Tag: Helpful Tips

Goodbye, FOMO: How to Experience the JOY of Missing Out

Goodbye, FOMO: How to Experience the JOY of Missing Out

No More FOMO!

Euromonitor International recently released a new report “Megatrends Shaping the Future of Travel” at World Travel Market (WTM) London. One of the emerging trends cited in the report is JOMO, or the Joy of Missing Out. Contrary to FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out), the Joy of Missing Out stems from a desire to unplug and enjoy face-to-face, live experiences.

Why JOMO?

Recent studies have found that most smartphone users are spending over five hours per day looking at their devices. Other statistics include the fact that most people will check their phone 200 times per day – that’s every six and a half minutes! Our addiction to our smartphones has gotten so bad that there is a name for the anxiety we experience when we are separated from them. Nomophobia is the irrational fear of being without your mobile phone or being unable to use your phone for some reason, such as the absence of a signal or running out of minutes or battery power.

When I went to Machu Picchu last May, I was astonished at how many people were looking at their phones. All around me, people were gazing at a screen instead of the historic and architectural wonder of the Incan city. Whether taking selfies, playing Pokemon Go, or texting family back home, everyone seemed to have a phone in their hand.  I was no exception:

(In my defense, this is a still shot from a Mother’s Day greeting I recorded for my mom – after all, it was Mother’s Day and I was in a different hemisphere of the world. And notice that Hubs, goofing off behind me, is holding his phone as well.)

How Do We Unplug?

The very first step is to decide that you want to experience your destination with undivided attention and no distractions. Yes, you will feel anxious. You may find that your hand inadvertently pats the pocket where your phone would normally be. You may experience momentary panic when you realize it isn’t there. But, despite those negative emotions, you will end your travel with a richer experience and abundant memories of all the things you saw and experienced.

Need ideas on how to experience your own Joy of Missing Out vacation? Here are some tips to help you make it happen.

  1. Travel to a destination that offers a variety of experiences, but not too many. Think Cornwall instead of London, Monte Isola instead of Rome, Watkins Glen State Park instead of New York City. In other words, go where the majority of tourists don’t go. The ideal destinations will have things for you to do, but not so many that you are constantly on the go and not relaxing.
  2. Choose a destination with an abundance of natural beauty and/or outdoor activities. Frankly, technology and nature are opposites. Surround yourself with one and you won’t think as much about the other.
  3. Consider a spa, or all inclusive resort. Those places are designed to offer everything you need, often with a focus on relaxation and pampering, without you ever having to leave the site. If you have ever said, “I need a vacation from my vacation,” a relaxing spa stay may be just what you need.
  4. Go remote. At the very edges of the civilized world, it may be difficult to find a cell signal, and wifi may be limited. Some of the best locations for a Joy of Missing Out experience are islands, national parks, and small towns where the internet access is limited.
  5. Remove the temptation. It’s okay if you lack the self-control to not glance at the phone. You are not alone, my friends! But there are simple steps you can take to remove the temptation. In order to truly experience Joy of Missing Out travel, your phones need to be left in the hotel room. Better yet, leave them at home! If you need to take pictures, get a point & shoot camera. They are small, inexpensive, and don’t come with push notifications or other distractions.
  6. Evaluate your JOMO experience.  I recommend keeping a handwritten journal about your Joy of Missing Out experience. Track how you are feeling each day in as much detail as possible. Use your notes to evaluate what the experience was like and to remind yourself about how it differed from other travels you have had.

And Finally, Some Encouragement

Taking a vacation with the intent of experiencing the Joy of Missing Out will seem difficult at first. It may even seem impossible. But with the right mindset, you may just find it to be your most rewarding vacation ever!

 

Forget the fear of missing out… here’s how you can experience the JOY of missing out when you travel! #jomo #unplug #digitaldetox

 

My Travel Planning Process

My Travel Planning Process

How to Plan for an Amazing Trip (My Way)

I recently found a great airfare deal and booked myself a ticket to Paris. Just me. No one else. This is my first ever solo trip, and I’m a little nervous but also very excited. Okay, considering that I don’t really speak French, I’ma lot nervous. But in the words of Dr. Sheldon Cooper, “If there were a list of things that make me more comfortable, lists would be on the top of that list.” So I’m making a lot of lists in preparation for my trip.

