Monthly Archives: August 2009

This Week in Travel – Episode 3

Posted by on August 27, 2009

The latest version of the new podcast I’m a part of: This Week In Travel. You can now subscribe on iTunes as well. The show is an hour long conversation with myself, Jen Leo of the Los Angles Times, Chris Christensen of the Amateur Traveler Podcast, and Chris Elliott of MSNBC.com and Elliott.org. This week’s topics include:

  • Arthur Fromer will not go to Arizona
  • Effects of the economy on tourism
  • Southwest to offer Wifi on flights in 2010
  • Ethical issues of visiting tribes in Thailand

Travel Gear I Have Used: Part 1, Clothing

Posted by on August 25, 2009

My original, and best pair of pants from Mountain HardWear

My original, and best pair of pants from Mountain HardWear

One of the questions I get asked all the time is what gear I used while traveling. Now with 2.5 years of travel under my belt, I think I can address what worked and what didn’t. While I didn’t carry a lot, when you don’t have much, every item has exaggerated importance.

I can only address what worked and what didn’t work for me. I began my travels with certain assumptions, some of which were proven to be true and some of which weren’t. All the items I will talk about in this series were items purchased by myself. No one sponsored any of my equipment. I say this only because I’ve been contacted by gear manufacturers and I might be doing reviews of gear provided by them in the future. If and when I start doing that, I’ll give plenty of disclosure.

Travel Clothes Philosophy

When I was getting ready to leave back in 2007 I ended up buying all new clothes for the trip. There were several things I looked for in the clothes I wanted to pack:

  • It should be lightweight
  • It should be easy to clean
  • It should be easy to dry
  • If possible, it should have more than one use

The result of this was that I didn’t pack a single item of cotton clothing. None. No cotton underwear, no cotton socks, no jeans, no cotton t-shirts. The result of this decision was mixed. Cotton clothing takes much longer to dry. When you don’t have a lot of clothes, you have to do laundry more frequently. Drying times becomes very important. Also, if you are in tropical climates, a cotton shirt will absorb more sweat and stink much faster. On the other hand, cotton clothing is more comfortable. There were times I wish I had a pair of jeans I could wear and laundry wouldn’t be that big of a deal if I only wore them one or two days a week. Likewise, a cotton, button up shirt would have been worth bringing if only to wear occasionally.

Pants

In two and a half years I wore a total of three pair of pants. Two of them I purchased at the start of the trip and the third I purchased in Sydney, Australia. (In fact I wrote an article in Australia about getting a new pair of pants). All of the pants I wore had zip off legs and converted to shorts, meeting the more than one use criteria I had. I have heard some people dis on these pants, but after wearing them for over two years, I have no problems and would buy them again. Depending on where I was and the time of year, I would take the legs on or off.

Two of the three pair were from North Face and the other pair was from Mountain Hardwear. Both of the North Face pants ended up ripping in the crotch. The Mountain Hardwear had some rips in the pockets (which I always had filled with stuff) but otherwise stayed totally intact. The Mountain Hardware pants also were more comfortable as they had a felt layer inside around the waist. The Mountain Hardware pants were more expensive, but in the end it was well worth it. I’ll be buying another pair of Mountain Hardwear pants and I will not buy North Face pants again.

Underwear

People don’t like to talk about it, but underwear are a critical item. One could make an argument that they are among the most important items you pack. If there is one item I recommend more than any other it is ExOfficio underwear. I had four pair of ExOfficio boxer briefs and they held up just fine. I’m still wearing them (as I type this in fact). They are lightweight, odor resistant, quick drying and I even used them as my swimming trunks for the entire trip. When I went SCUBA diving, I just stripped down to my underwear and jumped in the water. At $25 per pair they are more expensive than most underwear, but they last forever and are the perfect travel clothing.

Shirts

I purchased several t-shirts and button up shirts and ended up sending several of them back home because I brought too many. In the end I had 3 short sleeve t-shirts, 1 long sleeve t-shirt, 2 short sleeve button-up shirts, and 1 long sleeve button-up shirt. There was nothing special about any of the shirts. I have some North Face, Mountain Hardwear and Colombia brand shirts, but none of them were so great as to stick out in my mind. In the future I’ll throw a cotton shirt into the mix so I can wear something different once in a while. The most useful item was probably the long sleeve t-shirt, which was perfect for cool weather.

