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Travel Planning

Travel Tips

Best Camera Bag for Travel

You’ve got a great camera, but which bag suits your needs best?

I spent years looking for the best camera bag for travel, and I finally found it!

For this type of purchase there are likely two style preferences, there are those that like backpacks (for carrying several lenses) and those that prefer shoulder bags (which fit less lenses, but allow easier access to them).  Lowepro offers some of the best bags on the market and they have a model that will suit nearly every photographer’s needs.  There are versions of the bags that even have slots for additional electronics such as a laptop or ipad.

Here are my favorites: 

 – the shoulder bag is extremely versatile, and can be worn on your front when you are wearing a larger pack on your back (in my case while I backpack around the world).  Inside the bag there are compartments for your extra batteries, SIM cards, cords, etc., a larger insert (that can be removed) which holds up to 3 lenses and a camera body, and a compression zipper that allows you to easily transform the bag between the two potential sizes.  Even when the camera carrying insert is inside the bag, you still have plenty of room to fit additional items, and there are three pockets on the exterior of the bag as well, so you can be creative with your organization.

If you are set on getting a backpack instead – I would opt for the backpack above. Again, extreme versatility, just this one has two shoulder straps and is on your back of course…

I’ve had my bag now for years and taken it to a few dozen countries, so I can additionally attest to its durability.  The bag shows almost no wear at all and it has kept my camera safe and secure in even the most unimaginable situations (I do travel to quite a few third world nations and when I am there opt for local transport).

Hope this helps you determine the best camera bag to bring with you on your next excursion, whether it be in a local park or on a journey to the other side of the world!

Travel Tips

Traveling in Myanmar

Although the border only recently opened, the country has been hard at work to enable the best possible experience.  Traveling in Myanmar is quite easy and the country offers an experience that can hardly be put into words.

Here is my breakdown of a few important things to know before traveling to Myanmar:

PEOPLE

The people of Myanmar are very warm and open to tourists. Of course you should be respectful of them if you want to be treated with respect (like anywhere), but honestly they have one of the kindest demeanors I’ve encountered. The kids learn English in school and there are courses all around the major cities for technology, tourism, English, etc. The borders were only opened to outsiders in 2011 and they are working hard to get things ready for prime time tourism. Everywhere we’ve been (guest houses, pagodas, restaurants, trains, buses), doors were opened and an extra effort made to ensure we were happy and comfortable. There is an English speaking expert at nearly every place we’ve been, even taxi drivers will phone a friend just to be sure they are communicating to you properly.

TRANSPORT

You’ll have plenty of options within cities and between them to get from A to B, but I would recommend being  slightly selective on your choices.

To get between the major cities, I would recommend train only as a last resort. The rail lines have not been updated in decades, the cars are quite dingy, the ride is so bumpy you’ll be 6 inches out of your seat every couple of minutes, there are roaches and Mosquitos both in the sleeper cars, no a/c and fan use only if you’re lucky.

So what should you do?

The bus is excellent! In fact I would recommend using bus all over the country if you don’t want to fly. There is one carrier JJ Express which is exceptionally comfortable, air conditioned, offers screens at every seat (if you’re into that) and is the most modern option around. You can book tickets when you arrive at the airport or at the bus station within the city. I would keep an eye around online too, who knows, they could have online booking available soon…

FOOD

The food in Myanmar is kind of a melting pot.  I would say it’s a mix of Thai and Indian for the most part with a fair amount of Japanese  options (especially in Yangon). I recommend being overly cautious about meat consumption, and that of raw foods, ice, etc. there are tourist restaurants that will specify that everything is boiled, purified, etc. and in that case you’re probably fine.

MONEY

The local currency is over inflated, so everything in Myanmar is far more expensive than it should be. You can dig for deals, but it’s hard to find anything less than $15-$20pp per night in ok accommodations – most hotels are insanely priced and certainly not worth the money.  Food is still relatively cheap, looking at $2-$3 a plate in a decently priced place, but of course the more touristy places try and charge $6-$10. Again, not even close to worth it. After being in Thailand or any other country in south east Asia you will think it’s quite pricey. Hiring a motorbike for the day will run you $15-$20 or a taxi $30-$45 (depending on your negotiation skills on the street).

Also ATMs were only introduced in Myanmar over the past year, so the bank fees are quite high and many of them have very low limits on withdrawals. Some ATMs will only let you take out $50 and they charge a $5 bank fee to withdrawal money. KGB Bank lets you take out up to $500, so it’s a much better bet.

DRESS

The country as a whole is somewhat conservative.  The vast majority of the population is Buddhist, they pray often and wear very covering clothing, even in the hottest times of the year.  As a tourist, I understand we are not necessarily used to wearing floor length skirts and shirts that cover our shoulders in extreme heat, but remember you are in their home.  It is absolutely disrespectful to wear shorts and a tank top when visiting their holy sites (which most Pagodas and sights in Myanmar are).  Some sights will provide you with a floor length skirt to put over your shorts, some may ask you to go home and others may just look the other way.  In all three of those scenarios however, know that you will have offended some percentage of the local population and should make a serious effort not to do so when visiting.  General rules are – no spaghetti straps (as they put it), no shorts, and no shoes/socks in any temple (this includes Pagodas).  They have places to put your shoes when arriving at the temple, but it is definitely easier to be wearing sandals that just slide on and off when visiting many sites in a day.  Just my two cents!

