Robert M. Coles

Author, World Traveler, Public Speaker

Category: advice

3 Apps I’m Currently Obsessing Over

I live with one of my phones in my hand, pretty much at all times. We’re the most connected we’ve ever been, and I’m not ashamed to say I check my email and social media networks before bed and right when I wake up. When I travel, I rely heavily on my devices to get me through my trips. When I was younger I used to play Oregon Trail and more often than not ended up dying of dysentery and losing all of my oxen while trying to cross the river. I would have easily made it to Portland if I had the WebMD app and transit maps!

So, as connected as I am, what three apps am I currently obsessed with that are making my travel life so much easier? Check out my list.

  1. Tiplr

While it’s still in the early phases, I fully believe this app is going to take off, and I’m glad to be using it now and loading in my travel tips first. The platform is really quite simple: You connect your Instagram account, click on the + and either start a collection if you have several tips from one city/country/region, or load in a single tip. The interface takes you through a few simple steps like writing a title, a short tip about what you experienced, something to do, maybe an item on a menu, or a beer people must try. Then, you create some tags, just like hashtags, and select a category for easy navigation. After this, you select “Publish” and load in your tip. In this age of knowledge sharing it’s quite rewarding knowing you’re helping others find great spots all over the world.

WHY I LOVE IT:

It’s fun to give information to fellow travelers, but I really love reading about other people’s experiences around the world. I’m starting to plan a vacation exclusively off of tips I’m seeing in Tiplr.

2. Duolingo

Learning a language is hard, y’all. I currently speak two languages fluently: Southern and English. Isn’t that enough? Nope. Not if you want to travel the world. Duolingo makes learning a new language easy, and the best part is it’s completely free. It uses your Google account to sign up, but once you’re in you can select just about any language and take introductory courses. If you studied French in high school and college like me, you can attempt to test out of different categories of the test. For example, I remember the names of animals and the basics of French, so I tested out of the first 3 lessons. Currently, I’m trying to learn German! Ich bin ein mann! (I am a man!)

WHY I LOVE IT:

This is a fun activity when you’re sitting in the airport with nothing to do. If you aren’t genuinely interested in learning a new language, it’s still a fun game to play, and the accents are kind of hot…

3. Open Table

This is great for traveling to a new city, especially if it’s a big city. Open Table allows you to read reviews, view menus, and make reservations within the app for any available restaurants around you. It’s very user friendly, and most of the time you can find a reservation within a few minutes of the current time putting you ahead of the hordes of people waiting outside at that trendy New York hotspot.

WHY I LOVE IT:

I obviously love good food, and this app connects it to me fast!

What are some of YOUR must have travel apps?

Read more about my travel adventures and tips in my new book, I Know Where I’ve Been: A Year Long Journey of Self-Discovery, available now on AMAZON, or here:

Originally written for and published by Bear World Magazine. 

Ten Tips for Surviving Long-form Travel

**An excerpt from my new book, I Know Where I’ve Been: A Year Long Journey of Self-Discovery. PURCHASE A COPY HERE.

1) Plan ahead

One of my favorite books is Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. In the book, he talks about traveling for weeks, months, even years at a time and “letting the world, and the adventure, take you where it may.” While I truly believe this is a wonderful concept, and would love to try it someday, I find that planning some of your basics can truly help you enjoy your trip more fully along the way. Additionally, it can save you money, which Potts says to the contrary.

My suggestion, go ahead and book your flights. Check out the AirBNBs if you choose to go that route. They tend to book up quickly, so a little advance planning is necessary. Potts’ method is about taking your time and living like a local for long periods of time in the places he’s visited. My method of travel is about seeing and experiencing new things and enjoying each place, but it’s not about living like a local. As such, some planning is involved. My method of travel also involves seeing lots of places over a long period of time, so often you only have a few days to take everything in.

