Friday Sound-Off: Is Slum Tourism a Good or Bad Thing?

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Slum tourism draws over 1 million tourists ever year.

It is a major tourism draw that brings in over a million tourists a year.  Mumbai, New Delhi, LA, Detroit, Copenhagen, and Berlin are all seeing tourists flock to their city to participate.  They aren’t visiting to see world class museums, or theme parks, or historical sites.  These tourists are flocking to these cities to visit the slums.

Ever since the movie Slumdog Millionaire became a major box office success, people have been flocking to Mumbai’s Dharavi slum to see for themselves.  The movie didn’t spur the creation of the Dharavi slum tours, but it did amplify the demand for the tours.  And that amplification has been massive.

Slum tourism, as it is often called, isn’t anything new.  All the way back in the 19th Century, wealthy aristocrats in London and New York would visit the disadvantaged areas of the city to view the slums.  It just so happens that this increased curiosity in the slums of the cities coincided with the invention of photography.

As images of these impoverished areas began to circulate, people started to become curious and wanted to see for themselves.  This curiosity has never abated, as this curiosity has only grown exponentially as photography, video, and the media has grown.

Today, these slum tours consist of visits to schools, education centers, and other sites where non-profit organizations are working with these communities.  The goal is to show tourists what is being done to better these communities, and show tourists what they can do to assist.

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Slum tour companies often show tourists what is being done to assist these poorer communities and tell them how they can assist.

 

So this leads us to the question of whether this slum tourism is a good or bad thing?  I am sure some slum tour operators would argue that these tours bring attention to neighborhoods that are desperately in need to assistance.  However, others would argue that none of the money from these tours usually makes it back into these neighborhoods.

Personally, we don’t like these tours.  To us it feels as though these people are being used.  Sure, it does bring some much needed attention to these impoverished neighborhoods, but we aren’t sure it is actually affecting any real change in these communities.  A vast majority of the money being generated by slum tour operators never actually makes it back to the people who live there.

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Some people question how much of the money made from slum tourism actually makes it back into these poorer communities.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think slum tourism is a good or bad thing?  Do you think it is helping or exploiting these communities?  What better ways can we assist those in these communities who are less fortunate?  We want to hear from you.

Posted in Friday Sound-Offs, Opinions | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Cape Buffalo and the Ox Pecker

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A Cape Buffalo with an Oxpecker on its back in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

Those of you who have followed our blog closely know how much we love animals.  We plan a lot of our travel around seeing animals and we enjoy learning about animals.  It is fascinating to see wild animals in their natural habitat.

One of the more fascinating things we learned while we were in Africa is the relationship between the cape buffalo and the ox pecker.  These two animals couldn’t be more different, but yet they have a close relationship in the wild. Cape Buffalo are very protective and most animals choose to avoid approaching these massive creatures and their horns.  For good reason, as there are many predators roaming around the African bush, and buffalo get very aggressive when made uncomfortable.

The oxpecker, on the other hand, has no problem with landing on the backs of these huge buffalo.  The ox peckers are drawn to the buffalo because of the parasites and flies that infest these giants.  The buffalo allow the presence of the oxpecker because it benefits them as well.  The ox pecker gets a meal and the buffalo get some grooming service and relief from the pesky flies.

Now, there is some debate as to whether the relationship between the cape buffalo and the oxpecker is symbiotic (or mutually beneficial), or whether the oxpecker itself is semi-parasitic.  Either way, the cape buffalos don’t seem to mind their presence.

The relationship that ox peckers, both the red-billed and yellow-billed species found in sub-Saharan Africa, have with other animals in Africa isn’t limited to just cape buffalo.  On the contrary, ox peckers can often be found near and on other animals such as giraffes, antelope, zebra, and rhinoceroses.  However, their relationship with cape buffalo is more well known because of the frequency in which you see ox peckers on the backs of these giant buffalos.

 

Posted in Africa, Safari, Serengeti, Tanzania, Wildlife | Tagged | 2 Comments

Friday Sound-Off: Are Walking Safaris Safe?

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With poaching becoming an increasing problem and animals being forced into smaller-and-smaller areas, the animals in Africa are becoming more stressed.

He did everything right.  When Quinn Swales, a professional guide at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, lead a group of tourists on a walking safari within the park, he knew exactly what he was doing.  Yet, even doing everything right did not save him.

When Quinn Swales and his group ran into a pride of lions within Hwange National Park, Quinn relied on his experience to protect his clients.  When a large male lion got up and started to approach his group, he told them not to run, but to stand behind him.  Running would only trigger the lion’s predatory instincts, and you can’t out run a lion.

He then set off a “bear banger”, which is a noise maker that makes a sound as loud as a gun shot.  It appeared to work at first, as the lion seemed to back off.  However, fate would not be that kind to Quinn, as the lion quickly doubled back and attacked him.  Sadly, Quinn Swales later died from his injuries.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just an isolated incident.  There have been a number of fatalities in recent years.  We have included a list below of some other stories of tragedy on walking safari in Africa.

There has been a lot of talk in the past decade about how safe walking safaris really are.  In most countries in Africa, guides are not allowed to carry guns on walking safaris.  Poaching is still a big issue in Africa, and keeping guns outside of the parks should be a top priority.  This means that clients are reliant upon the skill and experience of their guides to keep them safe while walking in the African bush.

However, for some tourists, they are looking for the ultimate adventure.  Seeing the magnificent animals of Africa from a vehicle is great, but being able to get out and venture into the wilderness on foot, to put yourself into the environment with the animals as an observer, is the ultimate wildlife viewing experience.

But are these walking tours really what is best for the viewers and the animals?  With poaching becoming an increasing problem and animals being forced into smaller-and-smaller areas, the animals in Africa are becoming more stressed.  Should we really be adding to that stress?

We would like to hear your thoughts.  Should walking safaris be allowed?  Is it worth the risk to take a walking safari?

 

Posted in Africa, Friday Sound-Offs, Hiking, Opinions, Safari, Wildlife | Tagged | 5 Comments

Travelor’s Guide to Edinburgh

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A view of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh is one of our favorite cities in the United Kingdom.  There is so much history to see and things to do.  If you are planning a trip to Edinburgh in the near future, we hope this guide will make your trip planning process a little bit easier.

But before we get into all of the amazing places and activities for you to enjoy on your trip, here are some fun facts you might not know about Edinburgh.

  • The Royal Mile is actually just over one mile long (1 mile and 107 yards to be exact).
  • Edinburgh Castle was built on an extinct volcano.
  • Edinburgh was the first city in the world to have an official fire department.
  • J.K. Rowling wrote some parts of Harry Potter in an Edinburgh cafe named, The Elephant.  In fact, Edinburgh inspired some of her characters and locations in the books.
  • Edinburgh has more street addresses than any other city in the world.

A Day in Edinburgh

Want to know what it is like to tour the Edinburgh area?  Well, you are in luck.  Come along with us as we tour three of the Edinburgh area’s biggest attractions. We take a look at the Rosslyn Chapel, the Royal Mile, and of course Edinburgh Castle.

Top 10 Must See Sites

There is so much to see and do in Edinburgh that it was tough to narrow it down to just a list of ten.  These ten things are some of the must see attractions in Edinburgh that we definitely recommend working into your itinerary.

10.  Holyrood Palace

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Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.

The Palace of Holyrood, which is more commonly known as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.  Edinburgh’s oldest street, which is commonly referred to as “The Royal Mile”, connects Edinburgh Castle with Holyrood Palace.

If you are interested in visiting the Holyrood Palace, there are tours available.  We would suggest planning for at least an hour to take the tour.  When planning your time in Edinburgh, it makes sense to plan to see Holyrood Palace on the same day that you plan to see the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle.  You can start at one end, either the castle or the palace, and work your way to the other end.

Recommended Length of Visit:  1-2 Hours

9.  Nelson Monument

Nelson Monument by Eje Gustafsson

The Nelson Monument is a tower that was built between 1807 and 1816 to commemorate the life of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was killed in the battle of Trafalgar.

The Nelson Monument is a tower that was built between 1807 and 1816 to commemorate the life of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was killed in the battle of Trafalgar.  Situated on top of Calton Hill, it really is a sight to behold.

If you plan to visit the monument, we recommend climbing to the top of the monument as it offers some extraordinary panorama views of Edinburgh below.   Entry to the bottom floor of the tower is free, but there is a £5 entry fee to climb the tower.  Information hours on of service and directions can be found on the Edinburgh Museums website.

Recommended Length of Visit:  1 Hour

8.  Royal Botanic Garden

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The Royal Botanic Garden has roughly 70 acres of beautiful gardens and landscapes.

Located just a mile from the city center, the Royal Botanic Garden has roughly 70 acres of beautiful gardens and landscapes. It is a popular attraction for both tourists and locals, and an excellent place to go for a long, scenic walk.

With a collection that includes over 13,000 plant species, the garden’s collection of plants is world class. The gardens also offer some picturesque views of the Edinburgh skyline and Edinburgh castle. During the course of the year the gardens also host a variety of live performances, guided tours, and exhibitions, so make sure you check their schedule before planning your visit.

Recommended Length of Visit:  1-2 Hours

7.  Scotch Whiskey Experience

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You can go on a tour, taste test a variety of whiskies, enjoy lunch at the restaurant, and even take a one day class about whiskey.

If you are a whiskey connoisseur, then you will love the Scotch Whiskey Experience in Edinburgh.  You can go on a tour, taste test a variety of whiskies, enjoy lunch at the restaurant, and even take a one day class about whiskey.  It is located on Castle hill in the Old Town, near the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle.

Recommended Length of Visit:  For a Tour, 2-4 Hours.

6.  National Museum of Scotland

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In addition to its fabulous collections of Scottish antiquities, culture and history, the National Museum of Scotland also holds countless collections covering science and technology, natural history, and world cultures.

In addition to its fabulous collections of Scottish antiquities, culture and history, the National Museum of Scotland also holds countless collections covering science and technology, natural history, and world cultures.  If you like museums, then you will love the National Museum of Scotland.

If you are looking for a good break-down of some of the top exhibits to see in the National Museum of Scotland, The Culture Trip has a very good write-up.  Our favorite was undoubtedly the Mammal Collection, pictured above.

Recommended Length of Visit:  Half Day

5.  Calton Hill

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Located in central Edinburgh, Calton Hill is a large hill that is home to several of Edinburgh’s most prestigious monuments and buildings.

If you want to get a bird’s eye view of the city of Edinburgh, you should make sure you check out Calton Hill.  Located in central Edinburgh, Calton Hill is a large hill that is home to several of Edinburgh’s most prestigious monuments and buildings.  These include the National Monument, the Nelson Monument, and the Dugald Stewart Monument.  It’s definitely a must visit if you are into photography or history.

Pro Tip:  If you want to get some really great shots of Edinburgh, make sure you get up early and head to Calton Hill.  You can get some pretty amazing sunrise shots over Edinburgh from the hill.

Recommended Length of Visit:  1-2 Hours

4.  Arthur’s Seat

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If you are into hiking, you are able to hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat to get some great panoramic views of Edinburgh.

Situated just east of the Edinburgh city center, Arthur’s Seat is the main peak in the group of peaks that forms what is known as Holyrood Park.  It is speculated that its name, Arthur’s Seat, derives from the legends of King Arthur.

If you are into hiking, you are able to hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat to get some great panoramic views of Edinburgh.  If you aren’t up for climbing to the top of the hill, there are plenty of other things to do in Holyrood Park as well.  St. Anthony’s Chapel, which is a medieval chapel that dates back to the 15th century is definitely worth exploring.  As are the 150 foot high cliff faces, known as the Salisbury Crags, that dominate Edinburgh’s skyline from within the park.

Recommended Length of Visit:  1-2 Hours

3.  The Royal Mile

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We loved touring the Royal Mile when we were in Edinburgh.  It is such a bustling, happening place with so much to do and see.  The Royal Mile is a collection of streets that form the primary thoroughfare thru old town in Edinburgh.  The streets are lined with a fun mix of shops, restaurants, pubs and visitor attractions.

Being that it is one of the oldest thoroughfares in Edinburgh, the history surrounding the Royal Mile is astounding.  At one end you have the Holyrood Palace, which is the home to the British Monarch in Scotland, and at the other end you have the imposing Edinburgh Castle.

Pro Tip:  If you plan your visit around the Edinburgh Festival, the Royal Mile is an absolute blast, but it does get very crowded.  So depending on what type of experience you want, booking your trip to Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Festival should be an important consideration.

