Tag: Helpful Tips

Product Review: Gemz Solid Shampoo

Product Review: Gemz Solid Shampoo

Sometimes, Facebook advertising really does work

I recently saw a Facebook ad for a solid shampoo product called Gemz. It showed how a small disc transformed into lots of lathery suds for washing even long hair. I was skeptical, but I decided to try it, since I am heading to Paris in two weeks. These discs will take up less space than a shampoo bottle, won’t leak onto my clothing, and won’t have to be put in a clear baggie at the TSA checkpoint.

When I went to the Gemz website, a couple of things really stood out:

  1. Gemz solid shampoo is fairly inexpensive, at roughly $1 per disc. Granted, given that one disc = one shampoo, it’s not as economical as using regular shampoo. But for traveling without the issues that liquid shampoo present, that’s a price I would happily pay.
  2. Shipping is free. Gotta love free shipping!
  3. Gemz solid shampoo is environmentally friendly. Not only is there less packaging than with a liquid shampoo, Gemz provides a postage paid envelope so you can return your empty packaging to them for recycling.
  4. Gemz offers multiple formulas – one for colored hair, one to tame frizziness, one that won’t weigh hair down, one to add volume, etc. They also offer solid conditioners.

So I placed an order – seven discs for $6.99. Prior to checkout, an offer to get a total of 14 Gemz solid shampoo discs for $11.99 popped up, which made the individual cost go from $1 to 86 cents. Normally, I wouldn’t take a risk on making a bigger purchase for a product I had never tried, but bargains are my kryptonite! I purchased 14, rationalizing that I could because of the free shipping.

I should note that I purchased these items myself. Gemz did not sponsor this post and has provided me no monetary compensation or free products. Everything I’m writing here is my 100% honest opinion without input from anyone else.

The Reveal – Part 1

I placed my order on a Wednesday and received a confirmation email saying that I could expect my package to arrive in 7-10 days. It arrived two days later! The contents of the box were:

Gemz solid shampoo is TSA approved and environmentally friendly

I got the 14 Gemz solid shampoo discs in a pretty mesh bag, a booklet about the product and how it works, and the postage paid return bag for the empty containers.

As you can see, I chose the “grandiose volume” shampoo because, well, I’m a child of the 1980s and I like big hair. There, I said it. Don’t judge.

Gemz solid shampoo - this tiny disc provides enough lather to wash even long hair.

I admit, I was a little nervous. The phrase “trying something new” is not one I usually utter in reference to my hair. I’ve had enough bad hair experiences over the years to know that trying something new, more often than not, will end in disaster. How can something that fits in the palm of my hand provide enough suds for my long-ish hair?

When it came time to give Gemz solid shampoo a try, I peeled back the foil seal and found this:

Gemz solid shampoo - minimal packaging and they will even recycle it for you

It looks a bit like a sponge, doesn’t it? Well, according to the directions, it kind of is. After removing it from the container, you place the disc in your hand and add water. Wait a few seconds and – voila! – you will have a pile of suds where the disc once sat.

Gemz solid shampoo - add water and wait a few seconds for the disc to turn into shampoo lather

Still, I was skeptical. That doesn’t look like enough to wash my hair. But I tried it. And guess what?

It was enough. I washed my hair thoroughly and completely with that little disc! (Also, as an aside, it smelled great!)

The Reveal – Part 2

I can’t say whether the Gemz solid shampoo really added a lot of volume (so few volume-boosting shampoos ever do with my hair, unfortunately). However, I dried and styled my hair as usual and I’m pretty pleased with the results:

My hair after using Gemz solid shampoo Grandiose Volume.

As you can see, that’s a good amount of hair to wash, and I had enough suds to do the job. I did find one bit of undissolved disc in my hair after it dried, but I am certain that was an error on my part and not a defect of the product itself.

I failed to make sure that the disc had completely dissolved before applying the suds to my hair. The video demonstration that Gemz uses to show how their products work shows a woman rubbing the disc/suds in a circular motion. I did not do that as thoroughly as I should have.

Conclusion

I would highly recommend Gemz solid shampoo for anyone, but especially for my fellow travelers! It’s a good product that you can feel good about using.

Product review of Gemz solid shampoo on travelasmuch.com
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How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel… at Any Age!

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel… at Any Age!

Most kids, if we’re being honest, don’t really get the concept of travel. To them, a great vacation could be anywhere, as long as they get to stay in a hotel with a pool and cable television. So how do you get them to think about the world that awaits them outside of the hotel? How do you make them look forward to more than just surfing channels and swimming in an over-chlorinated pool? How do you get your kids to love travel?

