Category: Tips for Travelers

How to Become a World Traveler Without Going Into Debt

How to Become a World Traveler Without Going Into Debt

DEBT SUCKS.

That was a bumper sticker that I had on my filing cabinet for years. Big red letters on a black background. It was a reminder to me that once I finally got out of debt, I didn’t ever want to go back. The advantage of changing my lifestyle from being a carrier of large amounts of consumer debt to being virtually debt free is that I can travel now. Of course, I could have traveled then, too, but after the trip was over, there would be guilt and stress and, let’s be honest, arguments with my husband over money. I thought I would share how to travel debt free. If you’re committed to making it happen, it’s not that hard.

How to Travel Debt Free *

How to travel debt-free

* NOTE: When I use the term debt in this post, I am not referring to home mortgages.

Step 1 – Be a Gazelle

Your first step is to make a commitment to yourself and anyone you share finances/travel with that you are not going to incur more debt. And by commitment, I mean an iron-clad, no going back, tattooed on your forehead level of commitment.

Financial guru and author Dave Ramsey says in his Financial Peace University course that you have to have gazelle-like intensity. That may seem strange, but Dave explains that if you’ve ever seen a video of wildlife in Africa, you may have seen a cheetah or other predator trying to take down a gazelle. That gazelle runs away from the cheetah as fast as he can – practically flying! – as if his life depends upon it. (Because it does!)

How to travel debt free - gazelle-like intensity

In order to travel debt free, you need to be just as intense in your desire to put your debt-incurring lifestyle behind you. Total commitment, 24/7, 365 days per year. Nothing less will do.

Step 2 – Start Saving

Now, it may seem silly to start saving while you’re still in debt, but it’s important. And the sooner you establish the habit of saving, the better. I have found that setting a percentage to save (5%, 10%, 15%, etc) usually works better for me than determining a specific amount. Do what works for you.

How to travel debt free - set aside money for an emergency fund, even while you're paying off debts.
Photo via Flickr by 401(K) 2012

Why save? Well, all it takes is one emergency to plunge you back into debt. The heater in your house needs to be replaced, your pet needs emergency surgery, you’re in a car accident and you have a $500 deductible for repairs. Whatever the emergency may be, you will be better equipped to handle it if you have an untouchable emergency fund already set up.

Step 3 – Work Towards Paying Off Existing Debt

Do you know what debt is most often compared to? Slavery. Andrew Jackson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ezra Pound, Ambrose Bierce, and many other notable people have said that being in debt is like being a slave. It is also in the Bible’s book of Proverbs.

How to Travel Debt-Free: First you need to make a commitment to paying off your existing debts.

The analogy is a legitimate one. Think about it: You are working, but you don’t get to keep anything that you earn. Instead, you are handing it all over to your creditors. You work and work but never seem to make any headway. You never get to enjoy the fruits of your labors.

Gazelle-like intensity is your path out of slavery to debt. Keep track of every dollar you earn. Pay your necessities, cut out everything that isn’t a necessity, and commit any leftover funds to paying off your existing debts.

Step 4 – Increase Your Income

This step isn’t a necessity unless you want to reach your goals a bit faster. You can increase your income by taking on a part time job to supplement your regular income, or you can do it by selling things that you already own.

How to travel debt free - sell your unwanted/unused items for extra money.
Photo via Flickr by r.nial.bradshaw

Whenever I need a little extra cash, I look for items taking up space in the house that might be more enjoyed and appreciated by someone else. I list items that aren’t high value or high demand on Facebook. Items that may sell better to a wider audience, I list on eBay. And if I’m looking to get rid of a lot of stuff in a short amount of time, I have a yard sale.

Regardless of how you choose to bring in extra money, this is the important part: do not use the cash to treat yourself to a meal out, new clothes, or whatever splurge item is your weakness. That money should go to either savings, or paying off debt, or both.

Remember, be a gazelle!

Step 5 – Once Your Debt is Gone, Set a Travel Budget

If you’ve followed the steps above, you are now debt-free. Congratulations! it’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

And, if you’ve followed the steps above, you also have some savings set aside. Don’t stop saving now! You will still want to have a healthy amount of money set aside for any big ticket emergencies that may pop up. But start a secondary savings for travel. It’s the whole reason you embarked on this journey, right?

Do your research and try to estimate what the following items will cost on your trip:

  • Transportation to and from your destination (air fare, train tickets, gasoline)
  • Transportation at your destination (rental car, gasoline, Uber/Lyft/taxi)
  • Lodging for each night you will be away (hotel, Airbnb, etc.)
  • Boarding for your pets, if applicable.
  • Meals & snacks/treats, alcohol if you like to party on vacation
  • Admission to museums, concerts, festivals, etc.
  • Special equipment – anything that you need to purchase in order to take the vacation, such as snow boots for Scandinavia or scuba gear for the Caribbean.
  • Souvenirs (if you always get a souvenir sweatshirt when you go on vacation, for instance).

Total it all up and that is how much you want to save before you go on your trip. If it seems unachievable, look at ways to reduce your costs (drive instead of fly, have a friend look after pets, shorten the length of your trip, etc.). If you find that it’s taking too long to come up with the total you need, revisit Step 4 above to speed up the process.

Then, when you’re on vacation, you will be able to enjoy it so much more knowing that it’s already paid for! Bon voyage!

 

How to travel debt free, regardless of your income and where you're going.
10 Amazing Items Personalized with Travel Photos

10 Amazing Items Personalized with Travel Photos

So Many Pictures!

Digital photography has made it easier for us to take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. We even carry a camera with us everywhere we go now, thanks to smart phone technology. But while we are taking more and more pictures, we also tend to be doing less with them. We might upload to Facebook or pull out our phone and show a friend, but for the vast majority of people, that’s it. Which got me thinking, why not utilize those photos in a creative way by getting items that are personalized with travel photos from our journeys abroad?

Now, I’m not talking about the standard items that you can get from Walmart or the local drugstore. Things like mugs, enlargements/posters/canvas prints, blankets, photo books, cell phone cases, tote bags, or mousepads.  I’m talking about taking it to the next level. Here are ten items personalized with travel photos that would make the ultimate souvenir.

