I know this post is going to go off the subject of photography but I believe it still has its place in it. Photography is about capturing something around you so you can enjoy for years to come. However, sometimes you need to leave the area you’re familiar with to see and experience more. This is where my 5 tips for planning any vacation comes into play. My goal is to show you what I do whenever my wife and I plan a trip, either 2 hours away or 5,000 miles away. These tips will save you time and money and let you enjoy your time away from home.
1. Finding a place where your money works for you
First thing you need to do is find out what your budget is. I break it down into 4 different categorizes so you can see what you really are spending your money on. This will help you to make the best choice possible with your budget. Lately I have been using the Hitlist app to find great deals on where to travel.
- Travel (Transportation)
Once you determined what your budget is, then you can start thinking about places to travel to. Am going to go ahead and say that our budget for this example is $3,000 USD. So I need to get to a place, then have a hotel to stay at and have money left over for food and other extras like entry fees with that $3,000. I know $3,000 sounds like a lot of cash but if you spend half in just a Airfare, then you need to make sure that $1,500 can carry its weight.
Let’s say that you got a hot deal on a trip to Tokyo from San Francisco for $1,000. That’s great but now you need to find out how long you can stay there. The normal cost of a hotel room in Tokyo is around $125 for a bare bones room. There are rooms costs less than this. especially when u are traveling by urself. I plan on staying there for 8 nights and this will take up $1,000 also. Now I only have $1,000 for the week for food and any other things that I wish to do. On an average day In Tokyo is around 50 bucks and that is just basic foods and minimal travel. Am talking about fast food and walking A LOT. This only leaves you around $500 for entry fees like Morri Tower($20) or SkyTree($30) which will add up fast. So Tokyo is very Possible but you will in up living like a broke college student instead of enjoying yourself on your vacation.
If you go to some other place like Bangkok, Thailand, the going price for a Airline ticket with 3 month advance is around $600 USD. This leaves you $2,400 from the original $3,000. For any international flight, you want to book at least 3 months beforehand to get the best deals. The average cost of a hotel room is about $40 USD for a decent one. The cost of food is less and so on and so on. This will let you spend more time enjoying your vacation OR you can add more cities to your trip with the extra cash.
2. AirBnB VS Hotels, which is better?
We started to use Airbnb about 3 and half years ago while we were living in Nevada. We wanted to test it out on a nice cheap $60/Night “Bedroom” to see if it was for us and needless to say, we were hooked. It’s a great way to cut the price on one of the most expensive things while traveling. However, it’s not always cheaper than staying at a nice hotel. When we planned our last trip to Kyoto, an Airbnb was as much if not more than a 3 star business hotel. When the cost of the Airbnb is the same as a hotel and the size of the room is about same, you might as well go to the hotel and enjoy yourself since Airbnb does not offer a nice breakfast and daily cleaning service. So you have to compare the cost of each and see if it’s worth it to go the Airbnb route. We stayed in New York City on 63rd street on the upper east side next to central park and it only cost $120 per night. To give you an ideal on how much we saved, staying in a hotel in the same area with the same space, it would have cost us over $300 per night for the cheapest hotel. We also like to stay at Airbnb when we do long vacations(over 7 days) because most of them have a washers and dryers so we can do laundry while we are on the road. This is a cheaper and easier option than doing laundry at the hotel or at a laundromat. When we find a place at AirBnB, we always stay at 4 star or higher with lots of reviews. Doing this will save you headaches down the road with cleanliness and most everything else that you might have issues with staying at AirBnB. You can use my AirBnB Code and get $20 off your next Airbnb stay!
3. Pack only what you need
It’s real easy to pack every little thing that you would ever need for any situation but let’s be honest, you will never use half of the stuff you’ve packed. I always try and pack just the bare bones. Here is a short list on what I always pack with me.
- MacBook Pro(laptop)
- Wester digital External hard drive
- Headphones (iphone one)
- iLov Power pack (battery charger)
- Travel power adapter
- All power cables for electronics
- Lamy Pen and Moleskin journal – just for me 😉
This is the the main recharging station for all my gadgets such as the Iphone and Power pack. I also use this to transfer my images I took everyday on to my external hard-drive. Besides that, It’s a Macbook so I use it to surf the internet and keep all my important documents. I have a basic 13″ Macbook Pro and I think it is a good size to travel with.
I use this to store all the Photos that I take everyday while am out traveling. I also use it to keep some important documents on here but have them in a folder with a password to keep them secure. So after I come home from exploring, I plug my SD card in to my Macbook Pro and back them up to the hard drive. Once that is done, I back them up on the the MacBook Pro also. Once I have it backed up twice, I format my SD Card and have it ready for the next day of shooting.
I use the Apple headphones that came with my Iphone cause they are small and FREE! I use these on my Airline flights since the ones they offer are crap. I also use them while am out exploring the area so the noise pollution does not ruin my experience. I sometimes find it better to listen to your favorite songs than the loud sounds of the urban landscape. These headphones also have a Mic built in so it helps with phone calls also. Some day I will make the move to the Bose QuietComfort 25 but until then, My apple ones will do just fine.
This lets me keep my Iphone charged and a extra back up battery pack for my Sony A7R and A7. It’s very small but charges my Iphone almost 3 times. Perfect for travel!
I think this one is very simple, some are better than others but having an universal one that you can take to any place in the world is the best. But be careful, when things have to many moving parts, they become weaker and break more often. Last thing you want is to have a broken adapter and you can’t charge your items.
