A Geek Goes Caravanning in Spain

This is the story of how I ‘survived’, what devices I used and which apps I downloaded on my tour of Spain in my caravan

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This geek and his wife decided that as they were now retired, footloose and fancy free they should take up caravanning again. When we last went caravanning the internet wasn’t invented ;-0

Now for someone who is permanently connected to his devices and the internet how was he going to cope with a 5 week holiday in Spain?  Well this is a story of how I ‘survived’, what devices I used and which apps I downloaded.

Devices

First of all which devices (hardware) did I take with me:

  • Smartphone – Google Nexus 4 on Vodafone Eurotraveller tariff
  • Tablet – Google Nexus 7
  • Laptop – Samsung Q45
  • Radio – Pure One Classic (DAB & FM) Radio. Of course the DAB didn’t work in Spain but the aux input was great for playing music and internet radio from my smartphone.
  • Satellite TV – Took TV and satellite dish but didn’t use as Astra satellite footprint no longer covers Spain
  • Travel Router – Took Zoom travelling router but not needed as Vodafone ES was good enough
  • Activity Tracker – Fitbit Flex

Weather

One of the main areas of concern when camping or caravanning is what’s the weather going to be like. I found two services that helped enormously.

First was the Spanish weather service El Tempo Eltiempo.es This has superb temperature & precipitation maps and an Android app

Second was a seven day weather forecast for each campsite with a max and min temp graph on Eurocampings.co.uk . They have a mobile app (see below) which I did use but it doesn’t show the weather.

Money Management

How best to pay site fees? Besides cash and credit card I used the following:

  1.  Alan Rogers card to hold my electronic camping cheques (prepaid site fees)
  2. Moneycorp card a Visa Debit prepaid card with multiple wallets for different currencies. This was great especially for drawing cash in euros as there were no charges for drawing cash in local currency. The exchange rate is fixed at the rate when you load the card. You continually load card whilst away.
  3. My bank has an Android app so I could check my account balance frequently.
  4. Andromoney on my phone to keep track of & categorise my cash expenditure and used Microsoft Money on the laptop for card transactions.
  5. Vodafone has an android app which allowed me to see how much I was spending on mobile internet.

Site Finder/ Reviewer

Before going I checked out Caravan Club European Tours for possible sites enroute here is an example for 2014

The app I used the most was Archie’s Campings. It is a great list of Points Of Interest throughout Europe. It indicates if a site is an ACSI and/or Camping Cheque site, and you can filter by ACSI/Camping Cheque only sites. It also links to Google search for each site to find reviews of the site. You can add directions to the campsite using Google Maps or as in my case straight into my satnav Copilot.

Other directories of sites (with Android apps) I used are:

Google earth was great for viewing the local area and site and Street view for close up of area.

Journal, Record of Trip

For my own benefit I kept a daily log of our activities using Diaro on my phone/ tablet/ PC. This was wonderfully clean and simple to use.

I frequently check(ed)in at places we visited using Foursquare and of course all my photos taken with my Nexus 4 were geolocated.

I was also running Moves on my Nexus. This ran silently in the background keeping a tally of everywhere I had been and whether I was walking, in the car or other transport.

For security my family were able to track my every move, whether I was connected to the internet or not, using an app on my phone called GPS Tracking Pro. This provided real time location updates using GPS Technology.

Mobile Data & WiFi

I used a mixture of Vodafone mobile data and wifi. Mostly mobile data was switched off on my phone unless I needed it to check in somwhere (couldn’t resist most of the time).

Vodafone eurotraveller which cost £3 a day when I used mobile data up to my UK plan limits. In fact I soon used up my UK mobile data limit of 500Mb but was offered another 1Gbyte for £6 which I took. My Vodafone app kept me informed of how much I was spending

All the sites we stayed at had wifi. I used this a lot especially if it was free. However the speed could sometimes be lamentable and mostly they were not secure. I therefore use Virtual Private Network (VPN) app called Hotspot Shield . This I used successfully on my laptop, tablet and smartphone.

Maps, guides,

Getting from one campsite to the next was a doddle using a combination of Archies POI (see Site Finder section above) and my satnav CoPilot. I used Archies to find the campsite which then sent the location to CoPilot for me it to work out a route.

Of course Google maps was very helpful on PC, tablet and phone for planning but I found we were use the ViaMichelin maps a lot as they had a route planning option for caravans, good terrestial maps and tourist info on their maps.

I didn’t download any specific tourist guides for Spain although subsequently I found a number of apps that would have been very helpful. I stuck with TripAdvisor, Foursquare and Yelp which all had Android apps for local recommendations

A travellers wine guide to Spain

Language Learning

Travelling in Spain for 5 weeks was a good opportunity to learn Spanish. There are many, many language learning apps. What I wanted was a basic Spanish vocabulary, a phrase book particlularly if it spoke the spanish phrase, a dictionary and grammer guide. This is what I found most useful

Fitness & Health

Holidays are a good opportunity to improve ones fitness :-0 I am permanently attached to my Fitbit Flex which measures the distance and number of steps I travel and calories I burn in doing so.  It was quite easy on the the tourist trail to regularly do more than 10,000 steps per day without even thinking about it

I use my Fitbit in conjunction with MyFitnessPal which I use to record calories consumed and thus the balance of calories consumed less the calories burned.

