Capture The Moment - Wildlife Photography

Published by Andy from The Travel Hub

Andy is one of the Co-Founders of The Travel Hub and describes African wildlife safaris as his "ultimate travel experience". Combining his passions of travel and photography with a love of animals and nature. It has also been a major source of inspiration to improve his photography.

Instagram: @andrewmarty_

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I often get asked – “what is your favourite place you have travelled to”. The answer for me, lies in the fact I keep going back to experience wildlife safaris in South Africa. You cannot replicate the feeling of seeing those incredible creatures in their own environment. A wildlife safari is to a zoo, what SCUBA diving is to a fish tank……that is the best way I can describe it!

Wildlife viewing is something that has inspired me to become better at photography and this year I made the decision to significantly upgrade my camera equipment and push myself to really improve my photography skills. I booked a stay at Kambaku Safari Lodge in Timbavarti – part of South Africa’s iconic Greater Kruger National Park. This lodge was the perfect location with excellent game viewing and the staff, including owner Bryce Landsman and manager Ryno Vosloo, both having keen interest in wildlife photography. We also arranged to spend a day with professional wildlife photographer Villiers Steyn from At Close Quarters and this would prove to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have had from a photography perspective. 

I wanted to put together an easy to understand guide for anyone that is thinking of travelling to South Africa and go on safari. I hope you find it useful. These tips are purely my own thoughts, very much from the perspective of an amateur photographer. I wanted to share some of the things I have learned which have improved my wildlife photography. 

The image on the left is from my first wildlife safari 5 years ago and the one on the right is from a recent visit to Kambaku Safari Lodge, Timbavarti.

1.     Booking your trip:

You can have the best equipment in the world or be an amazing photographer, but if you aren’t where the animals are, you’re not going to get good photos. Wildlife safaris are not like walking around the zoo! Animals have different distributions, times of year when they are easier to locate and lodges have access to varying concessions of land. If you are going on safari for the first time, make sure you at least put yourself in the best position to see animals!

The best time of year for a wildlife safari in my opinion is during the dry season or the Winter months (May to September). Whilst some people enjoy seeing everything lush and green as it will be during the summer, the wildlife are harder to spot during this time due to the thick vegetation. During the drier months, not only are the animals easier to view, they can also be easier to locate as places to find water become less common.

 
 African Wild Dog pup: The dry conditions during Winter months makes viewing wildlife much easier.

African Wild Dog pup: The dry conditions during Winter months makes viewing wildlife much easier.

 

Understand that certain parks and lodges have access to different populations of animals. So if you are determined to see a specific animal, find out what areas are best for viewing that species. I was wanting to photograph leopards, which is why I looked at lodges in Timbavarti and Sabi Sands - they are renowned for having good leopard populations.  Previously I have visited Phinda on the east coast of South Africa because their cheetah and black rhino conservation/populations are industry leading.

Most first time visitors will want to see the “Big 5” – lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and cape buffalo. Many lodges will advertise Big 5 viewing, but the frequency of guests seeing all of them is quite low. If Big 5 is your wish, choose somewhere that has leopard populations, because these tend to be the most difficult!

Another reason I chose Kambaku Lodges is that they own the land, so they have access to areas that other vehicles cant go. The ability for your driver to venture off road and get you closer to the animals is a huge advantage when you are taking photos. Kambaku also has access to a huge area within Timbavarti, so the range that you can travel to locate animals is enormous. Some smaller reserves simply don’t have the space to maintain populations that normally migrate over huge distances.

If you are going on a safari for the first time or really want to focus on your photography, I would insist on staying at a lodge that provides morning and evening game drives as part of the package. The option of driving yourself sounds appealing, but you are going to miss 95% of the animals you would’ve seen if you paid the extra to be on private game drives. The rangers have a great idea of where the animals are likely to be, the spotters eyes will leave you speechless and they are able to get you in the best position possible to take photos! The vehicles are really well set up for photography and you learn so much from talking to the experienced rangers. I also really love the opportunity to meet other travelers from all over the world!

 
 The game drive vehicles at Kambaku are designed for getting you in a position to see and photograph wildlife. On each drive you have an experienced ranger who can provide information about the animals and a spotter who will see animals so perfectly camouflaged that you would've driven straight past

The game drive vehicles at Kambaku are designed for getting you in a position to see and photograph wildlife. On each drive you have an experienced ranger who can provide information about the animals and a spotter who will see animals so perfectly camouflaged that you would've driven straight past

 

Finally, the accommodation itself is important. I was travelling alone, so I am happy with good food and a comfy bed. But I have gone of safaris with friends, my wife, young children, parents – so at times the facilities become a major consideration. There is a huge range in standards from cheap, self-catered lodges through to high end luxury. Most lodges will include meals and 2 game drives per day in their rates. As a genral rules, the accommodation & services at respected lodges is incredible – they are truly luxury in the bush. You can pay extraordinary amounts to stay at some of the top end lodges (up to R70,000.00 per night!), however the wildlife viewing will be almost identical to a comparable lodge in the same area. Kambaku Lodges have 2 sites – River Sands being a 5 star property aimed more towards luxury travellers, and Safari Lodge, a more affordable but still extremely comfortable lodge! From all my experience on going to South Africa for safaris, Kambaku Safari Lodge was by far the best value for money experience I have had. It is somewhere I would certainly plan to go back for wildlife photography.

Once you have decided on a lodge, book any internal flights as far in advance as you can. There are domestic airports in places such as Hoedspruit and Nelspruit that take flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg, however the airfares can become exhorbedant within months of travel. Alternatively, if you are happy to drive from Johannesburg or you have chosen a lodge that is closer to an international airport, hiring a car and driving may be a significantly cheaper option (prices for flights can be as much as USD1,200.00 each way). When I visited Phinda, it was a safe 2.5 hour drive North of King Shaka International Airport in Durban.

A small note for when you use the domestic flights - the small planes have very limited carry-on baggage space, so it is common for them to take your backpack and stow it! I always try to board first to ensure I can keep my camera and lenses with me. Make absolutely sure that you pack your gear really carefully, lock your camera bag and be prepared for it to be stowed rather than with you on the flight!

2.     Equipment:

There is an enormous variety of equipment that you can find yourself faced with when considering a photographic safari. Not all of it is necessary, but having an idea of the sort of things you can take with your might help to decide what you do and don't need.

Camera body: There is range of cameras used on wildlife safaris - from smartphones through to top end digital SLRs. Admittedly I do take photos on my iPhone - its so quick and easy (especially for Instagram stories or sending messages to family/friends). In ideal conditions (good lighting and animals are close), phones these days can take remarkably good pictures. That said, if you are serious about taking wildlife photos, you are probably going to be looking at a digital SLR (DSLR) or good quality mirrorless body, because they offer a greater scope to adjust settings in different conditions. Some of the compact cameras are quite useful and I do take a small Samsung with me on safari as a back up. I think if you are splashing out for a safari and you are reading this article, you are going to be looking at taking a DSLR/mirrorless body of some sort with you.

When we are talking wildlife photography, the resolution of the camera is important, as always, but the speed of the camera also becomes a critical factor because our subjects are often on the move. Traditionally, higher resolution means a slower frame rate and vice versa, so wildlife photography cameras tend to sacrifice the number of megapixels to maintain a higher speed.

If you own a digital camera, check what the frame rate and resolution of your camera are. Next make sure your camera has the ability to change shutter speed, ISO and aperture – we will get to these in a little bit.

On this trip I was fortunate enough to have the new Nikon D850 which had just been released. The exciting thing about this camera for wildlife photography is the high resolution (45.7 megapixels), whilst maintaining a high frame rate (7 frames per second, which can be increased to 9 with a battery grip). It also performs extremely well in low light conditions, making it a really incredible wildlife photography body.

If you don’t think you have the equipment, it might be an idea to look at renting. There are companies such as OutdoorPhoto that will loan you camera bodies and lenses. This is a really great option if you want to see whether you really enjoy wildlife photography - hopefully you do! Check their website as it also has some amazing specials and great photography reviews and information. Make sure you spend time getting comfortable with the new gear before your first drive.

Lenses: A major factor for wildlife photography is the proximity you will be from your subject – so having a zoom lens will become important! It can sometimes be quite frustrating if the animals are too far away and you don't have the zoom to get nice pictures.

I do carry an “all-purpose” Nikkor 24-70mm lens for landscape and wider angle shots, this does come in handy when there are a number of animals close to the vehicle. For my zoom lens I have a 70-200mm f2.8 Nikkor lens and for the most part this was quite adequate, especially with a camera that pushes out almost 46megapixels where I can crop in later. Ideally it would be nice to have a little bit more zoom and some brands do have variable lenses out to 300 and 400mm. The next lens on my wishlist for wildlife (or the one I would probably look at renting for my next safari) would be a 500mm f4. To fill the gap and a cheaper option was to use a 2 times teleconverter on the 200mm lens – this essentially increases the zoom to 400mm, but there is a sacrifice, that we will get to later. For this trip, I found I was quite comfortable using to 70-200mm lens as we had such great access to animals.

 The Nikon D850 and Nikkor 70-200 AF-S f2.8 VR FL ED, a really great versatile set up for photographing wildlife.

The Nikon D850 and Nikkor 70-200 AF-S f2.8 VR FL ED, a really great versatile set up for photographing wildlife.

