How I Plan To Use italki To Learn Arabic

December 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Culture, Site News, Travel Journal

italki homepage

Over the next three months I’ll be using the interactive language teaching site italki to learn Arabic. I recently partnered with italki to see how well the service works and whether it might be able to help travelers pick up useful conversational skills before a trip. In this video I talked a bit about my goals for italki but here’s the breakdown of my strategy, motivations, and where I plan to put my Arabic skills to the test.

Where I’m Starting From (Hint: Zero)

Well, nearly zero. I pick up a lot of a local tongue before I visit a country using some of the best online language services; but my very frequent traveling ironically leaves me retaining little once I’m on to the next destination. Previous essential word combinations every traveler should learn fade into new terms or local dialects. Although the information is still tucked somewhere in my brain it becomes harder to conjure up on neural connections that vanish over time.

With Arabic, I’m starting at the beginning. I know a few critical phrases like, “hey my brother, can you please replace these shisha coals for me,” from my first visit to Egypt. There’s also a good deal of overlap vocabulary between Turkish and Arabic, which makes things a bit easier for me. The Arabic script is different however plus there are sounds which are new to my tongue and ears. Knowing some vocabulary only makes things simple once you know they’re related; besides words are often slightly different enough to make your brain default to the one you know, not the Arabic pronunciation.

Why I Set Arabic Goals

First, I don’t know how to write in Arabic and as you know by now, I don’t have much of a background in the language. Beginning with a blank slate seems the most logical way to clearly see the benefits of italki – three months from now almost all of the Arabic I know will be because of the online courses I take there. Aside from measuring progress, I also tend to travel a lot in the Arab-speaking world. I’m on a journey to travel to every country in the world but am not in a rush; I often go back to places I find interesting. Arabic will be useful for me as chances are, it will be the predominant language in an eventual upcoming stop.

bab al yaman sanaa yemen

I want to learn conversational Arabic, in the Egyptian dialect (as it has the widest reach), so I can wander around Dubai for example, without falling back on English. Or Yemen. Or one of the other many Arab-speaking nations I haven’t been to yet. In addition to speaking, I want to be able to read Arabic with enough consistency to comprehend common road signs, phrases, and words.

Updates Every Friday

On the Friday of every week through next February I’ll be posting updates about my progress learning Arabic with italki plus how it works (and doesn’t) as I get more familiar with it. I’ll be taking 5 hours of lessons a week initially, spread out more or less evenly and I hope you’ll follow along with me. I look forward to sharing updates with you in English plus some Arabic in the weeks to come.

These Are The Backpacks To Buy If You Are (Or Going To Be) A Frequent Traveler

December 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Luggage

This post is brought to you by Tanzania Odyssey, who want you to experience Tanzania’s jaw-dropping showpieces from the spectacular Mount Kilimanjaro to the Ngorongoro Crater; plus more on a Tanzania honeymoon. [What is this?]

osprey sojourn

When you don’t travel very often, the piece of luggage you tend to pick out is often an overlarge, inefficient bag of questionable quality. Frequent travelers know picking the right backpack means finding one that doesn’t merely hold your things but is useful, well-designed, and ultimately durable.

Your luggage – backpacks, carry-on, daypacks and the rest – are arguably the most essential gear for a traveler. Even if you have travel insurance a torn backpack can stop your journey in its tracks. These are the backpacks that have been travel tested over countless kilometers to keep up with your boundless wanderlust.

Osprey Sojourn 25-Inch 60 Liter (Convertible Roller-Backpack)

There’s a perception that wheeled luggage isn’t quite as cool as the hiking backpack that every student abroad in Europe seems to be lugging around. Not that there’s anything wrong with them – a few of my favorites are listed below – in most cases wheels are more comfortable, especially if you’re carrying a daypack. (Yay, no double-turtle for you!) For those of you not ready to give up backpacking completely, the Sojourn comes with straps if you need them in rougher terrain.

osprey sojourn backpack

The Osprey Sojourn is my current backpack of choice and extremely well constructed, resisting the beating it’s taken as checked luggage all over the world. As for the size, the Sojourn 60-Liter is a sweet spot for a single traveler and 80 might cut it for two light packers.

osprey sojourn 60 literOsprey Sojourn Wheeled Luggage (25-Inch/60 Liter, Metal Grey)