Tip #1: Start Early

The sooner you start traveling with your children, the better. Whether it’s a trip to visit grandparents who live an hour or two away from you, or a week long vacation in another state or country, take your kids away from home as often as you can.

First time parents and/or those with very young children may find the thought of doing so overwhelming, scary, or just plain crazy. But trust me, the sooner you expose your children to the concept of sleeping someplace other than your own house, the better.

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #1 - Start taking them on trips as early as possible.

Yes, you will have to bring all kinds of gear with you. Car seat! Stroller! Diaper bag! Diapers! Blankets! Wipes! Bottles! Toys! Portable crib!

How on earth can such a tiny human need

So.

Much.

Stuff!??!?!?

Well, the truth is, they don’t. Resist the temptation to over-pack. Only pack what is necessary and leave the “just in case” items at home. If you aren’t going on a mountain hike in a remote part of the world, you will probably be able to buy any incidentals that you need while away from home.

Tip #2: Model a Positive Attitude

Enthusiasm is contagious, and our offspring are always looking to us for cues on how they should feel about something. If you’re excited about going on vacation, they will be excited too.

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #2 - Model a Positive Attitude and Show Some Excitement

If, on the other hand, you’re grumbling about how to make everything fit in the car, or having a near anxiety attack because you’re worried that you’ve forgotten something, all your kids will process is that going on vacation makes their parent(s) stressed and grumpy. Most parents, even the most loving ones, will be more likely to snap at, scold, or otherwise lack patience with their children when they are stressed or grumpy. So be uber-aware of your demeanor when planning for and embarking on your journey to avoid having your kids think of family travel with a negative connotation.

Tip #3: Involve Your Kids in the Planning Process

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #3 - Involve them in the planning process.

Regardless of whether you are a Type A vacation over-planner (like me) or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants vacationer, you need to at least talk to your kids about where you’re going and what they would like to do there. Give them a list of three or four child-friendly activities and ask what they would be most interested in. Show them some photos or videos online so they can fully imagine what it would be like. Don’t assume that you know what they would like to do most… you might be surprised by their answers! If your kids feel like they helped plan the trip, they will be more inclined to enjoy it because they will have a vested interest in it.

A side benefit of approaching them about what they would like to do on the trip is that they may be more patient when doing things that aren’t as interesting to them. “Today we are doing something that Dad wanted to do, and tomorrow we will do what you wanted to do.” Kids will learn that a family vacation is just that – a vacation for the whole family to enjoy… not just them.

Tip #4: Have Them Document Their Travels

This is my absolute favorite tip for how to get your kids to love travel! Encourage your children to document their travel experiences in an age appropriate way. This could be as simple as videotaping an “interview” with your kids telling you at the end of each day what they enjoyed most. Again, their answers may surprise you! (My daughter’s favorite memory of our trip to Cornwall when she was 8 was leaving grapes along the fence rail for the seagulls, of all things. She is now 16 and she still talks about it. Would I have guessed that feeding the seagulls would be such a happy memory for her? Certainly not.)

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #4 - Have them document their travel with photos, artwork, or journaling.

If your kids are older, you can go a step further and have them keep a journal. Encourage them to illustrate their notes with drawings of what they saw/did. Alternatively, have them complete postcards to send to family and friends.

If they’re old enough, you could consider giving them a camera to take their own pictures as a way of documenting the journey. These little mementos of a trip – as seen through the eyes of your children – are priceless and they make the best souvenirs, in my opinion.

BONUS: writing and drawing are activities that they can work on in transit, which will keep them busy. It might keep you from having to hear “Are we there yet?”

Tip #5: Bring a Little Bit of Home with You

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #5 - Bring a little piece of home with you.

Let your kids bring one small thing from home that they really love. For younger children, this might be a stuffed animal that they sleep with. For older kids, a favorite toy. If you can’t take your pets with you, consider bringing a photo of them for your children to have on the table next to their bed. These pieces of home serve as small reminders that vacation is temporary, and they will soon return to the places, people, and things they know and love.

You could also make a game with their favorite object. For instance, take a photograph of their favorite toy/stuffed animal at every location you visit and let them make a scrapbook or story about it (see Tip #4 above).

Tip #6: Resist the Temptation to Use Screens as Diversions

Look, I get it. Traveling (especially by car or plane) for more than a few hours with kids in tow can be tedious at best. It can be hard even when you’re traveling without kids! But I beg of you, please resist the temptation to just hand them a phone or tablet and let them play games or watch videos as you travel.