2) Drive as much as you can

Sure, flying is faster, but if you’re traveling within driving distance, go ahead and drive. It makes things so much easier. Some of my most fond memories are of having to work my way through public transit nightmares (see San Francisco chapter…) but driving does make things much easier, especially when it comes to packing. When I drove myself I wasn’t worried about how much I packed and was able to get away with not doing laundry for an entire three week stint.

3) It’s time to talk Apps

Chances are you’re traveling with a smartphone. I use my phone a lot for every trip, and the apps listed below help me get through the trip without hiccups:

Hotels Tonight – This app has great deals on hotels available at the last minute. I’ve found hotels that are normally $300 a night for a third of the cost. I’ve also stayed in some really sketchy hotels, so you win some, you lose some.

Yelp – No, I’m not being paid to advertise for Yelp, and overall I find the company, their brand, and their business plan to be pretty terrible, but the app is good for finding local businesses, especially for restaurants. I’ve eaten at some great (and not so great) local places from the app. As much as it pains me to say it, it’s a must.

Transit maps – Before every city, I download the transit apps that show subway and bus routes. While I love Uber and cabs (I’ve always enjoyed being chauffeured around), they can add up quickly and most big cities have at least somewhat decent public transit.

Currency Converter – For obvious reasons if you’re traveling abroad.

Google Translate – This will save your life, and the photo feature that lets you point to a piece of text, take a photo, and receive translation is a real lifesaver.

Spotify, Audible, Pandora, etc – I love listening to music, and generally find it helps make airport walks between gates more fun. Audible audio books turn long drives into fast trips and I’ve learned a lot about some cool topics and people by listening to their autobiographies.

Viator – This app puts all the touristy things in one place, with details on how to get tickets, open hours, etc. It’s particularly great when you don’t have an agenda in a city and you have some free time. Open up the app and just see what you can find.

Soothe – This app has saved my life, and my back, on several occasions. It’s a masseuse on-demand app that connects you with local masseurs. Carrying around baggage takes a toll on you. Get a quick massage every now and then.

Whatsapp, Viber, Skype, etc – Communication through wifi is vital when traveling internationally, though one of the best things I ever did was invest in an international data plan. Still, use these apps to keep in touch with all your out of country friends as most of the world already uses one or more of these.

Expensify – Keep track of your spending and upload all your receipts. There are plenty of ways to write off travel on your taxes if they end up being for business, or you conduct business while on the trip. Keep track of everything. Also, this app helps you identify your top spending categories and learn where you’re spending too much, which is essential if you’re budgeting for a long trip.

4) Truly escape.

I know this one can be a bit difficult as we all have lives, friends, families, careers, etc that draw from our well of attention, but in order to truly experience different cultures you have to be able to disconnect from the rest of the world and just be in the moment. This takes some time and practice, but I like to start my trips by checking my emails, texts, etc at the airport right when I arrive (this also allows your luggage to get to the claim belt and the line at Passport Control to die down a bit) then put your phone or computer away. Only check in at night while you’re laying in bed at the end of your day.

5) Never Say No!

I feel I wouldn’t have had half the experiences of the past two years if I had said no to all the things that were out of my comfort zone. Eat smelt (a whole, bones, skin, guts, and all, fish that’s been deep fried)? Why not! Lean over the side of a building 116 stories in the air? Okay! Get in a sketchy taxi in Colombia? Sure! They’re all stories, and they’re all in this book. Who knows… Maybe I’ll be reading your book about travel experiences someday!

Side note: If you ever write a book on travel, please let me know. I want to read it!

6) Travel alone.

While I love my friends and family, I spent the bulk of this year traveling alone. There’s something about going to a random city and not knowing anyone. Plus, you get to choose all the restaurants, museums, and attractions you want to see, and you are on your own schedule. If you want to stay in, order food, and watch Netflix one night you can certainly do that. I did. More than once.

7) Be a tourist.

Trust me, just do it, and have no regrets. Take the double decker hop-on hop-off bus tours. Go to all the touristy places. See all the touristy things. Don’t apologize for this. You have one life. Live it.

