Friday, October 29, 2021

Travel Mehs -- iPhone SE 2020

I have never been a fan of a big phone. I tried using Paula's big iPhone 8 Plus, but it always felt too awkward and clumsy, even in my massive mits. I liked the original iPhone SE, and then moved up to the iPhone SE 2020 when the original SE's battery started dying on me. I've loved this phone since. It was Good Enough (TM) for me.

Then I went to Glasgow. I believe that Scotland must have fewer cell towers at a lower power than US cities. Also, I was taking more pictures, and using the cell radio for more time when it was trying to get data (thanks to the artificial data caps). I don't remember a day when I didn't have to drag out the battery pack for a recharge.

When I got back to the US, I decided I was going to upgrade eventually, and Wesley was due an upgrade, so I could give her my phone. The only limitation: the iPhone 12 mini was expensive, and notorious for not making it a whole day on its battery for most people. I wasn't interested, and I wasn't going to use a bigger phone.

Then the iPhone 13 mini came out. A few people who use their phones all day still couldn't get a full day, but most users were getting the day and more. I also took the plunge and bought a Product Red one. I can't stand Bono, and (Red)'s overhead is (allegedly) so high it qualifies as a keep-work project rather than a charity, but I love the color. I make no claims to having done a good thing by buying the phone; I just bought a pretty phone.

The camera is better, but I'm not one to push a camera anyway. The screen is nicer, and I like FaceID when it works. The phone is slightly smaller than the iPhone SE 2020, but the screen is bigger and brighter. I like that combination.

Most of all, it just works the way the rest of the Apple products I own just work, and that's all I can ask for.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Travel Mehs -- Cellular Coverage


I love the slang term "meh", even if I try my best to not actually use it in conversations. Sometimes, you just need a word for "not good, but not bad either", all in one. Kinda like Goldilocks' "just right" porriage; just right unflavored oatmeal seems to be "meh" to me. T-Mobile's international roaming was one such 'meh'.

I have Sprint, transitioning to T-Mobile. I had to make a couple of calls over to Scotland to clean up my hostel reservations. That cost me significantly. Sprint/T-Mobile also has Global Roaming, where one can get free texts and free 2G-equivalent data. You can make this work for texts and Emails, but trying to pull up an interactive website or Maps wasn't fun.

All modern phones have nano-SIM chip cards in them with the information needed to connect you to your cellular network. Since the iPhone XR and XS, iPhones (and most new Androids) support eSIMs, which are virtual SIM cards stored in the phone itself. This lets these newer phones have 2 cellular connections, for example one US carrier and one UK carrier. A good document for iPhones is here on Apple's site. If your phone is unlocked (or unlocked for foreign cell providers), you can have a primary and a secondary service.

When I bought my iPhone 13 mini (more next post about that), Sprint/TMobile put their service on an eSIM. Since I bought it from Apple, it's unlocked. Before the next trip out, I will go buy a physical SIM card or an eSIM one-month plan from some network provider, and activate it before I need to make any phone calls for the trip. When I get over the ocean, I'll turn the UK plan to primary for data and phone, so I can make phone calls if needed and can have 5G data. However, the US number can stay active for texts and emergency phone calls as needed. When I get back, I delete the eSIM and discontinue the plan.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Travel Wins -- Charging and Power

I carried 2 items that proved themselves essential, and 1 item that I wish I had had. Let's start with the most important:

The ANKER PowerCore 3 10k:

This little box is magic. You charge it by plugging one of the USB ports on the bottom (in the blue), and let it fill up. Then, you can either plug a USB cable into either of the two ports, or you can charge your wireless phone by hitting the round button and resting it against the charger:

I regularly had the charge drop below 50%, but then I'd start the battery pack to charging, and put both the phone and the charger in my pocket. In a few minutes, I'd usually have gained 10% charge or so.

More importantly, you can charge the battery pack and the phone at the same time, and still plug one other USB device to pull power out of the battery. This let me leave one of my wireless charging pads at home permanently. Every ounce saved, and all....

The PlugBug

I had to carry my work Apple laptop with me, and I have a 87W Apple USB-C charger for it. That was more than enough power to charge everything, but I needed the cord ends for the UK and Ireland, and Apple wants $35 for a pack of them. I caught the PlugBug half-off, so it was an easy purchase. If you have an Apple laptop, this is an essential accessory that makes 2 plug-ins into 1. 

Amazon link: but sometimes it's cheaper at their site:

Alternate Choice: If you don't have an Apple charger or a laptop, try out a charger like the KKM USB-C Charger Adapter. It has plenty of charge for an iPad or the PowerCore above, and could slow-charge a turned-off laptop in a pinch. However, it's probably cheap, so you're going to test it well pre-trip.

Alternate 2: Wait until you get there, and buy a 18W to 30W USB charger in an airport shop or a local computer shop, or buy one from Amazon and have it waiting for you at the hotel/hostel.

