Interview with Techno-Vagabond Anil Polat aka Fox Nomad

Anil Polat, aka Fox Nomad, is one of the best known of a special breed of technomad Vagobond who travels perpetually with tech gear. His very popular blog is one of my favorites and tends to focus on not only getting more out of your travels, but also getting more out of your technology while you are on the road.  If you have questions about technology (like how to bypass a YouTube ban or use proxy servers in heavily censored countries) Anil is the guy you should turn to.

Vagobond: Where are you from? What’s your family background?

Anil: I’m from Turkey but spent much of my childhood moving back and forth between the US and Turkey with my journalist parents.

Vagobond: What got you into travel? What got you into technology? How did you come to mix the two so well?

Anil: I guess the travel comes from my parents! Aside from the physical movement, we were always talking about world events, politics, and it gave me a global perspective. Travel indulges my curiosity about humanity and what makes us ultimately human. As for technology, I’ve always been a nerd and playing with computers, and programming is easy to do growing up when you don’t have too many friends to play with 🙂 I was also very fortunate to have an uncle who helped guide my natural curiosity toward technology.

And finally, I can’t discount my love of Star Trek as a kid and now. If I could have a dream job it would be as science officer on a star ship. Being a hacker and full-time traveler are the closest I can get for now…but I’m still holding out hope 😉

Vagobond: Do you make your living strictly from travel? The web?

Anil: Yes and yes. I make a living by selling advertising on my websites and my ebooks primarily but don’t limit myself.

Vagobond: What’s the gadget you won’t travel without? What’s a gadget you’d like to try out?

Anil: I travel with everything I own, which for me is a lot of gadgets 🙂 The next major gadget I’ll buy is likely the new iPad, whenever it comes out to replace the second backup laptop (Dell Mini 10v) I carry now.

Vagobond: What’s your personal travel philosophy?

Anil: Hmmm, I’m not sure I have one. I suppose keep an open mind and be adaptable would be my general guidelines.

Vagobond: How many countries have you visited? Any countries you have no desire to visit?

Anil: I’ve visited almost 50 countries now and do want to see them all. In the past some of the ones I’ve been least interested in have turned out to be the most memorable so I’ve learned not to make travel conclusions without testing my hypothesizes.

Vagobond: What are your top 3 cities in the world? Since you are in the US, which city strikes you as the best there?

Anil: My favorite 3 begins with Istanbul, which is where I’d like to end up when this phase of my travels is over. After that I’ve got many favorites, it’s hard to choose but some recent ones have been Granada, Spain and Cairo, Egypt. My favorite city in the US is Seattle.

Vagobond: What’s your scariest travel moment?

Anil: I’ve had tense moments but not scary that I can remember. (But my memory is terrible.)

Vagobond: What’s your funniest travel moment?

Anil: One that immediately comes to mind is from my trip to Iraq with Wandering Earl ( While making our way through a heavily guarded check point we came across an American soldier who was bewildered that anyone would want to travel there. His exact words were in heavy Texas accent, “Holy sh*t man, what the hell are you doing here!?”

Vagobond: What’s your most astounding adventure?

Anil: Again, it’s hard to pick just one although Iraq is certainly one of them.

Vagobond: What’s your dream destination/vacation/trip?

Anil: I’m so incredibly fortunate to have traveled as much as I have. I don’t feel like I deserve to answer this question honestly, I have really been incredibly lucky, I can’t ask for more.

Vagobond: Are you a traveler or a tourist or something else? What’s the difference if there is one.

Anil: I don’t see the difference. I’m just a guy who travels and writes about it for a living. Traveler sounds cooler but I’m not going to kid myself.

Vagobond: What’s a great travel tip most people don’t know?

Anil: Traveling isn’t that hard or expensive. Get specific on where you want to go and what you want to do – stir – then add in dash of planning, put in an oven of effort, wait a bit and you’ll have yourself a trip.

Technomad Tools – #1 – Smart phone – Mine and yours?

Let’s talk about smartphones. I just got one and following is my review. What smartphone do you use? Is it better or worse? What features do you love? What features could you do without?
This term technomad is coming up more and more these days. To a certain extent, I fall within the category since I do a lot of my paid (and unpaid) work online and for that I don’t have a boss, an office, or a need to be in any one place.
As such, my office for the past year or so has been my netbook. An Acer Aspire One which has been by far the best $300 I’ve ever spent. I’ve used it for everything a full on laptop or desktop can be used for and it has never let me down. I recommend it 100% as the ultimate travel machine. Below is an affiliate link from Amazon for one.

Still, I’m always trying to make my possessions smaller, faster, and better and I’ve been looking at people with smartphones for a while now and wondering if I would be able to make the leap and perhaps the next time I travel I would be able to leave the netbook at home.
best phone for travel
Does your phone travel well?

