Category Archives: Travel Troubles

Latin America

Should You Cancel Your Travel Due to Zika?

If you’ve been paying attention to the recent headlines, you most likely know that the Zika virus has become a problem. If you’re traveling to a country affected by it, this may be more than a little worrisome. What is it exactly, and do you need to cancel your future travel plans?

What is it?
The Zika virus was first documented in 1947 in a monkey from the forests of Uganda. It’s transmittable by Aedes mosquitoes, which can infect humans. A documented case didn’t appear again until the spring of 2015 in Brazil.

What are the symptoms?
The symptoms are generally mild and not noticeable by many people who are infected. This includes fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. The symptoms only last as long as the virus is in the blood, which can be anywhere from several days to one week.

Should you be concerned?
The primary concern is for pregnant women. Zika can cause neurological problems and birth defects. Microcephaly was present in babies who’s mothers had the virus when they were pregnant. While the link has yet to be officially confirmed, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency due to the increased cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome and microcephaly.

How can you protect yourself?
Protecting yourself against mosquitos is your best bet for not becoming infected. This includes being vigilant about applying mosquito repellent, avoiding mosquito breeding grounds such as still water, and sleeping indoors with mosquito nets. Wearing dark clothing can also attract mosquitos more than light clothing.

If you’re traveling to Latin America, South America, the Caribbean, or the Pacific Islands, it’s important to be aware of the virus. It doesn’t mean you necessarily need to cancel your plans, but take extra precautions to protect yourself against mosquitos, and pick a travel insurance that will help you get treatment immediately. If you’re pregnant and planned on going on a trip where you’ll spend a good amount of time outside, you might consider delaying your trip or changing locations for the time being. There’s currently no vaccine, so protection is the most important step you can take in the fight against the Zika virus.

Marissa Pedersen

Marissa is a freelance writer, travel blogger, and social media marketing manager from Seattle. She runs the travel blog Postcards to Seattle, which captures all her journeys from around the world. She likes to stay active wherever she goes, from kayaking in Italy to snowboarding in the Alps.

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Protect Your Data During the Year’s Busiest Travel Weekend

If you ever travel with a smartphone, laptop, or tablet, your data is at risk of being lost or stolen. Whether it’s the result of a bag disappearing, a drink being spilled, or a cybercriminal hacking your online accounts, data loss can have both minor and major consequences, from losing travel photos to outright identity theft. And with the busiest travel weekend of the year right around the corner, it’s important to keep your data as secure as your belongings — even on the way to grandma’s house.

Unless you’re ready to leave the electronics at home and stick to chronicling your journey with pen and paper alone, it’s time to take data protection seriously. Here’s how to maximize the chances that data stays safe wherever you are.

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Before Traveling

  • Back up digital files. Anything that’s already stored on your electronic devices (especially important files and photos) should be backed up to an external hard drive prior to your departure. That way you have everything you need even if the worst happens and the data gets lost while traveling. While you’re at it, take an inventory of your data so you’ll have a sense of whether anything looks off (or is missing) upon returning home.
  • Run updates. Make sure you’re running the latest version of devices’ operating systems and antivirus software. Also run antivirus scans prior to departure.
  • Initiate password protection. Combine this with an inactivity timeout on any electronics that you’ll be bringing along (so people can’t easily log onto your device if they find it unattended). On all devices, be sure to create strong passwords.