Travel Planning Process: How I'm planning my first ever solo trip to Paris.

As I dive into doing this trip 100% my way for 100% me, I thought it might be helpful to show you what my travel planning process looks like.  But first, a disclaimer: I am a highly structured, type A, over-planning kind of person, even on vacation. If you prefer to be a little less organized more spontaneous than me, you might want to follow this guide loosely and omit anything that seems like it might be too much effort.

Step 1: Have No Destination or Date in Mind

travel planning process - if possible, and to save money, start out being flexible on destination or dates

Yes, you heard it here first. The best plan starts by having no plan. Amazing vacations often present themselves as unanticipated opportunities in the form of cheap airfare. When you choose your destination or dates first, you lose a lot of flexibility in how much you will need to spend. My family and I have flown from Baltimore to both Peru and Iceland for around $200 per person round trip. It can be done. And since we want to travel as much as we can, it only follows that we need to do it as cheaply as we can.  After all, money saved on this trip means more money for the next trip!

Step 2: Start Putting Together a Destination List

travel planning process - make lists of where you want to go

One of the first places I look once I’ve booked my tickets is Pinterest, which I have written about before. Pinterest is great because not only is it a place to find destination ideas, it’s also a place to keep destination ideas. As soon as I’ve booked a trip, I create a board for my new destination and start pinning away. At first I pin everything that looks even vaguely interesting. For instance, my trip is to Paris but I’m pretty much pinning everything in France that I find of interest. I’ll be able to go through later and scale down, but if I find 3+ points of interest relatively close together outside of the city, that might make for a good day trip.

Depending on how anal organized I want to be, I might then set up a different board for each day of the trip with the activities for that day. I realize that it sounds over the top, but when you’re in an unfamiliar place, it actually makes sense to plan a day’s activities according to where they are located. Less time in transit between points makes for more time to see the sights.

The only caution I have to offer about using Pinterest as part of your travel planning process is to not allow your board to become oversaturated with images. You only need one pin with helpful information about visiting, for example, the Eiffel Tower. You do not need eight to twelve pins about the Eiffel Tower because they all have stunning images to go with them. The more you look at pictures, the less impressed you will be when you stand before it in person.

Other sites I like to peruse for things to see at a particular destination are Roadside America (US travel only) and Atlas Obscura. Both of these sites offer tips for seeing things that are off the beaten path and not likely to be on every tourist’s must-see list. They also usually have some history attached to them, which you know I love.

Corollary to Step 2: Accept That You Can’t See it All

travel planning process: to stay sane, set limits as to what you can reasonably hope to see/do on your trip

Unless you are visiting your destination for a very long time, you will have to prioritize what things you want to see and do on your trip. You cannot realistically expect to see every great architectural wonder, museum, monument, cathedral, park, and restaurant in one week’s time.

If you compile a massive list of all the places you want to see, and add to it all the places someone (friends/family/blogger/travel guidebook) recommended that you see, you are going to end up with a very long list. And when you find that you only have time to do about 20% of the things on that list, you will probably be disappointed and/or feel like your trip has been a failure.

I prioritize my destinations into three distinct lists:  Must See (I will not forgive myself if I don’t do this), Should See (important in order for me to consider the trip a success), and If There’s Time (everything else). The Must See List should be reserved only for iconic sights and experiences – things that, if you don’t do them, you won’t feel like you really even went to that location. In the case of Paris, it would be visiting the Eiffel Tower and seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. The Should See list will have a reasonable amount of attractions/activities – between one and four per day. The If There’s Time list, if you’ve kept track of all those recommendations, should be the largest list.

Step 3: Finding Lodging

Travel Planning Process: Things to consider when booking lodging on your trip

A lot goes into finding the perfect place to stay. Here are just a few of the things you must consider:

  • Expense – How much can you afford for this portion of your trip?
  • Area – What sort of neighborhood do you want to stay in? Hip and trendy, or residential and quiet? How safe is the neighborhood you’re considering? Do you want to have a room with a view?
  • Type of accommodations – Do you want complete privacy? Do you want to be able to fix some of your own meals? Do you want to stay someplace that provides you with breakfast each day? Will you need local staff to provide you with recommendations on where to go?
  • Convenience to public transport – If you aren’t renting a vehicle, you may want to make sure that you are within walking distance of a subway station or bus route

As for when to book, I’ve found that you want to do it far enough in advance that you have plenty of options (particularly if you plan to stay in an Airbnb or private home), but not too far in advance in case your itinerary changes. There is nothing worse than booking a place for an entire week, only to decide later that you want to spend part of the time elsewhere. I’d say three months ahead is probably a good window, but you can go with less advance booking if you’re staying in a hotel.