Tripod: There is limited use for a tripod on a safari – in the vehicle, they aren’t useful at all. If you are keen to take some nice sunset pics around waterholes or even night-time astro photography then I guess you could pack your tripod.

Monopod: Some people like to use these as a stabilizer in the safari vehicle and I do this sometimes in low-light/nightime when using a slower shutter speed. Otherwise, I find it limits your flexability and tends to get in the way more than it helps.

Bean bag: To stabilize your camera , and especially to take the weight of larger lenses, a large bean bag (I use a large flight fillow) wrapped over the rail in the vehicle works really well.

Gorilla grips: These flexible devices work really well for stabilizing GoPros or smartphones in the car for video – place them in the car, set a timelapse and it creates a really neat video! I have one large enough to carry the weight of my DSLR and lens so it removed the need to carry a tripod a lot of the time.

Cleaning: I always carry single use sachets of glass cleaner as you will often get dust across your lens. I also have a dusting kit to blow away the sand and dust at the end of each day.

Filters: As standard, I have UV filters on each of my lenses. They protect the lenses from being scratched as well as filtering UV light.

Memory cards: Always make sure you are carrying a minimum of 3 memory cards as you will be firing through a lot of images and RAW files can take up a huge amount of space. I carry 2 32GB and a 64GB XQD cards and also keep a 64GB SD card in the camera for overflow and spare.

Laptop: I always download and backup files each night following game drives, allowing me to format the memory cards. 

My camera bag:

Nikon D850
Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8
Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8
Nikon 2x teleconverter
Hoya UV filters
Rollei ND filters (6, 8, 10 stop)
Sirui tripod
Manfrotto monopod
Gorilla grip
Spare camera battery
3 memory cards (2x32Gb and 1x64Gb)
Lens cleaners
Travel Pillow

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Don’t forget checklist:

-       chargers for camera, laptop, etc
-       powerpoint converter for Africa.
-       powerbank for phone
-       2 external hard drives
-       Memory card readers

 

3.     Safari Game Drives:

The main reason you have booked to stay at a safari lodge should be to go on game drives. Whilst there is some variation between lodges, the general itinerary is much the same:

-       Up very early (pre-dawn) for a quick snack and coffee.
-       Morning game drive (usually 6am to 9am) including morning tea.
-       Back for late breakfast/early lunch.
-       Spare time in the middle of the day.
-       Evening game drive (usually 4pm to 7pm) including "sundowners".
-       Dinner

Some lodges will offer the opportunity to do things like a walking safari in the middle of the day. These can be a great opportunity to get out, stretch the legs and see some animals from a different perspective. For the sake of this photography review, we will focus mainly on the game drives.

Typically you will be in a game vehicle with a number of other guests. Some lodges will have 3 people to a row but I would be reluctant to stay somewhere that routinely crams people in this much.  If you get the chance, try to sit in the row behind the driver – a lower perspective is preferred for photos as you are closer to being on the same vertical plane. There will naturally be some luck in terms of where animals will be relative to your spot in the vehicle, but closer to the front is also a more comfortable ride.

 Male Lions: An iconic South African safari game drive. This is not a zoo, these male lions are free to roam as the please, we are just there to observe & take our photos. 

Male Lions: An iconic South African safari game drive. This is not a zoo, these male lions are free to roam as the please, we are just there to observe & take our photos. 

Typically I will take my camera bag in the car with my camera gear and a few snacks (do yourself a favour and grab a few packs of biltong from Woolworths at Joburg airport before you fly to safari!). There isn't a great deal of space so consider that when planning what to take. It can also get quite warm during the day, but cold at night, so dress with layers and take a coat and beanie if you are visiting in the cooler months – you will need it!

The drives themselves will always try to cater for the audience in the car – there will be a range of nationalities and people wanting to see all different sorts of things. My advice would be, if there is something specific you want to see, let your ranger know on the first drive, so they have time to try and work on that.

The rangers will usually communicate over radios about movements of animals and recent sightings. They will always try to get you to where the best sightings are! Unfortunately, as I have said, this is not like going to the zoo, so some drives you won't see much, others you might see that Nat Geo moment.

As you drive, there are always chances to see a huge variety of animals and you will usually find that the local guide sitting on the front of the vehicle will see animals long before your untrained eye spots them! There is always a temptation, especially on the first drive to want to stop and take loads of photos of every impala, bird or wilderbeast – let your ranger be a pretty good judge of what the priorities are and when to stop for a longer time. On slow days, you can get some amazing photos spending time with these "lower profile" animals, other days the ranger might want to drive past them because they've heard theres a sighting of something quite rare - let them be the guides.

4.     Photography:

The reason you are reading this article is to get a few pointers for taking photos on safari! So lets look at the key areas where anyone starting out can make some changes.

Settings: It is a good idea to go and look at a couple of YouTube tutorials on the basic functions of the camera you are using. Know where the different setting are and how to adjust them.  Most DSLR cameras like Nikon and Canon will have similar basic functions, but knowing how each affects your photographs is important. Essentially taking a photograph is all about getting the exposure of the image right.

1. Shutter Speed: One of the things to always remember when photographing moving objects like animals is that a blurred image due to movement is much harder to fix afterwards than one that is a bit underexposed. So you want to push your settings towards having a faster shutter speed! The shutter speed setting is measured in "seconds" or fractions of a second. A faster shutter speed will result in less light entering the lens and a less exposed image - but also less time that the animal is moving. 

2. Aperture: The aperture controls the amount of light that enters the lens like the way your pupil does in your eye - it describes how wide open the hole that lets the light in is. In a slightly confusing way, small apertures are given higher numbers (e.g. f22) and large apertures are small numbers (f2.8). By adjusting the aperture, you will significantly alter the exposure of your image as more or less light reaches the sensor. For example, with a high aperture (f2.8), the lens is wide open and a lot of light will enter. If you reduce the aperture (moving towards f22) you will gradually close the opening of the lens that allows light in and therefore reduce the exposure of the image. A high aperture (e.g. f2.8) means you can have the lens open for less time (fast shutter speed) for effectively the same amount exposure. 

3. ISO: ISO describes the sensitivity of the camera's sensor to light. This used to be fixed for the film you would put into an analogue camera, however the advancement of digital cameras has meant ISO is now easily and often automatically adjusted. Often with photography, people will shoot with the lowest ISO possible - as higher ISO's can result in lower quality and "noisy" images. However, wildlife photography is one of the times when we will look to increase ISO – increasing the ISO allows a faster shutter speed, faster shutter speed means less movement and sharper images! The other time higher ISO is used is in low-light (when you want to increase the sensors sensitivity), so low-light wildlife photography is a time to push the ISO. Fortunately these days, cameras are getting better and better at performing with higher ISO's and editing software allows us to reduce the noise in images.

 White Tail Mongoose: In low-light & at night, it is a balance between letting in enough light see the subject, but not having a slow shutter speed which creates a blurred image. Newer cameras and better editing allow us to increase the ISO higher (increased sensitivity of the sensor to light) without getting poor quality or grainy images. This white tail mongoose was some distance from the vehicle as they are very timid - I used a 200mm lens and still cropped down, yet the clarity of the image is maintained. You can also see his leg is lifted, he only remained still for a split second. (Settings: ISO 3200, Shutter 1/250, f4.0, 200mm)

White Tail Mongoose: In low-light & at night, it is a balance between letting in enough light see the subject, but not having a slow shutter speed which creates a blurred image. Newer cameras and better editing allow us to increase the ISO higher (increased sensitivity of the sensor to light) without getting poor quality or grainy images. This white tail mongoose was some distance from the vehicle as they are very timid - I used a 200mm lens and still cropped down, yet the clarity of the image is maintained. You can also see his leg is lifted, he only remained still for a split second. (Settings: ISO 3200, Shutter 1/250, f4.0, 200mm)

Shutter speed, aperture and ISO are considered the "Exposure Triangle". By adjusting these settings you can adjust the exposure of your image! For wildlife photography (and I will mention this several times), we want to ensure our shutter speed is kept relatively fast, so we will use aperture and ISO to adjust our exposure to suit the lighting conditions. A slow shutter speed and we risk the animal moving (or small movement in the car/hand), that results in a blurred image. Below are 2 images, the one on the left is the result of slow shutter speed and a small amount of movement. The photos were both taken after sunset and without any external light. Rather than a longer shutter speed to expose the image on the left, we would have been better to increase the ISO, increase the aperture or to edit a slightly underexposed image afterwards. The image on left is completely wasted and if this was the perfect moment, we would've missed it!

 A blurred image due to slow shutter speed

A blurred image due to slow shutter speed

 Same leopard photographed with fast shutter speed.

Same leopard photographed with fast shutter speed.

4. Depth of Field: It is also really important to consider Depth of Field when taking wildlife images - this is essentially the distance over which objects in your image will appear in focus. Depth of field is controlled by 3 things - distance from you to the object(s), the focal length of your lens and the aperture. The most easily adjusted of these is aperture. By adjusting the aperture, you will increase or decrese the distance across which an object will be in focus. For something like a herd of animals, you will want a larger depth of field (low aperture/higher f value), but if you want to focus on something specific, like an animals eye then you can have a shorter depth of field (higher aperture e.g. f2.8). It can also be effective to intentionally blur out the foreground/background using depth of field to emphasise a subject in an image. In the first image below, I have used a shallow depth of field (aperture f2.8) to deliberately focus just on the lion in the foreground and blur the lion and vegetation in the background. In the second image where there are multiple animals and random movement, I have used a greater depth of field (aperture f5.6) to keep more of the image in focus so I don't miss any action of a hyena rushing. Remember that by reducing aperture to increase our depth of field, we are letting in less light! So for wildlife photography where there is movement, we don't really want to reduce the aperture too much because we will end up having blurred images!

