Why do I travel

Interesting question was posted on reddit: Why do you travel? Traveling has enriched me greatly for some wildly different reasons.

Mostly, I travel because I like the break from the routine. It forces me to try different foods, sleep in different places, interact with new people, maybe even speak a different language. It encourages me to manage my time and schedule in a new way. I like to think that this encourages a kind of personal growth.

In part because of the break from routine, travel brings me closer to my family. We have a collection of shared experiences that we can recall. Even the bad experiences. Remember that time we saw Ringo Starr’s childhood home. Remember that time you got sick in the hotel. Remember that time we got a flat tire in Ireland!

I have a number of different interests that are complemented well by travel. I’m interested in history, for example. I read a book about the first sea clock. Then I went to Greenwich and saw it. It was a thrill to have that connection to something I had read about. Similar for Gettysburg (you can really see where the battle of Little Round Top happened), etc.

Oh, and I also learned a lot about places that I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t traveled there. Could I have read a book? Yes. Would I have? In many cases, no.

I’m also a hobbyist photographer. I can’t get great photos of things unless I go to those things. Pretty self-explanatory.

I’m also a bicyclist and hiker. It gets boring hiking and cycling on the same old paths near home.

I am also doing genealogy research. I (and my wife) have met distant family members who live very far away, who we never knew before. My wife has German cousins who descended from the sister of an 1860’s immigrant to the US. They greeted us warmly and hosted us for a meal and showed us around town. Two years later, I visited my father’s cousins, and they told me stories of a side of my grandfather which I never knew. Ironically, since they are older than me, they remembered him better, even though he lived a block from my house. The time spent meeting these people — these new friends and family members — are among the highlights of my life.

I’m not trying to convince anyone else to travel, merely answering the question of why I do. I realize many of my reasons are personal. If people prefer not to travel, that is fine by me.

Driving in Ireland

I knew that in the UK and Ireland, people drive on the left side of the road. I heard the advice “drive left, look right” at intersections, and repeated the mantra to myself all during the drive. However, what I didn’t anticipate was that the roads and parking lots are all designed for smaller cars than the US. Also, Ireland/UK cars are designed with the steering wheel on the right. Sitting on the right side of the car is disorienting in a way I did not anticipate. I was very uncomfortable judging where the edges of the car were. For some reason, I had low confidence when backing up. I’m so used to looking over my right shoulder, it was disorienting to look over my left shoulder.

The car: Since we had four people, we rented a Ford Mondeo, which is a standard mid-sized car for the US. However, it’s a large car by Ireland standards. In retrospect, I would have preferred a smaller car. As a plus, though, the car had audible proximity sensors which beeped when we got close to an object. And there was a rear cigarette port, into which we plugged this Anker 5-port USB car charger, which was great for the kids.

Transmission: I drive manual transmission daily at home. My rental in Ireland had manual transmission … at my left hand. The “reverse” was to the left of 1st, instead of being to the right of 5th, not sure if that’s an Ireland thing or a Ford thing. It took some getting used to reverse being in the “wrong” spot on the stick. If you don’t know how to drive manual … absolutely get automatic, no matter what the extra cost. As it was, I stalled a few times and had difficulty finding “reverse”.

First advice: Check your tire pressure. Driving on the left was awkward, and I slammed into the left curb a few times while getting the hang of it. Unfortunately, one of those times resulted in a blown front left tire. I later checked the pressure, and all the tires were underinflated. Was the underinflation the cause of the blowout? I can’t say for sure, but I believe so. Anyway, I successfully changed the tire, and a passing motorist helped direct us to a tire shop. We were back on the road in two hours, one of which was spent having lunch.

Second advice: get the excess damage waiver. If you get any dents or such, you are covered. Normally I don’t get that with a rental, but the driving is so different in Ireland, I feel it was worth it. I got scratches in the hotel parking garage. I backed into a bunch of beer kegs and broke the rear reflector off the bumper. The small spaces in Ireland seem to make scratches and bumps so much more likely.

Naviation: For navigation, I still like CoPilot GPS. I bought the US map first, then added the Europe map last year. I have now used it in Germany, Ireland, Arizona, Utah, upstate New York, and remote parts of New Hampshire and Maine. It works in all conditions, signal or no signal.

Driving: The roads vary from US-like interstates to one-lane country roads, but almost always the lanes are narrower than in the US. For two-lane roads, you need to guide the car down the lane with precision, because these roads are often twisty and there is not a lot of visibility as to what is ahead. Some of the really narrow country roads are just one lane; one car has to pull over to let the other pass. And the country lanes are planted with hedges on either side; when the road twists and turns (and it will), you cannot see if anybody is coming.

The main drawback of CoPilot is that its database of “Places of interest” was lacking in Ireland locations. I have since found the free Pocket Earth, it seems to have a lot more points of interest available.

Finally, repeat to yourself, “keep left, look right at intersections.” Keep left, look right.

The good news is, we made it fine, after 8 days of driving, Belfast to Shannon via a northerly route through Portrush, Derry, etc.

