Friday, 30 January 2015

Life on the road: being connected

Living on the road is very different from being in a fixed abode, everything has to be mobile, accessible. Living in a different country also it's challenges as you don't know how things work.

Mobile/Cell Phone and Data

At home,  it's not uncommon to have unlimited download or large amounts of download to keep up with the digital world. On the road, you are on wireless, so this isn't an option.

Like Australia, if you want good coverage, you need to go with the big boys, who are often the most expensive. The two big players in the USA are AT&T and Verizon. If you are going to be in major cities there are other players like Sprint. The first two years we had a contract with AT&T as we believed that they had the best coverage. We were wrong, Verizon does. So often we saw people talking on their phones in out of the way places and we had no connection. Note: It's difficult to open an account if you are a non US citizen as you don't have a social security number. Your options are to pay a $500 (AT&T) or $400 (Verizon) security deposit or ask a friend to open the account for you.

On our first contract we had a smartphone which we used as a hotspot for our iPad and laptops. We had a $40 call plan with a $50 data plan (5GB) + taxes of course. 5Gb was the most we could have with the phone plan and it doesn't take very long to use it up. They then charge you $10 for each 1GB you use. They are very strict with the plans you can use for hotspots and will cancel your plan if you abuse it, apparently it uses a different port, so they can tell. Be aware also, that the US and Canada charge for each party for outgoing and incoming calls, something we are not used to. Also, unlike Australia, you can't move the SIM card to another phone either as the plan is connected to the IMEI number on the phone. The call plan was pretty much useless to us as we didn't know many people to ring, but this was the smallest amount we could get. The first time we left the USA for six months, we suspended our account with the AT&T branch we had bought the plan and phone with, but you still have to pay a small monthly fee. They would only suspend it for 3 months, so we cut off the data plan so that when the service recommenced we would only be charged for the call plan. The second time we suspended it, I did it over the phone directly with AT&T from Australia and was asked how long I wanted to suspend it for. So I said 6 months, what did I have to lose? - okay, she said! brilliant.

As soon as the two years were up, we cancelled and went to Verizon. Being Australian we couldn't just sign up in any old Verizon store, we had to go to a Business store. We paid the $400 bond for post paid data plan as the prepaid plans are very limiting and very expensive, plus a $35 activation charge. We went for a cheap Samsung flip phone for our calls ($20), which is CDMA and doesn't have a SIM card, with a $100 365-day refill card, we opted for the daily prepaid plan. If you are only here for a short time, there are monthly refill cards. The plan charges us $1.99 for each day that we use it or that someone calls us, and 2c per text incoming and outgoing. My theory was that if we made calls on less than 20 days each month we were better off, it paid off. We didn't even use up the $100 in the six months we were in the country. 

For our data we bought a Verizon Jetpack, a wifi hotspot. A 6GB plan is $60 + taxes each month for a 2 year contract, prepaid is only 3GB. We seem to go through the 6GB faster than the AT&T 5GB, probably because we have more connection time but also because LTE or 4G uses 3x the amount of data than 3G.

The big players in Canada are Bell and Rogers. We haven't taken out any plans as yet. Again, prepaid data is just so expensive. Post paid, you need to sign up to a contract and pay a bond. Not ideal when we are only here for a few months a year.

Skype or Facetime is good for speaking with friends, as long as they have it too.

We needed a solution to ring people in other countries other than the US that aren't on Skype or Facetime such as banks. We started off with Penny Talk which gave us 2c/min calls to Australia but as we had to make the calls on our mobile that wasn't any use to us in Canada. Most of the time we have had internet, either in an RV park or with friends, so now we use Skype (paid) which uses VoIP (internet) to connect to landlines and mobiles. It means we can make calls anywhere in Canada when we are here, where most calls are considered long distance anyway, or call anywhere in the world.