Step 4: Buying Tickets in Advance

travel planning process: consider buying tickets for attractions in advance online so you won't have to wait in line when you arrive

I will admit, this step is riskier than the others. The potential benefits of buying your admission tickets in advance are:

  • Little to no time spent waiting in line when you arrive at the attraction.
  • Allows you to start paying for your vacation expenses before you go
  • No need to worry about an event being sold out; your admission is guaranteed
  • Some venues offer a cheaper admission rate when booking online.

The potential drawbacks of buying your tickets in advance are:

  • Your plans change and you cannot go on the day for which you purchased admission
  • You forget to take your tickets with you when you go (or lose them, or they get stolen, etc.)

Now, as you can see, there are more pros than cons here. Also, in many cases, venues who offer online admission sales either are not date specific or will honor your ticket on a different date if you cannot use it on the date you originally booked. These days, you will most likely have an email or other electronic record of your ticket, which should suffice if the printed version got lost.

Step 5: Keep it Together, Girl!

travel planning process: keep your information color coded and organized in a binder or folder

This is where my type A super-efficient personality makes most people roll their eyes and groan. I color code all of the information I’ve assembled (green for financial, blue for nighttime activities, orange for daytime, hot pink for anything in the Must See category, etc). Then I make a folder or three ring binder with all of the information I will need for my trip.

I keep everything that I need together and sort it by day. Typically, each day’s packet will include:

  • a list of activities for the day
  • maps and/or directions on how to get from A to B
  • printed admission tickets if purchased online
  • brochures or other information about what I will be doing (opening and closing times, special significance, etc.)

It might be important to note that I do not carry the entire binder around with me – just that day’s pertinent documents. Apps are great, but I’m old school enough that I like paper. Using paper doesn’t have me at the mercy of finding a wifi connection.

YMMV

I cannot stress enough that this is the process that works for me. Following these steps is what gives me peace of mind so that I can relax and enjoy my trip. If you prefer to be impetuous and plan as you go, that’s great. You do you! The point is to be prepared for your trip, know what you want, and not spend valuable vacation time under stress.  Bon Voyage!

The travel planning process - practical tips to get the most out of your trip.

 

 

 

What you REALLY need to know about traveling to Iceland

What you REALLY need to know about traveling to Iceland

Planning is the Key.

I tend to do so much research before I take a trip, I almost feel as though I’ve already been there before I even arrive. So, needless to say, I studied up quite a bit on Iceland before we went there last month. I read all the blog posts, looked at all the pictures, and watched a few YouTube videos. In hindsight, I can say that there are seven things that did not pop up much in my pre-travel research. But they definitely should have, because they turned out to be absolutely vital. Here are the seven things you need to know about traveling to Iceland that other bloggers aren’t telling you.

#1 – Crampons are essential for winter hikes.

While this may sound like a medieval torture instrument for women, it is not. A crampon is a gadget made of stretchy rubber and metal spikes. You pull the crampon to fit over your shoes, with the spikes on the sole. This allows you to walk on compressed snow and/or ice without slipping. We did a 45 minute hike up a mountain and would have definitely been on our backsides a couple of times if we had not put our crampons on.

Click on image to view this item on Amazon.com

They aren’t expensive ($10-$15 a pair), and they’re worth every penny. I broke my tailbone due to a winter fall about 15 years ago. It was incredibly painful and virtually untreatable. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

#2 – You need to have a reusable shopping bag.

Iceland is a more environmentally conscious country than the US.  They do not put every little thing you purchase in a plastic bag.  They don’t put the big things in plastic bags, either. So if you are trying to save money and are buying food at a grocery store (more on that below), you will need a reusable shopping bag to carry your things out of the store.

If you do not have a reusable bag and you need to use the store’s  plastic bags, you will be charged for them. Most stores have free courtesy bags available at most places, but they are small and very thin/prone to tearing.