Misc Lessons from Ireland trip

We spent 8 days driving in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Here are some miscellaneous notes:


Ireland in summer was in the 50s to low 60s Fahrenheit every day. It rained almost every day, and was sunny almost every day.

Clothes: if you can afford it: wear a nice waterproof outer shell, an insulating layer, and a base layer. As a male, I really liked my new Uniqlo Airism briefs (seem to be sold out), they pack tiny and are easily washed.


If you are happy with the photos your phone takes, use that. For navigation, I still like CoPilot GPS. I bought the US map first, then added the Europe map last year. I have now used it in Germany, Ireland, Arizona, Utah, upstate New York, and remote parts of New Hampshire and Maine. It works in all conditions, signal or no signal. The main drawback of CoPilot is that its database of “Places of interest” was lacking in Ireland locations. I have since found the free Pocket Earth, it seems to have a lot more points of interest available.

Also, my T-Mobile plan has free international roaming, which proved invaluable in sorting out some issues that came up. We had a flat tire, and I left my laptop in Liverpool airport security. Both issues would have been very tough to resolve without my T-Mobile plan.


For most plug adapters, I am fine with a cheap power converter like this generic one. I bought 3 for $9. They are bulky, but light. In Ireland, it was difficult to find a hotel with more than two available wall plugs, though.

We were a family of 4 who all had USB devices to charge. I loved this EZOPower 4-port USB Charger that comes with plugs for US, Europe, UK, and more. In the car, we had the Anker 5-port USB car charger.

Most-used smartphone travel apps

I’m just finishing up a driving trip in Germany, and my #1 indespensible app has to be my navigation app. I just cannot imagine driving around a foreign-language country without it. I have a year of German under my belt, but I still cannot understand all the road signs, the exits can be confusing, and the autobahn is just too fast to let you read a map while driving.

As for which app to choose, there are a lot to choose from. I use CoPilot GPS for any kind of long-distance driving, where my cell signal may be unreliable or I want to avoid roaming charges (this is less of a concern for me since T-Mobile offers free international data roaming). CoPilot downloads the whole map (not just parts that you select; the entire country) and does not require a cell signal to operate. I have used it in upstate New York, Arizona/Utah, and now Germany with very excellent results. I have now used it for driving and also for walking. I not only visited major tourist sites, but also the homes of my German relatives, with no problem. I can’t even imagine having my relatives give me driving directions in German. It helped me find a gas station near my car rental return location. It’s a great app. It’s not free, but the price is reasonable.

My #2 app had to be my German dictionary.

No. 3 and on would be related to my photography (I love InstaPlace, and use Dropbox for backing up photos).

I also use TripIt. Tripit is convenient alternative to writing down your hotel and flight information on a piece of paper like we did in the old days.

As for a currency converter, I downloaded one but didn’t use it even once. Really, if I’m in a restaurant or something, I’m more concerned with relative prices than the exact conversion to dollars.

Planning a trip

A novice traveler on Reddit was nervous about planning their upcoming trip, and asking for general trip planning advice. I thought I came up with some good advice:

There’s no one way to do it. Everybody has their balance of how much they like to plan in advance and how much they want to be spontaneous. I think I’m more of a “planner” than most.

The #1 most helpful thing for me is a good guidebook. A good guidebook will help you plan where you want to go, what to see, and all kinds of details about transportation, weather, food and whatnot. Mark up the guidebook with post-it flags for the places that look interesting.

I book flights first. Then hotels usually shortly thereafter. I like to have a guaranteed place to stay every night. This requires having a general outline of where you’re going to be and how long. I don’t like to waste vacation time wandering around, looking for a room. It can be stressful to me. At the least, I’d say make sure you have weekends and holidays booked in advance, as those tend to be busiest.

Generally we’ll plan a rough outline of each day. There might be one thing planned for the day; or two, or three. Often a day is planned the night before, in the hotel.

The first day, you may have to allow for jetlag. We’ll usually schedule a museum or something else low-stress for the first day. Or a train ride to a different city, hoping to sleep on the train.

On a city trip, we’ll often plan a bicycle or walking tour for the 2nd day. Almost every major city has these. A good tour gives you an orientation to the city, and helps you plan where you might want to spend more time. You can also ask your tourguide questions to help you plan your trip.

A typical day might be: Tower of London in the morning, visit Tower Bridge museum, walk to the Tate Modern. Or: explore the Zitadelle in the morning, Spandau in the afternoon, and Reichstag for the 5pm tour and sunset.

We’ll typically stay in a city for several days or a week, and take day tours to outlying towns (ie, Salisbury from London). In big cities there are always tour companies that can take you on day trips.

We have a general rule that for attractions that are likely to be popular, we either book online or arrive as early as possible in the morning. You can often book museums the night before online, and skip waiting in line.

There are some attractions that need to be booked far in advance; for example, the Reichstag tour in Berlin. I knew this from the guidebook.

Some attractions are time-sensitive, or free at certain times/days. You have to plan around those.

My spouse likes to plan in advance restaurants in the area we’ll be in. Also, ice cream places. Apps like Yelp make this easier than in the past.

