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Category: Lodging

How To Check For Hidden Cameras And Microphones In Your Vacation Rental, Hotel, Or Airbnb

Hidden cameras in hotel rooms and Airbnbs are much more common than we’d like to think but common enough that you should do a thorough surveillance sweep before settling in. Most people aren’t bug sweeping security experts though there are a number of lessons you can use from them to find concealed devices that could be recording you.

As you can see in the video above where I went through a rental that had devices hidden in it, knowing what to look for is as important as where.

The Threats

We tend to think of cameras first but hidden microphones can be trickier to detect since they don’t need a line of sight. A simple pen could be a microphone in disguise so don’t easily dismiss many common items. Another favorite for Airbnb owners are USB ports that plug into a wall. Those wall chargers can charge your phone but come with a hidden camera that can be very difficult to notice if you’re not looking for it.

Your own mind is working against you so be familiar with the common threats but don’t assume they’re the only ones. (Stuffed animals, alarm clocks, smoke detectors… there are many possibilities.) To be a good bug sweeper, you have to think creatively.

Visual Inspection

Hidden cameras need a line of sight to get footage. Start with the places someone might want to film, the bedroom, bathroom, and common areas. Look at the angles a lens would need to be placed to film the larger parts of rooms or sensitive areas (near a shower). Walk around, making a careful inspection before you unpack your bags.

airbnb rental

Take a note of shelves, vents, or any cracks in wood panels or otherwise dark hiding places that have a line of sight.

Scan The Network

Once you’ve completed your visual inspection, logon to the rental’s wifi network with your phone. Using Net Analyzer scan to see how many other devices are connecting to the network. Minus you phone and any obvious devices like a smart TV, be weary if there are many more devices than you can account for.

Also note any networks that have a very similar name, for example RentalWifi1 and RentalWifiPrivate. Separate wifi networks could be used to hide surveillance devices from the network you happen to be on and common names could be a clue more than one network is in use.

Now that you’ve narrowed things down visually and wirelessly, the next step is to use a bug sweeper.

Sweep Like A Pro

I’ve written about a consumer grade bug sweeper you can use and how to properly scan with one. Those of you who watched the video above know that these devices do work in real-world situations if used properly and with a careful eye.

Remember to check the policies of the rental you’re staying in and the service you’re using since many allow for common areas to be recorded. (Though they hardly advertise that fact.) Still if you end up finding any surveillance device, get in touch with the company and get as much evidence as you can through photos of your own.

As for your legal options, it’s still a grey area in many districts so be weary of any temporary accommodation, especially before you do a bug sweep.

How NFTs Could Change Travel

Everydays: The First 5000 Days

The digital photo above sold for $69.3 million dollars. It’s called Everydays: The First 5000 Days by the artist Beeple and although the digital art was auctioned off at Christie’s, you can see I was able to easily copy and paste it above. That does not mean though I’m the owner of the NFT, a concept that may revolutionize how we travel.

What Are NFTs

NFT stands for non-fungible token, in other words something that is unique and can’t be duplicated. NFTs are in a sense akin to rare baseball cards like a 1952 Mickey Mantle that sold for 5.2 million USD. A baseball card is something tangible however, you can hold it in your hands, you buy it and it’s yours. With NFTs the digital file like the image aboven can still be copied like any other file except the NFT, like a public certificate of authenticity, belongs only to one individual.

To get more detailed: the only way to own an NFT is to buy it through a transaction that’s recorded on the blockchain. Blockchain is a way of publicly documented translations. The person who bought Beeple’s artwork above has a public record of that transaction. You can listen to a more thorough explanation of NFTs on the foXnoMad Podcast but your two main takeaways should be: NFTs establish authenticity and chain of ownership.

Wild West Of NFT Trading

Imagine your favorite musician minting songs from their new albums to sell as NFTs. Everyone can still listen to the music but only one person will own the NFT. Think of it as sort of an autograph: you can get the album anywhere but there’s only one Britney Spears signed limited edition.

listening to music

The same concept can be applied to a driver’s license or passport. Fakes are possible but when you check the authenticity of the document against the records of the government who issued them, the frauds become evident. Right now, NFTs are making headlines with high price sales of NBA video clips selling for $240,000 and the grumpy cat meme selling for $83,000.