– All power cables for electronics
This part can be hard but my goal is to keep my cords to just what I need. I have 2 A7’s but I don’t need both power cables so I can get rid of one. I also have 2 iphones so I have 2 power cables but I use only one USB power plug and then plug my other power cord into my Macbook Pro so I can get rid of one power plug. Little things like this can help out in reducing your space and weight.
4. Having the right Travel apps
Since we just talked about Smartphones, you need to have the right apps to go along with it. I use the following apps almost every time am overseas in a foreign country.
- Currency – FREE
- Google Translate – FREE
- Citymaps2go – FREE
- DropBox – FREE
- NextPlus – FREE(kinda)
I use this mostly as a reality check when am buying high priced items. I know when you travel to different countries, we get the “monopoly money” syndrome. It’s where you forget how much your money is really worth and you start to spend it like crazy. It’s easy to forget how far your money really goes and this app helps you to remember that it only goes so far.
This app helps me so many times when am just trying to say a few simples words like “bus stop” or “How much”. It even has a camera so you can take a photo of something like a menu and have it translated for you. Granted it’s not 100% perfect but it does a decent job in a pinch. Need to be connected to the Internet for this one.
This app has saved me so many times while I was in Europe. Think of it like Google maps but offline. you only have limited search ability and it does not provide train info or bus schedule but it will give you a map with a arrow which goes of you bearing so you can easily walk in the right direction to your destination. All you have to do is download the map of the city you will be traveling to, connect to Wifi when you arrive there to get the GPS lock, then start enjoying your trip. We downloaded the maps before we arrived in each city and we already had star pin points on the map on places that we wanted to visit like the eiffel tower or the Vatican. ALSO, Google has made a similar app called “Offline Maps”. I have not used but it looked to be the same thing as CityMaps2Go but only lets you download 5 maps before you have to pay for them.
This is a great way to save all your important documents on your Smartphone or any electronic device. Before I leave on any trip, I upload them to the DropBox server and then view them on any device that I will have with me as I travel. Once you view it on your device like a smartphone, it will be automatically downloaded to your device for viewing later on without the need of a internet connection. I did this with all my hotels, trains, and any reservation that I will need without the need of being a stack of papers with me. Still have hard copies in your suitcase, but this is very handy to have as you go on the road.
This is a Voice over IP(VOIP) app that lets you use the internet to talk to someone like a normal phone. Think of it like skype or Facetime without the video. It runs off your data or WiFi and lets you make cheap calls to local or foreign numbers. You might need to add some money to your account like $5 to get a few hours of talk time, but that is nothing compared to the long distance fees that you would have to pay at a hotel.
These are just some of the apps I use while am traveling to make my life easier when it comes to day to day life living out of a suitcase. You might have some awesome apps too which do the same thing or something even better. If you do, please share with us all!
5. The right luggage for the right trip.
When I first started to get serious about traveling, my very first suitcase was this ridiculously large Samsonite bag which was 30 inches tall. It was always pushing the 70 lbs limit every time I flew and it was just as hard to travel around with it. It was hard for cars to fit it in, hard to take up and down stairs, it was even hard just walking around the airport with it. It had just 2 wheels and never stood upright when it left alone. Having all that space made me feel like I needed to pack everything I would ever need but in the end, never used half of them. Just way too large for what I was needing. Finally, I picked up a Delsey 25 inch Helium Aero Expandable Spinner Trolley. This might have been my best investment I have made to date because it forces me to think about what I really need to pack. It does have 4 wheels that will keep it upright and take all the weight off your hands while rolling it around. When the Delsey is fully packed, it weighs around 50 lbs which is perfect for airlines but still not so great for walking around all day. This leads me into the next item that I always take with me on any trip, a day bag.
A day bag is just what it sounds like, a bag which you just put what you need in it for the day. I have been using a Lowpro Photo Hatchback 22L. This has the space for my camera gear and half of the bag is open for other gear such as a light jacket and other items that I have picked up through out the day. You can remove the photo part of the bag and turn it into a simple backpack in about 30 secs. I try and pick a day bag which will be safe from pickpockets and not draw a lot of attention to it. Camera bags with huge logo on the side scream “Steal me” will draw all kind of unfavorable people.
Bonus – Get a Sim card!
The one thing I tell everyone who travels to a foreign country is that you need to have some sort of phone which will let you make phone calls and have some sort of data plan. First, you need to find out if your current phone is unlocked and ready for use over seas. All you have to do is ask your service provider if it is unlocked then they will let you know or they can find out for you. Once you get over to your final destination, find any phone store and ask for a prepaid sim card. They can range from $20-$75 depending on what kind of service you get and how long you want your sim card for. You can cut the cost a little bit and get just a data Sim and use a VOIP to call people instead. However, this will start to cut into your data so what I do using the VOIP apps only when am connected to a wifi network. We use our unlocked Iphone 5 to look up opening times for events and restaurants while we are away from a WiFi signal. We also use it to navigate from place to place along with bus routes. Having a Smartphone is not going to make or break a trip. Some people wish to disconnect all together from all the distraction from back home but having something that will help you on the road is sometimes worth it. When we go on a vacation, our Iphone has nothing on it besides the basic apps for travel. NO Facebook, NO Twitter, NO Instagram, NO SOCIAL MEADIA AT ALL.
After all my traveling, I found that a little bit of planning and understanding the region where am at always helps out in the end. These are just some of my Top 5 tips for planning any vacation that will help you out with making your trip run smoother.