Tactical Travel Tips

I now work on an EU project leading on dissemination and community building.

This basically means I travel a lot (this year I’ve been to Luxembourg, St Petersburg, Athens and am off to Helsinki next week). This is probably not as much as some people but a lot more than I used to. Also most of this travel is in Europe rather than in the UK.

St Petersburg

St Petersburg

As I move kicking and screaming into the frequent flyer bracket (I don’t like flying and it’s not doing my eco-credentials much good!) there are a few lessons I’ve learned that I thought I could share with you…

Apologies if some of these are obvious but I’ve learned the hard way!


Data Roaming is still bloomin’ expensive!

photoI turn off every mobile data switch the moment I sit down on the plane. So this means switching off mobile data, 3G, data roaming, Bluetooth, push data and all related things. I also switch off updates – updates always tend to pick their moments! This stops me accidentally accessing data when confused and lost in foreign cities. This has meant I’ve avoided ‘bill-shock’ (this is apparently an actual word now – unpleasant surprise of a very large phone bill) so far.

I do use wifi on my phone if available – but even then feel a little bit paranoid.

If you do want to use data roaming there is apparently an EU cut-off regulation you can opt in to. EU regulations mean providers have to warn you when you’ve nearly used €50 (approx. £50 incl VAT) of data in a month when roaming overseas. When you hit this mark, your mobile provider will cut off your mobile internet service until the next billing month begins, unless you have already pre-arranged a higher limit.

Lower costs are likely to come in by December 2015 if legislation approved by members of the European parliament’s industry committee is rubber stamped by full parliament on 3 April.

There is lots of useful guidance on data roaming about, I found the Roaming Expert website helpful.

I also now use Mapswithme on my phone – this allows you to download maps of cities in advance and then navigate them as if you are online.

I always check a hotel has wifi before I book. I connect with home using Skype or facetime. I try to never call.


IMG_2300I warn my bank where I’m going. I’m with Lloyds and there still doesn’t be a way to do this online but I visit the bank every now and then and tell them about my forthcoming trips.

I also have some spare Euros that I keep so I don’t have to rely on a cashpoint as soon as I arrive. I take 3 bank cards as a back up. I store all my receipts in a particular place and photograph them too. I upload photos to online storage while away in case I lose my camera or phone.


I prep in advance so that I don’t have to do too much complicated stuff while I’m away. So I draft blog posts, papers etc. and have them pretty much ready to go. You can’t rely on the quality of a connection when away from your computer. I now use LastPass (after a disaster a few years back) – this means I don’t spend hours trying to figure out passwords because I’m on my laptop. I ensure updates on my laptop are all done before I go!

I now have several adaptors and sometimes take an extension lead if I’m going to a conference.


I’ve finally got BA to realise that I’m a vegetarian after selecting this option on their website many times, but I always take a few snacks with me just in case. I also empty my water bottle out for security and fill it up when I get through – saves cash! I try and find veggie friendly restaurants in advance.


If I’m arriving late at night I now get the hotel I’m staying at to book the taxi. This saves me having to fork out lots for a dodgy taxi. Planing routes from airport and hotel is useful too!

With work colleagues in front of the Acropolis

With work colleagues in front of the Accropolis


I download iplayer programmes on my laptop so I can watch them in my hotel room – beats foreign programmes and BBC World news on a loop. I also stock up on my laptop on downloaded papers I’d like to read.

I try to schedule my travel so I have some time to have a look around, there is nothing more soul destroying that visiting a beautiful place and only seeing the airport.

And finally I have a gig glass of wine on the plane – this stops me worrying about crashing and all the things I’ve forgotten to do!

Travel suggestions from other people have been published on this blog before. Take a look at:


Data, our world runs on data

It’s Open Education Week #OpenEducationWk and there are lots of great events taking place, online and offline. I’ve been interested in Open Educational Resources (OER) for some time but am getting increasingly excited about open data and possible applications in education. One particularly excellent resource I’ve been using a lot recently is the Open Knowledge Foundation’s School of Data. They have some fantastic courses that will help you find out about many aspects of data from the basics (what is data, finding data, sorting data), analysis of data, story telling with data and to fairly technical areas such as data cleaning. All really interactive with some great images and useful pointers to further resources.

Another really exciting resource/tool is EasyOpenData.com – a simple way to get data out of spreadsheets and make it available for people to use. EasyOpenData has developed by Craig Russell, a Web Developer based at the University of Leicester. Craig has kindly written a brief blog post for us on what he’s hoping to achieve with the tool.

Data, our world runs on data. And most of this data lives in spreadsheets

Craig RussellThe recent admission by JP Morgan, that it’s financial model was run in a series of Excel Spreadsheets was a shock to the those in the tech industry, but unsurprising to those in ‘real business’. Spreadsheets are what normal people use to get the job done. Spreadsheets are what normal people use to store their knowledge.

We keep spreadsheets about our DVD collections, our wedding invitation list, our allotment yields. We use them to plan community events and billion dollar investments alike. Countless millions of man-hours are spent every day putting human knowledge in to spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are ubiquitous, comfortable, familiar.

But if spreadsheets are so common, where are they all? Where is all this knowledge?

It is hidden, buried away behind the scenes. Vast submerged stores of publicly useful knowledge buried away on hard drives and shared folders. So much incredibly useful data curated by knowledgeable individuals, but without the skills to make this knowledge public and share it as Open Data.

Those in possession of publicly useful knowledge and those with the skills to make knowledge publicly accessible need to find one another and make open data love.

It is for this reason that I built EasyOpenData.com, which enables you to publish custom-formatted XML feeds using data from your Google spreadsheets. Open Data feeds are publicly listed on your profile and automatically updated with the spreadsheet.

This means that data owners can continue to use spreadsheets to store their knowledge, while opening up this valuable information to the world.

They say that data is the new oil, if this is true, then spreadsheets are the reservoirs and we are all prospectors.