If your trip is a whole year out, I highly recommend you plan a short trip of 2 or 3 nights somewhere not too far from where you are, in the meantime. That will give you confidence and experience organizing a trip; what to pack, how to plan, etc. This is not essential, but should help give you confidence.

Hope this helps.

Things to do in New York City “off the beaten path”

For some reason, people on Reddit always want to know what to do that’s “off the beaten path” or “not the usual tourist things”. Well, frankly, the “usual tourist things” in New York are pretty awesome. But, here are some things that might be considered “off the beaten path” that I enjoyed during my time living in New York City:


Bike NY

When I lived in New York, I bicycled a lot. It’s a great experience to bike around Midtown, and also to bike around New York’s fringes. The new Citi bikes aren’t tourist-friendly for long periods, so here are some places to Rent a Bike.

  • Bike Roosevelt Island
  • Bike Governor’s Island
  • Bike the Hudson River Bike Path
  • Bike from City Hall to Prospect Park, Brooklyn
  • Bike from Prospect Park to Coney Island


Have you visited the County of Kings? Brooklyn used to be a city in itself, and has a ton of things to do. You can bike or you can take the subway.

  • Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn is one of the country’s great cemeteries. There is a lot of gorgeous sculpture and landscaping, it’s like a free outdoor museum.
  • Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from City Hall to Patsy Grimaldi’s Pizza. Have dinner at then walk to the Brooklyn Promenade and catch a view of lower Manhattan at sunset
  • Brooklyn Museum
  • Visit Prospect Park in Brooklyn
  • Coney Island has amusements, a sideshow, and an aquarium

Three short US travel getaways

A question was posed on Reddit: How can I use my Southwest Airlines Frequent Flier miles to enjoy a modest but relaxing US-based vacation? I came up with this answer. All are cities that Southwest flies to:

Suggestion 1: Sanibel/Captiva

  • Fly to Ft Meyers, Florida.
  • Rent a car and drive to Sanibel/Captiva Island (about an hour drive)
  • Rent a cottage for a week
  • Visit the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge and see birds and wildlife
  • Collect Shells
  • Visit the shell museum
  • Eat ice cream
  • Rent bicycles and ride the bike path
  • Relax

2: Cape Cod

  • fly to Providence (PVD)
  • Rent a car and drive for about 1.5 hours
  • Stay in Eastham, Cape Cod
  • Fly kites
  • Visit lighthouses
  • Walk along the beach (probably too cold to swim in May)
  • Day trip to Marthas Vineyard
  • Eat ice cream (lots of fresh creameries)
  • Rent bikes and ride on the magnificent rail trails
  • Funky shopping in Provincetown
  • Possible bonus: stop at Whaling Museum in New Bedford, which is on the way to Cape Cod

2a: Newport option

  • Fly to PVD
  • Newport is about an hour away
  • Visit stunning mansions
  • More of a shopping-and-spending-money destination, IMHO.

3: Acadia National Park:

  • Fly to Portland, ME (PWM)
  • Rent a car and drive for about 3 hours to Bar Harbor
  • Stay in, or just visit, Bar Harbor, a quaint town
  • Awesome bicycling trails
  • Rent kayaks and paddle with a guide
  • Gorgeous hiking; low, easy-to-moderate mountains with semi-alpine conditions
  • Eat popovers at Jordan Pond House

Things to do in Cape Cod

  • Ice cream. Lots of great ice creameries. Most are probably closed in October.
  • Lots of historic houses, windmills, lighthouses, mills to visit. Probably mostly closed in October, but you can visit the grounds.
  • The walk out to Race Point Lighthouse is beautiful; do this at low tide. Fairly strenuous.
  • World-class bicycle trails. Awesomeness on two wheels. Not sure if bike rentals are open during October, but I’d bet there are some. Province Lands Bike trail is particularly awesome.
  • Lots of places for sea kayaking. Try Stage Harbor near Chatham.
  • Sandwich Boardwalk is beautiful to walk any time of year. Easy-peasy walk. Great place to fly a kite, too.
  • Visit the Marconi Wireless Station site
  • Walk the trail at the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. Very easy.
  • Birdwatch or take a guided canoe trip at the Cape Cod National Seashore.
  • Visit one of the bay beaches when low tide coincides with sunset, it’s awesome any time of year. Skaket or First Encounter Beach.
  •  Take a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard for a day trip. Rent a scooter. This is not a cheap day out.

Accuracy of the Wintec WBT-201 GPS logger in different conditions

I can say that the Wintec G-Rays WBT-201 has worked with my iMac and MacBook Air, reliably and consistently, for over a year. It claims to operate for up to 8 hours, and I think that’s about right.

I sync the .gpx file with my Mac using the free Houdah GPS software.

Here are some sample outputs from the device. Basically, it is extremely accurate in open country, it’s less accurate in a city with low buildings, and it gets really erratic in a city with tall buildings. The maps below are screen shots from MyTracks software.

Gettysburg (open fields; very little tree cover): Logger is extremely accurate.

Berlin (low buildings): Buildings in Berlin are 8 to 10 stories, tops.

London (skyscrapers): London has a lot of densely packed tall buildings, 10 stories and taller.