Some of you have asked what cameras we’re using and what other gadgets we packed for this trip. (Charles, I promised you an answer to your questions and here it is…finally!)
Here is an off-the-cuff, slightly rambling video showing the gear and how we carry most of it. There is also a quick tour of our hotel room in Chumphon, Thailand.
Here are some links for more info on the gear we mentioned in the video:
I didn’t mention it in the video, but we are using Apple Photos to organize the photos that we shoot. I don’t like it and find it to be very limiting. Not being able to batch edit metadata is a real bummer, so we aren’t doing much organizing. I also made the decision that I didn’t want to spend time “post-processing” images, so I am shooting JPEGs, not RAW files. I’m not cropping, retouching or editing photos. Shoot and post. That’s it. One nice thing about the Fuji X100T is that it produces very good JPEGS and has “film emulation” modes which are kind of like the filters or special effects that you might find on Instagram, but more subtle. I don’t mess with them much. I’m not after perfect images, just decent shots with minimal fuss!
I also forgot to mention two other cameras we brought with us. The first is the Sony DSC-TX10. It was a gift from Grandad years ago. It is small and waterproof. A great little camera. It is an older model and I think it has been discontinued and replaced with the DSC TX-30. This is Jette’s camera and our underwater camera. We shot some fun underwater videos while we were snorkeling in Koh Tao. We don’t have the bandwidth to post them now, but I’m hoping to when we are back in Bangkok in the next couple days. In the meantime, here are a couple of snapshots.
Jette underwater at Mango Bay, Koh Tao
Fishy, fishy, fishy, fish…
The other camera I neglected to mention in the video is a Contour Action Camera (kind of like a GoPro). It is OK, but I would recommend GoPro if you are in the market for an action camera. We used it to shoot some bike videos when we were cycling the Rhine but it has been living in our luggage lately.
As we prepared for the trip I had visions of shooting quite a bit of video and doing more polished YouTube posts. Didn’t happen. I found very quickly that I just didn’t want to spend the time and energy on editing. It just takes too much time, and I want to spend the time on this trip experiencing it, not sitting in front of my computer editing video! So, our YouTube videos are going to be rough and unedited. Sorry viewers, but hey, we’re on this trip to explore, learn and have fun. We want to spend our time doing that, not video post-production! Finding a connection fast enough to upload video is a challenge too. The video in this post took 20 hours to upload. It would have taken even longer had we not made it to Bangkok where we have speedy internet at the local mall thanks to the speedy WiFi hotspot from dtac, one of the local wireless carriers.
Regarding phones and internet, my phone is an older Google Nexus, so it came straight from Google unlocked. I can use it with any carrier. In each country we visit I typically buy a prepaid SIM card which gives me a local phone number, credit for calls and data for internet access. (Here’s an example from Singapore – they give you a lot of data! In most countries data is more limited and expensive. For example, Thailand.). It is really nice to have “always on” internet access, and I can use my phone as a hotspot in a pinch. Plans are usually inexpensive, and are perfect for using Google Maps, checking local reviews and such, but typically don’t offer enough data to do things like upload videos. It is also more secure than public WiFi.
You “punch out” the SIM card and put it in your phone.
The SIM card in Laos was hilarious. Usually the SIM card come as a punch-out from a credit card sized plastic card. Different phones take different sized SIM cards, so there are usually three sets of perforations. In Laos there were lines printed on the card but NO PERFORATIONS!!!! I had to use my knife to cut the SIM out of the “credit card”!!!
The SIM doctor doing surgery.
I’m a bit security conscious, so the MacBooks are “empty” in the sense that they don’t have our personal data and files on them, other than a few things we thought me might need on this trip. As I mentioned in the video, our hard drives and storage devices are encrypted. If we lose a device, I don’t want to have to worry about bad guys having easy access to what data is on them, or even our photos from the trip. I won’t go into details here, but if you are curious about encryption you might Google “encryption on a mac” or “computer security while travelling“. We also use a VPN when we connect to the internet. It is great for security, and also for accessing services that are limited to certain countries. For example, we could have NetFlix or Amazon think we are in the US when we are actually in Thailand and play content that they will only stream to the US. There are some other things that we do for security, but I’m not telling you what they are in a public blog post ;-). The bottom line is that if we login to PayPal or check our bank balance, we don’t want some goon getting access to our accounts!
