• Staying Safe Online

    If you are a writer, photographer, traveler, or even like the idea of being one of those things, then you probably spend a lot of time online. We upload, we download, and we just look around. We plan our next trip and read about the trips of others. And when we do all that, there is a certain level of risk involved. When we are online while traveling, the risk goes up…a lot. The days where we only had to worry about computer viruses are long. Now we have phishing attacks, packet sniffers, keystroke loggers, government surveillance, data theft, worms and ransomware.

    To keep our lives and our devices relatively safe isn’t that hard, but it does take some thought and effort. I have had my credit card number stolen twice, each time while traveling overseas. I know it is not possible to guarantee our devices and our private information stay safe, but we can apply the 80-20 rule and do some simple things that will greatly improve our changes.

    Without making any changes to your devices or spending any money, there are 3 simple things you can do that will help.

    1. Never connect to a wi-fi that unless it requires a password. This does 2 things. First, it lets you know whose wi-fi you are connecting to. Just because the wi-fi identifies itself as belonging to your hotel, does not guarantee it belongs to them. Get the password from the hotel and then at least you know it is theirs. Second, if the wi-fi has a password you have some indication that they might be using encryption. Encryption makes it difficult for anyone to eavesdrop on your connection.
    2. Don’t open attachments from someone you don’t know. You have heard this before, but this is still one of the most common ways that devices become infected.
    3. Password protect all your devices. Yes, it is a headache to have to deal with a password every time you want to use your device, but that is the point. You want it to be a headache for someone else to do the same thing. Don’t make it easy for them.

    In addition to the 3 things you can do, there are 3 applications you should have on every device: antivirus/anti-malware, a password manager, and a VPN (virtual private network).

    Antivirus/anti-malware: This is the most basic level of protection and no device should ever be without it. There are many different antivirus applications, most of them very good, but I use Avast. It offers protection for all of your devices and there is a free option, but I typically get the Premium Security package.

    Purchase from Amazon

    Password manager: A password manager keeps track of all your passwords and when you visit a website it can fill in your username and password for you. You only have to remember one password to protect them all. The biggest advantage to using a password manager is that you can use very complex passwords and not have to use the same password for multiple sites. I have used Lastpass for many years and am very happy with it.

    VPN: Every time you connect to a website, either through wi-fi, on your mobile, or through a wired connection, you open yourself up to a variety of risks (including government surveillance). Furthermore, when you make that connection, the site on the other end knows exactly where you are. Using a VPN with strong encryption and that has servers all over the world will deal with both of those issue. I strongly suggest the one that I use…NordVPN. Here is a little trick I use when making airline reservations. I activate my NordVPN and connect to a Canadian VPN server. NordVPN makes this very easy. Then I connect to Expedia or another travel site. The site believes I am in Canada and quite often that reduces the price they present to me. NordVPN has servers all over the work.

  • Africa, how much luggage can I take?

    Anyone who has ever traveled with me knows my philosophy about gear is that you take as much as the conditions allow. If I am traveling entirely by car, I will fill up the car…no matter how big it is.  If I am traveling by foot, I will carry as much as possible, taking into consideration the terrain, the weather, the length of the trip, and what my body will tolerate. In this case, we are obviously traveling by plane and car. That means the plane part of the trip is the limiting factor. And not the wide-body jet to Africa, but the puddle jumpers we will be taking once we are there. I almost never put camera gear in checked bags, although I occasionally have done so (only in a Pelican case). If you aren’t familiar with Pelican cases, I suggest you check them out. They are the best.

    I don’t plan on checking any gear for Africa. I will most likely end up checking a small bag of clothes and such, but no gear. That means it all must fit in the bag/s allowed as carry-ons. In case you have not flown outside of the US lately, that means just 1…that’s right…just 1 carry-on bag. On many of the large airlines that bag may weigh a maximum of 7kg (That is 15.4 pounds for us Americans). The most weight you can reasonable expect in economy class, outside of the US, is 10kg (22lbs), but don’t count on it. Check with each airline you will be flying to be sure. British Airways still allows 1 bag and 1 handbag with a total weight of up to 12kg (18kg for business and 1st). 

    I will be flying: United, Ethiopian Air (trans-Atlantic and domestic in Ethiopia), and Fly540.

    Baggage Limits

    The published limits for United are not problem. They still allow 2 pieces (1 carry-on and 1 personal item) and don’t even mention a weight limit, although I am sure they have one. One trick here…in addition to the two bags, United allows an extra “diaper bag” and a jacket. As for the diaper bag, maybe you can rent a kid for the flight…it you think it is worth it. As for the jacket, see my tips about clothing below. Warning…there are separate rules for United Express.

    Ethiopian Air does not differentiate between their wide-body limits and their puddle jumper limits, but they really sock it to you. Their published limit for economy class is 1 bag with a maximum weight of 7kg. Ladies may carry on a small handbag or purse, but they are very explicit about how it might be used. It must be “appropriate to normal traveling dress and is not being used as a container for the transportation of articles, which would otherwise be regarded as baggage.” See my Clothing as Baggage section below…a necessity on Ethiopian. One additional thing that they allow for free…a small camera. One camera is going around my neck. Business class get 2 bags of 7kg each. Look for that solo business traveler to carry on a bag for you.

    Interestingly, Fly540, has no weight restriction on what they call “hand luggage”.   They do however, have a fairly small maximum size of 56 x 45 x 25cm. Each passenger gets one checked bag free, up to 20kg.

    Clothing as Baggage

    With the baggage fees and tight restrictions on carry on bags, the airlines are doing their best to convince us we should be looking at the bus as a possible alternative, but they know they have us by the short hairs. There are a couple of tricks. Buy and wear a vest with lots of pockets. Unless you look as if you are smuggling televisions, they will usually consider the vest a piece of clothing and not a bag. Cargo pants are a must. Yes, emptying out those pockets at security is a pain, but worth the effort for many reasons. Throw out the modern hatred of fanny packs and buy one. Wear it when you check in and at any time you might be required to weight your bags. Wear it in the bag to reduce visibility. Remember, generally it is not the job of airport security to weight your stuff, but I have seen it happen.

    Next post…Africa: how much camera gear? Stay tuned.

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