Bookmarks

Bookmark personalized with travel photos
Personalized bookmark from Shutterfly

This personalized bookmark from Shutterfly would be a great way to remember your travels every time you open your book.  They cost just $6.99 for one or $16.99 for three, and come in a variety of designs.

Notebooks

Notebook personalized with travel photos
Personalized notebook from Shutterfly

This notebook can be made with a custom photo cover for $14.99 from Shutterfly.  Talk about a perfect travel journal!  There are a variety of styles and sizes, with stock images like the one above, or you can provide your own.

Keepsake Box

Keepsake box personalized with travel photos
Keepsake box from Mpix

This keepsake box by Mpix comes in a variety of designs, and measures 5 x 7 x 2 inches.  This would make a great place to store mementos from your trip, like shells found on a beach, ticket stubs, pressed flowers, or anything else that will remind you of your trip.  Cost is $55.

Luggage tag

Luggage tag personalized with travel photos.
Luggage tag from Shutterfly

The luggage tag is perfect to showcase your travel photos! They make a great conversation starter, too.  Plenty of designs to choose from at Shutterfly, just $11.99

State Photo Collage

State photo collage personalized with travel photos
These state photo collages from Minted start at $29 unframed or $42 framed.

What better way to remind you of a trip than a photo collage in the shape of the place you visited? These prints come in a variety of sizes, ranging from 8×8 to 44×44 inches, framed or unframed. Prices range from $29 (8×8 unframed) to $625 (44×44 framed with archival matting and UV safe plexiglass).

Beach Towel

Beach towel personalized with travel photos
Photo beach towel by Snapfish.

Take your travel memories to the beach with you on this 35×60 soft and absorbent beach towel by Snapfish. There are loads of customization options, and the cost is $39.99.

Shower Curtain

Shower curtain personalized with travel photos
Shower curtain from Shutterfly, $79.99

Want to decorate your bathroom in a travel around the world theme? This shower curtain from Shutterfly ($79.99) can be personalized with travel photos from your collection. Choose from a number of different designs.

Ceramic Tiles

Ceramic tiles personalized with travel photos
Ceramic Tiles from Image Snap come in assorted sizes.

The great thing about ceramic tiles is that they are very versatile. You can use them as coasters, trivets, incorporate them into a backsplash or countertop, or hang them on a wall.  They are terrific accent pieces, and now you can have them personalized with travel photos.  Image Snap provides the tiles in a variety of sizes – 2″ square up to 12″ square, 3″x6″ subway tiles, and other assorted sizes. Prices start at $5.

Tea Towel

Tea towel personalized with travel photos
Tea towel from Shutterfly, $17.99

Want a little travel inspiration in the kitchen?  Get a tea towel personalized with travel photos at Shutterfly for $17.99. As with most items, there are several designs to choose from, so you can feature one photo or many.

Photo-a-Day Calendar

Calendar personalized with travel photos.
You can feature up to 365 travel photos on a custom calendar from Social Print Studio.

I’ve saved the best for last. Of all the items personalized with travel photos, this one is definitely my favorite! The tear off calendar by Social Print Studio costs just $40 and can feature up to 365 different photos!  There are a few caveats, though, so be sure to read their how-to guide before you start your order.

So, there you have it.  No need to keep those amazing travel photos locked away on your hard drive or in the cloud.  Now you can display them all over your house and be inspired for your next trip!

Header image photo via Flickr by ben.gallagher.

How to NOT be a bad tourist in Iceland… or anywhere else

How to NOT be a bad tourist in Iceland… or anywhere else

The Ugly Americans… and Italians… and Chinese…

Recently, I had the immense privilege of spending a week in Iceland. It was an amazing adventure, and I am so glad I went. There are probably very few places on earth as beautiful and geologically diverse as Iceland.

Unfortunately, because Iceland has so much to offer, it has been overrun with tourists in recent years. Not just in the summer months, when the island is lush and green and blissfully mosquito free, but even in the winter months. The nation has a population of just over 332,000, but has an influx of around 2 million tourists each year.

Now, while anyone can see that tourism will bring a great amount of money into the local economy, it also brings its share of troubles. Here’s my simple guide on how to not be a bad tourist in Iceland, or any other place you travel.

1. How to not be a bad tourist in Iceland: Stay on the designated walkways.

As I mentioned above, a large part of Iceland is beautifully lush and green in the spring and summer months. This is due in large part to the leafy Icelandic moss that grows here. Icelandic moss is incredibly fragile and, once damaged, does not grow back easily or quickly.

Justin Bieber caused an uproar when he filmed the video for “I’ll Show You” in Iceland because (a) he rolled all over the moss and went for a swim in the glacier lagoon, and (b) he shared those images via his social media accounts. Over 70 million Bieber followers are now under the impression that it is perfectly acceptable to do those things.

It is not.

Still worse is the tale of the campers who ripped up large patches of the moss in Thingvellir National Park to insulate their tents. In the words of the Gateway to Iceland web site, the land now has “many open scars.”

Most of the sites we visited have short rope barriers and a sign with a pair of shoes and the red circle/slash symbol of “don’t do this.” Yet at every single place, we consistently saw people stepping over the barrier and walking past the sign. And I don’t mean one or two. I mean 12-15 at any given moment.

how to not be a bad tourist in iceland

Not only was their behavior disrespectful to the host country who asked for visitors to not do that, it was disrespectful to the other visitors, who wanted to take a picture of the beautiful setting without having to crop or photoshop the rude tourists out of their photos.

I was particularly frustrated and shocked by the behavior of this group of tourists. They had the nerve to set up folding chairs in front of the waterfall!


how to not be a bad tourist in iceland

Others spent about ten minutes taking photos of each other throwing a frisbee around and taking pictures with the waterfall as a backdrop. I have no idea what the logic was behind that. The irony is that the tourists who disobeyed the rules in order to get 6-10 feet closer could have gotten just as good a selfie from behind the rope barrier.

