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Worldcon Recap

Started: 2017-09-23 17:37:00

Submitted: 2017-09-30 21:11:52

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator recaps his eleven days in Scandinavia, and enumerates lessons learned from the trip

In August 2017 I took my family to Helsinki and Copenhagen to attend Worldcon 75 and play tourist in Scandinavia. We visited two countries and two UNESCO World Heritage sites. We spent three days at Worldcon, two days in Helsinki, and three days in Copenhagen. We flew entirely on Airbus aircraft (in order: A330, A320, A319, A380) operated by three European airlines, flying a total of 10,400 nautical miles. We used two local currencies; at one point I had dollars, pounds, Euros, and kroner in my wallet.

Since our last international family trip, we've added a new member to our family: Julian, who joined us for his first international (and intercontinental) trip. We weren't ready to take Calvin on an international trip until he was three-and-a-half; Julian, though, is somewhat easier to take care of (probably because we're more experienced parents, and also because he's a generally easier kid to take care of), so we took him to Europe when he was not quite two-and-a-half.

Crosswalk stencil in Helsinki
Crosswalk stencil in Helsinki

I took a total of 199 photos, which you can see all together here.

If you're just joining us, or you missed some of my posts discussing each day, you can read them all here:

In my day job as an SRE, I have first-hand experience with Google's postmortem culture. The idea is to think critically about the most important factors in an incident so we can learn lessons for the future. Our template helps focus the discussion for lessons learned with the example categories "what went well", "what went wrong", and "where we got lucky". In my personal travel calendar, every trip is a one-off (I'm not planning on visiting Finland again in the summer of 2017 to attend Worldcon 75) but there are still important lessons to be learned that will generalize to future trips.

Julian inspects the fortifications at the Fortress of Suomenlinna
Julian inspects the fortifications at the Fortress of Suomenlinna

What went well

  • This was my first time to use Airbnb for an international trip (or, really, anything other than a ski vacation), and it worked rather well. I had trouble finding a hotel room that would meet our requirements -- with four people going to bed at different times I wanted two bedrooms, and only Airbnb was able to give me that flexibility.
    • Having access to complete kitchens was handy. We ate breakfast in our Airbnb every morning.
    • Both apartments we stayed in had in-unit laundry facilities. (I had to sit on the stand-alone washer in our Airbnb in Helsinki so it didn't walk away from the tub and pull out its drain hose. The dryer in our Airbnb in Copenhagen condensed the water from the clothes, and I had to empty the reservoir before it would finish drying the laundry.)
    • Both apartments were carefully pre-screened to be close to transit.
    • I did have some hassle coordinating our arrival in Finland -- our host was unresponsive to my e-mails a couple of days prior to our departure until I e-mailed Airbnb and they called the host to get her to e-mail me and all was well.
  • Local SIM cards with large data allowances were relatively cheap and quite easy to get at the airports in both Helsinki and Copenhagen.
  • I brought a pair of high-power, five-port, dual-voltage USB power adapters (the same that we use at home for general charging), which worked great.
  • I was able to get one set of AC power adapters that worked in both Finland and Denmark, though they're technically slightly different. (I'm not entirely sure the grounded adapter I got was properly grounded for Denmark, but I didn't end up needing it.)
  • I continued to write travel notes on my personal wiki, which generally worked well, as long as I had good Internet access. (This worked well almost all of the time, except for on airplanes.) Before leaving home I wrote a script to export the relevant wiki pages into an ebook and e-mail it to Amazon so the Kindle app on my phone would automatically download it. (I forgot to mention this to Kiesa, though, and she fell back to using the somewhat-awkward-on-mobile web interface to the wiki.)
  • I remembered my PIN for my credit card, and did at least get to use the PIN at kiosks without a human cashier present.

What went wrong

  • Julian still prefers an afternoon nap, which was often awkward since we wanted to be out and about. Often he was able to sleep in the stroller or in the carrier, but when he didn't get a nap he got cranky, which tended to make everyone else cranky too.
  • Julian's stroller was not up to the challenge of navigating cobblestones on Suomenlinna, so we ended up not using it in Copenhagen.
  • I forgot my PIN for my ATM card.
  • US banks absolutely flat-out refuse to give Americans PIN-preferred chip-and-PIN credit cards, for no discernible reason. With my signature-preferred chip card, I had to sign the receipt for every credit card transaction, which often confused the merchant (except when they were expecting it), and in some cases (buying groceries in Copenhagen) disrupted the flow of the transaction, since the checkout lane was designed with a card-reading PIN terminal at the very end of the conveyer belt where one would otherwise be standing to bag groceries.
  • Verizon did not let me add an international option to my plan, mentioning only vaguely that it was "unavailable"; and I didn't give myself enough time in advance to figure out the details. (I didn't actually try to add the option until we were in the airport in SFO about to leave. This add-on would have been impractical for serious use, but would have been convenient immediately after landing.)
  • Europe-wide roaming for mobile phones seems poorly-implemented for tourists with non-resident SIM cards.
  • My Nexus 5X battery lasted until late afternoon most days, then I had to augment with my external battery pack.
  • The SIM card we used in Helsinki, from local provider DNA, required a PIN when restarting. My phone randomly reset itself one day at Worldcon, and I had forgotten to write down or otherwise bring the PIN with me, so I couldn't use the SIM until I got back to the Airbnb where I'd left the packet with the PIN.
  • We kept running out of milk for breakfast because everyone was eating granola.
  • My little lumbar pack is too small to comfortably hold my camera and flash, let alone carrying an iPad or any other amusements. (To be fair, my DSLR and external speedlight are kind of ridiculously large.) I should take my mid-sized Camelbak pack for going out and about.
  • My laptop bag, which I use as my carry-on bag while flying, gets too full when I try to stuff my camera and headphones and neck pillow and books for the flight. I want to consider taking a small rolling suitcase just as hand luggage (but at the same time I think I might just be taking too much stuff).
  • We packed all of our luggage too tight. This was a big hassle when leaving Helsinki, since I almost forgot our hanging clothes in the closet and had to stuff it into my suitcase at the last minute, then awkwardly repack the suitcases in the lobby of the airport terminal. We packed better when leaving Copenhagen.
  • Kiesa and I both thought we saw forecasts with highs of not more than 65°F, so we both packed long-sleeved shirts. Most of the time I felt comfortable wearing just a t-shirt, so I ended up using more space in my suitcase for long-sleeved shirts than I needed.

Where we got lucky

  • Contrary to the lessons I should have learned from several prior international trips, I didn't schedule downtime days to rest and relax during the vacation, but we didn't seem to need the downtime. (Having Julian along put an upper limit on how aggressive we could schedule ourselves, which probably helped.)
  • I almost forgot our hanging clothes in Helsinki, but I double-checked the closets at the last minute and found them and packed them. (Double-checking the closets is something I try to do on purpose to find things I've forgotten before it's too late.)

I had a great time at Worldcon, in Helsinki, and in Copenhagen; and I'd do it again without hesitation. (Bonus points if I got to address some of the lessons learned above.)

Lego view of Copenhagen
Lego view of Copenhagen