Monthly Archives: September 2016

Avoid This Travel Photography Mistakes

Humans are increasingly intent on documenting our lives photographically; according to one estimate, about one trillion photos were taken in the year 2015 — and many of them were pretty good. A glance at the high-quality images found on Instagram or Flickr is proof that you don’t need pro credentials or expensive equipment to take compelling photos of the world. My sister-in-law has a simple point-and-shoot, but she also has enthusiasm and a really good eye, and her photos are great — funny, touching and enduring. What more could you want?

If the pictures you take on the road don’t quite live up to that standard, you may be making some of the following common travel photography mistakes. Avoid these, and you’ll take more than your share of travel photos worth keeping.

1. Bringing too much equipment.

After a recent trek to Shi Shi Beach, Washington, on which my heavy DSLR equipment got banged around on sea stacks, doused by waves and infiltrated by sand, I purchased a small, waterproof point-and-shoot that offers 16 megapixels and weighs 8.7 ounces. The little camera has been a blast to have around in many ways.

You may find that having too much stuff can actually hurt your chances of getting a good shot; staying alert to and enthusiastic about photographic opportunities becomes much harder after even an hour of hauling 20 pounds of gear. My advice? Take the same approach to packing photo equipment that you do to packing clothes: Bring what you know you will use, and think hard before packing anything more.

2. Underestimating your phone camera.

Following on our previous point — do you even need to pack a separate camera? Most modern smartphones boast more megapixels than a high-quality DSLR I used to cover the Olympics just a decade ago. (It had six megapixels, while the iPhone 6 has eight and the Samsung Galaxy offers a whopping 16!) It turns out that your phone camera holds up pretty well even to fairly recent DSLR cameras. Add to that the availability of sophisticated photo editing apps, and your phone camera has a lot to offer.

3. Forgetting memory cards, batteries or chargers.

This may sound obvious, but it happens all the time. It’s particularly common to assume the battery or memory card is still in the camera when it isn’t. The best solution is to put all your various camera components as individual line items on your packing list, and tick them off the same way you would for socks and docs.

4. Not knowing your camera.

Every camera is different, and with features expanding and improving all the time, it can be hard to keep up. This problem is most common when you purchase a new camera or smartphone right before a trip; there simply isn’t time to learn how it works. Give yourself at least an hour or two to tinker and experiment before you leave — because that elephant on safari isn’t going to stand around waiting for you to read the manual.

5. Burying your equipment.

When you are out and around, the best photos tend to present themselves without warning, so you don’t want your camera to be at the bottom of your backpack. Keep it on top of the bag or even out of the bag; there are a lot of innovative camera straps on the market that make carrying a camera around less burdensome.

This is another advantage to having a small camera or using your phone; these fit easily into a pocket so you have them at your fingertips.

6. Having no people in your photos.

silly selfie of couple with ice cream conesSure, it’s great to take pictures of architecture or animals or food, but if you don’t have any shots of yourself or your travel companions, you might find your photos less interesting to look back on later. I have a couple of very old photos from a trip to Europe — one of the Spanish Steps, the other of a good friend with whom I have mostly lost touch tearing a piece of bread on the Spanish Steps. Guess which one resonates more years later.

Travel is about not only the places you visit, but also the things you do and how you spent your time. I have a few gallery-worthy photos from a trip to Hamburg a few years ago, but my favorite picture from the trip is one of my kid blitzing down a giant helter-skelter slide in a park near our hotel. It captures our experience in Hamburg in a way that no postcard-quality photo could do.

7. Missing the details.

Photos of small things you notice, with which you interact on a human, often touchable level, are often more poignant than broader views of the big sights. A quick example: I have seen and taken a lot of cool photos of the Space Needle, but one I like best is of the giant bolts at the foot of the tower.

8. Photographing the same perspective over and over.

Similarly, photos taken at the same distance from your subject, with the same focal length, the people in the same part of the frame, and the same overall composition, will tend to dampen the experience of viewing those pictures later. Samey-ness of perspective gets old even if you do everything else right.

9. Taking “tourist brochure” photos.

You see this all the time on social media — someone posts a photo, and the general sentiment is that it “looks like a postcard!” Which it does, and you can get it for 65 cents in the souvie shop. Or admirers will tell you a shot looks like a photo a pro would take, but you are not that pro. You want your photos to be your photos; you don’t have to take the same angle everyone else has taken.

10. Failing to photograph popular attractions.

Notwithstanding many of the foregoing points, I have found that deeming it uncool or unnecessary to take photos of popular attractions can actually be counterproductive. If it is worth taking a special side trip to the Eiffel Tower, it is probably worth taking a photo of it — but again, make it your photo, not the same photo that has been taken a trillion times.

