How To Stick To Your 2017 Travel Resolutions

“Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right.”
-Muhammad Ali

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There’s a really big problem with New Year’s resolutions – namely, that most of us don’t keep them. And when it comes to travel, making plans in the middle of a holiday season that often involves being intoxicated doesn’t help get you anywhere in June. Fortunately for us, technology is much less forgetful than we are and our brains can be hacked to get the results we want from them.

Where do you want to go in 2017? Let’s get started:

remember the milk androidRefine Your To-Do List (aka. Resolutions) So It’s Believable

The most common list problem is the easiest to solve and neglect at the same time – where to keep your list. The free site Remember The Milk lets you set specific lists (e.g. ‘2017 Travel Resolutions’), prioritize them, and set schedules to make sure you stay on track. Remember The Milk also syncs with your iPad, iPhone, Android, and email accounts if you choose, as well as a few other online services you’re likely using.

getting things done  Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

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There are 4 types of travel lists that won’t help you very much and you can avoid creating one by keeping your travel resolutions short, have well defined steps toward your final goal, and set rough timetables for each item.

Use The Winner Effect To Knock Out Resolutions

Don’t make the first resolutions you want to tackle be the most difficult. Rather, use the winner effect to improve your chances of accomplishing more difficult goals down the line by setting up easier victories now. It works for boxers, 3-point shooters in basketball, and can for you by modifying your physiology for increased confidence.

3 pointer shot

The winner effect in many studies was nullified for subjects not in their territory (think home-team advantage) so for added chances of success early on, set up your early travel resolutions in familiar surroundings. Rather than making your first goal “travel to Thailand and live for a year” set yourself up for smaller victories like “go to the bank and open a savings account”. (Here’s how to choose the right bank for international travel.)

Digitize Peer Pressure

An effective way to get around saying one thing and doing another (a form of cognitive dissonance) is to hold yourself accountable to others. You can do that by informing close friends of your plans (and the key steps in your resolution lists – the winner effect can encourage them to believe in you more). That makes it all the harder to ditch your travel resolutions.

habitlist app ios

Another way to keep the pressure on yourself to get out the door and travel is to use apps where you can set goals, see progress towards them, and be nicely reminded when you might be falling off track. The Habit List app ($3.99 iOS) and free Habit Bull (Android/iOS) both let you set goals big and small, showing you streaks, and creating a flexible schedule so you can plan your way to success.

Motivate Yourself By Visualizing

The biggest path to our memories is through our eyes and we tend to believe what we see. That effect goes beyond what our eyes see to what our minds can visualize. Imagine yourself accomplishing each of your travel resolutions and you’re much more likely to believe it’s possible, less risky, and rewarding. (For more on this bias check out How Risky Is It?)

We often spend much of our travel-motivational efforts externally, trying to convince our family and loved ones who might not be as supportive initially as we’d like. The real conflict happens when their doubt becomes contagious or rather, they highlight flaws in our overall plans. Be an efficient and powerful dream-to-reality converter by motivating the most important person who needs it – you.

steve jobs biography  Steve Jobs

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The Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson is a great read for geeks for the technical tale it weaves; but also highlights what an incredible motivator the stubborn innovator he was. His 2005 Stanford commencement speech is both touching and powerful. A 15 minute dose of confidence and conviction for your travel resolutions and other passions in life.

The Hardest Steps Are The Ones You Haven’t Taken Yet

Traveling means many things to many people and there is no one way to go. Whether you want to take one trip to a nearby city once a year or go on a one-year RTW, define your goals for you. Once you know where you want to be, it’s up to you to get there. You can get from your desk to all the places you want to travel. Your craziest dreams are only crazy until you believe in them. Your biggest obstacle is yourself. I believe in you. Believe in yourself. Now go make those crazy dreams come true.

Happy New Year,
-Anil

This is an updated version of a post originally written in 2012.

A Review Of The World’s Thinnest iPhone Charging Case: ChargeTech ThinCharge


The ChargeTech ThinCharge is a such a simple piece of technology, it’s hard to appreciate how useful it is, until everyone who sees it asks you about it. ChargeTech sent me a ThinCharge for the iPhone 6s, which I’ve been using for the past few months. You can see more in the video above on how it works, how thin it is, and what a benefit it is to expand your iPhone’s battery capacity by 1.5 times in an 85 gram, 11 millimeter-thick protective case.

chargetech thincharge  ThinCharge: World’s Thinnest iPhone 6 / 6S Battery Case [Black]

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The ThinCharge takes around 4.5 hours for a complete charge, which should comfortably get you through the day (or a long flight). An LED light on the side indicate how much charge the case itself has (the more it flashes the less power is left).

