Category: Travel Unravel

The Best Place To Travel Right Now: Answering My Inbox Q&Av2

I’m sent a lot of travel and tech questions by email and although I reply to them all, I want to share some of those responses publicly to help more of you travel smarter. In the video above, I answer your questions about the best places to travel right now, good VPN choices, and more.

I’ll have an occasional Q&A video for you on my YouTube channel so feel free to let me know any travel questions you might have in the comments below.

Can My Smartphone Replace A Dedicated Camera When Traveling?

taj mahal smartphone

We’ve all got a smartphone within a meter of us or in hand right now that probably has a camera with a higher resolution on paper than a point and shoot made a few years ago. Smartphone cameras are getting really good and you’ve probably been asking yourself whether or not it’s worth bringing the camera collecting dust in your closet on your next trip.

There are some clear advantages to traveling with only a phone as your camera but a smartphone can’t do everything most dedicated cameras can, which for you, might not matter.

Megapixels Aren’t The Whole Picture

The vast majority of us are happy with the pictures and video our smartphones take, generally until we compare them to photos from a “real” camera. There are differences in how pictures taken from a smartphone look mostly because phones are a lot smaller so the sensors collecting light, plus the lens aperture (opening), have to shrink as well. Let’s breakdown what that means:

  • Sensor – A sensor is basically a light detector behind the lens that takes photons and converts them into electrical signals a computer chip can interpret. Those signals are then processed to create a digital image.

Megapixels are the number of pixels – points that can detect light – on a sensor. Mega means million, so 19 megapixels is a sensor has 19 million little light detectors.

camera candle light

Many point and shoot cameras have the same number of pixels as the newest smartphones – larger DSLR and mirror-less cameras don’t have that many more – but there’s most to a photo than megapixel count. The size of the sensor makes a big difference. With a bigger sensor, every pixel on that sensor can also be larger, therefore capable of capturing more light.

In other words, you’ve got a sensor, cut up into pixels. The bigger the sensor, the larger each pixel can be. An iPhone X has 12 megapixels, like the Panasonic Lumix ZS50 point and shoot camera, but the iPhone’s 12 megapixels, because of the smaller sensor, have to be cut up into smaller pieces.

Sizing Up Limitations

All of this sensor talk is really to explain why you can’t measure potential picture quality by megapixel count alone. Again, phones being small means other very important factors – size of the actual lens opening (i.e. aperture), for example – have to be smaller too. For smartphones, a smaller aperture means less light can get through to a sensor with smaller megapixels. Here’s where the biggest differences will be for your travel photos if you go phone-only and how to compensate for the drawbacks.

  • Low Light – Smaller sensors and apertures aren’t as limiting when you’ve got more light. The majority of newer smartphones will take excellent pictures in daylight or otherwise well-lit situations. For nighttime pictures, some of these apps can help and you can take better sunset photos by using darkness to your advantage.
  • Still Photos – The faster the action, the more light needed to catch the moment; part of the reason for blurry action or sports shots taken with a phone. Frame your photos properly to make the most of any camera.
  • Far Away Stuff – More distance between a camera and what it’s shooting gives light particles more space to scatter. In other words when something is far away, less of the light reflecting from it gets to you. Notice the trend? More light will mean better distance photos but ideally, you’ll want a bigger lens.
  • Video – All of the above, even more light, light, light.

The list could go on but there is one very often neglected disadvantage to going phone-only for travel photography: angles.

Evaluate Your Scope

Zoom is already questionable on phones although for travel pictures wide angles are generally more useful. Often, you can get closer to stuff but if there’s a ledge, crowd, or some other obstacle behind you, the wider the angle, the fewer steps backward you need to take to capture a large building for instance.

edinburgh balmoral hotel

Your smartphone can replace a larger camera completely, depending on what you want to get from your travel photos. Snaps for your friends, family, and future memories are perfect for a smartphone. To cover the gaps though and make sure you don’t miss any shots, a point and shoot like this Lumix is a good in-between a phone and serious camera gear.

Finally, remember than phones are less conspicuous, so carrying a dedicated camera will mean a good daypack like the Pacsafe CS300 (my full review) or the Osprey Daylite (review here) to keep your camera out of sight when you’re not using it.