2. How to not be a bad tourist in Iceland: Keep your drones in the car.

Most of the natural beauty sites and national parks in Iceland have signs clearly prohibiting the use of drones. But naturally, that didn’t stop anyone from disregarding those signs. So while we were out enjoying the beautiful snowy landscapes and cascading waterfalls, we had to listen to the high pitched wheeeeeeee of a drone flying overhead. It sounded like giant mutant mosquitos were coming after us. Very annoying, very distracting. Especially at a place like Namafjall Fumaroles and Mud Pots, where the scenery can best be appreciated not just by looking, but also listening:

 

3. How to not be a bad tourist in Iceland: Be safe.

If you don’t value your own life, at least consider the trauma and expense your plunging to your death would cause. There are very real dangers in Iceland. There are cliffs that drop off into frigid water or rocky outcrops. And then there’s the scary phenomenon known as a “sneaker wave.”

The sneaker wave is a mutation in the crashing surf that causes a wave to literally sneak up on you. You could potentially be in danger even if you’re just standing on the beach.  These waves have pulled unsuspecting tourists out to sea, where they drown. Signs all over the beach tell visitors to never turn their backs to the water.

Another astounding moment from our trip was when I spotted this tourist walking in the Kerid crater.

how to NOT be a bad tourist in iceland

In short, respect the nature in Iceland or it will knock the crap out of you. It might even kill you. No selfie is worth your life.

how to not be a bad tourist in iceland

How to not be a bad tourist in Iceland: The Bottom Line

Basically, it all boils down to (a) following the rules and (b) being respectful – of the host country and your fellow travelers. Please think before you act when you’re traveling.

how to not be a bad tourist in Iceland
Follow these three simple rules to stay in the good graces of the people who live and work in your travel destination.
Are You Being Spied on When You Travel?

Are You Being Spied on When You Travel?

Just Imagine This:

Say you go on vacation and later discover, to your horror, that there is a hidden camera in your hotel. Most recently, it was an Airbnb lodging that had a hidden camera in the smoke detector. But it could just as easily happen in a hotel room. Just ask Erin Andrews, the Fox Sports reporter who was secretly filmed through her hotel room’s peephole.

hidden camera
Photo via Flickr by Monchoocnom

Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent being spied on when you travel. Here’s how.

1. Know Where to Look – Which Room?

There are basically two reasons why someone would use a hidden camera. Either they want to make sure you don’t steal anything, or they want to catch you naked. If it’s the first option, you should be looking for cameras near items of value (high end electronics in the living room, for instance). If it’s the second, the bathroom and bedroom are the most likely locations.

2. Know Where to Look – Where Is It Hidden?

There are a million different ways/places to hide a small camera. Some examples of everyday objects that could be hiding a camera are a hidden camera wall charger, a clock, a pen, a light bulbAX Security Camera Wireless IP light bulb Hidden video camera with 360 Degree Fisheye Lens Panoramic for Home Surveillance, Motion Detection and Two Way Talking for iPhone/Android Phone/iPad, a smoke detector, a key chain, a clothes hook, and a picture frame.

It’s easy to slide from “protecting my privacy” into full-fledged paranoia when you think about all of the places they could be. But take a deep breath and approach it rationally. Here are a few pointers on where and how to look for hidden cameras. First, remember that a hidden camera cannot work without an exposed lens. So look for anything that might conceal (but not cover) a small lens.

Also, if you’re renting a home, check anything that looks like it was accidentally left behind by the owner. I’ve seen cameras concealed in water bottles and coffee cups. Did the owners leave a gym bag out? How about a shirt with buttons? Tissue boxes and pens are another likely spot.

Consider the placement of a camera when looking. It will most likely be on the periphery of a room, facing the center where people will be spending time. Or it may be facing a mirror that will capture the events of a room. If you see a mirror hanging in an odd place, that would be a good area to examine.

hidden camera

3. What to Do When You Aren’t Sure

If you can’t rely on your eyes to spot a camera, try your ears. Many cameras have motion detectors, and are dormant until someone or something moves in front of them. In an absolutely quiet room, you may be able to hear a click or whir sound as the camera activates.

Some people recommend using the flashlight of your phone to look for hidden cameras. Because camera lenses are glass, they will reflect light. Shine your flashlight around a dark room very slowly and look for the glint of a reflection.

4. Fight Fire with Fire (or Tech with Tech)

If your accommodation has wifi, you can use a network analysis app to see how many devices are connected to the network. If there’s no hidden camera installed, you should only see the router and your phone listed. If you see more than that, there is a possibility that a hidden camera is installed on the property. Something listed other than the router and your phone could be another “smart” device in the household, so keep that in mind before jumping to conclusions.

If all of this just sounds like too much work, I’m inclined to agree. After all, who wants to spend precious vacation time looking for something the size of a screw head? Not to mention being paranoid about the possibility of overlooking one.

Fortunately, there is a gadget that will help you find any hidden cameras in your lodging, and they aren’t expensive. I recommend this  Hidden Camera RF Signal Detector, which is in the $15-$20 range. For a professional grade device, you could get this Anti-Spy Amplification Signal Detector instead or about $80. In both cases, you don’t have to do much more than turn the gadget on.

Even cheaper is an app for your phone that will detect hidden cameras. There are many available, for both iPhone or Android, and they run $2-$5.

5. Okay, I Found One… Now What?

First and foremost, take pictures of the hidden camera and its location. Report it to management (hotel desk or Airbnb, whichever the case may be.) Then contact local authorities, as secretly filming someone in a private residence may be illegal in that location. If you’re really angry about it, you can use social media or place a call to local reporters. Third, find yourself another place to stay.

What not to do:  Do not destroy the camera. Do not angrily confront the property owner. Do not stay there after discovering the hidden camera.

If you’ve ever found a hidden camera in your lodging, I want to hear about it.  Leave a comment below!

 

Hidden Camera
5 essential tips for making sure you are not being secretly filmed in your lodging when you travel.

Disclosures:

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Pinterest image via Flickr by kimubert.

5 Streaming Travel TV Shows Every Traveler Should Watch

5 Streaming Travel TV Shows Every Traveler Should Watch

Travel TV Shows You Can’t Afford to Miss

When I’m not traveling, I spend a lot of time thinking about traveling, reading about it, researching destinations, planning itineraries for my next trip, and – thanks to Netflix – watching TV shows about travel. Five TV shows in particular have had an enormous impact on how I travel, why I travel, and where I travel.  The fact that they managed to do so while being very entertaining is a bonus.