For more details about my fitness devices and apps see my blog post ‘Quantifying Myself

Radio TV Podcasts Media News

Our main concern was getting the daily news and the weather (see above).

  • Radio: We could keep up to date with the BBC UK and World News via their android app and by using another app TuneIn Radio which I find easier than the BBC iPlayer for Radio.
  • Podcasts : Used BeyondPod to download my favourite podcasts when connected to WiFi and then play offline.
  • Music : used Amazon MP3 player for my music
  • Books : used Kindle App for books to read
  • News Feed : Used Feedly (an RSS reader) for mainly the latest tech/gadget news
  • TV : TV was always going to be difficult unless you wanted to watch local TV. However if the wifi signal was strong enough and you were running HotspotShield to disguise your location it was possible to use BBC iPlayer to stream or even download a programme. However there were very few sites that had good enough wifi or unchoked wifi to achieve this.

Finally 

I hope that has given you an idea of how to survive as a social media and gadget geek when caravanning.

If you want to see a log of the route we took, which campsites we stayed at and the places we visited then go to my log on Tripline

Quantifying Myself

I have taken the plunge into the world of the quantified self

So I have finally succumbed. I am now quantifying myself.

This is my current setup

My Quantified Self (1)

I decided to start with measuring my fitness, weight and blood pressure as I wanted to lose weight and my blood pressure is bit too high.

I bought a Fitbit One wireless activity tracker, an Omron MIT Elite Plus upper arm blood pressure monitor with download facility and I already had an unconnected set of Salter bathroom scales

The Fitbit tracker communicates wirelessly with a USB dongle on my PC and the Omron connects via a USB cable.  At the moment I have to manually enter my weight readings into Fitbit.com

I wanted all the data to end up in Microsoft’s HealthVault  along with my main health records. The Omron does this quite successfully via the HealthVault Connect software running on my PC. But the Fitbit tracker doesn’t yet talk to HealthVault. It does in the US but not yet in the UK (it is coming we are told). At the moment I have to manual enter my weight readings into Fitbit.com

To help with losing weight I needed to measure the calories I was consuming against the calories I was burning.  I chose MyFitnessPal to keep a record of the food I was consuming (and hence calories I was consuming) as it had a really excellent database of UK foods and would interoperate with Fitbit.com. Thus I could see the calories burned compared with the calories consumed in both Fitbit and MyFitnessPal. Fitbit does have this facility to record foods consumed but it is based on a US database of foods.

Could I have chosen better connected devices?

Well yes!  For a start I could have bought a Fitbit Aria bathroom scales and auto fed my weight to Fitbit.com over wifi.

An example of a more comprehensive connected set up would be the NFC enabled devices from A&D.  With an NFC enabled mobile phone you can just touch your device with your phone and transfer all the data to Microsoft HealthVault. A&D have NFC enabled Activity Monitor, Bathroom Scales and Blood pressure Monitor.

Microsoft have a good HealthVault Blog item ‘Making Self Monitoring Easier’ about this interconnected system.

Closing thought

Could I have done all this – lose weight, lower my blood pressure and get fitter without any of these devices? But of course – but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as much fun. There is nothing more motivating than seeing all those readouts.

Internet Radio

I have recently purchased a Revo Blik Radio Station http://www.revo.co.uk.  It’s DAB, FM and Internet Radio.  Also as it is Wifi it can also retrieve my music from my media server.  I needed one with a clock and alarm so I went for Blik but it is therefore mains driven otherwise I would have gone for the portable version the Pico. I can also play my mp3 player through it.  So all in all a very flexible bit of kit.

To me the appeal of internet radio is not so much the wealth of international radio stations which I can access but the ability to use ‘Listen Again’ services and podcasts.

To do this you need to be signed up with an internet radio service that your device can register to. Revo uses http://www.wifiradio-frontier.com With this sort of service you can gather your Favourite radio stations and store them under My Favourites in your own categories.  My Favourites is then reflected in the BliK menu using your categories & thus saving you from scrolling through hundreds of radio station. You can also subsrcibe to various Listen Again services and podcasts which also then appear in the Blik menu. 

I am also trying out the TVersity media server on my PC. This media server can aslo access internet radio, as well as audio and video.  The network media receiver I am using to stream media from my PC to my TV immediately recognised the TVersity as TVersity is a UPnP media server.  I haven’t yet got to grips with all that it can do with the internet.  My ideal device would be one that could give me access to the BBC iPlayer via my TV.

My real delight though would be to get hold of a UK Version of the Chumby http://www.chumby.com/ It is more than an internet radio and wifi media receiver. It looks like a cuddly toy, has a screen, you can download widgets  to view your news, pictures, weather… I want one!