Category Archives: travel

Walking outside my comfort zone – bike? push/kick scooter?

This walking-around-a-strange-city has its pluses and minuses. Plus: I got to see Denver’s downtown pedestrian zones and how they’ve set up the 16th Street Mall with plenty of trees and benches. Minus: My phone was dead, so I didn’t have GPS, and I hadn’t fixed and brought my MintyBoost yet, and I didn’t have a physical map. I missed my stop on the way back and ended up walking an extra 4.5km. Easy enough to plan for next time. On my next trip, I’ll definitely bring a power supply!

While walking around, I thought about what would make exploration easier. GPS and offline maps are definitely big ones, which probably means just making sure that I can recharge my smartphone on the go.

The thing with walking is that if you make a mistake or you miss a stop, it takes a long time to get back on track. On a car, you can swing around quickly and be halfway across town in a few minutes. On a bicycle, you can still cover a lot of ground. Walking? Trudge trudge trudge trudge. In the dark, this can be a little scary.

Walking also means I can’t cover that much ground. I know I can take a taxi, but I find it hard to shake the idea that taxis are a luxury. ;) Public transit is good, but the schedules can be tricky. CoPilot Live for Android shows me where the nearest bus stop is. As long as I keep the last bus times in mind, I’m pretty okay with asking for directions and waiting a bit at stops.

Reasons why it might be worth hacking this:

It would be really awesome to reduce anxiety. I get fidgety if I’m walking by myself and there are few people around. Public transit schedules tend to have gaps, and sometimes it’s hard to find a place where I can get a cab. (Which of these roads will lead to a hotel? Hmm.) If I’m on a bike, I can cover more distances myself, with the trade-off that I’ll just be worried about accidents. (Bright lights, reflective tape, road caution, helmets?) Even a push scooter might get me quickly from a silent patch to someplace with more light and/or people.

It would be great to not take cabs to client sites. Yes, I know, it’s a business expense. But I still take public transit whenever possible, even if I don’t benefit from the savings. Part of it is being aware of the moral hazard of a company expense account (when you change your behaviour knowing someone else is footing the bill), and part of it is fighting the hedonic treadmill (when you get used to a level of consumption).

It would be great to see more of the places I stay at. Might as well, I’m there already. I’m an odd sort of traveller, though. I’m not driven to take my picture beside famous landmarks. I don’t collect knick-knacks. I occasionally meet up with people, but I’m also fine connecting virtually. I do like checking out thrift stores. I can’t stand paying retail, and browsing through people’s donations gives me a little idea of what people are like.

I’m probably looking at two or three solo trips over the next year and some light use back home. No big deal – the null option (listed below) might still be cheaper.

How can I cover more ground and reduce the cost of making mistakes?

What about renting bikes? Most cities have bike rentals. I’m not sure if I can generally take advantage of them – time, familiarity. Well, maybe a handlebar mount for my Android, and spare power in case I need to charge up? If the weather forecast didn’t call for thunderstorms this week, I might’ve borrowed a bike and used it to get around.

What about a folding bike? Two of my friends take folding bicycles with them on trips. That might work, too, because then I won’t have to think about rental hours or availability. I tend to pack light. My travel clothes fit in my carry-on, which means I can keep the suitcase for the bicycle. A bicycle would give me better range and might come in handy if I can’t hitch a ride with a coworker. Would a folding bicycle be worth the investment? It will primarily be useful for solo air travel, and I don’t plan to take more than two or three such trips over the next year. (Note: Watch out for airline fees!) It may also be useful for subway or bus-assisted trips – not the one to work, but maybe when visiting friends. If it’s light enough, I might also use it for short trips in spring and fall, when my town cruiser is hung on the bike rack.

How can I test this idea?

  • Bikeshare program: Cheapest, if available. Will need helmet and lock. May have a hard time adjusting bike height. Dependent on bike sharing locations – usually only downtown core.
  • Rentals: Inexpensive for trips shorter than 1 week. Dependent on bike availability, rental shop hours, and location.
  • Bringing bike over: $100+/trip + bike packing materials. May be difficult to get from the airport to the hotel with a bicycle and a suitcase. Larger van, more costly?
  • Shipping bike over: Some people ship their bikes by FedEx or UPS. This is a little scary, though, and requires that I find a mailing store for the way back.
  • Folding bike: $400-500, maybe more? Might be easier to lug, though. Airline bike fees might mean that renting would be cheaper. Plus side: it will be my height, and I don’t have to worry about different brake systems.
  • Taxi/bus: The null option is worth keeping in mind, given the few times I might want a bicycle. This is really about making sure I have emergency power for my phone, the phone number for local taxi companies, and enough cash in case they don’t take credit cards.

What about push scooters? Other people swear by them, as they fold up smaller and are lighter than even the lightest folding bikes. A folded-up scooter is less bulky than a folded-up bicycle, and many models can be rolled along like strollers or shopping carts. Pushing myself might be interesting given the flat shoes I typically wear, though – I might change into a pair of sneakers. A push scooter would primarily be useful for getting around town on solo trips in conjuction with public transit. It might also be useful for going to the library or to the grocery store for quick trips, and for getting to the subway station when I’m not biking to work (when rain is expected, or if my bike’s still up on the rack). I walk to the supermarket or library about twice a week, but this is usually a social walk with W- and J- too.

