December 2011 Question and Answers

December 2011 Q&AI hope that everyone is enjoying their holidays. Since I’ve arrived back in Wisconsin I’ve been spending my time editing photos and trying to catch up on work which has piled up over the last few months. I had over 4,500 from the last 2 months and I’m now down to 2,000. You can see some of my results in my Galapagos Island photos. I’m also starting to get ready for my trip to Antarctica in January.

I thought I’d take a break from my photo editing to answer some reader questions. As always, you can submit questions via my Facebook page.

Liz Froment asks: As a budding travel photography nut, I’d like to ask what are the 5 essential things you keep in your camera travel bag?

Here is my short list of things I’d recommend carrying:

  1. Tripod. The single best thing anyone can do to improve their photos is to use a tripod. Period. It is that simple.
  2. Shutter release cable. This goes along with having a tripod. You don’t want to move the camera by pressing the button.
  3. Microfiber cloth. These things are great for cleaning your lenses. They take up little space and really work great.
  4. Fast 50mm lens. I have a 50mm f/1.4 lens that I always bring with me. It isn’t something I use all the time, but when you need shallow depth of field or something really fast, it is nice to have.
  5. Wide angle lens. I use my wide angle lens quite a bit. It is really important to have something that can capture a wide field of view.

There are some other things as well (polar and neutral density filters) but for the most part I don’t think you need a ton of gear beyond the camer body and some good lenses.

Paul Corbett asks: What do you think has been key to your blogging success?

Honestly Paul, I’m not sure if I am a success. Relatively speaking, I might have a larger audience than many travel blogs, but I’m very aware of how much more there is to do. The distance between where I am and where I think I could be is much larger than the distance from where I am now vs where I started.

Here are a few simple rules that I’ve followed:

  • Be consistent. I post something every single day and I have done so for over 4 years. Not many people can say that.
  • Your travel is your content. Too many people don’t seem to see the link between where they travel and their blog. It is hard to write about interesting things if you aren’t doing interesting things.
  • Photography. I think photography is very important for conveying the wonders of travel. I make it a point to try and offer good photos and I am constantly working on my photography.
  • Be personal. I’m not a travel writer nor do I pretend to be. I don’t write like I’m submitting something to a magazine. I think the worst examples of writing I’ve seen online were when people were trying too hard to sound like someone else.

There are many others I could list and I’m sure I could write a short book on the subject. I think those are a good place to start, however.

Troy Floyd asks: How many frequent flier miles have you accumulated in the last year? What program do you use and like best for rewards (either flights of hotels)? Can you tell us ways that you acquire the miles (like which credit card you use and think is best for travel exc)?

I have signed up for loyalty programs for every major hotel chain and every major airline alliance. During 2011 I had elite status on every major alliance (Delta, United and American).

Going into 2012 however, I will only have elite status on Delta. I actually flew enough miles to have elite status on United and American, but the tickets I had didn’t get me full elite qualifying miles (EQM). My flight to/from New Zealand on Qantas only awarded me half EQM. My flight from LA to London didn’t award me any on United, even though Air New Zealand is part of Star Alliance.

Because I wasn’t awarded full miles on United or American, Delta will end up winning my business in 2012 by default.

If you factor in all the flight I took in 2011, I figure I flew between 90,000 and 100,000 miles.

Many of my purchases are not made by me, so I don’t have a ton of choice. That is why I have accounts with everyone.

So far, I haven’t spent any of my airline miles. I’m going to save them till I get enough to get an around the world ticket and do that. It seems the most efficient use of miles.

I’m going to write a post sometime about how I use frequent flyer programs because it is a bit different than how other people use them.

Marni Lutz asks: When you are blogging, what do you do when you dislike the place that you are visiting? do you give it the review that you feel it needs for a tourist destination? Do you just write from your personal view point with mix of the good and bad blended into the story to compare and contrast what you like or dislike?

There are a few things I have to address to answer that question. First, I don’t do reviews per se. I don’t want to get into the review game. I don’t do hotel or restaurant reviews and I don’t think it is even possible to do a review on an entire country, let alone a city.

Second, I don’t think there are bad or good destinations. You can have a bad experience but that depends on many different variables including things such as the weather and the people you meet. I don’t think it possible to lump an entire place together.

There are some places I’ve been that I would rather go back to before others, but there is no place I’ve visited that I would refuse to go back to. That is not to say I might never encounter such a place, but I think it is important to differentiate a place from the experience you had there.

I’ve been to the Yasawa Islands in Fiji twice. Both times I went to the same islands. Each trip was totally different based on who I met and was I was doing.

Eva Prost asks: I was lucky enough to spend a year travelling and living in Turkey. I’m a history nerd, but by the end I’d seen so many Greek and Roman ruins they didn’t even hold my attention. It was probably an overdose. But for you, on a different scale, do you ever get jaded from all the traveling? You seem to make your destinations very diverse, but is there some point where that thrill of seeing something so foreign, or gorgeous, or unique, is diminished?

The feeling I get is very different, but I still find interesting things about every place I visit.

If you view Roman ruins as just a pile of rocks, then each one will look the same. However, even if things have a similar look and feel, they have a totally different history behind them.

The Roman Empire lasted for hundreds of years and was really big. No two places will have the same story.

No matter how much you have studied history, there is always more you can learn. It is impossible to even scratch the surface.

You have to go beyond the architecture and learn the story about who, when and why it was built.

Breakaway Backpacker asks: I’ve been on the road now about 10 months. I know you have been on the road much longer. I am wondering while you are on the road for long stretches of time do you ever miss your family and friends at home? Do you ever just want to go home for a bit and then get back on the road?

Sure I do. When I do go back and visit my family, however, I usually want to get back on the road again in about 2 weeks :)