11. Failing to turn around.

An old photography adage goes more or less as follows: If you see a great photo in front of you, turn around. Sometimes the thing you are not looking at is even interesting than the obvious subject in front of you. In my sports photography, I see this over and over again; while taking photos of athletes receiving medals, a solid photo is the athlete celebrating, but the great photo might be his or her family embracing and weeping with joy right behind you.

12. Being inconsiderate with your flash.

Blasting someone in the face with a bright white light typically isn’t the best way to make friends, and flash photography is forbidden in many museums and other attractions. With so many cameras automatically deciding whether to deploy the flash or not, it’s vital to know how to turn this on and off. The upside is that so many modern cameras (including smartphones) have exceptional low-light performance, so you can often get a solid photo without flash.

Some Unexpected Holiday Travel Gifts

If you have a traveler or two on your shopping list, cancel that trip to the mall. You don’t have to search through boring racks of discount luggage to find perfect presents for your fellow globetrotters. Sure, suitcases and language translators make nice gifts — but you can do better than that!

santa claus with globe
This year, present your loved ones with travel gifts that are, well, a little less traveled. Read on for 10 ideas.

Traveler’s Handbooks
While most guidebooks are destination-specific, this interesting series focuses on practical tips for nine different types of travelers. If you’ve got a solo traveler, an avid volunteer, a foodie or an adventurer on your shopping list, he or she will love one of these Traveler’s Handbooks. Each volume offers comprehensive advice and anecdotes from experienced travelers in each specialty who’ve been there and done that. Price: $7.99 – $9.99 for Kindle editions, $16.99 for paperback.

Digital Luggage Scale

If you’ve got a friend or family member who’s prone to overpacking, this digital luggage scale from Etekcity can save them a few bucks at the airport. The lightweight scale will tell you how close you’re getting to your airline’s weight limit so you’re not stuck moving clothes from one bag to the other in the check-in line. Price: $7.99.

RFID-Blocking Passport Holder

Help a traveling friend or family member keep their data secure on the road with the Alban Passport Holder Travel Wallet. U.S., Canadian and many E.U. passports have embedded chips that use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to store information. This stylish leather wallet is designed to prevent this data from being skimmed by enterprising thieves with RFID readers. Price: $14.95.


For the adventurous female traveler who often finds herself in remote places without public facilities, the GoGirl just might be the perfect stocking stuffer. This “female urination device” (FUD), made of medical-grade silicone, has a unique funnel shape that allows women to pee standing up just as easily as their male counterparts can — making backcountry hikes, long road trips and other out-of-the-way journeys much more convenient. Price: $19.98 for two.

America the Beautiful Pass

Got someone on your list who loves the great outdoors? Surprise him or her with an America the Beautiful Pass from the U.S. National Park Service. The pass grants a year of free entry to all federal recreation sites across the U.S., including national parks, wildlife refuges, monuments and more. One pass covers a carload of passengers (at sites which charge by the vehicle) or up to four adults (at sites that charge per person). Price: $80.

Scratch the World Map

This fun world map allows your favorite traveler to scratch off each country he or she has visited, offering a visual representation of all his or her travel memories. The map measures 33 by 23 inches and is printed on glossy silk art paper. Price: $22.99.
GorillaPod Flexible Tripod

Perfect for avid photographers, the GorillaPod has three flexible arms that can either stand straight or wrap around a wide variety of surfaces — so you can suspend it from a tree branch for an aerial shot or rest it on a table to stablize your camera in low-light conditions. The GorillaPod comes in a wide range of sizes to accommodate various cameras, phones and tablets. Price: $19.95 and up.

Paperblanks Travel Journals

For the traveler who loves to write, sketch or simply jot down notes during a trip, these gorgeous Paperblanks journals make a perfect gift. They come in a variety of colors, sizes and designs. We like the Old Leather Jade Mini Notebook, which comes in a travel-friendly size (4 x 5.5. inches). Price: From $12.66.

Polaroid Z2300 10 MP Digital Instant Print Camera

Remember the old days when you could get the instant gratification of printing out a Polaroid snapshot just seconds after you took it? That’s the retro appeal of this Polaroid Z2300 10 MP Digital Instant Print Camera, which combines the sharability and convenience of digital images with the indulgence of printing out your latest snapshot right on the spot. The camera includes an integrated printer that produces two- by three-inch photos in less than a minute. Say cheese! Price: $129.99.

