Seeing Thailand in Black and White

A few months ago you may have noticed something on Facebook or Google+ called the Black and White Challenge. It was a challenge started by photographers to post a black and white photo every day for five days. Typically someone would nominate you and you could then nominate someone else. Challenges like this can be a good way to improve your skills or force you to take and post photos. For me it was a perfect way to focus my photography while traveling. A lot of times it’s easy to aimlessly shoot photos as you walk around but having a mission to accomplish can be a fun way to seek out travel photos.

Day 1:

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I walked around Chiang Mai with my 50mm lens because it’s smaller and lighter and gives me an opportunity to create shallow depth of field.

Day 2

Ornate strings of bells are everywhere in Chiang Mai near the temples. The small details in each bell caught my eye.

Ornate strings of bells are everywhere in Chiang Mai near the temples. The small details in each bell caught my eye.

Day 3

We found a small secret garden tucked away behind a high stone wall where statues were made and sold. A quiet, calm place with moss covered Buddhas in the shade.

We found a small secret garden tucked away behind a high stone wall where statues were made and sold. A quiet, calm place with moss covered Buddhas in the shade.

Day 4

A day trip to see the temples of Lamphun. A large planter pot with brightly colored lotus flowers also looked beautiful in black and white.

A day trip to see the temples of Lamphun. A large planter pot with brightly colored lotus flowers also looked beautiful in black and white.

Day 5

The road around the moat at night. A busy tree-lined street that is always full of motorbikes and tuk tuks.

The road around the moat at night. A busy tree-lined street that is always full of motorbikes and tuk tuks.

If you’re new to travel photography try giving yourself a challenge like this one or writing down what you’d like to shoot before you go out with your camera. Sometimes just thinking about it  beforehand will help you to focus your time.

Check out Unknown Home for more travel stories and photography!

 

Posted by | Comments (0)  | April 29, 2015
Category: Asia, Images from the road

The art of body language is an essential travel skill

“Learn to watch faces and expressions. Language is not all it’s cracked up to be. Often you go wrong when you are struggling with dimly remembered foreign words and neglect the person or context. You’ll need a bit of Russian, a bit of French, and a bit of Spanish, at least, to do the world. Sometimes it’s better if you just use the international hand-to-mouth for food, or go into the kitchen to point.”
–Mike Spencer Bown, What I’ve Learned: The World’s Most Traveled Man, Esquire, October 25, 2013

Posted by | Comments (0)  | April 27, 2015
Category: Travel Quote of the Day

How to choose and use packing cubes

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I opened my backpack, reached a hand into its dark depths and frowned. It was going to take forever to find the black shirt I was looking for. The clock next to the bed said I had to leave in five minutes.

My hand fished, searching for the black shirt. It kept coming up grasping other clothing: a blue shirt, a cardigan, a black skirt.

Let’s just say I’m not the most organized of packers, and my backpack with its open-access top wasn’t helping.

Three minutes until I had to leave. I sighed. Only one option was left. But it was one I really didn’t want to take. It was one that would leave me in a worse place than where I was now: just missing a black shirt and hunting for it.

Two minutes until I had to leave.

I dumped the backpack’s contents onto my bed. Immediately half of the bed was covered. Of course, the black shirt I was hunting unfolded on top of the pile and winked at me. Quickly I put it on and surveyed the mess. Later I’d clean it up.

There had to be a better option than totally unpacking my bag anytime I needed a specific item. The savior is called packing cubes.

What are packing cubes

They are small bags constructed of fabric or mesh and adorned with zippers. You pack each one like a little suitcase, with similar items, or outfits to divide your cavernous bag into organized utopia.

A packing cube compresses your clothing, so you can fit more into your bag. The idea is to max your packing space while keeping it organized.

Also, in hard-sided suitcases, they keep your clothes folded nicely and wrinkle-free until you’re ready to wear them.

Types of packing cubes

Like travel bags, many varieties of packing cubes exist. Each one is constructed for a different, specific purpose.

Here are the types of packing cubes you can get:

  • Waterproof cubes to protect clothing from damage
  • See-through mesh to easily identify the clothing and for breathability
  • Cubes constructed of super light-weight fabric to shed weight from your bag
  • Expandable cubes to grow with your travels
  • Hardy, tough cubes to last many trips
REI's expandable packing cube

REI’s expandable packing cube

How to choose your packing cubes

Enter packing cubes into Google and you’re likely to be overwhelmed with options. Fear not, selecting packing cubes is as simple as deciding your priorities.