Tips for reducing download

  • Only update apps on one device, instead of each one. If you update on your laptop, then sync your iPad and iPhone before and after, just in case you have added any new ones. Remember that apps not on those devices won't be updated. If you update on the iPad or iPhone, then 'transfer purchases' in iTunes to update the latest version of the app to your computer.
  • Turn off automatic updating of apps on your tablet or mobile
  • Check which apps you have given access to connect online. If you turn syncing to iCloud off, then all Pages and Number documents will be deleted from your iPad, so make sure they are emailed or synced to your computer or the cloud before turning it off. You can then email them back to yourself and open them in the apps.
  • Do software and app updates on other Wi-Fi networks such as a library or RV park, if possible.
  • For Facetime and Skype - click the audio button to make audio, not video calls.
  • Be aware that Dropbox and some other cloud services download data each time files in those folders get updated.

Life on the road: RV Living

Battery Charger

To recharge our three 12V 120 amp/hr Lifeline batteries properly, we have a 35amp/hr battery charger that runs off the generators or off power if we are connected. We also charge our batteries off the car electrical system by using a Redarc DC to DC battery charger that gets hook up to our trailer every time we take off. The system that comes with all trucks doesn't work, so don't believe what the sales people tell you.

When charging from an external power supply like 110v or your generator, you may notice that it takes a long time to charge your batteries. The modern Smart Converters are not all that smart. They take the incoming power and distribute the power to the inside of your RV or Trailer first and the residual power then goes to charging your batteries at a rate no greater than 7 amps. So if your batteries are well down it may take several days to bring them back to a full charge. Even an overnight stop being hooked up may not solve your battery issues. Therefore to fix this problem we use a Singerex 35 amphr charger and a Redarc 40 amphr DC – DC charger so that we are not relying on the internal unit.

Fantastic Fans

We have two of these fans in our 5th Wheel. The main use of course is for extracting cooking smells  out of the kitchen and shower steam and other nasties out of the bathroom. When dry camping they are indeed fantastic. When the temperature starts to cool down outside. Open up a few windows and then put these fans on high and they draw in the cool air faster than an air conditioner can cool the place down. We usually put our ceiling fan on at the same time. If you have them set to automatic, they will close if it starts raining.


Heating

We were very lucky to have a propane central heating and an electric fireplace in our 5th Wheel when we bought it.

The downside of the central heating is that it is very expensive to run, even just using them for a few hours a day, a 20lb tank will only last 3 days.

An electric fireplace is wonderful if you are in an RV park, just hit the remote control from the bed and wait until the place is warmed up before getting up! Not usable if you are dry camping.

So, we had to find an alternative. Catalytic heaters use very little propane. The downside is that you have to have two windows open as they use up the oxygen, but they warm the RV up a treat. We have run a gas line to our main propane tanks. Campingworld have a number of models.

Inverter

We ordered an inverter from one of the car stores, 2400W so that if I need it, I can use my hairdryer when we aren't hooked up! This also allows us to use our laptops or watch TV (aka digital files, not always actual TV) when we are off the grid.

Lighting

Some of the lights in our RV are already LED. Those that weren't we replaced with LED's to reduce the electricity load for when we are dry camping. Choose between bright light and warm light.

Solar or Generator?

People who have solar swear by them and we use them in Australia (camping and on our house), it's just a lot of money when we don't live here permanently. Having them mounted on the roof of your RV isn't the most efficient use of them, they need to be tilted towards the sun and not be under trees. Solar works best in low heat, full sun, in the middle of the day.

We went for two 2kva Honda generators. Honda and Yamaha are the most quiet - we have a 1 kva Yamaha at home. The idea behind these are that we can hook two together to run one of our air conditioners or the microwave if we need to, or one generator to recharge the batteries. When we leave we won't have a problem re-selling them.

Storing your RV in a cold place?

  • You need to have the capacity to recharge the batteries regularly. They discharge quicker in cold weather. 
  • We got a de-humidifier for when we stored our trailer in cold weather and it collected a fair amount of water. I sit it in a glass bowl as well, as water collects here too.
  • Leave all the cupboards open so your mould doesn't collect on your clothes.

