My 3 Essentials for the US Road Trip


My Thrifty Rental

I’m going to go into more detail continuing from my previous US road trip blogs, but I want to start with the 3 items that were critical to the trip. Actually it should be 4 because the first thing is you can’t do a road trip without a vehicle. I booked an SUV with Thrifty Car Rentals, online. I have to admit some trepidation with this because they were less than half of the price I had been quoted by a number of New Zealand travel agents. I needn’t have worried. These guys were super professional from start to finish and I highly recommend you use them. Even with a queue we were done with the paperwork in about 15 minutes. We were then told to take our pick from a variety of Fords and Jeeps. We chose the Ford Explorer in the picture because it had tinted windows to hide prying eyes from the fact that we had all our luggage on board much of the time.

So back to my list:

  1. Car Navigation. I downloaded USA maps on to my TomTom GO LIVE 820 before we left. For a long trip the cost of renting car nav is probably more than buying one. I didn’t realise I could have also downloaded live services, which would have been awesome and solved some of the problems I had along the way, but nevertheless, our trip would not have been possible without TomTom. One lesson I learned in setting it up was that the file was way too big to go on the device, but when I put a SD Card in the slot it installed so easily I was worried that I had done something wrong. I hadn’t, it just worked. Grateful thanks to TomTom. It guided me to all the places I needed to go (I changed the voice to American, Kiwi and Australian didn’t really cut it with names like Lake Ponchtrain)
  2. My iPhone. I will go into detail in upcoming blogs about all the apps I used on my iPhone and why, largely because there were no single apps that could tell me what I needed to know about attractions, accomodation, food etc. This is great for the development community, but if I was’t a geek, we would have missed out on so much and probably have been dissapointed with our ability to meet our bucket list expectations. Not only the apps, but also the ability to stay in contact with family at home, using a combination of voice and data apps including Facetime, Skype and Voxer.
  3. A USA SIM Card. We spent about 2 hours in New Orleans getting a local SIM Card. Thanks are required to the team at Keep N Touch on Canal Street who were awesome. Our first trek into town was to Riverwalk Mall, thinking it should be easy to get a SIM card but the two mobile shops there could help us, but they only sold mobiles and accessories. Someone in the mall told us to go up Canal and there would a store there which could help us and they were right. The whole team from the store at Keep N Touch rallied around us for a $50 prepay card from H2O for my iPhone. First they had to take a micro SIM out of one of their phones to see if my phone was locked, then set up an account for me, then help me get it working. $50 got me unlimited calls throughout the USA, unlimited text messaging throughout the USA and 2GB of data! It worked pretty much flawlessly everywhere we went, while my wife’s Vodafone mobile had coverage less than half of the time.

I’m going to write a lot more about mobile and location based apps in upcoming blogs, but basically these were the essential elements without which we would not have enjoyed our trip half as much and you would do well to do the same as we did. The other item I will mention is that we have a service on our Orcon telephone and Internet account (I haven’t had a good run with them, but this one feature was great) giving us free calls to the USA for up to an hour at a time including US mobiles. Once we had the SIM set up, our children were able to call us on mobile, within the constraints of the time zones and we used it a lot.

Planning a Road Trip


Yesterday I wrote a blog called Location Based Lessons from FIT USA Road Trip and I am going to write a series of blogs about this experience.

At first it wasn’t going to be a road trip. As a songwriter I wanted to go to Memphis and Tennessee. I also wanted to go to places that neither I nor my wife had been, so all our experiences would be mutually new.