  1. Purpose: why are you buying this cube? Do you need to keep your wandering socks in one place? Or keep your shirts together? Your purpose will dictate the size and material of the cube you choose.
  2. Size: A cube can hold socks, underwear or shirts. It depends entirely on its size. I prefer the smaller bags as the larger ones can defeat the purpose of segregating your clothing.
  3. Budget: generally, the more lightweight the cube is, the more expensive it will be. If you need something that performs a bag’s main function (keeping certain items together), opt for cheaper. But if you’re looking to keep the weight out of your bag, be prepared to spend more.
  4. Color: if you’re using a hiking-style backpack, I’d suggest cubes in bright colors — not the standard black — to help find them in the murky depths of your bag.
  5. Examine your suitcase/backpack: how big is it? If it’s a messenger bag, pick smaller packing cubes to keep all the smaller items in one place (like socks or underwear) and skip cubes for larger items like shirts. If you have a large hiking-style backpack, consider packing cubes in a variety of sizes to max all your space.
  6. Sturdy: check out the seams, zippers and fabric that make the cube. You’ll be using them daily, putting them through stress, and cramming clothes into them. Look for well-constructed bags that feel well-made.

How to use packing cubes

So how do you use these little bags to make your life easier?

Return to your purpose in buying packing cubes.

Do you want to solve the lonely mess living inside your bag? Do you want to keep your clothes folded nicely, wrinkle-free while you pull other items out of your bag? Or do you just want to find socks when you need them?

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Here are a few tips on how to pack cubes:

  • Always roll the clothing up to max the space
  • Designate one cube for warm weather clothing, and another for cool weather clothing
  • Group similar clothing together to easily find That Shirt
  • Use one cube for your dirty laundry to segregate it
  • Use one suitcase to hold several family members’ clothing by divvying up the space per person with cubes
  • Pack all your electronics/cables in one cube

I don’t normally use packing cubes, but I will start using them to keep my bag organized. Plus, I’ll never have to root around in my bag for that last clean pair of socks again.

Laura Lopuch blogs at Waiting To Be Read where you can find your next great book to read.

Posted by | Comments (0)  | April 26, 2015
Category: Travel Gear

Vagabonding Field Report: Getting Ready to Sail the Seas on the Oliver Hazard Perry

Currently, I am in Newport Rhode Island getting ready to sail on the Oliver Hazard Perry for the next five months. The ship is in the final stages of getting ready to sail. It is a massive 280 foot long tall ship named the Oliver Hazard Perry.

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Cost Per Day

Newport can be expensive if you are eating seafood every meal or shopping at the luxury stories that are in this area. However, right now I am spending next to nothing.

On average I am spending $20 a day.

Describe a typical day:

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Currently, I am in Newport Rhode Island getting ready to sail on the Oliver Hazard Perry for the next five months. The ship is in the final stages of getting ready to sail. A typical day for me is wandering around Newport, meandering inside the small shops, enjoying the smell of the ocean from the Harbor and walking admiring the small town feel and charm of Newport.

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

A few days ago at a bus station, I struck up a conversation with a girl. She asked why I had a backpack on and where I was heading. I told her about my travels, and it turned out she was a traveler as well. We had both been to many of the same cities, sights, and even hostels around Europe and Asia.

For the next hour, we talked about foods all over the world, scuba diving, rock climbing, and cities that we loved. It goes to show just how small the world is and how people from complete different backgrounds share the same love of traveling.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I really like the ocean and the small town feel of Newport. The whole city seems small and quaint, yet, because of the water it feels very open and alive. I love the small shops, the delicious seafood, and the friendly atmosphere. It is one of those towns where everyone feels and acts as if they have been friends for years.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Right now, a challenge has been balancing travel with family. My grandmother passed away a couple weeks ago. While I made it home before she passed a day after the funeral, I left again. While my family was urging me to get back on the road, I cannot help but feel a little guilty for taking off so soon during this time of grieving.

What new lesson did you learn?

I have realized more and more this last month that life is an adventure, and time does not stop. I gained a better understating that following my dreams to the fullest this moment is the most important thing I can do.

Where next? 

Next I will be sailing and working as a deck hand on the Oliver Hazard Perry. It will be an extreme, and exciting adventure.

Stephen Schreck run a travel blog, and is an adventure junkie. You can follow his story and tales on Facebook, Pinterest and Google +.

