Category: Lodging

What To See And Do In Asuncion, Paraguay

asuncion paraguay

Asuncion is the capital city of a country I’ve described as affectionately weird – one of the reasons you should travel to Paraguay. Oddities aside, there are plenty of tangible experiences in Asuncion that make it an interesting trip, even if it’s a short one from the few nearby cities with direct flights.

Here’s how to explore Asuncion and embrace its culture, history, and yes, weirdness.

On The Edge

Asuncion is a city with pockets of activity and areas of isolation with such large contrast, you can feel like you’re in a big, bustling city or ghost town, all within a few blocks. To begin, for accommodation, I recommend avoiding the hotels but rather checking out the many Airbnbs just around the city center. They’re nearly all gated, with pools, and large living space for well under $50 a night.

Buses and transportation are crowded but easy enough to manage with some guidance from your Airbnb owner. The first place you’ll want to go is Lido Bar for lunch. Lido Bar serves a variety of Paraguayan staples to Asuncion’s middle class before or between the workday. To best avoid the crowds, arrive at 1pm and then order caldo de pescado (fish soup) and an empanada to go with it. Don’t expect much English to be spoken by staff but if you use Pimsleur 2-4 weeks before your trip, you’ll have no problem asking for the daily specials in Spanish.

lido bar

Right around the corner is Cafe Consulado; a calm, borderline-hipster cafe where you can hang out, recharge, then plan your next move.

The Other Side Of Quiet

For some reason that wasn’t apparent to me, the government in Asuncion has created the Bohemian neighborhood of Loma San Jeronimo. It’s lined with colorful buildings with small shops, eateries, bars, and snack stalls. Unfortunately, nearly all of them are closed and as nice as the area is, it’s bizarrely quiet. Fun for photos, Loma San Jeronimo is worth a visit – just don’t trust Google Maps (offline or not) to get you there. Google will send you somewhere nearby but a part of town don’t you definitely don’t want to be in.

loma san jeronimo

Museo del Barro

Museums can be boring, especially after you’ve been to more than a few during your travels. Museo del Barro (also practically empty) though is a detailed look at Paraguay’s indigenous heritage, bloody history, and the contemporary society born of it. You can check the hours as well as updated entry fees on their website.

Runners, walkers, and nature lovers from here it’s a long walk or quick bus ride to Parque de la Salud. The park is an oasis of Asuncion: clean, green, and quiet. There are joggers, walking families, and the enclosed park is well secured so you can explore without worry. Personally, Parque de la Salud was one of my favorite places in Asuncion.

mercado 4 asuncion

On the way back to the bustle of Asuncion’s hidden city life, Mercado 4 is the world famous for its knockoff electronics. I saw fake iPhones so close to the original, unless you’re a tech enthusiast, they’re very difficult to distinguish. Mercado 4 is a fun stroll though Paraguay’s booming counterfeiting economy; highlighting just how off the international grid Asuncion is.

Outside there’s plenty of barbecue with friendly locals who don’t mind a side of conversation with their pork. Now all of a sudden you’re feeling small town again in Asuncion, an a la carte travel experience.

How To Turn An Extra Phone Into A Complete Hotel Room Security System

Your valuables are often vulnerable in hotel rooms and while some Airbnbs may be watching you, keeping an eye on your stuff while you’re out for the day hasn’t been easy. The Haven app however, is designed to be a complete surveillance system you can install on a spare Android phone to be your eyes and ears when you’re not around.

What’s Haven?

Haven was designed by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Guardian Project (Edward Snowden is president of the former) to combat an “evil maid” attack. Basically, an evil maid attack is sort of what it sounds like, securing your stuff from someone with physical access to it is really hard. A hotel room is a perfect example, you can’t always take everything with you during the day when staff come in to clean the room.

mobile security system

What Haven does is turn an Android phone into a listening and video recording device that’s automatically activated by sound and motion, alerting you by text if something fishy happens.

