Archive for the ‘Travel Tips’ Category

Mini Tripod


The simplest thing most folks could do to improve their photography (travel or otherwise) is use a tripod.  Motion blur is a huge problem for most people, and a tripod holds the camera still, so that you don’t get blurred images from your hands shaking.  In addition to the stability offered by a tripod, the other reason that photos tend to improve with their use is that you’re forced to slow down.  With the camera mounted, you’ll take more time to properly compose your images.

Cheap compact cameras have small lenses that can’t gather much light.  This means that the shutter has to stay open longer to grab the image.  The longer the shutter is open, the more opportunity there is for your shaking hands to blur the image.  You can get by pretty easily in broad daylight, but when the sun starts to set, you’re in trouble.  Tripod to the rescue!

For many years I carried an Ultrapod.  It’s small, lightweight, and highly versatile.  It will sit on a relatively flat surface, or can even be strapped to a pole, fence post, etc.

Ultrapod by Pedco

99% of the time I used it just like you see here, and I did occasionally strap it to something.  For me, the only deficiency at all was the fact that I couldn’t turn the camera vertical.  When I would try, the weight of the camera would tip the tripod over.  I could get by in those cases by using my hand to hold down the leg opposite the camera, keeping it from tipping, but this is less than ideal.  Here’s a link to the Ultrapod at B&H Photo.

Then one day I was on a road trip with some friends (hey Ed & Stu!!!), and saw Stu using this great tripod by Giottos!  The Ball Pod is cool for several reasons.

  1. It folds almost flat, with just the screw head poking up.  This means it’s small enough to fit into the front pocket on the Lowepro case I carry my G9 in.
  2. It’s short.  It’s only 4.5″ when folded.
  3. The legs extend!!!!!  The 5-section telescoping legs go from about 3″ to almost 7″.
  4. The longer legs mean I can rotate the camera into portrait orientation without tipping.
  5. The individually adjustable leg lenghs mean it handles uneven surfaces better.

Giottos Ball Pod

Here’s a link to the Giottos tripod at B&H Photo.

Regardless of which tripod you choose, you should also consider using a timer. Most cameras have a self timer built into them, with options of something like 2 seconds and 10 seconds.   The 2 second delay works well to let the camera stop moving after you press the shutter release, and the 10 second delay gives you enough time to run get into the photo yourself.

I Saved $250 in 12 Hours


I’m getting ready to take a trip to New Jersey again.  When I looked at airfare last night, it was $450.  But thanks to Bing Travel I knew to wait.  When you give them a route/date combo, it gives you pricing but also tells you whether to buy now or wait.  They said to wait, saying they were 80% sure the fare would go down by $150+ in the next week.   There were plenty of seats available on the flights I was looking at, so I gambled and decided to wait.  Thanks to a spectacular FareCompare iPhone app, I got a push notification this afternoon that the low fare for my selected dates was $199.   The only possible catch is that my particular timing needs might not match-up with the lowest fare.  But in this case, every combination I found was $199!!!  They say knowledge is power, and in this case knowledge is also cash in hand!

When I look at Bing now, it says to buy…with a 92% confidence that the rate will rise by $270-363 in the next 7 days.  Having made this same trip countless times, I know that $199 is the best I can possibly hope for, so I booked with confidence that I did the best I could.

Give this a try with your next trip.  You stand to save a lot of hard earned dough!

Farecast is a great tool that was acquired by Bing Travel

Travel Tip – Cash’n It In


One of the challenges I face when traveling is dealing with local currency.  On some Asian trips I need Japanese Yen, Hong Kong Dollars, Chinese Yuan, Korean Wan, and US Dollars.  At home, I use a credit card 99% of the time.  In Asia, that won’t work.  China, in particular, runs on cash.  My hotel takes credit, but I pay cash for all my meals, transportation, & entertainment.  So the question is, how do you keep up with all that? (more…)

Travel iPhone Apps


I’m addicted to my iPhone, and one of the biggest reasons is how it improves my travel experience by reducing stress.  Knowing is half the battle, and my iPhone allows me to know when flights are delayed, what weather conditions are like, etc.

  • iXpenseIt – tracks all my business expenses.  Keeps track of things in multiple currencies, and exports nicely for reporting purposes.  This is essential for keeping up with small cash expenses.  For big-ticket items, I use my credit card and the statement makes sure I don’t miss something.  But when buying subway tickets, taxis, snacks, etc. this makes sure that I get reimbursed for all my expenses.
  • Flight Update – this amazing program keeps track of all my flights.  It updates the status so that I know what terminal/gate the flight is going from/to, whether the flight is on time, etc.  It saves confirmation numbers, seat numbers, and even has seat maps!
  • Shopper – for packing lists.  I have a standard catch-all business travel packing list that I filter for each trip.  This keeps me from forgetting key pieces.
  • eWallet – keeps all my passwords, membership numbers, etc. secure
  • Exchange – does currency conversions.  I like that I can have a “custom currency”, whose value I can set at my real rate (the rate I actually got, including any transaction fees)
  • Airport Status – shows systemic problems at airports, like weather delays.
  • Flight Aware Live Tracking – tracks a specific flight.  While this is useful for tracking a friend’s flight, I use it when my upcoming flight is delayed and I want to monitor the status of my aircraft coming into my airport.

What mobile apps do you use that make travel easier for you?

Travel Tip – Use Official Taxis


Apparently my red beard is screaming “I’m a foreigner, please rip me off” louder than usual today.

I crossed the border from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, and managed to come out a different door than I usually do.  I think they may have re-arranged a bit since my last visit.  So anyway, I’m looking for the taxi stand an don’t see any signs.  There’s a cop standing a few feet away, so I asked him where it was.  He asked where I was going, and when I told him he said “wait right here”.  My antenna immediately went up, but hey…it’s a cop, right?  So this guy comes running over and says “this way” and reaches for my bag.

I follow him around the corner, then into a parking garage to some shuttle buses.  I figure maybe the guy drives a bigger shuttle but doesn’t have a client.   Nope, we walk out the other side of the garage onto a nearly empty side street.  At this point I pull out my trusty translator and said “wait, how much?”  He asks where I’m going and types into his cell phone 250 RMB.  I hit the stratosphere.  I literally shouted at him “WHAT?!?”  I knew I was less than a mile from the hotel, and that was an outrageous number.  He was obviously shocked that I was so outraged, and asked me how much I wanted to pay.  I just took my bag back and walked away.  He ended-up following me back to the station and pointing me towards the taxi stand.  I’m not sure if he felt remorse, or was afraid I might turn him in to somebody.  In any case, I waited in line for a “real” taxi, and made it safely to my hotel for 13 RMB.  Yea, this punk (in cahoots with the cop) was trying to take me for 19x the proper rate.  What a scam.

I should never have gone with the guy in the first place, but I’m very glad I confronted him about the price before we got to his “taxi”.  Unless you really know what you’re doing, stick with government approved taxis, and be sure they use the meter.  That’s true whether you’re around the corner from your house, or around the world.

PS  On my way to the taxi stand, I stop to buy a Coke at the 7/11.  The guy rings it up at 4 RMB, just like the shelf said.  I hand him 4 RMB, he kinda rolls the change back in his hand and gestures with his other hand that I owe him more money.  I looked at him very confused, pointed to the 4 RMB on the register, pointed to his hand which he opened and I spread out the four 1 RMB coins.  Sheesh.