Recommended Length of Visit:  2-4 Hours

2.  Rosslyn Chapel

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Rossyln Chapel is an absolutely stunning 15th century church that was made famous in the movie “The Divinci Code”.   It is located about a half-hour south of the city of Edinburgh in the village of Roslin, Scotland.   So while it is not technically inside the city of Edinburgh, it is close enough and pretty enough that we had to include it on this list.

In fact, Tom Hanks was so impressed with the beauty of the church after filming that he later said, “Few locations in film are so delightful and few destinations live up to their billing, but Rosslyn Chapel was all one could imagine or hope for“.  

Pro Tip:  Make sure you take the time to properly tour the church as the detail of the stone work is amazing.  There is also significance to much of the detailed stone work that has led to many of the theories surrounding the church’s role in the search for the Holy Grail.  It’s a fascinating place to tour.

The church should be high on the list of anyone who is visiting the Edinburgh area.  Enjoy some of the shots we took of the church in our gallery below.

Recommended Length of Visit:  1-2 Hours

1.  Edinburgh Castle

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Edinburgh Castle almost needs no introduction, as it is arguably one of the most famous castles in the world.  For those unfamiliar with Edinburgh Castle, it is a 12th century fortress that dominates Edinburgh’s skyline from its perch upon Castle Rock.  It’s also Scotland’s biggest paid tourist attraction.

If you would like to tour Edinburgh Castle, make sure you leave yourself enough time.  If you are really into history, you could probably spend a full day touring the castle.  Even if you aren’t a history buff, viewing the crown jewels and just doing some general sight-seeing at Edinburgh Castle can take you a few hours.  Edinburgh Castle is undoubtedly our top recommended sight to see if you are in the Edinburgh area.  Just some of the many pictures we took on our tour are included in the gallery below.

Recommended Length of Visit:  4-8 Hours

Top Restaurant Recommendation

What could be better than great food served in a 17th century watchtower with views of the harbor?  Not much.  If you are going to make plans to eat at one place in Edinburgh, we would definitely recommend making that place Fishers in Leith.

Fishers in Leith

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Trip Adviser Reviews

Top Excursion Recommendations

One excursion outside of Edinburgh that we would strongly recommend is a trip to Sterling.  For those of you who have seen the movie “Braveheart”, Sterling is the site of William Wallace’s underdog defeat of the British at Sterling Bridge.

Sterling is about a 1 hour drive or train ride from Edinburgh, so it is easy to schedule as a day trip.  And there is more than enough to see in Sterling to justify the visit.

Though the Sterling Bridge has obviously been rebuilt, it is still fun to check out and visualize what happened there so long ago.  We would also recommend checking out Sterling Castle, which like Edinburgh Castle is beautifully perched on top of a hill, and the William Wallace Monument.  The William Wallace Monument was very cool and worth the trip to Sterling by itself.

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Royal Mile Guided Walking Tour

Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands Small Group Day Trip

Stirling Castle and Loch Lomond Small Group Day Trip

Recommended Length of Visit in Edinburgh:  2-3 Days

Posted in Europe, Scotland, Travel Advice, Trip Planning, United Kingdom | Tagged | 5 Comments

Friday Sound-Off: Will Sustainable Travel Gain Momentum in 2018?

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Workers collecting salt in the Hon Khoi salt fields in Vietnam.

With the increasing understanding we have of the impact humans are having on our environment, more-and-more attention has been given to sustainable practices.  From sustainable building, to sustainable farming, it seems like sustainability has become a very big trend in recent years.  And now it seems, the travel industry has begun to follow suit.

Over the past several years, we have seen more-and-more travelers start to take a sustainable approach to traveling.  Some steps travelers are taking are quick and easy, like renting a hybrid vehicle, taking a bus or train, or looking for direct flights when possible.  Some steps require a bit more effort, such as researching airlines that are International Air Transport Association (IATA) certified and hotels that are LEED certified by the US Green Building Council.

We have also seen organizations such as EarthCheck, Green Globe,  and the Rainforest Alliance gaining more influence within the tourism industry.  These organizations are working hard to help make travel more sustainable.

And the steps that travelers are taking aren’t just limited to transportation and accommodations.  Some other steps travelers are taking to be more environmentally conscious in their travels include, but are not limited to, some simple, common-sense things like the following:

  • Taking a water bottle on trips instead of buying bottled water
  • Never using hotel laundry
  • Hanging towels and re-using them
  • Returning maps, brochures, and other tourist info
  • Supporting Animal conservation movements
  • Never feeding wildlife, for any reason
  • Buying locally made products
  • Never buying anything made from endangered animal parts
  • Not using tours that exploit wildlife
  • Traveling with small group tour operators
  • Never snorkeling or diving with operators that chum the water
  • Using tour operators that give back to the local community
  • Honoring local customs
  • Donating the clothing they bring when their trip has ended

These are all fantastic ways in which travelers can help make a difference in ensuring that future generations are able to enjoy the wonderful travel opportunities that we get to enjoy.

Are there other ways in which you are trying to make your travels more sustainable?  Are there ways in which we can help build momentum in this movement to make travel more sustainable?  We would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences!

Posted in Air Travel, Bus Travel, Car Rental, Friday Sound-Offs, Hotels, Rail Travel, Sustainable Travel, Travel Advice, Wildlife | Tagged | 2 Comments

National Monuments – Devil’s Tower National Monument

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Devil’s Tower National Monument is an amazing geological feature in Northeast Wyoming.

Devil’s Tower National Monument is an amazing geological feature in Northeast Wyoming that was made famous in the move “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.  Think mountain made of mashed potatoes.  The grooves in the side of the rock is what is known as a spearfish formation, created when sea levels and the climate repeatedly changed.

Devil’s Tower, with its beauty and astounding composition, has long been a sacred spot for Native Americans.  Native American tribes, many of whom refer to the monument as “Bear’s Lodge”, have oral traditions that tell of how the monument came about.

To this day, Devil’s Tower continues to attract visitors, with over 440,000 people a year visiting the monument from all over the world.  On top of being one of America’s biggest geological wonders, it is also one of the best crack rock climbing locations in North America.

How to Get There

Devils Tower Map

Devil’s Tower National Monument is located in Northeast Wyoming, near both the South Dakota and Montana borders.  The closest large city to Devil’s Tower is Rapid City, South Dakota, which itself is a large tourist draw being that it is in close proximity to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills.

It’s just a short 1 hour and 45 minute drive from Rapid City should you want to combine those destinations into one trip.  Other large cities with airports that are in close proximity to Devil’s Tower National Monument are listed in the table below as well.

Rapid City, South Dakota 1.75 hours
Casper, Wyoming 3 hours
Billings, Montana 4 hours
Bismark, North Dakota 5.5 hours
Denver, Colorado 6 hours

Best Time to Visit

It can get very cold in Northeast Wyoming during the winter, but if you are looking to combine some sight-seeing with outdoor activities, the months of November thru March might suit you well.  In the summer (June thru August), the temperatures are warm and rain is common, so it is really hit-and-miss on what type of weather you are going to get.

Arguably the best time to visit is during the Spring and Autumn shoulder months of April thru May and September thru October.  Though it can still be quite wet during the Spring, so our favorite time to visit Devil’s Tower National Monument is undoubtedly during the fall.  Besides, Devil’s Tower is especially beautiful with the fall leaves changing color.

Months High Low Notes
APR-MAY 62°F 33°F Moderate temperatures, but wet.
JUN-AUG 83°F 51°F Hot with occasional thunderstorms.
SEP-OCT 67°F 35°F Moderate temperatures and relatively dry.
NOV-MAR 39°F 12°F Cold temperatures with snow.

Top Things to See and Do

Whether you are just passing thru on your way out west, or staying for a number of days to enjoy this beautiful area, Devil’s Tower has an abundance of activities for you to enjoy.  It is a premiere rock climbing location and offers some extraordinary hiking opportunities.  Blow are some resources to assist you in researching and planning your trip to see Devil’s Tower National Monument.

Marvel at the Wonder of Devil’s Tower

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Because of its strange geological formation and its picturesque setting, Devil’s Tower offers some amazing photography opportunities.

Because of its strange geological formation and its picturesque setting, Devil’s Tower offers some amazing photography opportunities.  It is especially pretty when viewed at night, with a clear, starlit sky as a backdrop.

Take a Hike

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None of the hiking trails at Devi’s Tower are especially long or difficult, so it is a great way for everyone to experience the wonders of this beautiful monument.

If you would like to get a little more up-close and personal, there are hiking trails that weave you thru the forest and up close to Devil’s Tower.  None of the trails are especially long or difficult, so it is a great way for everyone to experience the wonders of this beautiful monument.

View the Wildlife

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Many species of mammal, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish call the park their home.

A part from just being a pretty area with a strange rock formation, Devil’s Tower National Monument is also a great place to view wildlife.  Many species of mammal, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish call the park their home.  These include such animals as deer, pronghorn, bison (otherwise known as American buffalo), big horn sheep, prairie dogs, beaver, porcupine, coyote, fox, mountain lion, and bobcat.

Photo Gallery

Here are just some of the stunning pictures we were able to capture in Devil’s Tower National Monument.  It’s an amazing place to explore.

 

Posted in Hiking, National Parks, North America, Road Trips, United States, Wildlife, Wyoming | Tagged | Leave a comment

Rhinos Chasing Hyenas in Ngorongoro

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Two black rhinos grazing in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania.

You never know what you are going to see when you go on safari.  That is one of the things we love the most about it.  We got pretty lucky when we were on safari in Africa.  We got to see all of the animals we wanted to see, as well as some pretty amazing behavior from the animals.

Without a doubt, one of my favorite things we got to see was a black rhino chasing a number of spotted hyenas in the Ngorongoro Crater.  You can see how formidable black rhinos can be, and why most other animals give them their due respect.

We aren’t really sure what set the rhino off.  If you watch the video, it almost looks as though it is protecting something.  Or it could be that the hyenas were after something and the rhino wanted no part of the hyenas in it’s neighborhood.

Whatever it was, this rhino was having none of it.  Let us know what you think.

Posted in Africa, Ngorongoro Crater, Safari, Tanzania, Video, Wildlife | Tagged | 3 Comments

Friday Sound-off: Is ‘overtourism’ a problem?

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Venice, Italy is one of the cities most effected by over-crowding.

‘Overtourism’ isn’t a term you hear very often, but it appears as though it was a hot topic at the 25th World Travel Monitor Forum held in Pisa, Italy November 9-10, 2017. At the invitation of IPK International and supported by ITB Berlin, roughly 50 tourism experts met to discuss the latest trends and hot topics in the tourism industry.  And it appears over-crowding and ‘overtourism’ was one of the hot topics.

It is a concept that, as travel enthusiasts, we may not actively think about a whole lot, but I am sure it is something that is often in the back of our minds.  I know it is often in our minds as we travel.

Increasingly crowded destinations not only have an impact on travelers in terms of longer wait lines, lack of accommodations, and more expensive trips, but it has an impact on the destinations and local infrastructure as well.  In fact, in the past year overtourism has led to an increasing number of protests by residents.  We have outlined just a few of the articles written about the topic in the past year below.

According to a World Travel Monitor representative survey, in which 29,000 international travelers from 24 countries in Europe, Asia, and the Americas were surveyed, roughly 25 percent of all international tourists feel as though their travel destinations have been “over-crowded”.  We have summarized some of the other key findings from this survey below.

  • 9 percent, or roughly 100 million tourists, said this over-crowding has directly effected the quality of their trip.
  • The group that reported the most issues with over-crowding, at 13 percent, was families with young children and young people under 34 years-old.
  • In terms of origin, Asians reported experiencing issues with over-crowding most frequently, with 15 percent of those surveyed saying they have been directly effected by over-crowding on their trips.  This was followed by 9 percent of North American travelers and 8 percent of European travelers saying they have been effected by over-crowding.
  • In regards to activities, skiers and snowboarders reported the most issues with over-crowding, with 19 percent of those traveling to engage in winter activities reporting issues with over-crowding.
  • According to the survey, the cities most effected are Guangzhou (24%), Shanghai (23%), Beijing (21%), Amsterdam and Istanbul (both at 19%), and Barcelona, Florence, and Venice (all at 18%).

At the World Traveler Forum there was plenty of discussion on how to address some of the issues with over-crowding, such as managing seasonal visitor flows, spreading out tourism benefits, and investing more in infrastructure.

And it was mentioned that Venice, Italy has already taken great strides to try and tackle the issues it is facing with over-crowding by banning cruise ships from docking directly at the waterfront, increasing tourism taxes, and fining tourists who break the local laws.  It will be interesting to see how these efforts and others pay off in the coming years.

