about We are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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awardwallet review + free upgrade!

Award Wallet

AwardWallet front page

Right now, the economy is struggling, people are unemployed, and, yet, there are trillions of dollars in frequent flier miles, award points, and gift cards going to waste.  Much of these miles/award points are lost because we simply forget to use them but, sometimes, it is because the airlines or stores adopt deceptive or misleading practices to steal away our points.  A few years ago, airlines arbitrarily slashed miles without warning , leading to a Congressional investigation; this year, New Jersey passed a bill to seize unused gift cards and raise $80 million.

This is why you need AwardWallet , simply the best frequent flier/awards management tool out on the market right now.  (I'm not the only one who thinks so: check out reviews at FoxNomad , the Cranky Flier , the Consumerist , the LA Times , and the Wall Street Journal .)  As a special bonus to The Road Forks readers, AwardWallet is offering 25 free upgrades to AwardWallet Plus using the promotional code "roadforks6mo."

AwardWallet frontpage

AwardWallet front page

Lest you think that I am just a corporate shill, let me tell you my AwardWallet story.   A few weeks ago, I started planning our 10th anniversary vacation to hopefully somewhere beautiful, romantic, and rock-bottom-cheap because we need to save as much as we can for our European trip.  I grew increasingly frustrated as I realized that planning a vacation to anywhere in the Caribbean in vacation-heavy June would be more expensive than either of us hoped.  Then, I received an e-mail from the marketing director at AwardWallet, suggesting that I check out their site.  I get e-mails like this every single day, at which time I normaly look at the product, decide that I am not impressed, thank them for contacting me and delete the e-mail.

But, AwardWallet impressed the heck out of me. Simply put, it organizes every single award program you have, for every family member, in a single easily navigable website.


AwardWallet - add a reward

What I Love:

  • Free, Free, Free :  The basic version is completely and totally free.  Free!  I love free.  You can upgrade to AwardWallet Plus for a fee (more on the fee below), which allows exporting to an Excel spreadsheet, unlimited notices of expiration, and displays extra reward option.
  • Multiple Users : I can organize both Patrick's and my award points in one place [and, if you fly with your pets, you can add their award points , as well], instead of having to input different user ids every time I want to see our mileage/awards.
  • Works For Every Award Program: Unlike most frequent flier managers, AwardWallet organizes every award system: frequent flier miles, hotel points, store rewards, credit card rewards, and even gift cards.
  • Ease of Inputting Awards: As you can see from the above image, all you need to add a new system is your user name and password.

Automatic Updating

Increase in miles
  • Secure Storage of Passwords: You can choose to store your password with AwardWallet (similar to Mint.com's online storage) or on your hard drive.  Anil, at Tech Guide for Travel , did a great interview with Todd Mera and Alexi Vereschaga, owners and founders of AwardWallet, where they describe their encryption technology and how they ensure that their customers' passwords remain secure.
  • Automatic Updating :  If you store your password with AwardWallet,  then they will automatically update your points on a daily basis, pulling the information from the company.  For example, last week, I earned 287 points on our Capital One credit card and AwardWallet notifies me of the change by showing a green arrow with the increase (or decrease).
  • Expiration Notification: We don't fly American Airlines very much, as you can tell from the paltry 451 miles accumulated over the last year.  AwardWallet notifies us as to the date of expiration of those miles and, for the first time ever, I will be donating those miles to Iraq soldiers rather than letting them evaporate into the ether because I didn't realize they had expired.

Award Wallet mobile

IPhone interface
  • E-mail Notification :  Once a week, AwardWallet sends me an e-mail notifying me of any changes to our account.

AwardWallet close up

Expanded information

What I Don't Love:

  • Weird Upgrade Price: If you want to upgrade to AwardWallet Plus, they allow you to choose your own price based on what you think the upgrade is worth.  I hate not knowing if I am paying too little or too much, which is the same reason I usually end up paying $15 for what should clearly be a $6 silk tie in the Indian markets.  I wish that they would at least suggest a price that they think is appropriate.
  • Not Much White Space :  AwardWallet's marketing director assured me that they are working out kinks in design, but one thing that I hope they fix is the lack of white space on the sides of their site which makes it look very busy.
  • Confusing Links to Detailed Information: To review your information on a particular program, you need to click the plus symbol rather than the link to the program, itself.  On more than one occasion, I have clicked on "Delta Air Lines," which sends me to the Delta website rather than to my summary of my Delta miles on AwardWallet.


Front page

So, what happened to our anniversary trip?  Once I plugged in all of my mileage programs, I discovered that Patrick and I have a combined 260,000 Delta Skymiles, more than enough for us to fly anywhere we want, as well as over 60,000 miles on our Capital One No Hassle Miles card, which means that we can pay for a week's hotel stay with those reward points.  It looks like our anniversary is going to be beautiful, romantic, and almost entirely free, thanks in large part to AwardWallet.

