Wrapping up our #geekvacay adventure

Biker travel to the mountains
Photo thanks to Flickr user f650biker

This month on the Schipul blog has been the month of vicarious vacationing.  Sojourning without the sunburn.  Flying without the annoying air pressure changes.  Traveling without the pesky credit card bill.

Our Geek’s Guide to Summer Vacation Success (aka: #geekvacay) was a fun journey in the techie and not-so-techie elements of having a darn good and relaxing vacay, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we have!  Here is a quickie recap of our Geek’s Vacation Guide journey, be sure to read all of our fun posts to help prepare for your own summer adventures:

Our guide was kicked off with a look at how to maximize your Google Map experiences to find those hidden travel treasures, followed by a video camera review and camera bag essentials breakdown.  Addicted to your Apple products?  We gotcha’ covered with a fun look at the best travel friendly iPhone apps and then a leap into the iPad world with a super list of must-have iPad apps to boot.

For the audio junkies out there, our iPod-less tunes for your travels post and audiobook geek out is a must-read (don’t let your eardrums go hungry).  Why not complement your music session with a great work out meets sight seeing jog?  And of course, we are all security nuts so having your important files backed up on USB and a properly packed car for your road trip is pretty high on our list too.

Want in on other cool travel gadgets to pack?  We suggest an awesome travel pillow, your favorite sketchpad, wireless Internet card, perhaps a homemade river radio, your camera and… okay if you’re not into the iPhone Kool-Aid grab that Droid phone too.

Or leave the gadget world behind altogether and learn how to vacation without technology.

On a budget?  We know the feeling – learn about ‘staycationing’, finding great vacation deals on the Web, buying into an awesome CityPass, preparing for a ComiCon vacation and taking a long hard look at your vacation options.

Want a different outlook on your vacation this year?  Check out the ‘Guide to Vacation Aliases’, travel tips for overseas adventures from a true ‘G’ (for geek) and learning to appreciate the journey – not just the destination.

Thanks for traveling with us this month – we can’t wait to hear about your summer adventures!  Keep us posted!

Geeks Guide to Summer Vacation – What’s a vacation?

I develop for a living. That’s about 10 hours a day spent staring at a screen.

My ideal vacation would consist of 2 things. Little technology and even less responsibility.

I haven’t taken a vacation in some time now, my PTO tells me so. This summer or winter I’m hoping to take an all inclusive resort with my dear Kara. From what she’s been selling me, you pay once and then relax. This includes alcohol … hmmm … relax.

The few things I’m hoping to take on this vacation are my wallet (which is really just a business card holder). I’m one of those minimalist freaks. I made the wallet-switch a couple of days ago and I’m more than pleased. My iPhone; it keeps me connected … but it can be turned off. If only more things in life came with an off switch. And some clothes. [Girlfriend assumed].

This is my contribution to a Geeks guide to successful summer vacation. It can be summed up in one sentence. Take as little as possible, that’s it.

Oh wait, plenty of sunscreen. I’m a Mesican but my skin is as white as it comes. Ok, now that’s it.

We’ve been busy looking at several spots [translation: Kara researches resorts about as much as Jay-Z says ‘uhh’].

Were looking for no-kids, relaxing, and affordable; and this is what we found.

Most Popular – Sandals

http://www.sandals.com/

  1. Some kids
  2. Somewhat relaxing
  3. Somewhat affordable
Thoughts This is the safest bet, my biggest concern here is all the people. It’s also the same vacation everyone takes. Boring.

Most Spicy – Hedonism Resorts

http://www.hedonismresorts.com/

  1. No kids
  2. Less relaxing – “Vacation? I thought you said adventure!?”
  3. Somewhat expensive
Thoughts Wow. They’re itinerary consists of the words MILF, naked group, and tantra. We should give this one some thought.

Most Relaxing – Couples Resort

http://couples.com/

  1. No kids – [lots of old people. awkward]
  2. Very relaxing – I think everyone’s asleep
  3. Most affordable
Thoughts Maybe we’re too young for this place, wrinkled bodies is not my idea of a vacation. It does look relaxing though.

Code, I can do. Vacations, not so easy. Help … please?

