Technology

Newly designed worldofjames.com

So I’ve spent the last week or so re-designing worldofjames.com and moving it from a wordpress.com hosted blog to a self-hosted one (wordpress.org).

You may notice some not-so-subtle changes in the design in that the home page has now changed to a showcase of some of my latest published work rather than a blog and the blog has moved, in newspaper parlance, to the back of the book.

The simple reason for this is that since the arrival of our new twins in October last year and with other work commitments abounding, I’ve hardly had chance to blog on the old site, meaning almost eight months had passed since there was last an update – shameful.

The change now takes the pressure off having to come up with something interesting to blog continuously, while allowing me to retain a brand presence on the web.

I hope you enjoy what you see – hopefully, I’ll be able to grow the site a bit more with the added options that self-hosting the blog gives me. Check out the new homepage at worldofjames.com

Let me know if you have any thoughts and/or suggestions.

Cheers

James

 

At least we'll be safe in Yemen

Beach on Socotra Island, Yemen

If you’ve been put off holidaying in traditional hotspots like Thailand, Greece, Turkey and Israel this summer by varying bouts of civil unrest, perhaps you are looking for somewhere new.

How about Yemen, tucked at the bottom of the Arabian peninsula? There’s tonnes of history, it’s hot, there’s sand (lots of it) plus the Arabian Sea in which to cool off. They’re also taking the safety of tourists very seriously according to a release from the ministry of tourism that brags of 125 new high tech tourist vehicles that have been acquired.

Apparently, “These vehicles, which have been distributed around the country, have been fitted with tracking systems which allow personnel from a remote location to monitor the car’s movements and location. In the advent of a kidnapping, drivers of the vehicle can simply press a button which will notify the monitoring centre of the event, at which point they will take over control of the vehicle’s movements or disable it altogether.”

And if that doesn’t make you feel safe nothing will..

Seriously, there’s a host of tour ops now offering packages, if you do fancy a trip and to find out more, try the following

Live Travel
Nomadic Thoughts
Pioneer Expeditions
Silk Road and Beyond
Steppes Travel
Undiscovered Destinations
Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel

If the iPad is going to revolutionise travel, it needs some travel apps

On Friday morning, I did something I have never considered doing before and went and queued outside a shop… To buy a new iPad – my first foray into early adoption!

I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do it, except for some reason it feels like a groundbreaking device and I felt I wanted to be one of the first to get my hands on one. Plus, it seemed a great piece of kit to take with me when travelling – I can access email, write stories, store pics, surf the net… All sorts of stuff that will help me work contained in something smaller than a hardback and much lighter.

That it can also carry 1000s of books, films and music to consume on the go adds to the appeal of course.

Since I got home on Friday night, it’s been virtually grafted to my hand as I try things out and play around. Not only is it a lovely piece of kit, but it’s also incredibly intuitive to use. In fact, I’m typing this post on it right now.

One of the things I was keen to try were the various travel apps – applications, or bits of software, that help you perform specific tasks – and I was surprised and disappointed to find a lack of them.

While I can find apps to help me find a new house or suggest dinner dishes based on what I have in the fridge, I can’t find anything to help me book a holiday…. Seems like holiday companies are missing a trick to me.

Most of the apps available are mapping ones which seem a little silly as the iPad comes equipped with Google Maps anyway. Why do I need to pay £1.79 for a walking map of Seattle when I have a gadget that let’s me see exactly where I am on a map and also zoom in to street level?

The others I’ve tried so far are enhancements on either existing services or more advanced iPhone apps.

Currency Covertor XE.com has an app that does an auto conversion for you when you enter an amount and Free Translator will allow you to enter phrases and have them output in the local lingo. I’ve tried it with Greek (a language I speak) and it works surprisingly well.

Another is The Times app. While not strictly a travel one, never again will I have to sit in a hotel breakfast room reading a local English language paper if I want news from Blighty. Every morning, a new copy of the paper downloads to my iPad for an average cost of about 40p a day. One thing the iPad, it seems, could do is preserve our status as newspaper journalists!

It’s a shame there’s not more out there really, as the possibilities are endless for the travel world – whoever gets in first will make a killing.

One area that is making full use of the iPad in travel is luxury hotels that are using them to provide services for their guests. The Luxury Travel Bible has a great article on which hotels are doing what here

http://www.luxurytravelbible.com/Product.asp?active_page_id=115

Wizarding World of Harry Potter to open today – first pics

In a few hours time, Virgin Holidays customers will be the first people into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventures in Orlando – the rest of the not-so-wizarding world gets in from June 18.
Lookswise, the new park is pretty spectacular – see some of the pics below – but sizewise, it could see some people queueing for a quite a while to get into star attractions like Olivander’s Wand Shop where, through some cute acting and clever animatronics, your wand may choose you (before you then pay $25 for it).
Some people are bound to be disappointed by the signature ride Harry Potter & The Forbidden Journey, not only will some larger people be unable to ride it, there is a form of ritual humiliation for them outside. They have to sit in a tester ride seat in full public view: get a green light and you are good to go, get a red one and you’re off…
The snow-capped houses and shops of Hogsmeade village
Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts Express
Hogwarts Castle home of the signature ride - unlucky if you're overweight
Souvenir wand, it picks you for $25

No more green waiver forms?