1. Scam City

Scam City is my current favorite travel TV show.  It is hosted by easy-on-the-eyes Irishman Conor Woodman, who travels all over the world to learn how tourists are preyed upon in different countries. He sets himself up to be the victim of a scam, then  befriends the scammer(s) and talks to them, learning how they operate. As you might expect, there are pickpockets and prostitutes, but some of the scams are downright ingenious.

travel tv shows scam city conor woodman

One scam that struck me as being particularly hard to detect was counterfeit currency in Buenos Aires. Cabbies pick up tourists, drive them to their destination, and then provide them with counterfeit change when they pay for their fare.  Alternatively, they take the tourist’s money, pocket it, and show the customer a counterfeit bill, claiming that the counterfeit is the one they were given. Do you know foreign currency well enough to be able to spot a fake? I don’t think I could.

Scam City has 20 episodes that take place in 17 countries.  You can watch Scam City on Netflix streaming.

2. An Idiot Abroad

Wikipedia categorizes An Idiot Abroad as a “travel documentary/road trip comedy” series.  While that may sound odd, it’s actually very accurate.

The “idiot” in the title is Karl Pilkington, a man who has no interest in travel and a tendency to speak aloud whatever thought enters his mind. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send Karl off to exotic locations that he would never choose to visit on his own, and force him to take part in activities he would never consider.

Karl is not really an idiot so much as a person who speaks without thinking. For instance, when he went to Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the US, he mused aloud, “I dunno why we’re bothering to film this in color.  There’s nothing to see here but snow.” Of the Great Wall of China, Karl said, “It’s not a great wall.  It’s an alright wall. It’s the Alright Wall of China.”

travel tv shows an idiot abroad netflix karl pilkington

I love this show for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s absolutely hilarious.  Second, it does something that other travel shows don’t do – it gives viewers a brutally honest look into how traveling is not just the picture perfect moments you see on Instagram and Pinterest.  Karl Pilkington does not sugar coat anything. Rio is incredibly noisy, climbing Mt Fuji is difficult, whale watching can make you seasick. These are things that travelers need to know. It’s better to go in with realistic expectations and be delightfully surprised than to go in with high expectations and emerge disappointed.

There are 16 episodes of An Idiot Abroad, in which Karl visits at least 14 different countries.  Each adventure is funnier than the last, so be sure to check it out, even if you aren’t the traveling type.

3. Bad Trips Abroad

Bad Trips Abroad sounds like something most people would rather not watch. But by listening to (and, hopefully, learning from) other people’s horror stories, we can avoid having the same misfortune befall us when we travel. These experiences include getting arrested, being in an accident, being robbed, and so on. These are the sorts of thing that we don’t really think about when we are planning our trips, but should.

There are 20 episodes of Bad Trips Abroad.

4. Anthony Bourdain: A Cook’s Tour or Parts Unknown

Pretty much all of Anthony Bourdain’s shows are must see television for foodies who love to travel. One of the current Netflix offerings, A Cook’s Tour, is his first shows, produced in 2002.  The premise of the show is a simple one – travel the world and eat what the locals eat. In just one episode, I saw him eat fish eyes, tripe, and other exotic foods that I wouldn’t dare put in my mouth for fear of gagging.  But he eats it all, declares it delicious, and moves on to the next destination to do it again. There are 35 episodes in A Cook’s Tour, highlighting the culinary delicacies of 17 countries.

travel tv shows anthony bourdain parts unknown cooks tour foodie

By contrast, Parts Unknown is his most recent television show, and it has aired for nine seasons on CNN. Season 10 will premiere next month. The first nine seasons consist of 80 episodes that feature Bourdain traveling to 45 different countries… and even Antarctica. As its name implies, the show takes a look at lesser known destinations that typical tourists might not see when visiting a foreign country.

5. Planet Earth

Okay, technically, this isn’t a travel TV show.  But it does such a beautiful job of showcasing the beauty of the world we live in that I felt it needed to be included as a show to watch for inspiration.  There are so many wonderful, exotic destinations in the world… places we haven’t heard of before and couldn’t possibly imagine.  Or, as David Attenborough says in the introduction, “A hundred years ago, there were one and a half billion people on Earth. Now, over six billion crowd our fragile planet. But even so, there are still places barely touched by humanity. This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before.”

One of my favorite scenes in the series centers around the mating habits of New Guinea’s birds of paradise.  The birds are just fascinating, they way they strut and preen and try to attract a mate. But my favorite is the bird who tidies up his area before the lady-bird arrives.  He picks up any stray debris with his beak and tosses it to the side.  Amazing.

The segment on the endangered snow leopard – the world’s first ever video footage of the animal – was equally fascinating.

travel tv shows planet earth snow leopard

There are 11 episodes in Planet Earth Series 1, and six more in Series 2.  All of them are nothing short of stunning. And be sure you watch the Planet Earth Diaries segment at the end of each episode, which shows how each episode was filmed.  In most cases, it was a very ambitious undertaking!

Honorable Mentions

Some other travel TV shows that are currently available on Netflix:

Departures – I only watched one episode of this.  It’s about two young men, friends since high school, who decide to travel the world. In the episode I watched, they drove from one side of Canada to the other in an RV.  It seemed to be more about their drunken exploits than about the places they were seeing.  As such, it didn’t appeal to me very much.  However, it ran for three seasons and won several Gemini awards (Canada’s version of the Emmy) , so maybe it’s worth watching.

Great World Hotels – That’s great as in expensive. I don’t really find the excesses of the rich and/or famous very entertaining. And I don’t like to make the place I sleep the most expensive part of a vacation. If you do, you might enjoy this one.

Luxury Travel Show – Highlighting exotic locations and sumptuous hotels, this show is somewhat less “in your face” extravagant than Great World Hotels.

Stephen Fry in America – British comedian Stephen Fry travels through all 50 states.  It’s a great show because it gives a non-American’s view of America in a way that is amusing and fun to watch. Amazingly, he fits the entire USA into just six episodes. Which means that you don’t get an in-depth look at any one area.  But it’s still an entertaining show, so worth a look.