The biggest problem I had was with cold weather. I experienced cold weather several times on my trip in Tasmania, New Zealand, Egypt and South Korea. I didn’t plan for cold weather, so when I encountered it, I had to throw on everything I owned. I had one sweatshirt in addition to what I listed above and a rain jacket. Bringing a bright orange sweatshirt was a HUGE mistake. I would have been better off with a sweater or a neutral colored sweatshirt. I really stood out when I wore it, and you don’t really want to stand out. I will be leaving it at home on my future travels.

Next: Part 2, shoes and accessories

Coming Home After 27 Months Around The World

Posted by on August 23, 2009

Signs welcoming me home

Signs welcoming me home

I’ve been in Wisconsin now for several weeks. I had expected to have some sort of difficulty adjusting to live back in the US, but the truth is, I’ve managed to take everything in stride.

When i got off the bus from Chicago my mom, my aunts, nieces, nephews and even my 88 year old grandmother were waiting for me at the bus station with signs saying “welcome home”. It was more than I had expected, which honestly was nothing. I wasn’t really sure how to react because in the space of a few seconds I went from not having seen my family in years to having them all around me.

My niece Courtney went through a large growth spurt while I was away and looks totally different. My grandmother had a health scare the previous month and I was glad to be able to see her again. My parents seem the same as they ever were.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I didn’t suffer from any reverse culture shock, and I’ve narrowed it down to a few things:

  • I’ve gotten used to change. I’ve been moving around so much, have been to so many places, and experienced so many different cultures that coming back to the place I was from was just another change I was able to adapt to.
  • My previous stops lessened the impact. Prior to arriving in Wisconsin I spent about two weeks in the US in New York San Diego and Chicago. Prior to that I was in the UK, and the several months before that I was in Europe. That allowed for a much easier transition than if I had flown to the US directly from the Middle East or East Asia.
  • The notion of reverse culture shock is seriously over blown. Like riding a bicycle, it isn’t that hard to adjust to something you’ve done before.

Home

Home

This post is one that many people have been waiting for me to make since I’ve arrived home, and honestly, I’ve had a difficult time trying to figure out what to say. “I’ve had no problem adjusting” really isn’t exciting and doesn’t make for an interesting story. This has been the primary cause of the lack of posts on my site since I’ve been back in the US. I didn’t want to post anything until I got this article out the door.

As I’ve been in Appleton putting off writing this post, I began to see my hometown with a brand new set of eyes. While this is the city I was born and raised, I haven’t really lived here in over 15 years. This is the longest stretch I’ve spent in the area since I graduated from college.

I was at a restaurant working on my photos with my laptop and the waitress was looking at my photos and asked me what I was doing. I gave her the 10 second version of the story about how I traveled around the world, and she asked me something rather unexpected: “what would you take photos of in Wisconsin?”. I had to think about it for a moment. I know this area like the back of my hand, but unlike anyplace I visit, I had to honestly think about what I would try photograph if I was trying to capture the essence of Wisconsin.

This started the process of trying to look at my hometown in the same way I looked at places around world that I visited. There are a significant number of people who live inside of Angkor in Cambodia. Their home is next to some of the most fantastic ruins in the world. To them it isn’t a big deal. It is something they have seen every day of their life. I began to realize just how exotic the mundane parts of life in Wisconsin would be to people from somewhere else.

My dad and my brother are both big into hunting and fishing. Staple foods at my parents house are venison, walleye, bratwurst and white bass. In August now, it is common to find sweet corn being sold at the side of the road for $3 a dozen. At a gas station near an Indian Casino I purchased a big bag of cheese curds for a similar amount.

These foods were things I never once ate anywhere else in the world. In fact, other than a package of Johnsonville brats I saw in Taipei (because I went out of my way to look for them) I didn’t even see any of those foods anywhere else. In fact, I rarely see these things for sale anywhere in the United States outside of the Upper Midwest. (note: the venison and fish aren’t sold in stores. You have to get that yourself.) The devotion for the Packers is something I have only seen one other place in the world: the devotion New Zealand has for the All Blacks.