Photographic Memory

As I mentioned in my recent post Pack Your Sketchbook, I enjoy bringing home personal, visual souvenirs from my travels. I prefer a souvenir that isn’t the cookie cutter tourist-y items that the (insert your destination city here) locals sell you. However, the souvenirs I enjoy are something you can create that will last much longer than the standard I Love NY tee.

That being said, bring your CAMERA. Take pictures, shoot video, capture memories and remember the good times because unlike the title of this post, most of us do no have a “Photographic Memory.” I try to capture as many photos as I can without compromising the trip itself. On my recent trip to New York City, New York I brought along two cameras. The first being a Canon 5D (Thanks Ed) and the second was my good ol’ Canon G10. If you want some good pointers about what to pack in your camera bag… read Ed’s post. If you don’t have a fancy DSLR or a high end point and shoot, use what you have. The quality of the photo doesn’t matter as much as actually capturing the memories.

I could go on and on about the benefits of packing your camera. Instead, I’m going to let some photos from my recent trip to The Big Apple do the talking:


NYC Hustle and Bustle

Warhol Soup Observers

Taxi in Times Square Sailboat at Sunset
Empire State Building Street Scene
St. Paul's Church Interior

Deal Alert! A Geek’s Guide to Vacation Deals

I use all kinds of web tools to keep me updated on the things I need to know about – if it’s hitting the web, it will likely grace my RSS reader, Twitter, Facebook news feed, or be sent to me via Gchat from a coworker.

So why not use those same tools to help plan your vacation? Stay up to date on Travel deals and all the best from the cities you visit by following these feeds, tweets, and generally geeky online resources!

And if I left any out – let me know in the comments!!

Travel Tweets!

  • @flyfromHOU is primarily updated by an API that auto tweets every time a fare price is down from the average. But there is also a team behind the magic giving the inside scoop on travel tips. There are accounts like @flyfromHOU for most major cities, all linked from farefinder.com.
  • Kayak.com is not only a great deal comparison site – they have a great Twitter account too @kayak. Content includes great posts like top 5 cities to celebrate 4th of July, tips for making international phone calls, guide to summer music festivals, and (my favorite) a sneak peak at Harry Potter World a week before it opened.
  • When Southwest Airlines is having a fare special, they are sure to post it on Twitter ~ don’t miss out! Follow @SouthwestAir for the latest on fare sales! Or add Southwest’s DING! widget to your desktop to alert you of great fares.

Alerts – Feed your Travel Bug

  • Travel.yahoo.com allows you to set up automatic notifications any time the price of a flight to city X goes below Y dollar amount.  To get started, log in and click “Set up Destination Alerts” and add those far away cities you’ve been meaning to visit!
  • My favorite of all favorite newsletters Daily Candy feeds your inbox with “the latest in fashion, food, and fun.” Subscribe to the newsletter for your city (there is a Dallas newsletter, but sadly Houston is left out), or subscribe to the general newsletter and choose which topics you want to see (Travel, Deals, Weddings, City based, for kids, etc. etc. etc.). DailyCandy spotlights unique travel destinations, tips for saving money away from home, and offers special deals to their subscribers.

What about Staycation deals?

My favorite sources for Houston deals are @HOUCheap and @htowncheapeats. Follow both for the ultimate in food, drink, and play specials in Houston!

Travel on!
~QCait

Your Key to the City… CityPass!

Last year my family joyfully discovered CityPass… the kiddos were finally old enough to enjoy all the museums and attractions our fair city has to offer and so, we decided to take a few days off and make a staycation of it.citypass vacation tickets

Upon researching the CityPass, I was even happier to discover that CityPass is offered in a multitude of really awesome vacation spots… New York, Seattle and San Francisco to name a few.  And new to the list, Southern California! Yes, that’s right, Universal Studios, Disneyland, and the San Diego Zoo… plus a whole lot more are now easier to afford.

For the cost of a family of four to visit any 2 local attractions – you can purchase a CityPass and gain access to at least 6 of the big name museums and local city draws.

Plus no waiting in lines (really… Space Center Houston, locally just known as NASA, has a special line just for CityPass folks.) It made site seeing with the kiddos just a little bit easier.

Another really cool feature is the pass lasts for 9 days…  have some time off stacked up, don’t want to rush through your visit, no worries… you can wrap your travels around 2 weekends.