I would have loved to go to the Country Music Awards in Nashville, but we were too late to get tickets and accommodation in and around Nashville was up about 400% during the festival week. I googled tours for the Tennessee area and the awards and came up with pretty much nothing. There was a tour from Australia, but I really didn’t want to spend a couple of weeks with Aussies. It turned out there was a NZ tour going, I actually met them randomly in Chattanooga including getting a hug from the fantastic fiddler Marian Burns, who had so much fun playing that she had lost her voice. It was odd being in a country where people think NZ is either in Australia or somewhere below Wyoming, one woman said NZ is fabulous, they have some amazing homes in the Balkans, but I digress and she was from Alabama:)

So I contacted a few travel agents in Auckland. I visited a few and asked for brochures for the USA. No one had anything other than cruises. I then went on websites and phoned a few, saying I would like a rental car and to basically do a 3 week driving tour, focussing on Tennessee and Mississippi, based around music and history. What could they do for me. I quickly found out that they had no experience in the USA and the options they came up with made very little sense and were hugely expensive. They were not particularly helpful and their ideas ranged from fly to Chicago and drop the car back in Kansas to why don’t you do a tour of Canada. Their quotes for flights and rental cars were way above retail. They didn’t tell me about interstate drop off fees and I ended up doing half the work for them and still found them wanting.

So off to the net and DIY from scratch. The first thing I did was find the Tennessee Tourist Development Department who kindly posted me a tour book and map of the State. This was hugely helpful. I spent a lot of time reading, using Post It Tags and looking on Google Maps. I searched some car rental sites and found that Thrifty had the best deals by far and I managed to get a Ford Escape SUV for under half of the best prices that NZ travel agents offered me.

The next step was, while I wanted to be a FIT traveller, I needed somewhere to crash on the first night in New Orleans as we were arriving around midnight. I installed the Booking.com application which was recommended to me and booked an airport hotel, The Days Inn, for the first night, a couple of weeks in advance. I didn’t want to pick up a rental car in a city and start driving on the wrong side of the road at midnight after about 30 hours of travel and little sleep. The nice thing with Booking.com is that you can book and provide your credit card details, but in most cases if you cancel within a certain time, they don’t penalize you or take your money.

I also installed TripAdvisor on my iPhone and iPad which was both my lifeline and my nemesis. More on this in upcoming blogs. I relied heavily on the reviews on TripAdvisor and they never let me down. TripAdvisor was the best app I used on the whole trip, but it was incredibly time-consuming. It told me that The Days Inn was closest to the airport, had a free shuttle to the airport and that many rooms had noisy air conditioning. I figured we were going to be so tired it wouldn’t matter and I was right.

TripAdvisor is an excellent location based services application for not only acccomodation, but also places to eat and things to do. Of all the apps I used, this was the best, but it still left me wanting. This was a great lesson for me as a location based services and mobile data evangelist, eating the dog food so to speak. As I mentioned in the previous blog, I have learned so much on this trip and the big lesson is that if you are not a geek, then you have a massive learning curve with mobile data location based apps as available today. If you are a developer, particularly down under, you have brilliant opportunities to develop new applications that are more user friendly, and I can help.

mPass iPhone App

I then started planning for the next 2 nights in Louisiana, which I will discuss in my next blog. I will mention that we placed a bid on MyAirNZ for a Skycouch as this was my wife’s longest flight to date (Auckland to Los Angeles) and we had 2 more flights straight after that to get to New Orleans. We were told that we could bid for upgrades using airpoints and considered that as an option but looking at the Premier Economy that looked really impressive (and obviously felt so, looking at the big grin of a retired senior politician beaming at me from one of them on the return flight to NZ) they didn’t allow you to lie down, or get anywhere remotely like that. If there are two of you and you are happy to lie down in spoon position, I’d go with the cheaper Skycouch option and note that if they are not all sold, they get cheaper the closer you get to the flight, although there is a risk that if you wait too long you miss out.

I also installed Air NZ mPass on my iPhone which I also strongly recommend you add to your smartphone. It was quite helpful at times, which I will also explain later, at least when it comes to Air NZ flights, but not very helpful for code shares where it pretty much failed.

In my next blog I will discuss my next two days and how the American tourist and hospitality industry is getting really well-connected when it comes to mobile apps, social media and web sites, but there are major disconnects between having the apps and doing something with them. They appear to be ahead of New Zealand when it comes to business prescence on apps and websites, which is something NZ travel and tourism businesses need to address, because inbound tourists are going to have expectations I don’t believe we are meeting. A large percentage of those tourists will have smartphones and expect more. On the other hand, whilst everything looks wonderful, many properties pay lip service to social and location based media after they have invested in the technology and completed the app sign off. This is a similar attitude that many properties have to their web sites. Build and forget.