While Traveling

  • Only use secure internet connections. Free or public wireless services are all but guaranteed to be insecure; assume data isn’t safe over these connections, and refrain from entering any sensitive data (also remember that paying for Wi-Fi doesn’t guarantee the connection is secure).
    The safest networks are those that are password-protected, and the safest websites are those that start with https://. Using the web browser’s “incognito” or “private browsing” mode can help ensure that personal data doesn’t get saved, but it’s no guarantee of security (likewise for deleting cookies and browsing history after logging off).
    Also be sure to disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on all devices whenever they aren’t in use. Want to learn more? Check out the Federal Trade Commission’s guide to Using Public Wi-Fi Networks.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)Installing a VPN can help protect your data as it’s transferred between different devices. VPNs are especially handy for business travelers who may need to send and receive sensitive documents while on the road.
  • Disable cookies and auto-fill. These are the features that automatically enter login info and passwords on websites. Be sure to disable this function before traveling—it would only make it easier for electronics thieves to access your personal data.
  • Don’t upgrade software on public Wi-Fi. Cybercriminals have started to create fake “update” notices that allows them to install malware on travelers’ devices. If the Wi-Fi network isn’t secure, don’t accept any operating system, app, or software upgrades.
  • Don’t perform online transactions involving money. Whenever possible, avoid accessing online banking, Paypal, or anything that requires you to provide credit card information. And be sure to only use bank ATMs, which are less likely to be hit by identity thieves using card readers.
  • Create a travel-specific email address. Whenever possible, use a dedicated email address just for the trip; this will help you avoid logging into personal or work accounts while traveling. Be sure not to share or store personal information on the new account.
  • Keep your devices on you at all times. And when they’re not in use, turn them off. If you must leave a device in a hotel room or hostel, make sure to lock it up.

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When You Get Back

  • Change passwordsUpdate passwords on all devices as well as frequently visited websites.
  • Take stock. Review bank activity, credit card activity, and health insurance claim activity to confirm that everything looks accurate, and continue keeping tabs on these accounts for at least the next few months.
  • Run security scans. Run antivirus and anti-spyware scans on all devices. If malware is detected, follow the antivirus tool’s direction for addressing the issue.

It doesn’t matter if you’re exploring Santa Fe’s culture, adventuring in Paris, road-tripping around Ireland, or piling in the car for turkey and family reunions — a little prep, a lot of proactivity, and follow-through upon returning home will all help ensure that your data remains your own no matter where in the world you are.


How to Get on Your Flight Attendant’s Good Side

Flight attendant Taylor Tippett recently made headlines for making her passengers’ travels a little brighter. Her method of cheering people up? She leaves uplifting notes on airplane windows and in safety cards, and encourages others to do the same. To date, the practice has earned her more than 120,000 followers on Instagram and cheered up countless passengers.

These small acts of kindness are particularly remarkable when you consider everything that flight attendants juggle on a daily basis — from helping people board, to working tough hours, dealing with jet lag, practicing for emergency scenarios, and handling the needs of hundreds of passengers.

So it should come as no surprise that when it comes to ensuring a smoother, kinder flight, one of the best things you can do is get on your flight attendant’s good side. Regardless of whether you have the friendliest flight attendant in the world (or not), here’s how to ensure peaceful coexistence.

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Say hello

How would you like it if you said “hello” to 40 people in a row and not one of them responded back? Simply acknowledging the presence of flight attendants in a friendly and respectful way can help set the tone for a pleasant interaction and maybe even brighten their day.

Be mindful of luggage

If you can’t lift your carry-on bag over your head in order to stow it, then it’s best to check it. Don’t expect a flight attendant to hoist the bag for you, thereby putting their own body at risk of injury. In fact, many airlines train their flight attendants not to lift bags in order to prevent injuries on the job. So either learn how to pack light enough that you can go it alone, or pay the checked baggage fee. And if you do stow luggage in the overhead bin, be sure to pack it wheels-in.

Board prepared

It’s unreasonable to expect a flight attendant to anticipate and accommodate every single one of your individual needs, so come prepared. If you know that you’ll need to take a pill immediately after boarding, for example, then it’s probably a good idea to bring your own bottle of water, since flight attendants are especially busy prior to take-off. If you’ll need a meal that accommodates your fish allergy, be sure to order it ahead of time and notify the flight attendant as you board. And if you know you’ll want your book during the flight, don’t pack it in your main carry-on; instead, keep it on your person so you don’t have to fumble through the overhead luggage bin during the flight.

Listen to announcements

Yes, this even includes the safety demo. If you fly often, it can be especially tempting to tune out. But announcements happen for a reason — they’re designed to keep everyone informed and safe, and telling the whole cabin all at once spares the flight attendant from having to repeat themselves over and over. So even if you think you’ve heard it all before, it’s helpful to sit up and take notice. 

