Audiobooks – a geek vacation must!

I can’t travel without a good book. And as a Dallas native who is often making the 10 hour round trip drive to see my family, I can’t imagine vacation without audiobooks!

Whether you use (a paid subscription service), iTunes, or your local Half Price Books… audio books can help a long trip go by faster – and (if you’re feeling extra geeky) you might just learn something along the way.

A few tips for finding good books:

  • Use the library – Most libraries, including The Houston Public Library, allow you to reserve books and audio books online (even from other branches in the system). You’ll get an email when it’s ready, just come pick it up at your neighborhood branch. A great way to get your audiobook fix and be frugal.
  • Ask your network – There is one thing I think LinkedIn does better than any other social network, and it’s probably not what you’re thinking. I LOVE the Reading List by Amazon App! Create a reading list and mark books as Read, Reading, or Want to Read – and then write a review or recommend to friends. The app then shows recommended books from people in your network, in your industry, and throughout all of LinkedIn.

Audiobooks I’m obsessed with right now

Below is a list of the last few audiobooks I’ve listened to. They were all fascinating and (in my opinion) more interesting because they were read by the author.

  1. It’s Called Work for a Reason – read by the author Larry Winget
    This book is made up of Larry Winget’s thoughts on business, getting and keeping a job, and dealing with people you work with. The book is great on its own, but there’s just something about hearing Larry Winget say “be known as the guy who gets sh*t done” in his own voice that makes it that much more powerful (and the stories funnier).
    For more on this book, read Courtney’s recap “Do Work” from the Schipul blog.
  2. Outliers read by the author Malcolm Gladwell –
    Like many of us at Schipul, I have a bit of a Malcolm Gladwell obsession. Gladwell has a way of explaining the world around us that is so logical but also completely different than anything I’ve ever heard. Outliers explains that no one really picks themselves up by the bootstraps and finds success all by themselves. There are no born geniuses, success depends on context and opportunities and practice (practice, practice).

    There’s a reason this man hold 3 of the 5 spots on the top nonfiction audiobooks on iTunes right now. Next up on my to-read list is his latest book “What the Dog Saw.”

  3. Official Bookclub Selection – read by the author Kathy Griffin –
    I couldn’t leave this one out! You might think she’s mean for making fun of those poor defenseless celebrities or you might not get why the details of Brook Shield’s wedding are so fascinating… But if you are a Kathy Griffin fan, you will enjoy this book. It’s essentially 6 hours of stories in the style of her stand up, always hilarious and at times very touching. If that sounds like your cup of tea – Don’t walk, RUN to get your hands on the audiobook. Seriously. Go!

What do you think? What books are better when read by the author? What are you listening to right now? Let us know!

Devil’s Den, The Tourists Club and Google Maps

Devil's Backbone, Devil's Den State Park ArkansasWelcome to Devil’s Backbone, part of the Devil’s Den cavern and crevice system in Devil’s Den State Park Arkansas.   Arkansas has amazing hiking, terrain, and apparently the people in Fort Smith are pretty nice too.

Hiking is a family vacation tradition for the Long’s dating back to the days of “high socks with stripes” and uncomfortably short shorts.

When I got the chance to go to Fort Smith, Arkansas I knew I wanted to take an extra day and go hiking, but I was unfamiliar with the parks around Fort Smith. So I began my Google map investigation. My goal with this post is to show you how to use Google maps to help you find the best and most relevant travel destinations for you. In my case that means getting back to nature.

Your first step in finding a hidden treasure using Google maps is to learn about the area. Simply, what is around Fort Smith, Arkansas?

Google Map of Fort Smith Area

Next I decided that I wanted to spend my time in an area that had a pretty high elevation change, so I used the “Terrain” button located in the more section of Google maps.   I could tell by looking at the terrain that there is a 1000′ elevation change from the bottom of Lee Creek to the hills that surround the Devil’s Den State Park. This gave me a pretty good idea that the area not only had a nice winding creek, but indicated the area might be good for my hike.

Terrain feature showing a change in elevation

photo of Devil's Den Waterfall in Google MapsThe best tip I can give you is to use “Photos” under the “More” section of Google maps to see other people’s interests.

Photography and the internet give you a more realistic idea of what you may encounter. In this case I could see waterfalls, caverns, cabins, bluffs, etc. Most of the map photos come from Panoramio as it allows the photos to be tagged with geographic locations.

In a separate trip to San Francisco I was able to find the Tourist Club near Mt. Tamalpais & Muir Woods using this same technique of user generated photography map discovery. Aww hell, I think that needs an acronym – UGPMD (User Generated Photography Map Discovery). Google does a terrific job of helping you find unique and scenic experiences.

If you’re brave enough, skip the “touristy” excursion on your next cruise and make one of your own by uncovering the scenic wonders of Chankanaab Park, Cozumel, Mexico from Google Maps (I also suggest additional planning to account for safe transport).

Another Google map travel insight is to plot your route and distances using the directions feature. It is also a “must” that you print off your maps and take them with you.

Even though you iPhoners may cringe at the thought of paper, I suggest you print maps for convenience and because “truly getting away” often takes you out of cell phone range.

Google Maps has indicated that my trip to Devil’s Den Arkansas from Fort Smith should take 55 minutes and is mostly an interstate route of 46.9 miles. However, I live in Houston and am tired of interstates. I might venture to say that I hate them.

So, I am going to use Google maps feature that allows me to drag the route to a particular road. I have now changed my trip to a more scenic route that drives up highway 220 and winds through some awesome terrain. My trip now has changed to 1 hour and 37 minutes at 47.8 miles. My concern however is with experience and not time, so I am satisfied.

One word of warning though – apparently in Arkansas, highways can be “dirt roads”. It was an adventure climbing over mountains passes in a rent car on highway 220, and one of the best drives ever. I would however suggest you decide if you are the type that can be out of phone range in rugged terrain separated from civilization. For me it is a yes.