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Kelty Coyote 80 / Kelty Redwing 50 (Dedicated Backpack; Hiking)

The Kelty Coyote 80 is a hiking backpack which does well as a travel bag because it’s front loading (you really don’t want a top loader), put together with two reinforcing fabrics, and pockets, pockets, pockets.

kelty coyote 80Kelty Coyote 80 Internal frame Backpack, Forest Night, Medium/Large

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At 80 liters the Coyote will probably encourage you to pack a lot more than you need (here’s how to put your backpack on a diet) so if you really like to travel light, the Kelty Redwing 50 might be the better size. Whichever you go with, remember it’s best to only fill up 80% of your bag to pack like a pro.

kelty redwing 50Kelty Redwing 50-Liter Backpack, Forest Night, Medium/Large

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Swissgear ScanSmart Backpack (Carry-On)

The SwissGear computer backpacks are a perfect combination of padding plus pockets to protect a variety of gadgets. I have been using one which has gone with me everywhere for the past 10 years, with only two minor signs showing its age. Swissgear’s line of backpacks are just big enough to be good weekenders for business travelers or anyone who takes short trips – a great gift for the minimalist in your life.

swissgear backpackSwissGear Travel Gear ScanSmart Backpack 1900 (Black)

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REI Stuff Travel Daypack

There’s nothing fancy about the REI Stuff; it’s a single large pocket bag with two side holsters for bottles or smaller items. The nice thing about the REI Stuff is that is folds up into a small little ball for easy packing in a larger bag when it’s not needed.

rei stuff travel daypack rei stuff travel daypack

Microluggage Scooter (Bag You Can Ride)

The Mirco Luggae Scooter is one of the most fun things I’ve ever reviewed because it makes being slightly late to an airport gate fun. As the name implies, the Micro Luggage Scooter is a carry-on sized bag that can be ridden as long as your legs are up for it. A good way to combine a workout when traveling.

microluggage scooterMicro Luggage Reloaded

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Protect What You’re Packing

No matter how good of a bag you buy, be sure to think carefully about what you check in, remove old bingo tags, and prepare to track and recover your luggage if it does happen to get lost by an airline.

What are some of your favorite bags you would have added to those mentioned above? Let me know in the comments below!

An Interview With Teras Cassidy, Who Takes Travelers On Awesomely Geeky Tours

December 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Culture

geek nation tours

I’ve met Teras twice, both times at the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention I tend to attend annually. Teras is the founder of Geek Nation Tours, taking fans of all genres from board gaming conventions to Game Of Thrones filming locations plus a number of secret spots designed for the geekiest of hearts. I love the concept and Teras was kind enough to answer a few questions about Geek Nation Tours. Ka’plah!

Where did you come up with the idea for Geek Nation Tours?

Geek Nation Tours is really a child of the recession – when it hit the travel industry ground to a halt. My travel agencies we doing poorly and I was stuck in the office with a lot of time on my hands. I was reading a favorite author at the time – a wargamer by the name of Donald Featherstone – and I came across one of his books called The Battlefield Walker’s Handbook. It was a description of the battlefields he had visited over his life. I was also very immersed in geek culture – reading comics, watching films and playing games when I realized that I could put all my travel experience (some 25 years or more) into creating very specific geek filled vacations. We started off with two – a wargaming tour of the UK and a trip to the San Diego Comic Con.  Both we very successful and GNT was born.

The Battlefield Walker's HandbookThe Battlefield Walker’s Handbook

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Where around the world do your tours go and what’s the international makeup of a given group?

GNT has been to the UK, USA, Japan and several other countries.  We are expanding our Geek coverage and will move to the Mediterranean, across Asia, many other parts of Europe and even Africa.

geek nation tours japan

What are some of the geekiest stops along your tours?

Well Star Trek fans often get the wrap at being the most geeky. They are not – they are just the most accepting. With that said stopping at Trek sites in costume always raises an eyebrow (appropriate in a way) but really people are even more interested about what is going on. I remember showing up at the Tillman Water Reclamation Plant with half the tour in costume and a passerby asked if it had any Star Trek connection. I stopped him and said that is Starfleet Academy. He turned around and went white. “OMG” is all he said.

Tillman Water Reclamation Plant

You’ve mentioned you’re going to double the number of tours in 2015; what are the most popular ones fueling your success?

