When we travelled around the world from 1992 to 1994, we were pretty much ‘out of contact’ by today’s standards – we would write home weekly, but the letters would take up to 2 weeks to arrive. And for people to write to us, we had to provide a post restante address in a city we were heading for in 4-6 weeks (so that there was enough time for the letter to get home, and the letter to us to get there). Compounded with that was the fact that international telephone calls were pretty expensive then, so we only phoned home twice in the two years.
This time, things had to be different, especially because we’re travelling with children, and there are more people who want to know what we’re up to, and how things are going (including grandparents, relatives, and school friends of Charlotte’s). This is so much easier, with the Internet seemingly available everywhere, it means that we can use email to keep in touch, and anything we send home arrives the same day (time zones allowing!). We decided to go one step further, and set up this website to keep everybody in touch too, because that way we can share our photographs, a more detailed view of our travels and even some videos. This means a little bit more work than just sending emails, but still no more time is involved than keeping our own diaries (last time we could easily spend an hour a day writing our diaries, so that’s now been displaced by this website!). We’re using Blogger to maintain the diary, which means that we can sit down at any Internet terminal in the world and add a diary entry. To put the photo’s on the diary takes a bit more work – more on that later. We’re also travelling with a Tablet PC, which is used for Charlotte’s educational software, to store our digital pictures, to store our CD collection, video editing, and to publish other bits of our website (like the videos and photo albums).
An aside to explain the technology
In our rucksack you’ll find the following bits of technology:
- An RM Tablet PC, which contains a 20GB hard disk, a port to plug the camera memory card into, a firewire port to plug the video camera into, a wired and wireless network connection to hook up to the internet to in cyber cafes, and finally a modem to hook up to the internet using a phone (although I’ve never used that!). There’s also an Archos external CD Writer, so that we can write photo CDs to send home.
- A Canon Ixus 400 digital camera, with 2 256MB Compact Flash memory cards. Each of these cards will store about 220 pictures, and we copy them across to the Tablet PC so there’s a second copy, should anything happen to the camera.
- A Sony IP-9 digital video camera, with a big pile of tapes!
- A Beatman Flash MP3 player, to play the music library stored on the Tablet PC (we put our main CDs onto the Tablet before we left England – but we’ve already discovered we haven’t got enough stored!).
- A 128MB USB Memory key, which acts just like a disk drive, and plugs into the USB port of any reasonably modern computer – it means that I can transfer files from my PC to one in an Internet cafe.
- A battery charger, to recharge the batteries for the MP3 player and the torches.
- Lots of power transformers – one for the digital camera (very light!), one for the Tablet PC and one for the video camera (the bulkiest one). Fortunately the CD drive doesn’t need one (which is why I chose the Archos one).
Creating the website
The basic part of the website is created on the Tablet PC using Dreamweaver (the design, the menus at the top, and the pages which don’t contain diaries – like this one), and then uploaded to our Internet site. The diary entries are written on the Tablet PC and then copied onto the diary by logging into the Blogger website, and then just doing a cut and paste (if I’m in an Internet cafe where I can’t connect my Tablet, then I put the files onto a CD or the USB memory stick, and use that in one of the cafe’s PCs). The photos are copied off the digital camera onto the Tablet PC, and then I change the size of them. The original photo’s are 1-2MB of data, but to put them on the website I produce two smaller ones – a 200 x 150 pixel thumbnail which is what you see in the diary, which is about 4Kb size, and an 800 x 600 pixel big one, which is what you see if you click on one of the thumbnails. This takes a few seconds using a piece of software downloaded from the Microsoft website (search their downloads for ‘picture resizer’). The Blogger website gives me a simple screen where I can type (or cut ‘n paste) new diary entries, as well as edit anything I’ve already created. This is very easy to do, and if I’ve already written the diary entry it takes me 5 minutes to add it to the website with photos. It takes much, much longer to decide what to write and to try and make it slightly interesting!
Connecting to the Internet
To actually do the updating, I need to connect to the Internet somehow. This has proved to be pretty easy, but different in each country!
Canada – all of the hostels had internet machines, which were coin-operated kiosks, which meant that its easy to surf the web or read our email. However, if we wanted to do anything a bit more advanced, like upload photos for the diary, then we had to visit an Internet cafe (the hostel machines tended to be locked in a box, to stop you using the CD drive etc). In the Internet cafes, some of them allowed us to hook up our Tablet (which is much better, because email gets downloaded onto it, for us to read whenever we want outside of the cafe), and in the rest we could upload our pictures from a CD or the memory key. There were a few places we could use our wireless internet in the Tablet, so that we could sit in a coffee shop, drinking coffee, and wirelessly accessing the web and our email (you had to register by credit card, and pay about £2 an hour to do this).
USA – there were very few Internet cafes in the States, and although some hostels provided connections, there are very few hostels! However, we were lucky, because wireless has just taken off there, so every single StarBucks had a wireless network connection. And California has more Starbucks than McDonalds. Some of the motels also had wireless connections too, so we could sometimes sit in our room sending emails. In some cities, like San Fransisco, quite a few homes had wireless networks setup, and were happy to share their Internet connections (standing in the car park our our motel, we had 3 different connections available!). The only place we could have come unstuck was in Anaheim (outside the gates of Disneyland), where there were no StarBucks, no houses (so no free Internet connections), no Internet cafes, and our motel didn’t have any Internet access. But fortunately the Ramada just down the road did, so I could sit in the cafe opposite the Ramada and use their connection!
Fiji – Out on the islands there was no electricity, so forget Internet! On the mainland there were a number of Internet cafes (deluxe, air-conditioned places with modern computers and high-speed Internet lines) which made it easy.
Australia – there are plenty of Internet stations in cafes and other shops, and many of the hostels have Internet terminals. However wireless doesn’t seem to exist in Oz outside of Sydney and Brisbane, and most of the Internet cafes are very suspicious of letting you connect your own computers, so we’re mostly just updating via the a computer in a cyber cafe, and then connecting our own PC once a week or so (to download and store the emails).
Who’s reading this website?
This is a difficult to answer question, as we don’t know. We get some very basic information, on the numbers of ‘hits’ on the website homepage (about 50 a day), and we also learn if they click to our website from another one (if that’s from a search enginge then we also learn what they searched for). And we get email from people who read the site. From all of that, we guess: •There are some people, who know us, who religiously read the website daily or every couple of days, either in the office or at home.
- There are others who read the website perhaps every week or two weeks, just to see what we’ve done.
- There are some people who search for our website on the Internet, and find it (people have searched on ‘Fleming Family travel’, ‘Ray Fleming’, ‘Charlotte Fleming’ etc)
- There are some poor souls who’ve searched for something unconnected to our website, but get sent here by a search enginge because we’ve mentioned what they are searching for. Everything from ‘campervan designs’, through ‘Giants Causeway’, to ‘Nacula photographs’ and ‘Canada hostels’. To those people, I’d better apologise, as they’ll normally be a bit disappointed!
- And finally, we’ve discovered that some people find our website because they are searching the Internet for their own name, and we’ve mentioned them. Fortunately because search enginges only update every couple of weeks, and our website changes every couple of days, the references tend to have moved by the time they come looking!