Robert M. Coles

Author, World Traveler, Public Speaker

Category: travel

5 Travel Brands I’m Currently Promoting (And Why)

As you know by now, I cannot seem to travel enough. Seriously, it’s in my DNA. I have wonderlust. And I’m only able to travel as much and for as long as I do with help from various brands that make products that just enhance my experience and make it easier for me to enjoy the adventure. So, here are five travel brands I’m currently promoting, and why you should, too!

1. Tiplr – Travel App for Tips and Local Secrets

I know you’ve heard me feature this app before when I talked about the must-have apps in any traveler’s toolkit, but it needs repeating. This app has gotten me through several trips now, both in the planning phase, and the “saving my life when I can’t seem to find anything fun to do” phase. This app features tips on how to live like a local in any city, and it’s all user generated content. That’s half the fun. The other half comes from creating tips and collections yourself for others to see and experience the world like you. I personally am enjoying creating different tips everywhere I go and am getting “hearts” from people telling me they’re enjoying the place, too! It’s gratifying knowing I made someone’s trip a little more fun! Download Tiplr here!

2. Eagle Creek

This is your one-stop shop for all things travel gear. From backpacks, to luggage, to accessories, they have it all, and I’m in love with it all. I currently use the Mobile Office Backpack for travel because I work on the go. It’s great to organize client files, my computer, hard drives, notebooks, and office accessories in one location that I can grab and go. While their packs can be a bit pricey, I guarantee you’ll find the value after your first trip with any of their gear.

3. The Container Store

You thought they were only for organizing your closet, didn’t you? Nope. The Container Store has taken the travel industry by storm in recent years by offering a full line of travel accessories. I’m obsessing over my Reisenthel Multi Dot Hanging Toiletry Organizer (in black!) which keeps everything nice and neat. I’m not much of an “unpacker” when it comes to settling into hotel rooms and AirBNB’s so this keeps everything in one convenient place.

4. AirBNB

Not only do I travel with AirBNB, but I host with them, too. I’m not going to go into too much detail here because we’re all familiar with the way things work, but consider putting your apartment or home up for rent when you’re gone. It’s a great way to cover some of the expenses of traveling!

5. Tempur-Pedic. 

Trust me. Do not go on a long flight without a Tempur-Pedic neck pillow. It’ll save your life and your neck. The wrap around neck comes with an optional clasp to keep it in place (it’s a bit like wearing a necklace with really big, fluffy jewelry on the back of the necklace!) and the padding is firm, yet contours to your neck.

There you have it! My current list of travel brands I simply cannot get enough of right now. What are some of your favorites?

48 Hours In Miami: A Little Fun in the Sun!

Summer is approaching, and it’s getting hot! Welcome to my new series. For the next 6 weeks I’ll be bringing you info on 6 different cities, and how you can make the most out of a summer weekend! I’m a beach bum, so my first stop is Miami, which was my home for about 6 months. I absolutely fell in love with this city, it’s culture, it’s art scene, the food, and the beaches! Let’s take a look at how you should spend 48 hours in Miami!

Friday Night:

You’re arriving, probably from Miami International Airport. Best option is to grab an Uber and head over to your hotel, The Shelbourne, to check in. Feel free to grab a quick nap, as the night is just getting started. When I lived in Miami, we would get off work around 5pm (sometimes earlier) and have a rest before heading out for the night. So, sleep for about an hour, then get ready, because it’s going down!

7:00pm – Drinks at Monty’s Raw Bar

The night. Starts. Now!

You’ll love sitting outside in this Tiki style bar and restaurant with a pool in the middle. Bring your suit and jump in if you so desire! You’re going to want to get the Pain Killer. It’s a delicious fruity drink that stays true to it’s word and will definitely remove all pain. This drink comes in three levels, Pain Killer 1, 2, & 3, and corresponds with the number of rum shots. My advice, start with a 3, then work your way down! Remember, the night is young and so are you!

10:00pm – Dinner at Burger and Beer Joint

This place quickly became my favorite, and you’ll love it, too. Just like the name of the restaurant, they serve burgers and beer! My favorite is the Hotel California, a delicious beef patty topped with sharp cheddar, frilled onions, fried egg, guacamole, jalapeño relish, cilantro sour cream all on a brioche bun. Trust me, it’ll keep you going strong while you party the night away.

11:00pm – SCORE Nightclub

One of Miami’s best gay bars in town. Now, it’s not a bear bar, but it includes all men. This bar has great music and dancing, and you’ll want to stay all night, but it’s just your first stop. Have a drink or two, do some dancing, and get ready for your next stop.

1:00am – TWIST Nightclub

Now the night hits it’s high point. This bar features 7 different areas, each with their own theme, from the British pub to the techno dance club. You’re sure to enjoy delicious cocktails, a great beer list, and decent wine selections.

