Preparation and Planning … And a Great Review of our Exhibition…
We were tickled pink at the full-page review of our current exhibition by a well-known art columnist in the Research Triangle, Blue Greenberg. She really “got” the exhibit and wrote an in-depth article on it.The show runs through March 2, not the 9th as originally scheduled.
In addition, we were featured in the Arts calendar section of Indy Week this week with two photographs and the coveted Indypick notation.
This blog was inspired by a request from one of our alumnae, Benita Mayo, who has now traveled with us several times and will be doing so again this summer.
Arnie and I have done a ton of traveling over the years, and we have managed to dodge most travel hazards. Most of our success is due to years of experience, listening to others’ tales of woe, using good-old-fashioned common sense, and trusting our gut instincts.
Winter is a time when many people slip away to warmer climates or perhaps to the mountains for skiing. But photographers such as Arnie and I travel year-round. Many of you are also seasoned travelers, but hopefully in this series, you will pick up a hint or two or be reminded of things you knew and had let slip to the back of your brain. I am going to try to divvy it up into sections, Preparation & Planning, Getting There/Back & Transportation, Traveling with Photo Equipment, On the Road, and perhaps Other.
Guide books are heavy, and with increasingly limited weight ceilings for baggage, especially in other countries, it makes sense to download your favorite guide book(s) onto your smart phone or tablet. You will have all the information at your finger tips, and you can bookmark pages as you work out your itinerary or wish list of things to do or see. When selecting a book or books, consider the type of travel you want to do. Some people like to travel with the crowd and go to all the popular spots.
I prefer to travel off the beaten track, away from the madding crowd, so I prefer resources such as the Lonely Planet guides. They also have city guides and pocket-size translation/dictionary books. I have dozens of their books, many of them now on my iPad. This is not to say that there aren’t many other excellent guide books out there, so stop by your favorite bookstore and peruse the various offerings to see what works for you. This is not a place to scrimp. Your trip is worth it. You may want to indulge in one, two, or event three books. After all, you may not have the opportunity of returning to that destination, and you will want to get as much out of it as possible.
Remember, TripAdvisor is a great resource. Look at the overall reviews of a location, hotel, etc., not one bad review in a sea of many really good ones or three excellent reviews out of a mere puddle of three or four.
I have been a member of AAA (American Automobile Association) for decades and have taken advantage of the reciprocity it has with many clubs in other countries. I started out using AAA extensively in the 80s and 90s in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, and since those days, the organization has vastly expanded the numbers of clubs with which it enjoys some sort of reciprocity.
I am a AAA Plus member, so all my maps and books are included in my annual dues. When I go to the UK, for example, as long as I bring my card, I enjoy the same benefits. Check with your local club, however, as different countries offer different levels of reciprocity, and I am sure that from year to year, they change. I also take along the address of the club in the country/countries I am visiting, or I write ahead and ask for materials or sign in to their websites.
Many people will say, “Ah, but I have GPS.” True, but it is really difficult to see the large, overall picture of an area on a Garmin or other GPS device. When Arnie and I travel within the US, we not only have HAL (our Garmin), but we have road atlases and maps that have been invaluable over the years when we want to explore a different area or take a different route for any number of reasons.
Overseas, we do the same. I have road atlases that are old friends, extensively marked with great places to stop, views, scenic byways, etc., as well as places and/or roads to avoid.
Car Rental (not to be confused with transportation on the road)
Renting a car can be an expensive proposition wherever you travel. Now, there are many web sites that offer comparison shopping. KAYAK is one that rises to the top of the search list. I often use Travelocity, as I like their customer service. Everyone has his or her preferences here.
Overseas, consider as another resource SiXT that is a long-established company and offers great rates on car and van rentals.
Airlines (not to be confused with transportation on the road)
Again, most of you take advantage of comparison websites to choose your airlines and airfare. Frequent Flyer aficionados can often get a great deal if they plan early enough. One Another advantage of booking early is to select and actually have a good chance of getting the seats you want. Arnie always likes an aisle, while I choose a window. We try to reserve those, even if there is a seat between. It helps that we have different last names, so the airlines are not as inclined to be “helpful” and put us together. Even today, we are often lucky and have the in-between seat vacant, but that is never a guarantee.
These days, if there are connecting flights, it is probably wiser to allow yourself adequate time between flights in case your first one gets delayed. Arnie and I have made more than one mad dash to the next flight at the opposite end of the airport (always the case, it seems). When we were active in the commercial world of photography, we often had no choice, as our clients had us tightly scheduled. Now, we try to be kinder to ourselves, although it isn’t often possible when trying to keep costs down.
I also use an old-fashioned travel agent. They have not gone the way of the Dodo, and they can be particularly invaluable when you are already on the road and need something changed. Paula Jaye of Largay Travel is the person we use, although not for car rentals.
Travel insurance can be a really good investment. If you get sick, or there are delays or cancellations beyond your control and not entirely covered by the airlines, or ships, or trains, etc., travel insurance may be your best friend. Many also offer evacuation insurance if you get sick overseas or in some hard-to-reach location.
Top Ten Reviews currently lists Travel Safe as its Number One pick by quite a bit, so check it out. The comment on Top Ten’s site, “TravelSafe Vacation Plan travel insurance is well worth its premium … It costs more than comparable policies from competitors but provides more generous benefits in most categories.”
For a less-expensive option, you may want to consider Travelex that gets a Superior A+ rating when they use Old Republic Insurance Company), but there are several others that also get excellent reviews by Squaremouth, one of the trusted reviewers in the industry. When you look at the Squaremouth ratings, also pay attention to the Outlook. One of the companies with a Superior rating gets a Negative outlook!