 Using a high aperture (low f value), we are able to create a sharp image of the lion in the foreground and the lion in the background is blurred. This has the added effect of drawing your attention to the lion in the foreground who is vocalising.

Using a high aperture (low f value), we are able to create a sharp image of the lion in the foreground and the lion in the background is blurred. This has the added effect of drawing your attention to the lion in the foreground who is vocalising.

 This is an image from a series of shots. In this instance we have used a lower aperture to allow a greater depth of field and keep more of the action in focus. Below are a few more from the same series.

This is an image from a series of shots. In this instance we have used a lower aperture to allow a greater depth of field and keep more of the action in focus. Below are a few more from the same series.

There is a smartphone "app" that allows you to input your settings and it will tell you what your depth of field is - this becomes more important when using lenses with higher focal length and the subject is farther away. You may find your depth of field for a subject is actually extremely small and you risk being out of focus. This is where the balancing act comes in and testing your skill of wildlife photography is required to get the really crisp, in-focus image.

Modes: There are various modes on most digital cameras and as beginners we tend to just set it to "auto" mode and start taking photos. Whilst the cameras can be quite good at reading the conditions, they won't be able to predict movement, so wildlife photography is one time where "auto" mode is going to let you down. You will greatly improve your photography by gaining a basic understanding of shutter speed, aperture and ISO and then using the other modes on your camera that allow you to adjust these settings. For wildlife photography, I typically shoot in either "manual" or "aperture priority" mode. 

Zoom: I used my 70-200mm lens for 80% of the wildlife photos on this safari. This is a really useful lens as it offers so much flexibility at distances that are quite good for a lot of amateur wildlife photography. There were times where I needed to be closer and used the 2x converter for "extra zoom". By using the converter, it essentially halves the aperture - so rather than shooting at f2.8 I was shooting at f5.6. The converter did allow some flexibility to zoom in much closer and it is far cheaper than a similar length lens, however there is a sacrifice in quality. By the same token, there was probably limited use for a 500mm lens because we were fortunate enough to get so close to the animals. I think in an ideal world, having 2 bodies, 1 with a 70-200mm and another with a 500mm lens (or similar variable lens) would be great. The 500mm lens would be an enormous advantage if shooting birds or you couldn’t get as close to the animals. They are also great if you want to focus on small details of an animal like eyes, nose, paw, skin etc. With these lenses you will certainly need some stablisation like the beanbag as they are large and heavy.

The image below was one situation where I did use the 2x converter and its an image I was really proud of from the safari. Its taken after sunset at a distance of around 200m. The subject, a hippo, was breaching so there was lots of movement. We need fast shutter speed but also enough exposure in low light and also the zoom to see the subject! I used my 200mm lens with the 2x converter making it 400mm. This meant my highest possible aperture was 5.6. I increased the ISO to 3200 and set the shutter speed to 1/250second. Whilst it isn't perfect, there is still enough detail to make out the whiskers on the hippo's nose!

 Action shots in extreme low light are a challenge. This image tested the limits of my camera, editing and abilities.

Action shots in extreme low light are a challenge. This image tested the limits of my camera, editing and abilities.

Manual/Auto Focus: I will almost always shoot on auto-focus, you just don’t have time to be manually focusing. Usually I will use either a single or 9 focus points depending on the subject. In the Nikon camera you have the option of AF-C (autofocus continuous) and AF-S (autofocus single). In AF-C mode, the camera will continue to refocus on the subject whilst you have the shutter half pressed. This is good if the subject is moving toward you and you will need the focus to keep adjusting. In AF-S mode, the camera focuses when you press the shutter halfway and doesn't refocus until you've taken the shot - this is preferred for stationary subjects or if the subject is moving left to right across your view.

Image Stabilizer: Turn the stabilizer on your lens “ON”. The camera detects small movements and is able to correct for them. You might have this off if you are doing a lot of landscape photography on a tripod.

File Type: If you want to really have more flexability in editing your images and maintain all the data, choose to shoot in RAW. These are larger file sizes and will take up more room, but you can do a lot more, especially with night-time/lowlight images. JPEG images are compressed files and have a lot of the data missing. They are usually quite ok if you just want to take photos for social media or basic editing etc. Avoid taking in both RAW and JPEG as it will slow your camera.

Frame rate: I always have my camera set to continuous shot-high in case I need to reel off lots of shots quickly – you never know when something will spring into action.

Some cheat sheet settings:

These settings will give you a starting point from which to take photos in a some of the more common light conditions.

1. Morning/moderate light:
- Aperture priority mode
- ISO 1800-2000
- Aperture f2.8-5.6 (2.8 for individual animals, change up to 5.6 or more if more animals etc)
- This will allow a fast shutter speed. Adjust your ISO as the light changes (reduce as it becomes brighter).

2. Bright light:
- Keep in aperture mode
- ISO reduce to 1000-1600.
- Aperture f2.8 – 5.6

3. Trying to photograph birds in a tree with bright background:
- If in "auto" mode the subject often appears as a dark silhouette and not a lot of detail.
- Set to manual mode
- ISO 1250
- Aperture 5.6
- Fast shutter speed in case the bird takes off
- Light adjustment +2 to +3
- This will overexpose the subject to bring out the detail. The background will typically appear white, but your bird and branch will have great detail. Just remember to change the light adjustment back to zero before you start taking your next series of pics!

 An image with poor detail of the subject.

An image with poor detail of the subject.

 Increased light adjustment to provide detail of birds in bright sunlight

Increased light adjustment to provide detail of birds in bright sunlight

Low-light/night time with a spotlight:
- Now you are going to need to reduce the shutter speed to allow enough light in.
- Change to manual mode
- ISO 3200 (newer cameras can push the ISO higher without getting much unwanted noise)
- Aperture f4.0
- Shutter speed, start at around 1/160 of a second and can increase to 1/250s if you need. Use the shutter speed to adjust the exposure. Need to be sure to keep still when taking these lowlight images or use a beanbag etc to reduce slight vibrations.

 A hyena laying on the road at night. Avoid using a flash and rather increase ISO (3200), moderate aperture (f4.0) and adjust shutter speed to control the level of exposure (1/160sec). The flash light is directed onto the road rather into the eyes of the animal.

A hyena laying on the road at night. Avoid using a flash and rather increase ISO (3200), moderate aperture (f4.0) and adjust shutter speed to control the level of exposure (1/160sec). The flash light is directed onto the road rather into the eyes of the animal.

Composition: You will see and even take a lot of images that, when you look on the computer afterwards, need to get discarded because of poor composition.

A really common mistake is chopping off the top of the tail of something like a leopard – it just ruins the photo and there is nothing you can do in editing to fix it. A better idea in the beginning, is to take a wider composition and especially if your camera has a high megapixel count, crop down afterwards.

Try to think about how the image will look as a whole, rather than just focusing on what the animal is doing:
-       Are there nice, iconic trees in the background.
-       If there are multiple animals in the shot, which do I want in focus?
-       Which direction is the animal looking or moving: its always nicer to have a bit more space in the photo in the direction an animal is looking or moving.
-       What is in the background? Powerlines, roads or anything man-made that will detract from the photo?

 Sometimes even when the animals are walking away from you, the features in the scene can contribute to your composition. in this instance, the winding path gives a neat sense of the "follow the leader" movement of this pack of wild dogs.

Sometimes even when the animals are walking away from you, the features in the scene can contribute to your composition. in this instance, the winding path gives a neat sense of the "follow the leader" movement of this pack of wild dogs.

Subject: The star of your image will almost always be the animal. So we need to pay special attention to how the animal is going to look. Often, it’s the action photos that create the most interest – lions roaring, leopard snarling, birds taking off – so its key to be ready to take multiple images in a short space of time to capture that moment. Other times, even when the animal is still, considering how it will look afterwards is really important – you might want to focus solely on the paw of a sleeping leopard. If a lion is feeding, getting those claws can make for a great picture. So play around with wider angles and then look to zoom in and focus on some really specific things. Think about textures and what might work really well in black and white – the wrinkles in a elephants skin at a close distance or the scars on a male lion's face.

 Focusing just on the smaller details like the paw of this sleeping leopard.

Focusing just on the smaller details like the paw of this sleeping leopard.

 Think about different textures and what might work well in black & white. 

Think about different textures and what might work well in black & white. 

If an animal is walking towards, away or across the view, take a burst of photos. You will find on the laptop afterwards, that 90% are throwaways because eyes were closed or legs were in awkward positions – hopefully 1 of them will be that perfect look.

 Caught her blinking - an easy one to delete.

Caught her blinking - an easy one to delete.

 From around 20 images in this sequence, I selected this one. Eyes focused, mid stride, tail balanced..........I can delete the rest!

From around 20 images in this sequence, I selected this one. Eyes focused, mid stride, tail balanced..........I can delete the rest!