We have certainly seen first-hand the effect that over-crowding can have in our travels throughout Europe.  Longer lines and a scarcity of accommodations is something that every traveler needs to factor into their travel planning these days.

We would like to know your thoughts.  Have you had any bad experiences with over-crowding?  What have those experiences been and where did you have issues?  What would you like to see these destinations do to counteract the problems with overcrowding?

Posted in Africa, Asia, Europe, Friday Sound-Offs, North America, South America, Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda

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Two juvenile Mountain Gorillas wrestling

A cute video we took in Rwanda of two juvenile Mountain Gorillas wrestling.  We were trekking through Volcanoes National Park in northwestern Rwanda.  There are only around 7 groups of mountain gorillas left in Rwanda, so they are still extremely endangered.

If you decide to visit, we would highly recommend people stay at Mountain Gorilla View Lodge.  There are also treks to see Golden Monkeys if you are interested.

 

Posted in Africa, Hiking, Mountains, National Parks, Rwanda, Video, Wildlife | Tagged | 2 Comments

National Parks – Yellowstone and Grand Teton

For those of you who know me, you know how much I love scenic landscapes.  I guess that is what has drawn me to our national parks.  They have some of the most beautiful landscapes this world has to offer.  There is nothing more serene than being in nature with nothing to occupy your mind except for Mother Nature’s beauty.  That is what got me into photography in the first place.  I wanted a way in which to capture those moments to share with others.

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I have been to exactly half of the 46 National Parks in the continental United States, with plans to visit the remainder of the parks here and outside the 48 continental states.  And I have plans to write about each and every one of those parks so that I can share with you my experiences and any tips I might have collected along the way.


No better place to start than with this country’s first national park and two of my favorite national parks – Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  As you can see in the map below, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are located in very close proximity of each other, in Northwest Wyoming.  In fact, Yellowstone National Park is so large that it covers small parts of Montana and Idaho as well.

Yellowstone and Tetons Map 1

How to Get There

When we visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton, we drove so that we could take in some of the views along the way.  To give you an idea of how long it will take you to get there, I put together a little drive time table below to give you an idea.

From City Drive Time
Denver 10.5 hrs
Minneapolis 14.5 hrs
Chicago 20.5 hrs
Milwaukee 19.5 hrs
Kansas City 18 hrs
Seattle 11 hrs
Portland 12 hrs
Salt Lake City 5 hrs

 

If you aren’t interested in driving, you can always fly into Billings, Montana and then drive to Yellowstone National Park.  From the airport in Billings, it is about a 3 hour drive to Yellowstone.  From Yellowstone, it is about an hour drive South to get to Grand Teton National Park.

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Best Time to Visit

Yellowstone and Grand Teton are fun to visit any time of the year, and the best time to visit will ultimately depend on what you want to see when you’re there.  Summer (June thru August) is the peak season for the parks, so the parks will be the most crowded during these months.  However, if you get off the beaten (or paved) paths and explore the back-country of the parks, you can escape the crowds any time of year.

If you are into snow shoeing and cross country skiing, then the winter months (December thru March) will be of the most interest to you.  The park is so quiet and peaceful during the winter, and the thermal features are extra beautiful under a fresh blanket of snow.

Top Things to See

There are so many things to see in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.  To give you a place to start in your planning, I have outlined some of my top spots in both parks for you below.  I have also included some great resources below where you can find more information about the parks.

Yellowstone National Park

The following are my top attractions in Yellowstone National Park:

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

The largest hot spring in the United States, the Grand Prismatic hot spring is my favorite site in Yellowstone National Park.  Different color algae grows in the different temperature bands of the hot spring, giving it beautiful rings of color.  There is a board walk that takes you right up to the hot spring, but if you have the time and are adventurous, I would suggest taking the hike up behind the hot spring on to the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring Overlook.  The views are amazing!

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Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls

The Yellowstone Falls in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone consist of the Upper and Lower Yellowstone Falls.  There are several hikes that give you a great view of the falls, as well as the Lookout Point, Artist Point, and Falls Overlook, which allows you to get to the precipice of the falls.

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Old Faithful Geyser

Arguably the most famous attraction in Yellowstone National Park, I probably don’t need to give you an introduction into Old Faithful geyser.  Popular because of its predictability, Old Faithful erupts every 45-125 minutes and can usually be predicted by park staff almost to the minute.  There is plenty of seating up close to the geyser, but if you want to get a really great perspective of the eruption, take the Observation Point Trail.  There are some great views of Old Faithful from this trail.

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Mammoth Hot Springs

Located in the far North of Yellowstone National park, Mammoth Hot Springs is a very large group of hot springs on a travertine hill. It includes over 60 thermal features, including the Angel Springs, Devil’s Kitchen and Devil’s Thumb, Marbel Terrace, Painted Pool, and the Sulpher Pits.  There is a boardwalk that takes you thru the hot springs, and if you have the time I would absolutely recommend exploring the thermal features here.  A great way to get more information about the Mammoth Hot Springs region of Yellowstone is to check out this online Virtual Tour.

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Hayden and Lamar Valleys

I absolutely love the valleys of Yellowstone National Park, and Hayden and Lamar Valley are arguably the park’s most famous.  They are, without a doubt, the best place to view wildlife in the parks.  You are almost guaranteed to see bison, elk, and antelope grazing in the valleys.  And if you are lucky, you will get to see grizzley bear wandering thru or the wolf packs that patrol the valleys for prey.  Bringing binoculars (spotting scopes are even better) is an absolute must as the valleys are very big and sometimes the wildlife you want to see is quite a ways away.

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Yellowstone Lake

Not as often mentioned as the park’s thermal features, hot springs, and waterfalls, Yellowstone Lake should not be overlooked when planning a trip to the park.  It is the largest body of water within the park, covering 136 square miles, and has an average depth of 136 feet.  My favorite park of the lake is seeing the thermal features releasing steam next to the shoreline.  Makes for some fascinating views.

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Roosevelt Arch

Found at the Northern entrance to the park, the arch is one of the most iconic images of Yellowstone National Park.  It welcomes visitors with the message, “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people”, which was taken from the Organic Act (the legislation passed in 1872 that designated Yellowstone as the world’s first national park).  President Roosevelt himself laid the cornerstone of the arch in 1903, and the arch has been welcoming visitors to Yellowstone ever since its completion.

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Norris Geyser Basin

The Norris Geyser Basin is a large geothermal area in Yellowstone National Park that includes a large number of geysers and other thermal features.  These features include Porkchop Geyser, Whale’s Mouth, Pinwheel Geyser, Emerald Spring, and Steamboat Geyser.  This is an area of Yellowstone that is another absolute must-see.  For a neat tour of the Norris Geyser Basin region of Yellowstone, check out this online Virtual Tour.

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Grand Teton National Park

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The following are my top attractions in Yellowstone National Park:

Jenny Lake

Formed by glaciers, Jenny Lake is jaw-dropping beautiful, especially at sunrise and sunset.  If you like camping and kayaking, I would absolutely recommend camping out at one of the campgrounds by the lake and enjoying some time out on the lake in a kayak.  On top of being incredibly peaceful, the views from the lake are gorgeous.  If you are looking for a campground, the Jenny Lake Campground is a great option.

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The Teton Range

They are pretty hard to miss.  Often likened to the Matterhorn of Switzerland because of their jagged peaks, the Teton Range has the most Swiss Alps feel of any other place in the US Rocky Mountains.  There are plenty of places to take in the view of the peaks, and I would suggest soaking them all in.

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Teton Park Road

A great way of doing an initial investigation of the park is to take the Teton Park road.  I would still recommend getting out of the car and exploring the back country, but some of the views from the park road should not be missed.  One of my favorite viewpoints is the Snake River Overlook.  There is just something about the river winding its way at the foot of the mountains that is just so beautiful.   If you are interested in some other scenic drives, here are some ideas to explore.

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Mormon Row

This is one of my favorite spots in Grand Teton National Park.  The view of these old buildings at the foot of the Teton Range is stunning.  Make sure you bring your camera because you can get some fantastic shots here.

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Here is a map on how to get to Mormon Row:

Mormon Row Map

Kayaking

In my opinion, if you want to really see the Grand Teton National Park, you have to get out of the car and explore.  There is no better way to take in the beauty of this park than from in a boat on a lake.  Especially when the lake is at the foot of the prettiest mountain range in the continental United States.  I would recommend Jenny Lake.  And if you don’t own kayaks, not to worry, you can rent them there.

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Snake River Overlook

This is one of my favorite scenic overlooks on the Teton Park Road.  The view of the Teton Range resting just beyond the meandering Snake River is a sight to behold.  I would absolutely recommend making a pit stop to take in the scenery.

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Hiking

Getting out in the back country to explore our national parks always pays off, and that is no different with Grand Teton.  There are views you just can’t see from the road.  If you have the time, I would strongly recommend getting out and hiking, even if it is just a short hike.  Here is a great resource for some of the more popular hikes in Grand Teton.

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Camping

If you like camping, Grand Teton National Park is a great place to do it.  The camp sites at the campgrounds aren’t right on top of each other, so you actually feel like you are camping.  Nothing like sleeping out in nature, and this is a gorgeous place to do it.  Just make sure you respect the campgrounds and practice proper bear etiquette.  Hear are some more options for campgrounds in Grand Teton National Park.

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Jackson Hole Gondola

No trip to Grand Teton is complete without a pit stop in Jackson, Wyoming.  Jackson Hole ski resort is gorgeous, as is the city of Jackson.  The shopping and restaurants are fun to take in.  But my favorite part of visiting Jackson is going on the Jackson Hole gondola.  The sites from the top are out-of-this-world.  Here is some more information on the Jackson Hole gondola.

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Posted in Camping, Hiking, Kayaking, National Parks, North America, Road Trips, Travel Advice, Uncategorized, United States, Wyoming | Tagged | 4 Comments

Door County Travel Guide

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A view of the stunning coastline within Door County at Cave Point County Park.

Ever since I moved to the Milwaukee area about 15 years ago, I have been absolutely enthralled with the Door County region in Northeastern Wisconsin.  It is an absolutely stunning area that is an immensely popular vacation spot for people in the Midwestern United States.

I chose to write about this area today because I am currently in Door County trying to get a photograph I have been chasing for the past few years.  I have been dreaming about getting a winter shot at Cave Point County Park, pictured above, with a perfect sunset.  The shoreline is drop-dead gorgeous, and they get some fantastic sunsets in Door County.  I am hoping today is the day that I can put the two of those together and get an amazing shot.

Let me tell you a little bit more about the area I am exploring.  The Door County region of Wisconsin, if you were to look at a map of the United States, is the little thumb in Northeastern Wisconsin that sticks out into Lake Michigan.  It is an immensely beautiful area that offers a wealth of activities for tourists to enjoy.  Stunning lake views, fantastic hiking, beautiful beaches, delicious cherry picking, and a variety of local wineries are just some of the many fun activities you can find in Door County Wisconsin.

How to Get There

 

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Door County is located in Northeastern Wisconsin, between the Green Bay and Lake Michigan.

If you would like to visit Door County, the largest major metropolitan city with an airport is Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Green Bay sits just 46 miles, or roughly a 50 minute drive, south of Sturgeon Bay, which is Door County’s largest city.  If you would like to visit from Milwaukee, which is the largest city in the state of Wisconsin, Door County is 145 miles, or roughly a 2.5 hour drive, north of Sturgeon Bay.

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There are plenty of neat towns you can stop at on your way thru Door County.

Once you get to Door County, there are two major roads that head north thru Door County.  These are highways 57 and 42.  These highways intersect roughly 6 miles before you get to Sturgeon Bay.

If you are coming from Green Bay, you are going to take highway 57 North into Door County to Sturgeon Bay.  From there, you can either take highway 42 along the West Coast of Door County, or highway 57 along the East Coast.  The two highways converge near Sister Bay in the North.

If you are coming from Milwaukee, you are going to want to take highway 43 out of Milwaukee Northward.  This will take you along the coast of Lake Michigan.  From there, you can either decide to head to Green Bay and then take highway 57 into Door County (the faster route), or take highway 42 along the coast into Door County.  When I visit from Milwaukee, I like to take highway 42 because it is the more scenic route.

Top Things to See and Do

There is plenty to see and do in Door County, Wisconsin.  Whether you visit in the summer to enjoy the many fabulous beaches and pick some cherries, or in the winter to do some snow shoeing or cross country skiing, Door County is a great place to visit year-round.

