Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Things I’ve learned while travelling 1: Things will wear out

Just before he left our group and headed out for another adventure, one of our crew, Nico, asked us all for one piece of advice that we would share with a new overland group.  Ours were “your sleeping bag can never be too warm” and “If you don’t carry Visa, carry lots of US dollars; Mastercard is not welcome worldwide”  More about those later.

Top of my list at the moment is “Things will wear out – especially electronics”.  You might not be able to replace them.  Have a backup plan and a back up back up plan for anything your care about.  Try to remember what is important. Don’t assume that someone else will have a solution to your problem.

The first thing we noticed was that all the carefully saved files that we stored in emails are only accessible when you have really good wifi (a bad assumption all the way around). Also, certain file types will not open on a smartphone.   The second bit of not counting on good wifi is that thinking you are going to back up to the cloud isn’t going to happen; your back up plans need to be independent of the internet.  Save things as paper in a waterproof bag.  Or, save things to your computer/notebook/ipad. Beware the ipad which only shares information through the cloud. Beware iPhones which do not play well with others (i.e. share things easily).

When it comes to cameras, if you are going to use them to take dozens of photos every day when it is hot or wet or sandy, you need to expect that it will give you problems.  My lovely Canon Powershot has been trying to keep up with me, but its GPS function doesn’t always want to give altitude and the on and off switch is getting temperamental.  The batteries are suffering from the unpredictable power charging.  Recently it decided it had reached advanced old age and can’t download photos through the adapter, only through a card reader. And worst of all, after taking some lovely photos in a dust storm (the dunes, Dunhuang, China), sand in the lens cover stopped the mechanism from opening completely.  Thankfully, the problem righted itself, but I have vowed to be more considerate. In Kathmandu, the display screen started to darken, which had me thinking that I was going to be replacing my camera on the road. Kathmandu actually has a certified Canon repair shop (Canon is dominant in the Asian market; we seldom saw shops for any other type of camera), so remembering my vow to be more considerate, I took it in to see if it could be fixed.  Miracles do happen, and a little over an hour later, it was back to me with a new LCD screen and just about as good as new.
How could I not take these photos
 as we waited for sunset at the dunes?

Daniel, our guide

Cal, Steve and Alicia coming down from the ridge

Artistic, but sand in the lens is not a good idea

Camels coming home after a hard day of work

I chose to bring my elderly iPhone as the way to access the internet as well as store information and keep in contact with the world.  Familiarity, no steep learning curve... And of course it is starting to fail because I am asking it to do too much. One day, it was completely non-responsive, spinning its wheels until it completely wore down the battery (sort of like the toddler’s temper tantrum and needing to be sent to its room to calm down). Looking for a small computer with big memory became a priority.

Where's my iPhone?
 Here in spirit, but getting increasingly cranky

Travelling in an overland group means that you have access to a wealth of information.  I went looking for a notebook computer knowing what I wanted/needed thanks to listening to what others had/wished they had.  The experience of purchasing in Kolkata will be a pleasant part of the memories of this trip.  The staff were helpful (not sure they get many tourists walking in determined to purchase a computer and all the accessories), including offering tea to seal the bargain.  The manager hovered in the background to make sure the sales person told me all the right things and another person checked and rechecked to make sure that all the parts were as they should be. My new computer and I were taken upstairs where the technical team set everything up for me.  Of course there were some glitches; it wanted to speak to me in Hindi, or Thai.  Thanks to yet more tolerant advice from the group, I’m learning how to use this new gadget.  And I am remembering that anything important needs to be backed up somewhere else.

Advice to Overlanders:

1.       Expect your camera to get temperamental, even if you are taking care of it.  Back up your photos frequently. Back up your backups.  Upload to the web if you can, but don’t count on it.  Practice all this before you leave on vacation.  Be prepared to replace your camera, or have two. You need more replacement batteries than you think you do.  I wish I had three for those times when power for recharging isn’t available.

2.      Expect your smart phone to get temperamental, especially if it is older.  Back everything up and keep hard copies of important documents in case it fails.

3.      For long term travelling, consider carrying a notebook/tablet computer.  Ideally buy it at home and get familiar with it before you leave.  Minimum essentials:
a.      USB port(s) which an iPad does not have.
b.      Card reader that reads your memory cards from your camera.
c.      LOTS of memory for all those photos as well as movies and anything else you want to download.
d.      Consider an external hard drive for backing up your backups.

4.      And when you need to repair or replace your electronics in an out of the way place, go looking.  The world is a very small place and you will probably find what you need and have a great travel experience to remember.

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