Monthly Archives: November 2016

Tips For Sleeping on Planes

Not enough legroom. People climbing over you. Noise from movies and video games and screaming children. Sunlight pouring in your neighbor’s window at 35,000 feet. With all the distractions and hassles of air travel, what doesn’t make it tough to sleep on planes?

If you struggle to get some shuteye each time you take to the air, you’re not alone — but choosing the right seat, bringing the right gear and making a few small changes in your flying habits could help you sleep better on your next flight. Read on for our travel-tested tips.

people sleeping on a plane
Choose your seat wisely.

Your seat location could be one of the most important factors in how well — or how poorly — you sleep on a plane. Try to get a window seat if possible; it will give you something to lean against and get you out of the way of other folks in your row, who won’t have to scramble over you each time they need to use the bathroom. You’ll also have some control over the window shade.

Think twice about bulkhead or exit row seats. Sure, the extra legroom is great, but some exit row seats do not recline (so that they won’t be an obstruction in case of emergency), and some bulkhead seats have armrests that can’t be raised. Sleeping in one of these is like sleeping in a straitjacket, especially if the seat next to you is unoccupied, or worse, the entire row is empty (as happened to me on a flight from Australia — 14 hours in the air, an empty row and the worst flight I’ve ever had). What could have been a nice sleep nook is now more like, well, an airplane seat.

Travel writer Andrea Rotondo also cautions against bulkhead seats because they “are often reserved for families traveling with babies or young kids, [and] can be noisy.”

Another area to avoid is the last row of the plane. Again, the seats may not recline, and they’re often located right near the lavatories — where both noise and odor could be an issue.

Aside from the very last row, there are pros and cons to sitting near the front of the plane vs. sitting near the back. Seats near the rear of the plane may be noisier due to the planes’ engines and clink-clanking from the galley, but it’s also more likely that you’ll have a couple of seats (or even a whole row) to yourself back there — and the extra space could make up for the extra noise.

To help you choose your seat, check out SeatGuru.com, which offers color-coded seating charts for nearly every plane on every airline. And don’t miss our tips for getting the best airplane seat.

Cut down on your carry-ons.

If you have two full-size carry-ons, one might end up under your feet, limiting your legroom and making it harder to sleep. Instead, pack lighter so you can fit everything into a single bag. Keep a few small necessities near the top of the bag — a book or magazine, a snack, a bottle of water. Before you stow your bag in the overhead compartment, pull out the important items that you’ll need during the flight and put them in the back of the seat in front of you.

Editor’s Note: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cautions against the stowage of personal items in the seatback pocket for safety reasons, but states, “If small, lightweight items, such as eyeglasses or a cell phone, can be placed in the seat pocket without exceeding the total designed weight limitation of the seat pocket or so that the seat pocket does not block anyone from evacuating the row of seats, it may be safe to do so.” Keep the items you stow in the seatback pocket to a minimum, and be aware that flight attendants may ask you to put the items back into your carry-on bag.

Skip the caffeine.

Especially on a daytime flight, where even the view out the window can be a distraction, you’ll find it much harder to sleep if you have caffeine coursing through your veins. Avoid the temptation to have a cup of coffee or a soda before boarding, and stick to water or juice when the drink cart comes around.

pills spilling out of bottle
Try a sleep aid.

I am not a doctor and will not attempt to advise you on what drugs you should take as sleep aids. That said, here are a few products I’ve used with some success:

Melatonin: This is a naturally occurring substance — it’s the compound that triggers our sleep patterns, and it’s as natural as eating. The level of melatonin in our bodies declines as we age; this is why older folks often sleep less as they advance in years.

As it is a gentle approach, melatonin doesn’t seem to work for everyone. One Olympic doctor I know, who counsels athletes on beating jet lag, advises that you begin taking melatonin three days before you travel. Your number of winks may vary.

Dramamine: This motion sickness remedy is a pretty common over-the-counter drug, but beware; it will make you very drowsy, and the advice not to operate heavy machinery (like, say, a car) is to be heeded. If you are on a shorter flight or need to be alert when you wake up, you may want to avoid this one.