Born to Explore – This is a very interesting show, as the host travels to destinations and really gets a good look at the local customs and people.  For instance, in one episode, he goes to Morocco and learns the local trade of leather tanning.  Each episode is about 20 minutes long, and there are 26 episodes total.

Wild China – This is a nature documentary consisting of six episodes. It features beautiful and expertly done cinematography.  If you have an interest in travel to China and/or you enjoy the great outdoors,you would probably enjoy watching Wild China.

Rock the Park – This show highlights the beauty of the United States’ National Parks. Each episode is just 20 minutes, but gives you a glimpse of what each park offers visitors.  There are 26 episodes in all.

Tales by Light – A travel TV show for photographers, each episode features an exotic location with a photographer who is attempting to capture it through a camera lens.  It’s a very visually appealing show, and may also give you a few photography tips.

Travel Photography Hacks for Awesome Pictures

Travel Photography Hacks for Awesome Pictures

When traveling, it can sometimes be difficult to capture the essence of a place. Witness my 300+ photos of the Grand Canyon, none of which accurately portray just how vast and colorful a place it is. That experience led me to take my photos to the next level by using simple travel photography hacks. Here are the best travel photography hacks I’ve found. The first seven of them can be used regarless of what tyoe of camera you have –  they will work just as well with a phone camera as they will with a high-end DSLR.

Travel Photography Hack #1

The Rule of Thirds

This one is the easiest to use, provided you can remember to do it. Imagine that your photo will be divided into three rows and three columns. The subject of your photo – the thing that you want to capture – should be along one of those lines rather than dead center. Like the example below:

travel photography hacks rule of thirds
(source)

This image of a solitary tree in a field would have been uninteresting if it was the only thing in the photo. By placing it along the right vertical line, we get an infinitely more intriguing image of the tree in its environment.  We see that the landscape is mountainous, that the air is foggy, and that there are no other trees in the immediate vicinity.  This photo invites us to step in and look around for more details. Without the rule of thirds, we would just say, “Oh, look.  A tree.”

Travel Photography Hack #2

Use a Different Approach

I would guess that 90% of photos are taken from eye level.  It’s natural to shoot from that angle because that is the angle from which we see our subjects. By shooting from above or below, or even from the side, we can get much more dramatic photos.  Some examples:

Travel photography hacks photograph from below
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO, photographed from below

 

Travel Photography Hacks Photgraphing from Above
A plate of food is almost always better photographed from above to show off its colors and textures.

As you can see above, using a different angle can make the subject of your photo look very different than it would if photographed at eye level!

Travel Photography Hack #3

Zoom!

Play with the perspective of your photo. Zoom in or zoom out. To zoom in, if you are photographing something that is close to you, you can utilize a macro feature for an up close and personal look.  (The macro lens is particularly good for photos of flowers, insects, etc.)  Or just zoom in. Either way, you can make things look closer than they actually are, and capture details that in many cases are not seen by the eye alone. In this photo, I zoomed in for a closer look at the water droplets:

Travel Photography Hacks Macro Lens
A recently watered autumn crocus in Alnwick Garden‘s Poison Garden. 

And in this one, I zoomed in for a closer look at a lion at the National Zoo:

Travel Photography Hacks zoom in macro telephoto
Lion at the National Zoo in Washington DC

It looks like I was only a few feet away from him, doesn’t it?

 

Travel Photography Hack #4

Check the Background

The background of your photo may seem inconsequential, but it can ruin an otherwise perfect shot. Before pressing the button, make sure your background is free from any distracting elements such as photo bombers (intentional or accidental) and clutter.  Here are some examples of photos that were taken while the photographer was too focused on the subject to notice what was in the background.

 

Travel Photography Hacks - Clean Up the Background
How many parents DON’T have a photo like this?

 

Travel Photography Hacks - Check the Background
Animals can be the worst photobombers.

Travel Photography Hack #5

Look for Symmetry and Patterns

Some of the most striking travel photos are those that feature symmetry and repeated patterns.  A reflection on still water is a wonderful way to acquire symmetry in your photo, and it adds more depth to the subject.

Travel Photography Hacks - Symmetry
The sunset’s reflection on the water at the Crusty Crab in Greenbackville, Virginia.

Patterns are all around us.  The weathered wood siding of an old barn, a series of arches/doorways, masonry in walls and pavements. etc.

Travel Photography Hacks framing your subject
A series of arched doorways in the Morocco pavilion at Disney World’s Epcot Center.

Travel Photography Hack #6

Pay Attention to Your Lighting

For the best travel photos, don’t be so quick to turn on your flash.  Use natural light whenever possible, and if you’re using a DSLR camera, try increasing your ISO instead. On an iPhone, you can touch one of the darker areas of your picture to adjust the brightness before taking the photo. I could have taken a flash picture of this stained glass window, but the results would have been much less dramatic than using the natural light outside to capture its beauty:

Travel Photography Hacks Using Natural Light
Light coming through a stained glass window at the chapel of St Micheal’s Mount in Cornwall, England.

While a flash will illuminate the subjects of a photograph, it’s important to remember that it is still providing artificial light.  Colors may be slightly off, and there may be shadows in the photo that you aren’t seeing with your eyes.  Natural light can add mood and texture that might not be conveyed in a flash photo.

Travel Photography Hacks - Natural Light
Details like the fuzziness of the stem would likely be lost in a flash photo.

Also, flashes can highlight the negative aspects of an object just as much as the positive ones. Imagine my surprise when I took this picture of a pretty chest in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC:

Travel Photography Hacks - Don't Use Flash Every Time
Look at all that dust under the chest!

Somebody needs to get a Swiffer under there!

Additionally, there are two ways to alter your photographs by the way you position and use your lighting. The first is to use a low light behind your subject to create a silhouette.

Travel Photography Hacks - Silhouettes and Lighting
The setting sun transforms these two dogs into silhouettes.

The second is to take advantage of the golden tone that the sun casts on objects as it sets in the evening. This effect was really beautiful at the Grand Canyon, where they even run special sunset tours. The colors of the canyon became brighter and more vibrant as the sun dipped lower in the sky.

