Oct 28

What I should have packed – Galapagos Islands

The more I travel, the more I find packing to be an unfortunate and inconvenient chore. Subsequently, on my trip to the Galapagos Islands, I did a really lousy job packing. I’ll also blame the weather predictions I read about that were WRONG!

I’ll explain the weather first. The weather in Quito was forecast to be in the lower 60s and raining everyday. It NEVER rained and, I think, because of the altitude and dry conditions the temperature felt 5-10 degrees warmer.  The forecast in the Galapagos I only got for one island, Santa Cruz, and it would be in the mid 70s and foggy everyday.  The temperatures were probably in the mid 70s to lower 80s and really humid with very little fog.  Of course the forecast matched the information I read about the weather during September so I thought it would be a good gauge for packing.

So here is what I should have packed for a 7 day Galapagos Cruise:

(some of this I did actually bring and found useful)

2 pairs of shorts (preferably quick drying)

Or 1 pair of shorts and a pair of zip off pants

2-3 short sleeve shirts to wear during the day

2-3 short sleeve shirts to wear at night

LOTS of sunscreen

Bug spray (a small amount)

Sneakers/Hiking boots

Athletic sandals

Flip flops

2 Bathing suits

1 pair confortable pants or jeans

1 Sweatshirt

Hat (I didn’t wear one but most people would like a hat)

Camera with zoom lens and lots of memory

A few packaged snacks – you cannot bring organics into the Galapagos Islands and there isn’t much opportunity to purchase once on the islands.

One thing of note is that due to the humidity and the fact that you’re on a boat surrounded by water, nothing fully dries. Most of the boats seemed to have a laundry line on the top and clothing got 95% dry very quickly. But it’s best to bring things that dry quickly, you’ll get wet on the zodiacs and it’s nice for your clothes to dry in minutes. I would not bring jeans to wear during the day, only at night when lounging around. They’ll take too long to dry and aren’t practical if you have a “wet” landing (climbing into the ocean at the beach instead of from the boat to land)

Oct 21

Three Phones in the Galapagos Islands

While traveling to the Galapagos Island I traveled with not 1 or 2, but 3 different cell phones. I like to be prepared. But the results of how well they worked were a bit surprising and I thought worthy of writing a post about them. As a point of reference I was on a G Adventures tour on the Monserrat in September of 2015.

The three phones:
iPhone 6 Plus on the AT&T Network with International Plan

iPhone 4s with local Claro plan for Ecuador

FullSizeRenderBlackberry Bold on the Verizon Network with International Plan

FullSizeRender (1)

Overall data service in the Galapagos Islands was severely lacking, often relying on the Edge Network. The first half of my trip was a “Southern Galapagos” itinerary and had a decent level of coverage. The second half of the trip was “Western Galapagos” and had very little cell coverage. We landed on Baltra, which did show a signal, but it was extremely weak. In Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island we had the strongest signal for our whole trip. The Island of Isabel had some weak service. Other than that, there was little to know service while in the Galapagos, just occasional spotty service. I would usually check my phones at night or in the morning when we were stopped and I think the longest I went with absolutely no coverage was around 24-28 hours.

iPhone 6 Plus:
The international plan I had included unlimited texts and 120 mb of data. I turned the data off for all of my applications to keep from accidentally using the data, this kept me to using only about 30 mb of data during my almost 2 weeks in Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands. While in the Galapagos Islands I was never able to send a text with a photo. If I had 3 or more bars of cell coverage, I was able to send texts with only words. That only happened a few times.

iPhone 4s:
At some point late in the trip my service plan ran out, that also corresponded with the period of the least internet service. But it didn’t really matter, I never used the phone for texts and outside of Puerto Ayora, it never downloaded emails, or worked on Facebook. It might have worked once with the Twitter app.

Blackberry Bold:
I only used my blackberry for email and if there was a cell signal, it would send and receive emails, including emails with smaller pictures. Aside from the 24-28 hour gap with no service, it usually worked when I checked emails in the morning and at night, though not every time, but at least one a day.

