Whether courtesy of clients or my own wanderlust, Iíve been fortunate enough to travel from Latin America to Europe to Asia and many points in between. Along the way, Iíve learned a few things that I think are worth passing along to all of you interested in international travel.
1. Consider a travel agent
You may not get the cheapest price on airfare and such when working with a travel agent, but in working with mine, Iíve discovered hotels and options that I wouldnít have considered on my own. Just as thereís an advantage to hiring an experienced photographer over an Uncle Bob, an experienced travel agent will help make your trip a success
For my trip to Singapore, my travel agent recommended a boutique hotel that was more expensive than the one Iíd found on Orbitz, but the free limo from the airport, free minibar, free laundry services and included breakfast, lunch and dinner actually ended up saving me money.
Agents do have their limitations however. Theyíre going to want to book you into accommodations where they get a commission. Sometimes the better option is to pay the agent a flat rate for helping you with the trip so that you can get the advice you need without feeling obligated to use their recommendations.
2. Using reward and travel points for airfare doesnít equal free
You still have to pay for taxes and fees. I used air miles to cover my flight to Singapore however that still left nearly $600 in out of pocket fees that I had to pay - which was slightly less than half of the original $1,200 price.
3. Not all jet lag is equal
The jet lag in traveling from West to East is much worse than going the other direction. In other words, expect much worse jet lag if youíre traveling from the US to Europe than if youíre going from the US to Asia. This is something to consider if youíre making ambitious plans on your first couple of days in Europe. Just know that the travel will take a toll so, if you have the option, go easy when you first get there.
On the other hand, if you fly to Asia, I suggest not sleeping on the plane so when you arrive, usually at night, you can get a good nightís sleep and pretty much not even notice the time change. (Coming back is a much different story. Plan on days to recover.)
4. Hire a local guide, if even for a day.
We live in a do-it-yourself culture so hiring someone doesnít often fit into our sense of independence and discovery. But a trained local will point out so much that you canít possibly find on your own. In many areas, guides must be certified (as in Japan) so that you can be sure that whomever you hire is knowledgeable.
5. Donít bother renting a car
Unless itís integral to your travel plans, dealing with a car is often more hassle than itís worth and doesnít save you the money Ė on taxi fares and such - that you think it does. Besides, after a dinner with drinks or a long day out on the tourist trail, the last thing you should be doing is driving on a dark, unfamiliar road with other drivers who seem to be intent upon killing you and everyone around them.
6. If you rent a car, get the insurance!
When traveling in a land where people drive with no regard for their safety and certainly not yours, accidents are the norm so plan accordingly. If youíre traveling on behalf of a client, the tendency is to try to save them money and not opt for the insurance. Just charge them for it as though itís any other cost for you to be there. Be sure to get your international driverís license in advance too.
7. All of your bags must have wheels.
That shoulder bag that seemed pretty reasonable at home is quickly going to ruin your back and neck when youíre schlepping your luggage through endless train station tunnels or down narrow cobblestone streets.
8. Use vacuum bags for compressing your clothing.
Eagle Creek makes some nifty bags that force out all the air from the bag as you roll your clothing up. Youíll be surprised how much space you save in the process!
9. Turn off data roaming on your smart phone!
If you donít, you could accidentally download very expensive content. That $100 cell phone bill can easily soar to $300 or $400 or more. It doesnít hurt to add international usage to your bill before you leave, but itís still not cheap and should only be used sparingly.
10. Keep your camera kit light.
If itís too heavy, you wonít bring it with you anyhow. Resist the temptation to throw in that extra lens. While at home I opt for my workhorse 70-200 f 2.8 IS lens, however, when traveling I trade it for my f4 non-IS version thatís much lighter, smaller and cheaper.
11. Plan to get up early to avoid the crowds
Nothing spoils a shot more than tourist hordes smack in the middle of your scene. Though itís tough after long travel days, getting up at the crack of dawn to visit ancient ruins or scenic vistas is often the best way to ensure youíll get shots worthy of framing back home.
12. Research tipping practices
Find out about the norms of tipping in your destination countries before you leave. In Japan, tips are not the norm and rarely accepted which made for awkward moments as we forced tips on our hotel staff. In Cambodia, tips are optional and when offered, 10% is typical.
13. Backup photos to the internet regularly
At night, Iíll edit my raw files in Lightroom and then backup hi res jpegs to Smugmug overnight via the hotelís WiFi. Depending on how many photos Iím shooting, Iíll usually backup just my selects since the hotelís connection is often too slow to allow for the backup of everything. I sleep more soundly knowing that my photos wonít be lost even if my bags get stolen or damaged en route.
14. Bring backups and repair tools
A small set of jewelry screwdrivers can save your butt in a pinch if you need to make a quick repair. Bring extra batteries, cords, and lens and sensor cleaning supplies. I always like to stash a handful of old CF cards in various compartments in case I leave without my main card wallet. Sometimes itís the little things that can make or break a trip.
On a recent overseas trip, a big dust spot developed on my SLRís sensor. Unfortunately, I brought nothing with which to clean it. The local camera store had some funky device - that set me back $30 and that only made the problem worse. Once I got home, much of my editing time was spent just cleaning up sensor spots. Now cleaning supplies are an essential part of my travel kit.
15. Think really lightweight when traveling to the tropics
Unless youíve got something formal to attend, limit yourself to one pair of pants and maybe a light sweatshirt. The humidity keeps temperatures high both night and day. That said, tradewinds constantly hit islands like Hawaii and Jamaica so they tend to stay cooler. Cabo San Lucas in Mexico is barely in the tropics so the temperatures tend to vary more Ė both to the hotter and cooler. On the other hand, mainland countries like Panama and Cambodia stay hot pretty much all day and night.
16. Bring laundry soap
Depending on how long youíre gone, think about how youíll launder your clothes. Hotel laundry services quickly add up Ė a weekís worth of clothing for you and your partner can easily cost $100. That $4 bottle of travel soap that you can use to wash clothes in the sink can save you a lot of money.
17. Lose the stack of books; invest in an iPad or Kindle reader
For Italy, I brought over a load of cumbersome books that I paid for twice: once when I bought them and again when I paid for airline excess weight charges. Prior to my last 16 hour flight, I loaded my iPad with books and movies. When my headset on the plane didnít work, I just plugged into my tablet and enjoyed the trip.
18. Bring plenty of cash and consider changing it in advance.
Generally, the longer you wait, the worse the exchange rate. By the time, you need to change the cash, usually your options are more limited and expensive. Credit cards donít always work Ė and be sure to bring two of them since sometimes one canít be read by the machine. American Express is great, but often not accepted so bring a Visa/Mastercard as well.
19. Take your meds
If traveling to a developing country, be sure to get your shots well in advance. Some vaccines take four to six weeks to take effect so donít wait until the last minute. If you can, bring antibiotics and other medicines such as anti-diarrheals and aspirin. Antibacterial hand gel will help you out when even the water youíre washing your hands with is suspect.
20. There is no 20th tip
Other than have fun on your journeys! Travel to foreign lands is a wonderful opportunity to gain a different perspective on life and how to live it. Seize the opportunity to make it happen!
The photos in this Business Coach were taken by me in Cambodia. More images and stories on my blog. All were processed using the Toolkit Lightroom Presets. My temple shots were processed using "Whallup" from the Toy Camera Preset Kit. All content © 2011 and may not be reproduced without permission.