I’m a cheap bastard. I don’t like to replace things while other things still work, so when my camera went kaput during our wedding in the Sahara, I thought that maybe if my phone would die too, I could replace the phone and the camera with a smart phone. So, I’ve been keeping my eyes open.
Unfortunately, in both Turkey and Morocco the cost of electronics is about 500% more than in the USA or Europe. Even in Europe the cost of an iPhone or Blackberry is at a premium. Another thing is that I don’t like contracts since I’m never 100% certain I’ll be staying in a country. And, I’m pretty poor in terms of money that I can spend.
An iPhone in Morocco runs about $1700 U.S. A Blackberry is a little less, but the truth is that I’ve used Blackberries and I don’t particularly like them. In Turkey and iPhone is about $1500. I thought about ordering one from Ebay or Amazon, but friends here confirmed that customs (as in Morocco) would rake me over the coals and I would end up paying more. I don’t want to make any bones about it, I’ve looked around and despite the problems, it looks to me like an iPhone 4 is the best thing going.
The other day when my old Motorola Razor V1 once again started dying with a full charge, I decided it was time to make the leap to something. One of my colleagues showed me his phone and told me that I could get one for right around 350 Turkish Lira which works out to about $225 US.
I did a little homework and decided that while it didn’t have all the options I wanted, it would be a pretty decent way to break into having a smart phone. Here is what I wanted:
– a decent camera
– wifi so that I could check email, use voice services on Skype, GTalk, and Yahoo messenger to make calls with no charge when wifi was available
– video capability – playing and recording
– blue tooth
– good sound quality/ call quality
– a good quality touchscreen
– fm radio
– good battery life
– and some games/ability for java apps
samsung star wifi
The reviews I read of the phone seemed to indicate that I was going to get what I was looking for with the Samsung Star Wifi which is marketed in India, Pakistan, Turkey, and other Arab countries under various names such as Samsung Avila.
The phone lives up to most of what I read about it. I’ve had no problems with the wifi though I haven’t yet figured out how to change the default for most java apps so that I don’t get charged for usage.
samsung star wifi - phone for vagabond
It’s small, light, and fits easily in my hand or my pocket.
For me, the camera takes acceptable pictures but the lack of a zoom and flash probably means I’m going to have to get a camera anyway. The video quality seems pretty decent.
Call sound is good and the music player works well but doesn’t seem to have much flexibility in the way playlists work. Definitely would prefer i-tunes.
One big issue at the beginning was that the proprietary browser kind of sucks. Only allows one window at a time. I solved this by downloading the Opera Mini 5 browser which allows for multiple windows but the cost is that with Opera when I turn my phone sideways, it doesn’t automatically change to landscape screen
Another issue is that since it is proprietary, Skype and other voice chat services (VOIP) have not bothered to (or not been able to) make software that allows free calls. So even with the wifi and a browser, I’m not able to make the free VOIP calls I wanted. I was able to download a java app called Nimbuzz, but can only access it through the browser and engage in text chat only. Big disappointment on this one.
Also, I think because of the firmware and proprietary Samsung crap, I can only run one app at a time, although there is a setting which allows music to run in the background while I do other things. So what this means is that if I am using the Opera browser and want to make a note, I have to close the browser and open up the note. Again, big disappointment and not ideal at all.
The initial data storage size is reasonable, but not huge. I’ll have to buy a data card. I want to have the space for videos and music on it, not to mention pictures, and hopefully an ebook or two.
The word processing (notepad) function is fairly primitive and when I have put pdf or .doc files on it, I have to scroll left and right in addition to down. Not really very good for reading something which I was hoping would be an option.
The battery life is good. About 10 hours with heavy usage or from what I’ve read, if it isn’t being used much, a week or more.
The touchscreen seems to work great. It’s fun and the stylus which comes inside is easy to use and stores in the corner safely.
As to videos, I’m afraid that this phone is set up to mostly play youtube videos and since I’m in Turkey, where youtube is banned, I’ve not yet had the opportunity to watch any video but the one I recorded to test out the video camera function. I’m hoping to find an alternative source so that I can watch tv shows and news.
The phone has a couple of kind of goofy features. One is that if you choose you can set up the phone to automatically email two contacts if the SIM is replaced. Ideally this will tell you the number of any thief who steals your phone.
Another one is a fake call function where you can press a button and the phone will call you and play a conversation you’ve pre-recorded so that you can get out of class, meetings, or other uncomfortable situations. It’s a phone with built in lies.
One last thing I do like about this phone is that it comes unlocked and is quad band so I can go anywhere and use it in any country on the planet.
Overall, I like the phone. It’s a definite upgrade from the razor v1, but it is definitely not a replacement for the netbook. That will have to come later. Although, I’m quite happy to lug the netbook with me since it is light and awesome.
Now, how about you- what smart phone do you use? Does it kick ass? Or does it blow?

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