Washer & Dryer

We opted not to have a washer and drying in our 5th wheel. They are very small (you would be doing load after load) and most of the time we are not on full hook up, so it just wasn't worth it.


Thursday, 22 January 2015

How to create a uMap

I have started using uMap to log places to stay and things to do and our yearly travels. For a travel map, you will need to import a KML version from Google's MyMaps. If you are just logging POI's, you can do it directly or set up in MyMaps, your choice. The main advantage of uMap is that you can add many more locations than Google Maps will allow. The main disadvantage is that the maps don't show on the iPad.

Create a uMap

  • Click on uMap and sign up
  • Click 'create a new map' (right hand side)
  • Click on the pencil next to untitled map (left hand side)

Importing a Google MyMap into uMaps

  • Before setting up your new uMap, decide if it might be beneficial to be able to turn on or off different layers. I create layers for Parks, Camping, Attractions and Towns. Even if you have something in the wrong layer, it can be changed to another later.
  • In Google MyMaps, click on the three dots to the right of the 'add layer' and click 'export to KML', you then have a choice of exporting the whole map or single layers. 
  • Create a new map in uMaps
  • Click on the import button on the right (Ctrl i) to import the data from MyMaps.
  • Click on 'choose file' and find the file you exported from MyMaps
  • Choose the KML data format
  • Choose the layer to import it to, if uncertain choose new layer
  • Click 'import'

How to change properties for a whole layer

  • Click on the wheel on the right hand side
  • Click on each heading to see what you want to change. You can change the colour, type of icon. Add a symbol to the icon
  • Under Advanced options is the delete key, this will delete the map
  • Under custom background you can change the way the map looks

Changing the layer a marker is on

  • Click on the pin, and a side window will open, from the drop down list choose which layer it should belong to. 

How to add a POI to your map

  • On the sidebar, click on the magnifying glass for 'jump to location', in it's box type in where you want to go, an address or name.
  • Click on 'draw a marker' from the buttons on your right, and place it on the map. If it goes into the wrong layer, change the layer from the toggle list.
  • Type in a name and any other information into the description box. 
  • If you change your mind, click 'advanced actions' and then 'delete'.
  • Under 'advanced properties', you can change the icon, symbol and colour

How to add road trails to your map without importing Google MyMap

  • This is a bit time consuming but a good alternative if you don't want to use google maps
  • Add in a marker
  • Right click the marker and choose 'directions from here' and you will be redirected to OSRM website, put in the place you want to go next (if it's back to front, click reverse), and enter.
  • Click on the GPX hyperlink and it will download a GPX file to your downloads folder.
  • Follow the instructions for importing a file, but this time choose GPX as the file type, choose a new layer and later rename it 'directions'.
  • Click 'import'.
  • You can only do one leg at a time.

How to change the name of a layer

  • Click on the hide/show layers button on the left
  • Click on the pencil to edit
  • A new window opens on the left, change the information

How to show or hide a layer

  • Click on the hide/show layers button on the left
  • Click on the eye icon to toggle on or off, showing or hiding

How to embed your uMap into your website or blog

  • Underneath the view/hide layer button is a 'more' button, click this. 
  • Four down is 'embed and share this map', click this.
  • Go into the iFrame option and make changes as necessary - you may not want the more or layers options to be available. I increase the size to 400.
  • Copy the 'embed the map' code (CmdA, then CmdC)
  • If you are with Blogger, you will need to click the HTML tab and paste it (Cmd V).
  • To make sure your area is shown you will need to add the coordinates that you will see in the URL bar.
  • Sample text:  http://umap.openstreetmap.fr/en/map/where-to-go-usa_26497?
  • replace the question mark (red) with the blue text below - which you get from the map's URL (address bar in your browser): http://umap.openstreetmap.fr/en/map/where-to-go-usa_26497#6/48.415/-84.683
  • Under 'iFrame export options' you can change the height of the map, include a full screen link. Press the + - zoom keys to display your map how you want, you may need to experiment. As you zoom in and out the #6 number and the coordinates will change.
  • In Blogger, the map won't show until you publish it.