Blankets and pillows — stake your claim.

There never seem to be enough blankets and pillows to go around. Board early and stake your claim. If there isn’t a set in your seat, immediately ask the flight attendant for one.

Bring a neck pillow.

Many travelers swear by their supportive neck pillows (TripAdvisor travel advocate Wendy Perrin likes the Komfort Kollar). Personally, I’ve found few neck pillows that really work the way they’re designed. They’re too big in the back, which tilts my head forward, and then offer no support under my chin to hold up my noggin that has just been pushed forward. I turn them around; this works like a charm. Experiment a bit and see what works for you.

Free your feet.

This is a controversial subject. Some people slip their shoes off as soon as they get on a plane; others wouldn’t dream of it. Further, there’s the issue of keeping your circulation flowing; going barefoot permits your feet to swell.

Take care of your dogs and wear clean socks. Opt for shoes you can slip on and off easily — this way you’re not pulling at shoelaces and flinging elbows mid-flight. On overseas flights, some airlines give you socks that will keep you warm and encourage circulation in your feet.

Use headphones with discretion.

Save yourself the five bucks and catch some more winks by passing on the airline’s headphones. TV and movies can keep you up the entire flight. On one transatlantic flight a few years back, I sat awake until three in the morning watching “Man in the Moon”; I laughed out loud and definitely enjoyed myself, but the next day in Europe, I yearned deeply for the two hours of sleep I lost to Jim Carrey’s depictions of Andy Kaufman and Tony Clifton.

On the other hand, listening to soothing music can help tune out distractions and lull you into a peaceful sleep. For best results, try Bose’s popular noise-canceling headphones; they’re pricey, but they’re the best product on the market for frequent fliers looking to escape engine noise and other in-flight distractions. (Ear plugs are a less effective but much cheaper alternative.)

Make sure you won’t be disturbed.

Jayne Bailey Holland, a former airline staffer, recommends notifying your flight attendant that you want to sleep — that way he or she will know not to disturb you when the drink or snack cart comes around. If you’re under a blanket, be sure your seat belt is buckled over top of it so the belt is visible at all times.

man sleeping on plane
Recline your seat — but be courteous.

On a night flight, expecting someone not to sleep is like asking them to put down their window shade during a flight over the Grand Canyon or Haleakala. Ideally, everyone has the same idea and seats will tip backward soon into your flight.

However, you should always look behind you to make sure the coast is clear before pushing the button to put your seat back. It gives the person behind you a heads up if they have coffee in front of them or have their head down on the tray table.

Simple common courtesy applies here.

For more on this topic, see The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room.

Stay away from the light.

The animated flash of movie screens, reading lights, cabin lights, sunlight bursting in on an eastbound flight — all can disturb your slumber. Get yourself an eye mask. Some airlines provide them, but it’s best to keep one in your traveling kit just to be safe.

When it’s time to wake up…

The worst part of sleeping is waking up, I always say. It’s even worse on a plane, when you’re waking up to fluorescent lights, luggage carousels and sunshine so bright you can practically hear it.

If it’s a long flight, consider setting a watch or cell phone alarm for 45 minutes before you have to land. That gives you time to go to the restroom, gather your gear, tie your shoes, watch the approach to your destination — you might even convince an attendant to pour you a cup of coffee — and walk off the plane fully awake.

Get Better Travel Photos

It wasn’t that long ago that many travel photos were taken, developed and then dumped into boxes, rarely to be seen again — unless a basement flood forced someone to throw them all away. These days, things aren’t so different except that now the photos get dumped onto external hard drives, perhaps to await a hard drive crash instead of the proverbial basement flood.

But in most collections of vacation and travel photos, a precious few of the very best shots are often spared this fate — those photos that are somehow more enduring or more interesting, or (I think most importantly) that best capture the spirit and sensation of the trip. What is it that keeps these photos from the dustbin of our traveling history? Often they are simply better photographs. That is, the “keeper” photo isn’t of a favorite person, place or activity — it is better composed, better lit and thus simply more visually interesting than the run-of-the-mill vacation snapshot.