As a special offer to The Road Forks readers, AwardWallet has kindly offered 25 free upgrades to AwardWallet Plus using the promotional code "roadforks6mo". To get your free upgrade:

1.  You must be a new member of AwardWallet.
2.  After you register, click My Account >  Upgrade to Award Wallet Plus > Enter price $1.00 (you won't be charged) > Choose a method of payment (you won't be charged) > Add promotional code "roadforks6mo".
3.  You must use the promotional code by February 23rd.

Have fun tracking your rewards/miles.  We would love to know what you think about the site once you log on.

* If you want to learn more about using frequent flier miles, check out Chris Guillebeau's Travel Hacking Cartel .  We are not members but have heard very good things.

* This post and giveaway was sponsored by AwardWallet but all opinions (both good and bad) are, as always, our own.  We are thrilled to have found AwardWallet and hope you will be, too.

kindle for travelers


In the five months we have been traveling with the Kindle 2, we rarely go a week without someone asking us what it is, how it works, and whether it is good for travel.  In a word, it is fantastic.  But, we have several major criticisms and, given the recent launch of the iPad, want to weigh the pros and cons of traveling worldwide with a Kindle.

Kindle screenThumbs upPaper-like screen: Thumbs up, mostly

Probably the most impressive Kindle feature, the crisp black and white E-ink screen without backlighting makes the Kindle easy to read even in bright sunlight.  As you can see from the picture on the right, the text on a Kindle looks just like a paperback book.  We take our Kindles to parks, cafes, and even beaches, and never worry about glare or tiring our eyes. 

But, it is a black and white screen.  iPad readers will be able to “flip” through magazine pages, maps, childrens’ books, and color photographs.  The Kindle, on the other hand, is best for reading books and newspaper articles. 

Homer d'ohWhispernet: Thumbs down

The proprietary Whispernet service, based on worldwide AT&T coverage, makes downloading Amazon e-books convenient because it is free and does not require a WiFi Hotspot.  However, while Whispernet works really well in the U.S. and Europe, coverage is spotty elsewhere in the world.  The Kindle can use unsecured WiFi connections but most hostels, hotels, and cafes use secure WiFi connections to prevent freeloaders from accessing their Internet.

WiFi is the universal standard and Amazon messed up big time by not letting their readers use it.  Kindle users should be able to connect to any WiFi network even if it requires a password.  In countries without Whispernet, we end up downloading books onto our laptops and then revert to 1990s technology by transferring the book through a USB connection. 

Whispernet access

Whispernet access (dark purple is 3G access, light purple is Edge access)

Homer happyCarry Your Library in 10.3 Ounces: Gigantic thumbs, toes, all fingers up
When I explained to my mom that the Kindle would let us carry over 200 books while we traveled, my mom said, "That's the perfect gift for you!"  We tend to barrel through books like a teenage girl goes through lip gloss (cherry flavored, if you please) and our bags are usually packed full of novels and electronics and very little in the way of clothing and accessories.  Because of this wonderful wonderful machine, we have read over 100 books in the last five months without worrying about finding English-language bookstores or forcing ourselves to read The Da Vinci Code for the millionth time (it continues to amaze me that nearly every English language bookstore in the world stocks this book).  

BUT, The Lack of Organization: Thumbs down
Unfortunately, the Kindle’s organization structure is poor, to say the least.  It allows you to organize books by title, author, and most recently read books.  We wish we could also organize books into sub-folders so that we could archive books we have already read and by category.  Libraries have been using the Dewey Decimal System for ages; shouldn’t our electronic library have the same organization capability?

Organization on Kindle Table of contents

Homepage showing most recently read books; showing table of contents in Lonely Planet

Long Battery Life:  Big two thumbs up
We spend at least two hours every day reading our Kindles but we only charge our Kindles once every two weeks.  That is just ridiculous.  Long after our laptops and iPhone die on night buses, long-haul flights, and boring ferry rides, our Kindles keep us company.  For this reason alone, I think that the Kindle is a clear winner over the iPad as an e-book reader.

Search results on Kindle

Search results for Chiang Mai restaurant (notice that the relevant results start on page 2)

Search: Thumbs down
Amazon claims that it “makes it easy to search across your library.”  We disagree.  The problem is that the search feature pulls up every instance of the keyword in order of the pages in your book.  So, a search for “Chiang Mai restaurant” pulls up nineteen results, but the first six search results make only a passing reference to Chiang Mai and relevant results are found only on the second page.  If Amazon's search tool utilized a Google-like algorithm or even routed you to an index, the search function would be much more useful.