Something I always try to do is learn as much about the animal and the area I can from the ranger (or google.....). Everyone rushes to tick animals off the checklist and get a snap, but you will end up with lots of very standard images. Spend some time just parked and watching an animal or a group and learn a bit about their behaviour, mannerisms and anatomy. You will begin to find that the best shots come from capturing the true re-creation of what that animal does - not just its reaction when you first arrive in your safari vehicle. The images below are from simply being patient and spending time at a site!

 These 2 young males were sparring with each other. Testing out their wrestling skills which will become more important when they get older and need to fight for dominance.

These 2 young males were sparring with each other. Testing out their wrestling skills which will become more important when they get older and need to fight for dominance.

 2 zebra that when completely relaxed took a short nap on each other.

2 zebra that when completely relaxed took a short nap on each other.

5.     Handling your Images:

Having a system to download and then organize your files is critical, not just for your wildlife photography but with all your photos. In the end, it needs to be a system that works for you! This is my system and why I do it, but find a method that works and keep things organsied.

-       Following each drive (or photo session) I download my RAW files onto an external hard-drive. The folder is labeled with the location and date (eg Kambaku19Sept2017).

-       Those images are then opened in my editing/viewing program, Adobe Lightroom. Here I scan through each image and flag the ones I will keep for any editing – only these images are imported. I do still keep 1 copy of all the images in the original folder on the hard-drive, although admittedly this is more personal OCD than a requirement.

-       Once edited, the Lightroom folder on the hard-drive is backed up to a second external hard-drive (I don’t back up all the images, only the ones I decided to keep). In reality, I probably do this  weekly.

-       A key is to always ensure images go into relevant folders which are easy to search for and easy to distinguish. Adobe Lightroom makes the process of cataloguing your images pretty straight forward. I end up with 1 4TB hard-drive that has all my working images and a 2nd hard-drive that is just for back ups. 

- Something to keep in mind about Lightroom, when you edit the RAW files, all the information is retained, so at any time you can "un-do" all the changes you have made and your original file is unaffected!

6.     Editing your images:

The software these days allows us to apply “tweaks” to improve the look of an image and I have no issue doing this - so long as we maintain the original look and feel of the photograph. I am not a big fan of using Photoshop manipulations to dramatically alter wildlife images away from what was seen with the naked eye.

I exclusively use Adobe Lightroom as my editing software of preference. It’s fantastic for sorting, editing and exporting images. I am by no means an expert and the more experience you get playing with images, the better you will become. My aim is to recreate what I saw live. For this reason I like to try and edit images that day or the next day, whilst its fresh in the mind.

Firstly, how to select the images to keep! In a single drive you might end up with 1000 images – you don’t have time to edit this many and nobody wants to look at them all. So, start by culling out the obvious ones – blurred, eyes closed, animals not looking, grossly under/over-exposed, poor composition, etc. From that, you will likely end up with many photos that are quite similar, but have slight variations – so from here you will be deciding between which to keep. Some of this is personal preference, otherwise consider direction the animal is looking, what is in the background, how focused the subject is etc. Be sure to zoom in on the areas that you wanted to be in focus and check that they are sharp on the images you retain.

To select the images to retain in Lightroom:

1. Click "import" and select from the list on the left, the drive that contains your files.

2. Uncheck all the images.

3. Manually flick through each image and select the ones you wish to keep by ticking to select icon or using the "p" key (pick). You can get more creative by using different attributes and flags to put photos into groups or ratings.

4. Select import and ensure Lightroom saves them in a designated folder on your hard-drive

 Uncheck all the images.

Uncheck all the images.

 Manually sort through and select the images you want to keep.........then import!

Manually sort through and select the images you want to keep.........then import!

Try to reduce the number down to 10% of your images of the total images taken on that drive. In some cases you might wish to keep and edit a series of images which depict action.

Lightroom has a huge number of functions and the more you use and become familiar with the software, the more accustomed you will become, especially with some of the subtle changes and the corrections you can make.

I will discuss the main things I look at in most images:

-       White Balance: White balance is how the camera understands the "temperature" of the lighting when you are taking a photo. It is something that cameras still find challenging. I tend to shoot in Auto White Balance as a matter of convenience and trust my camera to get pretty close. This is another reason to shoot in RAW, as it is easy to correct white balance in editing. If you shoot in JPEG this can't be done as easily. Usually, the RAW files will require a mild increase in white balance to remove unnatural blues and greys. You really want to be re-creating how the scene looked naturally!

 White balance much too low! (WB 3300)

White balance much too low! (WB 3300)

 The original RAW image (WB 4300)

The original RAW image (WB 4300)

 With white balance too high (WB 6800)

With white balance too high (WB 6800)

 Our edited image with a slight adjustment (WB 4646)

Our edited image with a slight adjustment (WB 4646)

-       Exposure: The best way to manage exposure is when you are taking the image. However, as I will always sacrifice sharpness for exposure in wildlife photography, there are times when my images are a little bit underexposed and need to have this increased. Modern DSLR cameras shooting in RAW also retain a lot of the detail in shadows that can be “recovered” in processing. This can be done also by adjusting the "shadow".

At any time, you can compare your edits to the original image by clicking on the Y|Y button at the bottom.

 A left-right comparison of our original and under-exposed settings.

A left-right comparison of our original and under-exposed settings.

-       Contrast: I tend to increase the contrast setting of images in order to make the subject “pop” a little bit off the screen/page.

-       Vibrance/Saturation: These control the colour intensity in your image. I rarely use the saturation slider as it evenly affects all the pixels in your image, even the ones that are already intense. Vibrance tends to increase less dramatically and increase the colour more in the less intense pixels. This tool can assist in subtly bringing out some of the natural colours that may have been diluted out of the image. Avoid completely saturating your image - it will look very unnatural.

-       Sharpening: As a general rule, I will adjust the sharpening to allow the software to really make the elements in focus (hopefully the animal) as crisp as possible. Usually between 50-90. I will also use the masking tool to concentrate this effect on the areas in focus and contrast it with those I have allowed to blur. 

 A sharpness adjustment on the right - you can see the subtle change in the detail of the horn.

A sharpness adjustment on the right - you can see the subtle change in the detail of the horn.

-       Noise Reduction: Especially in low-light conditions, when we are increasing the ISO, images can take on a "grainy" appearance - this is called noise. Cameras are getting better and better at operating at higher ISO values, however it will still be a factor in low light conditions. This grainy appearance can be somewhat overcome in lightroom using noise reduction. 

-       Cropping: An advantage of high megapixel cameras in that you can be generous with your composition, especially when you are getting started and then crop in later. Rememenver that the more you crop, the lower the resolution of resultant image over a given size. You can crop out unnecessary background elements, help to re-orientate your composition or zoom in on a particular aspect of the image.

 The original image with a wide frame

The original image with a wide frame

 The cropped image - most of the detail is maintained, despite the movement and distance!

The cropped image - most of the detail is maintained, despite the movement and distance!


The image above is of the mating dance of a Red Crested Korhan. The original is taken with a 200mm lens, f4.5 (to give some depth so as not to miss the birds during their movement), shutter speed of 1/1600 (as the male was dancing around quite quickly) and ISO of 1000. Despite being a distance away from the birds and only using a 200mm lens, the final image is quite nice due to the fact we could crop in quite close. Much of the detail is maintained due to the resolution of the original image.

Below is the series of images, showing the pre-mating dance, successful mating and a little dance to finish! Quite a rare sighting and really fortunate to get on camera.


- Dehaze: Recent Lightroom updates will have a "dehaze" option which allows you to use the software to reduce (or increase) atmospheric haze (including fog, glare). This can be quite useful to create very clear images.

 Edited image without dehaze.

Edited image without dehaze.

 Image enhanced using dehaze.

Image enhanced using dehaze.

There are a number of other editing functions you can use for various photos - spot removals, shadow slider, individual colour adjustments, etc. However the above would be adequate for the vast majority. Remember, the idea is to re-create what you saw, not create an imaginary setting.

Once you have edited your photos, you can export them for viewing. I have 2 presets for export – a social media/low resolution file size and a higher resolution file size. For normal viewing, sharing etc, the smaller files sizes (around 1-2Mb) are adequate. To do this, change the “Image Sizing” setting to “Resize to fit”. Select the long edge to be 2,048 pixels and resolution to 300 pixels per square inch. These files will easily upload to social media like Facebook or Instagram. For the higher resolution images, unselect the “resize Image”, you may still wish to limit the file size to a maximum of 10Mb for ease of handling. I export as JPEG, with quality set to 100. Be sure to select the location where you want the images saved - ideally a folder on your external hard-drive to avoid taking up space on your computer.

 Setting for exporting images to be shared on social media formats like Facebook

Setting for exporting images to be shared on social media formats like Facebook

7.     Sharing your images:

One of the more satisfying things to do is to share your images with family, friends and the community. These days, social media allows you to share your images with a much wider audience. There are the platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Instagram also lets you “tag” accounts such as National Geographic that may “repost” your image and story. Below are some social media accounts that are worth following and tagging in your wildlife images.

Instagram:

National Geographic: @natgeo  @natgeowild  @natgeoyourshot
Africa: @africa
African Exploring: @africanexploring
Big Cats Diary: @bigcatsdiary
The African Safari: @theafricansafari
Kruger National Park: @krugerthroughmyeyes
Villiers Steyn: @villierssteyn
At Close Quarters: @at_close_quarters
Kambaku Lodges: @kambakulodges

Facebook:

South African Wildlife Photographers
At Close Quarters

Additionally there are platforms such as 500px, Shutterstock and Adobe Stock where you can share and even be paid for your images if they are used.

