Just a note: We got some early feedback to this post that indicated that some Turkish people felt that I was disparaging their country in the original title to this blog post (“Technology in Unexpected Places”). It wasn’t my intention to paint Turkey as a technologically backwards country–in fact, it’s anything but, if you read into my post a bit. For me it was “unexpected” because of (1) my own initial ignorance about the country, and (2) Turkey’s history goes so far back into the ancient past, that it’s easy to forget about what’s happening there in the here and now. It isn’t just a place from the pages of dusty old history books; it’s a vibrant and rapidly changing place. (And also, Turkey is actually a huge tourist spot, one that is seriously overlooked by Americans.)
Due to my ignorance of the country, everything I experienced was a surprise. A wonderful, pleasant surprise, actually.
I am sorry if anything I wrote appeared uncomplimentary to the country. That wasn’t my intention at all. Anyways, without further ado…
Those of you who read our blog regularly may recall that in a post called “Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone,” I mentioned that I was going to Turkey for a couple weeks. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been wanting to shine a little spotlight on one of the surprises that I stumbled across in Turkey: of all things, a tech startup company.
When our trip was in the planning phases, one of our major considerations was how to stay in touch–technologically speaking–while in Turkey. While many restaurants, cafes, hotels, and hostels in Europe offer WiFi access, this can be seriously hit and miss. Reception and speed can be spotty. And in a situation where you’re in a pinch and need to get a cab or get a hold of your hotel, it’s never a good idea to simply hope that some sort of Internet connection will be conveniently nearby.
Generally speaking, using your standard phone and data service while traveling is a fantastic way to rack up truly awe-inspiring roaming charges. Phone calls can run $3 a minute, and text messages cost around 50 cents each, but the real deal breaker is data: more than $2 per megabyte. To put that in perspective: it would cost about four bucks just to load the desktop version of Creative California’s home page on my phone. Nope nope nope.
So that brought us back to the question of, when you’re planning on going here:
…How the heck are you going to stay connected?
I was tasked with the job of researching the problem. A fair amount of poking the Internet with a stick suggested that the only real option would be to wait until we got to Turkey, and then buy a prepaid SIM card. (Stands and shops that sell SIM cards are quite common throughout Europe.) But even this was still relatively pricey–it would be about 20 bucks for a SIM card with a gig of data and small supply of calls and text messages. Given that there were three of us going–and we can all do some serious damage when it comes to data usage–that would be 60 dollars to start off, and we would likely have to pay more for additional data. And I was taking my laptop. Annnnnnnd there was the whole issue with catching the last couple episodes of Game of Thrones, which would air while we were in Turkey… but I digress.
Perhaps more concerning was that there was the potential for unexpected problems–having our phones decide that they don’t like the SIM card, potentially having to cut the edges of the SIM card in order to get it to fit (I never knew that there were different sizes and shapes of SIM cards), or a misunderstanding due to language difficulties resulting in something going awry. All of this left me feeling rather unenthused about the SIM card route.
But then I stumbled across something a bit different: a little company called Alldaywifi, which rented 3G modems with unlimited data for $5 a day.
It would be magically waiting for us when we got to our hotel in Istanbul, we could take it with us all over Turkey, and then we just had to leave it with the front desk of the last hotel we stayed at so one of their employees could pick it back up. And there’d be no delivery charges for it at all. We could just throw it in our day pack every day, connect our phones to it via WiFi, and go about our merry way.
Supposedly. My dubiousness knows no bounds. I immediately turned into my Creative California alter-ego, and started digging through their website and social media presence. Their site was nice, simple, well-designed, and decently-written (given that the operators are Turkish). On Twitter, they were very good about responding to inquiries and issues, and they were getting a lot of positive tweets praising them for their service. Oh, and the quality and quantity of their reviews on TripAdvisor was absolutely insane.
So what the heck. I’m a sucker for novelty. I made a reservation through the site, and went back to worrying about the rest of the preparation for the trip. A couple weeks and an obscene number of hours in an airplane later, we wearily stumbled into our hostel in Istanbul and found this waiting for us:
And inside was an unexpectedly large amount of stuff.