So, from this mom to you… I pass along the gift of the CityPass. Thinking about vacationing this summer – I suggest picking your spot from one of the those listed on www.citypass.com

Happy Summer!

Travel Tips for Overseas Trips from a real true “G”

First things first, if you do not consider yourself a “G” (in this case a Geek) and you’re planning a trip outside of the United States you need to start off by recruiting one.

If you’re planning a destination wedding to some beautiful Caribbean island you might look to a younger brother that knows a good travel agent to get you started. If your little brother is a real true “G” he will also make sure everyone checks in online for the flight and receives their boarding pass directly to their  smart phone , the hotel will have free wi-fi and there will be at least one laptop available for checking email.

On a South American trip with your old college roommates you should look for a “G” who has the “hook-up” on plane tickets and will look online for the passport and visa requirements for that particular country. You’ll know your friend has fulfilled his or her duties once he or she shows up with a back pack on that carries cameras, wallets and might even charge cell phones.

If  neither one of the previous scenarios fit your particular need you may also consider the following

Make sure your phone has an international plan

For the Sprint users you can find out more on Sprint’s International Plans here: http://www.sprint.com/internationalrates

For those trendy iPhoners you may want to read up on ATT’s global guidelines here:  http://www.att.com/global

Typical international plans are usually about an extra $4.00/month and could save you hundreds in the long run.

Walkie talkies

Do you remember the phrase “two way radio”. With all of the Google phones, Blackberries and iPhones in the world it seemed like the days of the Walkie Talkie were over.

Well think again, in a country that has limited cell phone service the Walkie Talkie can be a great communication device to keep track of friends who may have wandered off on the beach or got lost in the local terrain.

Your local Wal Mart should have a good selection of Walkie Talkies for you to choose from.

USTREAM

USTREAM.tv is a website and platform that allows anyone with a webcam and the internet to broadcast live from anywhere in the world. This is great if you want to share your vacation with those friends and family members who bailed out at the last minute.

You can also USTREAM live from your mobile device if you have the right mobile device

Duct tape Passport Holder

Hold up to 5 credit cards/id’s plus your passport and favorite writing pen with this geeky passport holder

7 Step Guide to Vacationing Gadgetless

When I think of all of my vacations, only one comes to mind – the month I studied aboard in Costa Rica – where the luxury of the latest technical gadget involved 2 cups held together by fishing line. While this may be an exaggeration, the fact that my Motorola Razor traveled well was nothing to balk at. Do you remember those things…thin little boogers weren’t they? Needless to say, it is obvious that I wasn’t a trend setter when it came to traveling “well-equipped.” I arrived in Quepos naked internet free, not knowing a single person in hopes that I could survive with little to no communication tools. While many speculated, I made it out alive and consequently wrote a 7 step guide to vacationing gadgetless:

1. Let the locals be your Facebook

The first step is getting to know the locals and in some cases, actually living with them. I resided in a beaten down house on the outskirts of Quepos with Mi Madre Mirna, and el perro Negro dejas de Club Banana…for those of you who do not speak broken Spanish, this means I lived behind a Club named Banana. I was able to expand my network by simply talking to everyone I ran into…Mirna’s neighbors, taxi drivers, the owner of Mango Bangos, surf instructor, cops, etc. It’s amazing the amount of free ceviche one will obtain by befriending Pepino the bartender.

2. Play games without a controller

If you follow step 1, you will find yourself being invited to participate in local activities that do not involve a computer screen.  Some games might include, Toothpicks…

Other games might involve putting a cup on the ground…any location will do, and grasping a quarter between your butt cheeks. The ultimate goal is to make the quarter in the cup, but be prepared, this game attracts many spectators.

Then there is everyone’s favorite…Spanish Twister…

3. Let the sun be your clock…watches are for cowards

Marinate if you will and imagine your days where the sunrise and the sunset are your alarm clock…that’s Tico time baby. I realize it’s difficult to comprehend, but you would be shocked at the amount of stress that is lifted when your life is not run by a clock.  So on your next vacation when someone asks why you left the Rolex at home, just smile and say, “Pura Vida!”

4. Do not wait on a Yelp review, try the food

Let’s be honest, sometimes it is just better if you don’t know.