While I was in San Francisco I took one of those bus tours. It was the best way to spend two days getting around the city and seeing all the different areas of town, and I learned a lot of great stories about the city.

8) Don’t forget to take care of yourself.

If you’re traveling for a long period of time, it’s a good idea to start a vitamin regimen before hand if you aren’t already on one. I’m convinced a tourist sneezed on me in New York City and got me incredibly sick. People are gross. Assume no one washes their hands and your food is covered in germs.

Drink plenty of water and get your rest. You wont be able to enjoy the world and everything it has to offer if you’re too tired to keep your eyes open.

9) Don’t disturb the locals.

I cannot stress this enough: you are a visitor. Do not disturb the locals. If you’re in New York City, don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk. If you’re in Charleston, be respectful of the quiet little beach town that shuts down at 11pm and don’t want down the streets drunk and screaming. If you’re in Rome, throw your trash away and be more respectful than the Romans.

10) Just have fun.

What’s the point in all of this if you don’t enjoy your time traveling. Have as much fun as you can, but do it safely. Be aware of your surroundings and maintain control of yourself, but get out there and live.

Content Overload: Setting Your Content Above The Rest

Originally written for Sona Creative Marketing by Robert Coles as a guest post.

Content Marketing Tips and Tricks From A Silly American

content-writingI don’t know about you, but I find myself constantly overloaded with content on the internet. Everyone is trying to sell something, there’s always a contest to enter, and someone is constantly trying to push a brand that you just don’t want to think about (like the Snuggie… Or is that just an American thing?), yet we as inquiring humans always want to know more.

With over 160 million blogs currently on the internet (only half of them are mine), and more and more being created each and every day, it’s difficult to weed through the quality content if you’re a reader. For a content marketer, this becomes a huge challenge, and it’s one that hasn’t entirely been solved yet. While we’re coming up with new way of marketing almost by the minute, the world hasn’t quite caught up to our brilliant minds.

We’re constantly having to come up with new methods of blog creation, and new ways to make our titles interesting. Simply put, if it isn’t interesting in the first 10 words, no one is going to read it. Fortunately, we content marketers have the numbers on our side, regardless. 46% of internet users read blogs more than once per day, and when marketing for businesses, that can convert to real leads, and real sales. Companies that blog have 55% more visits to their website than companies that don’t.

So what is the internet marketer to do? For starters, it’s about creating interesting content what will hold the reader’s attention. Check out these 5 ways to keep your content interesting and your audience begging for more.

#1 – Your titles are boring. Spice it up a bit!

If I read another “X Ways To Improve Your Business” article one more time, I’m going to throw my computer out my window and adopt a life without technology. Seriously, your titles matter. Consider coming up with something interesting. If you’re forced to write an article about ways to improve your business, think about what area you’ll be focusing on, and the spin it. If that article were to focus on ways to improve your business using social media, use a title like “X Ways Your Business is Failing (And How To Improve Them).” People are drawn to the negative, so use that to your advantage.

By the way, I did a Google search for the best blog titles and all I got were search results like “How to Write a Captivating Blog Title.” I didn’t click it.

#2 – Don’t forget mixed media. It can save your life.

In a world where 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, there will always be a video to spice up your content. The fact is, people are attracted to what they can easily see and watch. They don’t necessarily love reading anymore (and that’s a shame) so it’s important to spell things out for them. The best way to do that is with a video. If there isn’t a video out there, make one. With apps like Vine making short videos are easy, and if you want, you can use a website like fiverr.com to have a video created for you with graphics based on your script.

If videos aren’t your thing, no problem. Use infographics that drive your point home. You can also use screen captures if you’re referencing something you’ve found on the internet. For example, I wrote an article about social interaction, and included a screen capture of people interacting socially. It’s that simple. People just want to be able to see what they’re reading, rather than actually read what they’re reading.

#3 – Talk as you. Not about you.

People want to hear your voice rather than your life story. Sure, you should write with your own personal flare, and almost make fun of yourself (coming from the silly American), but people don’t want to hear about your life and what you ate for dinner. That’s what Facebook is for. Instead, consider telling about a product or service that you’re marketing in your own tone, but don’t insert personal stories about Aunt Cathy’s hip surgery.