Nearly Perfect For Case Haters

The buttons of the case where the LED light is located is my only real gripe with the ThinCharge. Although you can charge the case and sync your phone with iTunes on your laptop without having to take it out of the case, you need to turn the case on by long pressing the top volume button. That means every time you turn on or off the ThinCharge, your ring volume will jump to maximum and you’ll need to remember to turn it down.

thincharge chargetech

Otherwise, the ThinCharge is an ideal charging case for people who both hate cases for adding bulk to a phone and hate Apple for making anemic batteries. iPhone 7 and 7 Plus users, ChargeTech’s Indegogo campaign was successful, so those should be available for purchase soon. I’ll post links here when the iPhone 7 model is released; available now is the ThinCharge for iPhone 6 and 6s which you can find here.

The Best Credit Card For Travel Perks? Chase Sapphire Reserve Review

chase sapphire reserve

Writing about a specific credit card offer isn’t something I thought I would ever be motivated to do but the Chase Sapphire Reserve card is an incredibly enticing offer for travelers who take as little as one flight per year. In other words, you don’t need to be a very frequent traveler to get some serious travel benefits that will save you money, get you free flights, travel insurance, plus a lot more.

What you do need is to be a resident of the United States; so although I am generally hesitant to post an offer that omits 95% of the world’s population, if you can get this card and travel occasionally, here’s why you should seriously consider the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Points, Miles, Or Both If You Choose

Before I get to the upfront travel perks, let’s start with the Sapphire Reserve’s big hook, 100,000 bonus points. To claim them, you’ll have to spend $4,000 within the first three months of being approved for the card. $1,333.33 dollars a month goes pretty fast especially if you live in the U.S., eat, make car payments, pay an electrical bill, or exist in general.

Travel points can be a confusing system but Chase’s is relatively straightforward. Your first bonus points are equivalent to about $1,500 in the Ultimate Rewards store where you can purchase airfare plus shop at the Apple Store, Amazon, for hotels, and more. Those points can also be converted, one for one, directly into frequent flyer miles for most programs as well. (You should really be using these 3 programs to maximize your earning.) As an example, 100,000 miles with Untied Mileage Plus gets you two round trip tickets from the U.S. to Europe or three, one way tickets, if you use multi-city flights to see more for less.

Points can also be used to put cash back into your account, the first 100k being roughly equivalent to $1,000. Once you get the Sapphire Reserve card, you continue earning points by spending: 1 point per dollar on most purchases; 3 points per dollar on travel and dining related expenses. Like the bonus points, you can convert any points into cash, miles, or for use in the Ultimate Rewards tore.

Fees And No Fees

Let’s get Chase’s Sapphire Reserve card fee out of the way because it probably puts a lot of people off at first sight. The annual fee is $450. Although you may balk at first, if you travel at all, $300 is offset by a credit on any travel or dining costs. Essentially, the first $300 you spend on travel every year is credited back to your account – effectively making the annual fee $150.

prague view

On the other side, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has no foreign transaction fees, which can add up quickly if you travel internationally often.

Now The Coverage Perks

There are a few benefits the Sapphire Reserve has that really make it a unique offering, starting with the travel and purchase coverage:

  • Included Travel Insurance – (Outside of the U.S. only.) This coverage includes medical (up to $100,000) for you and any immediate family members traveling with you.
  • Car Rental Insurance – (Worldwide) So long as you use your Sapphire Reserve card to pay for a car rental, you can turn down the rental companies collision and theft insurance (up to $75,000 protection).
  • Small Item (Electronics) Coverage – Anything you buy with the Sapphire Reserve card is insured against damage or theft for the first 6 months (up to $50,000 per year).

iphone 6s charging case

You really shouldn’t be traveling without insurance but many people neglect to do it because it can cost $60 a week or more depending on where you’re traveling. When you book with the Chase Sapphire Reserve it’s a cost you no longer have to consider. There is also other coverage, you can see all that’s included here.