The Gift of Travel

What’s every traveler’s dream gift? A trip, of course! Amtrak Vacations, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and are a few examples of travel providers that offer gift cards for flights, trips or places to stay around the world. These gift cards give recipients the freedom to customize their vacations, and they’ll definitely be thanking you (a lot) when they’re building sandcastles in Tahiti or hiding away in a mountain lodge in Switzerland.

Best Tips for Holiday Travel

Planning to visit Grandma’s for Thanksgiving or spend Christmas in Rome? Traveling over the holidays can be notoriously busy, expensive and stressful, but the news isn’t all bad. There are still deals to be found, provided you shop carefully and plan ahead. Check out our 10 holiday travel tips and find some joy this holiday season.

1. Avoid peak travel dates.

At Thanksgiving, Wednesday is the critical outbound “avoid” day as a rule. Traveling on Thanksgiving day proper is often a breeze and more affordable; there are often cut-rate airfare deals on Thanksgiving day. If you can fly home any day other than Sunday, you’ll likely pay less.

At Christmas and New Year’s, the peak travel dates change each year depending on which days the holidays fall. You can generally guess which dates will be the most expensive for travel (consider which travel days would allow you to maximize long weekends without taking too many days off work — and that’s probably when everyone will want to go). If you’re not sure, use a search engine that lets you put in flexible travel dates; these will show you which date combinations will give you the best deal.

2. Shop around.

Whether you’re using booking sites like Expedia or metasearch sites such as Kayak, comparison shopping has never been easier than it is right now. During peak travel season, casting the net as wide as possible will help you understand all of your options.

For many travelers, price isn’t the only or even the most important factor, especially during the holidays. Thoughtful, deliberate use of the “search adjacent days or airports” features found on many websites may also surrender greatly improved fares and travel times.

For more help, see our Tips for Finding Cheap Airfare. Having trouble finding a hotel? Don’t miss No Vacancy? No Problem.

3. Know your airports.

Checking alternate airports is a pretty standard tactic, but this time of year it can really make a difference. At no time can the alternate airport gambit pay off better than during the holiday crush. You can score on almost every front — parking, rental cars, traffic to and from, nearby hotels — and save both time and money.

Keep in mind that smaller airports see fewer flights and, typically, fewer delays — not a minor consideration during the busy holiday travel season.
4. Plot connections carefully.

When booking flights, check your search results carefully for sufficient time during layovers, and build in some time for flight delays and weather woes. Particularly during the winter months, peak travel times often bring peak travel delays, and your connection is more likely to be jeopardized. Avoiding really tight connections might save you a sprint through the terminal or a missed flight.

Also, it is best if you can muscle your flight path into position so that connections are in places less likely to experience delays — specifically, airports in warmer climates. For more advice, see our Winter Travel Tips.

5. Leave early.

During peak travel times, much of the trouble you’ll face lies on this side of the security check-in, from traffic jams and full parking lots to absent shuttles and long lines. Rather than striving to “arrive at the airport early,” you may want to try to “leave for the airport early” to anticipate all the peripheral delays you may encounter.
6. Pack wisely.

In the past, you may have been able to fit everything into your carry-on without having to check any baggage — a strategy we still recommend. However, the TSA rules about liquids and gels make this a trickier proposition. For the record, you may bring liquids and gels in 3.4-ounce or smaller containers, packed within a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. You’re also allowed to bring any liquids (such as coffee or water) or gels purchased after you go through a security checkpoint onto your plane with you. If you want to bring more than the 3.4-ounce amount, you’ll have to pack the items in your checked luggage.
7. Take advantage of shortcuts.

The latest self-service developments in online travel can be tremendous time-savers during peak travel times. Whenever possible, print your boarding passes at home or even pull up your boarding pass on your smartphone.

If you buy most of your gifts online, have them shipped directly to your destination. This will cut down on luggage and the risk of them getting lost.

8. Travel early or late in the day.

As a rule, airports are least congested at times when normal human beings would rather be at home or even asleep. Delays are far less likely for morning flights, and airports usually unclog as the afternoon and evening peak passes.

Caveat: Staffing can be spotty for really early flights, so although your flight is highly likely to be ready to leave on time, check-in may take a while, along with other personnel-dependent steps like riding shuttle buses.

9. Consider package deals.

Peak travel periods can be the best time to buy package deals (such as air/hotel or air/hotel/car), even for folks who would normally never buy one, as the bundled pricing offered by packages can be very competitive. I’m traveling on a package over Thanksgiving, and am almost stunned at the offer; you can barely afford to stay home at these prices.

10. Keep your cool.

Don’t lose your temper, even if things go wrong. Airline employees have considerable power over your well-being. Unfortunately, some enjoy wielding it against you, and few respond well to anger.