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Make specific requests

When asking for a beverage, clarify your order from the get-go, e.g. “Club soda without ice and with a slice of lime, please.” Being as clear-cut as possible will spare the flight attendant from needing to re-make your order. And for goodness’ sake, take out your headphones while conversing with the attendant.

Don’t expect a babysitter

If you’re traveling with children, it’s critical to come prepared. Don’t expect flight attendants to supply toys, diapers, or changing wipes, and never ask a flight attendant to collect a dirty diaper without bagging it first. You’re just as responsible for your children on the plane as you are off of it.

Sing their praises

If a flight attendant wows you with their service and professionalism, demonstrate appreciation by 
telling their employers what a great job they did. Most airlines have a protocol for acknowledging flight attendants; simply ask the attendant for their employee number and the flight number and call the airline after touching down.

What’s it all boil down to? Simply remember that flight attendants are human, too, and treat them as you’d like to be treated.

Watch Out for Malicious Wi-Fi Connections at These Popular Tourist Destinations

Think twice about logging onto Wi-Fi while vacationing in popular locales. A new analysis found that travelers at highly trafficked tourist attractions are increasingly at risk from malicious Wi-Fi networks.

The study, which was conducted by mobile threat defense company Skycure, tracked attacks on mobile devices at popular travel destinations over the course of a year. While there’s always a chance that someone’s mobile device could be hacked (regardless of whether they’re traveling or not), Skycure found that fifteen of the world’s most popular tourist sites posed an especially high risk to mobile users. The most common threats involve the capture of private information such as banking logins and passwords or personal communications.

With over 26 million visitors each year, New York City’s Times Square topped the list of the world’s most vulnerable mobile hotspots. Here’s the list in full:

  1. Times Square, New York City, NY
  2. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France
  3. Disneyland Paris, Marne-la-Vallee, France
  4. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
  5. Ocean Park, Hong Kong
  6. Las Vegas Strip, Las Vegas, NV
  7. Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood, CA
  8. Union Station, Washington DC
  9. Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, MA
  10. Disneyland Park, Anaheim, CA
  11. Navy Pier, Chicago, IL
  12. St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  13. Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
  14. Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Orlando, FL
  15. Pike Place Market, Seattle, WA

So does this mean we should all flush our smartphones down the toilet and stay at home in the dark? Certainly not. There are too many amazing places to see (say, Kentucky Bourbon Country or historic Edinburgh) and too many lessons to be learned from traveling the world. By taking some precautions prior to departure, you can document your trip on Instagram and keep your data safe, too.

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How to Keep Your Mobile Data Safe

While there’s no such thing as fail-proof mobile security, following these tips will help keep your phone (and other mobile devices) secure anywhere in the world:

  • Avoid connecting to free Wi-Fi networks whenever possible. They’re inherently insecure. If a network doesn’t require a password, then assume your data might not be safe.  
  • Always keep your device updated to the most current operating system. Updates include security protections against any threats that weren’t accounted for in previous versions.
  • Sign out of online accounts as soon as you’re done using them. Staying logged in just makes things easier for cyber criminals.
  • Only download apps from a trusted source. If you don’t understand the permissions an app is seeking, then don’t install it.
  • If your phone starts acting up (for example, if it starts crashing a lot or warning notifications start popping up), then disconnect from the network immediately.
  • Visit the Taj Mahal in India or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. According to Skycure, these are the safest tourist attractions for mobile users in (respectively) the world and the U.S.
  • Download a mobile security app. While no app can 100 percent guarantee your security, they can certainly help.

Perhaps most importantly? Don’t let this new analysis scare you away from traveling. Exploring the globe has always come with some risks—you might say stealing a tourist’s bank login info is simply the new pick-pocketing—but it has also, always, been worth it.