So why would anyone want to buy one? Well, NFTs have made it possible for specific digital assets to be rare – a rarity people are so far, willing to pay for. The market for NFTs is a rapidly evolving on sure to make even more expensive headlines but aside from the art trade, it has implications for travelers.

True Digital Passports?

Given how digital everything is these days, it does seem a bit odd to carry around a paper book you get stamped when entering a new country. Of course those paper passports are authenticated through centralized computer systems but NFTs could solve that middleman process. Being one of a kind authenticated digital assets that are publicly documented could mean an eventual end to paper passports.

An NFT-based passport and visas would be much, much more difficult to forge and if you lose the device containing your NFT passport, regenerating one through a digital portal is a lot faster than today’s snail mail methods. Of course, how this will all look (an app on your phone?) isn’t clear since it’s the very early days of NFT popularity. The reach into the travel industry for NFTs though is wide from everything to plane and event tickets to yes, maybe your passport too.

5 Ways To Use Frequent Flyer Miles (Other Than Flying)

air force one replica

You might not be flying as much lately – global pandemic or otherwise – but your accumulated frequent flyer miles don’t have to go to waste. Although many airlines have extended frequent flyer programs so your miles won’t expire any time soon, you can put the miles you have now to good use.

Here are 5 ways to use your frequent flyer miles for everything that’s not a flight.

1. Shopping

Most airlines have online malls with a number of retailers including Apple and Best Buy. You’ll find these online malls through the airline mileage website and can use any miles you have for discounts or to purchase items outright. Additionally if you’re using a credit card with mile perks, they most likely will have an online store as well.

sydney australia mall

2. Take A Road Trip

Frequent flyer miles can be used for car rentals or hotels so don’t limit yourself to the sky. As a general rule you’ll get more bang for your mile using points in the travel industry as opposed to a new iPad (see point 1 above).

3. Convert To Cash

You can trade in frequent flyer miles for cash, especially if they’re accumulated through a credit card. NerdWallet breaks down Marriott’s award program (.3 cents per point) but according to Alex Miller, the CEO of Upgraded Points, you want to aim for conversions of a cent per mile.

trove wallet

4. Donate

You’re a good person, I’m sure but just so you know, unless you bought your frequent flyer miles donating them won’t be a tax deduction in most cases. You can though donate your miles, in case you didn’t know that. (Works for random currency you’ve accumulated traveling too.) There are a number of good causes most mileage programs have partnered with and your miles can help others escape political violence or make ends meet (by converting miles to cash).

sunset flight

5. Give To Friends And Family

There’s often a fee to transfer miles to another account (if you’re married though maybe not so contact the airline) but for those people who need to fly, your miles might help them get what they need for a free flight. Like many of the points already mentioned, the best way is through the airline’s online mileage program site, then call to see what better options they might offer you.

While You Wait

Most people haven’t checked up on the miles they have recently or when they might be expiring. If that sounds like you, check your frequent flyer miles right now to make sure they aren’t (or haven’t) vanished. Contact the airlines to see what extension plans are in effect since when travel does resume, you’re likely to get some great deals with the miles you have. So, unless you have a good reason not to, it’s best to stash your miles until you’re ready for sky time since they can protect you from flight cancellations as well.

The Balcony With Nepal’s Best Sunrise View

Just above the Kathmandu Valley whose mountain walls stubbornly holds on to the smog produced in the Nepalese capital, is a view of the Himalayas worth taking a day trip to see. Several hours outside Kathmandu, Nepal, the town of Nagarkot sits at the edge of the valley focused on the Himalayas.

Everything here, from the hotel balconies and conspicuously treacherous ladder stand, is focused on a single daily event: the morning sunrise.

Planning The Spot

Despite the central focus on daybreak, Nagarkot requires some planning to make sure you get the not only the right view but a comfortable spot from which to take it all in. There are a number of good hotels, I can vouch for Hotel Country Villa, just make sure to ask for a room with a balcony view when booking. I’d also recommend one of the rooms further from reception to the left if you’re facing the mountains (they’re quieter) and go for a deluxe room, which aren’t much more expensive then regular ones.

hotel country villa

You’ll not only have a more comfortable stay but a more peaceful view of the sunrise. Hotels in Nagarkot have all of their balconies essentially designed to maximize viewing area, meaning they are right next to each other. A noisy neighbor can quickly take away from the experience and most go to the buffet area to watch, so the more distance the better.