How To Setup Haven

As you can see in the video above, Haven is a relatively quick and easy setup. (Currently it’s Android only.) There are two ways to setup Haven: using wifi only or by getting a separate SIM card with data. The wifi-only configuration is cumbersome and much less effective if you’re using it for hotel room security so I’m not covering it here.

The first step is to grab Haven, a free download, from the Play Store and install it on an extra Android phone. Stick in an SIM card with data and launch Haven.

nexus 5xLG Nexus 5x

amazon buy now

Once it’s installed, it will take you through some introduction screens.

  • Configure: The first configure button lets you set how sensitive the camera, microphone, and motion detection are. I would recommend going with the defaults, then run a few tests. If you end up with too many false positives, turn down the sensitivities accordingly and test until you get them as needed.

Next, you set a phone number (most likely to your primary phone) where you can receive texts alerts if Haven detects something after it’s activated. Haven also works with Signal the private messaging app.

Other Configuration Options

When you’re about to leave your hotel room (office, home, wherever you want monitored), open Haven, hit Start Now, and a 30 second countdown timer begins. That timer can be configured to be shorter or longer; notification intervals can also be set in Haven’s configuration options.

haven app

Haven Advantages And Drawbacks

Many people have voiced concerns about personal privacy using Haven. It’s true, if Haven’s creators wanted to spy on you using the app, they certainly could. However, the fact that Haven is open source (it’s code open for anyone to review) as well as the reputation of its creators being on the line, it seems unlikely Haven is some mass surveillance scheme. Yes, Haven needs access to your phone’s camera, microphone, and motion sensors to work properly but most people give those permissions to all sorts of apps that hardly require it.

Ideally, you install Haven on a spare, brand new, Android phone with a new SIM to ensure they’ve not been compromised or there’s no malicious code running on the device. Otherwise, if you’re still a bit paranoid, just use Haven when you’re away from your hotel room and turn off the phone otherwise. Even for hotel rooms with a safe (they’re not too hard to open) placing a Haven-enabled phone inside can catch a glimpse of a thief, potentially leading to the recovery of stolen items. Haven can also be used as a security system while you’re sleeping to keep an eye on the door and give you piece of mind.

Although Haven is fairly power efficient, but if you’re going to be gone for extended periods of time, you might want to plug in the phone to an external charger like the Anker Slim 5000, PowerStick+, or just a wall outlet. Despite its potential drawbacks, Haven is the most comprehensive, inexpensive, and simple solution to monitoring your belongings when you’re not near them. Combined with these other tools, Haven can help you protect and possibly recover your stuff if it gets stolen while traveling.

How To Detect And Find Hidden Cameras In Your Airbnb Rental

airbnb room

There are so many stories being about people finding hidden cameras in their Airbnbs that it can make any traveler wonder whether or not you’ve been watched – or will – the next time you rent from Airbnb. The number of cameras that haven’t been found is a disturbing thought and more renters on Airbnb are installing surveillance to their properties.

Given the number of incidents combined with shrinking cameras, you’re not a crazy conspiracy theorist to want to take matters into your own hands. Here’s how to search for and detect hidden cameras in your Airbnb rental.

Visual Inspection

First, start with the obvious and be sure to read the entire Airbnb description of any place you’re considering renting. Airbnb requires that all hosts disclose any surveillance devices in a property, even if they’re not active or plugged in. It’s an honor system and cameras are never allowed in any private area (i.e. bedrooms and bathrooms) but it is worth checking to see if there may be security devices monitoring the Airbnb entrances or common areas like the living room.

After you have booked a place, upon arrival you can begin a survey to look for any cameras or listening devices. Don’t connect to the apartment’s wifi just yet. Also, assume you are under video and audio surveillance until you’ve finished a thorough check.

butterfly hidden eye

The first step to bug sweep a room is to look for obvious and common hiding places:

Look for any signs such as a small recording light (it sounds dumb but more common than most assume), wires that don’t connect anywhere obvious, and especially the small round glass which is a telltale sign of a miniature camera lens. Turning the flashlight on your phone to maximum can help you detect glass glare, in the dark works best.