I hope I’ve answered your questions! Feel free to ask more in the comments.
Mila is healing quickly and we are planning to get back on our bikes to tackle the Rhine at the end of the month. We have train tickets to Bregenz, Austria which is just past Chur – where Mila broke her arm.
We will then make another attempt at cycling to the mouth of the Rhine at the North Sea. The catch is that we will have to do it much more quickly than we originally planned. The original idea was to make it a slow and leisurely ride with not too many kilometers (miles) per day, and the time to stop and enjoy the interesting places that we might find along the way. Regrettably the EU will only allow us to stay 90 days out of any 180 days. This means that we have to be out of the EU (actually the Schengen Countries) by the 28th of September. That gives us about one month to git ‘er done.
To help address the issues of way-too-much-stuff and overloaded bikes, we’ve bought a trailer.
Dutch trains don’t allow trailers, but this one is designed with that in mind. The wheels and the tow bar pop off and the trailer instantly becomes a big duffel bag. With some luck we can get it onto the trains.
As with everything there are tradeoffs, but hopefully the benefits of getting a bunch of junk off our bikes and onto the trailer will outweigh the costs. The pros and cons of trailers are endlessly debated and there are stalwarts in both camps. I won’t rehash them here, but if you are interested, here is one guy’s detailed analysis and a quick Google search will reveal about a million more.
Most importantly, having the trailer will allow us to shift a bunch of our load off of Mila’s bike for less stress on her arm and improved bike handling and safety. It will also shift much of the load on my bike from the frame to the trailer, which will also greatly improve the handling of my bike. I just hope the rear triangle of the frame is strong enough to handle the loaded trailer! That risk comes along with my stubbornness/madness of wanting to do the trip with the simplest “regular” bikes and not a bunch of specialized touring gear. That would be too easy, LOL!
We have lots of gadgets that need power. Most of them plug in to charge. Computers, phones, cameras (future post coming on all the “gear” we’ve packed). Instead of a whole bunch of plug adapters, before we left on this field trip we bought two universal power strips.
One of our travel power strips
Each of the power strips has a two prong Euro-style plug that goes into the wall. This is the type of plug that is used in most of Europe, South America and Asia (you can see the various plug types here. Ours is compatible with sockets C,E, and F). There are three outlets on the power strip, each of which can take just about any kind of plug. If you are curious, I bought them here.
I love these things. They are compact and allow you to plug three things into one outlet with no plug adapters. You can even let that British guy with the goofy plug charge his phone too! We’ve found that when traveling, resources like power outlets are often shared, so this can be a real bonus.
When we checked out of our hotel in Brussels, somehow I managed to leave both of our universal power strips in our hotel room. Bummer. When we got to Switzerland, we had no way to plug anything in and the only plug adapter we could find was a round thing that didn’t accommodate our MacBook chargers, phone chargers, Kindle chargers, or camera charger. We had only one thing that would plug into the adapter- a cable for another of our camera chargers. On one end of the cable is the US style two prong plug. On the other end is a what I’ve heard called a “chinese 8” or “figure 8” plug:
Figure 8 plug
I realized that the figure 8 plug looked a lot like the custom plugs on the end of the expensive Apple extension cables. So, I popped the plug portion off the “brick” on the MacBook charger and sure enough, the standard figure 8 plug slid right in!
Switzerland adapter, camera charger cord, MacBook power supply.
We now had power for the computer, and we could use the USB ports on the computer to charge our phones! Yay!
I subsequently found a Swiss power cord with a figure 8 output, so we could plug the other computer in too, without the need for a power adapter. I thought this was a great discovery, as the Swiss cord was only about $6. Cheaper and better than a plug adapter! I have a feeling I’ll be doing the same thing in the future in other countries.
Anyway, when Mila broke her arm and we decided that we would be going back to Amsterdam for a while, I ordered two more of the power strips and had them shipped to me poste restante at the Amsterdam main Post Office.