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Travel Tips

How to Plan Travel

We’ve compiled our top tips for HOW TO PLAN TRAVEL!

There are various stages in the travel planning process, but the key points are outlined below to assist you in your future plans.

Pre-trip planning:

  1. Decide on a location – check the weather, festivals and celebrations, pricing for the season and rough costs. Depending on the location you’ve selected, I would suggest you check the state department for travel warnings in the country(ies) of interest to ensure it is safe for travel.
  2. Check your passport – most countries require 6 months validity remaining and enough pages to fit all your stamps/visas for the trip.  If you need to renew or get extra pages, no worries there are tons of services to help, even if you are short on time!
  3. Next you’ll need to determine what the visa requirements are.  For US citizens, they are listed here. Many visas take weeks to receive, but there are services to expedite if you want to shell out the cash.  Do note that many visas are also good for a long period of time (especially in South America – 10 years is standard on the more expensive reciprocity visas).  This means you’ll want to be sure you have a passport that won’t expire soon if you plan to shell out the cash for these (some are close to $200).
  4. After you’ve settled the documents – check on immunizations.  This can be done on the CDC website. If you need a shot outside of the standard immunizations provided by your local primary care physician you’ll need to visit a travel clinic. Travel clinics charge a fee just for an appointment, so be sure you have the full list of where you’re headed and shop around locally for the best facility. If your local hospital has a travel clinic it’s usually more affordable. Some insurance carriers will cover the cost of the immunizations, but many will not. If you’re concerned about cost, I recommend calling the clinic to verify the list of shots/pills and then checking if your insurance will cover some/all of the costs.
  5. Get some travel insurance – the kind that covers you in absolute emergencies.  I promise it is relatively cheap and it is worth it!  You can compare a bunch of options here to decide what is best for you.

In the booking stage:

I would suggest you check the flight fares to your destination, while evaluating the costs of visas/immunizations, just to be sure everything aligns with your budget.  When you are shopping for the best flight fare, I recommend:

  1. Flights:
    Sky Scanner
    Kayak
    Hipmunk
    Also check this local list of airlines by country to complete individual searches for regional trips and legs within the trip.These aggregators will likely pull up the best fares, but I’ve written a separate post about booking airfare, as there can be some difficulties with the third party companies they sell flights through.  Be sure you are buying directly from the airline whenever possible – otherwise you could be subject to terms and conditions that are not in your favor.  You can read more about this here.
  2. Bus/Train/Car:
    Rome2Rio – this site is a master aggregator and will show all options at once with a map (my favorite!)
    Wanderu – only applicable within the US for now…
    Kayak
  3. Lodging:
    Booking.com – my favorite site as it has a price matching guarantee and offers free cancellation at most properties.
    Airbnb
    Agoda
    Hotwire
    H
    ostels.com
    Hostelworld.com
    Hostelbookers.com

    Figure out roughly what you’d like to do/see (if you feel like going this far with planning):

    Lonely planet
    Trip advisor
    Triposo
    Tripomatic
    I often times may have an idea of some must sees, but enjoy relying on locals to get additional information and to make my daily plans on arrival…


Organize your trip – again another step only some of us would like to take :):

You can plug all your details into Tripit or if that’s over the top for you, just make sure you have city guides available to you offline (tons accessible on the app store) when you get where you’re going.

Sites like Booking.com will let you easily sync reservations to your calendar (google cal, ical, exchange, etc.) or add to passbook if you have an iPhone.  Look for the icons when booking on various sites to see if you have the option to do that or add flights to passbook, etc. to make your plans accessible wherever you are.

Hostels/hotels can hand you a map on arrival and you can do a city tour without much planning, but there are small things here and there that require pre-planning. Japan’s high speed rail for instance must be booked prior to arriving in the country. I would skim the basics and have some idea of what you’d like to see/how you can get there. If you’re traveling on a tight budget, planning can help you stay on track with your cash and ensuring you are taking the most cost effective option every time.

Tech

Using Viber to Book Travel – Innovation Abroad

Coming from Silicon Valley, I’ve always been of the mindset that America is ahead of the curve with both the creation and use of technology applications. My assumption may or may not be correct, but I can say with certainty that I’ve been very impressed with several of the applications I’ve had the opportunity to utilize during my time in Asia. In addition to the availability of advanced applications, the usage and broad range of capabilities have greatly improved my time traveling. I’ve been able to book trips, hotels, transport on the go in even the remotest of locations.

Trip and travel booking in general can be both cumbersome and difficult when utilizing the more traditional methods. Waiting to hear back from agents via phone and even email can be frustrating at times – especially when policies dictate a 24 hour turn around time. Sometimes when you are planning on the fly, you need to make things happen quickly and may not have access to the traditional phone system.

In comes Viber, a leading communication app that allows you to call or text in app any other Viber user at no cost.

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