Category: Money

These $50 Blitzwolf BW-FYE4 Are Everywhere On Amazon And They’re Not Too Bad

Blitzwolf is clearly dumping their advertising budget into the BW-FYE4 wireless earbuds because they’re all over Amazon right now. I picked up a pair and as you can see in the video above, they’re surprisingly good for $50 – ideal for travelers who want very, very, small headphones but don’t want to advertise “I’ve got Apple Airpods” everywhere in the world.

Review Of Andando Tours: Galapagos Luxury Worth The Cost?

The Galapagos Islands are not an easy place to describe because of all the places I’ve been to, I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. When Andando Tours invited me to try one of their tours, scheduling conflicts nearly had me declining what turned out to be a trip of a lifetime. No, I was no paid to write this and it’s not an advertisement. There are other ways to visit the Galapagos on a budget but this particular $4500 Andando trip, onboard the Mary Anne sailboat, ends up being a value if you can afford the upfront cost. Watch the video above or read on to find out why.

Comparing The Competition

No matter how you get to the Galapagos, there are costs upfront: tickets – and visa if you need one – to Ecuador (flights to the Galapagos can only leave from their mainland) and the Galapagos permit required of all visitors. Round trip flights from Ecuador to Galapagos plus the permit will be at least $500 total. Once you’re in the Galapagos, you’ll have to take a small dinghy to the only major settlement, Puerto Ayora. Without opting for a cruise, add in hotel (minimum $60 daily) and meal prices as well.

andando tours mary anne

The Galapagos are an archipelago of 21 islands spread over several hundred kilometers in the Pacific. Not all of them are easy to get to but there are 4-5 points which can be done as day trips from Puerto Ayora. Those would be primarily hiking trips, with a guide, leaving around sunrise and returning at dusk.

I’m laying all of this out to because the most frugal ways to visit the Galapagos limit what you can see with day trips to select spots on nearby islands, for roughly $1500 for 8 days if you’re very careful with spending. Other Galapagos cruises tend to stick to those primary islands as well, running about $2500-$3000 for short 3-5 day trips, or closer to $4000 for trips of a week.

What You Get With Andando

Given that the cost of the Andando Tour onboard the Mary Anne is just above those prices ($4500), these are the three area you’re really paying for broken down:

  1. The Boat
  2. The Experience
  3. Time

andando tours review

Let’s start with the boat. The Mary Anne is a former German racing sailboat, the only sailboat operating in the Galapagos. There are 14 tourists on the boat and roughly that many crew. The vessel is spacious, comfortable, and doesn’t feel like a floating hotel. The rooms are spartan, beds and small bathroom pretty much, but the rest of the boat is where you’ll be spending a most of your time. There’s a short boat tour in my video here.

2. The Experience

Again, I’m referring you to the video but the 8-day trip is broken down daily by your guide. In my case, our guide Fernando Ortiz whose credentials are impressive to say the least, split the days into several activities. Andando it seems gets priority in scheduling island visits (they’re limited to avoid over-tourism) and hiking activities are generally arranged to avoid the hottest parts of the day when the equatorial sun is especially strong.

nazca booby

You’ll hike, snorkel, kayak, see unique wildlife close up since they have no natural fear of people, across 2-3 activities a day. Between each activity you return to the boat for a meal or snacks, giving those who want to stay behind an chance to do so. Which basically was just this blogger and this one staying behind once or twice to shoot videos for their travel blogs.

The efficiency in which all of this is coordinated, the boat transfers, the rooms being clean whenever you’re not in them, the timing of the meals, when to snorkel with seal lions at their most playful, all of it was very, very impressive. I kept looking (and expecting) cracks in the presentation. You know, crew that looked miserable when they thought nobody was around, dinghies being late, a guide who bull-shot the occasional answer to a question – and encountered none of that. There was a warmth and personality of the crew, guide, and Captain Mario whose authenticity could not be faked, even for our benefit.

3. Time

Many of the outlying islands of the Galapagos archipelago cannot be done as day trips from Puerto Ayora because of the distances involved. Andando offers several itineraries, and the eastern route I was on covers many of them. Because of the biodiversity of the Galapagos, you often find multiple ecosystems within a very small area. The spots you’re taken to are planned for the best time and the efficiency of the route, day planning, and crew ensure in 8 days you see a lot.

andando tours blogger

Cruise Options

To compare everything, I planned out an individual trip for myself to see what it might look like. There are two major constraints I found. The first, is reaching the outer islands. Missing those mean you would miss albatross returning to land, for example. Additionally, trying to recreate this route using Puerto Ayora as a base would make each activity of the Andando trip (2-3 daily) a trip of an entire day. Not to mention most of the sites are limited to certain cruises, so individually they wouldn’t be as accessible (i.e. you would need to opt for one of the higher-end tours from any company to reach those destinations).