What is poste restante you ask? Much more common in years or even centuries past, poste restante, or general delivery is a service where the post office receives mail on behalf of someone and holds it until they come to claim it. In this case when I placed the order online, I simply entered the shipping address as my name, poste restante, and the address of the main post office:
GPO Singel 250-sous (basement)
Yesterday, I could see from the online tracking that the package had arrived, so I went to the Post Office, showed them my passport and picked up my package. Nice, huh?
Not all countries still use the poste restante system, but many do. It’s a nice travel secret to know!
Say hello to Franken-Frog, Green Goblin, and The Parminator.
These are our new beasts of burden. The Parminator and Green Goblin are used Dutch city bikes from WorkCycles. Franken-Frog is a new Frog Hybrid, modified for our purposes.
It is not uncommon for people doing bike tours to bring fancy touring bikes like the Co-Motion Americano Rohloff on their adventures:
Co-Motion Americano Touring Bike
While quite a nice ride, the basic bike starts at $3,700. That would be $11,100 for three, not including thousands more for shipping, racks, bags, and all the extras stuff one needs for an extended bike trip. Of course, my daily commuter bike, the Surly Long Haul Trucker, is a great touring bicycle too, and at $1,300 for the basic bike, is considerably more cost-effective.
Bike geeks will probably find our actual choice of bicycles for this trip insane.We’ve bought simple, well-used Dutch city bikes for this trip. This should add a bit of a challenge factor to the tour. If Annie Londenderry could circle the globe on an 1890’s bicycle, surely we can get across Europe a couple of “old beaters,” right?!
For the bike geeks our there, here are the basic specs:
- The Parminator (Waco)
- Mens 61cm lugged steel frame (Azor?)
- Shimano Nexus 3-Speed hub with coaster brake. (Yes, a three-speed and coaster brake in the Alps!!!) Gearing: High. Not easy to count teeth with the full chain case, and I haven’t bothered to remove it. Let’s just say it is geared for flat ground. We’ve been riding around very flat Amsterdam for a few days and I have yet to shift out of first gear.
- Wheels – sturdy rims (unknown make), 36H, chunky spokes. I won’t “taco” these wheels! Schwalbe Marathon tire on the rear, something old on the front. I’m debating swapping this for a new Schwalbe Marathon.
- Green Goblin (Mila)
- 53cm step-through, lugged steel frame (Azor)
- Shimano Nexus three-speed hub with coaster brake. Front Nexus roller brake.
- Wheels – see above. Schwalbe Marathon tires.
- Gearing – lower than The Parminator (yay!)
We coordinated the purchase of the bikes by email before we arrived, and originally, this was to be Jette’s bike:
The Bike That Wasn’t
It is a women’s 45cm frame, which turned out to be too big for Jette. Instead, we purchased a new Frog Hybrid and had WorkCycles modify it (thanks guys!) with upright, city-style handlebars, fenders, a better saddle, and a rear light (we brought our own front light). She rode it first with the stock, flat handlebars:
Jette on the stock Frog
All of her bikes have been upright, city style bikes and she found the aggressive, forward-leaning position of the flat bars very uncomfortable. We looked at some dutch city bikes for kids, but there were few options in stock at any of the various shops we visited, and they all had coaster brakes which she was not comfortable with. So, we asked the WorkCycles guys to take the the Frog into their lab… The results: the Franken-Frog:
Not quite city bike, not quite standard hybrid. I think they might have been a little embarrassed by its unconventional nature, but Jette loves it. It is much more comfortable for her and seems to be a perfect fit. It is lightweight, well made, and sports 8 speeds and good rim brakes. We picked it up day-before-yesterday that night we had a hard time getting her to stop riding and go to bed!
Bedtime ride at Camping Zeeburg
We will be taking the train to Switzerland tomorrow, so today I’m trying to figure out how to get our stuff packed in the Arkel panniers and other bags we brought with us, and then how to get it all on the bikes. We have a ton of stuff!
Test packing the Parminator – front crate still on and sleeping bags not in dry sacs.
Both bikes, about two-thirds packed.
In the last photo above, I’ve removed the plastic crate on the front rack of The Parminator so that I will have a place to strap the tent, foam sleeping pad, and who knows what else!
OK, that’s it for now. Have to go figure out how to pack up the rest of our junk for our morning departure!