Bangkok map split into four separate pages on the Kindle

Lonely Planet on the Kindle: Thumbs Down
Lonely Planet recently made many of its guidebooks available on the Kindle.  Don’t waste your money and just buy the guidebooks in paperback to carry with you.  First, maps on the Kindle are useless because they are split into multiple pages and the zoom feature does not work well.  For example, the 27 pages of Bangkok maps in the paper-version of Lonely Planet Thailand turns into 80 pages on the Kindle, making the Kindle maps a disaster of a mess.

Second, we often flip through guidebooks to get information on a town or specific site.  Because the Kindle search feature brings up a lot of irrelevant information, we ended up buying an additional hard copy guidebook to carry around so that we have useful maps and the ability to easily find information.

Kindle with M-Edge jacketKindle with M-Edge jacket and E-Luminator

The Cost: Worth every cent

At $259.00 USD, the Kindle isn’t cheap, but it is worth the ability to read what we want anywhere and the savings in space.  We download older books for free from Manybooks and purchase new books on Amazon.  Even though Lonely Planet is not useful on the Kindle, we get a lot of usage out of our e-book readers; they are essential to help make our journey a pleasant one.

Several travelers have asked us whether the Kindle makes us a target for thieves.  I think our cameras are more likely to attract thieves because the M-Edge jackets look like regular leather-bound journals.  If you buy the M-Edge jacket, we strongly recommend buying the E-Luminator booklight because it fits neatly within the case, lasts for about one month on a single AAA battery, and provides excellent reading light. 

Some nifty features that Amazon doesn’t tell you about:

Dogs on Kindle

Dogs running on my Kindle

To personalize your screensaverThis is our favorite hack because every time we open our Kindle, we see our puppies' grinning faces.  Upgrade to the latest Kindle version and follow the instructions in this excellent Wiki article with step-by-step screenshots on personalizing your screensaver. 

To add picture albums to your Kindle (listed alongside your books): This great article tells you how to create picture albums.  Because the Kindle is in black and white, you might want to convert your pictures to black and white in a photo editor and then crop to 600 by 800 pixels so that the Kindle doesn't make your pictures look wonky.

Play games on the Kindle: Hit Shift + Alt + M to play Minesweeper or Go Moku (which is like Tic-Tac-Toe) to waste away the hours on long bus rides after your iPhone has died

Wondering how we took the screenshots on this post?  Hit Shift + Alt + G and it will save the screenshot in the documents folder in a black and white gif. 


[Ummm, so, if you click on any of the links above and purchase something from Amazon, we will get a tiny amount of money - like maybe enough to buy a mango shake at the vendor down the street.  I'm just telling you this because the FTC thinks you aren't smart enough to figure this out for yourself.  Everything listed above we reviewed after purchasing it ourselves and we have received no endorsements for any of the above review.]

* Credit for happy Homer image and d'oh Homer image

an electronics junkie's round-the-world packing list

An Electronics Junkie's Round the World Packing List from theroadforks on Vimeo .

One of us is obsessed with buying organizational systems, packages, and bags which leads to this sort of packing list ; the other of us is mad about gadgets, electronics, and the newest toys which leads to the packing list below.  It is a bit of a problem that our electronics bag weighs more than all my clothes, toiletries, and miscellaneous equipment and that we carry nearly $9,000 on our backs.

But, here's the thing: we use all of it every single day .  Though this list is long, we would not give up any of our electronics because they keep us connected, working, and able to capture the best parts of our travels.  If you want the quick and dirty version of our electronics gear, watch this short 2-minute video which captures how we pack in our electronics, including weight and total costs.

Or, if you want the nitty gritty details, come walk through our electronics packing list with us.


If you have made it all the way through this post, then aside from needing a stiff drink, you probably think we are either crazy or rich to own and carry all this equipment around.  I can't speak to the crazy part, especially after this stunt, but we are certainly not rich.  We have been slowly building up this gear over the last four years and usually give each other electronics gear as Christmas or birthday presents.  The Macbook Air is on loan from Patrick's company so that Patrick can consult for them while we travel and the Sony Vaio is a two-year old computer that we purchased to replace my old laptop.  We certainly could travel with less but because we both work while we travel, we use all this equipment.

What are your favorite electronics equipment for your travels?  Anything here that you think is unnecessary or that is better replaced with another item?  Let us know if you have any questions about what we chose and why we chose it because we (and, by we, I mean 90% Patrick and 10% Akila) have spent a lot of time thinking about this stuff.  Too much time, really, as you can probably tell from this post.

Related posts: a woman's round-the-world packing list , canon wp-dc29 underwater camera , peach tart with gingersnap pecan crust + we're off

[Ummm, so, if you click on any of the links above and purchase something from Amazon, we will get a tiny amount of money - like maybe enough to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  I'm just telling you this because the FTC thinks you aren't smart enough to figure this out for yourself.  Everything listed above we reviewed after purchasing it ourselves and we have received no endorsements for any of the above review.]

October 2009

canon wp-dc29 underwater camera
October 20, 2009

July 2009

a woman's round-the-world packing list
July 19, 2009