Zooming Out

  • I haven't found a way to zoom out quickly, so I bookmark my map on size #5 (this shows in the URL). Then when I want to zoom out after putting in a POI, I just click in the URL bar and pick the address that contains the #5 information.
See full screen

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Life on the road: Membership Programs

The USA seems to run on coupons, memberships and discounts!

Camping Memberships

Harvest Hosts
Harvest Hosts' is a membership program costs as little as a one or two night stay in an RV park. You can stay at various locations like wineries, breweries; agri-tourism sites, across North America fee free, but may feel obliged to . You need a self contained RV.

You can sign up at Camping world stores. 50% off selected RV parks. The downside is that some parks have blackout dates during peak season, weekends and a limit of days that the discount applies. Some also ask to be paid in cash. Membership is about the same cost as one to two nights in an RV park. We became members last year and have stayed at a couple of RV parks and yes you do pay half price. There is an app for your phone or tablet to makes finding a campground easier.

A complicated membership program. They have divided the USA in zones and you pay for a zone or multiple zones. The RV parks are dedicated thousand trail parks not always in the places that you want to be. You can stay in a park for up to 14 consecutive days, then you have to have a 7 day break before going to another park. The first 30 nights are free, then you pay a small fee for each night after that. Not a bad program if you like the locations of their parks. The Elite package allows up to 21 days at a time, then you can move to another park without being out of the system.

Coast to Coast
Probably the most complicated membership program out there that is sold by high pressure salespeople. The initial cost runs into the thousands of dollars (up to 10k) and then there is a yearly fee as well. Members in the highest package can still only stay for one week at a time unless it is their home park which is two weeks. I don't know a lot about this program as they don't give out a lot of information unless you sign up. We have seen second hand memberships being sold on sites like Craig's List for a lot less than buying a new one, not sure how this works though. 

Discounts are offered at a wide range of RV parks across the country for a 15% to 50% discount.

Long Term Discounts
Nearly all RV parks and some County parks give you a weekly or monthly discount. Unfortunately all State and National parks are only on a daily fee.

AAA, Good Sam, KOA
Have memberships that give you 10% off camping fees. Good Sam also has a good trip planner that shows things to do along the way. Good Sam Elite gives you discount fuel at Flying J and Pilot.


Store Memberships

I don't think any RV'er could get away without ever stepping into a Camping World. Being a member gives you discounts on everything you buy.

Costco
Costco in North America is vastly different than the ones in Australia. They have everything. Contrary to what I used to believe, you don't have to buy millions of everything there either. Each membership allows you to have two cards and you don't have to have the same surname, you just need to have something that shows you live at the same address. It could be an invoice for something you buy online and have delivered to your friend's house!

Columbia Sportswear
Sign up for free and get discounts on all your purchases at POS.

REI & Best Buy
Sign up for free and a percentage of your purchases comes back to you as a voucher the following year. You don't need to carry around your card, just give them your phone number.

Supermarkets
Many of the supermarkets have cards that give you extra discounts that aren't available to those without the cards. Annoying but true. Luckily they are free to join, but remembering whose card goes with what store takes some remembering.



There are other programs out there, click on the hyperlink for second hand memberships for other names and things to be aware of. We are only members of Camping World, Good Sam, Costco and Passport America, so do you own research before joining any of the above.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Life on the road: Trip Planning

Being on the road requires planning, I find the following websites and apps helpful. Remember that low altitude places will be hot in summer, high altitude places will be cold in winter!

Websites

All Stays - web version of the App. Shows camping, stores, free overnight camping. I use the app version.

BLM lands - shows the Bureau of Land Management areas

Campendium - shows many camping options on a map

Campground Photos - you can sort by state, area. Map or list view.