I was also reminded of the times I spent in the Pacific describing to the locals, people who have never in the life seen snow, how ice fishing works, or the time I explained to someone in Vietnam the concept of the snowmobile. I jumped at the chance to eat spring rolls in Saigon, and the locals shrugged their shoulders. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “What do they call Chinese food in China? …Food.”

What I’ve learned from my time back in Wisconsin is that everything is exotic and nothing is exotic. What is normal to one person is bizarre and fantastic to another.

Traveling around the world just helps you realize it.

What I’ve been up to in Wisconsin

Posted by on August 13, 2009

I haven’t been posting much since I’ve arrived in Wisconsin, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. Unfortunately, the work I’ve been doing just hasn’t manifested itself on the front page of my blog yet.

1) I’ve gone through about nine months of blog posts and photos reformatting everything and removing all the links to my old, self hosted photo site. This is something which most of you will never even notice unless you are digging around the archives. This was a very tedious process, but now that it is done it will reduce my hosting fees and cost dramatically, make my site much more portable if I ever want to switch web hosting companies, and can easily move all my daily photos to a 1000 pixel wide format in the future. (this is high on my priority list).

2) I’ve finally begun processing all my photos from Europe. I’ve finished everything I took in Rome and at the Vatican and have now moved on to Florence. This too is a time consuming process, but not nearly as bad as reformatting all my old posts. You will be seeing a lot more European photos show up on the site over the next few weeks.

3) With the aid of Chris Christensen of the Amateur Traveler Podcast, we’ve launched a new weekly audio travel podcast called This Week in Travel. We just released Episode #1 this week. Take a listen:


Download the mp3

4) Meeting people. I’ve been meeting people in the Appleton area every few days, which has been enjoyable. There are a lot of people out there who dream of traveling for an extended period of time and have questions about it. I’m happy to help, especially if they are willing to buy me lunch :) I’m also speaking at the Appleton Public Library next Monday (August 17) at 6:30pm if you are in the area.

5) Planning my West Coast road trip. I’ll be leaving in early September for a two month trip through the Western United States, visiting various National Parks with a focus on photography. I’ll also be visiting the annual hot air balloon fest in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and also attend BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas. If you live out west, hopefully we can meet up when I come through your town. If anyone has suggestions for what to see on my trip, I am open to suggestions.

6) I have a ton of half written articles on my laptop. I’m waiting to finish processing my photos before I publish them. I like to integrate my photos into the articles, so I’m going to wait until everything is ready. There should be a flood of articles once I’m caught up on my photography.

I’m also going to be going on a week long cruise in early November. I was invited by Princess Cruise lines and I of course said “yes”. I’m going with Brett from Amtrekker, and we will be shooting a ton of (hopefully) entertaining video. I have never been on a cruise before, nor have I ever really considered taking one, so it should be an interesting experience. Certainly something totally different from the type of traveling I’ve been doing the last two and a half years.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #70: Historic Centre of Florence

Posted by on August 7, 2009

UNESCO World Heritage Site #70: Historic Centre of Florence

UNESCO World Heritage Site #70: Historic Centre of Florence

From the World Heritage inscription:

Built on the site of an Etruscan settlement, Florence, the symbol of the Renaissance, rose to economic and cultural pre-eminence under the Medici in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its 600 years of extraordinary artistic activity can be seen above all in the 13th-century cathedral (Santa Maria del Fiore), the Church of Santa Croce, the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace, the work of great masters such as Giotto, Brunelleschi, Botticelli and Michelangelo.

I didn’t know a lot about Florence before I arrived, other than it was the seat of the Renaissance. I found it to be my favorite city in Italy. The single most recognizable feature of the skyline is the Florence Cathedral. It was at the time of its construction the largest dome in the world. I took this photo from across the river using a zoom lens.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #69: Vatican City

Posted by on August 6, 2009

UNESCO World Heritage Site #69: Vatican City

UNESCO World Heritage Site #69: Vatican City

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Vatican City, one of the most sacred places in Christendom, attests to a great history and a formidable spiritual venture. A unique collection of artistic and architectural masterpieces lie within the boundaries of this small state. At its centre is St Peter’s Basilica, with its double colonnade and a circular piazza in front and bordered by palaces and gardens. The basilica, erected over the tomb of St Peter the Apostle, is the largest religious building in the world, the fruit of the combined genius of Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini and Maderna.