#4 – Stay consistent

If you’re going to take a stance on something, stick to it, especially if you’re talking about a theory. People are going to site you and use your word as a source. If people end up linking to your blog, or your client’s blog, you are going to want to make sure that one blog post doesn’t contradict another. You’ve just made yourself or your client look ridiculous.

When you’re blogging, its also very important that you use consistency in your grammar, punctuation, and style. You can change things up a bit, but not too much. Your readers are going to get accustomed to your style, and if you change things too much they’re going to rebel. You’d be surprised how many people actually do read your words.

#5 – Offer a unique point of view

With over 160 million blogs on the internet, there are bound to be repeated views, but if you can find a way to present a unique point of view you’re going to captivate your readers. For some of my clients, I write the every day business blog because that’s what they want, but for others I have the freedom to experiment with humor and stylistic choices.

Content marketing is still very young in the marketing world, but it’s growing quickly, and staying ahead of the curve with your writing will ensure that you ride the content wave smoothly to the finish line. Good luck!

Stop and Smell the Roses

My thoughts on passion projects and finding inner happiness in a world of struggles and stresses

fortuneThere’s a strange thing that happens when I open up a fresh word document, or open a brand new notebook. I somehow loose myself and forget all of the struggles that have plagued me as of late. Whether it’s the fact that I basically haven’t had any alone time in over a month, or that I’ve worked 60+ hours a week for almost a year. Maybe it’s that I’m publishing a book in February and a text book in the spring. Any combination of these could cause the normal person to stress.

But I’ve got words, and they never fail me.

I’ve been so tied up in projects that are going to bring me closer to my long-term life goal that I’ve forgotten to stop and smell the roses for the past few months. I’ve forgotten to take time to write for pleasure, instead of for purpose.

That stops today.

I live my life on a very regimented schedule. I work a normal day job doing what I love, then teach acting to my students every day, which I also love, but I’m lacking the free time to work on my passion projects. So, I’ve developed five life goals that will allow me to complete my passion projects.

1 – Make time

There’s always going to be an excuse. There are a million things that have to get done, and that’s never going to change. Projects get piled on top of other projects, and just when you finish one thing, another one pops up. My new goal is to make time, and it should be your goal, too. I use Google Calendar for everything these days, and I love it. I’ve started to plan out my day according to my writing hour (first thing in the morning) and my project hour every evening.

2 – Stick to the schedule

I love living a flexible life, but sticking to the schedule is the key to maintaining balance.  I’ve decided that nothing comes before my passion projects and my fun writing times; not even the writing time for work.

3 – Have someone hold you accountable

I’ve got a group of writing friends that keep me on track with my books, but I’ve got another friend that keeps me on track with working on projects that I love. It’s not about them telling you what to do, it’s about them checking in on you to see if there’s anything they can do to ease up the time to give back to you. Just make sure that you do the same for them. I’ve been fortunate enough to gain friends that share common interests and help me when needed, and I help them.

4 – Silence the outside world

I’m one of the most connected people I know. Face to face interaction, phones, texting, email, and social media have gotten us all more connected than ever, but during your passion project time, you’ve got to shut the rest of the world out and dedicate yourself to what you’re working on. It’s you time to the extreme, and it happens daily.

5 – Forgive yourself if you break the schedule

You’re bound to falter. Maybe you’ve set your passion project hour to first thing in the morning and you’ve got to get that extra hour of sleep because the night before was rough. Maybe you’re going on vacation for a while. Whatever the situation may be, forgive yourself if you miss a day or two, but don’t let yourself fall out of the habit. It takes 21 days for something to become a habit. Don’t break it for too long.

Whatever you do, take time to stop and enjoy life, and do what makes you feel good. That’s the ultimate purpose, isn’t it?

What are some of your tips for making time to do what you love?

© 2017 Robert M. Coles

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