There are plenty of resources out there for folks with thousands of dollars of photographic equipment, but what about the rest of us — those of us with a point-and-shoot digital camera or even simply a smartphone? What can we do to get better, more lasting images from our travels? Following is a collection of low- and no-tech tips to help you improve your keeper count on your next trip.
Think “people, places, things.”
This old definition of the use of a noun is a handy guide to a great vacation photo: the best travel photos will often be about all three of these. To illustrate, let’s say you want to take a photo of the Tower of London on a rainy day. If you pull up your photo and snap the Tower in the gray light, you could get a decent photo. But if you put your kids in the photo (your favorite people) with the Tower glimpsed over their shoulders (the place of interest), visible just under the rim of an umbrella (a very specific thing that evokes the conditions), you have a great shot.

Get closer.
africa boyAs Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Taken literally, the closer you get to your subject, the more detail and interest you can capture.

There are a couple of ways to do this, both equally valid and effective. One is to use the telephoto features found on most cameras to zoom in on your subject. Before anyone cries cop-out, this can be a very effective photographic technique, and has resulted in countless compelling images in this age of big lenses.

The other is simply to walk closer to your subject. Not everyone is comfortable doing this, but the person viewing the photo will appreciate it; despite how close a zoom lens makes things appear, when viewing a photo the human eye can still sense the distance, and appreciates when an image has truly been taken up close.

Be in the thick of it.
A less literal read of Capa’s statement, and probably the one closer to his intent, suggests that Capa likes photos in which the photographer him- or herself seems to be part of what is going on, and not standing apart from the action. Capa’s solution to get more intimate, engaged photos is simply to be more intimately involved in the photo yourself.

Think about the light, not the view.
The human eye is vastly more adaptable and clever than the lens of your camera, and what you see when you are standing in front of your intended subject may not be what your camera ultimately reproduces. When staring directly into the sun, you may be able to make out colors and people, but your camera is going to reproduce mostly shadows. Or when shooting into shadows, you may be able to see features, but your camera will reproduce a lot of dark stuff. In these cases, it helps to …

Know where the sun is.
The easiest way to flatter your subject is to put it in the best light. If you want your subjects’ faces to shine, turn them so the sun is shining on their faces. If you want your photo of your cruise ship to look like the brochures, take the photo on the sunny side of the ship. Alternately, if you want to catch the glistening of light on the ocean, take the photo when the sun is low enough to bounce off the waves.

Consider the time of day.
This is a fairly simple story — there’s no time like sunrise or sunset to take compelling, interesting and even stunning travel photos. Sunrise in particular can produce very striking images, in part because most people are not awake at the crack of dawn, and so can still be surprised by a sunrise photo.

Turn the camera on its side.
In some situations, turning the camera on its side to take a vertical shot is just not good composition, it is almost essential — when taking a photo of Auckland’s Sky Tower, for example. But taking vertical shots also has an added benefit: it will enhance the interest of your overall photo collection considerably, adding geometrical variety as folks flip through your vacation slideshow.

Fill the frame.
When giving instructions to new photographer hires, I always tell them that the interesting parts of the scene should start at the left edge of the viewfinder and end at the right edge. That is, the subject should absolutely fill the frame such that the edges of the photo will include as little superfluous imagery and information as possible.

I find this tactic offers a couple of distinct advantages. First, the intended subject of your photo is absolutely clear to anyone who sees the photo. And second, the photo becomes a thing apart from how we usually see the world, which is more or less in 180-degree panorama thanks to our peripheral vision. A photograph can isolate and amplify our experience, which turns out to be one of the attractions of travel itself, as well.

Divide the scene into threes.
india woman doorway blue turquoiseIf you put something right in the middle of the frame, the photo is about that thing. Another great tactic for creating visual interest in a somewhat routine shot is to frame the shot such that your subject is not in the dead middle of the photo, but is placed off-center in the frame. An easy way to think about this is mentally to divide the frame into three sections (left, center and right), and put the main subject of the photo either entirely within the left or right section, or perhaps right on the line dividing two sections.