Vatican City is the only country in the world where the area of its world heritage sites is greater than the size of the country (it has locations in Rome which it controls). The photo above is of St. Peter’s Square taken from atop the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Backing up your photos on the road

Posted by on August 5, 2009

My storage solution while Im on the road: Mr Blue and Mr Red

My storage solution while I’m on the road: Mr Blue and Mr Red

Over the last several days I’ve been going through packages of DVDs and hard drives I shipped home from the road with copies of my photos. After many hours I have finally assembled all my photos together and have created identical copies on two, 1 terabyte hard drives. Despite all the overseas shipments, the half assed storage solutions, and damaged DVDs, I have lost only about a dozen of the tens of thousands of photos I’ve taken over the last two and a half years. I consider myself pretty lucky.

The last time I touched on this subject was over a year ago when I was in Australia. The issue of what to do with my photos while I was on the road is something that I have been struggling with since I began my traveling. Much of the advice I have on this subject come more from the what not to do category, than the what to do category.

I have many people who write me asking what they should do with their photos and video on their big trip. Here is my first hand advice on the subject.

Online Storage

Most people assume that they will just upload their photos while they are on the road. This is what I thought I’d be doing too, but it didn’t quite work out that way. If you are shooting low res images in jpeg, and you are in a location with good bandwidth, this might work for you. If, however, you are shooting video or RAW still images, or if you are in a location without good internet connectivity, then online storage just isn’t going to work.

I can easily shoot 4gb of photos per day. I found uploading that much to be a challenge even in places like Australia. Remember that uploading is usually much slower than downloading. If you have any sort of network interruption, which can happen frequently if you are on wifi in a hotel, a long overnight upload session might end an hour after you started and went to bed. Moreover, even really good services like dropbox.com have a limit of 100gb, and you have to pay $200/year for that. Even using Amazon’s S3 service, which is about as cheap as you can get, will cost you a lot if you are dealing with tens or hundreds of gigabytes of images.

Obviously I did upload some photos, otherwise you never would have been able to see any on my site. I uploaded about 10% of the photos I shot and those were all jpeg, not the original RAW files. No photo hosting site that I know of lets you upload RAW files. I usually had to do my uploading in batches when I had a good internet connection. I would usually find a place with wifi and let the upload run over night. There were several times when the uploading process would take several days because of dropped connections and general slowness. So even several hundred megabytes was a painful upload in some parts of the world.

To give you an idea of the different between uploading as a backup and uploading to an image hosting site, I will usually upload 10-20% of the photos I take in the form of high resolution jpeg’s. Those images are usually about 5mb, compared to the 15mb RAW files my camera takes. This means the amount of data I upload to Smugmug is only 3-6% of what my camera is capturing on a given day. That 3-6% is still usually over 100mb and can take many hours to upload. Trying to archive everything in RAW is pretty much impossible.

Burning DVDs

This is another thing people tell me they are planning on doing. While I was in Melbourne I spent several days doing nothing but burning files to DVD so I had a backup of my external hard drive. That way if the hard drive broke, I’d still have a copy.

There are three problems with using DVDs as a storage medium: storage capacity, time and weight. The compact flash card in my camera is 4gb and my backup is 2gb. The storage capacity of the DVD-R I purchased in Taiwan were around 4.3gb. This means that every time I filled up a card (which I can easily do in a day) I had to burn another DVD. Burning DVDs takes a long time. I’d literally put a DVD in the drive of my computer and go do something else for a half an hour. Finally, a stack of 50-100 DVDs is a lot of weight to carry around. I ended up carrying this DVD spindle around for months which was a lot of weight to deal with when you live out of a bag.

As I pulled my archived DVDs out of storage this week I found that half of them had damage significant enough that I couldn’t read all the files on the disk. Thankfully I could still get them off the external HD I used, but had I exclusively used DVDs I would have been screwed.