Where Not to Take a Selfie

Last month, a 66-year-old Japanese tourist was taking a selfie at the Taj Mahal when he tripped down a flight of stairs and died from the resulting injuries. At least 12 people have died so far this year while attempting to take selfies. Of course, it’s not the picture itself that kills, but the dangerous behavior surrounding it. As “extreme selfies” become more popular, too many people are taking unnecessary risks to achieve the perfect picture. The problem has become so acute in Russia that the Interior Ministry has initiated a publicity campaign to educate the public about selfie safety. Here are the situations to avoid, taken from lessons learned the hard way.

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There are two main dangers where trains are concerned: The force of the train itself and the live wires surrounding the track. Three students in Agra, India were attempting to take selfies with an oncoming train in January when they were run over and killed. Several deaths and injuries have also resulted from accidental contact with live wires in pursuit of “ultimate selfies.”

Moving Vehicles

It should seem like common sense, but anything that distracts from operating a moving vehicle should be avoided, selfies included. In April 2014, a woman crashed into a recycling truck and died on Interstate 85 in North Carolina minutes after posting selfies and a status to Facebook. And in May of the same year, a pilot was so distracted by texting and taking selfies that he lost control of the plane and crashed, killing himself and a passenger.

Cliffs and Ledges

It’s better to look down at the ground than at a phone screen when exploring high elevation sites. In August 2014, a Polish couple in Portugal reportedly crossed a safety barrier to take a selfie off the Cabo da Roca cliffs. They fell and tragically died, leaving their two young children behind. And just last week, a teenager died while orchestrating a selfie from the top of a nine-story building. He had already posted many such “extreme” pictures of himself.

Dangerous Animals

The primary danger with wild and potentially dangerous animals is turning our backs to them. This August, a young man died while attempting a selfie during the running of the bulls in Villaseca de la Sagra, Spain. At Yellowstone National Park, a woman thankfully survived being flipped over by a bison with whom she was attempting to take a photo. Waterton Canyon park in Denver had to close down because so many people were taking selfies with wild bears.

Guns and Weapons

A surprising number of people have accidentally shot themselves while posing for selfies with loaded guns pointed at their heads. A teenager in Houston died in September while taking selfies with a gun he had found with his cousin earlier that day. In January, two Russian teenagers pulled the pin from a grenade so that they could take a picture with it. The grenade exploded and the teenagers died. The phone and the selfie itself somehow survived the explosion, however, perhaps as a reminder for the rest of us to exercise our common sense and prioritize safety over social media fame.

Could the Side-Slip Airplane Seat Change the Boarding Process Game Forever?

One of the most frustrating parts of a flight comes at the very beginning: The slow-moving and cramped boarding process is a constant hassle. Dozens of people, loaded down with heavy bags (and kids and strollers), attempt to navigate their way to their seats by squeezing past one another in an impossibly thin aisle. Even when boarding is staggered by section, the process can still be uncomfortable and irritating.

Perhaps not for long, thanks to the work being done at the Denver-based Molon Labe Designs LLC. The minds behind Molon Labe Designs are busy at work crafting a slideable aisle seat that retracts inward during boarding. The design makes for a 41” aisle, which is practically palatial when compared to the traditional 19” one. As this video demonstrates, once the seat is retracted passengers can move about freely, gliding past one another in a breezy travel-induced haze.

As travelers, we love the potential in these seats, but it does have us wondering about the wacky and uncomfortable scenarios that are bound to occur with full on Slip-n-Slide styled airplane seating:

  • A sudden sharp dive to the left could potentially send aisle-seaters sliding into their seat mates, which could make for some great flirting if the person in 5B turns out to be a cutie…
  • …or a complete disaster if 5B turns out to be sick and the unfortunate aisle-seater slides right into a sneeze….
  • …or an even bigger disaster if 5B was just served a piping hot coffee.
  • Getting in and out to use the restroom would be much easier with a retractable seat…
  • …unless of course 5A turns out to be a clutz and they plop right onto 5C’s lap mid seat-slide when returning from the bathroom.
  • (Though traditionally not a problem if 5A’s a cutie, see #1.)
  • But as long as all the aisle-seaters stay in control of their seat, none of these disasters are going to occur, right?
  • That is of course until a young child ends up in an aisle seat and all chaos breaks loose. What’s more fun, a coloring book or a slide-able seat?

