Iraq Street Art: Beautifying The Blast Walls

One of the first things you notice when traveling in Iraq are the blast walls. These giant concrete barriers are everywhere – in front of government buildings, schools, mosques and dividing Shia from Sunni neighborhoods. They remind me of the “peace walls” put up in Northern Ireland to keep opposing sides from killing each other.

Like the Irish peace walls, they’re ugly, and some locals have decided to beautify them. Iraqi street art has its own distinctive flavor. This Banksy style example in Baghdad sends a message any Iraqi can empathize with. Others are simple graffiti. Many more are officially sanctioned and proclaim the importance of education or rebuilding.

There are even some at the ubiquitous checkpoints, showing happy soldiers being nice to people. Some of the troops have even decorated the checkpoints with plastic flowers in a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to change the vibe. The plastic flowers are nice, but you’re still being stopped by Kalashnikov-toting guys searching for suicide bombers.

%Gallery-171121%I prefer the civilian art, especially the one shown below, showing a weird TV-headed figure balancing a heart and a gun. Check out the gallery for more!

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology, and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “Ten Minutes Of Terror In Iraq!”

[Photos by Sean McLachlan]

Best Anti-Drug Poster Ever Found In Santander, Spain

I was at my local Sanidad Exterior here in Santander, Spain, getting some medicine for an upcoming trip when I spotted this wonderful poster. It reads: “If you bring drugs aboard the plane they’ll cook you lobster and the captain will let you fly.”

The next line reads: “If you believe that taking drugs is the solution to your problems you’ll believe anything.”

This brightened up an otherwise boring wait to see the doctor. While I don’t buy the myth that “all drugs are evil and need to be banned for your own good,” I do think this poster is a quick remedy for stoners who think they can flout international law and common sense just because they’re seeing the world on daddy’s credit card. It’s a big world out there, kids, and it’s just as interesting with a clear head.

Spain has come up with some other fun warnings on the dangers of travel. Last year, I wrote about another anti-drug poster.

[Image courtesy Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad]

Those Growling Medieval Guys Might Be Right

A new report says those Capital One growling medieval guys might just be right when it comes to choosing which credit card to travel with. One insider has some tips on why and how to travel internationally with finesse.

I recommend the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card, or any other Capital One card, for travel abroad; [because] none of their cards carry foreign transaction fees,” says personal finance blogger David Seaman in a Business Insider report.

Seaman agrees with the common notion that using a major credit card is a good idea to get a better exchange rate. But urging travelers to check the fine print in credit card agreements, he warns, “many credit cards now charge a ‘foreign transaction fee’ on every single one of these purchases, which usually is around 3% to 4%. Although this isn’t bad for a cup of coffee, if you spend $200 or $300 in a weekend, that added fee begins to pile up rapidly.”

Another card not charging foreign transaction fees is the Discover card, also noted by Seaman. He suggests taking along a reasonable amount of currency, which can be converted into local currency, just in case there is a problem with a card – an issue that can happen to anyone.

Travel agents commonly advise calling the card company to let them know our plans any time travel takes us out of our normal spending area to avoid a red flagged transaction for secure card companies.

[Flickr photo by Images_of_Money]

Apple Granted Patent For Airport Check-In System

The U.S. Patent Office granted Apple a nifty new patent yesterday that could potentially have an impact on the way that many of us travel. The rather vague filing describes a number of unique ways that an Apple designed device could potentially interact with a check-in system used by airlines or other modes of transportation.

The patent, which was originally filed in 2008, outlines the use of Near Field Communication (NFC) protocols to interact with check-in systems using an app that was originally called “iTravel.” That app would be able to transmit data from an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch that could potentially confirm the identity of the person using it, finalize flight reservations and possibly even allow access through security checkpoints.

NFC technology has been around for some time but is just now starting to gain some acceptance in consumer products. The technology uses radio signals to allow two devices to share data with one another simply by touching or being within close proximity. Some experts believe that NFC could potentially replace the credit cards we carry in our wallets by allowing us to use our smartphones to pay for the things we want to buy. Others see it expanding further and being used for everything from subway passes and toll booths to sharing contacts and photos with friends and coworkers.

There has been heavy speculation that the next iPhone, due out in the fall, will include NFC capabilities. That speculation was fueled even further when Apple recently introduced a new app called Passbook that enables users to electronically organize and store everything from airline boarding passes and consumer loyalty cards to movie tickets and gift certificates. The iTravel app mentioned in the patent filing resembles an early version of Passbook, which is also scheduled to be released in the fall.

There is no doubt that smartphones have made our lives simpler in a lot of ways. But the inclusion of NFC technology and the kind of functionality that it can bring has the potential to be just as revolutionary. It remains to be seen if this patent will actually become a reality, but if Apple doesn’t do something similar, I’m sure someone else will.

10 Photo Musts For Any Travel Plans

Taking photos of important documentation that we might need later as a backup is quickly becoming a part of everyone’s travel plans. Stored in our cell phone, critical data can be recalled easily when paper versions of the same are misplaced, lost or stolen. Taking that idea another step further, creating other images along the way can be quite helpful for a number of reasons.

We don’t like to think about it but getting lost while traveling is something that happens, even with the most careful planning. Rare but tragic, kidnapping is something we don’t like to think about but that happens too. On a long trip, recalling the exact path we took later can be difficult when traveling quickly, covering a lot of ground in a short period of time.

These are all good reasons to focus a little attention to photos that might be helpful later. Here are some must-take photo ops you won’t want to miss.

  1. Enable location tracking– Be sure location tracking or a similar feature on your phone is enabled, secretly adding your location, where and when the image was captured.
  2. Where you are right now– A good idea to make part of what we do when traveling is to take a photo of where we are right now. If you are one of those travelers who back up digital images to a laptop computer along the way, have a folder on your desktop that has one photo from each place visited.
  3. When I die” file photo with location captioned- This is one nobody wants to think about but critical to have someplace when traveling. A “When I Die” file will give relatives or close friends the location of important documents you may have in secured places, website URL’s and passwords that can be helpful for those handling your affairs after your death and more.
  4. Places you visited- Simply having a photo of every place you visit can be a great benefit (see #2) down the line when writing about your adventures, recalling your travel itinerary in the future or matching up faces of those you meet along the way to their location on the planet.
  5. People you met– Later, instead of “Remember that singing guy we met in Spain?” it will be, “Here’s a photo of Ricky Martin,” if tagged/captioned accurately.
  6. Forensic Travel Folder- When viewing, editing or sorting photos, copy some that show your location, places you visited and people you met into a folder intended for family members or law enforcement people that will give a good idea of where you have been.
  7. Your Passport and other identification– a no-brainer these days, having an image of your passport, drivers license or other identification can go a long way to satisfying those who need to verify your identity.
  8. Back up to cloud/have remote back up– besides having another copy of photos taken along the way, granting a close friend or family member access to your remote backup can be a huge aid to someone trying to find you.
  9. Receipts of purchases- Maybe not all, but for sure any receipts received when buying foreign currency, buying items along the way that may have a warranty or receipts that can be used to dispute a fraudulent transaction later.
  10. Prescription medications– simply having an image of the bottle your prescription medication came in can be helpful if your medication is lost or stolen. If nothing else, it gives a pharmacist in Africa a number to call for information about your prescription in the U.S. Better yet, take a photo of a prescription before having

[Flickr photo by Evil Erin]