Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ever The Savvy Traveler ... (*cough*)

Prologue to my trip to Thailand.



I started this blog post while trying out different iPad Pros at an Apple Store (since I left my laptop at home). I was so surprised by how nice these new, larger iPads are, even more portable than a laptop, but just as functional, that I started to consider buying one right before my trip.

The keyboard is actually up to par and pretty much full size for a 13" laptop. Super nice. Really nice to use this little gadget. The larger 13" is even nicer but less practical for travel. This 10.5" one feels super portable for its usability.

But I ended up leaning towards the 13" iPad because I found it so much more friendly to use (big enough that I can tap with great precision, whereas I found I was fumbling a little bit with the 10.5").  Finest gadget I have acquired in quite some time, really. Basically, like using a regular size laptop, but the super slim form factor synergized with the versatility of the iPad and the power and easy to use-ness of a laptop make it a true laptop replacement. iPad Touch screen is better than the laptop touch pad, and may even be as easy and as friendly to use as a traditional mouse!

Now onto the adventure of acquiring the laptop. Who knew buying a laptop could be such an adventure? Walk into a store, ask a few questions, pull out my phone and voila, purchasing Apple products doesn't get any easier. You don't even need to wait in line as there are no cash registers in Apple stores. Alas! it wasn't to be quite as easy as all that....

Where to begin... well, at the beginning seems like a good enough place. I got off the train from Wassaic in Grand Central Station and stumbled upon an Apple Store in the station while I was trying to figure out how to leave the station and go to the nearby TD Bank to get travelers checks. I was on the fence about buying an iPad at that particular point in time, so I grabbed some sub-par juevos rancheros and then found my way to the TD Bank.

I presented my travel plans to the teller who very matter of factly stated TD Bank does not carry travelers checks. I asked her how I was to use money securely while overseas? She plainly said she did not know. She was so unhelpful that I didn't even feel comfortable asking about the bank's security measures for my account while traveling abroad. I just had that sense I would have had to have phrased the question perfectly for her to engage me in a hospitable manner and it was just too much bother at that moment in time, so I just left without finishing my business. I went to a nearby hotel where I was told travelers checks could be had by the GC Station info desk, but the hotel informed me they no longer carry them. I googled locations that have travelers checks and called a nearby Staples that was advertised as having some, but they told me they did not. Apparently travelers checks are way passé. Credit cards and certain travel debit cards seem to be the way to go.

I went to another TD Bank and remembered that my mom had a checking account that refunded ATM fees if she maintained a certain balance, so I upgraded my checking account and made the decision to use my Debit card while in Thailand and Vietnam. The tellers were almost friendly and almost happy to help, although when I asked the question about security measures for my account while overseas, I still got the static I was fearing; the look from the teller was like I had just announced I was visiting from Andromeda and that my spaceship was parked just outside. Finally, one of the tellers had the wherewithal to ask me if I had already called to tell the bank I was traveling broad, which seemed to me obvious I hadn't, being that I was now in the bank asking about it, but, wait, isn't this blog supposed to be about the misadventure of trying to buy an iPad? Unfortunately the misadventures of the first 24 hours of my trip extend beyond buying iPads and figuring out how to securely spend money while traveling abroad....

Having finally taken care of how I was going to securely spend money in SE Asia I decided I would find my way back to the GC Station Apple Store. I asked more questions, I dabbled some more on the devices and this time the gentleman assisting was very helpful and informative . So I decide that, yes, blogging with this is going to be awesome, so as long as I can hold onto it for the entire trip, it will be an awesome asset for the travel blog. I decide to give into impulse and buy it, but they don't have the model in store that I want, but tell me the 5th Ave store near Columbus Circle has it. So I make my way over and when I arrive I realize it's already 6pm. The store is insanely busy, so I immediately go up to a sales rep and tell them the exact model of iPad Pro I'd like to purchase. Several minutes later they fetch it forth and I do the Apple Pay thing with my phone, but the purchase is declined. Shortly after while I'm on hold with my bank I get a call from them and an automated message asks me some security questions about my recent purchases.  It seems the hold has been lifted, but it is declined when I try again.  Somehow an hour goes by in the Apple Store and I suddenly realize I don't have anymore time to screw around trying to buy this iPad and need to get to JFK post haste! So I leave the Apple Store, flustered and frustrated, and proceed to make one public transport blunder after another on my way to the airport.

All I could remember from my last trip to JFK by train was that I took a train from Penn Station but it wasn't a subway. However, when I asked at the info desk in Penn Station about how best to get to JFK I'm told to take the E train. I run around Penn Station but all I see are Track 1, Track 2, .. Track 11, Track 12... etc. I had even told the man I was running late and had only one chance to get it right; was he sure the E train was best way to get to JFK. I came back and asked him how to get to train E and he pointed and when I went in the direction I realized he meant E as in the subway line E! It was sometime later that I remembered it was the Long Island Railroad I had taken last time, which is much faster than a local train to Jamaica..... But at the time, my wits were a bit wayward, so I got on Train E and after a few stops realize I'm going the wrong way! I change direction. However, the train is, for some reason, not going all the way to the end of the line, and there is a transfer to a bus needed to get to the JFK Airtrain.

I get off the train and hail an Uber, something I should have done over an hour ago. My luck is finally turning! The man had just been to Thailand two weeks earlier and was very familiar with the airline I was using and which terminal. Qatar Airways is sometimes Terminal 7, sometimes Terminal 8. He tells me flights departing in the evening are terminal 8 and flights departing in the morning are terminal 7. He drops me at the airport exactly an hour before my flight departs. I race over to the now empty check in. They radio to security and tell me I do not have enough time and the airline will not let me board and that I will have to call the airline in the morning to reschedule.

One man's $573 stupidity is another's entertainment? ... I guess? So much for the savvy traveler.... Well, after all of that, I miss my flight and fail to buy the iPad. But, it turns out the 5th Ave. Apple Store is open 24 hours, and having nothing better to do on a Saturday night, ladened with a backpack, decide to try once more. But first, I better sort out my bank hold before I leave the airport where I may not have service on the train. I find an outlet by the bottom of an escalator (these are seriously hard to find in JFK. Outlets, not escalators) and plug in my phone and call my bank. An hour goes by of me pacing back and forth while my phone repeats over and over some variation of "did you know? You can take care of most of your banking needs online!" and people going by looking at me quizzically. Finally, just before I was about to give up waiting any longer, on my way to the airtrain and still on hold, a TD Bank rep answers. I explain everything that's happened with the card and she assures me the hold is lifted, and also, that if I contact TD Bank through the APP next time, hold times will not exceed one minute. Gee, do you think the hour of on-hold recordings I just suffered through could have mentioned that little detail? 

Back in the Apple Store, card still declining. Finally I decide to try paying the old fashioned way, not through Apple Pay (both use the same card, though, so I don't see why there should be a difference), but there is, and the purchase goes through. The next morning I call the airline and while I'm booking, for a moment, I think the tails of the airlines are sails on the harbor. I think I might be a mite bit tired, but I won't be sleeping in a bed for more than another 24 hours yet.