Want to know what happens next? Subscribe to this blog and wait for the next one which won’t be far behind.

What happens when the water rises in Auckland


After writing my blog on New Orleans yesterday, I reflected on our own position. I live on Auckland’s North Shore and when I drive the motorway to the Auckland Harbour Bridge and there is a king tide, the water almost laps onto the verge of the motorway. If the sea rises a metre, the water would frequently run accross the motorway itself. If that rise becomes permanent, Auckland, we have a problem.

Auckland is a problem to me because I live there, but the same applies to areas such as the main entrance into Wellington where a whole stretch of road runs along a coast which frequently has heavy seas. Only recently State Highway One was closed because of waves crashing on the shore near Paekakariki in one of the storms which have now become commonplace in New Zealand.

New Zealand is an island nation, surrounded by sea. Much of it is well above sea level, but many areas are not that high at all. In fact, with our passion for the sea, a large percentage of our population lives close to the sea.

We watch with interest as the Pacific Island nations start to consider the possibility of having to leave their ancestral homes. We have even started planning to take on refugees from the Islands when some of them are forced to evacuate, most likely forever, but I see very little evidence of preparations for the seemingly inevitable, when the sea encroaches on our roads and homes. How is it that we seem to have so little forsight? What are the government, Transit and the councils doing to make sure that we are able to continue life as usual when the ice shelfs drop and the polar ice is gone?

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Will New Orleans be the first major city to be abandoned because of Global Warming?


Climate change is occuring at a faster pace than anyone anticipated and the evacuation of New Orleans for the 2nd time as a consequence of Cyclone Gustav could portend the first city that is changed or even abandoned as a consequence of global warming.

We have known for some time that some of the Pacific Atolls could end up under water (what about parts of Hawai), but I don’t think anyone predicted that they would be telling 2 million people to leave their homes again. Many of these won’t go back to try to establish their lives yet again and if they hadn’t lost many of their valuable posessions, especially the heirlooms, family photos and other things that can’t be replaced by insurance, you could understand why they would not want to go back, even if they have their roots there.

What happens when you have a city that noone wants to live in? When the insurance companies no longer want to cover property in the area, homes or contents.

We have known for a few years that some of the Pacific Islands and atolls could disappear as the sea level rises, but we didn’t anticipate something this bad so soon especially on the US Mainland.

Climate change is happening fast and in my humble opinion, now is a good time to start thinking about where you live and whether your home is at risk. I don’t think the real estate values in New Orleans will hold in future. I suspect that if you find a house you want and are prepared to put a roof on it, or clean the mud, silt and top soil off the carpet, that you can have it.

So now have a think about your own home. Is it safe from weather extremes? If the sea rises a couple of metres, will you still be above the water level? Will you be able to get supplies, fresh water and food? What about electricity or gas? All the things you take for granted.

In New Zealand there have been lots of stories about what to do in an emergancy, the yellow pages have guides as to what to stock up on, but if we took a poll today and asked how many households in the cities could last a week or more without the utilities, it would be very few.

What about all those people who have bought nice waterfront properties. Even by normal extremes some of them have had water on their doorstep. I know because in a couple of storms I wave skied into their backyards. So what will happen to the property values of waterfront homes? Would you buy one right now?

The USA has many areas that are prone to severe weather conditions. In fact if they are everywhere. The likelihood is that if they are bad now, they will become significantly worse over the next few years. Something to think about if you are moving to another town or state. Other parts of the world are feeling it too. In New Zealand we are having floods on top of floods and now roads are getting buried under slips and landslides are forcing people to evacuate their houses. Africa and Australia are experienceing drought while India and parts of Europe get flooded. The European government is trying to shore up plans to help water regugees.

Through all of this, unless you are in an emergency zone, or supporting refugees, chances are that you have been thinking, I’m glad I don’t live there, or this will never happen to me. Think again, very soon.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)