These two apps can help you detect camera glass glint.

Assuming you haven’t found anything, the next step is to connect to the wifi in the Airbnb.

Check The Network

Many hidden cameras connect to the home network so they can stream or send what they record somewhere over wireless. Now, connect one of your devices, laptop or mobile phone to the Airbnb’s wireless network. Using the app Net Analyzer (free for Android / iOS or AngryIP for desktop) you can see all of the other devices connected to the wifi network. (In Net Analyzer at the bottom left LAN > then upper-right Scan.)

net analyzer app

Ideally, you’ll see only two devices, the wifi router and the phone you just connected. Any other devices that show up mean something in the Airbnb is wifi enabled and connected to the network. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything suspicious, it could be the smart TV. Now, unplug everything in the apartment you can: alarm clocks, fans, smart TVs, chargers or converters.

Run Net Analyzer again. In case you still see something you don’t recognize connected to the network, that’s odd, but it could be you missed something to unplug or your boyfriend couldn’t wait and entered the wifi password on his phone while you were bug sweeping. Once you’ve accounted for any obvious devices on the network, if you still see something, I would take a close look at the smoke and motion detectors as well as any other electronic you couldn’t unplug.

Use Technology Against Technology

There are two types of devices you can use to properly bug sweep a room, apartment, or home. On the lower cost of the spectrum, the MaQue Anti-Spy Bug Detector shows you where radio signals are emanating from as well as has a small viewfinder that can reveal hidden camera lenses.

MaQue Anti-Spy Hidden Camera  MaQue Anti-Spy Hidden Camera

buy from amazon

More expensive detectors like the Spy Hawk Pro Sweep have a wider range of detection capabilities, which is clearly reflected in the price. Both products can give you some piece of mind when you’re staying in an Airbnb (or hotel room) but aren’t foolproof and professional bug sweeping costs tens of thousands of dollars.

In Case Of Camera

Finding a hidden camera in your Airbnb is a disturbing discovery you hopefully won’t have to deal with but if you do, immediately document as much as you can. Photograph and video any evidence of hidden surveillance as best you can, then find alternative accommodation. (I’m guessing you’ll opt for a hotel rather than another Airbnb.)

Although they don’t have the best record responding to such incidents, report it to Airbnb first. Depending on the local laws, you will want to report it to the police as well. A well-placed tweet to a local journalist might also help your case with Airbnb to get scummy people appropriate punishments.

Despite the negative press, hotels aren’t immune to hidden cameras and using this trick or a reverse image search can get you discounts on an Airbnb, which is often a nice way to enhance a local experience. You’ll just have to keep in mind you might be being watched or listened to anytime you’re staying away from home – making a bug sweep part of your accommodation.

Where To Find Bottled Water In Havana, Cuba

havana cuba

You might be thinking a post on where to find bottled water in Cuba’s capital city, Havana, is a weird or stupid thing to be writing (and reading) about – unless you’ve already taken a trip there. Finding bottled water in shops, or shops in Cuba is difficult, because there aren’t many.

Particularly if you’re staying in a casa particular (local home with rooms for rent) or Airbnb (somehow that is an option too) stocking up on bottled water is something every traveler without a plan should be prepared for. Tap water isn’t a safe option but fortunately, bottled water is easy to get, if you know just where to look.

Some Big Hotels

The reason there aren’t many shops in Havana, is because there aren’t many shoppers. Cuba uses a food rationing system (the allowance for eggs is 5 per month, for example) so the larger international hotels are often where you can find Western snacks and water. Some hotels, like the Hotel Presidente, gouge customers with high prices on small bottles of water you’ll sweat out fast – Havana has an average annual temperature of 23C/75F at 76% humidity.