We will have tonnes coming! Doctor Who, Sherlock, Game of Thrones, UK literary tour, Vid Con and even a Zombie tour. Our board gaming ones are very popular as are our battlefield ones.

gaming tour geek nation

Lastly, what’s one fictional location you wish you could give a tour of?

I have always been interested in warrior culture so it would have to be Kronos (Q’onoS by some) – the Klingon home world.

geek nation tours

Thank you Teras! You can check out Geek Nation Tours to see all Teras has coming up as well as follow Geek Nation Tours on Facebook and Twitter @GeekNationTours. Vulcans, elves, and other intergalactic races from most dimensions welcome.

iOS Or Android: What’s The Best Mobile Operating System For Travelers?

December 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Money, Tech

data bashir

Before the debate between Windows and OS X could be decided in a ruthless online war of anonymous Internet commenters, we collectively stopped caring about laptops in order to declare iOS, wait Android, oh hell, some mobile operating system superior to the other. Although the mobile OS argument is a big one, let’s focus in with a specific look at which one you might want to travel with, especially if you’re shopping around for a new phone.

Line In The Sand – What’s The Basic Difference?

Android is an open source mobile operating system developed by Google, independent of the type of phone it runs on. The current version of Android is 5.0 Lollipop, which came out a few weeks ago. Due to its open nature, Google doesn’t control when a given Android device might get any OS update, unless you’ve got a Nexus (built by Google) or a recent Motorola phone, like my favorite of 2014 the Moto X. They’re the phones and tablets to get updates first.

moto x 2014Motorola Moto X 16GB (2nd Gen 2014) 3G – Black (SIM Free/Unlocked) UNLOCKED FACTORY

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iOS on the other hand is developed by Apple, who controls not only the operating system, but the hardware it runs on. Any time you’re talking about iOS, you know it’s either an iPhone, iPad, or iPod. Without some software kung fu, iOS is designed to only work on Apple gear. Approved apps can only be downloaded from Apple’s App Store on iOS devices unlike the Google Play store, which Android gives you the option to break free of.

Android devices tend to be less expensive as there’s competition in the market between manufacturer phones like the Samsung S5 and HTC One M8, whereas if you want iOS, you’re stuck to iPhone. One the other hand, iOS devices get software updates as soon as they’re released by Apple.

Camera Quality

Although you can turn your mobile phone into a better camera, a lot of what you have to work with is based on the sensor inside your mobile and the software interpreting the light hitting it. Lets talk about the two clear leaders in the market that aren’t named Lumia. (Nokia’s latest line of phones have incredible cameras but run Windows’s mobile OS; not covered in this post.)

  • iPhone 6 and 6+ – Apple puts a lot of effort into iPhone cameras and they’re almost always leaders of the pack and perform well in low light.
  • Samsung S5 – For the Android side of things (where there’s a lot more variety).

These are the best smartphone cameras but when it comes to video things get murkier. iPhones still can’t take 4K video (a feature most new Androids have) but if you want a phone that will take good travel photos on your trip to India without having to think much, iOS might be for you.


What makes Android great is that it’s so much more customizable than iOS. Tinkerers or Apple enthusiasts who haven’t taken a look at Android lately should swing by a shop to see what phones running Google software can do.

Yet, since Android is open, you tend to get manufacturers like AT&T who load up their own apps (called bloatware) you can’t remove without rooting your phone. iOS on the other hand is controlled by Apple and only Apple. As anyone who’s used both systems will tell you, that makes iOS more reliable despite the recent rough transition to 8.0.

LTE Bands And Privacy

As the world begins to adopt 4G it’s important frequent travelers brush up on LTE bands. Generally speaking, LTE receptivity is a hardware issue, so if you want the broadest range in countries around the world you’ll have to shop for the right Android phone or pick up an iPhone 6. Additionally, while it’s not necessarily a traveler issue, everyone should be aware of Android’s permissions gap.

In the end, one mobile operating system isn’t better than the other for travel, but rather it’s the phone hardware that counts. If your sole camera is your phone, find the one with that takes the best pictures, then load these app for better photos. Business travelers might lean more toward Android’s superior personal assistant but whichever ecosystem you fall into, don’t fret too much as both do mostly the same thing; just in different ways.

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