Travel Product Review – Sennheiser Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Travel Product Review - Sennheiser Noise-Cancelling Headphones
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It’s easy to spot the road warriors as they wait at the gate and board the plane. They are the ones listening intently with their noise-cancelling headphones. And I can finally say that after many years as a frequent traveller, I have become an official road warrior with my new wireless, noise-cancelling headphones. I really wish I had them on my long trip to Dubai! But rather than review 5 different headphone brands (buy 5 and return 4), the purpose of this post/review is to bestow the virtues of quality headphones for travel. And also to review my new Sennheiser headphones based on real life usage.

For many years, and like many of you, I carried earbuds (or purchased them on the plane when I forgot to bring them). I even purchased noise-cancelling earbuds a few years back. (They really aren’t noise-cancelling and aren’t the same as headphones). While travelling with earbuds in your pocket or handbag is beyond easy, listening with earbuds on a plane is like being in the dark ages. If you travel with any regularity and/or commute by transit or walk distances, you simply must get yourself a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

Travel Product Review - Sennheiser Noise-Cancelling Headphones
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Headphones are quite simply essential in today’s world of packed flights and delays. Travel is certainly easier when you can “noise cancel” the loud and unwanted sounds all around you. They will alter your in-flight, walking or commuter experience, letting you disappear into a cone of relative silence and/or into your favourite song. Quiet time and even sleep are highly possible. I find it pretty easy to sleep on a plane but only if I can block out the airplane sounds, baby cries and the loud conversations.

There are plenty of great headphones in the market. Sony, Beats, Bose and Marshall all make great headphones. Whatever you choose, make sure they warrant the investment (generally $200-$1,000) and are worthy of being in your carry-on. They must be comfortable, portable (fold up), have great sound, cancel noise, and have enough battery life to last through a long day. And will they fit with a decent travel pillow? Keep in mind that if you are a commuter, you’ll be using them on trains, subways, buses and/or long walks down busy sidewalks (in addition to travelling).

I’ve chosen the Sennheiser Model HD 4.50BTNC, based on their price point and reputation for fidelity. They are middle of the pack in terms of cost ($250-$300) and quality. You’ll pay more for many other models from Sony, Bose and Sennheiser too.

Travel Product Review - Sennheiser Noise-Cancelling Headphones

The lower price comes from a mostly plastic outer shell (fine with me), and a canvas sack carrying case (instead of a rigid case). The 4.50s fold up easily for carry-on and provide very good stereo sound (my opinion). Sennheiser’s NoiseGard™ active noise cancellation lets you enjoy silence or music in peace. If you spend more on a higher-end model, you will undoubtedly get more but I’m perfectly happy with my first pair of quality, noise-cancelling headphones. I’ve travelled with them and had an almost silent plane ride with music and sleep. The battery life is decent at close to 19 hours (2 hours to charge).

My verdict – they are a solid buy (and I did buy them). They provide great value; they fold easily; are comfortable and come with an auxiliary cord when you need to be wired. Perfect for long walks and travel!

Safe travels,

Mark

Travel Product Review – Travel SIM

Travel SIM

Travel SIM – Yes or No?

You’re about to depart on a trip and you’re thinking about how you’ll stay in touch. Do you turn off roaming and data and jump on wireless when you can or do you use your phone abroad with data? I’ve done both but I prefer to be in touch, use my GPS apps and check email periodically. In my travels, having a cell phone is a must for driving directions (think roundabout) , destination information (the next town) and in case of emergency.

Travel SIM

Travel SIM – Your Best Option

My personal money saving tip for most travel destinations is to pass on your cell provider’s international travel plan and go for a SIM card instead. A SIM card saves on data and roaming charges and keeps you connected. TravelSIM is my first choice because its prepaid, works in most countries and there’s no cost for incoming calls and messages. You buy it online and it’s delivered within a couple of days. You also get great “bars” in destination (cell reception) because you’re using a local telecom provider. Make sense?