How can I test this idea?

  • Check out the push scooters in Toronto. Check prices, feel, etc. Rainbow Songs (Roncesvalles) sells the Xootr Mg Push Scooter with fender/brake for $243.78. It’s ~$229 in the US, so it looks like getting it in Canada will be fine, although the US will have more choice. There’s also the Razor A5, which Toys R Us sells. Advantage of being short: I can raid the teens’ scooter lineup, although the perks of grown-up scooters look tempting.
  • Check scooter prices in the US. Plan to spend an extra day looking around, perhaps? Maybe I can visit friends and have stuff shipped.
  • Walking. The null alternative to a scooter would simply be more walking, maybe with extra power for my phone/GPS or a separate GPS unit with longer battery life. Extra power for phone seems like a better bet, so that I can call a cab if needed – and I’ve got the MintyBoost for that, I just need to fix the electrical short.

If the forecasted thunderstorm lightens up, I’m going to take the bus down into Boulder tonight to check out some of their thrift stores and to try the dining options along Pearl street. While there, I can think about which of the options would have given me the most benefit.

Hmm. Thoughts? Experiences? Advice?

2011-05-17 Tue 14:37

Finding the bright side of business travel

I don’t like travelling. I’d rather be home: husband, cats, garden, library, home-cooked food, regular routines, everything I need where I want it to be. But we haven’t figured out teleportation and some clients want face-to-face contact, so I go if necessary.

It’s a little hard to focus on the bright side of business travel, aside from the opportunity to meet people in person. Travel changes such a large chunk of personal time. Long days trail off into the temptation to spend evening hours catching up with work e-mail or flipping through the movies on the television. Restaurants overwhelm with choices and serve too-large portions. Laughter and meows are replaced by the white-noise hum of hotel airconditioning.

But there’s a bright side there, somewhere, new opportunities that open up during every disruption. Here’s what I might be able to do this trip:

  • Wake up earlier. There’s no one to disturb, and there’s more incentive to go to bed early and wake up early.
  • Spend more time writing and drawing. No meals to prepare, no dishes to wash, nothing else to do but work and write and draw.
  • Eat different kinds of food. Eat the kinds of things we would find difficult to prepare at home. Avoid the temptations. Focus on soups and salads – maybe that will help…
  • Listen to more music. I rarely do so at home. Here, it’s better than the constant traffic and weather updates on the lobby television that’s tuned to the news channel.

I could enjoy business travel more, I suppose, if I stayed an extra day in the cities we visit. Here loss aversion rears its behavioral-psychology head, I think; I’d find it hard to tear myself away from home a day early in order to walk around a city by myself. This is not completely true. I haven’t tried it, and I should give it at least one try. And for places I know we have friends in, I’d be happy to come a day earlier or leave a day later so that I can spend time with them. Perhaps the next trip.

It’s difficult but essential to be where you are, not mis-placed.

2011-05-15 Sun 09:26

Making better use of travel time

I’m going to be in the office a lot more as I help with proposals or coach new hours. Time to think about how I can make the most of the time!

As it turns out, I’m not a particularly audio kind of person. I’ve carried podcasts and audiobooks before, but I rarely listen to them unless I’m listening with another person. I might listen to instrumental music while writing, avoiding songs due to the verbal interference.

If I’m going to the downtown office, I take my bike whenever I can. It’s good exercise, and takes about as much time as the walk and subway trip would’ve taken. With the subway’s occasional delays, biking is faster and more reliable.

If I need to take transit, how can I make the most of that time?

I like writing and mindmapping. I do a lot of both when I manage to find a seat on the subway. I almost always use my Android, as a full laptop feels out of place in the subway. The smartphone works well for one- and two-hand use, maybe even better than a tablet might. The small display forces me to be more concise – good! The 1.5 hour commute up to 3600 Steeles is enough time to flesh out a mind map and draft a few blog posts. Writing is my favourite travel activity. I think I get the most value from it.  

I nap sometimes, but this isn’t particularly restful. Maybe if I try using the nap timer so that I don’t get anxious about missing my stop….  

Reading is fun. I can go through two, three books a day, especially if I get a seat. Carrying books is less fun, though. I’ve read books on my Android and on my tablet, but if I’m going to be using either, I’d rather spend the time writing instead of reading. So I tend to save reading for when I’m eating, walking around the house, or going to bed.  

Sometimes I draw. This is a bit harder, and definitely requires a seat. I don’t want to stare at people on the subway, so I tend to draw from imagination or memory. Index cards and small notebooks are useful here.  

I think it would be interesting to track the specific results of my commuting time. Seeing X hours of travel in my weekly time analysis is one thing. Tallying up Y posts or Z books is another. It’ll be fun!  

How do you use your commuting time?