Travel Photography Hacks - Sunset

Travel Photography Hack #7

Frame the Subject

When you frame a subject, you use natural lines within the photo to draw attention to it.  The best examples of items that frame a subject are doorways and windows. Those lines also serve to add depth to your photo, making it seem more three dimensional and real. Here are two of my favorites:

Travel Photography Hacks Framing Your Subject
A glimpse of the water through an open doorway at Ft Mackinac on Mackinac Island, Michigan.

 

Travel Photoraphy Hacks Framing Your Subject
Two gorillas at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium in Ohio.

Travel Photography Hack #8

DIY Equipment for DSLR Cameras

There are gadgets for almost every photography effect and purpose.  But before you rush out and buy that gizmo, consider whether you will use it enough to justify the expense.  There is no need to drop your hard-earned cash on an item that will have very limited use. here are some DIY alternatives.  Try them first and if you like the effect, then consider buying the real thing.

  • Macro Lens – an old binocular lens held up to the camera will magnify the subject in much the same way as a macro setting would.
  • Bokeh Filter – to get the sort of fuzzy light effect in the background known as bokeh, you can cut a small shape in a piece of cardboard and then attache it to your camera lens as shown below.
Travel Photography Hacks - DIY Equipment
You can experiment with all different shapes of bokeh
  • Soft Focus Filter – stretch some pantyhose over the camera lens and hold it in place with a rubber band
  • Fisheye Lens – the lens from an apartment door’s peephole will provide the same effect as a fisheye lens (You can buy a peephole kit at a home improvement store for much less than a DSLR fisheye lens would cost)
  • Tripod – many times we can use stationary objects to stabilize our camera without a tripod.  For instance, if you are standing near a pole, lean your camera against it. You can further stabilize it by wrapping your camera strap around the pole and gripping it tightly.
  • Glare Reduction – use a cardboard coffee sleeve around the camera lens to reduce glare
  • Blurry Edges – some say smearing Vaseline on the lens will create this effect.  I prefer to wrap a plastic bag around lens (just the outer perimeter, not completely covering the whole lens)

I hope you have enjoyed these tips and that you will be able to use them when you travel.  Do you have any to add?

Travel Photography Hacks for Better Pictures
Why Traveling is Good for You

Why Traveling is Good for You

Why Traveling is Good for You

Disclaimer:  I am completely biased on this subject. I think that traveling is the most exciting, rewarding, and fun adventure one can have. When I hear people say that they don’t like to travel, it blows my mind. I just can’t wrap my mind around the concept of not enjoying travel. Here’s why.

Traveling is Good Because It Lets You Live Like the Rich

why traveling is good for you - live like the rich

When we travel, we are saying goodbye to our homes for a short period of time. Usually, that means we are also saying goodbye to doing our laundry, cooking, cleaning, going through the mail, and other tedious (but necessary) chores. For one week we live like the rich, having someone else make our beds, provide us with fresh towels, prepare our meals, and so on. It’s awesome!

Traveling is Good Because it Enables You to Learn New Things

why traveling is good for you knowledge gained

If I stayed in my little corner of the world and never ventured out into what lies beyond, I would have stopped learning a long time ago. But because I travel, I have learned some fascinating things. For instance:

Traveling is Good Because It Helps You Find Common Ground

why traveling is good for you diversity

No matter what language, no matter what color the skin, people have more in common with each other than they differ. Traveling gives you a glimpse into other cultures and lets you see how alike we are. All over the world, harried mothers struggle with headstrong toddlers, young couples hold hands, babies smile at strangers, and people make mmmmm sounds when they eat something delicious. All over the world, people get annoyed in traffic, appreciate of beauty, and come home tired after a long day at work. Realizing our similarities is the foundation for goodwill and peace, which makes us better people and makes the world a better place in which to live.

Traveling is Good Because It’s Cheaper Than Therapy*

why traveling is good for you therapy

Traveling gives us a way to take a step back from things that are weighing heavily on our minds. Removed from the situation that is troubling us, we are able to consider it with almost complete objectivity. Separated from the constant distraction of our everyday routines, we find ourselves engaging in introspection. When we travel, we are more likely to examine ourselves, our relationships, and our goals.

*It may not be cheaper than therapy in some cases. But it’s definitely more fun.  🙂

Traveling is Good Because It Turns You Into a Kid Again

Why traveling is good for you sense of wonder

How often do you walk down a street in your home town and marvel at the architecture of the buildings there? How much time do you spend at your local park, watching birds and squirrels and people? Do you ever look up at the sky, take a deep breath, and smile?

There is something about traveling that turns us all into young children, full of wide-eyed wonder and enthusiastic appreciation for everything around us. Everything we see and do when we travel is new and exciting and amazing! What’s not to love about that?

Traveling is Good Because It Takes Us Outside Our Comfort Zone

why traveling is good for you outside comfort zone

I have done things while traveling that I would never have the courage to do at home. I ziplined for the first time while we were traveling in Michigan, climbed up 199 steps to reach the top of a lighthouse in New Jersey, went on a hot air balloon ride in Arizona, and hand-fed a zebra in Texas.

But my bravest act of travel so far was just this past May, when my family and I went to Peru. It was just the three of us. No guides, no translators, no tour groups. My daughter had almost completed her first year of high school Spanish and my husband didn’t know any Spanish at all. That meant that I had to do most of the communicating. It was nerve-wracking because, to be honest, I didn’t have much faith in my command of the Spanish language. At one time I was nearly fluent, but I hadn’t really used any Spanish since I left college, many years ago. To say that I was rusty was an understatement. Thankfully, my Spanish was passable enough to get us through most situations. Google Translate filled in the gaps whenever we needed it.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Why?  Well, there are some very good reasons: it gives us confidence in our abilities, it helps us realize that we often worry unnecessarily, and it gives us a sense of accomplishment when we overcome our doubts and fears. Most importantly, though, it opens up new experiences for us that we might not otherwise have explored.