Casino Camping - list of casinos that allow RV camping

Free Campgrounds - lists by state, campgrounds are listed to nearest town, no map view

Free Campsites - click on a state and it gives you a map with colour coded spots for pay, free etc

Public Lands - map view

National Parks - check for seasonal closures, names of campgrounds

National Wildlife and Refuge System - you can search by state where wildlife refuges.

Oh Ranger - information on parks. I use the app.

RoadTrippers - gives you sample trips with points of interest along the way to help you create your own trip. They also have a free app.

Reservations:
  • You learn after a while that there are certain times of the year or certain places that you need to reserve:
    • Friday and Saturday nights during summer along the West Coast. 
    • The Canadian Rockies: Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper in summer
    • Yosemite & Zion - anytime!
  • Even if the campground says 'Full' - they aren't always, they just don't take the sign down, so always ask.
  • Most National and State parks have reservations - go online to see how busy they are for the time you want to stay.
  • If you can't get reservations for the whole time you want, try single days, you might have to move sites or even campgrounds, but at least you will be able to camp where you want to be.
  • Reservation alerts: There are some campgrounds are booked out a year in advance, then people cancel a week or two before they are due to arrive. If the campground takes Reserve America reservations you might be able to have an alert sent to you when a space becomes available.

RV Park Reviews - reviews by users of RV parks

Sani Dumps - lists areas to dump your tanks by country, then state....

Trip Advisor - great resource for "things to do"

Ultimate Campgrounds - shows BLM, County, National Parks, Forest Service Parks, State Parks and private.

US Campgrounds - shows on a map - National Park, National Forest, State Park, State Forest, BLM, US Corp of Engineers (which anyone can use), County Park.

US Forest Camping Guide - useful information in depth

US Forest Service - lets you search by state, then by park. It lets you know if the campgrounds are closed etc.

US Public Lands - Only the western USA states. Shows on a map - State Park, Wildlife Refuge, campgrounds, National Parks, Byways, Wilderness Areas, BLM lands, Wildlife areas. The more you zoom out, the more icons appear.

Apps



All Stays - Camp & RV - shows private and public campgrounds, dump stations. Can be used offline. I use this app all the time. I just wish you could put in your route.



Camp Finder - must be online. Don't use it as much now I have All Stays, but it gives you an idea on how much RV parks cost and also has some that All Stays doesn't.



Free GPS - gives you the GPS coordinates of where you are. You can save, email or open them in maps


Gas Buddy - look up the price and location of fuel close by, including directions. Apple/Android.



National Geographic Park Guides - great app showing US 20 national parks


Oh Ranger - Apple/Android shows what parks are nearby, addresses are not always accurate. Must be online.




Passport America - Apple/Android. Lists the Passport America campgrounds. Type in a state and it will bring up all the RV parks with names, town and prices. Click on a park and it will give you the address, restrictions, facilities, map view.



RV Parking - basic




Wundermap - great weather map app for seeing the temperatures around you, click on a temp and you will get current or long range forecast. Apple/Android



Blogs

There are millions of blogs out there with recommendations of places to go, places to stay and how to set up your RV. You just have to start following some.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Trying to find Eagles in the snow

Squamish/Brackendale


Brackendale calls itself the  Bald Eagles capital of the world, but the eagles mustn't have got the message. A storm came through at the end of December and washed all the dead salmon away, so there's no food for the eagles. We saw a few, mainly sitting in trees, which are not the sort of photos we want. A local told us he had seen quite a few a the local tip, a picture against the snow would have been good, but no, they were in the trees also. On the positive side, we did have some lovely days driving around.



Stupidly, I didn't take my wide angle lens so my photos are from my phone and iPad.

Eagle viewing area Paradise Valley Road 
Paradise Valley Road, Squamish
Shannon Falls, Squamish
After Squamish, we went up to Whistler. Our friends Lane and Debbie had just sold their beautiful house that they built. We were their last guests, the owners had wanted all the furnishings, so pretty much everything was left there, we helped them take some things home to Vancouver where we stayed for a few days while they went down to Palm Springs.

