Category Archives: Travel Technology

List of articles with tips on travel technology including mobile phones, mobile broadband and finding wifi in Europe.

Bambuser Lets You Share Your Videos Instantly

bambuserI’m not a huge fan of mobile phone apps. They drain the phone battery and I can do most of the things I want to without the need for additional apps. However, I decided to have a look at the free apps available on my Samsung Wave, which I’m sure are very limited compared to lots of other smartphones. I liked the sound of the free live video streaming app. I thought it’d be fun to be able to share short videos instantly on Twitter and Facebook.

After downloading the app, there was a message saying that I’d have to open a Bambuser account to use the app. I did this on the laptop, as it was easier to type in the information than doing it on the mobile phone.I connected my Twitter and Facebook accounts, added a profile photo, completed my profile and customised the embeddable player.

I only had to enter my username and password to start taking a video once I opened the Bambuser app on the mobile phone. After shooting the first video I went into the settings menu to make some adjustments. The default video resolution was 176 by 144, but you could set it as high as 640 by 480. The first video, shot on the lowest resolution was a bit blurry, so I went for 320 by 240.  I may need to turn it down again if I’m using mobile broadband, so as not to use too much of my monthly data allowance.
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My Social Media Diet

soical media dietAfter a deluge of invites to join travel related Google+ groups today, I’ve decided to go on a social media diet for one month, starting from tomorrow until the 8th January 2013.

Although Twitter is where I spend (waste?) most of my time, it is fun and a pleasant distraction from writing blog posts. I’m not convinced that the time I spend on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest is worthwhile in terms of driving traffic to Europe a la Carte, never mind getting active in several Google+ groups. I get the vast majority of traffic to my blog from natural search.

Being active in social media has become almost like a “must-do” in order to stay in the loop, get noticed and prove how influential you are.

So here’s the detail of my self-imposed time restrictions for my one month social media diet, with a maximum of one hour per day between the four social media platforms.

You may notice I’ve omitted Google+, as  hardly ever use it, and Instagram which I never got into, as I like to see some realistic photos and don’t have a proper smartphone.

I’ll see if the reduction in time spent on social media makes any real difference to traffic coming to the Europe a Carte Blog.

I may use the time freed up by my social media diet to write more content for Europe a la Carte, or even spend a few more hours in the “real” world, away from my keyboards and screens.

Some Questions to Ask Yourself

How many of your friends/followers etc, are other bloggers versus “normal” travellers?

How much meaningful traffic are you getting to your blog from the time you spend on social media?

Are being sucked into the social media frenzy because that’s what everyone else is doing?

What’s your opinion? Are you thinking of going on a social media diet?


8 December 2012

It’s the first day of my social media diet. What I observed after publishing this post yesterday evening and sharing it on Twitter and Facebook was the frustrating fragmentation of social media, with quite a few comments on Facebook and Twitter but by noon only one comment on the blog post itself. This “all over the place” issue makes it almost impossible to have a coherent discussion.

11 December 2012

Perversely on the third day of my social media diet,  I seem to be getting more traffic than usual from social media channels especially Facebook today. My Tumblr experiment is going quite well, with a little bit of traffic every day to  Europe a la Carte Blog. I’ve been away in Edinburgh for a couple of nights, as I generally spent less time on social media when I’m out of the office it’s been easy to stick to the one hour a day . So far, I feel very positive about the social  diet; I was frittering away for too much twittering.

16 December 2012

I’m now in the second week and  feeling 100% positive about the diet. It hasn’t been hard to stick to it. It appears that it was more a case of deciding that I needed to lay down some time restrictions.

29 December 2012

While it’s been easier to stick to the social media diet during the festive holidays, it’s been great not to spend so much time on Twitter. The Tumblr experiment is still going well and looking at my Tumblr stream full of photos, is a lot more appealing that my stream of tweets.

Conclusion 9 January 2013

My traffic from from Twitter and Facebook has remained pretty similar during the diet. There’s been an increase of around 80% in traffic from Pinterest but I will keep monitoring that, as I could just be a temporary blip. Traffic from Tumblr is very similar to that from Pinterest, so I’m hoping that will increase if I get more followers there.

The social media diet has been extremely easy to stick to and freed up a lot of time to do other things. I’ll be continuing to restrict that amount of time that I spend on social media.


Social Media Week Glasgow: 24-28 September 2012

@smwglasgow at Skypark #glasgowI attended some of the free events during Social Media Week Glasgow, which ran from 24-28 September 2012.  This international event took place simultaneously in thirteen other cities including LA, Toronto, Barcelona, Jeddah, London, Sao Paulo and Shangai.

I found all the events that I attended to be interesting and thought provoking, althought there was quite a lot of nonsense doing the rounds. It seems that many people want to pigeon hole social media e.g. defining it as merely a function of PR. I think that it can do a lot more than help portray the public face that you, or that brand which you represent, would like the world to see.