4:00am – Uber back to the Shelbourne 

Saturday:

12:00pm – Rise and shine, breakfast at the hotel

Let’s face it, you partied hard, didn’t you? Don’t go far. Today is dedicated to hanging out at the cabanas by the pool, walking down to the beach for a while, and lounging around. You’ll start with breakfast by the pool and maybe a Mimosa or Bloody Mary. Then it’s ultimate relaxation!

8:00pm – Dinner on Espanola Way

Take your pick. There are a dozen restaurants here to choose from, and none of them will disappoint. Whether you want a quiet sit-down spot, or you want something a little more Latin with dancing and lively music, you’ll find it all on this street!

10:00pm – Club Boi

This might get a little wild… Head over to Club Boy for hip-hop, Latin, Top 40, and R&B music, plus strippers! YOLO, right?!

Sunday:

11:00am – Brunch at The Local House

This place is not to be missed, but get there on time and get a porch seat so you can enjoy the breezes from the ocean not but a block away, as well as the ceiling fans that will keep you cool and comfortable. Try the Crab Cake Eggs Benedict and have a Bloody Mary for me!

1:00pm – Shopping at Lincoln Mall

This world famous shopping stretch is the best place to shop ’til you drop. I personally love the people watching, and there are plenty of places around there to grab a quick ice cream or snack if you get hungry! It’s the perfect way to end your trip to Miami!

After 48 hours, you’ll be heading back to the airport a little more tan, with less liver function, and a greater love for Latin food and Latin music!

Who’s joining me?

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.

How I Unintentionally Bypassed Airport Screening and Accidentally Smuggled In A Bottle of Water

I recently took a weekend trip to New York City to meet with some clients, catch up with friends, and spend some time in the city that I love so much. It was a very fast trip only putting me in the city for less than 3 days, but a great experience none-the-less. I’ve been a traveler for most of my life. My family would take trips most every summer, venturing to Wyoming for one vacation, another to Maine, and of course the beach. As an adult, my travel has grown more to mean working trips with vacation fit in on that “extra day” where the company or client has already paid your flight and you splurge on extending your hotel. One thing is for sure, in all my travels, I’ve hated going to the airport.

I am by no means a small man. I am of average height, but am a bigger guy and sometimes that can be less fun to travel by plane. You always read the blogs and posts about the people complaining about the fat guy sitting next to them. Well, I am that guy. The flight doesn’t normally bother me as much as going through airport security. I already suffer from mild claustrophobia and standing in that tube with my hands in the air while someone looks at my junk on a TV screen doesn’t necessarily make me happy, but I do it because we live in a post-9/11 America, and safety in flying is a big concern.

On Sunday, December 7th I was traveling from Newark, NJ back to Nashville, TN and walked into the airport calmly, fully expecting my security stop anxieties to begin any minute. I approached the line with boarding pass and driver’s license in hand and saw that things were quite a bit backed up.

Let me stop here for a moment and say that I have never gone through the TSA pre-screening process. I have often thought about it, but never actually done it, but will probably do it soon as travel is starting to pick up. But, it’s important for you to know right now that I’ve never done it.

I walked up to the person standing in the front of the line assigning people which pathway to take. The couple standing in front of me had just been informed that one of them could go through the TSA pre-screen line, but the other could not as he did not complete his paperwork and did not have the proper documentation. I walked up to him, he looked at me and said, “Are you traveling alone?” to which I replied, “Yes,” and he pointed for me to go through the lesser of the two lines. I thought I had struck gold. For the first time this trip traveling alone had paid off in a big way.

I walked through the line and stopped with only two people in front of me. The gentleman standing at the entrance of the security area took out a swab and whipped down the lady’s hand in front of me looking for explosive residue. It’s good to note here that she was carrying a 1 year old strapped to her back… I walked up to him and held out my hand, he motioned for me to move forward, and mumbled something to the effect of “You’re good.”

I walked up to the conveyer belt and started to take off my belt and shoes. The lady standing there said, “Sir, please do not remove anything unless asked to,” so I left everything on and placed my bags on the belt. I told her that I was traveling with 3 laptops (long story involving last minute project deadlines and failing computers) and she said that was fine and to leave them in my bag. So I laid it on the belt and walked through the metal detector. It started to beep. She did nothing. So I asked her, “Do I need to do anything?” and she replied, “No. You’re fine.”

The weirdest part was that I watched my bags go through the scanner with no one watching a screen to see what was inside.

After I got through security I opened my bag to get out my wallet and realized I had accidentally smuggled in a bottle of water. My fault for accidentally bringing it into the airport? Or the TSA’s fault for not catching what could have been a bottle full of lighter fluid? You decide.

So, that’s my story of how I didn’t go through Airport Security, right under their noses, and smuggles in a bottle of water. I expect the FBI to arrive to arrest me at any minute.

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