When you leave for the Galapagos, let everyone know they might not hear from you. But, if you NEED to keep in contact with the outside world, take a Blackberry, it’s your best chance.

Happy Travels!

Dec 10

Review: Borrow Lenses – Camera lens rental

A few months ago I recommended Borrow Lenses as a good service for trying out new lenses, or renting a lens for a trip.  This past May I finally had a reason to use the service to rent a lens for my south Africa trip.
I rented a Canon 28-300 for almost 3 weeks and paid around $275 for the rental, shipping and insurance.
Once you choose your lens on the Borrow Lenses site and make your reservation you will receive a confirmation.  If you are requesting a high end or specialty lens that they may not have a lot of stock of, I highly recommend reserving the lens in advance. I did not experience any issues, but I have occasionally seen that there would be a waiting period for specific lenses.

On the designated day of delivery the lens should be delivered (it must be signed for). I gave myself a one and a half day buffer for delivery. This gave me extra time to get familiar with the lens and also an extra day in case the lens got delayed in shipping. I am happy to report my lens did arrive on time.

The packaging was very well padded, reusable and included instructions for my lens (it’s a push/pull lens) and rental.  When I returned from my trip I packed up my lens in the same box I had used and dropped it off at a Fed Ex shipping center, got a receipt and a few hours later received confirmation from Borrow Lenses that I had met the requirements of the agreement.

The hardest part was getting myself out of the house to drop the lens off at a Fed Ex center.
As for the lens, I loved it! There were a few times that I wanted more zoom, but there were some times I was glad it went so wide too.  No lens is perfect, but this was a great range for my 2 days of Safari.

Oct 29

Camera Equipment on Safari

Being an amateur photographer on a photography tour I gave a lot of thought, and spoke to a lot of people about what to bring on my South Africa tour.  I also looked at several websites that recommended taking a lens as short as 300mm to a 500mm fixed lens. I will break this post up into 2 parts – the casual photographer and the amateur photographer. If you’re a professional photographer, comment with your own suggestions.

Other Camera Gear:
Tripods are not really necessary on Safari, but if you have one I suggest bringing it.  A tripod with only one leg extended can operate as a monopod, which I do suggest bringing.
Monopod – essentially a one legged tripod, these are great for sports photography and wildlife as they allow you to hold your camera steadier.  They move more quickly and easily than a tripod and pan better too.  If you need to adjust heights, they are easier than a tripod since there is only one leg.  The only downside to a monopod is that they rarely have functionality for portrait orientation photos.

Beanbag – I heard this suggested and almost bought one myself.  A beanbag is used to steady your camera for a shot and can lay on safari seats, doors and windows. In the safari vehicles we were in the walls were so low that this wasn’t a great option. One guy had one and I never saw him use it.  Cheaper alternatives to this would be to use anything with a rice or small beading material in it – a neck pillow, heated neck thingies – they can all accomplish the task.

Casual Photographer:
Your iPhone/Android/Google Phone will not do the trick. Once in a while the animals will be close enough to get a decent photo with your phone, in those cases, bring out your phone and get a selfie to impress your friends at home. Otherwise, you’ll need more power than that.

Point and shoots – better than using your phone, but if there is only a 3x or 4x zoom, you’re only doing a little better than your phone, though every little bit helps.  I do not suggest using the digital zoom, this only does the same thing as cropping into a picture, it’s not actually zooming the physical lens.  Unless you need to do it to see what is in the picture, stick with the camera’s zoom and crop the picture when you get home.

If you can get your hands on a point and shoot in the 10X zoom range you’ll do well.

Borrow a friend’s DSLR, or rent one for the trip.  The 18-55 lens wont help you much, but many owners of DSLR’s have the 55-200/250 lens – this lens will be adequate for the casual photographer. If you’re renting a DSLR and want to keep costs down, the 18-200 lens is a great option for your entire trip. I’ll outline more lens options in the amateur photographer section.