#smw_retail @smwglasgow

#smw_retail at the Cala d’Or building in Glasgow
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Review of Vodafone Euro Traveller

If you’re on a pay monthly contact with Vodafone, you now have the option of using their Vodafone Euro Traveller when travelling in most of Europe. For an additional £3 a day, you can use your mobile phone contract in most of Europe, as you would in the UK.  You can use your inclusive minutes and texts to call standard landline and mobile phone numbers in the UK and in any of the participating European countries. The £3 daily charge is only made if you make calls, send texts or use data, receiving calls or texts is free.

I mainly use data when travelling. I previously used the Vodafone Data Traveller at a cost £2 a day, or £10 per month, for 25MB of data per day, in most of Europe. I was also automatically enrolled in the Vodafone Passport scheme as part of my pay monthly contract, which has a connection charge of 75 pence for each call (made or received) lasting up to 60 minutes. I could use my inclusive minutes to make these calls but not for texting.

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Vodafone Data Traveller Woes

Vodafone Data TravellerI’ve used the Vodafone Data Traveller quite a lot over the last year. For either £2 a day or £10 a month, pay monthly customers get 25MB of data per day in most European countries.  A few days before leaving for Portugal, I contacted Vodafone to request that I go on the £10 a month plan. I phoned 40062 from my mobile, the number given on the Vodafone site to opt into the £10 a month Data Traveller. A recorded message said “Great news, Vodafone Data Traveller is now included in your price plan”.

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Are Photo Effects Distorting Reality?

I’ve been trying to get all the blog posts about my Portugal trip written up while it’s still relatively fresh in my mind. I’m almost finished now and I started writing up about my tour of the Algarve with Gwen McCauley of Algarve Experiences. Unfortunately it was a pretty cloudy, dull and intermittently wet day, so some of my photos weren’t that attractive. I try to avoid editing photos if they look OK, as it’s too time consuming to edit them all. I’ve heard a lot about Instagram and its photo filters but as I don’t have an iphone, I’ve never tried it. Flickr has a new editing link to Aviary; I noticed there were some effect options there, so I gave them a try.  The “before effects” photos have undergone my normal editing to brigthen them up a bit.  Here are three of my before and after effects photos for you to compare.

photo effects

Looking toward Cabanas from the beach (after my standard editing)

photo effects

Looking toward Cabanas from the beach (after photo effects)
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How Useful is Twitter When Travelling?

When I read the post “Travel Advice with Twitter: 5 Tips” earlier today it got me thinking about how useful Twitter (and other social networks) really are when travelling. I’ve been asking for travel tips on Twitter and Facebook since the Europe a la Carte Summer ’09 UK Blogging Tour.

by SteveGarfield

The problem is that as soon as I move away from wired broadband in my office, I often have problems getting online.  It’s not so bad in the UK, as I have Vodafone mobile internet on my Samsung Jet mobile phone which costs £5 a month for 500Mb and an O2 USB modem for my netbook which gives me 3Gb a month for £15 on an 18 month contract.  Hotel wifi is generally problematic, either in the UK or abroad.  On one occasion at the Waldorf Suite Florence the only place I could get a decent signal was in one of the bathrooms (but I did move a chair into the bathroom).

Getting online by tizzle

The question of how useful are social networks when travelling really came to the fore during my easyJet 15 Hour Blogger Challenge in Paris in late November 2010. My destination was only revealed to me at check in at Luton Airport.  I immediately asked for Paris travel tips on Twitter and Facebook. As it was 6am in the morning, there wasn’t much initial response.

Louvre Pyramid, Paris

On check in at the Seven Hotel Paris I planned to spend some time on the hotel’s free wifi collating my tips but I couldn’t get a decent signal in my room. As it was after 1pm I thought I’d better get out in the daylight instead of getting frustrated trying to get online.

I could have easily spent quite a bit of my time in Paris fiddling around with my phone, reading and sending text messages (it is free of charge to receive text messages with Vodafone in France and you can set up Twitter and Facebook to send mentions and comments as text messages). As I refused to pay the £1 per Mb charged by Vodafone for mobile internet in France, I could have also wasted time looking for cafes with free wifi. (From 1 December 2010 Vodafone UK have reduced the price for mobile internet roaming to £2 for 25mb in many European countries in their Data Traveller package.)

In conclusion, I’d recommend that you ask for travel tips on Twitter and Facebook before your trip/holiday and print out a compilation of these tips to take with you. Then you can spend your time at your destination looking around you, taking in the sights, soaking up the atmosphere and talking with locals, instead of staring at your mobile phone screen and incurring high mobile roaming charges.

Traveling… Without a Camera

I used to hate looking at pictures. I always felt like I was being forced into moments that weren’t mine.  A strange sense of voyeurism that was thrust upon me.  Of course, this was before digital cameras were pervasive and when phones were used to call people. You know, way back when – like the year 2000.

Since then, I have upgraded to a digital camera with more memory than could be found on my first computer.  And I travel everywhere with it.  Just the other day, I was trying to sort through my travel photos from trips abroad.  And they all started to blur together.  There were buildings, landscapes, and the occasional self-portrait.  You know the one, arm stretched out, head tilted back trying to get as far from the camera lens as possible. A look of half concentration mixed with an awkward half smile dominates the screen.  Like when I went skiing at Chamonix (which, by the way, has to be one of the best places to visit in Europe.  Especially when it doesn’t stop snowing.).