Of course, the best place for your favourite captures is printed and hung on the wall! For these images, the resolution of the final product will be far more significant than when you are posting on social media. When the resolution or the file size is low, the image with lose quality when it is blown up. 

Select the images for print carefully - consider where they will go and the framing - some spaces lend themselves to black & white, others to action shots and others to unique close ups. 

I hope you enjoy this gallery of my favourite images from my stay at Kambaku Safari Lodge:


Acknowledgments:

Villiers Steyn of At Close Quarters was a significant support in developing my wildlife photography skills. If you have the chance to do a dedicated wildlife photography safari, it will provide an opportunities to improve your skills and understanding far better than you can by yourself. Even for beginners, you will learn the fundamentals that will make taking wildlife photos more enjoyable. Villiers and At Close Quarters run private and group photographic safaris, visit their website or contact them directly to arrange an experience that suits you. For much more detailed information about photographic safaris, photography techniques and settings, visit their website! Its also a great place to get some inspiration for booking your next safari. At Close Quarters.

The team at Kambaku Safari Lodge were fantastic in providing an opportunity to create the images for this review. As is most often the case, I paid the standard rate to stay at the lodge, so can provide an honest and unbiased opinion. Kambaku is ideal for visitors looking to visit a park with incredible populations of wildlife. The facilities are impeccable and I loved that the lodge aims to operate with a zero carbon footprint! Many lodges charge visitors some astonishing rates, however Kambaku has kept their fees at a level where visitors can enjoy a luxury safari experience, without spending the entire trip budget!

Nikon Middle East have been a wonderful support in ensuring I had the chance to take the recently released D850 on this safari. Through their Nikon Schools and Nikon Premium Member programs, Nikon Middle East also provides great opportunities for people to develop their photographic skills, including in wildlife photography.

Footnote: We had some incredible rhinoceros sightings at Kambaku and took some beautiful photographs, however I have chosen not to publish the images so as not to give any opportunity for these animals to be identified. It is personal opinion whether people choose to publish on social media - on one hand it can raise awareness to the desperate situation these animals face, on the other it does provide opportunities for poachers to identify areas where rhinos are. Its definitely worth taking time while you're in South Africa, learning not only about rhinos, but also the huge number of species facing extinction due to poaching and other human interventions.

Mountain Hikes in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE

Published by Andy from The Travel Hub

Andy is one of the Co-Founders of The Travel Hub. In addition to travelling outside of the United Arab Emirates, there are many places to visit only a drive away from Dubai.

Recently, Andy joined a group from Dubai on a hike through the mountains in the nearby Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.

Instagram: @andrewmarty_

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Dubai has become an incredibly popular tourist destination, with many spectacular highlights for visitors - Burj Khalifa, The Palm, Dubai Mall, Old Town Dubai, Souk Madinat and adventures in the desert - just to name a few. But there are some hidden gems located outside Dubai that people really need to hear about!

The United Arab Emirates is made up of a total of 7 Emirates (similar to states). Many are familiar with Dubai and Abu Dhabi, however the other Emirates - Sharjah, Ajman, Fujeirah, Umm Al Quaim and Ras Al Khaimah are well worth visiting in their own right, whether your are here on vacation or living in the UAE.

Whilst much of the UAE is made up of vast sand dunes, there are areas in the Northern Emirates that have rocky mountains and valleys that can be both spectacular to view and great fun to explore.

We joined a group organised by Zsi Trading - a distribution group in Dubai specialising in apparel like outdoor adventure brand, Marmot. The hike was led by local adventurer Arnaud Laviolette, who arranged information on what to bring, meeting points and a pre-hike briefing. 

 
 Big thanks to Zsi Trading for getting this group together for our hike (photo credit : Instagram @zsi_trading)

Big thanks to Zsi Trading for getting this group together for our hike (photo credit : Instagram @zsi_trading)

 

We drove just over 1.5 hours from Downtown Dubai into the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah. Our hike started at the base of Wadi Al Afar (wadis are essentially dry river beds) and our aim was to climb to the peak of Jebel Yabanah - around 1170m above sea level. The terrain is rocky, with very sparse vegetation - looking more like a scene out of the move "The Martian". Whilst it wasn't an overly long hike in regards to distance, it was slow going as the accent is quite steep and very gravelly. We were hiking in what are considered the cooler months in the UAE, however the temperatures still rises quickly in the day and you have almost zero protection from the sun, so carrying enough water is essential.


What To Take:

- Water: at least 3 Litres per person
- Appropriate clothing: Can be cool in the early morning, but gets warm, so think layers!
- Sturdy footware.
- Sun protection.
- Lightweight food: Small lunch, protein bars, snacks.......LOLLIES ;)
- A hiking stick if you have one.
- Camera: If you are conscious of carrying weight, the mobile phone! If you are silly like me, take your DSLR!
- Small first aid kit
- Bags should not weigh more than 6kg maximum!



Remarkably, tribes of local Emiratis lived for centuries midway up the valley and our hike came across a small area where for a long time, they had practiced farming techniques to grow feed for livestock - a large flat area surrounded by a small rock wall which would gather soil over years, enough to sustain grasses to feed livestock in the summer. There was also a small cemetery and remains of traditional stones houses. Not far away was also a small point where water remained at the surface. Further up the valley was another small house - this was equipped with air-conditioning and is still inhabited today!


 Arnaud providing information about the farming practices that local people had used here for centuries.

Arnaud providing information about the farming practices that local people had used here for centuries.


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The final stretch of the hike was a steep, challenging climb - it certainly raised the feeling of satisfaction when reaching the top! The view from the summit was spectacular and despite it being a hazy day, it was still possible to see across the other side to a small village. We sat and enjoyed a picnic lunch, admired the view and contemplated the age old hypothesis of what goes up..........must come down!


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Anyone who has done any hiking up and down mountains will understand that the descent is usually more difficult than the ascent. Its harsh on the legs and you really need to concentrate on gravelly terrain not to slip or roll and ankle. There isn't a well defined path on this hike and we did find at times that the route we took on the way down probably wasn't the "desirable" course - however the sliding on backsides and slipping between boulders was as entertaining as it was challenging!

On the way up and down, we came across some workers who were carrying various things up and down. Their years of experience was a clear advantage and they made striding across the steep slopes of unstable rocks look easy.

Too often we plan to travel hundreds of miles from our homes and forget to explore the unique destinations just under our noses. For anyone living in the UAE, taking a hike through the mountains and wadis or Ras Al Khaimah is a great experience.........and a fantastic leg work out! The Wadi Al Afar hike is considered intermediate taking around 8 hours across moderately challenging terrain. There are some other intermediate hikes available including The Wadi Shah Loop, Wadi Ghalilah & Naqab. For beginners, there are some shorter hikes of around 3 hours available in Wadi Shawkah, Donkey Path Trail and The Copper Hike. There is an enthusiastic community in the UAE and Arnaud arranges hikes that are possible to join. For commercial and group hikes, he can also arrange activities through Adventurati Outdoor  - backpacking, camping, abseiling and canyoning. It is possible to contact Arnaud via email: arnaud@ecotrekae


Social Media Links:

Zsi Trading: Instagram - @zsi_trading
Marmot Clothing: Instagram - @marmot
Arnaud Laviolette: Instagram - @arnaud_laviolette


Photographing the Stilt Fishermen of Southern Sri Lanka

Published by Andy from The Travel Hub

Andy is one of the Co-Founders of The Travel Hub. He took a small group of passionate travellers from Dubai on a curated travel experience to Sri Lanka in October 2017. One of their favourite stops was in the coastal city of Galle.

Instagram: @andrewmarty_

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An iconic tourist photograph from Southern Sri Lanka is a traditional stilt fisherman perched on his cross shaped platform, with line in the water. The art of stilt fishing isn't actually as "traditional" as it may seem, with the method only starting during World War II. To catch fish in the shallow reefs close to shore, men would sit on hand made platforms. The image of these fishermen, especially around sunrise and sunset, became a popular and iconic image for visitors to cities like Galle and Tangalle.

In 2004, Sri Lanka was decimated by the tsunami caused by the Indian Ocean Earthquake. There was widespread damage to much of the coastline and a huge loss of life. The impacts of the damage were long lasting and one of the industries that was somewhat permanently affected was the stilt fishing industry. Many fishermen lived right on the coast and were among the tens of thousands of lives lost. In addition, the tsunami destroyed many of the reefs close to shore that provided the fishing grounds accessible to stilt fishermen.  The loss of fishing grounds, coupled with the huge economic impact of the tsunami meant that the remaining stilt fishermen needed to find alternative sources of income. Many relocated inland to the farming and agriculture industries and others joined the crew of small boats that fish further out to sea.

Over time, they found that tourists returning to Southern Sri Lanka were still keen to photograph the stilt fishermen. Some saw this as an opportunity to pose for photographs and receive "tips" from the photographers. It has created a situation where people now question the authenticity of the stilt fishermen, as the majority are in fact not actually fishing.