Why India’s Time Zone Is 30 Minutes Off From (Most Of) The Rest Of The World

two time zone watch

You might be under the impression that time zones are one hour increments around the world, created so clocks can, more or less, represent the same time of day globally. Travelers and ever-worrying mothers with children visiting India soon learn that the time in India is 30 minutes off its greater time zone.

It’s a peculiarity many visitors are curious about, which like time zones in general, aren’t quite a logical but make just enough sense for nobody to get too confused. Here’s why the clocks in India are offset by 30 minutes to most of the other time zones in the world.

Time Zones Are Relatively New

Time zones as we know them today were devised in the late 1800s in the United States. In the 1750s, the chronometer was invented, allowing for relatively accurate time keeping. Most cities in the world then gradually began setting their clocks based on the time of day when the sun was highest in the the sky. Noon was established since it was easy to calculate but that meant most cities had different clocks from on another. Time differences weren’t noticeable though until mechanical transportation was invented. Once the railroad system was established in the United States over much of the country, travel became fast enough over large enough distances when a better method had to be created.

porto train station

The first four time zones were established in America in 1883. One year later, England, Scotland, and Wales established their own time zone. According to Time And Date,

“Various meridians were used for longitudinal references among different countries before the late 1800s, and the Greenwich Meridian was the most popular of these. The Greenwich Observatory’s reputation for the reliability and accuracy in publications of its navigational data was one factor that contributed to the Greenwich Meridian’s popularity. Sir Sandford Fleming was one of the key players in developing a satisfactory worldwide system of keeping time. He advocated the adoption of a standard or mean time and hourly variations from that following established time zones.”

In 1884, International Meridian Conference was held, putting into place the structure of time zones many of us are now familiar with.

Anomalies In Time

When the meridians for the Indian subcontinent were created, New Delhi was in between the two. Naturally, India decided to be 30 minutes between the two time zones, which is why the country is only 30 minutes ahead of nearby Pakistan, for example. Ironically, India is also two and a half hours behind anywhere in China, because the People’s Republic decided they wanted the entire country to be one time zone.

Politics, mixed with a little logic, is why India is only 30 minutes ahead or behind the neighboring time zones. But India isn’t the only country with an unusual time zone setup – some Australian states, Sri Lanka, St John’s in Canada, and Nepal is 45 minutes offset from its adjacent time zones, as just a few examples.

Time zones can still be confusing but desktop or laptop Firefox users can check out FoxClocks for simple time keeping, travelmath is great for calculating time differences, and don’t forget your mobile phone makes for an excellent clock, as well as fitness tracker.

How Long Does It Really Take For A Quick-Dry Towel To Dry?

What might seem like a silly question at first can be an important one for your time management when traveling. Microfiber, or quick-dry, towels are designed for campers and frequent travelers when they’re not likely to find a drying machine. Although they’re called “quick-dry” – and do dry faster than cotton, for example – the amount of time it takes varies widely depending if they’re hanging in a hotel room or by the beach.

Knowing the amount of time it takes to the average microfiber towel to dry in a variety of conditions can help you plan prior to packing. (A towel that’s even slightly damp can make your entire backpack smell of feet by the time you reach your destination.) As you can watch in the video above, I ran several experiments in order to determine average dry times indoors and out so you have a good idea of how many hours before prior to packing to hang your towel.

The Test Conditions

I ran four basic drying experiments with the REI Co-op Multi Towel Lite Large I’ve been traveling with for years in several common travel conditions.

  • Test 1: Indoors on a clothesline.
  • Test 2: Indoors hanging from a hook.
  • Test 3: Outdoors in the shade.
  • Test 4: Outdoors in direct sunlight.

rei quick dry towel

The ambient temperature in all the tests was between 20-22C (68F-72F). The Multi Towel Lite was completely dry at the beginning of each test; I took a shower, then used the quick-dry towel. I then hung the towel, set a stopwatch, and checked in occasionally to see the progress of water evaporation. These were the results:

  • Test 1: Indoors on a clothesline: 8 hours 5 minutes.
  • Test 2: Indoors hanging from a hook: 7 hours 58 minutes.
  • Test 3: Outdoors in the shade: 2 hours 43 minutes.
  • Test 4: Outdoors in direct sunlight: 36 minutes.

Indoor Versus Out

It’s probably not surprising that drying the towel outdoors was less time consuming. Though the difference in drying time – nearly 6 hours – might be a bit unexpected. How the towel was hung didn’t make much difference but it’s clear outdoors is preferable; even if the outdoor temperature is the same or less than indoors.