In addition to the fun activities in Door County, there are a number of other very scenic and fun locations in close proximity to Door County.  These include Mackinac Island, Pained Rocks National Lake shore, and Isle Royal National Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  I will be visiting all three of these locations this summer and hope to write more about them then.  All three locations are stunningly beautiful and a relatively short drive from Door County.  Before I get into some of my favorite activities in Door County, here are some additional resources that you can use to plan your trip.

Beaches and Lake Views

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Door County has some absolutely fantastic beaches to enjoy in the summer months.

There are a lot of wonderful beaches in Door County, which makes it a great place to hang out during the warm and humid summer months in Wisconsin.  You will find people sun bathing, swimming, boating, and fishing near many of the county’s beaches.  If you are looking for calmer waters, the beaches along the Green Bay on Door County’s Western Coast is your best bet.  If you are looking to see some waves and impressive coastlines, then you will want to check out Door County’s Eastern shores of Lake Michigan.

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There are a ton of beaches you can visit in Door County.

Cherry Picking

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One of the more popular activities during late summer in Door County is cherry picking.

One of my favorite things to do in Door County is pick fresh cherries.  The unique soil conditions and cooler spring months on the peninsula make Door County ideal for growing cherries.  By late July or early August, the cherries start to turn from their unripe yellow color to a deep, dark red.  This is the signal that cherry picking season in Door County has begun.

If you would like to pick your own cherries, you will want to plan your trip to Door County for late summer.  However, regardless of when you visit, you will be able to buy plenty of local cherry products throughout Door County.  This includes a wide array of cherry flavored and accented wines at the local vineyards.

Wine Tastings

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Stones Throw winery is one of our favorite wineries in Door County.

While Door County isn’t Sonoma Valley in California, there are some absolutely fantastic wineries in Door County.  In addition to being a great place to grow cherries, Door County is also a great place to grow grapes.  Many of the wineries in Door County grow their own grapes locally, so there are some stunningly beautiful vineyards on the peninsula as well.

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There are a number of fantastic wineries and vineyards in Door County you can tour.

One of our favorite things to do when we visit Door County is stop and visit some of the wineries to do some tastings.  Our favorite winery in Door County is undoubtedly Stones Throw Winery, which is located in Bailey’s Harbor.  They have some absolutely fantastic wines, and their winery is drop-dead gorgeous.  Below are some of the other pictures we took of Stones Throw Winery, as well as a night image we took at a shop that sells wine and olive oil in Fish Creek.  You will find a lot of these shops throughout Door County, and would recommend stopping in a few to check out the locally made products.

Hiking and Snow Shoeing

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Door County has some fantastic trails you can hike and snow shoe on.

If you like to be active outdoors, then Door County is a playground that you will absolutely enjoy.  There are five state parks in Door County, and each of them offers a plethora of hiking trails and activities.  In addition to hiking, the park trails are fantastic for snow shoeing and cross country skiing in the wintertime.  Below are some images that I took during a snow shoeing expedition in Peninsula State Park a few years back.  It was incredibly beautiful and an absolute blast.

In addition to the state park trails, the Ice Age Trail also passes thru Door County.  If you are looking for a more challenging hiking experience, the Ice Age Trail stretches across the entire state of Wisconsin and is a great trail for long-range hikes.  One of my goals in the coming years is to hike the entire length of the Ice Age Trail in Door County.  I think this would be an amazing experience.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Hiking, Road Trips, Travel Advice, Wine, Wisconsin | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Friday Sound-Off: Are Antimalarial Medications Worth Taking?

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Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite that is carried by some mosquitoes.

It is a question that I have asked myself a few times before traveling internationally.  Do I take an antimalarial and deal with the sickness that is often a side-effect, or do I forgo the antimalarial and increase my odds of getting Malaria?  The answer to that question seems pretty straight-forward, and it probably is.  However, you would be surprised at how many people actually choose to not take an antimalarial before their trip.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, roughly half the world’s population (or close to 3.2 billion people) live in areas that put them at risk of contracting Malaria.  And in 2016, roughly 216 million people contracted the disease and roughly 445,000 people died from its effects.  That just shows you how huge of an issue Malaria is, especially in Africa where roughly 91% of the deaths from Malaria occur.

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A map that shows the level of Malaria risk throughout the world.

So with statistics that show just how wide-spread and devastating Malaria can be, why is there even discussion about not taking an antimalarial before traveling to a high-risk area of the world?  There are a several reasons that I have read people give that can be summarized as follows:

  • The side effects of the antimalarial makes me sick (most common reason).
  • I am using mosquito netting or an insect repellent, so I should be fine.
  • I don’t have the time or money to get the antimalarial.
  • Antimalarial medication isn’t guaranteed effective.  If I get sick, I will deal with it when I get back.

It’s an important topic, and I want you all to be aware of the discussions that are out there, so I have included some links to some recent articles and discussions I have read online.

I can certainly understand the reasoning behind some of these reasons for not taking an antimalarial when you travel, but I don’t necessarily agree with any of them.

On Side Effects

It is quite common for some of the antimalarial medications that are out there to make you feel nauseous when you take them.  This is more true for some than others, but they all have certain side effects that you have to deal with.  The CDC has an amazing chart that you can refer to before choosing which antimalarial will be best for you.  They also have an amazing chart that lists important Malaria related information by country.

Even though there are some side effects to antimalarial medications, these side-effects pale in comparison to the devastating effects of Malaria.  Instead of completely avoiding antimalarial medications, I think the much smarter approach is to talk to your doctor about your concerns and find the antimalarial that gives you the least amount of side-effects.  They each effect people differently and you need to know which is best for you.

On Preventative Measures

In regards to using mosquito netting, insect repellent, and other preventative measures, they can be effective in limiting exposure to malaria carrying mosquitoes.  However, they should not be considered alternatives to taking an antimalarial.  All it takes is one mosquito bite to transmit the disease.  So while limiting your exposure by using mosquito netting, insect repellent, and wearing long sleeve shirts is a great idea, these measures should be used in addition to taking an antimalarial if you are visiting a high-risk area.

On Cost and Time

I really sympathize with those who worry about the cost of acquiring an antimalarial before they travel.  Some of these medications can be quite costly, and sometimes they are not covered by insurance.  I have much less sympathy for those who say they can’t find the time to see a doctor about getting an antimalarial.  This should be a high priority when traveling to a high-risk area.

I do think that we need to find a way to make these medications much more available and affordable to all.  Malaria is one of the biggest health threats world-wide, and eradicating this terrible disease should be a priority.  Until that day comes when the risk is gone, I would suggest that you do everything possible to find a way to work it into your trip finances.  It really is important and should be a high priority.

On Not Being 100% Effective

Finally, I have read more than a few times about people who have chosen not to take an antimalarial before they travel because the antimalarial medications aren’t 100% effective.  Instead, they have opted to travel without an antimalarial and indicated that they would deal with it when they get home if they get sick.  Many of these individuals have traveled to high-risk areas in the past and have been fine, so it seems they have become desensitized to the issue.

While it is true that no antimalarial medication is 100% effective, they absolutely do reduce your risk of serious illness should you get infected.  I liken this decision to wearing a seat belt when you drive.  Are they guaranteed to save your life if you get in an accident?  No, but they are certainly going to reduce your risk of injury if you do get in a wreck.  We would strongly suggest that you take the pills.  You are much safer if you do.

Your Thoughts?

What are your thoughts on antimalarial medications?  Do you always take one when you travel to high risk areas?  If you don’t, why have you chosen not to?  If you do take them, what medication have you typically chosen to take, and did you experience any side-effects?  We would love to hear your opinions on this topic.  So please, leave us a comment.

Posted in Africa, Asia, Friday Sound-Offs, Opinions, South America, Travel Advice, Travel Health | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Nduruma Polo and Country Club in Tanzania

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The Nduruma Polo and Country Club in Tanzania is a place where the community of Usa River comes to socialize with friends and watch some great polo matches.

There we were, sitting on a balcony with beers in hand, enjoying each other’s company and watching a sport that we hardly knew, but really enjoyed watching.  Inside, a big rugby match was on TV and dozens of people were gathered around to cheer on their favorite team.  The sun was just beginning to set behind Mount Meru, turning the sky into a brilliant orange color that looked like it was right out of a postcard.  It was an amazing night.

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The setting of the polo grounds and country club is absolutely beautiful.  Mount Meru looms on the horizon and it isn’t uncommon to see antelope other animals grazing on the field.

We were privileged to be able to travel to Tanzania last year and see some pretty amazing things.  We have already written about many of our experiences in Africa, and we will be writing about many more in the coming weeks and months.  In fact, we hope to have a travel guide for Tanzania put together sometime this summer.  One of the most unique and memorable things we were able to do while in Tanzania is spend some time at the Nduruma Polo and Country Club.

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Polo was an absolutely mesmerizing sport to watch.  I was able to get down by the field and get some really great action shots.

Located just outside of the city of Arusha, the Nduruma Polo and Country Club is a social meeting spot for the community of Usa River, Tanzania.  It is a place where you can go to meet up with friends, have a beer, and watch some fantastic polo being played.  It’s a place where, even as strangers, we were made to feel very welcomed.

The polo ground is stunningly beautiful.  Built in the shadow of Mount Meru, which at 15,900 feet is a stunning mountain to have as a backdrop, it frequently hosts matches between neighboring communities in Kenya.  Every October, the polo club is the home of a hotly contested international tournament.  I hear it is a pretty big deal.

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The dexterity of these athletes is amazing.  Being able to it that little ball with a club at the speed they were going was remarkable.

The Country Club is a gorgeous, old building that gives you a welcoming feeling as soon as you walk in the door.  Comfortable couches, a television, full service bar, and a delightful decor make it a great meeting spot for the community.   In addition to polo matches, the club also offers a pool for swimming, tennis courts, a driving range, and a gym.

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The Country Club was beautiful and almost as warm as our welcome.  We were so thankful for the wonderful hospitality we were given.

It is not uncommon to see antelope, Grant’s Gazelle,  and other animals wonder across the polo grounds, which is a great reminder of just how fantastic a location the polo and country club enjoys.  It really is an absolutely remarkable place.  The setting, the sport, and the absolutely wonderful hospitality made our visit to the Nduruma Polo and Country Club an amazing experience that we will always remember.

Our Visit to the Nduruma Polo and Country Club

If you would like a better sense of what it is like to visit the Nduruma Polo and Country Club, we have put together a short video of our visit.  You can see just how warm and welcoming the atmosphere is, and just how exciting the polo matches are.

Picture Gallery

Below are some of the pictures we were able to take during our visit to the Nduruma Polo and Country Club.  It is such a beautiful place that great pictures practically take themselves.

Posted in Africa, Polo, Tanzania | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

18 Essential Pieces of Gear for Traveling Photographers

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Having the right photography gear with you can make or break a trip.

NOTE:  We are not being compensated in any way for any of the items or brands that we recommend.  Any products or brands that we recommend, we do so because we have used and enjoyed or heard good things about them.  

If you follow this blog closely, you are probably already aware that we are really, really into photography.  Along with travel, it is one of our biggest passions.  We never travel anywhere without a camera, and we are always looking for unique and interesting places to photograph.  If you are looking for some quick and easy tips to take great pictures on your next trip, we previously wrote a piece that we are very proud of with some excellent travel photography tips that you can find below.

zermatt-camping 10 Easy Tips to Make Your Vacation Photos Really Pop

Although we are firm believers that the photographer makes or breaks the picture, not the gear he or she is using, the right gear can definitely help you along the way.  The right gear can keep you organized, help make sure your camera is well maintained, and assist you in getting shots that wouldn’t be possible without the right equipment in certain conditions.

We are going to share with you some of the essential gear that we pack with us when we take any trip.  If you have any favorite gear that you like to pack, please let us know in the comments section.  We are always looking for gear to help us transport, protect, and take great photos while traveling!

Camera Backpack

Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II (Black)

Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II

This is one of the most critical pieces of support gear for a travel photographer.  Having the right backpack can mean the difference between a successful trip and trip that ends in frustration because of damaged gear.  Camera bags are different than regular bags in that they are designed to transport and protect camera gear.  If you are using a regular backpack or bag to carry your camera gear, you shouldn’t be.  Invest in a proper camera bag and you won’t regret it in the long run.

We recommend using a camera backpack, instead of a regular bag, as it is much easier to carry your gear around in a backpack than a hand-held bag.  It also allows your hands to be free when you are taking shots as well.  You don’t want to have to worry about taking shots with one hand or forgetting your camera bag when you set it down to take a shot.