Getting To Nagarkot

You’ll probably be staying in Kathmandu already and the easiest way is to negotiate a driver to take you. Most will happily offer the service, which should cost around $60 for the 90 minute round trip ride. Drivers will stay in the town after dropping you off and to beat Kathmandu rush hour, try leaving in the late afternoon before 5pm.

nagarkot sunrise

Some of the best views become apparent as the risen sun burns off some of the sky mist in Nagarkot. Checkouts are usually around 11am, worth sticking around for, although most drivers will want to leave as early as possible. Be clear you’ll want to return closer to noon, giving you enough time for sunrise, breakfast after, and the Himalayan views as the skies brighten.

Wake Up With Efficiency

Sunrises at altitude over some of the world’s highest mountains appears faster than what you experience at sea level horizon. Whatever the stated sunrise time is (on your phone or at the hotel, usually posted at reception), you’ll want to get up 45 minutes before using your bladder or this alarm trick to avoid oversleeping. That gives you a 30 minute head start to get your balcony view plus any cameras set up (with a healthy margin of error).

The sun will appear roughly 30 minutes after the “sunrise” time giving you plenty of time to enjoy the view. On the way out of town, most drivers will stop by this lookout tower if you’re willing a climb for another Himalaya view as part of one of the best day trips from Kathmandu.

Student Shares What To Know When Moving To Chicago For College

This is a guest post by Brian Selcik, a student at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where he is studying for a BFA in Musical Theatre Dance.

chicago skyline

You may be a new student preparing a move to begin studying at one of Chicago’s many universities and institutions. Having gone through the process myself not too long ago, here are some things I’ve learned that will help plan for your first semester in Chi-town.

Parents, Students, Either.. Both? Take A Breath

The city of Chicago is like its own small country of 2.7 million people who enjoy over 40 kilometers (26 miles) of public beaches, lively local theater, plus the 4th busiest airports in America making it very accessible. Many universities in Chicago are located in the Loop right off of Lake Michigan. (This is the Loop.) There are over 7,000 restaurants and sights that bring over 55 million tourists annually and going to school right in the heart of the city allows you to experience it all.

chicago skyline evening

Don’t Make Your Living Environment Your Work Environment

One of the best pieces of advice I have for really anyone going to college is not to make your living environment your work environment. Dorm rooms are designed for you to eat, sleep, and live but don’t mistake a desk for a ideal place to study. It is hard to focus on work in a place where you sleep and relax – the opposite is also true. (Parents, you wouldn’t want to eat dinner in an office, would you?) But in Chicago you’re lucky to have many great places to get school work done. Some of my favorites are Dollop Coffee, Hayden Hall, Harold Washington Library, and even the new experiential lululemon at Lincoln Park.

chicago coffee shop

Explore The Loop

There is virtually no place in Chicago five miles around the Loop that would not have some great locations to explore with friends. Take your U Pass (the unlimited student ride pass for the public transportation) and head on the Red Line in either direction. At most any stop you’re probably going to find yourself in a cool location with coffee shops, restaurants, and so much more to experience.

It’s comfortable to get stuck in the few blocks around your university so taking the time to use your U Pass and explore is something allows you to make the most of your time in Chicago. A few of my favorite stops off the Red Line are Chicago and State, North-Clybourn, Fullerton, and Belmont.

Get Out When It’s Cold

Chicago is known for a lot of things but the cold weather during winter is definitely one of the most infamous. While it can get pretty bad you can still absolutely go out and explore as long as you are prepared. (It’s all about dressing properly!) Ear covers, a long coat, thick socks, a warm scarf, and gloves are all you need to survive the cold. You can stay outdoors and go ice skating at Millennium Park, or you can head indoors and go somewhere like the Chicago Board Game Cafe. The cold is not as bad as people (who usually aren’t from here) make it out to be as long as you are leaving your building prepared for the weather! Layers people, layers.

lululemon chicago

Go See A Show!

Chicago has one of the best theater districts in the country where you can see some innovative, creative, and inspiring work. You have your bigger companies like The Goodman, Steppenwolf, and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, but also your smaller store-front theater like BoHo Theatre and Kokandy Productions. There are always student discounts available (for tickets generally ranging between $10-15) and even some ushering opportunities where you get to see the shows for free. New shows happen year round so there you can go see new work whenever you have a free weekend.