We visited Galle in October 2017 and were keen to photograph the stilt fishermen early in the morning. We ideally wanted to find some genuine stilt fishermen and asked around to find a location of where they might be. What we were told was that the vast majority of fishermen you will find on the beaches between Unawatuna and Welligama are indeed men who are willing to pose for photographs from tourists and do expect to receive some tip. In some cases they are real fishermen who work on boats or fish further out, but will supplement their income by posing for photographs. Others have simply found they can make more money from tourists than they can from fishing. Either way, if you want the iconic stilt fisherman photograph, it is unlikely to be of a genuine fisherman...............and you will need to pay for it.

All along the stretch from Unawatuna to Welligama there are beaches that will have stilts in the water. If you pull over on the side of the road, there will be local men willing to pose on the stilts for photographs. We stopped at a place called Ahangama beach and very quickly found a local man who was more than happy to pose for as many photos as we wanted. He told us how the industry had been so severely affected by the tsunami in 2004 and that he now derives his income from tourists rather than fishing. In many ways, it is a very sad story, where a natural disaster has had such a long lasting impaction on a local industry.

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Some people feel that taking photographs of these men who are essentially "posing" as stilt fishermen, is fake or not real. However, the money I gave him goes to support an economy that was decimated by a natural disaster and I am aware that I visited Sri Lanka as part of the tourism industry. The price we paid, when converted, was not very much and we spent roughly 40 minutes. I did not feel at anytime like we were being hustled or scammed - rather we had approached him. I have heard people say that these are just "actors", but I see no harm in paying him a small price for his work, compared to the millions paid to other actors around the world. I also don't hide from the fact that the images are not actual stilt fishermen. But there is nothing that isn't genuine about the man in the image. He is 100% local to the area and his life was dramatically affected by a disaster that he had no control over. He is willing to recreate the image of what fishing along this stretch of beach would've been like prior to 2004 and for that I am happy to pay him.

There are still a small number of genuine stilt fishermen along this stretch of coast. They are often further out from shore, so will be more difficult to get good quality photographs. There are also fishermen that perch on small rocks and we did see some of these during our stay.

 
 A genuine fisherman fishing from a small rocky island close to shore

A genuine fisherman fishing from a small rocky island close to shore

 

If you want to see the real fishing industry of Galle, visit the local fish markets of a morning or afternoon. The boats will unload their catch and men will call loudly to advertise their prices. We visited one of the fish markets as part of an incredible food experience with Owl and The Pussycat Hotel & Restaurant. Read more about our market tour and cooking class in the review.

It is becoming more difficult these days to find "authentic" experiences that haven't been in some way affected by tourism. Whilst it is still possible to find authentic stilt fishermen, my advice would be to understand that if you want one of those iconic images, you may need to accept it will be from someone posing for the photo. If you are fortunate enough to find a genuine fisherman and you do get great images, it would always be nice to leave him a few dollars as a thank you anyway.

One thing I really enjoyed during my visit to Sri Lanka was the interaction with so many local people. They have a wonderfully warm nature and most were extremely keen to have their photo taken as well as have a chat about their story. As a general rule, I will always ask permission before taking someone's photo and will make a judgement call as to whether the person is in a situation where I feel I should offer some form of reimbursement. 

We traveled to Sri Lanka with flydubai, who have flights direct to Colombo everyday of the week. Follow the link to our review on flydubai and be sure to visit their website to explore a number of inspiring destinations!

 

The New Moon - An (un)expectant father's guide to the "Babymoon"

Published by Andy from The Travel Hub

Andy is one of the Co-Founders of The Travel Hub. During his wife's recent pregnancy, Andy was confronted with the concept of the "Babymoon". Read his guide for (un)expectant fathers.

Instagram: @andrewmarty_

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Pregnancy is one of the most exciting times of a couple’s life – filled with excitement, nerves and anticipation. There is almost a feeling of guilt that comes too - that your wife is going to go through these intense physical and emotional changes and then of course, the actual birth. As a man you want to share some of this, but feel totally helpless – there comes a time when you just know that back rubs just aren’t enough!

Without doubt, for both partners, a certain sense of reality sets in during these 9 or so months. As expectant fathers, we tend to start thinking a lot about the responsibilities that come with a growing family – that duty to “provide and protect”. Men will notice an increased credit card activity, a spike in online purchases and trips to the baby store to buy items you had never known existed. The reality that the care-free spending of your youth is over and you start thinking about mouths to feed, school fees and paternal responsibilities.

I, quite foolishly, arrived home early to the tail end of my wife’s Babyshower and admitted to a room filled with clucky women that I did not known what a “Babymoon” was! Men out there, when your wife becomes pregnant, the amount of time she spends on social media, blogs and baby forums is going to go into over-drive. You are going to be faced with terms like “Babymoon” and “push gift”, so have a better answer than “I have no idea what you’re talking about” in front of 20 or so women. This leaves you in the extremely vulnerable position of having very little control in the planning process. 

 
 The Babyshower is no place for "unexpectant" fathers!

The Babyshower is no place for "unexpectant" fathers!

 

In all honesty, I need very little convincing to go on a vacation at the best of times, so if it wants to be under the guise of a “Babymoon”, let that be the case. Its true that you have so many things to plan during pregnancy, however, planning this short getaway provided a welcome distraction from what was probably over-thinking about other things. Are “Babymoon’s” something that is all about the pregnant woman…….probably, and to an extent it should be. But it is also going to be an experience to share as a couple at a time when you are probably being inundated with advice, opinions and information.

Naturally, people become apprehensive about travel, flying and being away from their support during pregnancy. Fortunately for us, we had a wonderful obstetrician who was very calm and practical. She convinced us one of the biggest risks during pregnancy is stress, so a trip that would reduce this load would actually be beneficial. She gave us plenty of information about when during pregnancy to fly and what destinations suited a “Babymoon”. Funnily enough she was much more familiar with the term than I had been.

My wife had always wanted to visit the Maldives - a destination that almost defines relaxation with its white sandy beaches, magnetic blue waters and iconic over-water bungalows. It is one of those places when you scroll down your Instagram feed that you can recognize the location just by the photo!

The Maldives was a relatively short flight from Dubai and we made a decision to choose a resort that was based quite close to the main island, airport and hospital. Whilst our pregnancy had been healthy, I definitely wanted to be close enough to help if there was any problem. We found Taj Exotica Resort & Spa through a Bookings.com search – it had a special on rates and amazing reviews. Most importantly, it looked like exactly the sort of place we could both switch off. If you are nervous about deciding on a destination, talk it through with your obstetrician. Consider places within a short flight or driving distance. Ask if there are any potential health risks, weather conditions or medical situations you need to be aware of.

Flying during pregnancy is considered safe up until 36. Most airlines do request a medical certificate from your obstetrician, although this is mainly to confirm that the pregnancy does fall into these safe dates. Your doctor will also recommend things like ensuring your wife stays well hydrated, wears compressions socks/leggings and gets up and walks around during the flight – all things she is probably doing already at home.

Staying at the Taj in the Maldives could not have been a more perfect choice for a Babymoon. From the moment you hop on the boat to take you from the airport to the island, you realize that The Maldives is exactly what it says on the label! The water you see in all those Instagram photos doesn’t need filters, its strikingly blue!

The Maldives is unique in that it is spread over a huge expanse of water, yet the actual landspace is tiny. The Indian Ocean country is made up of 26 atolls and over 1000 sand islands. Even the capital, Male, is only 1.7km long – it is far better suited to relaxing on a beach than hiking up mountains!

The Taj Exotica is on a small private island around 20 minutes by boat from Male Airport. It is a perfect contrast of lush green vegetation, white sandy beaches and metallic blue water. There are luxury beach-side villas and a series of iconic over-water bungalows. There is something incredibly unique about laying in bed at night, listening to waves lap against the foundations of your room. I simply love the over-water bungalows. You wake in the morning open the doors out onto the Indian Ocean to drink your coffee on the private deck. Each morning we grabbed the snorkel and mask and hopped into the lagoon that was surrounded by the bungalows. Its ok to be late for breakfast when you have this excuse each day.

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The Maldives is the sort of place where the most difficult decisions include whether to lay on the beach or in the hammock! At the Taj, they even provide you with a personal butler to assist in making all the decisions – it would actually be challenging to be stressed in this sort of place! Our Butler, Nadeem, planned out any activities we wanted to do and the remainder of the time was left to lounging on the beach!

The Taj has a great wellness center with a range of expeirnces including massages and facial. My wife enjoyed this one of the mornings while I snuck away for a quick SCUBA dive. Diving is something we would normally do together, but isn’t safe during pregnancy. Fortunately, my wife knows how much I love an opportunity to get under the water and the Maldives is one of the most amazing places to dive!

Nadeem took us out on a small boat one evening, where we watched the sunset and did a spot of traditional fishing with handlines. The next day, the chef at the resort took us through a cooking class in Maldivian cuisine, preparing the fresh fish in 3 styles. There is a range of dining options at Taj Exotica including casual through to fine dining. The Deep End restaurant was truly amazing, with the al fresco seating and candle lit tables. However we both agreed that the fresh fish prepared in front of us was our favourite meal – there is something special about fresh local cuisine.   

Another thing we did was spend an hour with local photographer Jcob Nasyr (Instagram: @jcobnasyr). Jcob took some amazing photos and it was really nice to have pictures taken together that weren't selfies. Its a special time as a couple to have a few pics with the "bump" and they are memories we are extremely fond of.