The small challenge here is installing the SIM card. You’ll need to remove your current SIM card and insert your TravelSIM card. It’s easy – use a pin to open the SIM card slot (a thumb tack or paper clip both work); take out your current SIM card; put in the new SIM card, and Voila! Your phone will need to be “unlocked” for the new card to work (if it’s locked, the new SIM card won’t work). Contact your service provider or a cell phone unlocking service.

If by chance you didn’t buy a SIM card in advance, you can still buy when you arrive in destination (at the airport, train station or bus station). Just look for a store that sells SIM cards. The cards will be cheap and in many cases an employee will insert the SIM card for you.

Travel SIM

Travel SIM – The Bottom Line

You can save a lot of money and get a lot more high-speed data by planning ahead and buying a Travel SIM card.  If you are traveling to multiple countries, you will probably need a separate SIM card for each country unless you buy a TravelSIM card that features multiple countries and zones. If you get a new SIM card for travel, you will be using a different phone number from your regular one. To simplify taking a smartphone abroad, use messaging apps like What’s App or iMessage to maintain your identity and end-to-end encryption. A SIM card for travel keeps you in touch and keeps you off unsecured public Wi-Fi.

Safe Travels!

5 Essential Travel Apps to Make Travel Easier


Mobile Apps

Travel apps are a dime a dozen, but when you find one that you like, you feel like you’ve found the Holy Grail! How did you ever live or travel before without it? Well, you did… but now life is better. When I travel, I prefer to use wi-fi. I stay focused on my trip and my travel experience. Buying data and roaming is costly (of course there are apps for that), so I’ll jump on a wi-fi network when I can and do updates, posts, e-mails etc. Here my 5 favourite travel apps:

1. Hailo

This neat app hails taxis and uses your phone’s GPS to make a cab come to you – and it tells you how soon the cab will be there. My first use of this app was in Dublin, Ireland. I stood in my hotel lobby, used Hailo and had a taxi pick-up in five minutes. You can pay your taxi directly or open an account with a major credit card. Only problem – Hailo is currently in 11 cities: Toronto, Boston, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., London, Cork Dublin, Barcelona, Madrid and Tokyo. But it’s expanding to more cities all the time and it’s available on iPhone and Android for free.

2. Viber

Viber gives you free texting and long distance phone calls. Have I got your attention now? This is a free app that requires a wi-fi connection for you to get free texts and phone calls. When you use Viber on a 3G network you might incur operator data charges or internet access fees. One catch – you “viber” between others who have Viber. It works very well and I’ve made calls from Jamaica and Ireland and texts from Poland, England and around the world – all for free.

3. WorldMate

The closest thing most of us will ever have to a personal assistant but without the attitude is WorldMate. Simply send your confirmation emails for flights, hotels, hire cars and restaurant bookings to trips@worldmate.com and the app generates a detailed itinerary covering all parts of your trip. If you upgrade to the premium version, WorldMate will generate alerts for delayed flights and/or gate changes. It’s available in iPhone and Android.

4. Wi-Fi Finder

Assuming you’re on wi-fi when you boot up this app, you’ll continue your mission to avoid data roaming charges. The GPS finds nearby public wi-fi (free and paid) spots at over 545,000 locations worldwide. You can also search for wi-fi worldwide before your trip or for your next destination. The offline mode means you can download maps before you go and avoid those data bills. It’s available for free on iPhone, iPad and Android.

5. Private Wi-Fi

The problem with Free Wi-Fi is the potential for being hacked. A few years ago, I jumped on a wi-fi network in Amsterdam and lived with an inordinate amount of spam for six months. My e-mail address was grabbed but it could have been much worse.  This app creates a personal VPN connection so that you don’t get hacked. While it does slow your internet connection down a bit, it’s well worth it for the added protection from wandering hackers. It’s available on iPhone and Android.

Of course, this list is changing and these five apps are just the tip of the iceberg, with plenty of competitors for each listed above. But my review is based on my real experience with each of them (and I was not paid to say that). There are also apps for weather, transit systems, cities, airports, airlines and more, and any of these could be very handy for your next trip or just getting around your own city.

This guest article was published in August 2013 by AsiaRooms.com

Toronto skyline from the rooftop of the Thompson Hotel