Lindsay and Lane at the luge where they were practicing, they were going so fast, blink and you would miss it.
The Olympic Rings from 2010
Farewelling the house. Lane, Debbie and Calvin. Lane wasn't happy about leaving!

Vancouver

Lane and Debbie were kind enough to let us stay in their condo in West Vancouver and look after their tabby Cal while they went down to a few sunny warm days in Palm Desert. Not that I was jealous or anything! We spent a few days doing some sightseeing, went out to dinner and just enjoying a change of being in a different place.


On one of the days we took a trip to Lynn Canyon Park which is only a 15 minute drive from West Vancouver. There are a number of trails there. As usual it was raining, but we went for a walk anyway. The trail takes you across the suspension bridge, then down to the bridge that overlooks Twin Falls, it then loops back to the car park. It's a nice easy walk in a rainforest.


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Everything Mac

People who know me know I love my Mac and my iPad, well all things Apple really and I subscribe to a number of magazines and learn all these cool things that make life easier.

OSX (iMac, laptop)

  • Not getting the most out of your Mac? 
  • Magic Mouse. It has 4-way scrolling so you can get around a spreadsheet with ease. Use 2 fingers to swipe through web pages, use one finger to scroll up and down. And of course it has left and right click like a normal mouse, but without the ball that gets filled up with dust. It's bluetooth, so there are no cords, but on the downside the batteries do not last long, so turn it off when you aren't using it.
  • How to dictate to your Mac
    • want to multi-task and doing something else while writing a long email or word doc? Read more...
  • 10 Coolest Keyboard Shortcuts
    • all keys are to be selected simultaneously
    • Need that "other" delete key that's not on your laptop keyboard? Press fn delete and text will disappear to your right. 
    • Want to have a quick preview of any file including a song? just press the spacebar.
    • ⌘ shift 4, drag the crosshairs around what you want to copy, it creates a png file that you can insert or attach to an email
    • Ctrl shift ⌘ 4 copies the selection to the clipboard for you to paste it somewhere else.
    • Replace the 4 with a 3 in the above two shortcuts to do whole screen shots
    • Option⌘i to get the information on more than one file in Finder, just ⌘i for one file
    • Read more...
  • Batch rename files in finder
    • don't want to have to rename a group of files individually? Read more...
  • Signing documents
    • This is a life saver for me, no printing, filling in documents and rescanning for me. Edit the documents in Preview, sign, save and send. I have even "whited out" text and re-typed on top of it. Read more...
    • Encrypt a PDF that has sensitive data and give it a password before emailing. Read more...
  • Get the most out of spotlight
    • need to quickly add something up, check a currency conversion? - you don't need to leave the program you are in, click "cmd spacebar". Read more...
only typed £56 (opt3 for £)
  • Want to make a list of all your files such as books or movies. Select all  the files in a folder in Finder (cmdA) or just the ones you want and copy/paste them into a spreadsheet. Easy! 
  • Need to expand all those folders so you can copy them to a list? Go into list view in Finder, highlight all the folders, then click the cmd and right arrow and they will expand.
  • Using a Windows formatted (NTFS) external drive on your Mac - there are a number of programs that allow your Mac to edit files on a Windows drive. I use Paragon. Just remember to make sure your machine is up and running before plugging in the USB drive or it won't be able to 'see' it. Hard drives have to be formatted in NTFS or FAT for Smart TV's to read them and don't go bigger than 2TB as they can only read the first 2TB's.
  • Still have a program that doesn't come in a Mac version? There are a few programs out there, Bootcamp, Parallels and VM Ware. I use WM Ware, which I load onto my Mac and have Windows 7 and other Windows software on an external hard drive. I make sure I turn off the internet before logging on to minimise the chances of getting infected - remember you are using Windows!
  • Not enough room on your Macbook Air for iTunes? With the introduction of SSD's, there isn't much room for lots of videos, photos and music. You can set up iTunes with all your music, photos, podcasts, videos etc on an external hard drive. Unfortunately if you are using iBooks, it will still store another copy of the book in the hidden library folder on your SSD, no way around that yet. Read more...
  • Backing up - Mac comes with a built in backup system called time machine. It's very easy to setup.