Our Maldives Babymoon was one of the rare times that we have both simply “switched off” and truly relaxed. We found ourselves having those normal conversations again and not stressing about what people thought of our baby name choices.

Things are going to change in all sorts of exciting ways very soon, but time to yourselves is going to be a memory, so make it a great memory!

 
 

Gastronomy in Galle with Owl and the Pussycat Hotel & Restaurant

Published by Andy from The Travel Hub

Andy is one of the Co-Founders of The Travel Hub. Passionate about travel, Andy hosted a group from Dubai in Sri Lanka, where they experienced so much of the islands unique, colourful and vibrant culture. It also presented an opportunity to enjoy another passion - local cuisine.

Instagram: @andrewmarty_

 Photo: @voyageurchic

Photo: @voyageurchic

A love of travel and of food almost go hand in hand - both allow you to really experience the unique culture of a destination. Trying local cuisines is something I am passionate about and on a recent visit to Sri Lanka, was fortunate enough to have an incredible food experience at Owl and the Pussycat Hotel & Restaurant in Talpe, Gallery.

 
 

Owl and the Pussycat Hotel & Restaurant is a short drive along the coast from Galle (map). When you enter the property you are immediately taken aback by the perfect mix of colour and style, set against the back-drop of a beautiful Indian Ocean view. 

I must confess that I absolutely love exploring fresh food markets in cities I visit around the world - I find it a fascinating insight into the culture of a place. I can spend hours watching fresh fish get delivered or wander a market and sample local fruits that you don't find back home. So the opportunity to spend a morning with a chef at a local food market was something I was already excited about.

We met with head chef Anthony D'Costa (instagram: @anthony_dc9211) at the hotel and jumped into the mini van for the short drive to our first stop, the fish markets. There are several fish markets dotted along the coast close to Galle and Anthony took us to his favourite. The stalls are literally casting distance from where the boats moor. A very simple arrangement of stalls, but buzzing with activity as locals inspect the catch and salesmen spruik their product. There is a range of local species including snapper, garfish, mahi mahi and whitebait, but the premium item on the list is freshly caught tuna. Anthony explained how different fish suited different cooking styles and ingredients - from curries with white flesh fish, frying the smaller white bait whole, through to allowing the natural flavour of the tuna be the hero by only slightly searing the fish. For now, the purchases went in the cool box and we were off to our next stop - the vegetable market!

The vegetable market was expectedly full of colour, however it was the people around the stalls that brought the most vibrance! The sellers and customers were keen to stop and chat, have a photo or talk about the different vegetables that filled the stands. Many even tempted us to try the small chillies - fortunately, Anthony explained that only one or two of these in a whole dish would be plenty! There were many familiar vegetables, but also some locally grown produce which I didn't have much experience with. One purchase was the "banana blossom" - the edible flower of the banana plant which is a common ingredient in southern Sri Lanka.

Adjacent to the vegetable market are a number a stalls selling a range of spices. Just walking into the small shop, the aroma fills your nostrils. We went through some of the different flavours that go into making authentic southern Sri Lankan dishes. Of particular note was cinnamon, a spice not only used in local food, but also playing a significant role in the history of Galle and Sri Lanka. For centuries, Cinnamon was a relatively rare and expensive commodity that was keenly sought after in Europe. Portuguese, Dutch and then British settlements controlled the Cinnamon trade in Sri Lanka from early 1500's for around 300 years, shipping the valuable spice back to Europe. Sri Lanka remains the largest exporter of the Ceylon variety of cinnamon and it is readily available in every spice stall.

Last stop on our market tour was the fruit market. Certainly something that is hugely popular especially in Galle is freshly grown fruit! King Coconuts line the streets and it takes 2 minutes to find someone selling the fresh and rehydrating coconuts with a straw! Did you know that technically, coconuts are a fruit, not a nut! So they are right at home at the fruit market!

The fruit market was like a rainbow of colours, with many of the fruits a familiar favourite - apples,  grapes, mangoes, pineapples, etc! Something that did catch our attention were clay pots that were sitting quite openly in the sun. These sealed pots contained a curd that was allowed to "sour" in the warmth. The curd, made from buffalo milk, is a local delicacy for dessert!

We now had a van full of fresh local ingredients and it was time to head back to Anthony's "office" for a cooking masterclass!

Back at Owl and the Pussycat it was time to bring all these flavours together. Anthony is head chef of The Runcible spoon at the hotel - a lovely restaurant with an open plan kitchen that lends itself to guests gaining a greater appreciation of the skills that go into making their meals. 

 
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First, it was that fresh tuna. Anthony rolled the fillet in sesame seeds and it was ever so lightly seared. The garnishing of ginger, wasabi and light soy sauce were just enough to not over-power the real hero - that undeniably fresh tuna. You can't compare tuna that has literally been caught that morning to that brought from stores after days of transport - it quite literally melts in your mouth

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Now it was time for the main courses. Anthony took us through several dishes - ranging from seasoned and grilled whole fish, a prawn curry, through to beans mall made with a unique "winged bean".

The combinations of different flavours, especially the addition of all those spices were the true art in the whole process. It was fascinating to watch as Anthony built up each dish around the main ingredient! The way in which a dish like the prawn curry was so methodically constructed, adding each ingredient in turn before leaving it quietly to simmer. Even the way the colour changed during the simmering process from a pale yellow to a more orange-gold as the coconut milk reduced and the curry powder took over.

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One of the things I really loved, was the way all the different ingredients we had seen at the market only and hour or so earlier, were being incorporated. The unfamiliar banana blossom, which I had seen but never really knew what it was or how it was used, was now the key ingredient in a dish that I couldn't wait to try.

Slowly all the elements were coming together each in a different dish that would highlight the texture, flavour or colour of the ingredients. We went back outside to take up a spot at the table beneath the palm trees, sipping on fresh king coconuts and listening to the waves crash onto the beach behind us........patiently waiting as Anthony put the finishing touches on the dishes.

The final result was a banquet that truly represented the tour through the markets that morning - a rich tapestry of ingredients that had come together perfectly. It was impossible not to try at least a little bit of everything. It is rare that you can have such a spread of dishes and love every single bit. I was faced with a significant problem when it came time to "go back for seconds", I genuinely wasn't sure I could eat another round of everything, but couldn't choose anything to leave behind! Times like this, it pays to be a big eater........so I had a little bit more of everything! No judgements!

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It was far too easy to get caught up in the spread of local flavours before us and forget we still had that local delicacy of the buffalo curd to try for dessert. The clay pot was borough to the table, opened and the thin layer of paper carefully peeled from the top. The set curd had a consistency somewhat like creme caramel and was easily spooned into a bowl. It had a unique tangy taste, a bit like a natural yogurt and was enjoyed with a drizzle of kithu treacle.

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The market tour and cooking experience at Owl and the Pussycat was truly one of the highlights of our Sri Lanka trip! I am a self confessed foodie, so I do love these sorts of things, especially the opportunity to tour local markets with a chef! Owl and the Pussycat is a wonderful property very close to Galle and located right on the beach. The rooms are delightfully set out and are more apartments than hotel rooms - most having their own kitchenette. The decor is so charming, each room has its own theme and even its own name, derived from a line in the poem from which the property takes its name! There is a gym, wellness centre and a reading room that even if the weather was bad, would make for the perfect place to sit and lose yourself in a good book. But when we visited, the weather was typically beautiful, so the best place to be was sitting between the pool and the ocean with a fresh king coconut!

The Travel Hub and its guests spent a total of 5 nights in Sri Lanka, traveling to Colombo, Kandy and Galle. We were fortunate enough to enjoy the comforts of Business Class on board flydubai, who have flights daily between Dubai and Colombo. Be sure to see our link to flydubai or visit their website for some more travel inspiration.

 
 

Visit Old Town to Experience Dubai's Unique Culture

Published by Andy from The Travel Hub

Andy is one of the Co-Founders of The Travel Hub. Living in Dubai not only provides a great base for travel, but also the opportunity to experience an incredible city at home.

Instagram: @andrewmarty_

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If you don't think Dubai has a rich history and culture, you definitely need to go and visit Old Town on the banks of Dubai Creek.

 
 

Skyscrapers and shiny sports cars dominate the Dubai we know today, often overshadowing the history and culture of the Emirate. But only a short distance from the luxury malls and opulent hotels, is Old Dubai, where the city’s past has been preserved.

Long before the high-rises dominated the skyline, the city of Dubai was a fishing village focused around Dubai Creek - a port for fishing, trading and a large pearl industry. The wharf, located on the North bank, is still a hub for trade boats carrying a vast array of products and supplies from many African and Asian regions. A small walk along this trader’s marina leaves you marveling at the load and stability of these vessels, carrying from food to SUV’s.

Adjacent to the cargo vessels and dhows lies a bustling Abra station, taking commuters to various stops across the creek. For just 1 dirham (USD 0.30), passengers can hop on, and enjoy the breezy 5-10min journey across this busy channel. Abra’s run every few minutes throughout the day and are an easy and authentic way of getting around.

Across the waters from the original commercial centre of the city are unique eateries and stops that will take you through the birth of the Emirates, while offering you a cultural dip into what many incorrectly perceive to be a city without soul. It is here you will find the true beating heart of this desert metropolis, complete with old city haggling and endless daily bartering.