Traveling is Good Because It Allows Us to Have Unforgettable Experiences

why traveling is good for you unforgettable experiences

In the course of my travels, I have had experiences and seen things that I will never be able to forget. Here are just a few:

The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London – we emerged from the London Underground station and immediately saw the Tower of London before us.  I froze in my tracks. This fortress, built over 900 years ago, was the place where Anne Boleyn lost her life.  Where Elizabeth I was held prisoner by her sister.  Where the Crown Jewels are kept. I could not take my eyes off it. (I know, I’m a hopeless history geek!) That night, we got to witness the Ceremony of the Keys, a tradition that has taken place every night for the last 700 years or so.  Our next visit to the Tower was a daytime visit, and we got to see the Doomsday Book. Like the building, it was over 900 years old, and it contained the names of everyone who lived in England and paid taxes at the time (including some of my ancestors). Also at the Tower, we saw the crown jewels and the throne chair of Henry VI. It was amazing.

On a trip to Paris, I saw the Venus de Milo in the Louvre. (I did not, however, see the Mona Lisa, even though we stood in the gallery where it was displayed.  Unfortunately, our guide thought it was more important for us to see the painting of Napoleon’s Coronation. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why so many people were on the other side of the room, murmuring excitedly. I stood on tiptoe and was able to see enough to recognize the famous painting – essentially just part of her forehead.)

In our travels, we’ve fed zebras, a baby bear, giraffes, and a tiger.

So What Are You Waiting For?

why traveling is good for you

Even if you disagree with everything I’ve written above, then I have one undeniable reason why traveling is good for you: it breaks up your routine and gets you out of a rut. So, if for no other reason than that, plan a little trip for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

why traveling is good for you
Ten Things You Need to Know Before Going to Peru

Ten Things You Need to Know Before Going to Peru

Peru Travel Tips

Even though I had been to Peru before and was comfortable with the idea of traveling there, I was still a little surprised (or at least reminded) about the quirkier aspects of traveling in this South American country.  Here are some important Peru travel tips.

1. You will need your passport, even when you think you don’t.

peru travel tips machu picchu passport
US Passport

I knew I would need my passport to leave the US and enter Peru (and vice versa) but what I didn’t know was that we would also need our passports to travel within Peru. When we flew from Lima to Cusco, we needed to show our passports. We also needed them when we bought tickets for the bus that ferries tourists up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. And when we entered Machu Picchu, we needed to show our passports. I learned to just keep my passport with me at all times in a zippered pouch that hung around my neck. I always had it with me, but didn’t need to worry about losing them.

2. Before leaving the airport is the best time to change money, buy SIM card, get information.

peru travel tips airport baggage claim currency exchange sim card

When you arrive in the luggage claim section of the Lima Airport, you will see some kiosks set up in between the baggage carousels.  There are three that are particularly helpful.  First is an information desk, which is a great place to get recommendations, directions, etc.  Second is a cellular phone provider. Buy yourself a local prepaid SIM card and forgo paying for international roaming charges. Third is a currency exchange kiosk. Some may disagree, but I found that the rates at the airport kiosk were comparable to those elsewhere in the city, and the convenience factor was a big plus.

3. You don’t have to know Spanish, but it sure does help.

peru travel tips spanish

Nearly everywhere we went in Peru, we found individuals who spoke English.  However, we did notice that when I spoke Spanish with people, they were more receptive, helpful and friendly. While they might view my tendency to only speak in the present tense as quirky or improper, they appreciated the fact that I was at least making an effort to speak in their language rather than expecting them to speak in mine.

4. You can bring luggage on the train to Machu Picchu

peru travel tips luggage on train t o aguas calientes machu picchu

Everything I read when I was planning our trip said that no luggage was allowed on the trains to Aguas Calientes.  As far as I could tell, that left me with three options: (1) find out if we could leave our luggage at the place we were staying after checking out, (2) pay for an extra night at the apartment, and leave the majority of our things there, or (3) be a rule-breaker and bring the luggage, pretending I didn’t know about that rule.  I went with option 2. We put toiletries and a change of clothes in a backpack and left everything else in the apartment we were renting.  Imagine my surprise when I boarded and saw a sturdy luggage rack right by the door.  So yes, you can take luggage with you.

5. Learn to say “no, gracias.” A lot.

peru travel tips no gracias street vendors

We could not walk, stand, or sit anywhere in Cusco without being approached by someone who wanted to sell us something.  Sunglasses, tours, bags, hats, jewelry, decorative gourds, shoe shines, and so on.  It only took one afternoon to see that this would be an ongoing issue.  At first we listened politely and declined politely, but we soon learned that these vendors would not take no for an answer.  After that first afternoon, we learned to keep our eyes down, our pace brisk, and a “no, gracias, ” on the tip of the tongue, ready to turn the street vendor away.

6. Don’t wait for the waiters to bring your check.

peru travel tips dining out restaurants

If you finish your meal and sit around the table waiting for your waiter to bring the check, you will be there a long time.  Americans tend to get in, eat, and get out, but we are in the minority when in comes to dining out.  You will find neither hovering nor impatient waitstaff in Peruvian restaurants. When you are ready to leave, simply motion to your server and ask for the bill (cuenta in Spanish).

7. A double room might not be what you think it is.

I booked a double room at a hotel in Aguas Calientes for the three of us.  I assumed that it would be like a hotel room in the States – two double beds, bathroom, TV, and some furniture in which to place clothing. Imagine my surprise when we arrived and discovered that a double room was two twin size beds.  Fortunately, they had a room available that could accommodate three people without one having to sleep on the floor.  Be sure to ask when booking what size bed(s) you will have in your room.

8. Lima’s rush hour can mess up your plans.

peru travel tips rush hour traffic

I heard from more than one taxi driver in Lima that their evening rush hour lasts from 5:00 until 9:00 PM every weekday.  What I didn’t hear was how that could adversely affect our plans.  It became glaringly obvious on our last day in the City of Kings when we found ourselves near the Plaza de Armas around 5:00 PM, needing to get a cab back to Miraflores where a driver would be picking us up at 8:00 PM to take us to the airport. Nearly every cab that passed us already had a passenger.  One cab stopped but when we told him we wanted to go to Miraflores, he drove off, unwilling to drive that far in rush hour traffic.  We walked for a while, stopped and ate dinner at a KFC, and walked some more.  We called for an Uber car twice; they never showed up.  Finally someone stopped and asked if we needed a taxi. We reached the apartment at 8:10 PM.  Fortunately, our driver was waiting for us and we made it to the airport on time.