Travel kaizen and the meaning of life

What do I want to do with my life? Is it worth the trade-offs? How can I make it more worthwhile?

If I’m clear about the meaning of my life and I know that it’s worth the challenges (like travel!) along the way, then relentless optimism will kick in and show me the silver lining to whatever happens. =)

So, what do I want to do with my life?

I want to share what I’m learning. This matters because it means other people can build on what I’ve figured out, and maybe they’ll be inspired to share what they’re learning, too. I don’t need travel in order to share, but travel helps me learn from other people.

I want to help figure out how people can connect and work together all around the world. This matters because I want people to be able to do their best wherever they are, not limited by the geographic lottery. Someday I’ll be able to do this without travel. Right now, sometimes I need to be there in person.

I want to live an awesome life. This matters because I can train people to do most of what I do at work, but I can’t delegate love or experiences. I worry that travel might get in the way of this, but if I learn how to do things better, maybe I can use travel to enrich life.

What can I do to make travel better for work, relationships and life?

  • I can lighten W-‘s load. This could include arranging for cat sitting or dropping the cats off at a cat hotel, doing extra chores before/after the trip to share the workload, taking transit or a cab, and so on.
  • I can meet up with more people and sit in more meetings, like the wonderful times I had in Cambridge and in London.
  • I can try different kinds of food each time, and make more of an effort to get to restaurants with great reviews.
  • I can take my gym clothes along and use the exercise facilities at the hotel. This might mean checking in, as my carry-on is often tightly packed with electronics and travel-ready business clothes. Who knows, maybe it would be great to bring along a folding bicycle. Mel Chua does that. =)
  • I can skip watching television or old movies. If I didn’t think it was worth finding and watching, then it’s probably not worth watching just because it’s there. I can spend the time writing or reading instead.
  • I can fill my iPod with interesting e-books and audiobooks. Time to go through the classics I haven’t read yet…
  • I can wake up earlier, since I don’t need to worry about disturbing anyone.
  • I can set up a calling card, or pay for the Net connection.

Hmm… I just need to figure out how to look at this, and then everything will move more smoothly.

Thinking about travel

I’ve just submitted my application to IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, which sends IBMers to emerging countries. The volunteers work with local non-profit and government agencies to share their skills in IT, management, and other topics. Applicants need to have been with IBM for at least two years, so this is the first time I can qualify. I joined IBM shortly before the program started, and I’ve been waiting for the opportunity since then.

The program involves three months of prep work, one month overseas, and two months of service afterwards. While a month of travel makes me a little nervous, W- reminded me that he managed just fine during my three-week trip to the Philippines. He needed to come home earlier to feed the cats and take care of the litter boxes, but things were otherwise okay. Maybe longer-term travel isn’t so scary after all. We can figure out going from three weeks to one month, maybe even two. A year-long international assignment still seems like a big stretch, but maybe we can work it out if needed.

I’d love to be selected and to help make a difference wherever I’m sent. It would be amazing if I’m assigned to the Philippines—plugging into my old networks, bringing people together to do something great. It would also be amazing if I’m sent elsewhere, because then I’ll learn about a different place and connect with new networks. I’d love to tell stories from the field!

In the medium- and long-term, both my first-line manager and my dotted-line manager (ah, matrix organizations) have recommended that I look into global roles or growth markets. If I want to keep growing in my career, I suspect that at least some travel will be in my future.

I’m starting to realize that travel doesn’t have to be the bogeyman I’d thought it was. I’m getting better at the paperwork I need for visas. If we can get a cat sitter or housekeeper to drop by the house everyday, that means W- can focus on work if he needs to. I’ve dealt with culture shock before. I’m starting to find role models who’ve successfully pulled it off before, which is even more encouraging.

It’s worth an experiment.  Maybe I can gradually work up to it: one month for CSC, three months helping with workshops, six months or longer… I need to balance that with other things I want to do with my life, but it would be interesting to explore.

I hate flying

Long flights are the worst. New security restrictions and winter mechanical problems meant delays at the gate in the Pearson International Airport. That meant sprinting through the Detroit airport to catch my connection to Nagoya, a 14-hour flight on which I got stuck beside a talker—an American who told me he initially assumed I was some teenager on a trip with her parents and who, upon finding out I was in IT, showed me a picture of a pile of computers he’d refreshed and tried to impress me with the certs he was going for: CCNA, MSCE, etc. “ASP – you know Active Server Pages?”

I was polite. I made conversation. And I made it very clear that I outgeeked him, in the hope that would get him to stop trying to namedrop technology or military jargon.

I hate flying. I hate the expense of airfare and the time commitment of a trip. I hate the rigmarole of airport security. I hate the paperwork and queues. I hate lugging heavy bags around. Why did my work laptop have to be so big?

As the flight from Nagoya to Manila touched down, the passengers around me broke into applause. Filipinos, glad to be home.

Home. I slipped back into it like a second skin. Home. Family; long-running in-jokes with friends; conversations in Tagalog; even ads that I can relate to. Even my cat remembers our old routines.

How strange and wonderful it is to have two homes, and to know what I take for granted in either.