Multiple Memory Cards

One storage option is to not bother backing up at all. If you are only traveling for a short time, this might be a viable option. Just bring enough memory cards for your camera and put it a new one when one gets full. There is, however, one massive downside to this strategy: if the cards are lost, stolen or damaged, you lose everything. This is something I’m willing to live with during the few hours I’m shooting, but not beyond that.

External Hard Drives

This is the solution I am currently using. It is not perfect but it is the most reasonable thing available in terms of cost and effort. When I started my trip, the 100gb external USB/Firewire hard drives were only first hitting the market. Today, I went to Best Buy and saw 500gb drives smaller and cheaper than the 160gb one I purchased in Honolulu.

After the fiasco I had trying to backup and ship everything in Australia, I purchased 2, 300gb external USB hard drives when I was in Cairns. I mirror the two drives and keep them in separate bag so if one is lost or stolen, I still have a copy on the other. If I was traveling with someone else, I’d have each of us keep a hard drive just to keep them separate.

The hard drives are small and light enough that they can be shipped via a FedEx envelope. I don’t know if I’ll need to do this in the future, but if I should fill up the drive while I”m on the road, I’d send one of the two drives back to someone who could copy it to another drive. Once I’ve had confirmed that the drive arrived safely and had been backed up, I could delete the drive I had with me and buy a new drive to act as a mirror. This scenario is more likely happen with video than with still photos.

The cost and size of small external drives is now well beyond what you will need for still photography. I highly recommend using external hard drives for photo storage while traveling. Even with cameras shooting over 20 megapixels, storage is growing faster that file sizes. If you can afford an SLR, getting a pair of 300-500gb external hard drives should be within your budget.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #68: Historic Centre of Rome

Posted by on August 5, 2009

World Heritage Site #68: Historic Centre of Rome

World Heritage Site #68: Historic Centre of Rome

From the World Heritage inscription:

Founded, according to legend, by Romulus and Remus in 753 BC, Rome was first the centre of the Roman Republic, then of the Roman Empire, and it became the capital of the Christian world in the 4th century. The World Heritage site, extended in 1990 to the walls of Urban VIII, includes some of the major monuments of antiquity such as the Forums, the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the Pantheon, Trajan’s Column and the Column of Marcus Aurelius, as well as the religious and public buildings of papal Rome.

The Historic Center of Rome is probably one of the most significant, historical, and impressive world heritage sites in the world. Like sites I’ve seen in Kyoto, Jerusalem or Angkor, there is a whole city of sites which could be world heritage sites on their own. The most significant and recognizable location in Rome is the Colosseum which was recently named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Smugmug vs Flickr

Posted by on August 2, 2009

I’ve spent the last several days doing the time consuming chore of reformatting and redirecting all the old images on my site that point to Flickr and my self hosted photos, to Smugmug. I mentioned this on Twitter and I’ve gotten a lot of questions as to why I’m leaving Flickr and my self hosted site for SmugMug. So I figured I’d explain everything in as much detail as I can. The more I investigated it, SmugMug really is a no-brainer for me. However, I also understand why it wouldn’t be for everyone.

Like most people, I began using Flickr as my photo hosting solution because it was free, easy to use, and well known. If you own a point and shoot camera and just take casual photos, Flickr is great. The 100mb limit for storage each month is more than enough for most people. In fact, since I’ve started using Flickr, Facebook has surpassed Flickr in the total number of photos stored. Facebook, like Flickr, is free and easy to use if you want to share photos with your friends.

Eventually I found it necessary to increase my storage limits on Flickr and I purchased a Pro account, which is $20/year. $20/year is honestly a great deal considering you get unlimited everything. The real power of Flickr however, is the huge community of people which use it. There are millions of members and thousands of groups. For a period of time I was submitting my photos to groups and getting tons of people to look at them. Eventually, participating in groups grew tiresome. Some groups have hundreds of photos submitted every day and most of the people who comment on your photos are only doing so because the group rules require you to comment on 2 or 3 photos for everyone you post. It was all sort of hollow and fake.

Nonetheless, even if you don’t participate in the Flickr groups you can still get value just hosting your images there. As I became a better photographer and had more images, however, there were several things about Flickr which began to bother me.

1) Flickr is the #1 place to steal images.