9. The Toilets.

peru travel tips rest room toilet

I will try not to be too indelicate, but the toilets in Peru are different from what we are used to here. While some are exactly the same, others are noticeably different.  The first glaringly obvious difference is that many do not have seats. The second big difference is that in most places, you are not supposed to flush your toilet paper.  The infrastructure is not equipped to handle it.  So regardless of what you do in the toilet, you are supposed to fold up your used toilet paper and place it in a nearby trash can. Not so bad when you are sharing a bathroom with your family, but when you’re out and about and using a public restroom, the ick factor increases exponentially.

10. It’s worth it to pay for a guided tour.

peru travel tips tour guide

We paid a nice young man to give us a tour at the Cusco Cathedral.  It cost just $10 and lasted about an hour.  That was probably the best $10 I’ve ever spent.  He gave us so much more information than we could have possibly picked up or learned on our own.  Definitely money well spent.  We did the same at Machu Picchu and also at the Archbishop’s Palace in Lima.  Each time we felt like we got a lot more from our sightseeing because we learned the history and significance in a way that only a local could explain.  Paying for a guide is a great way to add depth to your travel experience and is well worth the small fee.

I hope these tips help you prepare for your journey to Peru!  Are there any you would add?

Essential tips for a trip to Peru
Five Things You Need to Consider When Booking with Spirit Airlines

Five Things You Need to Consider When Booking with Spirit Airlines

Is Flying with a Budget Airline a Good Idea?

I am always on the lookout for an air travel bargain, and since virtually EVERYWHERE is on my bucket list, I tend to not hesitate when a great fare pops up.

So in late February when I learned that Spirit was having an huge sale for May travel, provided that you traveled on Tuesday or Wednesday, I decided to check it out. Then I found out that Spirit flies to Lima, Peru. With the discount, the fare was right around $200 per person, which is a steal. And Machu Picchu was on my bucket list.  I booked that flight without a moment’s hesitation, not even bothering to look for Spirit Airlines reviews online.

Spirit Airlines Review

If I had Googled “Spirit Airlines review,” I might not have gone through with the booking.  Spirit is not well liked by former passengers. But as they say, ignorance is bliss.  Following is my Spirit Airlines review, and what I learned about the airline.  There are four warnings to consider if you’re thinking of traveling with Spirit, and one recommendation that I would give to a traveler on any airline, not just Spirit.

Spirit Airlines Review by Travelasmuch.com
Photo via Flickr by beltz6

Caveat #1

When you book with Spirit, you are only paying for your seat. They call it a “bare fare” because it includes nothing else. Put another way: Everything other than that seat comes with a fee.  Want a snack or beverage? Fee. Want to check a bag? Fee. Want to pick out your seats? Fee. Want to have a carry on bag? Fee.

Taking that into consideration, your bargain airfare might end up not being such a bargain after all. For all three of us, seat selection and checked baggage fees added a little over $300 to the total. If those fees had added $300 to the total of a shorter, cheaper flight, I might have reconsidered. But for Lima, the airfare + fees worked out to be about $315 per person, which is still far cheaper than average. (It usually runs $500-$700.)

Caveat #2

Spirit does not have reclining seats on their planes. They say it’s because it adds a lot of weight (something like 70 pounds per row, if I recall correctly), and the heavier the plane, the more fuel it uses, the more expensive it is to fly, etc.

spirit airlines review

Normally, I don’t recline my seat because I find it really irritating when people in front of me do it. So I didn’t miss this feature at all.

Until.

Our return flight from Lima had a departure time of 11:00 PM.  We had been sightseeing in Lima all day and we were tired.  We wanted to sleep.  Seats that don’t recline don’t make for comfortable sleeping arrangements, so it was a long and restless flight back to the US.

Caveat #3

There is no on-board entertainment on Spirit Airlines.  There is no selection of movies or music provided for you to while away the time. I got around this by downloading some shows and movies on Netflix, which I watched offline on my iPad during the flight.  It was great!

Caveat #4

As mentioned above, Spirit does not offer complimentary snacks or beverages. However, unlike your local movie theater, they don’t prohibit you from bringing your own with you. So buy a bottle of water from the airport newsstand (after you’ve gone through security, of course), or fill your own reusable bottle at a water fountain. Pack a few granola bars, a piece of fruit, a bag of chips, or whatever you like to nibble on, and you’ll be good to go.

And One Recommendation

Because I knew all of this prior to booking, I did not have any expectations of our flight that did not match with reality. And I found it all to be perfectly fine because I took the time to become informed and prepared.

However, I also went a step further and made sure that our flight would be a good one by spending $4. The “personal item” I had (which is free, but also smaller than a carry-on) was a student size backpack. The day before we left I put two things in there for the flight crew.  One was a small bag of Dove chocolates.  The other was a card thanking them for ensuring our safety and letting them know that we respected them and their work.

It might have sounded kiss-uppy, but it was true. Airline employees – particularly the flight attendants – were getting maligned in the media almost daily. The Dr. Dao/United Airlines episode had been all over the news a few weeks earlier, followed by the story about girls not being allowed to use their free tickets because they violated the dress code (leggings), followed by a flight being canceled because someone got up and used the rest room when the plane was waiting to take off, followed by a couple of other news items I had seen. Feel free to disagree with me if you want, but it in each of those cases I believe that the passenger was at fault for disregarding the instructions of the flight crew.

The crew was so thankful to hear from a passenger that their work was appreciated (as opposed to being completely disrespected) that they could not thank me enough. And although it was not my motivation, we were treated exceptionally well as a result of that gesture of goodwill. We were given complimentary beverages and the captain even thanked us over the loudspeaker.

Would I fly with Spirit again? Absolutely! But I would probably think twice before booking an overnight flight.

Spirit Airlines has a special page they refer to as Spirit Airlines 101 in which they give you a run-down on how they do things.  It’s full of helpful tips and information to avoid disappointing surprises at the airport. Because no one wants to start their vacation off with unanticipated expenses.

spirit airlines review

Spirit Airlines& Other Budget Airlines Can be a great deal... or they can cause you a big headache. Here's what you need to know before booking.