bears and clothes. So, always have sunscreen readily available no matter what the weather when you set out. Check. And hats. We had to go back to the van a little earlier than we wanted to due to hot heads and the fear of uncomfortable scalp sunburn.
- Having some kind of system of organization in the vehicle can make things a lot more pleasant for everyone. After only a couple of hours in the van, the back looked like a bomb site. Books and notepads all over the floor. Bags everywhere, random shoes in the aisle, and snack-garbage strewn around the seats. Then nobody can find what they are looking for, or someone is constantly having to pass something to someone else, and there may even be fighting in the back. So, I have asked the kids to start thinking about how to organize the chaos, because if it’s like that after two hours, I dread to think what it will be like after twelve. I need to think about this too. There must be some good ideas on this out there, so I will look. Check.
- Everyone needs to be assigned an individual job when we stay in hotel rooms (or anywhere, really). Five people sharing a room is ok for a night, even if it is crowded and chaotic. But what about longer stays? In order for those to work, I think we need assigned jobs, and kind of an “order of operations”. What do we do immediately upon arrival? Unpack. Put stuff away. Basically, create space. What needs to be checked during the final sweep of the hotel room before leaving? Someone could do drawers, another person bathroom and shower, another can do plug outlets for chargers etc. And because Darragh’s pj top no longer lives with us, we now know someone also needs to check under the bedding! This could save us a lot of time, and a lot of repetition. It’s efficient, and I like efficiency. It will also teach responsibility and save us money on items we would have had to re-buy if we left them in the hotel room! Check.
- We need to determine what makes an educational experience into a home-schooling experience. We went to the Museum of Natural History, and of course, the girls loved it, and I’m sure they learned a lot. From how big a hummingbird’s egg is, and what fox poop looks like, to how igneous rock forms. So, as we sat there watching them count the mammals in one big display case, we looked at each other and said, “so, is this it, or do we have to do something?”. Yes, folks, that was our lesson plan. This was a great lesson for us, because clearly, that is not enough. What do we do prior to the visit to set it up? How does the focus need to differ for the three ages of our kids? Do we let them choose their own learning focus? What should they be doing while in the museum? After the visit? We need to do a little more thinking around these issues! Check.
- Hotel rooms for five people are ok, even without a cot. Turns out, Liah likes the floor. Awesome! And just while we are on the subject of hotels, the ones with the complimentary breakfast are definitely the way to go. Such a saving for us. And a pool. Because a pool makes everything ok.
- The 4G ipad rocks. Yes, this is the final thing we learned on our trip. When we said, “I’m not sure if we are going the right way – I think we may have missed the exit”, the ipad and its little flashing blue dot told us we were fine. When we were trying to decide where to eat supper, we spun the wheel-of-fortune-like spinner on the Urbanspoon app and it gave us plenty of suggestions to match our taste and budget. And it takes fabulous pictures. And it turns out, there is an app that can organize my life. I got it, but I can’t figure out how to use it.
One of the things we have been trying to figure out is what technology we need to take with us as we travel? We need a device on which we can access the internet the majority of the time we are away, so we figured an ipad with 3G would be best; we’ve been looking at those. We got our daughters netbooks for Christmas, but are now wondering if we could have managed with just one – we thought one each so that when we are doing “school work” they could all work together, but now that one daughter got an ipod touch for Christmas it seems everything you could ever need is right there on that! So, what do we keep and what do we ditch??
I’ve been trying to plan our travels online for the past six months or so, but I just bought a Lonely Planet’s Europe on a shoe string travel guide, and it has given me the first semblance of a plan (which six months on the internet did not manage to do!). Maybe we are feeling like we need to rely too heavily on technology. Perhaps the classic guide book and some paper and pens would be enough?