I like this highly rated reusable bag on Amazon:

This bag holds up to 42 pounds, but folds up small enough to fit in your pocket. (Click to see more details.)

#3 – Iceland may be the most expensive country in the world.

To be fair, a few bloggers did mention that Iceland was expensive. I kind of shrugged it off. I’ve been to the UK, with their 20% value added tax (VAT). It isn’t ideal, but for a week, it’s bearable.

However, Iceland is so ridiculously expensive, it makes the UK look like a third world country.

For starters, they also have a VAT, and theirs is 24%. But their prices are outrageously high to begin with.  Here are a few examples:

  • a burger in a table service restaurant: $25
  • a bottle of beer: $11
  • a gallon of gas: $9

And items for tourists are even more marked up.  We saw beanies for $90 and dollar-store quality souvenir keychains for $6. I bought a souvenir Christmas ornament and it was $25. All of my other souvenirs were photos.

Needless to say, a lot of our meals in Iceland consisted of yogurt and granola. I didn’t mind the yogurt (called skyr) as it’s absolutely delicious and comes in a great variety of flavors.  But even that, after a while, got old.

#4 – Eastern Iceland is a great place to explore.

This almost ignored corner of the island nation was probably my favorite part. It was so peaceful and beautiful, zigzagging around the fjords. It didn’t hurt that we were there just as the sun was starting to go down.

What you need to know about Iceland - Eastern Iceland is one of the most beautiful areas of the country.

Also, we were driving through this area of Iceland when Hubs spotted a reindeer off to the side of the road. I slowed down so we could get a better look. But, when I looked back at the road again, another reindeer was standing in the middle of the road, staring me down. I slammed on the brakes, causing all sorts of exclamations from Hubs and our daughter. I was dumbfounded and just stared at him, which is why I don’t have a cool reindeer-in-the-middle-of-the-road photo to share. For his part, he looked pretty unimpressed with us, and meandered off to join his friend.

Then we spotted a third reindeer, this time on my side of the road. As I took his picture, he immediately pawed at the ground as if he wanted to charge at us. That was my cue to leave.

what you need to know about Iceland - there are reindeer!

It was also in this area of Iceland that we were able to see the Northern Lights.

#5 – You can take the Internet with you wherever you go.

Iceland is nothing if not a beautiful place to photograph. And as a travel blogger, I try to post on my Instagram account every day. But with the sparsest population of any country in Europe, Iceland cafes with free wifi were few and far between.

The solution was a portable 4G wifi hot spot, which cost us $9 per day. It was small enough to fit in our pocket when we were out of the car, and it gave us internet access 24/7.

It couldn’t have been easier – I reserved and paid for the wifi online at the Trawire website and printed out the confirmation. When we arrived at the airport, we picked it up on our way out.  Then, when we were leaving to come back home, we just dropped it in the mailbox at the airport. So easy! Highly recommend if anyone in your party is an internet junkie and/or needs to check email often while in Iceland.

#6 – Don’t choose “fill up” at the gas pump

When we got a text message alert that Hubs’ debit card had racked up a couple of $250-ish charges, we were a little panicked. The charges were from gas stations and while I know that gas is expensive in Iceland (see above), I also knew $250 was excessive for gas.

what you need to know about iceland - don't choose "fill up" at the gas pump if paying with a debit card.
Photo via Flickr by Helgi Haldorsson

Fortunately, Google saved the day. I was able to find out that being charged these high amounts was standard procedure when you choose the “fill up” option at the pump and you’re paying with a debit card. It’s like the pre-authorizations that they do here, but because you’re in a different country it takes a lot longer for it to clear. It will go away after 2-3 days.. but if your account isn’t well-funded, that could be an issue. To avoid this problem, only use a credit card for gas purchases, not a debit card. Alternatively, you can select a set amount rather than a fill up at the pump.

#7 – You might not be able to continue watching your favorite shows on Netflix.

Because I knew we would have internet access while we were in Iceland, I didn’t bother with downloading any shows on Netflix. When we got there, I looked for the show I had been watching the week before we left and it wasn’t listed. First I panicked, then I Googled.

Turns out that there are licensing restrictions in Iceland that make some shows unavailable to view via Netflix. if there is something you are pretty sure you will want to watch while you’re there, it might be a good idea to download it.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Are there any that you would add? Leave a comment below!