Amateur Photographer:
This section assumes you have a DSLR or similar type of camera.
-I brought a 28-300mm lens, several other people had 105-500 lenses and one girl had a 70-200 lens.  Unless you’re bringing two camera bodies or can quickly change lenses I would lean towards the 28-300 lens with the 105-500 mm lens a close second (and cheaper option).
-The 70-200 lens is a good option that some amateur photographers own, they usually do well in low light, assuming you have an f2.7), but even with short days of sunlight, I didn’t find light to be too much of an issue – either you can see the animals or you can’t.  200mm is often not quite enough so if you’re bringing this lens I would recommend looking into a teleconverter.
-28-300 lens – I suck at switching lenses and have a paranoia about it since I got dust on the sensor of a brand new camera on the second day of a trip and it had to be professionally cleaned after I got home.  This lens was the perfection option for me.  300 mm was enough local length for 95% of my shots, and I never had an issue of the animal being to close to me, like the people with the 105-500 lens did.
-105-500 lens – Like I said in reference to the 28-300 lens, this lenses shortcoming is that you may find yourself too close to an animal.  In fairness, that won’t happen often, but you should be prepared with another option if that is the case. A point and shoot, phone camera, or old DSLR body with a short lens like an 18-55mm will do the trick. Or you could just watch the animal!  Otherwise, everyone who had this lens loved it.  It’s much cheaper than the 28-300, and you can really get in close with the animals.

Fixed Lenses – Unless you will be carrying more than one camera body I wouldn’t recommend a fixed lens. They do take better quality images, but they severely limit your range and animals don’t care about you taking picture and you will miss a lot of great shots.

What lens have you taken on a Safari and how did you like it?

Jul 16

CarryOn Shame!

If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about Spud Hilton starting a new campaign to get carryon’s to meet carryon regulations – @CarryonShame

I listened to an interview (that wasn’t over edited) with him, and his heart is in the right place. He thinks that the backlash of the checked bag fees is that passengers are taking it out on each other.

The airline is making you carry your bag on, and to hell with everyone else if it means boarding takes longer and not everyone can fit their carryon on the plane, as long as I can!  With attitudes like that, the TSA isn’t the only problem with flying.

Spud is hoping to bring this issue out more and shame the airlines into enforcing their own rules (which they have started to crack down on). I know we’ve all seen those passengers with obviously too big bags and too much stuff. Lets hope his campaign works!

Oh, and one great tip he has is to take your own measuring tape when you luggage shop, apparently many bag tags lie about the size of the bag it’s attached to. WHAT? The’s BS! Maybe we should crack down on that too!

Jun 27

Leave My Undies Alone

I’m frequently listening and reading tips on packing for a trip and it never fails that I hear the recommendation to bring less underwear.  And I always wonder, what the heck is wrong with me bringing a week or two worth of underwear????

Yes, if you’re trying to squeeze into a carryon for more than a few days, yes, I could see this as a potential strategy.  But, under normal conditions, I have enough room for as many pairs of underwear as I want to bring.

Seriously… If push came to shove, I can wear a shirt more than once between washes, pants, etc.  But underwear? Things have to be REALLY bad for me to wear dirty underwear.  Which means, I need to be able to go longer with my underwear.

But then it occurred to me, I’m usually hearing this from men.  Granted, this is a bit of a generalization, but men typically have lower standards of hygiene and there underwear does take up more room than most woman’s underwear. So I can almost see where they are coming from.  It also means, I can bring as much underwear as makes me happy, so stop counting how many pairs of underwear I take!

Jan 31

USB, the new power adapter?

USBWith the growth of portable devices it seems most of the stuff we carry has a USB connector.  With that has come an increase in USB ports on trains and planes.  While my iPhones were plugged into the plane or train seats I wondered if the USB was slowly becoming the new universal power adapter?

I remember on my first trip the biggest issue was plugging in my travel hair dryer.  It was easily solved by flipping a switch to adjust the power voltage and using a plug adapter.  But now it’s more complicated.  People travel with laptops, phones, ereader, tablets, and digital cameras.  The problem is how do you charge all of these things if you only have one plug converter?