Posted by | Comments (0)  | April 24, 2015
Category: General

Balancing desire and ethics when traveling

There is something magical about riding an elephant. Their huge, lumbering bodies swaying slowly along while you sit atop, taking in the view. It’s an experience that is never forgotten.

Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.

Despite my intense desire to know what it feels like to ride atop one of the world’s most majestic creatures, I’ve never taken the opportunity. My knowledge of how these creatures are broken so that they can give rides to tourists keeps me from doing it. In short, my ethics “get in the way” in this case.

This isn’t the only scenario where personal ethics dictate what choices I make while traveling. No matter how many times I watch locals throw plastic bottles out train windows, I just can’t bring myself to follow suit. My understanding of the lives of street kids keeps me from handing out small change when they beg but that same knowledge keeps me from pretending they don’t exist as many vacationers try to do. I steer clear of organizations that mainly employ mission workers and short term, “savior” volunteers- my personal ethics keep me from pushing religion or “saving” anyone.

Ethical means not always doing everything you want. It means examining options thoroughly and being aware of where harm could be done, even if an opportunity might make you feel good in the moment. Ethical travel means constantly striving for balance between desire and doing the right thing (a subjective term, I know). I often find myself trying to balance the desire to see it all with my need to leave a positive mark on the world I explore.

The balancing act is not always easy. The first time I was offered a ride on an elephant was in a narrow alleyway in India. My friends and I had to squeeze against a wall for fear of getting trampled. When we were offered a ride, I almost jumped out of my skin with excitement. Here I was, my first time in Asia, my second time traveling with a passport, and I was going to have the best story to tell! I begged my friends to take a ride with me. They were better traveled than I and stuck firmly to, “no”. As the elephant lumbered away, they told me to look a little more closely at the animal. He was clearly underfed and had visible scars. I was horrified that I had almost allowed my own desire for a cool experience to blind me to the very obvious signs of abuse in front of me. It was a big learning experience for me and I am very grateful that I was kept from making a poor choice, and even more grateful that it forced me to pay more attention.

Moving forward, I try to keep my eyes open. I ask more questions, think more critically about what is being presented on the surface. But I still fumble. There was the orphanage I visited before I had considered the negative effects of the revolving door of foreigners on the children. The volunteer opportunity that seemed perfect at first but was run by a man who had little respect for the locals and even less respect for local laws about “dating” underage girls. The fancy restaurant I allowed myself to be dragged to that had a reputation for treating local workers horribly.

The balance is not always easy, but it is always worth the effort.

Despite my fumbles, I think that I am fairly aware of where my money is spent and who I associate myself with. Many travelers are. Many travelers do it even better than I do. The lingering challenge for me, and I think many travelers, is finding a way to “see it all” without letting that desire override ethical choices. Then again, maybe the biggest lesson of travel is that you can’t ever, truly “see it all”. Perhaps that realization might pull everything back into focus and keep us from making questionable choices in our quest to really dig deeply into our world.

Ethical travel cannot just be a catch phrase that gets pulled out when other people do something really wrong. The small choices are where we decide if we are going to put our money where our mouths are… literally.

How do you balance ethics with the desire to see as much of the world as you can? Have you given up certain opportunities in deference to your ethics?

Posted by | Comments (0)  | April 23, 2015
Category: Ethical Travel, Ethics

On the road, disorientation is as important as discovery

“Any budding academic can tell you that deliberately placing oneself in a position of not-knowing, and to then go about finding out what you don’t know, can be a fulfilling pursuit, and the disorientation itself, the early stages of figuring out what you didn’t know that you wanted to know, was as exciting as the eventual discoveries. This was one of the reasons I traveled.”
–Alden Jones, The Blind Masseuse: A Traveler’s Memoir from Costa Rica to Cambodia (2013)

Posted by | Comments (0)  | April 20, 2015
Category: Travel Quote of the Day

You have now entered the Tourist Zone

sadhuA few years ago, after finishing a journey in the Indian Himalayas, I traveled to the desert state of Rajasthan and visited the Hindu holy-town of Pushkar. A scenic outpost of 13,000 residents, Pushkar was famous for its Brahma Temple, its serene lake, and its annual Camel Fair. Several travelers had recommended it to me as a mellow place to relax for a few days.