Squaremouth is also a good resource for explaining the ins and outs of travel and cancellation insurances. Whichever company you choose, keep in mind that you should buy your insurance 7-21 days after paying for the trip. After 21 days, the costs tend to go up.
Make sure that the company you select offers insurance for your destinations! Sounds silly, but, for example, we are headed to Cuba later this month, and not all companies offer trip/cancellation insurance there.
When traveling out of the country, it is always good to check eight to ten weeks ahead and make sure your passport is not going to expire at an inconvenient moment, i.e. just before your departure or during your time out of the country. Never cut it too close in case you get delayed in your travels. And remember, the Passport service can take four to six weeks to process your application, sometimes longer. We have been lucky and had our passports back in a shorter time, but that should be considered the exception rather than the rule.
Make three copies of the following documents in case of theft:
- Your passport ID page;
- Passport “mug shots” (remember, they come in pairs);
- Birth certificate or similar proof of citizenship;
- Prescriptions (yes, the actual piece of paper your doctor scrawled on for you to take to your pharmacy);
- List of over-the-counter medications and vitamins;
- Model numbers and serial numbers of all your electronics;
- Your itinerary; and
- Emergency contacts, including family and medical.
The first three should be individual copies, while the last five items can be combined and printed back to back to save on paper.
Where to put them:
- Put one in your carry-on luggage, but not in the same bag as your passport;
- Carry one on your person;
- Leave one at home with a trusted family member or friend who can be easily contacted, i.e., don’t give it to someone who travels as much as you; and
- Put a PDF copy on your smart phone or tablet, if you have one and are bringing it/them.
With shrinking weight limits, it is wise to look at your suitcase, duffel bag, and backpack or briefcase. There are newer, lightweight-yet-strong materials that you might consider. When you are traveling, less weight is easier on you, whether on your back or shoulder, or towed beside or behind you. There are times when the escalator does not work or there are no elevators. Keep that in mind, especially for travel outside the United States.
There is an old adage, “Take half the clothes and twice the money.” Most people pack too many clothes, clothes that never leave the suitcase. Look for lightweight, wrinkle-resistant clothing that you can mix and match for different looks each day. Anybody who knows me knows that Arnie did not marry a fashionista. That said, I do like to be clean and look presentable.
Drip-dry clothing works well. Anything that can be layered for warmth without creating bulk works well.
I pack a bungee-cord-type clothes line that I can hook in the shower, across a narrow terrace, between two chairs, etc., so we can do laundry on the road. Rather than pack laundry soap, I pack Prell, good-old, plain-Jane Prell. No additives. If you get a stain, Prell most likely will get it out, and a little bit goes a long way in the sink, my washing machine of choice while traveling.
Some hotels have laundry service, and that is great. Check first, as the cost may be well worth it for you. Sometimes, one has the time to find and cope with a laundromat. We rarely do, and hardly ever overseas. So for us, it’s Prell and the sink.
Ziploc bags or the like … never leave home without them. I use small, cheaper-cheaper quality sandwich bags to sort what jewelry I bring. Quart-sized ones can be filled with toiletries, medications, and over-the-counter items. Check with the country/ies to which you will be traveling, as some require that prescriptions travel in their original container. If that is the case, have your pharmacist give you a smaller container that will hold what you need for your trip plus some extras in case of delays. I like to add another week’s worth for safety.
Net bags can be used in place of a dob kit.
Some people use a washcloth. I do and put one in a Ziploc bag, since many foreign hotels do not supply them.
Hangers are something that are often in short supply on the road. I bring a few lightweight ones, not only for drying clothes, but for keeping somewhat wrinkle free when we stop at a hotel or inn.
For those ladies who do their own nails, there are packets of nail polish remover so you don’t need to carry the liquid version that is bound to leak.
Tripods are critical to our photography. We remove the ball heads and pack the tripods themselves in the checked bag(s). There are smaller, lighter tripods, but unless they truly support your camera and heaviest lens, you might as well not bother. Better to bring a sturdy monopod with your trusty ball head. As Arnie says, if you flick one tripod leg and the others vibrate, your tripod is not a good one.
Photo equipment is a personal choice. There is a photographer’s axiom that whatever lens you don’t bring or have is the one you want and need. That said, one has to be practical. Before your trip, try photographing a day or two with a certain, pared-down combination and see how it goes. If that doesn’t work, try another combination. Your test locations should be the same in each case and should include landscapes, cityscapes, low-light situations, and close-ups.
Some people are traveling with photo vests to distribute the weight on their bodies rather than in a case that might be weighed and found too heavy.
Different countries have different plugs. These days, there are some great adapters that are not the heavy behemoths of years past. First, however, you need to check on the parameters for the country/ies you are visiting. We have several useful links on our Resources List page. Just scroll down to Electricity Here and Abroad. Then run a search and see what makes sense for you depending upon your frequency and variety of travel.
Different carriers have different options. Check them out carefully and weigh them against buying a cell phone in your destination country. Another choice is to buy a refillable phone card, used much as a credit card. You pay up front and replenish when needed.
Many of us think that credit cards are the easy way to go, but beware, as many charge double fees overseas. They charge one fee for a foreign charge, and another conversion fee. One credit card company that is perennially touted for not doing this is Capital One (Visa). Also know that in many countries, American Express is not widely accepted. We have found Visa to be the most widely accepted card.
Next: More Travel Tips – Getting There/Back & Transportation
Now, sit back, and enjoy planning your next trip.
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