The Over-Under

Add more time obviously if you’re got longer hair needing more water absorption from the towel. Of course, you can shave even more time off by wringing the towel, or placing it near or (carefully) on a heater. Indoor drying times though are going to be 8 hours, in ideal conditions like I had during these small experiments. I suspect I greatly underestimated dry times in general, which has probably cost me a few extra laundry washes on several trips.

So, if you’re going to be using a quick-dry towel, keep in mind to schedule your shower a bit earlier on travel days when you might not have access to a balcony or backyard. Don’t pack more than two weeks of stuff, even for longer trips, and following the 80% rule might give your clothes just enough air not to stink for times you’re feeling a little less patient.

How Difficult Is It To Travel If You’re Vegan?

vegan lufthansa

Recently, after posting photos of the vegan meals being served in business class flights on various flights, a reader asked how difficult it would be to travel after switching to a vegan diet. It’s a big question with a lot depending on where you go, how you travel, and your personal preferences.

How Strict Are You?

There are a group of very strict vegans and those who don’t mind eating an egg or honey on occasion. (Up to a third of vegetarians eat meat when drunk, for example.) People “go vegan” for a variety of reasons – health, animal rights, lactose intolerance – so you may decide on shorter trips to just do your best. If you do, it’s better to accept the decision completely; stressing about finding suitable food options can easily ruin a vacation. On the other hand, if you’re committed to sticking to a strict vegan diet, you’ll need to prepare.

Planning Ahead Is Crucial

You hardly ever need to show up to an airport 3 hours before a flight but if you’re going to fly as a vegan, at the very least you need to arrange your meals well in advance. Ideally, you’ll need to specify at booking that you want a vegan meal. Practically, you’ll need to call the airline as well because in most cases if you don’t, expect a vegetarian meal with cheese.

shephards salad with cheese

Also, you better get to a grocery store first as well, since vegan meals on flights are rarely completely vegan, not to mention mostly salads or vegetables. (Lacking the beans, nuts, and soy many vegans use to supplement their diet with appetite-satisfying protein.) Apps like HappyCow can help you find vegan restaurants but remember that grocery store shopping is going to be a regular part of any trip you take.

More Developed Doesn’t Always Mean More Choices

Many people often assume that more developed countries have more vegan options. Scandinavians use a lot of dairy in their dishes for instance and the Japanese tend to have a diet rich in fish. Conversely, nations with meat-heavy traditional cuisines like Serbia and Kosovo are excellent for vegans. Much of Turkish cuisine too, is unintentionally vegan. India, famous for its vegetarian cuisine, can be hard for vegans due to the common use of clarified butter (ghee).

food chandni chowk

Vegan options actually vary much more between cities than nations. Germany, for example, isn’t the most vegan-friendly country but Berlin is one of the best cities for vegans. Larger cities tend to have more vegan options simply due to size, though it doesn’t always mean the restaurants will be close to your accommodation. Again, plan accordingly and get used to grocery store visits.

On the surface, it might not seem like a big jump to go from vegetarian to vegan because the world is getting close to being caught up on what a vegetarian is. Keep in mind that the concept of vegetarianism is still be confusing to many around the world, even though vegetarians make up about 20% the world population. There are far, far less vegans; therefore much less understanding of what vegan is.

To travel as a vegan you’ll not only need to get used to planning, shopping, and arranging your travels around the food you eat, but become very used to explaining as well. The summarized version of no-meat-no-dairy usually isn’t sufficient so study menus well, list ingredients, and accept that not every restaurant or waiter will be sensitive to your dietary restrictions.

Are you a traveling vegan? What would you add and what have your experiences been? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Why Do People Travel To Star Trek Conventions?

People travel for many reasons and for 10-20,000 every August in Las Vegas, that reason is Star Trek. Although I’ve been to the Creation Entertainment Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas several times, I still have trouble answering the question I’m asked most about it: why do people go to Star Trek conventions?

As you can see in the video above, as I spoke with other Trekkies at the convention this year, people attend Star Trek conventions for a very human reason – one that won’t feel alien to any traveler or person. Plus, you’ll get to see a glimpse of what goes on at the largest Star Trek convention in the world.

This post is part of Geek Takeover Week 2017.

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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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