iPod Touch: a Backpacker’s Best Friend

If I had an addiction, it would be travel. Over the last 5 years, I've been to more than 20 countries.

MunnarMost recently, I spent three months backpacking in Nepal and India. One of the most challenging parts of backpacking is being able to stay in touch with friends and family back home. When the only possessions you can take with you are those that you can carry on your back, it can be hard to fit everything in. Modern conveniences such as computers don’t usually make it in my bag.

Tea plantations in themountains of Munnar, India

Wi-Fi Availability sign painted on rockOn my latest trip, I decided to take an iPod touch along with me, and I loved it! Now, I can’t imagine traveling without it. I brought it thinking I could listen to music and watch videos on the long bus rides and flights, but by the end of the first week, I never went out without it. In addition to my entertainment center, it was my computer, travel agent, phone, calculator, contact book, note pad, and map all rolled into one. It’s surprising how ubiquitous wireless is even in developing countries. In almost any village in India, you can find a café with wireless and drink a chai while chatting on the phone. Along the way, my iPod touch came in handy in ways I would have never expected.

Hand-painted sign outside remote Nepali village advertises Wi-Fi availability.

New Delhi, India

I flew into Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Stepping off the plane in India was one of the most memorable parts of the whole trip. Everything in India is different; I might as well have flown to Mars. Cows sleep in the street, people sleep on the side walk, and the air is pungent with a mixture of curry and "petrol."

KayakMy plan was to spend the first night in India in a “luxury” hotel to recover from jetlag and culture shock and then take a train to the Taj Mahal. But I decided that an extra day of luxury would do me good and went to the reception desk to extend our hotel reservation. Everything is a negotiation in India, and upon seeing my bleary western face, the hotel owner instantly doubled his rate. Fortunately, there was Wi-Fi in the lobby. I pulled out my iPod touch, opened Kayak Flight, Hotel Search (free, app2.me/285) and showed the manager how much I could book the hotel for online. Not wanting give up the upper hand in the negotiation, he shrugged and said, "So, book it." So I sat in the hotel lobby, used my iPod touch to reserve another night at the hotel and booked the hotel for almost half of what he wanted to charge me. Kayak lets you book flights and rental cars as well as hotels. It's great because you're booking from a reputable source, and you don’t have to pass your credit card to someone you don't know.

I used Kayak Flight, Hotel Search to book flights and hotels.

Indian Airports

One of the many idiosyncrasies of traveling in that part of the world is that security guards require itineraries just to enter the airport. This creates a kind of catch 22 since you generally receive your itinerary when you check in—inside the airport! I managed to get around this problem by using TripDeck to show the guard my itinerary on my iPod touch. TripDeck (free, app2.me/2713) easily syncs with your itineraries and lets you view them offline. If you have an Internet connection, it also lets you check on your flight status and even get a map of where you land.

Bouddha, Nepal

Sunset at Boudhanath StupaBoudhanath Stupa in Nepal is one of the few places in the world where Tibetan Buddhism is accessible to the general public. A "stupa" is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics and is used as a place of worship. Located in a Tibetan refugee community just east of Kathmandu, Boudhanath is an important hub for the community and one of the most sacred spots in Nepal. In the evening, local villagers and Buddhist monks come to Boudhanath to circumambulate the enormous structure, to spin the 108 prayer wheels, and to socialize.

Sunset at Boudhanath Stupa

That evening, I sat at a small café overlooking Boudhanath, sipping on yak butter tea and watching the sun set behind the stupa. As the sunlight faded, the stupa was illuminated by thousands of ghee (oil) lamps from the surrounding monasteries. Monks were playing their Tibetan horns from a rooftop behind me. I took out my iPod touch, logged on to Wi-Fi and updated my Facebook status:

"Having dinner in Bouddha (at Saturday Cafe). I LOVE Bouddha! The stupa looks so majestic against the setting sun. The monks are playing horns, the people are still circumambulating the stupa. How to describe Boudhanath if you've never been here?"

New frontiers with the new iPod touch

These are just a few of many ways I used my iPod touch on my trip. Backpacking is always an adventure, but traveling with my iPod made life a little easier and made me a little more prepared for the speed bumps along the way. The new iPod touch has some exciting possibilities for backpackers. The built-in camera lets you take HD photos and videos so you don’t even need to carry a camera with you. And FaceTime, coupled with the new front-facing camera, takes staying in touch to a whole new level. Finally, the retina display makes watching movies and playing games even more enjoyable.

Free Apps for Backpackers 
(because traveling is expensive enough)

AnnapurnaIn addition to the apps mention earlier in the article, I found the following apps useful in my travels:

Facebook (free, app2.me/260) let me stay in touch with old friends and add new ones. If you have the new iPod touch, you can also upload photos.

Skype (free, app2.me/2378) turns your iPod touch into a phone wherever a Wi-Fi connection is available. It's an amazing feeling to be able to call home from a train station in India or café in Nepal.

Annapurna mountain range from Annapurna Circuit

Currency Converter (free, app2.me/2693) helps when you’re haggling with a shopkeeper over how many rupees that statue of Ganesh costs. It's user-friendly interface converts currencies fast, even offline.

Convert Any FREE (free, app2.me/2694): How far is 4 kilometers? (less than 2 miles). How hot is 40 degree Celsius? (hotter than you think). This app allows you to "speak metric.”"

IOU UOI (free, app2.me/3056) helps you keep track of who owes what to whom.

Lemonade Tycoon Free (free, app2.me/2750) and other games are essential for those long bus rides and flights.

The iTouch and a few apps make backpacking through India and Nepal easier and more fun
January-February 2011
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