How to choose on which side to put the subject? This is easy — put it on the side that has the least background interest in the overall frame. This way, the viewer can be tricked into thinking you took a photo of both the subject and the background activities, with equal emphasis on both.

When combined with the tactic of taking a vertical shot, this can be very powerful — a vertical shot with the subject 1/3 of the way from either edge is one of the easiest ways to compose a compelling photo with minimal effort.

You can also divide the photo vertically into threes as well so that you have a grid of nine squares total to work with. This tactic has a name, long called the Rule of Thirds.

When taking a photo of a person, emphasize the person.
When taking photos of traveling companions, it is easy to prop them up in front of something interesting and then take the picture. If you go to some effort to get the attraction behind them, but cut off the top of someone’s head, or include a sloppy untucked shirt, or cut the photo off at someone’s socks, you have a good photo of the sight and a terrible photo of your friends. In this case, frame them first and then worry about the background.

Move.
I find that very often a decent photo could have been a great photo if I had just moved a little bit, whether to reframe the photo slightly, or to put something interesting into the background. This can involve moving a few steps forward or back, shifting to one side or the other, or crouching down. As a photographer, you have much more control over what you are doing and where you are standing than you do over the subject matter; if you just stand lead-footed in one spot, your photos will reflect this.

Zoom in and out until you like what you see.
If your camera has a zoom feature, and most do these days, you can help yourself to “move” by zooming in and out on your subject. I find that when you do this, at the point the scene becomes most interesting, your eye will notice it — that is, you’ll just like it more intuitively. That’s when you take the shot.

Pay the most attention to the edges and corners.
A great photo is as often defined by what is left in as by what is left out. You have considerable control here, and while it is normal human behavior to look directly and in a concentrated way at the things that interest us most, the camera behaves otherwise.

Very often you can take a photo that seems like it might turn out extremely well, but when you see the print of a photo, your friend is a speck in the middle of a nondescript background. Take all that stuff out, and you have a great photo.

In the same way, if you zoom in very closely on someone’s face, and cut out the monkey standing on her head, you missed the shot.

When zooming in and out, or moving around while looking through the viewfinder or at the screen to frame your photo, the first thing to scan is the sides and corners of the visible area. Is there anything of interest there? If not, consider moving again, changing the zoom, or tilting the camera up, down or to one side. When everything seems to fall into place, fire away.

At familiar sites, emphasize something other than the subject.
eiffel towerIf you are photographing the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Mount Rushmore or any other frequently photographed site, you would often do better to buy a nice calendar than take yet another point-and-shoot photo that will just take up space on your hard drive until it crashes.

But if you make it a photo about something else — your companion’s goofy hat with the Eiffel Tower in the background, or a bobby in front of the Houses of Parliament, or a motorcycle gang parked in front of Mount Rushmore — then you have a great photo.

Take control.
When I take photos of people, almost invariably they try to set up the shot themselves, arranging themselves and companions in a way that they think might make a good picture. And as often as not, they arrange themselves such that I would be shooting straight into the sun, or with half of the group in shadows, or with one person almost completely obscured by another person. None of these will make for good photos. You’re the one with the camera — you set up the shot.

Look, then think, before you shoot.
Before taking a photo, if you just take a quick look at your surroundings, and give yourself a second to think about anything interesting that might be happening, you will get a much higher percentage of interesting photos than if you simply pull your camera to your eye and snap without planning what you want to capture.

Try to take photos where you didn’t “have to be there.”
If you want to take a great photo and not merely a snapshot of your traveling companions in a certain location, think about how a complete stranger would react to seeing your picture. Photos that are thereby intrinsically interesting will enhance and retain their interest to you as well.

Use your sense of humor.
Do not underestimate the value of capturing or expressing a little humor when taking travel photos. Travel is usually as much about how we felt and thought while traveling, not just where we went, and photos that capture some humor often bring back the strongest memories and sensations as time goes by.