Jokey scenarios aside, we’re excited by the prospect of some new seat technology and will be the first ones to sign up for a demo flight. Someone has to test out these slidey gizmos before they hit the public!

Survival Guide: Camping in Bad Weather

Camping in perfect conditions is one of the most serene and peaceful outdoor activities. There’s nothing better than sitting around an open fire with close friends, swapping stories and gossip, drinking beer, all while taking in a clear starry sky as a creek softly babbles in the distance.

Unfortunately, though, camping is hardly ever so idyllic. The car won’t start or opossums make it into the food or, even worse, the weather turns. Though many campers come prepared for all different types of bizarre situations, dealing with bad weather is tricky and can make for some incredibly frustrating moments. Thankfully, there are ways to prepare for these dreary circumstances that can make them not only bearable, but memorable, and fun!

First, make sure to constantly monitor your surroundings. Is there a sudden stillness in the trees? Have the birds stopped singing? Are there dark clouds gathering in the corner of the sky? By detecting bad weather early, you can start to make preparations: collecting and wrapping wood in waterproof bags, hanging tarps above the campsite, or simply leaving before the storm hits (sometimes, you just need to pack up and head to a hotel). Don’t assume the storm will pass—be proactive and adjust your campsite accordingly. It may be annoying to make these adjustments if it turns out to be a false alarm, but being dry and prepared is always better than being soaking wet and surprised.

In general, there are a few items that you should always keep in your pack in case of bad weather. Newspaper, aside from providing some leisurely entertainment, can be used to start a fire in lieu of wet wood. And plastic bags can be used to hold electronics, food, or anything else you might want to save from getting wet.

As far as clothing’s concerned, you’ll want to make sure to bring along some light rain gear, which can be as simple as a sturdy poncho or as extreme as a full rain suit. For tops, opt for a wicking material, such as lightweight nylon in the summer and polypropylene in the winter. Avoid cotton when you can because, though cotton t-shirts are certainly comfortable, they don’t hold up to extreme weather well at all.

And, perhaps most importantly, remember that bad weather is often not the thing that ruins a camping trip, it’s the bad attitudes and grumpiness that come along with the change in weather. So pack some things to keep up morale in the face of a storm: waterproof cards, a harmonica, a collection of ghost stories. If you approach a storm with creativity and humor, even the most droll weather can become fodder for a great experience.

Tips to avoid seasickness while on a cruise!

5 Things That Truly Help Sea Sickness on a Cruise

Cruises are one of the best vacations around. They include food, entertainment, housing, and an amazing time. Cruises can take you around the world, serving as a fun way to get to an ultimate vacation destination. Why fly to your favorite hotel in Honolulu when you can relax and enjoy a luxurious journey there? Unfortunately, a lot of people avoid cruises because they are afraid of getting seasick. The good news is that there are five things that can truly help you avoid seasickness.

Look Out to the Horizon

When you are on a cruise, waves cause the boat to pitch and roll, but the horizon will remain stable. Focus your vision on the horizon, on something that is stable, and you will be able to help trick your brain into thinking that you are actually standing still.

Avoid Spicy or Fried Foods

One of the best things on a cruise is the food. But if you choose the wrong types of foods, they can upset your stomach. Until you have gotten your sea legs, choose food that isn’t as spicy or rich. You and your stomach will be a lot happier.

Take a Seasickness Pill

There are a lot of different options for seasickness medication, both name brand and generic, that you can take to help alleviate the symptoms of seasickness. There are now non-drowsy options available for travelers. So take a look at your local pharmacy and see what they have.

Wear Motion Sickness Bands

These are found in the same area as the seasickness pills in your local pharmacy or retail store. They are worn on your wrist and apply pressure to your pressure points to help alleviate feelings of nausea. Pregnant women have even used them to help with morning sickness. You can wear them while swimming, there are no side effects, and you don’t have to worry about interactions with your medication.

Drink Soda

Ginger ale is one of most popular types of remedies for people with upset stomachs. Coke is another good option, because it contains sugar and phosphoric acid. These two ingredients are found in many anti-nausea medications.