From the moment I arrived in Pushkar, however, something seemed strange about the little holy-town. As I walked along the shores of Pushkar Lake, a number of long-bearded, monk-like sadhus approached me and suggested I take their photo for the bargain price of 15 rupees; Brahmin priests kept hustling up and offering to take me through a puja ceremony for just 50 rupees. Having spent the previous two weeks in the sleepy villages of far-northern India, this lakeside hustle made me feel like I was in some bizarre new universe. Prior to Pushkar, no Indian had ever implied that there was a cash value to puja (a Hindu ablution ritual), and most of the sadhus I’d seen were more interested in piety and asceticism than photo opportunities.

The more I wandered the streets of Pushkar, the more I discovered this off-kilter synthesis of culture and commerce. In the bazaar, teenage Rajasthani girls relentlessly offered to dye my hands with henna (a ritual typically reserved for Hindu brides), and cheap paper flyers touted competing yoga academies. Perplexed, I retreated to a lakeside restaurant for a cup of tea. When the host offered me food, I asked him what kind of dishes he offered — thinking he might specialize in tandoori or thali or biryani.

“Oh, we serve Indian food,” he said. “But we also have Mexican food, Chinese food, Italian food, Greek food, and Israeli food.”

“But which food is your specialty?” I asked.

“We specialize in all those foods,” he replied with a cheerful wobble of the head. “Plus we have vegetarian hamburgers and banana pancakes. But we’re out of granola right now.”

Peering around at the other diners in the restaurant, I finally figured out what was going on: Pushkar was a Tourist Zone.

On the surface, of course, Pushkar didn’t seem much like a Tourist Zone: There were no glitzy hotels, no air-conditioned knickknack boutiques, no busloads of sunburned Germans and chubby Texans. Moreover, had you surveyed Pushkar’s visitors, you would have mainly found independent travelers — young wanderers from Europe and North America and Israel, who shunned guided tours and took a genuine interest in Hindu culture.

Still, despite the earnestness of its travelers, Pushkar was very much a Tourist Zone — place that had subtly shifted to cater to the needs of its visitors. Only instead of churning out the standard tourist products (postcards, audio tours, spa treatments), Pushkar had developed a makeshift economy in Hindu “authenticity” (exotically dressed sadhus, quick-fix puja rituals, high-turnover yoga ashrams). After several years of popularity on the backpacker circuit, the residents of Pushkar hadn’t gotten greedy; they’d merely become adept at packaging all of the Indian symbols and rituals that indie travelers found whimsically attractive (as well as a few choice Western amenities, like familiar-sounding food and Internet cafés).

As is the case with so many other traveler haunts around the world, the authentic culture of Pushkar had become difficult to discern from the culture that had been spontaneously adjusted to feed visitors’ notions of “authenticity”. And, in this way, it had become a Tourist Zone.

As independent travelers, of course, we like to assume that we’re above the workings of Tourist Zones. But, as the example of Pushkar illustrates, we have a way of creating our own, more organic tourist areas, whether we intend to or not. Look closely, and you’ll notice that some of the most colorful indie-traveler hangouts in the world — Panahajachel in Guatemala, Dali in China, Dahab in Egypt — have as much in common with each other as they do their host-cultures. Granted, these places retain their own geographical and cultural distinction, but each location shares a laid-back predilection for catering to the aesthetic and recreational needs of Western budget travelers.

Thus, keeping in mind that much of our time as travelers involves moving in and out of Tourist Zones, here are a few tips for making sense of things:

1) Learn to identify Tourist Zones

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with a Tourist Zone, but it helps to know when you’re in one, as it will affect how you relate to people. Tourist Zones include airports, hotels, bus and train stations, major city centers, historical venues, pilgrimage sites, nature parks, national monuments, and anyplace where travelers congregate in large numbers — including sleepy backpacker hangouts.

2) Mind your manners

Though interaction with locals in Tourist Zones can often be impersonal and transaction-based, be sure to abide by the simple rules of courtesy. Even when dealing with pushy vendors and aggressive touts, a firm, courteous “no thanks” is always better than an angry rebuff.

3) Tourist Zones serve an economic purpose for the people who live there

In Tourist Zones, many locals will use friendship as a front to tout hotels or sell souvenirs. And, as annoying as this can be, remember that most locals will take a genuine interest in you, even as they try to sell you things. In this way, many of your interactions as you travel will be with folks who are offering a service — cab drivers, guesthouse clerks, shopkeepers. Thus, be aware that you occupy an economic dynamic wherever you go — and that there is no particular virtue in compulsively avoiding expenses (especially when many of those expenses are of direct benefit to local families).