Urbs in Horto

Since studying here I’ve come to realize Chicago is one of the best cities in the world. With its restaurants, history, and theaters, the unique location makes it a special place to live and study. Those of you planning your first semester in Chicago, hopefully these seeds will help you grow quickly in the city in a garden.

Thank you Brian for taking time in between your studies to share your experience and recommendations for new students coming to Chicago! This isn’t Brian’s first guest post on the site so if you’re visiting London see this, want to see Hamilton for cheap read this, and for a Harry Potter trip to Orlando click here. Brian’s also on Instagram @brian_potter7.

How To Travel

new york city

There are a lot of ways to travel smarter but if you want the most straightforward advice on how to get started, this is your guide.

First of all, traveling is not that hard. At least not the basics in general, assuming you’ve got some disposable income, a bit of time, and of course the inclination to go somewhere.

Where To Go

Traveling can mean a lot of things but often the first thing to come to mind is some far off exotic place. Those can be great choices but you’ve probably never gone to the tourist sites in your own town. What about the next town over? Maybe you want to start a travel blog or YouTube channel, you don’t need to go very far to do either.

Since you can’t see the entire world in a lifetime, these places are good choices to start from. If you love street food, definitely go to these cities. Adventure sports? Las Vegas. Want to see how much it costs to fly from where you are to anywhere? Kayak Explore will show you.

Honestly though, most of us have a place we’ve always really wanted to see. Don’t let people talk you out of it. Get suggestions on things to do nearby (more ideas can’t hurt) but if there’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, that’s where you should probably be headed. You might love or hate a place and that can change over time so aside from actual dangerous places, all you’re hearing are people’s opinions about a given point in time.

travel memes

And if someone’s never been to a place don’t listen to their advice about a place. It’s probably negative and definitely uninformed.

How To Go

Some places you have to fly. For others, taking a train is more environmentally friendly but also easier on your body than taking an airplane. Remember to add 4 hours at least to any total flight time – that covers getting to an airport on time, checking in, plus going through security. A 30 minute flight is really more like 4 or more hours of travel time.

Obsessing over flight prices isn’t likely to save you much nor is booking on a Wednesday. Check out multi-city flights. Travel savings are much more obtainable through choosing the right accommodation, where you eat, and by simple packing habits like buying a reusable water bottle.

What To Take

Recently I saw this tweet which is mostly true unless you’re a French horn musician. What you use at home is what you’ll use on the road. You shouldn’t pack more than you can use in two weeks and most specialized travel gear isn’t versatile enough to justify the costs (remember what I said about saving above?)

arthurs seat edinburgh

Learn these important phrases of the local language using this powerful tool. Gum or mints are essential. One other thing, it’s usually worth paying a bit more to get durable gear. Cheap fabrics don’t withstand traveling well so it’s better to get one good thing than 3 cheap things over the same period of time. Plus good products usually come with good warranties because the brands can stand behind their products.

Stay Connected

Currency is a helpful app that works offline. WiFox gives you passwords to all the airports in the world, important since getting to your accommodation from the airport is when you’re most vulnerable. Find some good travel blogs, they give good firsthand insights that can help with planning, navigating scams, and learning the local customs.

scottish highlands

Download Google Maps offline to help you get around. Put the phone down and look up when you don’t need it.

faucetsafe app

Go with the flow, try a food you’ve never had, and always eat where the locals do. Long lines of tourists don’t always indicate the best places to eat and TripAdvisor can only get you so far. Ask a local. Try it, you’ll get good advice like this.

Remember The Important Things

There’s certainly more, but this should help get you started. Traveling can be tiring, confusing, or a bit lonely sometimes. Keep in mind that if you can travel for recreation, you’re one of the lucky ones on Earth. Not everyone can travel and for most of human history it was impossible to move like we do now.

Understanding other cultures doesn’t require much footwork far or near – meeting new people can give you an important insight. Getting out of cities and into nature can give you perspective. The one thing to bring on any journey is an open mind, without that, you can visit every country in the world and still have not seen much of anything at all.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutHi, I'm Anil. foXnoMad is where I combine travel and tech to help you travel smarter. I'm on a journey to every country in the world and you're invited to join the adventure! Read More

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