If you follow these five tips, you will find that you are able to enjoy your cruise with your family and friends. Don’t let the fear of seasickness to stop you from going. Use these tips and go have some fun!

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5 Ways to Make the Airport a More Pleasant Place

[Note from the editor: This post was originally posted on]

Airports should re-stake their claim as the most glamorous and interesting places we’ve invented. You’ve got people coming and going from all over the world, transported halfway around the globe in a matter of hours.

It’s the closest thing we have to a teleportation hub, and it should be awesome.

But more often it’s depressing.

Mired in bureaucracy and procedure, the inherent excitement is lost.

Here are 5 small ways to help.

1. Kill Noise Pollution

The airport is filled with unnecessary noise pollution. The building-wide announcement I would kill first:

The TSA has limited the items that can be transported through the security checkpoint…

First of all, 95% of the people hearing this are already PAST the security checkpoint. It’s irrelevant. And for the remaining 5%, they already know.

If you’re planning on carrying on that full tube of toothpaste, you lose. You’re already at the airport. It doesn’t matter.

And if you’re planning on carrying on a concealed weapon, you don’t care.

It’s pointless.

And the second building-wide announcement to die a much-belated death:

Unattended luggage is subject to search, inspection, and removal…

No one is leaving their stuff unattended (at least on purpose)! We don’t trust our fellow passengers enough to go to the drinking fountain without hauling our luggage with us.

And for the would-be suitcase bombers, they don’t care.

It’s pointless.

2. Streamline Security

We’ve invested millions (billions?) in improving airport security, but are we really any safer?

Let people keep their laptops in their bags.

Let people keep their shoes on.

Let people keeps their belts on.

Security is unnecessarily slow and de-humanizing. Fix it.

3. Improve the Waiting Area

Hook it up with the WiFi. SFO has this figured out.

Where are the outlets? There are like 2 power outlets for every 200 passengers and they’re nowhere near the seats.

Which brings us to the seats. When you have 100 seats for a 300 passenger plane, you can’t help but to have people “puppy guard” the gate.  They have no other option.

Then you tell them not to crowd the boarding area. Which leads to my next point.

4. Kill Boarding Anxiety

I understand this is more up to the individual airline than to the airport itself.

I’m admittedly a reluctant convert to the Southwest system of boarding. With every other airline though, you get people crowding the gate, eagerly awaiting their turn to board.

Jostling for position for no apparent reason. We’re all getting to the same place at the same time, right?

Bryn theory is it’s a competition for overhead bin space.

Southwest effectively kills this anxiety by assigning people a spot in line based on the time they checked in. Of course they’re not that egalitarian; if you want to pay them for cuts you can.

5. Quit Pretending a Kindle Can Crash a Place

Show me one documented instance of an electronic device causing any sort of problem, and I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong.

But in the meantime, what’s the point of pretending a cell phone or a Kindle or a Gameboy (or whatever kids these days play with) can bring down a plane?

Just like the joke goes, Al Qaeda went through an awful lot of unnecessary trouble if all they needed to do was leave their phone on.

So those are my 5 tips for making the airport a more pleasant place. What would you add?

Nick Loper

Nick is an amateur swimmer, skier, business student, softball player, golfer, dog walker, mountain climber and Mariners fan. By day you can find him walking at his treadmill desk, blogging at, selling shoes, and helping people reclaim their time by hiring virtual assistants.

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We’re Stranded (Kinda) on Rhodes

I ended my last post with this quote:

I’ve heard rumors of another Greek strike on Tuesday and Wednesday, so hope that doesn’t get us stuck somewhere — but regardless of where we get stuck, there are worse places to spend a few extra days than a random Greek island.

Well — it happened. Dan and I are now stranded on Rhodes for 4 days. We wanted to venture onto Crete on the way back to Santorini, but the next ferry doesn’t leave Rhodes until Sunday morning. Not due to a strike, just due to the fact that the only days ferries go to Crete are Tuesday (yesterday) and Sundays. Oh well, there are certainly worse places to be stranded than Rhodes…

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

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