Most of these devices have USB plugs so you can either plug into a USB port or use the provided plug. New hotels are being built with lots of outlets and USB ports, making it easier.  As USB ports become more common (I did have them in one of my Australia hostels) I’m wondering if the USB port will become the new plug?  I don’t think refrigerators or stoves are changing.  But how about laptops and travel hairdryers?  How far is the USB from being able to run a laptop?  And how much will it cost for older hotels and hostels to upgrade their systems to have outlets and USB ports?

I’m sure someone with more knowledge of electric systems has the answer, but it’s fun to speculate one a little piece of how the world might change in the next 5 or 10 years.

Nov 15

Printable Packing List For Kids

tripcliplogoWhile I don’t have children of my own, I often travel with my nephews. Fortunately I’m not responsible for packing for them, my sisters do that. For the occasional traveler, packing for your kids probably makes sense.  But, if you travel a lot or would like your children to be more independent while they travel, then printable picture packing lists might be perfect for you to help them started.

There are a lot of different sites that do this, but I like The Trip Clip’s list best. They allow you to select the items you’ll need for the trip yourself.  They have a decent list of items already, but you can also add your own items, though I’m not sure they will come with pictures.

Trip Clip also has some printable games you can bring along on your trip.

Whether you use The Trip Clip (I have no affiliation with them) or another site, this idea will help get your kids involved in the tip and make them better, independent travelers.

Oct 11

Borrow Lenses

lens rental

Today’s website/service recommendation is a service I haven’t used, but am excited to try (as well as have an excuse to use).

It’s Borrowlenses.com

You’re finally taking that safari you’ve been talking about for years or going to a nighttime sporting event and the camera or lenses you have are just not good enough. And who is going to spend $2,000 on a lens they might only use a few times.  Borrowlenses is the answer.

You want that 70-200 f2,8 lens (the one I want for sports), well it’s only $82 for a one week rental.  Shipping just $25.  You have the choice of having the lens shipped to you or picking it up at a service center. When you’re done you use the included return label to send it back. They take care of the rest.


Mar 15

Do You Need More Pockets?

Several years ago I heard about a new travel product, the Scottevest, a jacket or vest with lots of pockets, ideal for travelers.  At the time the products seemed a bit pricey, but I eventually broke down and bought a jacket with detachable sleeves.

While the idea was great, the jacket didn’t quite work for me.  First, I was going to a warmish climate so a jacket wasn’t ideal.  Second, I’m not really one to wear a jacket on a plane.  Finally, I tried to stuff as much as possible into my pockets making it feel bulky.  I blame the idea of the scottevest no luggage challenge.

Bottom line, it didn’t quite work for me.  It wasn’t the fault of the jacket, just a poor choice for me.  But in my own defense, their offerings for woman back then were a little slim.

As time went on I kept looking at the woman’s line and noticed that it had improved greatly.  This winter I decided to bite the bullet and buy one of the woman’s fleeces, I chose the Chloe Hoodie.  I LOVE it!

Chloe Bling Hoodie

*It’s soft, fuzzy, and womanly.  It’s definitely designed for woman.
*I love the personal area network, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to put my headphones through the hoodie.  Usually, it’s a pain in the butt.  And it has loops that keep the headphones in place.
*Pen pockets, how many times have you been on a plane and needed a pen?  Now I don’t have to search through my bag, yea!
*Lots of pockets, but not overwhelming.  I can store my iPhone, money, blistex, sunglasses, and even a kindle.  I could probably get more then that in there too, but then I would feel loaded down.  But really, that’s enough to keep me busy.
*Thumb holes.  I haven’t used these yet, but since I’m always cold, I can see them in my future.
*Everyone compliments me on it too!

Chloe Bling Hoodie Pocket Map

Scottevest jackets, fleece, vests, and pants aren’t cheap, but they’re a good quality equal to their price. If the price scares you off, look around, Scottevest often offers 20% discounts on their merchandise.  Will I buy more?  I’ve been eyeing the pants for my next long trip; but, I would prefer to wait until they offer petite sizes.  They have said on their website they are looking into it.