Use a good printing company (or printer if you print your own).
Ansel Adams compared photography to a piece of music, stating that “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance.” Clearly most folks no longer deal with film negatives, but if we let the digital file replace the negative, Adams’s truism still stands up. If you take a great photo but the print is washed out, grainy or otherwise sub-par, it doesn’t matter if the composition is great — the performance was not.

Tips For Traveling with Pets

Traveling with pets is a growing trend, but even the most precious pet does not necessarily a good traveler make. Whether or not you bring your pet along for the trip is not so much a question of “can you?” but a question of “should you?”

golden retriever puppy looking out car window
No one knows your pet better than you, so no one is more qualified to answer that all-important question. If the answer is a resounding yes, keep reading — we’ve compiled a list of tips and resources for all you pet lovers who can’t bear to leave their furry friends behind.

General Pet Travel Tips

Check whether pets are allowed. Many destinations don’t permit easy entrance for pets. Hawaii, for instance, has a quarantine period for dogs and cats of up to 120 days, as Hawaii is free of rabies. However, dogs and cats meeting specific pre-arrival requirements may qualify for a quarantine of five days or less, or even a direct release, at Honolulu International Airport after inspection.

Don’t underestimate the cost. Between crates, air and hotel surcharges, toys, extra food, unexpected vet bills away from home, and more, traveling with your pet can add up. Be aware of the costs and allow a little wiggle room in your budget. (Our Travel Budget Calculator can help you estimate your expenses.)

Use proper identification. Put a tag on your pet’s collar that includes rabies vaccination information, your name, your address and phone number, and local contact numbers. It could save your pet’s life.

Train your pet. A pet that responds to your commands will save you considerable trouble while on the road. From the airport to the hotel, a pet that is friendly and obedient is the most pleasant traveling companion.

Learn about your pet’s health. Knowing a little about your pet’s normal temperature, pulse and respiratory rate, prescription medications, and other health issues can save you time, worry and money on the road. Consult your vet, and make a checklist of these issues.

Bring a pet first-aid kit. A pet thermometer, tweezers, gauze, antibiotic ointments, ear drops and other items available at most stores will work; consult your vet for a complete list.

Buy a crate. A pet crate is not something to skimp on. It should be sturdy and correctly sized for your pet. A crate that is too small will be very uncomfortable; a crate that is too large could allow your pet to be tossed around during handling. If you’re bringing the animal on a plane, be sure to read your airline’s requirements regarding crate size, weight, material and design. Airline-approved crates must have ventilation on the sides (in addition to the door) and have food/water trays that are refillable from the outside in the case of a delay.

Most crates come with stickers indicating that an animal is inside. If your pet is house-trained, consider putting a blanket, liner or cushion in the crate for comfort. If she’s not house-trained, a clean carrier floor is best.

Crate train your pet. A long flight or a lonely hotel room should not be the place your pet becomes acquainted with a traveling crate. Buy your crate well before traveling, and work with your pet until he’s familiar and comfortable in the crate. Normal training techniques should work, such as the use of food, praise and other incentives to get your pet used to staying in the crate.

Car Travel Tips

Don’t leave your pet unattended. This is one of the great “don’ts” of pet ownership. Even when temperatures are mild, a car can get dangerously hot or cold. In most situations, you are putting your pet at risk by leaving her alone in a car.

Some other don’ts: Don’t let your pet hang his head out the window. Don’t leave your pet loose in the vehicle; use a leash tied to a seat or a stable crate. And don’t let your pet ride in the passenger seat. It’s dangerous for the animal and potentially distracting for you as a driver.

Walk your pet frequently. Plan to stop the car on a regular basis. Many pets love to get out and explore, and they may need to be taken outside to relieve themselves more often while traveling than at home.

Provide adequate food and water. You should always keep food and water with you in the car — the heat of the vehicle, the stress of traveling and your pet’s excitement often cause increased thirst.