I was caught off guard and rather impressed. I hadn’t expected such an elaborate setup. The modem itself was actually a pretty simple doodad: hold the power button for a couple seconds to turn it on, wait for its WiFi network to become available, and then log in using the supplied username and password. And it all worked right from the get-go. Which was good, because our hostel’s Internet access was flaky the first day there, and then the power went out on our second night.
It worked very well in the city. When we wanted to be, we could be just as preoccupied and obsessed with our phones as the locals and fit right in (we were actually pretty good about focusing on the scenery… pinky swear). The gadget worked pretty well in the city, which was great because we were able to use an Uber-like app to summon a cab early one morning so we could catch a flight to our next destination.
But how would it perform in more out of the way places? Well, as it turned out, it worked very well.
Technology enables you to capture travel and share it with others, as you’re doing it. That’s a pleasure that is easy to overlook. But it really was a special experience to be able to show friends back home exactly where you are and what you’re looking at right at that very moment. In being able to share your experience as it happens, that process not only captures and records where you went and what your did, but what your feelings were like when those moments of awe and surprise were fresh and vivid in your mind. It’s a great way of giving people an honest portrayal of a trip–capturing those ups and downs in real time.
And as it turns out, it’s also a fantastic way to make people incredibly jealous. Rabidly, fantastically jealous.
At the outset, I had wondered whether the convenience of being constantly connected to the Internet and its attention-stealing social networks would prove to be more of a distraction then a benefit. I saw more than a few people with their heads bent down, consumed by Facebook, email, and even Candy Crush (seriously), in the midst of scenes that were literally awe-inspiring. And I did get distracted occasionally. But in the end, I think having that convenience really added to the trip. As I described above, it allowed us to share our experiences as they were occurring.
I was really impressed with the little 3G router. It had its occasional connection issues, but that’s just the nature of mobile connections. You can’t expect a cell signal to hold strong when you’re in a cave or an underground cavern. We also had issues with losing reception while driving in very rural areas–but that’s also true of Central California. All in all, Alldaywifi’s gadget worked great, and really simplified a lot of the inherent issues of traveling in a foreign country (finding bus schedules, getting tickets for transportation and museums, loading maps and using GPS when you get lost, etc.). After we dropped it off with our hotel’s front desk the night before we left, we found ourselves missing it immediately. Stable WiFi was very difficult to come by during the long process of coming home, which created some issues for us during a long layover in Paris. So yeah, when you immediately start missing something when it’s gone, that probably means it did its job well.
I couldn’t help but note that Alldaywifi is a great example of what an online business should be. Part of Creative California’s job is to take a critical approach in examining our clients’ websites and how they interact with customers via social media, and to see what works and what’s lacking. More often than not, there are issues that have to be remedied. It’s extremely difficult to keep up with all the aspects of an online business. And in this case, Alldaywifi has a lot of challenges to face: it’s run by a bunch of people in their early 20s who have to conduct all of their interactions with customers in a non-native language. And they’re doing all of this with a small budget in a huge city that is the fifth most-visited tourist destination in the world. They’re marketing a tourism product in a city that is crammed full of products aimed at tourists.
And yet, they’re making it work, mostly thanks to a lot of hard work. If you’re looking for inspiration for how to handle your business’s online operations, you could certainly do worse than by looking at Alldaywifi’s approach. Their thoughtful and prompt communication with their customers, in combination with a knack for the art of getting people to talk about their experiences with their product has worked incredibly well (240 reviews on TripAdvisor?!).
Perhaps most importantly, their product is great. It’s clear that they took their time in researching their market, figuring out what it was their potential customers wanted and couldn’t get, and then made sure that the quality of the product lived up to their intentions. I certainly felt like I got my money’s worth, and they made many aspects of my trip a whole lot easier and more convenient.
For that, I think Alldaywifi deserves a bit of recognition. Good job, guys. Thank you for helping me share my awesome experiences in your beautiful country.