5. Waving with purpose will alert taxi’s much quicker than a phone call

It is understandable that without a mobile device you will be experiencing text withdrawals, so I urge you to put that energy into waving down taxis. If you are confused, please revert back to step 1.

6. Use your internal Google Map

It is amazing the things you might find while aimlessly wondering about the area…

7. Put down the iPod and sing-a-long

There is nothing better than experiencing new music, especially if you are traveling outside of the country. Find opportunities to join in, even if it does involve holding a piece of wood while flicking a single string.

You do not have to try all 7 steps at once…I do not want to send anyone into culture shock. But try one every once in awhile, I promise it will make your vacation that much more fulfilling.

Happy Travels!

iPhone and iPad Apps to Entertain

So, you have decided to go on vacation. Great choice. The “staycation” is so 2009. But, travelling often takes time, and kids of all ages will need some entertainment. Below are some great choices of iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad apps to entertain kids and adults alike.

Apple App Store
Syncing all of your new apps in iTunes

*Apps with a (+) are available on iPad and iPhone/iPod touch.

Simple apps

  • Canabalt (+) – $2.99 – Tap to jump and don’t fall off. The techno background music is pleasant, and the images and design will remind you of the future world from the Terminator series.
  • Robot Unicorn Attack – $2.99 – It’s almost exactly the same as Canabalt, except it’s made by adult swim, it’s a unicorn, and the background music is Erasure. I can see your eyes are open.
  • BlocksClassic (+) – $0.99 – A simple block breaker type game that will keep you occupied in the spare minutes you have during the day.
  • Bubble Snap (+) – Free – Perfect for little kids, because all you can do is pop bubbles. Just be sure to explain that the big button at the bottom isn’t a super-bubble.

Puzzle Games

  • Enigmo – $2.99 – This is a puzzle that lets you place elements to control the flow of water drops. Most puzzles can be solved multiple ways, so be creative with your solutions.
  • Electric box – $0.99 – This puzzler is similar to Enigmo, but adds some science flair. Your inner geek will really enjoy it.
  • Geared (+) – $2.99 – You combine gears of different shapes to turn other gears. However, gravity adds a bit of challenge and this game will keep challenging you.
  • Fifteen – Free – This is a classic puzzle of 16 tiles numbered 1-15 that are shuffled around into correct order. The timer adds a motivator. See if you can beat 21 seconds.
  • Implode! XL (+) – $2.99 – This app offers up structures that must be demolished. If you are any kind of engineer (or like to blow stuff up), then this is a great app for you. The missions get harder with obstacles and height restrictions, so this is one you can play for a long time.
  • Words with Friends (+) – $1.99 – It’s scrabble for the iPhone, but a bit better. Play with your friends and see who is the best wordsmith. Read up on the tips from Qcait.

Great Gameplay

  • Guitar Hero – $2.99 + in-app – This takes the bits we know and love from the Tap Tap franchise and combines it with some great extra features for the iPhone.
  • Monopoly – $2.99 – I know the Urban Houstonian would agree that this is the top game available. Nice graphics, true to rules gameplay, and all of it from your pocket.
  • Fieldrunners (+) – $2.99 – This tower-defense style of game is so much fun to play, and now comes at a much more affordable price. Gotta love the electric towers.
  • Plants vs. Zombies (+) – $2.99 – I don’t actually play this game myself, but I have watched my brother play it for hours on a road trip. It looks amazing and would probably be up your alley if you enjoy Farmville.
  • Flight Control (+) – $0.99 – This game puts you in the role of air-traffic controller and lets you direct plans to proper runways. I highly recommend it, especially if you are on a plane.
  • Angry Birds (+) – $0.99 – Part puzzle and part fun, this app shoots birds into pigs. The silly animations and characters add to the fun of aiming and shooting the angry birds. This is a great fit for kids young and old.
  • Texas Hold’em – $4.99 – One of best games at the original app store launch is still a favorite. Flick your cards to fold’em or push in your chip stack for an All In. My favorite play is to link up with friends who have the app and play heads up poker until someone busts.