Ultimately, if an Andando Tour is way out of your budget, then there are alternative ways to visit the Galapagos Islands. But if their prices are just a bit higher or around what you were planning to spend, I can certainly recommend their tours. Galapagos is a special place and suggest you treat this as a once in a lifetime type of trip – if you have the opportunity and the means, it’s not a place you want to skimp on.

Win $300 By Entering In The 2019 Best City To Visit Travel Tournament

best city 2019

The annual Best City To Visit Travel Tournament is back! To enter, all you have to do is nominate a city you love as the best to visit in 2019 in the comments below. The first 64 cities will be matched up and eliminated by weekly reader votes and the person who nominated the final remaining city will win $300 on either the Apple or Amazon online stores.

To enter, write your favorite city in the comments section of this post before Sunday, February 24th 12:00pm US EST.

The cities will then be placed in tournament brackets sorted by geographical region, with the first round of voting beginning on Tuesday, February 26th, 2019. Each week the number of cities will be halved by reader votes, until there is one left. Hopefully, the winning city is the one you picked.

Tournament Rules

Cities are first come first serve and several cities have already been chosen by my newsletter subscribers (who got the first picks). The Best City To Visit Travel Tournament is a round robin style competition, with voting every week during the month of March.

  • Cities Already Taken: Lisbon, Istanbul, Helsinki, Medellin, Rio de Janeiro, Melbourne, New York City, and Anchorage

Important Dates

Once you enter a city, there’s nothing you have to do… but remember, voting for yourself isn’t a bad idea. These are the (Tues)days in the coming weeks to make note of:

  • February 26, 2019: Round of 64
  • March 5, 2019: Round of 32
  • March 12, 2019: Sweet 16
  • March 19, 2019: Elite 8
  • March 26, 2019: Final 4
  • April 2, 2019: Championship

Check back on this page every Tuesday for each new round. I’ll also post updates on Facebook and Twitter. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, April 9th and the prize will be delivered electronically by June 28th, 2019.

Prizes And Tips

In previous years, the winners have all generally used these tactics to their success which I recommend you read to advance far in the contest. Also, since there are quite a few dates to keep up with – the best way not to miss anything is to get my posts sent directly to your inbox or subscribe to my newsletter.

  • The $300 gift card prize will be sent as a gift card that can be used on the Apple or Amazon online stores.

More retailers may also be added; or those above modified at any time before the end of the tournament – gift cards must be for the full $300 prize amount and cannot be split among stores, transferred into cash, and will be sent to the email you use in the comments section to choose your city. Best of luck to everyone and please let me know if you have any questions!

Review Of Audio-Technica’s ATH-SR30BT Headphones: Carving Out The Under-$100 Range

Initial searches for a good pair of headphones for traveling often reveal the extremes of ultra-premium like the Bose 35ii, or the uber-budget Taotronics. Nestled in between however is a growing class of headphones that are bringing premium sound quality under $100.

The Audio-Technica ATH-SR30BT wireless, over-ear headphones fill out this sparse budget range, making them an attractive option for a wider audience of travelers. You can watch my full review in the video above or read on.

Bring Some, Not All Premium Features

The ATH-SR30BT headphones look and feel premium since Audio-Technica hasn’t cut many obvious corners on the design. These headphones seem a lot more expensive than they cost, with respectable sound quality for being both wireless and less than $100. More on the sound quality below but where Audio-Technica has cut costs is in places many non-audiophiles won’t notice too much.

audio technica ath-sr30bt

First of all, there’s no case in the box although you can get a sleek Greekria softshell for under $20. Aside from the headphones themselves, a single micro-USB charging cable is provided.

Sale

Also notably missing if you’ve gotten used to premium earbuds or headphones is active noise cancelling. It’s a feature you’ll find on more expensive devices like the Bose 20i – one that’s hard to fly without once you’ve tried it. Still, the ATH-SR30BT has noise-isolation, a fancy term for good soundproofing. Noise-isolation on the SR30BT is good – although you’ll still hear the outside world or jet engine noise – nothing compared to noise-cancelling yet the SR30BT punches above its price here.