Here's what you need to know about Iceland before you go - seven important things that aren't usually mentioned in blog posts about Iceland travel.
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 bulb, 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.

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
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 it.

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 forego 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.
Changes Are Coming to Machu Picchu

Changes Are Coming to Machu Picchu

Last month, I was lucky enough to cross a destination off of my bucket list: Machu Picchu.

new machu picchu rules july 2017

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my experience at Machu Picchu was very different from what most tourists will experience after me. You see, a new set of strict rules will be in effect starting July 1, 2017.

The New Rules:

There are three major changes that will affect your visit, plus a laundry list of prohibited items/activities.

The first major change requires that a licensed guide accompany all visitors entering Machu Picchu. Guide-led groups will consist of no more than 16 people.

We used a guide when we went to Machu Picchu and we were glad we did. There were so many things that we would not have noticed or understood without him. (Signage at Machu Picchu is almost non-existent.) For instance, take a look at this photo:

machu picchu guide new rules july 2017

Our guide had previously told us that the stones the Incas used to build were perfectly smooth and straight for buildings of special importance, such as temples and the king’s residence. Here, he is showing us the back wall of a temple and a connecting priest’s quarters. The stones on the far left side of the picture (the temple) are very smooth, flat, and straight. However, as the wall progresses to the right (priest’s quarters), the stones become more roughly hewn.

Would we have known that without our guide? No way. We probably wouldn’t have even noticed. So I think that having a guide will add to the Machu Picchu experience in a beneficial way. I don’t know if the Peruvian government will pay the guides, or if visitors will have to pay them. Either way, I’m sure you can expect the expense of visiting Machu Picchu to increase. We paid our guide 35 soles (about $10) per person for a group of eight.

The second major change is that admission to the site will be split into two time frames: morning (6:00 AM to 12:00 noon) or afternoon (12:00 noon to 5:30 PM). That doesn’t seem too bad until you learn that you must enter and leave the site within the same time frame. If you have morning tickets and you don’t get there until 11:00 AM, you will have just one hour to see Machu Picchu before you are escorted from the premises. But that’s not all. Once you go through the exit, you cannot re-enter. This could present a problem for anyone in need of a rest room, as those facilities are located outside the site.

The third major change is that the site will have clearly defined tour routes, and you will have to choose which route you want to take when you book your ticket. Route 1 is the physically demanding classic route, which takes in the upper sector of the citadel, before heading in a large loop around to the lower-sector. Routes 2 & 3 go through the mid and lower-sectors, and are more suitable for those who want a more relaxing visit.

Visitors who wish to climb Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain now have set entrance times as well. Those wishing to climb Huayna Picchu must be at the trail head between 7:00 AM and 8:00 AM or between 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM. Those wishing to climb Machu Picchu Mountain must be present at the trail head between 7:00 AM and 8:00 AM or between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM.

Prohibited at Machu Picchu:

The following items will be prohibited at Machu Picchu after July 1, 2017:

  • Bags/backpacks larger than 40 x 35 x 20 cm (15.7 x 13.7 x 7.9”). You will have to check larger items at the entrance for a small fee.
  • Food and/or beverages of any type, alcoholic or non-alcoholic.
  • Umbrellas or sun shades. (You may, however, wear hats and ponchos or rain coats.)
  • Photographic tripods or any type of camera stand/support. This is only permitted with pre-authorization and an appropriate permit.
  • Musical instruments, including megaphones and speakers.
  • Shoes with high-heels or hard soles. Shoes with soft soles (like those found on tennis shoes or walking shoes/boots).
  • Children’s strollers. Only strap on baby/child carriers are permitted.
  • Walking sticks with a metal or hard point. Elderly people and physically handicapped people may use a walking stick provided that it has a rubber tip.

Some actions are prohibited, too.  As of July 1, 2017, you may not:

  • Climb or lean on walls or any part of the citadel.
  • Touch, move or remove any stone items / structures.
  • Make loud noises, applaud, shout, whistle and sing.
  • Smoke or use an electronic cigarette.
  • Feed the resident or wild animals.
  • Paraglide or fly any type of drone or small aircraft.

If you keep these regulations in mind when planning your trip, you will not find any unpleasant surprises once you get to Machu Picchu.

Wondering what a visit to Machu Picchu is like?  Click here to read about our experience!