iPad

  • Did you know that Microsoft office products for iPad are now free? Slightly limited capability but for most users you probably don't use those functions anyway.
  • Want the text from a web page but can't save/print it to PDF yet? (I live in hope). If the page has "reader view" (those reading lines at the top next to the web address), click these lines to go into reader view, then click the right arrow on the other side to email it to yourself. The text will be put in the body of the email. You can then copy/paste the information into a Word/Pages doc.
  • Magazines: there are two ways of getting magazines for your iPad. Paid and free. Companies such as Zinio and Next Issue let you subscribe to your favourite magazine(s) and will send you an email to let you know when the next issue is available for download. 
  • Many library memberships allow access to Zino for free, so check their website or ask them. Each library subscribes to different magazines, so if your library doesn't have the one you want, check other libraries in your state if you live in Australia. A resident can join any library in the State, you may have to visit to collect a card for access, but not all. 
  • To download from the libraries, you need to log onto their Zinio website, log in, click on the magazine that you want, and click "checkout", tick the checkbox to email you when the next edition is available. You also need the Zinio App on your iPad. It will then appear on your iPad and you will need to click on the cover and it will download. When you have finished reading it, hold your finger on the cover and a cross will appear for you to touch and it will be deleted from your iPad. You can usually download back issues as well.
And of course, remember. If you ever want to know something, chances are someone else does too - so ask Google!

Monday, 5 January 2015

Starting a Blog

A couple of people have asked me about setting up a blog. So if you have ever thought that you want to do the same, now is a good time to start. It can be on anything that you are passionate about, an interest, a hobby or work related.

  • Subject: Decide what you want to blog about
  • Decide on a name. When you sign up, you will be asked for a name of your site which may form part of the URL, so it pays to think about this carefully. The main header of your blog usually relates to this naming convention as well. It needs to be ambiguous so that you are not locked into one subject. Mine wasn't at first so now I have moved all my Kenya safari posts into Travel Bug.
  • Who to use? Most people seem to use Wordpress or Blogger. Have a look at both and decide which is right for you. Blogger is part of the G+ (google) which means everything is related, sign up for a google account and you have access to email, calendar, cloud drive, a place to upload your photos, a web site, a blogger site, My Maps and somewhere where people can see what you are up to (a bit like facebook) etc - a free one stop shop.

  • Customise: Once you have created an account, click on Template to choose the overall look of your page - there are seven choices. Click "preview" to see if you like the look. If you ever want to change it, go back into Template and click on another template and "apply to blog" underneath. You can customise it to change the background, the widths and the layout. The layout is how the header, footer and columns are laid out. The widths are the width of your columns. I chose a left hand column for gadget and a right hand column for content, I then reduced the size of the left hand column and increased the right hand column. Advanced allows you to change font and font colour etc.
  • To set up what goes where, you need to click on the layout button. Click the add a gadget to get various widgets such as blog archive, follow by email, profile etc
  • Write: Time to start your first blog, click on the orange pencil and start writing. Add a photo, a video or an external link. If you want to write your blog offline in a word document first, after you copy paste it into the blog you will need to select all the text and click the icon two in from the right to remove formatting from the other program.
  • A word on Photos: the photos that you put in the blog will be uploaded to your G+ photos in the cloud and stay linked. So if you delete a photo from there, it will be deleted from your blog. If you plan to add more photos to that album, it is better to create an album in G+ first, add all the photos, then add insert them into your blog. On the other hand, leave all your blog photos in one place and create a separate album for your other photos, your choice.