Personally, we are very fond of the LowePro brand of bags.  We have been using them for over a decade and have nothing but wonderful things to say about their gear.  However, there are a lot of great bags out there to choose from.  Before buying a bag, make sure it has enough storage to carry all of your gear.  For instance, if you have two cameras that you carry, you will want to make sure the bag has enough storage for two DSLRs.  You should also take into consideration the length of your lenses when making a decision on which bag is best for you.

Memory Cards and Card Reader

Scandisk Memory Card

SanDisk 128GB Extreme PRO UHS-I SDXC Memory Card

There is nothing worse for a travel photographer than being mid-trip and running out of space on your memory cards.  You are left to wonder what magnificent shots you would have gotten if you would have only been able to take more pictures.  It’s a frustrating situation that is really easy to avoid.

When I travel, I make sure that I have more storage on memory cards than I think I will need.  Most cameras will tell you how many pictures you are able to take with a memory card once you load it.  Estimate how many pictures you think you will be taking on your trip, and then triple that number.  You will want to make sure you have enough card space for that many pictures.  It might sound excessive, but you never know what unanticipated shots you will want to take when traveling.  This way, you can be very sure that you won’t run out of space.

If you are unsure as to which memory cards are best for your camera, there are some really great resources out there to assist you.  Generally speaking, the first factor you are going to want to look at is the capacity of the cards.  Again, it is important to make sure you have enough space to take all the pictures you want.

Beyond the capacity, you are also going to want to take into consideration the memory card read and write speeds.   If you are using a point-and-shoot camera or are shooting landscape shots, this won’t be as important of a factor.  However, if you are using a DSLR and are planning to take some wildlife or action shots, then the write speed becomes a more important factor to consider.

Memory cards with a higher write speed allow you to take pictures in more rapid succession.  Most DSLRs these days allow you to take pictures in bursts so that you can capture things such as an animal running or a live sporting event you are at.  If the write speed of your memory card is too slow, you might run into an issue where your camera pauses to write an image to card even though the camera is able to take another picture right away.  So if you are planning on going on safari, make sure you have the right memory cards to capture every amazing moment you see.

Memory Card Organizer

Ruggard Memory Card Case for up to 6 XQD Cards

Ruggard Memory Card Case for up to 6 XQD Cards

If you are going to carry extra memory cards, you are going to want to make sure that you have them neatly organized.  If you can’t find your extra cards when you need them, then it really doesn’t help you much to have them.

Some camera bags will have slots that you can store your extra memory cards in, but we like to avoid using these.  They don’t do as much to protect your cards as storage organizers do, and they aren’t waterproof.  We would strongly suggest that you invest in a memory card organizer for your  cards.

There are a variety of different brands that make these cases in a variety of different sizes.  We have used Ruggard’s cases for years and have had really good luck with them.  Whichever case you decide to buy, make sure that it has enough storage room for all of your cards.  In addition, if you are planning to be exposed to the elements in your travels, you should also make sure that the organizer you choose is waterproof.

Travel Tripod

MeFOTO BackPacker Air Travel Tripod

MeFOTO BackPacker Air Travel Tripod

As we mentioned in our tips to taking great travel photos, one of the biggest challenges to taking great photos is overcoming camera shake.  If you want to avoid blurry images, you need to make sure that your camera is still when you take your pictures.  This is especially true in low light conditions where the shutter speed is going to be slow.

The best way to keep your camera still and overcome camera shake is to use a tripod.  I don’t mean one of those cheap tripods you get for free when you purchase a camera package, though they are better than nothing.  You will want to invest in a sturdy, high quality tripod if you want to get some really great shots when you travel.

In addition to the quality of build and sturdiness of the tripod, you are also going to want to make sure that your travel tripod is lightweight.  The last thing you are going to want to do when you are traveling is carry around a clunky and heavy tripod.  For some tips on how to choose the best tripod for you, check out PhotographyLife.com’s guide to picking the right tripod.

Personally, we have had some very good success with the MeFOTO brand.  They are very well designed, very sturdy, and really light weight.  They will cost you a bit more, but they should last a really long time.  They even come is some fun colors instead of just boring black and grey.

Portable Hard Drive

Sanho HyperDrive ColorSpace UDMA 3 Wireless Storage Device (500GB)

Sanho HyperDrive ColorSpace UDMA 3 Wireless Storage Device (500GB)

An important aspect of travel photography that often gets overlooked by beginners is backing up your photos as you go.  You never know when you are going to need those backups.  Should something happen to your camera or memory cards while you are traveling, all of those beautiful pictures you took would be lost forever if you didn’t have them backed up.  Not only will a lost or stolen camera ruin your day, but the loss of all the creative pictures you worked so hard to take will add insult to injury.

That is why we strongly recommend that you implement some sort of backup routine for your pictures when you travel.  This could be something as simple as copying your pictures from your memory cards over to a computer each night.  However, if you don’t want to have to worry about lugging a laptop around with you when you travel, a light weight solution would be to bring a portable hard drive.

There are many different types of portable hard drive solutions on the market today designed to make photo and video backup easy.  Most of these devices are designed to read your memory cards and back them up, but some of the newer models will even back your photos up using a wireless connection.  We have found the Sanho brand to be very reliable and easy to use if you are looking for a recommendation.

Extra Camera Batteries

Canon LP-E6N Lithium-Ion Battery Pack

Canon LP-E6N Lithium-Ion Battery Pack

If you are going to spend a considerable amount of time out-and-about while on your trip, you are probably going to want to have some extra camera batteries with you.  If you are using a point-and-shoot camera, we would definitely recommend investing in some rechargeable batteries.  They might cost a bit more up-front, but they will save you a lot of money in the long-run and are more environmentally friendly.

If you are using a DSLR, this means that you are going to want to invest in a few spare batteries for your camera that you can bring a long.  If you are looking to purchase a new DSLR, there are plenty of camera bundles out there that throw in some extra batteries with the bundle.  We would definitely recommend that you look into that before shelling out some extra cash for some more batteries.

Canon Rebel Bundle.png

Canon EOS Rebel T6 DSLR Camera Bundle with Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II Lens + Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III Lens + 2pc SanDisk 32GB Memory Cards + Accessory Kit

 

We typically bring more extra batteries than we would typically need with us when we travel because it minimizes the amount of stuff we need to charge on a nightly basis.  Unless you are doing a lot of shooting, one fully charged battery should be enough to last you a full day.  If you bring four batteries with you, then you won’t need to charge batteries nearly as often.  Just charge them all up before you leave, and then recharge them once or twice during your trip.

A great tip to help your batteries last longer when is to make sure you turn your camera off in between shooting.  Also, unless you are shooting somewhere where you would like to track the location of your photos, turning off the GPS functionality in your camera can help too.

Battery Grip

Canon BG-E20 Battery Grip for EOS 5D Mark IV

Canon BG-E20 Battery Grip for EOS 5D Mark IV

A great way to make sure you don’t run out of battery life while out-and-about for the day, without having to carry extra batteries around with you while you are out, is to use a battery grip with your camera.  A battery grip is an extension of your DSLR that holds multiple camera batteries, giving your camera more battery life before you have to change batteries.  Most battery grips hold two camera batteries, which gives you twice the battery life you would have without it.

Another advantage of using a battery grip is that most battery grips also include a shutter button that is more convenient to use for vertical, or portrait, shots.  It is a much more natural finger position when shooting in this orientation.  It is so much more comfortable that I don’t like to ever take the battery grip off my camera even when I don’t need the extra battery life.

Battery Grip

Battery grips give you an extra shutter button for portrait shots

Before you rush out and purchase a battery grip, be aware that all battery grips are not compatible with all cameras.  Therefore, make sure you research which battery grips are compatible with your camera before making a purchase.  Each of the major camera manufacturers produces battery grips for their DSLR cameras, but you can usually find third party battery grips that are compatible with your camera for much less money as well.

Foreign Power Adapters

Why Stay Home - Universal Adapter

Why Stay Home – Universal Adapter

If you aren’t able to charge your camera batteries, you better have a lot of extra batteries with you on your trip.  Otherwise, you may be left without a camera for much of your trip.  Trust me, that is an awful feeling you want to avoid.

Having the necessary power adapters for your trip often gets overlooked when planning which camera gear to bring, as I guess you can say these adapters technically aren’t gear for your camera.  However, they are critically important to being able to use your camera.

That is why having a good travel power adapter is an essential piece of equipment when traveling anywhere outside the country.  There are a variety of different adapters to choose from.  Personally, we prefer models like the Why Stay Home – Universal Power Adapter.  It has built-in adapters for over 150 different countries, and includes 4 built-in USB ports for quickly charging mobile devices.

Camera Rain Gear

If you are planning to be out in the elements at all during your trip, you are going to need to make sure you camera gear is protected if it rains.  Without the proper rain gear, your camera could get ruined if it is exposed to too much moisture.  One option would be to put your camera in your camera bag when it rains, but that could mean missing some really great shots.

Serengeti Camping-

We got quite a bit of rain on one of our days in the Serengeti.  Having the proper rain gear for our cameras, and ourselves, helped us keep shooting despite the weather.

LensCoat RainCoat Medium Sleeve

LensCoat RainCoat Medium Sleeve

When we were in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, we had some pretty steady rain for nearly half a day.  If I had just put my camera away in my bag, I would have missed capturing some truly memorable moments.  Luckily, I had packed rain gear, not just for myself, but for my camera.

There are a variety of different rain shields that you can purchase to protect your DSLR during bad weather.  Some of them are much cheaper, and disposable, while others are more costly and built to be re-used.  Which option is best for you is ultimately your decision.

Camera Cleaning Gear

Lenspen SensorKlear Loupe Kit

Lenspen SensorKlear Loupe Kit

It is no secret that, as cameras get used, they get dirty. What many beginning photographers don’t realize is that a dirty camera can significantly impact the quality of your pictures. Not only that, but a little dirt in the wrong place can be pretty difficult and expensive to clean. For these reasons, the proper cleaning products should be part of every travel photographer’s gear.

If you don’t know what to look for in a good camera cleaning kit, don’t worry, we have you covered. There are some good resources out there that highlight the best cleaning kits on the market. When you are deciding which cleaning kit to purchase, make sure you factor in the size and weight. An extensive cleaning kit is great, but it may be tough to fit into your camera bag with all of your other gear. As long as the clearing kit has cleaning solution, a cleaning pen or brush, and a dust blower, you should be all set.

Power Strip

APC SurgeArrest 11-Outlet Surge Protector

APC SurgeArrest 11-Outlet Surge Protector

Most people who travel don’t just have to worry about charging their camera batteries at night. Most people also have a cell phone (or multiple cell phones if they are traveling with others), a tablet, and other devices that need to be charged as well. However, depending on your hotel room, getting all of these devices charged with the available outlets (and travel power adapters) can be a challenge.

Unless you want to set your alarm for the middle of the night so that you can get up and switch the devices that are charging, you may want to invest in a travel power strip. This will allow you to charge multiple devices at once, while only using one electrical outlet and travel power adapter. Just make sure that you don’t overload the number of devices charging.

GPS Unit

Canon GPS Receiver GP-E2

Canon GPS Receiver GP-E2

I wrote about the value of having GPS tagged photos in our tips for taking great vacation photos. Having GPS tags on your photos can save you from a lot of frustration when you get home and can’t remember where you took certain pictures. I know it has saved me on more than a few occassions. With the use of Adobe Lightroom, you can visibly see all of the pictures you took on a map, making it very easy to look back on pictures and remember where you were when you took them. It can even help you determine what landmarks you took pictures of.

Many top-of-the-line DSLRs will have GPS functionality built into the camera. However, if you don’t have a top-end DSLR, you need not worry. There are GPS units available that can add this functionality. These devices attach to the shoe mount at the top of your camera (where you would also attach devices such as a flash). Before you go out an purchase a GPS unit, you will want to make sure that it is compatible with your model of camera. Not all GPS units are built to work with all cameras.

Head Lamp

Pelican 2760 v.2 Dual-Spectrum LED Headlight

Pelican 2760 v.2 Dual-Spectrum LED Headlight

If you are planning to do some hiking or camping when you travel, then more than likely you are going to have to get into your camera bag to get some gear in low lighting. Instead of torturing yourself by looking thru a bag for some gear (or even worse, trying to change a lens ) in the dark, we would strongly suggest that you invest in a head lamp.

There are a variety of different head lamps of the market, and most of them are relatively inexpensive. We would suggest that you get one that you find comfortable to wear and use. Most importantly, make sure you try it out before your trip so that you are sure that it works and you know how to use it.