Note the concentration...

I realized just how dominant photographs had become when I traveled.  There were plenty of memories to sort through.  And plenty of pictures which were just that – pictures. Places I couldn’t remember seeing and things I couldn’t remember doing.  Sometimes it seems I had spent more time on trying to take pictures than I did on enjoying the moments those pictures were trying to capture.  Technology and traveling with a camera had become such a part of my trips that it had seemingly gone from being a blessing to a curse (Karen wrote about this very topic when traveling with a netbook).

Then it happened.  I forgot my camera.  And it was kind of liberating. I didn’t have to constantly be pulling it out to snap a photo. I didn’t have to worry about forgetting it. I didn’t have to charge the batteries or upload pictures or take awkward self-portraits.  Instead I bought a couple of postcards.  Turns out their photography skills are just a bit better than mine.

Would I suggest traveling without a camera all the time? Absolutely not.  Some things you just have to have pictures of.  But I would definitely suggest putting it away.  If only for a day.

Cheap UK mobile broadband deal

Update 1 January 2012 – I’ve received four out of the five cashbacks with no problems, just one more to go at the end of the month.

Update 24 August 2010 – I’ve updated the free gifts which have changed since my purchase last month.

I just signed up for an 18 month mobile broadband deal with O2.   The USB modem (dongle) is free, the monthly cost of the contract is £15 which includes a 3GB allowance and unlimited wifi at hotspots such as the Cloud.  The current promotion offers 3 months free plus one of these free gifts:

1 An £30 automatic cashback

2  8 months free line rental by redemption made through 5 separate claims in months 6,9, 12, 15 and 18 of your contract

My netbook with USB modem (dongle) in left USB port

I selected the 13 months free line rental,  which I know from experience is a bit of a fiddle. You have to make sure you follow the instructions very carefully to get all your cashbacks.  I’ve used previously, they are part of CarphoneWarehouse and received cashbacks from them with no problems.  However I have read about customers not receiving redemption cashbacks from other retailers, so you might prefer to play it safe and go for the £60 automatic cashback.

As a travel blog editor I need to stay online when I’m travelling around the UK.   With many hotels charging up to £15 for 24 hours internet access and/or the signal not being decent, I find it’s always wise to have a mobile internet option. When I bought my netbook in February 2009, I spent a lot of time researching the best UK mobile broadband package for my usage.  I’ve been using  O2 mobile broadband on the Pay As You Go basis since September 2009.  Overall  I’m happy with the signal.

However I was prompted into looking at alternative mobile broadband arrangements when 02 recently changed the Pay As You Go mobile broadband options from 1 day, 7 days or 30 days to only 1 day and 30 days, while also reducing the data allowance from 3GB to 2GB on the 30 day package.  I had a good look around for the best current UK mobile broadband deals and this 18 month mobile broadband deal with O2 through was the best I could find.


I’ll receive a commission if you sign up to this 02 mobile broadband contract

Please read the terms and conditions of the contract very carefully, as this post is based on my personal research for my own mobile broadband usage requirements and my understanding of the current deal.

Review of Sony in ear noise cancelling headphones

I was given a complimentary set of Sony in-ear noise cancelling headphones (model MDR-NC33)  for review purposes.

Sony in ear noise cancelling headphones

Now I had no prior knowledge of this product but I assumed from the name that wearing these headphones would block out a very high percentage of surrounding noise.  Therefore when I first tried them I was amazed that, apart from the muffling effect of having earphones in my ear, I could still hear the TV pretty clearly.  I looked at the Sony site and saw the phrase “cuts out up to 90% of ambient noise”. The issue is that apparently ambient noise can either be defined as:

a the total sound in a given area, or,

b a noise level that is always present

It would appear that the Sony headphones are effective for the b definition e.g. when I was on a train and the London Underground most of the noise made by the train was cancelled out.  However I found the headphones to be pretty ineffective against fluctuating sounds such as conversations or announcements.

The headphones come with three sizes of silicon in ear bud fittings, small medium and large, which you attach to the headphones.  Now I must confess that I don’t find any in ear headphones that I’ve worn to be very comfortable and even with the medium ear bud fitting attached, the Sony headphones were no exception.

Sony in ear noise cancellation headphones with the silicon earbud fitting attached

The headphones suffer from an very annoying design flaw, as the sliding on/off switch is very easily moved from off to on when the headphones are in your bag.  On my second trial of the headphones more than a week after I received them, the battery had gone flat.  When I took the headphones out of my bag to take the photos for this review, they were on, although I’d switched them off the previous day.

The battery/control unit of the Sony in ear noise cancelling headphones

In conclusion, I found the Sony in ear noise cancelling headphones to be only effective against a constant background noise, so if you are comfortable wearing  in ear headphones and travel a lot by train or plane, where there are very few announcements or conversations taking place close to you, the earphones will cancel out type b (constant) ambient noise.