4) Dare to travel outside of Tourist Zones

Invariably, the easiest way to get out of Tourist Zones and into a more authentic setting is to visit villages and neighborhoods that aren’t in any guidebooks or travel websites — places where other travelers never think to go. Normal safety precautions are in order, of course, but half the charm in travel is finding places where granola, pizza, and veggie burgers aren’t on the menu.

[This Rolf Potts article originally appeared in Yahoo! News on May 22, 2006. All rights reserved.]

Posted by | Comments (2)  | April 18, 2015
Category: Asia, Travel Writing, Vagabonding Advice

Vagabonding Case Study: Tracey Mansted

Tracey Mansted unnamed

 

hungryheads.org

Age: Tracey – 50
Mike (husband – 47)
Imogen (10)
Indira (9)

Hometown: Rainforest near Byron Bay, NSW Australia

Quote: Albert Einstein said “If at first an idea does not sound absurd, there is no hope for it”  – which I think equally applies to thinking and learning about new things as well as to taking huge leaps of faith like traveling long term with your kids. As a family we like the idea of “feel the fear and do it anyway”.

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Posted by | Comments (0)  | April 17, 2015
Category: Vagabonding Case Studies

Pro’s and Con’s of Traveling Solo

Over the last decade, I have traveled with both, friends and tour groups; however, the majority of my travels have been solo.

Solo traveling is exciting. There is no greater buzz than standing in an airport preparing to board a plane to a far off country all by yourself. The thrill of adventure and the unknown is amplified when traveling solo.

However, like every mode of travel, it is a two-sided coin; it has its good and its bad. Here are some of the pro’s and con’s of traveling solo, and why I think everyone should try their hand at it at least once.

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Pro – One of the biggest pro’s of traveling solo is the intense sense of freedom that is at your fingertips.

Do not like where you are at this very moment? If not, you simply book a ticket and leave.

Want to stay in a city longer? No, problem, you can!

Traveling solo means you call the shots.

You can go where you want, when you want. The thrill of the entire world being an open book ready to be explored is amazing.

Realizing, you get to navigate it as you see fit is indescribable. When you travel with tour groups or even with friends, you have to take into account what the entire group wants to do.

Sometimes it is frustrating to come so far to visit a country and still miss some of the sights and experiences on the top your list because the majority of your group wanted to move on.

Con – Traveling solo can sometimes be lonely. There is a lot of down time traveling such as waiting in airports, bus stations, trains.

When this happens it is easy to get lonely. You find yourself in a very busy but transit place and chances are there will be none one to talk to.

Sometimes while traveling you experience something that you wish you could share with someone.

For instance, there are times when you look at the sunset and wish someone was with you to enjoy it.

Pro – The sense of adventure of navigating the world is priceless. Traveling between and into foreign cities, wandering around a city where you can’t read the signs or speak the language, trying to find your bearings and locate the essentials can be extremely overwhelming.

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However, soon the unfamiliar become extremely comfortable and you feel a deep sense of accomplishment knowing that you are connected to this world on your own.

Con – The first couple weeks can be extremely difficult and some people who travel solo get homesick quick during this period.

The foreign seems too overwhelming and well…..foreign. I have met many people that couldn’t take it and headed home.

Pro- Traveling solo you meet many more people than what you normally do when traveling with people.

When traveling in groups, people tend to get clicklock. You meet a lot of people, but you tend to hang out with your group.

However, when you are alone other backpackers become like your family. I find myself much more outgoing and will talk to anyone for hours when traveling alone.

Con- When you are travel alone, you feel almost secluded. There is a lot of busi-ness surrounding you and sometimes you are even apart of it, but then everyone, including yourself goes a different way. Even returning home can make you feel almost secluded, as if no one understands the wonderful experiences you just had.

Pro – Traveling with friends strengthens your bond. You have a once in a lifetime experience together, figure out mistakes together, and immerse yourself in other cultures together.

You share a unique and precious memory and whenever you see one another again, you almost instantly pick up where you let off as if no time had past.

Traveling solo has it pros and cons, but I think it is a great experience as it opens up the world in unforgettable ways.

It has changed my life in many ways. I recommend solo travel for everyone at least once in a lifetime. Perhaps, it will lead to discovering a whole new world.

Stephen Schreck has an unquenchable wanderlust, and love of traveling. You can  read more on his travel blog or follow him on Facebook, or Instagram.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | April 10, 2015
Category: General, On The Road, Solo Travel