Camera Bean Bag

Apex Low Profile Bean Bag (Realtree Max-5)

Apex Low Profile Bean Bag (Realtree Max-5)

This is one of the more exotic items on the list. While it is an item that may not be absolutely necessary for every trip that you take, there are certain trips where it will be very useful. There are situations that come up in travel where you need to keep your camera relatively still while taking a shot, but using a tripod is just not feasible.

A really great example of one of these circumstances came up during our trip to Tanzania last year. While on Safari, we spent a majority of our time in our safari vehicle. There just wasn’t room in this vehicle to setup a tripod. Now, most wildlife photographers that shoot in Africa for a living will use a clamp that attaches to the vehicle to keep their camera still, it is just not practical to travel with one of these.

Instead, I found that having a camera bean bag handy was a life saver. They are really good for those times where you need something to brace your camera, but space is at a premium. Not only do they keep your camera still when you need to get a shot, but they also protect your camera lens when the vehicle is moving and hits some bumps.

Camera bean bags are not just great for exotic locations such as safaris, but can also be great when traveling on a tour bus, traveling on a train, or in any other location where the use of a tripod just isn’t possible. The nice thing about these bean bags is that you can travel with them completely empty, which makes them light weight and easy to pack. Just find some beans, beads, or other bead-like material when you arrive to fill it up.

Filters

B+W 77mm MRC 702M Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density 0.6 Filter

B+W 77mm MRC 702M Soft-Edge Graduated Neutral Density 0.6 Filter

Having the right filters with you can make your job of getting the effect you want with pictures so much easier. When you are traveling, it is not always possible to wait in one spot for a long time to find the perfect light. Filters can help you adjust to the light you have so that you can get effective shots even when the light isn’t perfect.

While it is not necessary to have an elaborate set of filters with you when you travel, there are a few different filters that we would highly recommend that you invest in. The first filter that we would strongly recommend is a polarizing filter. A polarizing filter will allow you to darken skies that may be too light because of the lighting, and they allow you to manage reflections and glare from such things as lakes and other shiny surfaces. I almost always have a polarizing filter on when I am traveling, unless I am shooting during the early morning or evening when the light is just right.

The other type of filter that can be very helpful when you are traveling is a graduated neutral density filter. These filters allow you to darken half of the shot, while leaving the other half of the shot as taken without filtering. These filters are great for taking landscape shots where you might want to darken the sky in your shot, but you don’t want to darken the landscape.

Before you buy any filters, make sure you are getting the right size filters for your lenses.  The last thing you want to do is invest in filters that you cannot use.

Lens Hoods

Canon EW-63C Lens Hood for EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens

Canon EW-63C Lens Hood for EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens

Lens hoods for your camera lenses are an absolute essential if you are planning to take pictures during the harsh light of mid-day on your trip. Without a lens hood, lens flares (bright spots on your pictures) and blow out highlights (spots in your picture where there is too much light to provide details) may ruin your pictures.

Lens hoods serve an additional purpose in protecting your lenses as well. More than likely there is going to be a lot of shuffling around of your camera when you travel. You’ll be taking it in-and-out of your camera bag, passing it around, and wearing it around your neck or on a shoulder strap. The lens hood will protect the most vulnerable part of the lens.

Like lens filters, you need to make sure you are getting the right size of lens hood before you make your purchase.  If you don’t get the right size hood for your lens, it will not fit.

Zip Lock Bags

240-Pack Reclosable Plastic Bags – 1 Gallon 2 mil Resealable Poly Bags, Clear Seal Top Zip Lock Bags for Storage

240-Pack Reclosable Plastic Bags – 1 Gallon 2 mil Resealable Poly Bags, Clear Seal Top Zip Lock Bags for Storage

Zip lock bags may not sound like essential camera gear, but if you are traveling with a camera, they absolutely are. Unless your camera bag is completely water proof, you are going to want to have them as extra protection for your camera gear against the elements. They are also really great for keeping your smaller gear organized within your bag. We have never taken a trip without some zip lock bags.

Photography Journal

anderings Leather Notebook Journal

Anderings Leather Notebook Journal

We take pictures when we travel so that we can share our adventures with others when we return. Its frustrating when we share a picture of our journey, but cannot recall all of the details behind the picture. Even if you have an ididic memory, we see so many amazing things when we travel that the finer details escape us after years have passed. Keeping a photo journal is a great way to cement those memories for years to come. Just spend 10-15 minutes every night writing down what you saw. You will treasure those journal entries in years to come.

Posted in Photography, Recommendations, Travel Advice, Travel Products | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The Art of Travel Photography – Planning Your Shots

 

Plan Your Shots.jpg

If you do the proper planning and preparation before-hand, you will have a better understanding of where, when, and how to take the best pictures, and this will undoubtedly improve your end results.

If you have been following our blog, you know that I am a big proponent of doing the proper planning before you travel so that you get the best shots when you are there.  It is a huge piece of my travel photography workflow.  Sure, you’ll probably get some great shots if you just wing it, but you are likely to miss as many great shots as you get.

In this article, I am going to go thru the process I use to prep for a photography trip.  Because the best way to teach is by example, I am going to use the real prep that I am doing for our upcoming trip to see Machu Picchu this fall.  You’ll get to see first-hand how I research which shots I want to get and where, when, and how to get them.

Step 1:  Research the Locations

The first step in the process of planning the shots you want to take should seem pretty obvious.  You have to research the locations that you will be traveling.  If you don’t know anything about the area, there is no way you are going to be able to start planning which shots you want to get.

Now, when I say “research the locations”, I don’t mean the type of research that you would typically do to plan a trip.  I am not saying you shouldn’t do the regular planning that is involved in travel, as we have written heavily about its importance.  This type of research you will need to do in addition to the regular research you do for travel.

Instead of looking at which flights we want to take and which hotels we want to stay at, this type of research involves deciding which locations we want to take pictures at.  And more specifically, what do we want to take pictures of at those locations.  For instance, I am using my upcoming trip to see Machu Picchu this fall as an example.  It will help me tremendously when I am there if I research where I will be able to get the shots I want beforehand.

Use Pinterest, Instagram, and Google For Initial Research

When I am researching locations before I travel, I usually start with PinterestInstagram, and Google Images for my initial research.  What I am looking for is interesting and exciting photographs of the locations where I am traveling.  For example, here are some of the results I found for Machu Picchu.

Initial Research.png

When doing an initial search of Instagram, Pinterest, and Google Images, one perspective of Machu Picchu that I really like kept popping up.  I circled those images in red.

What you are looking for is images that other people have taken that you find interesting.  In this example, there is one image that I am repeatedly seeing that peaks my interest (I circled that shot in red in the images above).  It is a perspective of Machu Picchu that I find incredibly beautiful.  It appears to be a shot taken from a high vantage point that allows you to capture much of the ruins.  To get a closer look at these shots, you can click to enlarge the images below.

I will typically save these images to a temporary folder so that I can repeatedly refer back to them in the subsequent phases of my planning process.  This way I will be able to compare them with what I am able to find in the next phases of the planning process.

Step 2:  Map Out the Shots

Once you have a clear understanding of the locations you are traveling to, and have an idea of what shots you want to take when you are there, the next step in the planning process is to figure out where you need to be to take those shots.  For instance, in my initial research, I have determined that I would like to photograph Machu Picchu from the following perspective (see the image below).

Machu Picchu

This is the perspective of Machu Picchu that I identified in my initial research.  The next step is determining which location to take this shot from.

Now, this isn’t the only perspective of Machu Picchu that I have noted in my research, but it is the one that I am using for this example.  In order to take this picture when I get there, I am going to need to know where this picture was taken.

This is especially important when it comes to Machu Picchu because of the following rule changes that went into effect on July 1, 2017:

  • All visitors are required to have a guide with them when touring Machu Picchu
  • All visitors are required to pick a circuit in which to tour.  There are three separate circuits you can choose from, and they don’t all go to the same places within Machu Picchu.
  • All visitors are limited to either a day (6am-12pm) or afternoon (12pm-5:30pm) session within Machu Picchu, which limits the amount of time you have to view the site.

These rule changes are going to effect our ability to photograph Machu Picchu in several ways.  First, we are going to be much more limited in time within the site than people have been in the past.  Based on my research, we will have roughly 3 hours within the site on the tour.  The rest of the time will be consumed by lines.  I will be talking more in-depth about that in our subsequent articles on our planning process for the trip.

More importantly, the rule changes require us to pick a circuit within Machu Picchu to tour.  If I don’t know which locations within Machu Picchu I want to photograph from, there is a chance I could pick a circuit that doesn’t visit these locations.  This is a prime example of why doing the proper research on shot locations is so critical to travel photography.

Lean on Other Photographer’s Past Experience

One resource that I will use to try and determine where to get the shots I am looking for is the past experience of other photographers.  I will typically do a Google Search for photography location tips for the locations in which I will be traveling.  For instance, a quick Google search of the phrase, “Best Spots to Photograph Machu Picchu”, turned up the following results:

And these weren’t even all of the resources I found.  So other photographer’s past experience can be an invaluable resource to get you started.  You may even learn about other perspectives or shots that you didn’t discover during your initial investigation.

Use Google Earth

Another tool that I find very helpful in determining where to take specific shots while traveling is Google Earth.  It is such an amazing tool that can be leveraged for a variety of different travel planning needs.  In this case, I use it to see where other people have taken their shots in the past at locations where I am traveling.

In the case of our example, all I would need to do is browse to Google Earth on my computer, or install the Google Earth app on one of my iOS or Google Play compatible devices.  Once I open Google Earth, make sure that user-contributed photos are being displayed as an option, and then search for your location.  In our case, I would do a search for “Machu Picchu”.

IMG_0016

Google Earth will show you the GPS tagged images submitted by other users.  This is a great tool for determining what types of shots can be taken from different general areas.

Google Earth will browse to your location on the map, and as you zoom in, you will start to see little circles at the locations where people have taken photos.  These are GPS tagged photographs that other people have submitted.  So not only do you get to see what pictures they took, but you get to see the general area where they took those photographs.

As you can see in the image above, I have found what I believe to be a photograph of the same perspective of Machu Picchu that I identified in my initial research.  To make sure that this is the same perspective of Machu Picchu that I am looking for, I can click on the image to take a closer look.  As you can see below, the image does appear to have been taken from roughly the same spot as the image I identified in step 1.

IMG_0017.PNG

I was able to find this shot taken near the Casa del Guardian inside Machu Picchu.  This picture closely matches the perspective I am looking for.

This gives me a very valuable piece of information.  Now I have a general idea of where I will need to be to take this photograph.  I will need to be somewhere in the vicinity of the Casa del Guardian.  I still don’t know exactly where I will want to be to take this shot, as GPS can sometimes be off by a little.  This is especially true in remote places like Machu Picchu.  However, I now have a much better idea of where I need to be to take this shot.

Further Refine the Location with Google Maps

Now that we have a pretty good understanding of what general area we need to be in to take a picture of the perspective we are looking for, we can use Google Maps to further refine that location.  The great thing about Google Maps is the street view feature allows you to actually see a street level perspective from different locations on the map.

Lucky for us, this includes getting a street level (or maybe path level is a more appropriate term) view from within Machu Picchu.  The first step will be to open Google Maps and browse to Machu Picchu (as shown in the image below).  We will want to look for the the Casa del Guardian.  As you can see, I was able to locate it by zooming in on Machu Picchu.

Google Map 1.png

The first thing I did inside Google Maps is browse to Machu Picchu and locate the Casa del Guardian (highlighted with the red box).

Once I have a good idea of where I want to begin, I can start to use the Street View feature.  In my case I am going to want to start by looking at the street view near the Casa del Guardian.  I simply drop the person figure onto the pathway nearby and Google Maps will give me the street view of that location (as shown below).

Google Map 2.png

When I select the Street View icon, all of the available pathways are illuminated in blue.  I can drop the icon on any of these pathways to get the street view from that location.

As you can see in the image above, once I select the person icon for the Street View feature, all of the pathways in Machu Picchu light up blue.  I am able to drop the person icon on any of these pathways to get a street level perspective of that location.

This is an invaluable tool for a travel photographer who cannot scope out an area, but would still love to do some planning for shots they want to take.   As you can see in the image below, the street level perspective from near the Casa del Guardian is pretty close to the perspective I was looking for.

Google Map 3.png

You can see by this image that the street view from the Casa del Guardian is a pretty close match to what I saw in Google Earth.

In case I want to take a look around the area to see if there are any better locations nearby to take some shots, I can use the arrows within the Street View to move along the pathways (as shown in the image below) and take a virtual tour.  This allows me to do all of the location planning I need to do without having to physically scope out the area ahead of time.