The more engaged they are with their surroundings, the more they will enjoy travel. The more they are engaged with their family members, the more fun memories and traditions you will build on the trip. So let them look out the windows of the car or observe people at the baggage carousel in the airport. Let them see what makes a place different from home, and what makes it similar.

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #6 - Don't give them a video pacifier, but rather have them look out the window as they travel through unfamiliar areas.

And if not handing your kids an electronic device to placate them while traveling seems unrealistic, think about what you did when you were a kid going places with your parents. There was life before we all adopted video pacifiers… there can be life after the fact too!

My own daughter, at age three and a half years, traveled by car from Maryland to Florida (that’s 14 hours not counting stops). She did so without a portable TV/DVD player and without playing games on anyone’s phone/tablet. We talked about things we saw while we drove, talked about how excited we were to be going on vacation (see Tip #2 above), made up games to play, and so on. There were no meltdowns. There was no whining. It was incredible, not to mention enjoyable!

Tip #7: Let Them Choose a Souvenir

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #7 - Let them choose a souvenir to take home (no matter how tacky)

If your kids are traveling with you, allow them to select a reasonably priced souvenir to bring home as a memento of their trip. If it’s something that they can start a collection with, even better, because then you’ll be on a quest to find one of those items at every destination.

One of my favorite things to have my children collect were the pressed pennies that have the name and an image for the place you visited. They are cheap – typically $.50 – $1.00 each – and fairly ubiquitous at tourist destinations. What’s more, most Penny Presses have an assortment of designs to choose from, so if you have multiple kids with you they can each get a different design.

Regardless of the souvenir they choose, though, it will prove a tangible reminder of the time they spent away from home and the fun things that they saw and did. The key is to let them choose what the souvenir will be. It doesn’t matter if they want a souvenir water bottle and you already have an entire drawer full of them at home. it doesn’t matter if they want a keychain, but they have no keys. Let them pick what they find meaningful and the chances are good that they will enjoy it for years to come.

Tip #8: Slow Down!

No one likes to be rushed. Especially young ones who are seeing new places, people, and things for the first time. So make sure that in your day to day travels on vacation, you are moving at a pace slightly slower than you normally would. Give them time to walk beside you without rushing to keep up, to ask questions about what they’re seeing, and to just stop for a moment to take it all in.

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #8 - Slow down and give them a chance to take it all in.

Along those same lines, make sure you leave some wiggle room in your travel itinerary for the little ones. Build in some time for a nap, if needed. Time for a visit to a local playground at your destination. Time for relaxing. And yes, even time to enjoy the hotel pool and/or cable television.

Tip #9: Be as Hands On as Possible

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I love museums. I am a history geek through and through, and nothing excites me more than being able to see items that have witnessed hundreds of years of history and survived.

But history is kind of a weird concept to a child, and they aren’t likely to appreciate a museum with as much gusto as I would. For children to be engaged, and to get your kids to love travel, you have to give them opportunities to be as hands on as possible.

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #9 - Visit places with hands-on children's activities, or come up with your own

That doesn’t mean you have to forego the museums… but it may mean coming up with a scavenger hunt-style game for them to play while you’re going through the museum. Many tourist attractions these days will offer young visitors a way to stay entertained, whether it’s a touch tank at an aquarium or a craft activity at a museum. Exhibits with buttons to push are always popular with young ones, too. Check at the visitor’s desk wherever you go and ask if they have any children’s activities/exhibits.

Tip #10: Break the Rules… or at Least Bend Them

How to Get Your Kids to Love Travel - Tip #10 - Break the rules (or at least bend them) while you're on vacation.

Kids love to think that they’re getting away with doing something that they wouldn’t normally be able to do. And there’s no better time or place to let them experience that joy than on vacation. You’re away from home for a fixed period of time… why not let them enjoy a bit of special rule-breaking?

A few caveats, though. First, YOU should be the one to decide which rules are okay to break. Then make sure that the kids know they are only allowed to break those rules and no others. For instance, an 8:00 PM bedtime rule does not need to be enforced on vacation, but they absolutely must still follow the rule about brushing their teeth before bed.

Second, remind them (often, if need be) that this bit of rule-breaking is only happening because you are on vacation. Once you return home and to your normal routine of work and school, the rules will once again be in full effect.

Third, be prepared to reinstate the rules if behavior gets out of control. Sticking with the example above, relaxing the bedtime rule will need to be re-evaluated if it results in cranky, overtired children.

In Conclusion

Travel is something that everyone can enjoy – and children can come to love – if approached with a bit of creativity and enthusiasm. Your family vacations will be full of laughter, love, and memories to cherish for years to come if you get your kids to love travel.