So America’s Department of Homeland Security (also know as ‘we scare you witless when we come on holiday’) has finally decided to scrap the need for visitors from Visa Waiver countries to fill in the green I94W form on arrival.

Frequent visitors to the US will know that a supposed paperless system, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization that last for two years,  was brought in last year to pre-approve entries. Despite the new system being operational for more than 18 months though, people still had to fill in the old paper forms, making entering the US a bigger headache than ever.

The DHS has now said the green forms are going, ‘to be phased out by the end of the summer’. For this, read ‘it will be more likely winter’…

On top of the Esta/green form/being treated like a criminal debacle on entry, we are soon to be charged a new $10 entry tax in the USA. The tax is being introduced to fund the country’s new marketing board – that’s right , we will pay to go on holiday so America can promote itself as a holiday destination!

Sometimes it makes me wonder why we bother visiting our ‘friends’ across the Atlantic – it’s really not like they welcome us with open arms at the border.

Redesigning the boarding pass

American designer and frequent flyer Tyler N Thompson was on a flight last year and took to dissecting his boarding pass. One of the problems he saw, and I tend to agree, is that much of the information on a boarding pass not only looks unattractive but is also hopeless for highlighting stand out information you need to know before flying.

He decided to have a pop at redesigning the pass, began to blog about it and loads more people have added their twopenneth. You can even download an Adobe Illustrator template if you want to have a go yourself.

See some of the – often brilliant – results at his website here passfail.squarespace.com

Five-star pet peeves

For this post, I’ve teamed up with travel writing colleague, Jill Starley-Grainger  to come up with our pet peeves about luxury hotels. Jill has come up with eight of the offerings, myself with two and the whole post has to be read over our two websites (well, we have to drive traffic you know).

Whether you’ve saved up for that luxury trip of a lifetime or you wouldn’t dream of bedding down in anything less than a five-star, these hotel hassles can make your holiday more irritating.

Breakfast (by JSG)
If I’m paying through the nose to stay in your hotel, the least you can do is provide breakfast at a reasonable price, if not free. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve been presented with the breakfast bill (the price is rarely displayed as it’s often a vast help-yourself buffet with additional hot-food menu), only to discover that the croissant and coffee I had have cost as much as the GDP of some small African countries. (PS If you’re going to charge through the nose for the buffet, at least allow a reasonably priced non-buffet menu for those with small appetites.)
Climate control (By JSG)
I now know to pack my flannel PJs if I’m going to a balmy tropical island, and my flimsiest nightdress if I’m going skiing. Just because it’s hot outside doesn’t mean I want it to feel like a freezer inside, and vice versa. What’s more, the air conditioning and heating controls often do not respond to any commands, other than on or off, and sometimes, not even that. Brrrr…
Villa / resort guide (by JSG)
How do I work the television? What are the channels? Where do I find the spare blankets? How do I turn off the fucking outside lights you’ve put on with my turn-down service and that shine through my window all night? How do I use that ridiculously expensive espresso machine in my room? Where is the shop that sells deodorant? How do I find the spa? Etc, etc. Just give me a map of the resort, a manual to the villa or room, and some idea of what’s on offer throughout, including all the restaurant and spa menus (with prices!).
Toiletries (By JSG)
Conditioner, people, conditioner! I know very few women who do not use conditioner regularly, if not every time they wash their hair, and a heck of a lot of men use it daily, too. But how many five-star hotels provide it? I can think of only two, and of those, only one provided good conditioner. And also, what’s with the crappy little plastic bottles? Big refillable ones with pumps to easily extract the product are far preferred. OK, some people want to take home their little plastic toiletries, but chances are, those of us in five-stars have a million of these throw-away two-use freebies already and would just prefer nice products in nice refillable bottles. For take-home, sell large versions in your shop!
Weight-sensitive mini bars (by WoJ)
Why is it that posh hotels cannot be satisfied with getting you to break the bank to stay there but seemingly have to find each and every way to screw as much cash out of you as possible? (See our entries on wifi and breakfast.) But of all the low-down, dirty tricks they can pull to squeeze that last cent out of you, the weight-sensitive mini bar – where you get charged when you lift the product up, even if you replace it in the fridge – has to be the worst.  Let’s say I’m prepared to pay the ludicrous price for the privilege of serving myself the smallest measure of spirit known to mankind (should I tip myself I wonder?), why can I not pick up a bottle, read the label and see if I fancy it or not without being charged? How does this system work any better than having the maid simply see if a bottle of booze has gone the next morning? Its only use is to annoy the hell out of guests. Way to go when trying to attract repeat visitors, hoteliers.

For our other five peeves, see Jill’s site:  http://uktraveleditor.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/top-10-five-star-hotel-pet-peeves

Follow Jill on Twitter:  www.twitter.com/UKtraveleditor

Launch of traverati.com

Travel writers Catherine Quinn, Kieran Meeke and myself have just launched a new editorial website, traverati.com.

I won’t go into too much detail here, but check the site out and let us know what you think www.traverati.com

The official party line:

New Launch: www.traverati.com featuring The 360 Traveller magazine

Showcasing the best of travel writing, blogging and fact files on the web, www.traverati.com launches this week. The site includes The Traverati blogging network with opinion from leading travel writers and regular guest slots.