Fend off carsickness. Pets are as prone to carsickness as humans, if not more so. Partially open windows and frequent walks help, and there are many remedies available from pet stores and vets as well. Consult your vet for more information.

dog and cat in hotel room
Pet Hotel Tips

Find pet-friendly hotels. Many hotels gladly accept pets, such as Kimpton and La Quinta Inn & Suites. Find a list of additional pet-friendly properties at PetsWelcome.com, BringFido.com, Pet-Friendly-Hotels.net and PetFriendly.ca.

Stay on a lower floor. It’s far easier to get your pet in and out of a hotel without incident if you are on the ground floor — no elevators, stairs or altercations with other guests.

Keep your pet clean. Wipe mud, dirt and water off your pet’s fur before bringing her back into the hotel. If your pet stains the hotel’s carpet or linens, you might have to pay for cleaning or replacement costs.

Keep your pet in a crate. Hotel employees, neighbors and your pet are probably best served by this step. Your pet can relax in familiar surroundings, the room stays clean and you can relax as well. Don’t leave your pet loose and unattended.

Use the “do not disturb” sign. If you do have to leave your pet in your room, put the “do not disturb” sign on the door so hotel employees don’t enter and become frightened — or get accosted — by your pet.

Walk your pet in approved areas. Ask hotel management where they would prefer that you walk your pet.

Consider a vacation rental. If you’re having trouble finding pet-friendly hotels in your destination, consider a vacation rental through a site such as Airbnb or FlipKey; some owners allow pets.

Flying with Pets

Consult your vet. Many pets are simply not suited to air travel due to health, age or breed concerns. (Breeds that have restricted breathing, including short-nosed dogs such as Boston terriers and bulldogs, as well as Persian cats, are considered at risk when flying.) Animals under 8 – 12 weeks, or older than 10 years, might not be physically prepared for the stress of air travel.

Get the required documentation. You need a health certificate if you want to get your pet on an airplane, usually issued within 10 days of your flight. Most veterinarians can supply you with everything you’ll need. If you’re on the road and your pet gets into a fight or bites someone, you’ll want documentation that the pet has had rabies and other vaccinations.

Know your airline. Keep in mind that the airline you booked with may not be the airline you’re actually flying for all legs of your trip. Melissa Halliburton, founder of BringFido.com, notes that codeshare partners do not always have the same requirements for traveling pets, so you’ll want to double-check with each carrier.

Carry your pet on the plane. If your pet is small enough (typically about 10 pounds or less), your airline may permit you to bring him into the cabin. (Fees apply.) This is typically safer than checking your pet’s carrier and having him fly in the cargo hold. Remember that many people are allergic to pet hair or simply do not care to be forced to deal with an animal during a flight. Be considerate and keep your pet in his carrier for the duration of the flight.

Watch the temperature range. Airlines generally will not transport checked pets if the temperature is below 45 degrees or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, it is best to travel early in the day during the summer, and at midday during the winter.

Purchase nonstop or direct flights. Your pet is at the most risk for mishandling during connections, especially tight connections. A direct or nonstop flight is your best safeguard against these types of problems.

Feed with caution before flying. Avoid feeding your pet large meals before flights. A small meal will stave off hunger, and you can feed your pet again at your destination.

Walk your pet. Imagine if you had to be inside a cargo hold with no bathroom for a long flight. Your pet will be most comfortable if you take him out as close to flight time as possible. (As a bonus, exercise can also help tire your pet out so he’ll sleep better on the plane.) Similarly, walk your pet immediately upon arrival.

Get to the airport early. Arrive well in advance of your flight to allow time for any necessary special handling by the airline and for a last-minute walk. Your pet may also need a little extra TLC if he’s nervous or afraid when flying.

Administer drugs with caution. Sedatives for pet air travel create risks for some animals, including difficulties at high altitudes, and are not recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Consult your vet. If you decide to give your pet a sedative, the timing and dosage are critical. Bring your veterinarian’s instructions with you to the airport.

cat in crate
Prepare the crate. Colorful, large, easy-to-read labels and sufficient water and food are essential for your pet’s well-being. Some travelers label crates with their pet’s name, and you should always make sure that your pet, as well as her crate, has identifying information — such as a baggage address label and a name tag on the animal’s collar including your contact information both at home and at your destination.