Friday, October 10, 2008

Currency Exchange Rates

With the recent resurgence of the US dollar against other currencies, traveling to a number of countries is much cheaper than a few months ago. Arthur Frommer recently highlighted a few countries who's currencies have depreciated against the dollar. They include Australia, Mexico, Thailand, Bali, Iceland, and Canada. Today, I was checking out the accommodation options on Bali, which the Lonely Planet Bali book describes as not exactly backpacker-budget friendly. However, there are a few budget options including some hotels with dorm rooms, and a few camp-grounds.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Website Review: Digital Nomads

What is a Digital Nomad?
In the Connected Era, Digital Nomads will Rule - Redefining productivity - placeshifting and timeshifting. Their devices won't wait to connect - they will simply be connected. Always. Everywhere. Business as usual will become business unusual. Welcome to Digital Nomads - a community to learn new things, share ideas and connect with others. [Digital Nomads]


In this new era, a person's knowledge is their greatest resource, and their physical presence is no longer a requirement. By taking the "work from home" trend to the next level, "work from anywhere" is now a viable option for knowledge workers. With the Internet now ubiquitous and cheap no matter where you are, the right technology can create your office in any corner of the globe. claims to be a blog dedicated to the people and their technology that have created a nomadic lifestyle in their work-a-day lives. They cover some emerging technologies that make mobile computing more user friendly, such as these cool USB rechargeable batteries, and it also a lifestyle blog about how to live and work on the road. Unfortunately, it isn't quite clear how genuine this blog is with so many references and links to Dell computers. This blog is probably a Dell marketing front, but it has some useful info.

I think this introductory post Where Do You Work? I Work Everywhere. really sums it up. They also have a interesting introductory video from TreeHugger Founder: Graham Hill.

I became convinced living a digital nomadic life is possible in my last few trips to Europe. No matter where you go, there are plenty of "Starbucks-like" coffee shops with a quiet and relaxing environment to work in. They offer the same environment I could get here in the US.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Book Review: Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?

I initially noticed this book in the travel section of the Harvard Co-op, and I'll admit the title intrigued me. I started reading the first chapter, and the idea of a playboy travel writer sounded like fun. I didn't finish the chapter, but I made a note of the book in my iPhone to get a copy. I purchased the book, and after receiving it, read it the next day, cover-to-cover. Through the first chapter, I really didn't care for the writer; the stories of public drunkenness, fist fights, and heavy drug use didn't seem all that glamorous. I really couldn't relate. Once the author ditched his job, his girlfriend, his mundane life for backpacking in South America, I was hooked. The stories of embracing life as an adventure, whatever may come, makes any working stiff's life seem like Bill Murray in Ground Hog day where he wakes up to the same nightmare over and over and over... I thought the writers observations about budget travelers and hostelling were right on the money, and it was clear he was trying hard to maintain his professionalism in the face of impossible demands. One of the biggest disappointments I came away with from this book was that Lonely Planet has to trade up to the mainstream hotel/resort travel market to be successful. The mainstream travel market is inundated with poseurs hawking resorts, cruises, and weekend getaways that aren't about discovering new people, cultures, and ideas, but are more about insulating people from new experiences. The moment you step outside of your comfort zone (your milieu), you learn something new about the world and yourself.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hostels in the News: Chicago on the Cheap [Chicaco, Il] today featured HI Chicago in their Chicago on the Cheap article. Compared to high price hotels they mentioned the HI Chicago hostel "operates an all-ages building in Chicago's Loop with 500 beds. Prices are between $28 and $34 a night." Additionally, they noted Chicago's availability of public transportation makes it affordable to get around. My roommate recently returned from Chicago, and raved about the Architectural boat tours that run up and down the Chicago river. The John Hancock tower also offers panoramic views of the city for the price of a few drinks at the bar. Hot dogs, a staple of any budget traveler, can be purchased for under $2 at "The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium", and don't forget to load up on condiments. (they're free!)

The article includes a number of other great deals in Chicago, so take advantage of some of them before "The Windy City", becomes "The Ridiculously Cold Artic Blast City" in a few months.

Travelzoo also has some last-minute weekend deals to Chicago for under $200, so forget about the stock market for a few days and spend that last $300 in your account on a weekend in Chicago.

Chicago Hostel Map: here

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hostel Review: Snuffel Backpacker Hostel [Bruges, Belgium]

I visited Bruges in late March of last year, and came away with a love for Belgian beer and waffles. Bruges is a beautiful old city with canals running throughout the city. The Snuffel Backpacker hostel a short distance outside the central square, I reached by walking down a narrow path along a canal that felt like a fairy tale. (see picture) The hostel like a neighborhood dive bar, was filled with more character than amenities. You take a spiral staircase from the first floor upto the dorm rooms, which surround a common area with big lockers. My room was in the back of another room on the second floor, and was relatively small with only 3 bunk beds sleeping 6 people. Unfortunately, the hostel only had one bathroom on my floor, and the bathrooms showers weren't great. Although, I found people in the hostel friendly, freely chatting in the lounge downstairs and around the lockers upstairs. At night the lounge became a local bar with cheap drinks and a cool vibe. The bar had a great selection of Belgian beers, and it was there that I fell in love with the doubles, triples, and quadrupels for which they are so famous.

After returning from this trip, I discovered "The Monk's Cell" at "The Publick House" restaurant in the Brookline neighborhood of Boston. This bar captures the vibe of the Snuffel Backpacker Hostel bar and having a Belgian beer at this bar allows me to relive the time I spent in Bruges.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Website Review: Sleeping in Airports

Public transportation in many cities is unavailable during the morning hours, which can make it expensive to arrive early for a morning flight. To avoid taxi costs and the prospect of over-sleeping a flight, I have on occasion slept in the airport the night before. I don't recommend this, but there is an Internet resource available to prepare you if you plan to do so:

With some of the best airports for sleeping over, offering comfortable chairs, showers, and Internet, skipping a night at a crummy hostel might be the best move you ever made. During the night, security will ask for proof that you have a flight the next day. So be sure to have a ticket or reservation available showing your departing flight or you will be kicked out. Also, keep in mind that many airports do shut-down, and sleeping over is not always an option.

The only US airport to make the top 10 worst list is Chicago O'Hare, long known for stranding airline passengers during the winter months. Check out the comments about O'Hare here.

If traveling by ground transportation, this site also includes some train and bus stations, so be sure to check these out, too.

Website Review: Travelzoo Top 20

If you are not on the Travelzoo Top 20 email list, you are missing out on some of the best travel deals on the Internet. You could scour Kayak, Expedia, Frommer's, airline websites, travel discounters, and the blogosphere for the cheapest flights, hotels, and cruises on the internet, or you could have them delivered weekly in your email in-box. Travelzoo has been the leader in cheap travel deals for ten years, and they continue to provide timely discounts that are unbelievable. I have booked over half a dozen flights to Europe from the US East Coast and none have cost me more than $350 roundtrip.

Travelzoo has an interesting history, whereby it offered 5,155,874 shares to "netsurfer stockholders" to initially promote their business. These shares went to those who signed up themselves and their friends as the business was starting. The stock (TZOO) spiked in 2004, taking these investors on a wild ride up and down.

Today 12 million users receive the Travelzoo Top 20 email list, well above the 5 million users who frequent the Travelzoo website each month. The Top 20 list has expanded outside of the US, and Travelzoo is bringing travel deals to all corners of the globe.

Here is a cool video about the making of the Top 20 list:

Interestingly, the NJ to Cologne deal mentioned in the video is one I jumped on last year.