Wish list: Short Apple Watch chargers

I have a cellular Apple Watch, and I used a lot of battery life on the plane listening to music. I ended up trying to charge my watch using the battery and my long charger cable. That night, I searched these chargers out and ordered one with delayed shipping so it'd be at the house when I got here.

A two pack of Apple Watch chargers at would have been useful. You could plug this into the top of the PowerCore to charge the watch as well, or into the PlugBug to charge the watch overnight.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Travel Wins -- United Explorer Mileage Plus and Global Entry

While planning the trip to Scotland, Delta had discontinued enough of its flights from Lexington to Chicago (ORD) that I was better off using United. I'm not a huge fan of airline credit cards, because the miles you get are usually worth less than the dollars you get from other credit cards. However, United was offering a lot of bonus miles to apply, and enough perks to tempt me towards their card. The features that drew me in:
  • One free checked bag for each ticket purchased, when flying with the card holder. I don't like checking bags for most trips, but sometimes one has to do so (carrying tools for work, etc.). One bag each way on a return flight almost pays for the card by itself.
  • 2 United Club Passes a year. COVID has made this less useful, but most airports still have United Clubs (or generic clubs) where members can relax, get some free junk food, and a much more comfortable chair. I didn't end up using the club on the Scotland/Ireland trip because I didn't have any layovers worth it, but I have used it on a business trip in the past and will again.
  • Global Entry. The card will pay you back for the cost of Global Entry or TSA PreCheck once every 4 years.

Global Entry is essentially the Customs versions of TSA PreCheck; you pre-register and pass a background check with Customs, and then you have to go in and let them take pictures of your face for biometrics and scan your fingerprints. I ended up flying out to Mobile (as part of a trip to Gulf Shores) to register, since the Covington office was booked solid for months (and I was going that way anyway). On the other hand, you also get for free, and Global Entry lasts for 5 years betweeen renewals.

I thought TSA Pre-Check was nice, where we could skip the lines and not take off shoes. Then I actually used Global Entry. To check in at Customs, you walk up into the kiosk, and show it your face. If you're lucky, then it gives you a slip of paper with your name that lets you skip the customs line and leave security (which I did get). If you're not lucky, you still get to skip most of the line and step to the front for talking with the nice customs people. I managed to get out of Customs in O'Hare in Chicago in 15 minutes coming back from Scotland, and would have made 5 had I known what I was doing.

I had been using the Delta card when Paula and I were flying to Houston, because Delta has a direct flight from LEX to Houston. However, with them pulling out of trips to ORD, I haven't used it enough the last year to justify the costs. I'm going to cut it off and fly United as exclusively as I can.

I don't get sponsored, and in general I don't do affiliate links, but I will admit that I'm going to give you a referral link. If you're interested in applying for the United Explorer Mileage card, and you use this link, I get free miles.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Talking about Travel -- Sorta about Music

In April or May of 2020, I decided that I wanted to do something I've never gotten to do, and really only had one chance left to do: I wanted to see Genesis live. They'd announced the "Last Domino?" tour, and I was taking the Last part rather serious. (Yes, it's the name of a song, but still....) At the time, they had only announced tour dates in the British Isles (England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland). Ireland was tempting, but the tour date in Glasgow called out to me.

I put together the trip for the original date, with an incredible plane ticket price from IcelandAir. Then Genesis had to reschedule, and a few weeks later, IcelandAir cancelled my ticket. At least this let me reschedule my entire trip for the new time. I was going to end up in New York City for a day for Clannad (that's now rescheduled to 2022, but that's a different story), Reykavik for two days, and then Glasgow for 7. Everything seems set.

Fast forward to September 2021. The concert's still on, and I've seen footage of the crew practicing for the gig; they sound good. Then 9/1/2021, IcelandAir cancels my ticket, and all their flights to Glasgow for the forseeable future. If I knew then what I know now, I would have flown into Manchester or London, and then caught a train to Glasgow. Instead, I ask for a refund, and schedule a United flight to Glasgow. (This will come up again.)

United has several options to make the trip, but the two easiest is a 23 hour layover in Dublin and a 16ish hour layover in Frankfurt. Germany has never held any interest to me, so a day in Dublin was on. However, I'd have hours in Dublin with no hotel, as I would with Glasgow (theoretically), and lots of walking both places. This drove me to decide I was going to travel with one carry-on side backpack only, so I could use it as a day pack too. (I cheated here, but back to that in a post or two.) This drove a lot of choices about weight, what to take, etc. I also decided to go with a hostel in both cities; Dublin was an 8 person room, Glasgow a private room. I was hoping that I could meet people that way.

In case you didn't see my pictures, go see them on iCloud. I am not Rick Steves, and I have little to add to the beauty of the places themselves. Instead, I want to make a few comments about the equipment I used and the choices I made, what went right and what I'd do differently.

Stick around for the tour.