Priority Pass Into 900 Airport Lounges Worldwide

On its own, an unlimited Priority Pass membership costs $399. You’ll be able to enter over 900 lounges in at these airports (and hopefully remember to share wifi details with your fellow travelers). Also, if you decide to sign up for Global Entry or TSA Pre, you’ll be credited back $100, effectively making them free.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is a travel card with a lot of benefits (no, nobody paid me to write any of this) but isn’t the credit card you want to use if you carry any balance from month to month. Interest rates are high (16-23%) plus there are cards without annual fees. In case you’re not eligible or interested in the Chase Sapphire Reserve, remember there are plenty of ways to earn frequent flyer miles without getting more credit cards.

Use This Tip To Save Yourself Up To An Hour When Landing At Havana’s International Airport

Havana Cuba Jose Marti International Airport

The first thing almost all tourists will need upon arriving in Havana, Cuba’s Jose Marti International Airport, is cash. This is particularly true for Americans, whose ATM cards won’t work; nationals of other countries have no guarantees either. And everyone can pretty much forget about using credit cards in Cuba’s heavily cash-based society.

As a visitor, it’s practically a necessity to take all the cash you’ll need with you for the duration of your entire trip prior to departing for Cuba. Unless you’ve got a prepaid ride waiting to pick you up at the airport, you need to convert some cash (e.g. dollars, euros, etc.) into the tourist-local Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Since everyone else has the same idea long, long, lines form outside of the exchange office in the arrivals hall.

Understaffed hardly ever open on time, here’s how you can forgo up to an hour of waiting in arrivals at Jose Marti International Airport after you land.

Go Upstairs To Departures

Walking into the arrivals hall your first stop might not seem like the departures hall upstairs, but it should be.

The departures hall (which will be deserted) has several staffed currency exchange booths and not a single person using them. Walk up, exchange enough money to get yourself where you’re staying, plus some extra. The exchange rate at the airport is often the same, if not better than most of the hotels in town (the primary place to exchange money in Havana) so it’s not a bad idea to convert larger amounts.

cuba old car taxi

Once you’ve converted your money, you can go back down to arrivals. Just past the massive line full of tourists waiting to get CUC will be a taxi that can take you into town. Now you’ve got an extra hour to explore Cuba, which might not be what you think it is.

Small Tips Often Pay Big

Because Havana airport only has a relatively small number of flights, arrivals and departures don’t overlap significantly which is why one is usually empty when the other is not. Keep this in mind when departing Jose Marti International Airport, currency exchange in arrivals is likely to be much less busy.

Many travel tips are as simple as this but go a long way in saving you money, time, or enhancing an experience. For instance, you should do this before visiting the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, find this restaurant in Kosovo, and can save a lot on trains in Japan before ever leaving home.

This Is A Picture Of The Very First Starbucks

very first starbucks

Although I didn’t know it was at the time, this grainy photo of the original Starbucks is one of the worst, but first, from before foXnoMad was even a concept. For some reason taking a picture of every Starbucks I came across (and/or Bill Gates) became a personal photographic scavenger hunt.

Across from the Pike Place Market, I noticed an odd Starbucks, with the wrong logo and colors. Shutter, click, snap. It wasn’t until seeing another picture of it years later did I realize this was the first Starbucks. In terms of multinational coffeehouse sightseeing, I had taken a picture of the Great Pyramids without knowing it.

The first Starbucks opened on March 31, 1971, but didn’t sell coffee to drink, but the beans themselves. Obviously things worked out from there since old or new, there always seems to be a line out the door.

Cuba Is Not What You Think It Is

havana cuba tourists

There’s a romanticism behind most revolutions, particularly those associated with the now iconic images of Che Guevara. In 2015, a record number of tourists (nearly 3.1 million) visited Cuba, sharing stories online of brightly colored buildings with photos of rebellious ladies in their 60s smoking cigars. The allure of a place stuck in time and misconception, is one of the reasons many, including myself, travel to Cuba in the first place.