Tons of blogs and websites take images off of Flickr so they can use them. That doesn’t bother me so much, but when people link back they provide the links back to Flickr, not my website. In fact, Flickr is an incredibly closed system and they don’t like to link out or promote the websites of its members. You get one link in your profile which is usually well hidden. The search engine in Flickr makes the process of finding the images you want to steal almost trivial.

I don’t usually mind if people link to my stuff. If I post a video, I don’t care if everyone in the world embeds it in their site. It is pretty clear who made the video and I put my URL in every one. Even sites which steal my RSS feed don’t bother me so much because it is easy to prove I was the original author. Photos are different however. It is hard to trace ownership of a photo. I realize that if you put photos on the internet you sort of have to live with that to a certain extent, but there are things you can do to limit it.

Flickr has no option for restricting access to the original size files. It is all or nothing. Either you make every version of an image private or you make them all public. Also, they don’t have any watermarking capabilities built in. Many of the people who have become really big on Flickr, like Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir, have either left Flickr or seriously scaled back their involvement. If you want to have any sort of protection on your images, Flickr isn’t the place to be.

There are many blogs which survive on using the photography of other people. I think those sites are extremely lame. They usually ignore creative commons notices and treat everything on Flickr as being public domain. Moreover, even if you did want to put your images up with a creative commons license with attribution, almost all attribution ends up going to some Flickr nickname with links pointing back to Flickr. You have no control over how you get attributed.

SmugMug provides a great amount of control over your images and how you can protect them. You can put watermarks on images and you can block access to images above a certain size. In today’s internet world, the easiest thing to do to protect your images is just avoid Flickr because that is the one stop shop for people who want to take them.

2) Flickr has zero customization.

Your Flickr page is what they give you. For the most part, every Flickr user page looks the same. They don’t even offer themes you can use to change the background color of your page. In Flickr, you can’t easily provide links to your website and you can’t add links to other sites you might be on like Twitter or Facebook. Flickr is its own world and doesn’t want people leaving the reservation.

What I want is for people to visit my website and my photo hosting solution to be integrated into my site. Flickr does nothing to facilitate this. Smugmug goes way out of their way to do this. Not only can you customize your SmugMug page however you want, you can also map your own domain name to SmugMug to make the integration seamless. Once it is up and running, travel-photos.Everything-Everywhere.com will point to my SmugMug page and it will have the same basic design as my website.

3) SmugMug makes it very easy to sell prints

Eventually I’d like to try to bring in some money selling prints. SmugMug makes this very easy to do. There are a wide range of photo sizes and products you can buy and they also have multiple printers you can choose. Because it is so customizable you can design your store how you want. They handle all the processing and send you a check later. You can order prints from Flickr, but you can’t really set up a store.

4) SmugMug has great customer service and a great community

Almost everyone I’ve spoken to who uses SmugMug is a serious photographer and loves the company. The user base is only a fraction of the size of Flickr’s, but the quality is much higher. The company is active in the user forums and are very quick to respond to customer service questions. Flickr isn’t very innovative. The service hasn’t changed very much since they were purchased by Yahoo.

5) Smugmug allows for easy image resizing.

Most people might not list this as a big deal, but I really like it. I can take any image from Smugmug and re-size it to any size by just putting the size I want in the URL. It is that easy. In the future if I ever want to change the size of my daily photos to something larger, I just need to do a search and replace on everything and change …600×600.jpg to ….jpg. That is pretty nice. Flickr only allows for images of a few defined sizes.

Summary

If you only own a point and shoot camera and just want a place to store images online to share with friends and family, I’d recommend uploading everything to Facebook. This is the best way to share with people you know and Facebook will store unlimited photos for free (as of now).

If you are a bit more advanced and want to talk with other photographers and share your work with them, then I’d give Flickr a try. Flickr’s biggest strength is its large user base. Facebook has overtaken it as the largest photo hosting site, but it is still pretty big. Every photographer should have some sort of presence on Flickr if only to take part in groups.

If you care deeply about how your images are displayed and you want maximum control over your portfolio, I’d go with Smugmug. It is more expensive, but it is worth it. If you are a photo blogger, I’d strongly recommend Smugmug.