Cutting From The Top

Wisely, Audio-Technica has kept the price of the SR30BT down by taking out features from the premium end of the spectrum. In other words active noise-cancelling, a case, an optional wired connection are all notable omissions common to headphones in the $300 range.

audio technica ath sr30bt wireless headphones

On the flip-side however, the lack on noise-cancelling (combined with Bluetooth 5) leaves the SR30BT using less energy consumption – resulting in 70 hours of battery life. That’s close to double that of any comparable noise-cancelling pair; which can be recharged full in 4 hours. The leather ear cups, matte finish, and metal accents all add to lightweight, mostly comfortable profile.

Fidgeting With Buttons

The button placements look, yet don’t feel, entirely intuitive. One of the main issues I encountered is the volume up and down buttons, which also double as song forward and back, are differentiated by long presses. When I say long press, it’s supposed to be 2 seconds although these are very sensitive. I found myself skipping ahead and back when I just wanted to turn the sound down, for example. The third button (for phone pickup, mute, voice assistant, etc.) also got in the way quite a bit; so if the beep before Siri casually reminds you how useless she is drives you mad, stick to controls from the device you’re connected to.

Buttons can be acclimated to but the longevity of the Audio-Technica ATH-SR30BT is in the best of its features: good sound quality, premium design, long battery life, and well under a $100 without cutting costs from the wrong places.

How The U.S. Government Shutdown Affects Traveling Americans And Visitors From Abroad

washington dc

The United States Federal Government has been partially closed since December 22nd, indefinitely, until the Congress with the president’s approval can pass a budget to allocate funds for several major agencies. Since government shutdowns like the one in Washington DC are exceedingly rare elsewhere in the developed world, the procedures and cutbacks pertaining to services, travel or otherwise can be unclear.

Many are ad-hoc to an extent; based in part on how long the showshutdown will last. For those of you planning a trip to, from, or within of the United States, here’s what you need to know.

A Brief Breakdown – What Is A Shutdown?

Since 1884 The Antideficiency Act prevents the federal government of the United States from spending money that hasn’t been appropriated by Congress. The current government shutdown is a partial one, affecting roughly a quarter of the U.S. government.

Why The Shutdown Happened –Congress and the president cannot agree over the allocation of funds, in particular, regarding a border wall with Mexico. As The Balance explains,

The Constitution gives Congress the power over the federal budget. Article 1, Section 9, states, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequences of Appropriations made by Law.”

The president’s role is to submit a budget proposal to Congress. He asks all federal agencies to submit their budget requests to him. The Office of Management and Budget compiles these requests. The president submits this budget to Congress. Congress usually follows this budget as a guideline to create its own budget resolution. That is used to create the appropriations bill. These bills allocate funds for different categories of government agencies. 

Approximately 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed (temporary unpaid leave) until a budget is passed. Only those employees deemed “essential” are still on the job. For example, only 3% of NASA employees are at work right now but not getting paid. The Transportation Security Administration is also affected; meaning although staff are at work, they will not be paid until a federal budget is passed. No money, no funny, no government.

How Long Will The Shutdown Last?

The biggest question at the moment is: when will this shutdown end? President Donald Trump has said it could go on for years but that seems highly unlikely. Already hundreds of TSA employees are calling out sick as there’s no paycheck in sight. Since the federal government shutdown 3 times in 2018, other disruptions likely, so this is what travelers need to keep in mind.

Travel Visas To The U.S. – No Change (Theoretically)

The State Department remains operational, meaning services such as visa applications that are funded through fees should continue to be processed at relatively normal time frames. However, during the one shutdown in 1996, nearly 30,000 applications went unprocessed per day.

new york new york

Travel Visas From The U.S. – No Change

Since visas applications for other countries are handled by the consular services of those governments, your tourist visas won’t be delayed or disrupted due to the U.S. shutdown.

new delhi airport

Passport Services For U.S. Citizens – It Depends

Although the State Department is processing new passports, renewals, and page additions as normal, several of their passport offices are located within government buildings currently closed due to the shutdown. If your passport is in one of them, it won’t be processed until the shutdown ends.

U.S. National Parks – All Closed

Including the Grand Canyon, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, and Virgin Islands National Park in the Caribbean. Here’s a Wikipedia page with the full list of now-closed national parks.

