Robert M. Coles

Author, World Traveler, Public Speaker

Category: writing

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.

End Game

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My Rambling Thoughts On The Writing Process

So, I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately (other than the writing that I have to do for work and the book I have coming out in February) and for the first time in a long time, I think I’m going to push a fictional novel through the pipeline. Maybe I can “accidentally” send a draft to my publisher instead of the files for my other books. I’ve never been much of a novelist, but this one seems to be flowing through quite easily.

I’ve been noticing that I fall into a certain pattern with how I actually write. I’m curious to see how things turn out, and this is probably the first project in a few years that I’ve felt very strongly about because of the message I’m trying to get across.

Essentially, the story will be quite controversial. I’m writing about the after effects of a traumatic event, but I’m focusing on people that don’t exactly cope well. It’s sort of a story based on my experiences with people I’ve met mixed with some of the conspiracy theories I just can’t resist reading about. While I am by no means a conspiracy theorist, I still find it fascinating what people will say (and post on the internet) and find that there is more than enough information out there for anyone to spin anyway they want.

Back to the point of this post, my writing process has changed greatly in the last few years. It’s gone from forcing myself to sit in front of the computer looking at the blinking cursor and wondering when something was going to hit me that was worthy of being written (especially when I’d write poetry or short stories) to more of a fluid process. I find that now I have to peel myself away from the computer because the story is flowing out of me, sometimes to0 quickly my fingers cant keep up with my thoughts.

People ask me all the time if I know what my ending will be to this current novel. There are a core group of friends that I trust enough to give the entire story to, and I always stop at a particular point, but the fact is that I don’t know. I know my characters (there are 12 characters that play a key role in the advancing of the present day plot, and 7 characters that play a key role in advancing the past plot) and I know what they want to say. They want to say everything I want to say. Everything that I would say if I was in their situation. Everything that I would want to say, and everything I couldn’t say.

The fact of the matter is that I have no clue how this story is going to end. I know the point of where the story will get close to ending, and I know ultimately the message I want to get across, but I feel it will happen when it happens. It isn’t something I’m going to be able to force. It’s something that is going to have to happen naturally.

I’m hoping to post a short section of the book on here sometime in the coming weeks. Until then, I’m interested to know about the processes other authors use when writing. Do you find that you have to force yourself to sit down and do everything at once? Do you know the outcome before you start? How do you get to know, and develop, your characters? I’d love to hear from you, so sound off below.

10 Best Movie Quotes of All Time (According to Me)

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From Bond, to Baseball, These Quotes Stand Out Above the Rest

I supposed today I’m in a movie mood. Earlier, I posted a status on Facebook saying, “I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years.” If you haven’t already figured it out, that’s a famous quote from Steel Magnolias, the 1989 adaptation of Robert Harling’s play of the same name. The Oscars (my favorite day of the year, besides my birthday) are coming up quickly, and soon my journey to watch all the nominated films will begin, and no one will hear from me for a week. Before that, let’s reminisce about all the great movies of the past. So, for today’s blog post I figured I’d stick with my mood and post the 10 Best Movie Quotes of All Time, in my opinion.

#10 – “Show me the money!” – Jerry Maguire

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In probably one of my favorite movies, Jerry has a total mental breakdown when he’s trying to save face with a client and get him to leave the big flashy sports agency the client is signed with and instead join Jerry in his new venture. It’s Jerry’s commitment to show him the money that convinces Rod to take the leap.

Sean Connery as James Bond

#9 – “Bond. James Bond.” – Every Bond Film Ever Made

If you’re like me, you grew up watching James Bond, probably with your dad on a Saturday when it played all day on AMC. There was something about Bond and the way he said his name that was just so cool and iconic. That probably is why he’s the second most successful film franchise of all time, trailing behind Harry Potter.

#8 – “You can’t handle the truth!” – A Few Good Men

600full-a-few-good-men-screenshotWe all remember that moment when Jack Nicholson lost his cool while being questioned and blurted out the famous line, but what few know is that this film is based on a stage play of the same name, and the story packs a much bigger punch when you’re watching it live. If you can find a showing that promises to be at least halfway decent, check it out. You wont be disappointed.

#7 – “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” – Gone with the Wind

GWTW_8lgSure, this movie made huge strides in film making, and changed the way the motion picture industry worked, but when screenings of a film need an intermission, the film is just too long. I have a feeling my thoughts on the length of this film would have been met with a “Frankly, Robby, I don’t give a damn,” by one of the three directors. Imagine, a film so long it needed three directors!

#6 – “There’s no place like home.” – The Wizard of Oz

the-wizard-of-ozDorothy’s adventure was probably one of my all-time favorite childhood movies, but I’d fast forward through the scary parts (and still do, actually), but there’s just something about her clicking her heels together and saying that famous line over and over again that brings comfort. Perhaps that’s why it’s stitched on pillows across the nation.

#5 – “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump

forrest_gump_image_1Who couldn’t fall in love with a character like Forrest Gump? He’s so naive and his loyalty to his mother, his state, his former girlfriend, and his son knows no bounds. Plus, he ran for a really long time, and that’s impressive.

#4 – “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” – Silence of the Lambs

936full-the-silence-of-the-lambs-screenshotI watching this movie for the first time when I was about 10 years old. It was a lot to take in at that age, and I still fear lotion, but Anthony Hopkins scared the bejeezus out of me with his story of eating a man’s liver with fava beans. I still can’t eat them, but I do love me some Chianti!

#3 – “I’ll have what she’s having.” – When Harry Met Sally

when-harry-met-sally-original1There is just something about Meg Ryan that made her the romantic comedy queen of the 90s and early 2000s, and when she sits at that table and acts out a “climax” there’s nothing funnier than the woman at the next table thinking she’s received those special “good feelings” from her lunch.

#2 – “Houston, we have a problem.” – Apollo 13

apollo-13Tom Hanks (who appears on this list three times) is brilliant as Jim Lovell in Apollo 13, and I remember as a kid watching the movie and going to school the next day and saying that to my teachers and friends over and over again. Aside from that, this film takes a serious turn at this point, and it’s very clear in Hanks’ voice that the situation is in fact serious.

#1 – “There’s no crying in baseball!” – A League of Their Own

A-league-of-their-ownFinally, my favorite quote of all time. It appears on the AFI Top 100 Movie Quotes as number 54, but it’s number 1 to me. The movie as a whole is excellent, but what makes it my top quote is Tom Hanks and his performance as Jimmy Dugan, the rough, often drunk coach that eventually warms up to the female baseball team.

With Mr. Tom Hanks appearing on this list three times, can you tell who one of my favorite actors happens to be?

What are some of your favorite movie quotes?

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!

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