Google Map 4

I am able to use the arrows inside the street view to navigate about the area to scope it out.  I can look for the best place to take the shot, as well as check out the conditions are the location.

As I mentioned previously, this is especially important with Machu Picchu because visitors are being asked to pick a circuit to tour when they purchase their ticket to Machu Picchu.  If we pick the wrong circuit, we may not be able to visit some of these locations.  So, I will use the information I get from this picture planning to make our decision on which circuit we will choose.  I’ll be covering that more as I continue to outline our trip planning process in future posts.

Step 3:  Determine the Best Time to Take Them

Now that we know which pictures we are looking to take, and where we need to be to take them, the last step in the process is collecting as much information as we can about those shots in advance.  Specifically, we are looking for the following types of information about these shots:

  • Which direction will I need to shoot?
  • What time is sunrise and sunset at the location when I will be visiting?
  • Is there any shade to take the shot from?
  • Are there typically issues with people obscuring the shot?
  • What focal length would be best for the shot?
  • Which lens(es) will I need to bring?
  • While I need a filter and lens hood for the shot?

The answers to these questions are going to give me a lot of information that I can use when I am on location.  For starters, it is going to tell me when the best time to visit the location and take the shot is.  All else being equal, I am always going to want to take the shot during the golden hours of the day.  For those unfamiliar with the Golden Hours, please refer to our article on 10 Easy Tips to Make Your Vacation Photos Really Pop.

In addition to telling me the best time to visit, it is also going to let me know (depending when I visit) if I will be shooting with the sun in my face or at my back when I take the shot.  This is going to be a huge factor in how I prepare for the shot.  If I am going to be shooting into the sun, I am going to want to make sure I can find some shade to shoot from.  I will also definitely want to have a lens hood and a neutral density or polarizing filter on hand for the shot.

Addressing these questions ahead of time will also allow me to bring the proper lenses with me when I visit.  I can decide whether I will need a wide angel lens to capture the width of the picture from where I will be standing, or whether a telephoto lens will be required to zoom in on some far away features.  I won’t be able to use a tripod per the rules at Machu Picchu, so the light I will have is going to be a huge factor in determining which lenses to bring as well.

Finally, doing my research on the locations I want to shoot from ahead of time is going to give me a good indication of how crowded or obstructed these locations might be.  If it is going to be very crowded or my view is going to be restricted by people, I am going to either want to try and plan to visit ahead of the crowds, or plan for more time at that location.  Waiting for people to clear out of your shot can be frustrating, but if you know you are likely going to have to wait ahead of time, at least you will be prepared for it.

Putting it all Together

I hope that this article gives you a good idea of how I typically prepare to take pictures while traveling.  I don’t want to give you the impression that every shot you are going to take on your trip needs to be planned, because that is far from the case.  Some of the best pictures I have taken have been unplanned and spur-of-the-moment.  However, if you do the proper planning and preparation before-hand, you will have a better understanding of where, when, and how to take the best pictures, and this will undoubtedly improve your end results.

 

Posted in Mountains, Peru, Photography, South America, Travel Advice, Trip Planning | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

National Monuments – Muir Woods National Monument and San Francisco Guide

Muir Woods-5018

Muir Woods National Monument is home to some of the United State’s oldest and tallest Redwood trees.

If you have ever been to San Francisco, chances are you were unaware that some of the biggest trees in the world were a mere 15 miles away from you.  That’s right, some of the biggest trees in the entire world are located just 15 miles north of downtown San Francisco.  Pretty incredible, ha?

I, like many other people, wasn’t aware of this.  I have been to San Francisco dozens of times over the past 15 years, but had never been to the Muir Woods National Monument.  If it wasn’t for a good friend mentioning it before our last trip to the San Francisco area, I may not have heard of the Muir Woods to this day.

The fact that such an amazing treasure, that is so close to San Francisco, can in tact amazes me.  It is a true testament to how wonderful our National Parks System is.  Thank goodness people like John Muir had the foresight to save these beautiful trees for future generations.

I have been to the Redwood State and National Parks in Northern California, and they are beautiful parks.  They are also relatively far away from any major metropolitan city.  They are located where I would expect large Redwood trees to still be standing, on the north coast of California.  I think Muir Woods National Monument is so unique because it is where you wouldn’t expect large, old-growth trees to still be standing.

If you haven’t visited the Muir Woods National Monument yet, you really are missing out.  It should be near the top of any itinerary if you are visiting the San Francisco area.  It’s a great place to take a hike, visit the coast, and of course stare in awe at the gigantic trees.

There is also a ton to do in the San Francisco area that we would recommend.  It is a fantastic and beautiful city that is a blast to explore.  In addition to covering everything you need to know about the Muir Woods National Monument, we have also included some of our favorite sights in-and-around the city of San Francisco in this guide as well.

How to Get There

Muir Woods Map.png

The Muir Woods National Monument is insanely easy to get to.  It sits just 16 miles north of San Francisco, which translates into about a 45 minute drive with traffic.  Without traffic, it takes even less time to get to.  If you are traveling from the Sonoma Valley in the north, the Muir Woods National Monument is about a 1 hour drive from Santa Rosa.  Not a bad side activity to plan if you are visiting wine country.  For those interested, we’ll be writing up a visitor’s guide for Sonoma Valley in the near future.

City Distance
San Francisco 16 miles (45 minute drive)
 Santa Rosa 47 miles (1 hour drive)
 Sausalito 8 miles (22 minutes drive)

Best Time to Visit

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If you decide to visit Muir Woods, make sure you get there early in the morning.  With over 1 million visitors annually, it gets pretty busy.

Being located in California, the Muir Woods National Monument is an excellent place to visit nearly year-round.  However, should you visit during the fall, be aware that this is also the foggiest time of year in San Francisco.  The fog typically burns off by afternoon, and shouldn’t effect your visit to the Muir Woods specifically, but it can impact your ability to see the Golden Gate Bridge and the city of San Francisco from the ocean bluffs.

If you do want to visit the Muir Woods National Monument, we absolutely recommend that you plan on arriving early in the morning.  The Muir Woods attract over 1 million visitors a year, and the hiking paths can get pretty busy later in the day.  If you arrive early in the morning, you should beat most of the crowds.

Top Things to See and Do

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Muir Woods National Monument has some absolutely amazing hiking trails and coastline to enjoy.

There is so much to see and do in the Muir Woods National Monument and the surrounding area.  In addition to being able to see some of the largest and most beautiful trees in the world, you can also see some of the most beautiful coastline in the United States.

Beyond the national monument itself, the surrounding area has some fantastic tourist opportunities for you to take advantage of.  The city of Sausalito is close by, and is a fantastically beautiful city that is built-up on the ocean bluffs.  It’s a great place to stop for lunch and admire the views.

The Muir Woods are also relatively close to San Francisco, which means that you have access to all of the fantastic things to see and do in the city by the bay.  This includes, but is not limited to, viewing the Golden Gate Bridge, visiting Pier 39 for some great seafood and fun, touring the famous island prison of Alcatraz, and checking out the fascinating Lombard Street.

Hike Among Giants

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The trails within Muir Woods National Monument are some of the most scenic we have seen.

Undoubtedly, the biggest attraction in the Muir Woods National Monument is the old growth Redwood Trees.  Some of the largest Redwood trees in the United States, some of which are over 600 years old, live in the Muir Woods.  There are plenty of hiking trails that you can use to explore these magnificent trees, so we would suggest that you schedule at least a half day to explore.

Visit the Coast

In addition to the magnificent Redwood trees, the Muir Woods area also has some absolutely amazing coastline to explore.  Both Muir Beach and Stinson Beach are incredibly popular because of their beauty.

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Muir Woods National Monument has some amazing coastline to explore, such as this view of Muir Beach above.

At Muir Beach, a 450 foot boardwalk crosses the flood plain to connect the parking area to the beach.  The beach itself is incredible, but you should be aware that there are no lifeguards on duty.  We would also recommend exploring the beach overview trail, but be aware that it may not be suitable for those who are afraid of heights.

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Muir Beach is an incredible place to watch a sunset.

Stinson Beach is more of a recreation beach than Muir Beach is.  The beach is popular for boogie boarding, surfing, fishing, beach volleyball, and grilling out.  Lifeguards are generally on duty between Memorial Day and Labor Day, so it is a much safer beach for children.

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Stinson beach is more recreational than Muir Beach and typically has a lifeguard on duty during the summer months.

The beach is in very close proximity to the town of Stinson Beach, making the town a convenient stop for lunch or dinner in between or after beach activities.  If you are adventurous, we would also suggest checking out the various trails in the area.  There are some pretty incredible scenic look-outs along the trails.

Stop in Sausalito

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Sausalito is a gorgeous city just north of San Francisco.  With houses built-up on the ocean bluffs, it reminds us a lot of the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

The city of Sausalito is one of our favorite spots in the San Francisco bay area.  It is a beautiful and charming city that we can never seem to get enough of.  With houses that are built up on the ocean bluffs, it reminds us a lot of the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

There are a lot of fantastic restaurants in Sausalito, so it is a great spot to stop for lunch or dinner after exploring the Muir Woods National Monument.  If you are looking for a fantastic seafood meal, we would recommend you check out Scoma’s Of Sausalito.  Situated right on the water, with some of the best seafood in the bay area, it is a great spot to eat.

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Scoma’s Of Sausalito offers some of the best seafood in the bay area.

We would also recommend talking a walk down by the Marina.  It is one of the nicer marinas we have seen on the West Coast, and it is fun to check out all of the beautiful boats that are docked there.  You can usually see some pretty amazing boats at the docks.

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If you are in Sausalito, we highly recommend walking down by the marina to see the boats.  There are typically some pretty impressive boats to see.

The Golden Gate Bridge

One of the most iconic images of the city of San Francisco, as well as the West Coast of the United States, the Golden Gate Bridge is as beautiful as advertised.  If you want to get some great photos of the bridge, we would advise avoiding a visit in the fall.  That is the peak season for fog, and the bridge is obscured by fog a majority of the time.  The fog does tend to burn off some as the day wears on, so if you must visit in the fall we would suggest checking out the bridge towards the end of the day.

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The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic images of the Western United States.

You can get the best views, and pictures, of the bridge from the bluffs on the other side of the bay from San Francisco, as well as down near the bottom of the bridge.  To give you an idea of where the best viewpoints are, we have provided you a map below.

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This map illustrates some of the best spots to view the Golden Gate Bridge.  The red dots indicate the great viewpoints and the purple dots indicate the fair viewpoints.

Pier 39

Pier 39 is an absolute blast for families.  If there is one place in San Francisco I would suggest you go with children, Pier 39 would be the spot.  There is a very wide assortment of fun things to do at the pier.  There is plenty of shopping, lots of great places to eat, a fun merry-go-round, some fun and unique museums, and of course a lot of harbor seals to watch.

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Pier 39 is a great place to take the family.  With plenty of shopping, restaurant options, and entertainment, it is a very kid friendly atmosphere.

There are a lot of really cool and unique shops to explore in the Pier 39 area.  You will find everything from great book stores, chocolate and wine shops, Alcatraz themed gift shops, as well as clothing and jewelry stores at the pier.  You could spend hours just looking thru the neat shops.

The pier also has some really great restaurants.  If you are looking for something fun for kids, there is a Hard Rock Cafe, Luigi’s Pizza, and a Bubba Gump’s Shrimp at the pier.  All have great atmospheres for kids.  If you are looking for something more upscale, the Fog Harbor Fish House and Scoma’s are excellent choices.  No matter what you are in the mood for, you will probably find it among the many restaurants at or near Pier 39.

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One of our favorite things to do at the pier is watching the harbor seals sun bath.

One of our favorite things to do at the pier is watch the harbor seals.  They can often be found lounging on the floating docks, and they are a real treat to watch.  If you don’t know where to find them, just stop and listen.  Chances are you will be able to hear them from a ways a way.

Alcatraz

Alcatraz is such an iconic place that it really doesn’t need too much of an introduction.  From the time it opened in 1934 until the day it closed in 1963, Alcatraz housed some of America’s most notorious criminals.  What I didn’t realize until I first visited San Francisco is how easy it is to see from shore.  Sitting just 1.25 miles off the coast, you can make out many of the features of the island.  Though I should say, close is a relative term.  That 1.25 miles was plenty far enough to deter most inmates from even attempting an escape.

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Alcatraz is close enough to view from shore, but there are tours available for those who want a closer look.