Smithsonian Museums And National Zoo – Closed

In Washington DC, Smithsonian Museums, plus the National Zoo, are closed during the shutdown as well as the American Indian Museum Heye Center and Cooper Hewitt in New York City. A shame, because both the National Air and Space Museum in the city and right outside, remain some of my favorite in the world.

U.S. National Forests – Partially Closed

It’s not practically possible to close all National Forests, which total 769,000 square kilometers (297,000 square miles) so rather, all campgrounds and offices must remain empty. National park rangers and security will still be working though, these are the services currently running.

dharamsala india forest

Monuments, Capitol, White House Tours – Closed And Canceled Until Further Notice

Most of these US National Monuments are affected but their websites aren’t being updated during the shutdown. Here’s a list of DC monument statuses, the Statue of Liberty is open, but you’ll need to do some Internet searching to get details for most sites. Tours of the US Capitol Building, one of 5 popular tourist destinations that won’t disappoint you, are also on hiatus during the shutdown. State monuments and government buildings like the Texas Capitol Building in Austin are open however.

Will The Airlines Refund Me If My Travel Plans Are Ruined?

Having contacted a number of major airlines, most will not provide a refund or voucher even if you can prove your trip to a destination (e.g. National Park) is directly affected by the shutdown. (U.S.-based carriers seemed more sympathetic to such concerns; if you’re a furloughed employee, be sure to mention that as well.) You may though have trip insurance through the credit card you used to purchase airfare; otherwise check with your insurance provider – you may also have opted for trip protection through (e.g. Expedia), be sure to double-check that as well.

This latest government shutdown has been one of the longest in U.S. history. It seems, given the trends from the last year, more shutdowns are probable so it’s best to get travel insurance prior to a trip to or within the United States if you’re planning to see federally-funded sites. Or, if you aren’t feeling particularly impatient, make plans to visit these places with fully functioning governments.

This is an updated version of a post originally written in 2013.

The Ridge Wallet Is Slim Titanium RFID Blocking At A Premium Price

A slim wallet can help you avoid the attention of pickpockets but what if the wallet itself is worth stealing? The titanium-encased Ridge Wallet presents this conundrum in a sleek, RFID-blocking package.

You can watch my full review in the video above or read on.

What’s The Ridge Wallet?

The Ridge Wallet is more of a money clip than a wallet, measuring 12.5 x 8.9 x 2.5 centimeters (4.9 x 3.5 x 1 inches) in a slick design of matted black, silver, blue or pink metal. There’s a solid feel in the 141 gram (5 ounce) Ridge Wallet, which blocks RFID – but more on that in a bit.

Although it doesn’t look like it, the Ridge Wallet fits about 12 cards in its main compartment with an additional side clip to hold even more cards or a bit of cash. Personally, I found the clip to be cumbersome, getting caught on my pocket each time I took it in or out, so the optional money strap seems the better purchase choice.

Otherwise the Ridge Wallet is fairly simple in build, though it comes with a small screwdriver you can use to adjust the tightness or change out the side money clip if you want.

Premium Problems

The Ridge Wallet is really good at what it does. Being thin, looking nice, and blocking RFID, which brings me to the central thought I have about the Ridge Wallet: what’s in the price? For most passports around the world, there isn’t a lot of sensitive information on the RFID chip. There are certainly other RFID-enabled cards you may be carrying (e.g. metro card) but probably none with critical data on it.

rideg wallet

RFID scanning has limited range but what’s much more practical and likely, is someone targeting the wallet itself. In other words, someone getting close enough to attempt an RFID scan would be in range to snag the Ridge Wallet. And the Ridge Wallet might be nice enough that you wouldn’t want to take it out in some places.

Bigger Threat

I’ve talked about uglifying your travel gear to deter thieves, something you need to do in some parts of the world. Decoy wallets, carrying only a few cards across pockets are two good strategies to setup your own personal security system. Money clips are often a good tool to implement, the problem being the Ridge Wallet becoming the target. (Not to mention all of the cards attached to it.)

The Ridge Wallet runs around $80 for a premium design with a lifetime warranty. The loss of the wallet itself is going to set you back at a minimum that much. I’m not saying don’t have nice things but in parts of South America for example, valuables stay out of sight or might get stolen… and the Ridge Wallet looks valuable.

In short, if you’re looking for a money clip as an alternative wallet to slim down your pocket profile for pickpocket deterrence, the Ridge Wallet might not be ideal depending on where you’re traveling. But if you’re looking a premium, futuristic, minimalist wallet without those considerations, the titanium Ridge Wallet won’t look bad on anyone.

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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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