To stock up on larger, 2 liter bottles of water, you can go to the Havana Libre hotel, recognizable from its massive blue lettering.

havana libre hotel cuba

Havana Libre is located off the busy Calle 23 at 23 Calle L E 23 and 25.

Outside of the Havana Libre hotel, immediately to its right if you’re facing it straight on, is a small shop where you can find 2 liter bottles of water on most days. The shop isn’t open late, so if you get thirsty, you can stop by the diner in the Havana Libre hotel, which is open 24 hours. Water purchased at the diner is only a slightly more expensive than from the shop.

Internet Or Water No One Stop Shop

In the evenings, the outside of the diner is illuminated with the glow very old mobile phones, as the Havana Libre hotel is one of the few Internet access points in Havana. Keep in mind if you do want to get online, to purchase your Internet access cards elsewhere – the Havana Libre Internet cards are more than double the price and limited to only the hotel’s connection.

havana cuba sunset

Perhaps not so ironically for Cuba, the Hotel Presidente, which rips people off for water, has Internet access cards for the standard foreigner rate. (There are two currencies, one for locals and Cuban nationals.)

Plan For The Unexpected

I’ve written before that Cuba is not what you think it is. Prior to a trip to Cuba, you’ll need to plan differently, as the country follows its own logic. Simple advice like this can save you an hour upon arrival at Havana’s international airport. Knowing where to find the Internet can get you online, occasionally, slowly, and oddly without much media censorship. There are other – mostly nameless – places to get large bottled water too, the kind you can take back to your room when you get thirsty. And if you find them, grab a few, because it might be a while before you see another.

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.

A Review Of HotelsCombined: A Hotel Search Engine For Hotel Booking Sites

hotelscombined review

Hotel booking sites are generally a cluster of links, rates, and options that are often more overwhelming than useful. Eventually you stumble on to a hotel with a decent rating and low rate, simply to end the laborious search process. Although sites like Airbnb have really optimized the user search experience, there are many trips where renting an apartment or getting a hostel dorm over a hotel doesn’t make sense.

HotelsCombined recently partnered with me to get my thoughts on using their site and what benefits it might have for travelers.

What Is It?

HotelsCombined is a hotel booking site. Basically, as you’re probably familiar with already, they comb other hotel booking sites to offer you a wide variety of deals. Something of a hotel search engine of search engines, with the goal being to provide you with the lowest hotel rates by casting the net wider than its competitors.

hotelscombined search results

Clearly they’ve focused on finding you the best variety of rates over having the best user interface – but as painful as it can be to search for hotels online, HotelsCombined does a good job of reducing the amount of time you need to find a good place to stay at a low rate.

Strong Search

I spent a few hours going through comparisons with HotelsCombined and other major booking sites, many of which are part of HotelsCombined search results. (HotelsCombined also doesn’t have any annoying popups so common with similar aggregators.) In nearly all cases, they had comparable rates. So, for example, the same hotel room for the same dates turned up practically the same price on Booking.com as it did on HotelsCombined’s Booking.com search result.

The benefit to HotelsCombined is it’s able to save you time in finding the lowest rate for a particular room by looking at hundreds of providers, including these 20 popular sites. Ideally, HotelsCombined wants to be the only place you need to go to find the right hotel room for your next trip. Throughout the time I was using HotelsCombined, I couldn’t find a good reason why it shouldn’t be.

Features For The Frugal

HotelsCombined also offers a “Price Alert” feature where you’ll be sent an email notification when the price of a specific hotel booking you’re interested in falls below 10%. You need to register for the feature; probably something travelers who plan more in advance will want to consider. On the other hand, if you’re like me and a little more last minute, downloading their free app might be an even bigger time saver.

A smoother interface with a more simple design (dare I say less options) that just shows your the lowest price, amenities, and ratings, would be my personal preference but until that’s the norm, HotelsCombined at least reduces the amount of time you need to spend searching for the right hotel room for your personal needs and budget.

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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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