#GOALS: 7 Tips to Help You Create the Ultimate Travel Bucket List

#GOALS: 7 Tips to Help You Create the Ultimate Travel Bucket List

The Bucket List.

The phrase “bucket list” – meaning a list of items you wish to complete before you kick the bucket (die) – was made widely popular in a 2007 film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. In the past decade, the phrase has become such a part of our culture that most people have a bucket list of some sort, even if it only exists in their head.

Most of us make a mental note or say, “I’d like to do that someday,” without giving much thought to creating an actual list. That approach, unfortunately, leaves us with a bucket list that may be incomplete or worse, rather generic. So here are some tips to make your ultimate travel bucket list not just tangible, but achievable.

1. Write it Down…

Bucket List Tips: Write it down.

Study after study has found that written goals are achieved more often than those that are not written down. And what is a bucket list, if it isn’t a list of your goals? Make sure you are keeping a record of your ultimate travel bucket list destinations. Documenting your desired destinations and experiences will ensure that you don’t lose track of any goals over the years.

2. …Or Type It Up

No one said your bucket list has to be on paper. Your bucket list can exist as a note in your phone, a Word document on your computer, or a series of well curated Pinterest boards. Use the system that works best for you.

3. Don’t Limit Yourself

It’s important to remember that a bucket list is a list of possibilities. If you think you would kinda-maybe-sorta enjoy jumping out of a plane and parachuting to the ground, go ahead and put it on your list. Even if you’re unsure whether you will ever be physically fit enough and/or brave enough to actually do it. Even if you won’t be able to afford it until you’re considerably older. Whatever your “even if” scenario may be, add it to the list anyway!

Some of my most rewarding experiences have been when I did something that I was afraid to do or lacked confidence in my ability to accomplish. Sometimes, as Susan Jeffers wrote in her 1987 best-seller, you have to feel the fear and do it anyway.

4. Be Specific & Creative

Ultimate Travel Bucket List Tips - be specific
Image via Flickr by Damian Gadal

I’d like to go to Ireland some day, and visiting that country has been an interest of mine for as long as I can remember. But a homemade CD of Christmas music that a friend’s husband made many years ago had a song on it that took my interest in Ireland up a notch or two.  The song “Christmas in Killarney” uses such vivid imagery to describe the town during the holidays! It sounded like a beautiful place, so I knew I had to see it… at Christmas, of course. My bucket list doesn’t just include “Ireland.” It says “Christmas in Killarney, Ireland.”

Another example is Italy. To say that I want to visit Italy is a gross understatement, and I would be doing myself a disservice if I included it on my ultimate travel bucket list that way. What I really want to do is:

  • Visit Venice
  • See the Colosseum in Rome
  • Admire the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s Pietà in Vatican City
  • Eat authentic pizza in Naples
  • Stay in a trullo
  • Tour the Uffizi Gallery in Florence
  • Visit Deruta and buy as much majolica as I can (a) afford and (b) legally take home
  • Go to the island of Monte Isola
  • See the ruins of Pompeii

I could go on and on. My point is: why reduce all of those wonderful experiences into a single line on your bucket list? For a truly ultimate travel bucket list, they should be individually named. Include as many details as you can.

Vividly describing your goals in written form is strongly associated with goal success, and people who very vividly describe or picture their goals are more likely to successfully accomplish their goals than people who don’t.

5. Make it a Work in Progress

Do not under any circumstances put your bucket list in an envelope, stick it in a drawer, and forget about it. Your bucket list should be continuously evolving. Add new places as you think of them (or discover them), and cross off the ones you have visited. You can change your mind about going someplace, too.

Remember: it’s on paper, not carved in stone. So make your ultimate travel bucket list an ever-evolving work that accurately reflects your desires.

6. No Pressure!

How to Create the Ultimate Travel Bucket List: Do not set deadlines for your travel goals.

This one is difficult, especially for the more driven, Type-A personality people.  Avoid attaching deadlines to the items on your bucket list. While it’s okay to assign general priority levels to your travel goals, items on your ultimate travel bucket list should not have specific deadlines. Why? Because life is nothing if not chaotic. You never know when your travel plans may be derailed by illness, injury, or financial adversity. Prioritize which goals are the most important to you and work to achieve them first.

7. The Most Important Tip of All

Once you’ve created your ultimate travel bucket list, there’s one thing left to do: set about making those dreams a reality!  Devise a strategy for achieving those travel goals, one at a time. Save your pennies, plot your course, and go out into the world with the satisfaction of knowing you are doing something of the utmost importance to the only one who really matters: yourself.

 

 

How to Create the Ultimate Travel Bucket List
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