There are two different ways in which you can get up-close to Alcatraz, depending on what you want to see and how much time you have.  If you would just like to get a closer look, but don’t have much time, there are Alcatraz cruises available that will bring you close to the island.  If you would like to get on shore and tour the island, there are also plenty of guided Alcatraz tours that you can take.  Though these tours typically require more of a time commitment.  In case you are wondering which tour is right for you, here is a great resource on picking the right Alcatraz tour for your needs.

Lombard Street

Lombard street is a fun stop in San Francisco that won’t take you very long to see.  San Francisco is known for its unusual roads.  Unusual in that they are very steep, and because of this, tend to include some switch-back turns.  Well, Lombard street takes this to a whole new level.  The road is very steep and includes 8 hair-pin switch-back turns in a very short distance.  It’s one of those things that you have to see to appreciate.

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Lombard street is one of the most iconic streets in San Francisco.  With a steep grade and 8 hair-pin turns, it is a blast to go down.

If you don’t feel comfortable driving down Lombard street, we would suggest at least driving by the bottom of the hill to watch other driver’s try and navigate this road.  It’s pretty crazy to watch.

Photo Gallery

Here are just some of the stunning pictures we were able to capture in Muir Woods National Monument and the San Francisco area.  It’s an amazing place to explore.

 

Posted in California, Hiking, National Parks, Restaurants, Travel Advice, United States | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Don’t Wait to Renew – Passport Fees are Increasing

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The execution fee for passports will be rising from $25 to $35 beginning on April 2, 2018.

If you are thinking about renewing your passport this year, you might not want to wait too long.  The United States Department of State recently announced that it will be raising the execution fee for passports from $25 to $35 starting on April 2, 2018.

Here is some key information you need to know about the fee increase:

  • As noted, the fee increased will be rising from $25 to $35
  • The fee increase will take effect on April 2, 2018
  • The execution fee is only charged to those who renew their passports in person at an official passport agency, such as the U.S. post office or other consular offices.  Those who renew their passport by mail will not be charged the execution fee.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is phasing out the use of identifications cards that do not comply with the REAL ID Act, so a passport may be necessary for some who fly domestically soon as well.

So, if you are obtaining a passport for the first time, or you need to renew your passport in person, we suggest that you not hold off on getting your passport this year.  If you will need to renew your passport later this year, but can do so by mail, then you need not worry about the fee increase.

Keep in mind, most countries require that you have at least 6 months left on your passport at the time of entry in order to be admitted into the country, so getting your passport renewed well in advance of its expiration is always a great idea.

Posted in Travel Advice | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Friday Sound-Off: Should Restrictions be Placed on Comfort Animals on Flights?

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A young woman reported that she was made to flush her hamster down the toilet after it wasn’t allowed on her flight.

Chances are, you have heard the story by now. A young woman flying home on Spirit Airlines was allegedly told by an airline employee to either set her emotional support hamster free or flush it down the toilet after being told that the animal couldn’t accompany her on a flight. The news hit social media and almost instantly went viral.

It all started when a young college student, Belen Aldecosea, booked her flight home from Baltimore to South Florida. During her first semester of school in Philadelphia, Belen had discovered a large growth on her neck. To take her mind off her health issues as she waited for the biopsy results, she had purchased a small hamster she named Pebbles. Hamsters are commonly used as emotional support animals because of their size and how easy it is to care for them.

In order to make sure that Pebbles would be able to accompany her on her flight back home, Belen had asked the ticketing agent at Frontier Airlines if she could bring Pebbles on the flight. The agent told her that she could.

Fast forward to the day of her flight, and the information from Frontier Airlines was very different. After checking in, she was informed that Pebbles wouldn’t be able to board the flight with her. The airlines did schedule Belen on a later flight to allow her time to make arrangements for the animal, but Belen wasn’t from the area and couldn’t find anyone to care for Pebbles.

That is when Belen says that she was told by an airline employee that, if she wanted to board the plane, she would either need to set the animal free, or flush it down the toilet. Belen, recalling the moment when she had to flush Pebbles down the toilet, said, “I was emotional. I was crying. I sat there for a good 10 minutes crying in the stall.”

Frontier Airlines admits that its ticketing agent incorrectly told Ms. Aldecosea that she could bring her hamster on the flight when she booked, but denies that any of its employees ever suggested that she flush the animal down the toilet. Derek Dombrowski, a spokesman for the airline, responded, “To be clear, at no point did any of our agents suggest this guest (or any other for that matter) should flush or otherwise injure an animal”.

It remains to be seen how this story will play out in the court of public opinion and perhaps in a court of law, but we would like to address the larger questions in relation to this story.

Should any emotional support animal be allowed to fly on a plane? Are there any restrictions that an airline should make in its policy? A passenger recently tried to bring an emotional support peacock on a United Airlines flight, but the bird was denied boarding. Should this animal have been allowed on the flight?

What happens when an airline gives a customer incorrect information at booking, but then denies boarding at the time of flight? Should there be more accountability by the airlines for when they make mistakes?

These are all tough questions. Emotional support animals are a very real and very necessary thing. So is the security and safety of passengers aboard a plane. How these two issues get reconciled will be a front-and-center issue for airlines in the coming years, as airlines continue to grapple with what balance to draw.

What are your thoughts on this subject?  We definitely see the need for some restrictions, but we also think that airlines need to become much more customer focused.  In this situation, the biggest error was in the airline giving a passenger incorrect information at the time of booking.  This is something that the airline openly admits.  We believe something more should have been done by the airline to accommodate this passenger in light of the details.

In terms of bigger picture, we think the airlines do have an obligation to balance passenger safety with these requests.  For that reason, we do not oppose some restrictions to the carrying of some animals on flights.  However, we also believe that it is the obligation of the airlines to make sure their policies are very clear and understood by their passengers at the time of booking.

Posted in Air Travel, Friday Sound-Offs, Opinions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Sunshine Blogger Award

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Thankful to be Nominated

We were so honored to be nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by Caterina at Wonderlust Queen. She is the quality of writer and storyteller that we inspire to be.  If you haven’t checked out her blog and given it a follow, we would absolutely recommend that you do so!

We started our blog because we have a passion for traveling and for animals, and we wanted to share that passion with others.  We have long appreciated getting feedback from others on blogs and message boards about both travel and life.  This wisdom has been so instrumental in guiding, not only our decisions, but also how we can give back.

We have been truly blessed to have been able to travel to some pretty amazing places, and to experience some pretty incredible adventures.  We know that we have been fortunate, which is why we want to give back to others.  We are trying to turn our passion and our experience into a resource that can help others experience their dreams.  We want to give others the courage to start their own adventures.

That is why it melted our hearts to learn that someone in the blogging community that we respect so much thought of us.  We must be doing something right, and that feels good.  It doesn’t take long to realize that the blogging community is a special, tight-knit community, and we are so thankful to be a part of it.  So thank you Caterina!

Here are the answers to the questions we were asked:

Do you prefer cats or dogs? Why?

Man, you would think that this would be an easy question, but it’s not.  We grew up in Minnesota, and for a very long time it was among the only states in the continental United States that still had wild wolves roaming its wilderness.  We used to visit the International Wolf Center in Northern Minnesota and got to see them up close.  So for the longest time, wolves have been the favorite animal of both Nick and myself.

However, after visiting Tanzania this past year, and getting to see lions and leopards in their natural habitat and how much respect the people of Tanzania have for these animals, it is really hard not to have an intense love for those animals.  They are awe inspiring creatures.

Leave it to us to turn this into a big cats versus big dogs discussion, but that’s just who we are.  Our favorite animals are wild animals.  If we had to pick either cats or dogs, I guess we would have to pick dogs.  Our passion for wolves runs deep, but we have a growing admiration for cats.

If you could be anywhere right now, where would you like to be?

I know Nick’s answer, and that would be somewhere on a beach helping marine wildlife. That’s his passion.  So much so that he and his family are moving to California this year so that he can pursue that dream.  As his brother and one of his biggest fans, that makes me proud.

As for me, it would have to be Patagonia.  Ever since I was a kid, I have been absolutely enthralled with that beautiful landscape.  As a passionate photographer, the landscape moves me like no other I have seen images of.  I want to explore the Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, I want to learn about it, and I want to share that with others thru my photographs and my stories.

Do you dance? If yes, what do you dance? If no, why?

Wow, this is a hard one.  I told you Caterina is good!  Does in the shower count?

We will be completely honest here.  We don’t dance much.  It’s not that we don’t like to dance, but neither of us are any good at it.  I guess you could say that it doesn’t matter if you are good or not, as long as you enjoy it.  Putting yourself outside your comfort zone forces you to grow.  That is the advice I would give others, so I guess I should take my own advice.

What’s your favorite quote (from a book, a song, anything else…)?

Without a doubt, it has to be this quote from John Lennon…

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

For some reason, that quote has always resonated with me.  We all deserve to be happy, and happiness is such a wonderful thing to aspire to be.  It doesn’t have to be any more complex than that!

When did you start using smartphones?

Ok, we are really going to date ourselves here.  Neither Nick or I had a cell phone until we were almost out of college.  Not because we didn’t want one or weren’t allowed to have one.  No, we didn’t get one until then because until then mobile phones were the size of brief cases and cost a fortune.  Now, I don’t think I could live without my phone.

As for smart phones, I believe I got my first smart phone about 5 years out of college.  It was an iPhone, and I have never looked back. Being able to keep in touch with family, have information right at your fingertips, and being able to organize and edit your photos right on your phone is amazing!  So, thank you Steve Jobs, you were an amazing man.

Our Nominations

OK, enough about us.  In addition to Wonderlust Queen, here are some of the other blogs that we really enjoy.  We have used these blogs to provide us with inspiration, to get us out of a jam when we weren’t quite sure what to do, to remind us that no dream is too big to aspire to, and to let us know that we aren’t alone in figuring out how to get from point A to point B in one piece.

And here are the questions we have for them.

  1. If you could only travel to one more place in this world for the rest of your life, where would that place be?
  2. What inspires you to want to travel?
  3. Which movie or book has had the biggest impact on your life and why?
  4. If you could save just one endangered animal from extinction, which one would it be?
  5. Who is your favorite person to travel with and why?

We hope to read your answers to these questions and see which blogs inspire you the most!

The Rules:

  • Thank the nominator and post a link back to their blog.
  • Answer the questions the nominator has set out for you.
  • Nominate new blogs and set out questions for them to answer.
  • Notify the nominees of their nominations by commenting on their blog or social media
  • When creating your nomination post, list the rules and include the Sunshine Award logo in it.
Posted in Awards, Blogging Community | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland

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The Giant’s Causeway is some of the most unique and beautiful coastline in the world.

There are few things as beautiful as the coastline in Ireland and Northern Ireland.  The big waves and rocky shores create some exquisite scenery.  The coastlines are one of the many things that we absolutely love about Ireland.

Mother Nature’s finest work is so beautiful that it is hard to put into words.  Even pictures don’t seem to do these places justice when you look back at them.  These are places you have to see in person to truly appreciate.

All of this is especially true of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.  It is some of the most unique and beautiful coastline in the world, and one of our favorite places in Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Over 40,000 unique basalt columns, created by an ancient volcano, extend from the ground like a giant jigsaw puzzle.  It is an amazing sight to behold.

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The tops of the columns form a hexagonal jigsaw puzzle that extends from inland into the sea.

The tops of the columns form unique hexagonal stepping stones, the highest of which is almost 39 feet tall, that shoot from the ground.  They lock together in a tightly formed pattern that extends from the inland shores to the sea, where they disappear underneath the rolling waves.  They are perfect for kids playing “can’t touch the ground” and photographers looking for some beautiful shots with unique and incredible texture.

Getting to Giant’s Causeway

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The Giant’s Causeway is in close proximity to the towns of Bushmills (3 miles) and Portrush (8 miles), and is also relatively close to the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge.

The Giant’s Causeway is located on the northern coast of Northern Ireland, about 3 miles from the town of Bushmills and about 8 miles from the town of Portrush.  It is in very close proximity to the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, which we highlighted for you in a previous article.  If you are going to visit the area, we would definitely recommend visiting both.

Visiting the Giant’s Causeway

To give you a better sense of what the Giant’s Causeway is like, we have put together a short video of our visit below.  It is such an amazing place that even a video doesn’t do it justice.  You have to visit to fully appreciate this natural wonder.

Image Gallery

Below are some of the pictures that we took at the Giant’s Causeway.  Our only regret is not scheduling more time to get some really great sunrise or sunset shots.  We would definitely recommend planning your visit around sunrise or sunset if you have the opportunity.

Posted in Europe, Ireland, Recommendations, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments