Monthly Archives: May 2012
If you’re a veteran subway system user you probably won’t have any issues getting around on the Metro in Yerevan. It’s a lot like the ones in other former Soviet
Though there are only about a dozen Metro stations in Yerevan, they’re easy to find. Each has blue signs usually labelled in English on one side and countries, so if you’ve mastered those, this system will be a breeze. But for those who haven’t, read on.
what looks like a large flying “V”, marking the location. But barring that, look for the oddest Soviet modern art looking small building around and that may be a station. There aren’t any great maps I’ve found overlaid with the city. But you can print out and carry around something like the Urban Rail map of the Yerevan Metro system which might help you navigate around, especially when you’re on the line. I’ve also created a Google Map of the Yerevan Metro line, embedded below.
Here’s a typical trip on the Metro. Follow the signs and enter the door marked in green. Head over to the small window and buy a token by handing over some money (100 Dram at the time of this writing) and asking for one token – you can just use an upturned index finger. Then walk over and drop the token in the turnstile, walk through and descend on the escalator. It moves fast, so get on and off quickly and carefully. Follow the tunnel on around until you get to the platform.
There are signs on each side indicating the next stops. In many stations the signs are in English, Armenian and Russian, but in some English is omitted. So it helps to know how to pronounce Russian so you can sound out your station and find your way. On the wall of the platform where the train will be heading there is a clock that displays both actual time and the time since the last train left. This is handy, since trains come about every 5 minutes or so.
When the train comes in it will be rattling and clanking loudly. Feel free to put your fingers in your ears, as some of the locals do. Board and you’re quickly on your way. When you’ve reached your stop, disembark, follow the crowd up the escalator and to the exit. You’ve arrived – simple as that!
There was a Twitter conversation with Martin McKeay and Jerry Gamblin today talking about how geeks handle traveling with all our technology. Jerry suggested that Martin write a blog post, but I decided to beat him to the punch. This is part of an upcoming series of posts under the heading of Traveling Skills: The Art of Packing. In this post I’ll describe how and what I pack as a geek who travels with technology, as well as why.
My Travel Kit
These are the pieces of technology I pack with me wherever I go. Basically it’s my laptop, phone, camera, earbuds and a few cables and accessories.
- Apple Macbook Pro, with charger
- iPhone and USB cable
- 16 or 32 GB USB thumb drive
- 8 or 16 GB SD card (can double as a thumb drive in a pinch)
- SD to USB adapter
- Mophie Juice Pack and USB cable (iPhone battery/case)
- Dual USB wall adapter
- Mini dual USB car adapter
- 3-foot 3.5mm male to male audio cable (for car Aux input)
- Nikon prosumer DSLR with Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens (usually, but not always)
- Shure E2c (old mid-grade) earbuds with Comply Tx-100 foam tips
- Fenix E05 flashlight and one non-rechargeable alkaline AAA battery (these last way longer in storage than the rechargeable ones do)
- iPad (usually, but not always)
- Special mention: 3G Internet card (I used to travel with one of these and they’re great, but I don’t anymore)
I like to keep it simple. I keep all the cables and accessories in a clear ziplock bag so I never have to dig too far for things. The earbuds I usually keep in an exterior pocket of my bag or in my pants pocket.
My Support Kit
There are a variety of things I keep at home to support my travel kit. Most importantly are my chargers. The Nikon rarely runs out of juice, so I don’t have to worry about that. I also have extras of the cables and accessories, in case I lose one on the road I’m not without it on my next trip. I also have a battery charger and use rechargeables. They’re a bit more expensive, but worth it in the long run. All these things would be nice to have, but I really don’t use them often enough to justify bringing them along.
That brings me to my first philosophical rule of traveling with technology…
When in Doubt, Leave it Out
Equally as important as what I bring is what I don’t bring all the time. These are things that are either too heavy, or used too infrequently to justify bringing. If I know the job will call for something special then I’ll bring it, but normally I try to leave as much as possible at home.
Most people want to be prepared for whatever situation they may find themselves in. For geeks that means a lot of technical equipment. Phones, laptops, tablets, portable hard drives, external speakers, adapters, cables, chargers, batteries, antennas, and potentially dozens of other “can’t do without” items. And that doesn’t even include clothing, shoes, bags, books, and everything else. But all this stuff gets heavy and odds are you won’t end up using most of it. Here’s what I always ditch.
- Small portable speakers. I have a couple of great pairs, but I don’t use them often, they’re heavy and whenever I go to use them I find the batteries have already died.
- Extra laptop battery. I have replaced the battery once and it may be time to do it again. But I’d rather spend a little extra to have a fresh battery than lug an extra one around for months without needing it.
- Lots of camera lenses. I just use the one. It was more expensive than going with several lenses, but it’s a way more portable option. Plus, I treat my DSLR as a point-and-shoot anyway – I just want to whip it out and start snapping, not mess with lenses and such.
- Battery chargers. I only have one thing that requires a battery and I carry a spare. My DSLR has never run out of juice on me while I was on the road. Even on multi-week trips with hundreds of photos!
- Bigger flashlight or headlamp. I chose this one because it fits on my keychain, is bright and runs on a standard size battery. I don’t use it often and so it’s a compromise as compared with a headlamp or a big maglite or something.
- External hard drive. Do I really need access to 1TB of movies, songs, funny videos, or whatever? No. Do I need to backup everything over the course of a week? No. (See below for backing up on the road.) These things are bulky, require special cables, heavy and hardly ever get used.
- Extra laptop. Even when I was traveling for work and forbidden from doing personal things on my work laptop, I never brought a second one. I found that if my phone and iPad weren’t enough then it could usually wait until I got home. (See the next section for ways around that.)
Here’s a tip from my article on adopting a minimalist packing philosophy: Start packing with absolutely nothing, then ask. If the answer to 3/4 is “yes” then bring it. If not, leave it.
- Do I know it will be difficult, expensive or impossible to buy there?
- Am I positive that I’ll use it as much as I think?
- If I don’t bring it, will my trip be substantially worse?
- Do I use this every day at home?
Consolidate, Standardize and Compromise
Standardize on batteries and cables. Use interchangeable plugs and cables (for example, I have this dual USB adapter) to charge your devices, rather than a specialty one for each device. To the degree you can, get devices that run on standard size batteries so you can just buy new ones rather than having to lug a charger. That also helps in case your proprietary battery dies. And use the same size batteries across devices if you can so you can simplify things.
Ditch point-and-shoot cameras. Annie Leibovitz recommends the iPhone to a point-and-shoot. So do I. They’re way simpler and more portable, and you can share the photos right away. If you don’t like an iPhone, the one you’ve got will probably do just fine. And if not, I’m revoking your geek card. If you’re a serious photographer there may be no getting around a DSLR, but these days I often leave it at home unless I know I’ll be going somewhere photogenic.
Use the Cloud for everything you can. Yes, cloud security is an issue, but you can find ways around that. Crash Plan or Jungle Disk can replace your portable hard drive for incremental backups. Tablets and smart phones can replace a lot of what you’d need a full size computer for. Google Docs works fairly well for simple editing, and CloudOn is a full-blown Microsoft Office instance accessible through an app. If you ever find yourself seriously in need of a computer, the iPad has apps for that too. Consider LogMeIn to remotely connect back to your desktop at home. Or OnLive Desktop will provide you with a virtual Windows desktop.
Get multiple power adapters, rather than one universal one. They’re usually smaller and easier to pack, plus you don’t have to carry them all if you’re not going everywhere. I bring 2 of these small European plug adapters and one of these multi-plug European plug adapters, as well as a 220/240v power converter (make sure you read up on how to use it) for devices that won’t handle that much voltage.
Have I missed something that you always take with you? Is there a good idea that you want to expand on? Let me know what you think.
Dan Pink is an author and speaker. His books include Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future (a great read on Audible), and The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need. One of my favorite talks of all time is one he gave on motivation that was animated by RSAnimate, embedded below.
Dan has travel tips on his blog. Here they are, shamelessly stolen from boingboing where I found them.
Tip #1 — Never get sick again
Tip #2 — The magic of earplugs
Tip #3 — Four road food rules of thumb
Tip #4 — The rule of HAHU
Tip #5 — More hygiene!
Tip #6 — Staying connected
Tip #7 — Zipping through security lines
Tip #8 — One thing you should never do in a hotel room
Tip #9 — The secret(s) to beating jet lag
Tip #10 — The first thing you should buy
Tip #11 – The hidden benefits of Mickey D’s
Tip #12 – Never get sick again…again
I took a walk, starting by hiking up the Cascade in Yerevan. I should explain that the Cascade is a man made feature here that has steps, terraced greenery and at some point will probably have several water features, turning it into a waterfall of sorts. At the top it leads to a large platform from which you can look out on the city and, more impressively, Mt. Ararat beyond.
Just past the top of the Cascade is Victory Park (Haghtanak Park). Slightly worse for the wear since the collapse of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, it is still a serviceable green space. There’s also what they call an amusement park with the feel of a carnival – cotton candy, ice cream, shooting games, small rides and the like. The highlight is the Mother Armenia (Mayr Hayastan) statue, brandishing a sword and looking out towards Turkey to the west. Reinforcing the subtle point are several tanks, mortars, missiles and planes facing in that direction. All seeming to say “we’re ready to do this anytime you are.”
Kept walking down General Babayan St. which has a few embassies and other nice houses. Then through the Arabkir district. It’s a mostly residential area, with apartment buildings, small markets, beauty salons and the like. Some kids followed after I stopped to buy some fruit. They started shouting broken English – some of it rude – but eventually I turned and looked at them at which point they scattered.
Walked back along Marshal Bagramyan St. Stopped into a bizarre place called the Sherlock Holmes restaurant. Decorated in a style reminiscent of, but not quite capturing, an English Pub, a loud karaoke song greeted me. Before I had time to turn and run I was greeted and whisked to a table. The atmosphere turned out to be not too bad. The singers were ringers and it was not karaoke after all, despite the looks of it. I know because they charged $2.50 for it. And the wait staff were friendly and spoke English fluently. The food was alright. Not world beating but not awful.
I’ve been in Armenia about a month now and I’ve seen it go from miserable to welcoming. The weather has become very pleasant and with it the people are warming up as well. With the growing grass and budding flowers I find the city growing on me as well.
Yerevan is one of the easiest cities to navigate that there is. Laid out on a grid system with a perimeter encircling it, the city center is a small enough to get across easily by foot in a half hour. And taxis in Yerevan are plentiful and insanely cheap – it’s $1.50 minimum, which covers 5km. The Yerevan metro is alright for reaching the outskirts and is about $0.25 per trip.
The cost of living in Yerevan for other things is also quite low. There’s a market with fresh foods open every day, where you can get anything and everything and very cheap. Chain grocery store prices range from modest to outrageously expensive, depending on what you’re buying. But they also carry other necessities like toilet paper and Starbucks coffee.
The expat community here seems to be just the right size. It’s not massive like in many capitals, but it’s large enough to sustain many different groups of people who get together often. That’s nice because it means there’s usually something going on. Just about everybody knows each other or knows of them, and they’re all very receptive to new people, whether here to live or just passing through.
What’s not to like? Well I do have a few gripes.
Seems like people are hit-and-miss about ripoffs. I’ve got to review every bill to make sure somebody hasn’t added extra stuff or overcharged for things. Like the double espresso that was marked up as a double-double expresso. And the random things added to the bill every so often. Also I have been quoted prices in dollars, then they use a way low conversion rate. So I always have to confirm those prices in Dram before I agree. And sometimes when you go to pay, if you don’t have exact change they will just raise the cost. Sometimes they say it’s because they don’t have change, but sometimes they don’t try to make any excuses.
And certain things seem to be decades behind. Like smoking. Smoking is allowed just about everywhere – restaurants, bars, offices, public spaces, etc. The decor dates from between 1960-2000. It’s actually hard to find stores that sell modern looking things. The metro, even though it was built in the early 1980s seems to date from the late 1950s. Maybe the equipment was hand-me-downs from other Soviet countries. And the busses are also old and belch black smoke.
But all-in-all that’s not much to complain about. It’s a good place to be and I’m really enjoying it!