Not Really a Game

  • iDaft 2 – Free – Harder, Better, Faster, and Stronger. And fun. Come by the Schipul offices after 6pm and you can hear me rocking out on this app.
  • Koi Pond – $0.99 – Entertaining for little ones, very serene, and you can actually feed the fish.
  • Le Petit Dummy – Free + in-app – Make your friends say whatever you want. Add moving mouths to pictures on your device and make them move as you talk.
  • I am T-Pain – $2.99 + in-app – Auto-Tune your own voice and you can be T-Pain (minus the dreads). Add on songs to sing along with, including the world-famous I’m on a Boat.

All of these apps may not float your boat, but I image there are a few gems in there for everyone to enjoy. I’ve linked to the paid version of these apps because I think they are all worth the money, but several of them do offer free “lite” versions in the app store. The total on this page comes to right around $40 which is probably high for most people. I budget about $10 a month and have built a respectable library in the 2 years that the app store has been open. Start out with what looks interesting to you and have a geek blast on your next vacation.

Did I miss an app? Let me know in the comments!

Image source: apple.com

Why I Can’t Road Trip Without My Droid

So, if you’re like me, your vacations are oftentimes road trips. There’s no better way to relax. You’re with the ones you love; you’re on your own time schedule, and you have the freedom to go on every little detour your heart desires. Perfect, right?

But one second everyone in the car is all like: “Look, a chipmunk!”

“Aaaaww, the hills are so beautiful; I’m so glad we didn’t fly”

“O. . . M. . . G. . . ! That cropduster flew right over the top of the car! That was AWESOME!”

All in unison: “This is swell!”

But then a few hours later everyone is all like: “If you play that Bon Jovi song one more time . . . !!!”

“I have to pee!”

“I told you we should have exited back there!”

And of course, from the back seat: “ARE WE THERE YET?!”

It doesn’t take long for the young, happy family to get started on a dysfunctional road trip.  But you don’t have pack muzzles and rope anymore to achieve the relaxing, scenic drive you were looking for. Why? . . . Because you have a Droid.

Here are the top 3 reasons I MUST have my Android phone to take any sort of road trip:

Reason #1: Keeping the Kids Quiet

While I don’t actually have any of my own, I often road trip in the company of young children. And this may come as a surprise to some of you, but children get crazy bored on road trips. CRAZY bored. And I don’t know about you, but I can only play the Alphabet Sign Game so many times before I start thinking of new and creative ways to make the Silent Game sound fun again, and that’s starts getting cruel pretty quickly.

Thankfully, my Droid help keeps my conscience clear and my sanity in check. It has some great, clean apps that can keep the kids busy for hours, and it sure beats letting them play Grand Theft Auto on their DS and hearing them talk about how cool it is when they run someone over. Here are some of my picks:

  • Homerun Battle 3D – mostly because it’s straight up addictive and will keep them busy for hours.
  • What the Doodle!? – This is pretty awesome. It’s a real time game that allows you to pretty much play Pictionary with other Android users anywhere. See for yourself.
  • Word Up! – It’s also addictive, and keeps them thinking.

Reason #2: I Get Lost A Lot

I have no sense of direction. At all. You know how you used to feel confused after spinning around for a long time with your arms out when you were a kid? . . . I feel like that all the time.  But thanks to my Droid, I spend more time lost in my thoughts than I do on the road. I got my Droid a year and a half ago. At the time, the Maps app was unimpressive and unreliable, but it has come a looooong way. Now the Google Maps app has full navigation capabilities and several settings. It will even show me a picture of the exit I will have to take. Plus, I get a kick out of hearing the voice in the navigation try to pronounce signs that have abbreviations in them.

Reason #3: I Get Lost A Lot

Did I mention that I get lost a lot? Well Android introduced the Layar augmented reality app about a year ago. Since it’s introduction, developers have added a lot of bells and whistles, but I love it just for finding simple places, especially when I’m on foot. Let’s say I’ve road tripped to Philadelphia and now I’m leisurely touring the city on foot (Note: Your feet will hurt a lot after doing this. Trust me). I know that Rocky Statue is somewhere, but maps are Greek to me and I don’t know where to go. So I just do a search for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Layar pulls up a real time screen with a dot that shows you where the museum is in relation to me. All I have to do is keep walking in the direction of the dot, and I’m there. I use this a lot when I have to park far away from a venue, and by the time I find a spot, I have no idea how to get back to my destination. Layar has a million other cool features, and my description simply can’t do it justice, take a look for yourself.