Lifted Upon Landing

The passport control in Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport is in a poorly lit hall, immediately behind what is a conspicuous search of carry-on bags. (There’s a detailed list of things you can’t bring into Cuba on the immigration form.) But the friendly, if not slightly bored, faces of the passport control officers puts you at ease. Calmly you’ll walk out into the madness that is the arrivals hall, eventually finding the long, confused line to exchange currency. (The much shorter one is upstairs at departures.) Cuba has two types of currency, one for locals the Cuban Peso (CUP), the other, Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) for tourists. The rate is 25 CUP for 1 CUC.

havana square cuba

Cash in hand, you can see the faces of tourists from all parts of the world light up at the sight of the 1950s Chevy’s lined up as taxis, some colorful, others with fading paint. The car’s seats are boldly taped together, the doors missing interiors, but it’s amazing the vehicles are running as well as they do.

Strict Side Market

Surprisingly, Airbnb is an option in Havana, but you’ll have a less expensive stay at a casa particular. Basically, casa particulares are apartment rooms or sections of homes for rent, since law requires the owner stay on the premises. The particular place in Havana I stayed was an entire apartment floor with multiple rooms, spacious enough for 10 people comfortably.

cuba casa particular

A walk around the street below, the first person I meet is a man asking if I can help carry his bag. Travel scam warnings light up in my head but I do anyway, to see where this is going. Apparently, it’s going about 25 meters because he goes left but before he does, gives me a shot of the rum I was carrying. It’s 9:15 am. Cuba is both confusing, yet convincing, that things are certainly not what they seemed to be.

Many other Cubans are curious, striking up conversations, usually ending with some kind of veiled offer to get whatever (the wink, wink kind) you might want. The first thing that comes to mind is a bottle of water.

Stopped In Time

The heart of downtown Havana is either a rustic rebel against all the nation is deprived of or decades old buildings visibly falling apart despite any contrary effort. People in poverty, including plenty of grandmothers posing with cigars, for a price. The smiles quickly vanish after the photo is snapped or you decline a picture in the first place. Seeing those pictures isn’t ever the same afterward.

old havana

Lunch at Variedades Obispo, a local chicken and rice cafeteria hall, becomes a thought provoking internal debate on Cuba’s food rationing system. People are in a long line for eggs – 5 per month is the allowance – probably the reason small shops aren’t common; there aren’t many local shoppers.

Variedades Obispo

Half-century old cars breakdown. A lot. Those polished, bright, shiny ones you often see in pictures are kept in pristine condition and parked right where tourists can hop in, for $20-30 US dollars, depending on your negotiating skills. Most of the others on the road exhale large plumes of dark smoke, but the ride is still fun, because they often have excellent speakers with good music blasting. Making the most out of the situation is what you see much of in Cuba.

No Time To Scratch Your Head

If there ever were a ride that could symbolize what Cuba is or isn’t, it’s definitely the bright red, double-decker, Habana Hop On Hop Off Bus. What’s an ordinary tour wagon in most major cities, in Havana, the bus an entertaining speedy race around corners at speeds with just enough forward momentum to prevent the vehicle from tipping over. (Watch out if you’re on the sidewalk.) Branches hang low – and I’m serious – if you sit on the top floor without paying attention the best case scenario could be a concussion.

cuba taxi chevy

Some stops are typical: squares, and famous sights but many are big hotels. Aside from housing many tourists, these hotels are pretty much the only places (at least in Havana), where you can find an Internet connection. (And bottled water.) Controlled by access cards that cost about $2 USD for an hour of Internet connectivity, which is, surprisingly uncensored. Many Cubans sit outside of the hotels during the cooler evening temperatures, warming the air with the soft blue glow of their mobile phones. An indication, among many things, that even official salaries aren’t official.

At the end of the wild ride you’re once again slowed to a halt with a confusing reality. An empty Plaza de la Revolucion, with Che Guevara’s determined image looking down. You can’t help but wonder, is this Cuba what he and so many other revolutionaries, romantics, envisioned?

plaza de revolucion cuba

As a traveler it’s difficult to make judgements about something as complex as a society in a short visit. What you see are snapshots from a movie that’s been running for decades. Your Cuban story is colored by critic reviews, and following the advice you’re strongly recommended, talking politics might pose significant problems for everyone involved in the conversation. In a place that prides itself in planning, you appreciate how many long-lived people seem to benefit from an effective and efficient healthcare system. Conversely, the obvious poverty makes you wonder where the lines of premeditation were drawn on who and why.

Cuba isn’t what you think it is. Cuba is not what I think it is. There are very experienced journalists with enlightened insights on Cuba. What I know is what I don’t; a lesson Cuba can teach many of us.

About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More

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