It’s a good idea to spend the better part of a day in Old Dubai. When you arrive across the creek from your Abra ride, you will find The Creekside Restaurant & Café – a traditional style eatery with local dishes and twists on continental favourites. The breakfast menu is impressive, and the French toast is served with flavors of date and pomegranate – a must try! The cafe is a true hidden gem in the ‘old ‘city, and well worth the stop and the calories.

The laneways along the creek house trinkets and treasures from across the region. Don’t be surprised if you’re greeted by over enthusiastic store-keepers speaking a variety of languages as they lobby for you to spend time at their store purchasing from anything traditional local garb, colourful fabrics, souvenirs and Indian leathers.

 
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Following the shopping passage will lead you up to the bustling area of Bur Dubai. Between culture, commerce, and many consulates this area offers a diverse range of activities for visitors to enjoy. A short walk from the textile souk and creek area lies Al Fahidi Fort - a museum with images and antiques, the fort is a remarkably preserved piece of traditional Gulf architecture. This is the original fort for the city of Dubai, and was for some time the residence of the Ruling Family. The museum can be visited every day except Friday, and admission is a mere 3 dirhams for adults and 1 dirham for children.

 
 Al Fahidi Fort

Al Fahidi Fort

 

Nearby is the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which has a wonderful display of local Arabic artwork. So much of the history and culture of the UAE is depicted in the collections of both old and modern art. Climbing the narrow staircases and wondering through the wind towers that house the collections offer a glimpse into how buildings looked before the highrises took over.

A short hop up from the Fort is the picturesque Arabian Teahouse Café. A perfect stop for lunch on a walking tour of the area, the cafe serves Middle Eastern specialties along with over 100 different varieties of tea to sample. Guests can sit among the famous blue benches and enjoy the traditional past-time of smoking the shisha pipe with one of many fruity flavors.

 
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As the sun starts to dip, and the Souks light up, head back across the creek and start your evening adventures through the Spice and Gold Souks. The aromas of the Spice Souk are enchanting and stalls house an array of treasured spices and incense from all over the world. My personal favourite is the Frankincense from Oman – when put over a small coal in a burner it creates an incredible perfume that fills a room. The Gold Souk is a great place to fine tune your haggling skills and if your are looking to buy jewelry or a gift, the prices are extremely competitive. The Government regulates the souk very closely, so you can be sure that the jewelry sold is the real deal!

To bring your day of exploring in Old Dubai to a close, sail the evening away on one of the dinner dhow cruises. The brightly lit vessels serve a traditional Middle Eastern buffet and slowly pass along through the areas you have explored. From here you will see the lights of the tall buildings now surrounding the former hub of the city.

 
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Whilst Dubai has expanded outwards and upwards around it, the creek area remains a wonderful glimpse into what life was like decades earlier. Whether you are a resident or a visitor to the city, you will appreciate taking the time to explore Old Town Dubai and immerse yourself in this city’s beautiful culture.

5 Tips To Take Better Travel Photos

Published by Jamie from Photo Jeepers

David enjoys photography and exploring areas off the beaten path in the jeep. Jamie plans and organizes the travel itineraries and details. We share our photos and stories to Inform and Inspire you to explore new places and capture your adventure with photographs. Contact us if you have questions about Arches, or any other National Park in the Western United States.

Instagram: @photojeepers
Website: www.photojeppers.com
Blog: http://photojeepers.com/blog/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PhotoJeepers/
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/photojeepers/
YouTube: http://bit.ly/PhotoJeepersYouTube

What makes you decide to visit a particular location? Is it the landscape, the beach, the architecture, the history or food? The places you visit have their own unique look, character, and ambiance. You want the photographs of your travels to capture the sites or activities that drew you to visit that destination.

Here are 5 of our favorite travel photography tips to improve your images so they trigger memories and convey what you saw and felt as you viewed a scene or participated in an activity.

GET UP EARLY & STAY OUT LATE

 
 
 

Golden light is the most important ingredient to create stunning photos. This light occurs during golden hour, which is an hour after sunrise, and an hour before sunset. The soft, warm morning or evening light adds a quality to images that can’t be replicated.

When you wake up early there will be fewer tourists and other photographers. If you want a photo of a famous landmark without other people in the scene, be there right when it opens and you may have the place to yourself! Also, the evening usually isn’t crowded since most people like to end their sight seeing in time to eat dinner.

Taking photos at noon with direct sunlight is not ideal for travel photography. But traveling usually means a full day of seeing the sites. Try to keep the sun at your back, position yourself so an object partially blocks the sun, select a low angle, or focus on the shade. If there are clouds in the sky, utilize the shadows to create dimension in the scene.

RESEARCH LOCATION

The House on Fire Ruin was a must-stop for us on a recent trip as we explored the four corners area in Southeastern Utah. To capture the ruin with the reflected light, we had to be at the location at a precise time and on a day with no clouds.

If you have a specific image you want to photograph, you must research what is necessary to get that photo. Do you have the right equipment? What time of day, season and weather conditions are best? What is required to reach the location? Be prepared so you can enjoy the time photographing the scene successfully.

 
 

RULE OF THIRDS

 
 

The rule of thirds is a basic technique that can be applied to any subject to improve the composition and balance of your images. This essential composition technique can be used in all types of photography to produce images which are more engaging and better balanced.

A photograph with an off-centre composition is more pleasing to the eye and looks more natural than one where the subject is placed right in the middle of the frame. This rule also stretches you to notice and make creative use of the empty areas around your subject.

CENTERED COMPOSITION

 
 

Yes, there are times when you need to disregard the Rule of Thirds. Humans find beauty in natural symmetry because it provides balance. An image with centered composition evokes a feeling of peace and tranquility. Horseshoe Bend is a good example of a scene that needs to be centered.

Photographing reflections (a link to our article on photographing reflections:  https://photojeepers.com/how-to-photograph-reflections-to-create-stunning-images/)  is a good time to use symmetry in your composition. In the above photo, I’ve used the rule of thirds and symmetry to compose the scene. The sign in in the lower third of the photo and the horizon line is centered. Often you can combine several composition guidelines in a single photograph.

CREATE DIMENSION

 
 

Foreground, middleground and background are basic composition elements. The photo above has the following layers: the lake, the trees and the mountains. The human eye naturally recognises each layer and mentally separates them out, turning a 2 dimensional photograph into a 3 dimensional scene with more depth.

Emphasise a scene's depth by including interesting subjects at varying distances from the camera. Practice visualizing these elements as you compose the scenes you want to photograph.


Take your travel photos to the next level by putting these tips into practice - utilize the golden hour light, research the locations you visit and experiment with composition.  

Improve your photography skills in no time, without expensive gear! We offer 30 FREE Photo Tips to help you take incredible travel photos.  (use this link:  https://photojeepers.com/free-ebooks/)

 

Why I Want To Sell All My Stuff & Live In A 31 Year Old Van

Published by Louise from Between Two Pines

Will and Louise are two musicians, storytellers, artists, and adventurers
gearing up for #vanlife in their 1986 VW Westfalia, Dusty.

Instagram: @betweentwopines
Website: www.betweentwopines.us

According to the American Dream, I have it well. I came from an upper-middle-class family, that lived in a large, roomy house. When it was cold, we had the heat on, and when it was hot, we turned on the A.C. I landed a stable, well-paying job within the first year of graduating from university... where my tuition was paid for by scholarships. I've seldom felt incapable or afraid of paying rent, and I've never gone hungry.

I've had my fair share of ups and downs, but all in all, I have lived a good life, a comfortable life, and certainly a life of privilege.

Disclaimer: I realize how saying all of this might sound. I'm not trying to romanticize poverty or hardship, or take my privileged background for granted, or insult those with privilege or wealth… or sound like a barbarian, or a self-deprecating masochist. I'm so thankful for the opportunities I have been given.

However, I have had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind - a complicated sense of lackingthat I have felt for years. I wonder if I were meant for a very different life. In a way, I think we all are - as animals. I feel a tug from a part of me deep down that wants to run away from the systems that have been set in place around me.

I believe that a life of stability and comfort is not the opportune vehicle for growth.

I want less money than I'm making right now. I want a smaller home and fewer belongings. I want less choices. In a sense, I seek a little more discomfort in my life.

 
 I want to chase my own dinner

I want to chase my own dinner

 

Growing up, my family could afford to keep the heat on throughout the winter, and the AC on throughout the summer. I never even thought twice about it growing up, because it was never even a question - it was an automatic response after glancing at the weather forecast.

I've since moved into my own apartment - a much older building, with window AC units and terrible air circulation. It's July right now, so it's hot, and even with the AC on, it rarely gets below 80 degrees. But since I have had to deal with it every day, I have grown accustomed to the discomfort, and I notice it less and less.

Now, I know living in a van will be hella uncomfortable. Our van's AC doesn't work, and I know we'll be exposed to the elements on a daily basis. But I wonder how thick my skin will be after a few months of living in a van during the summer, and what I'll be able to tolerate before I start to feel uncomfortable.

 
 

One day last week, I was leaving the office and walking to my car in my usual work flats. They were starting to rub against a blister on my foot that I had formed the other day from hiking...

So I took them off.

And I felt the asphalt on my bare skin under the hot July sun. I felt the warmth and energy flowing into my toes, and I felt so alive.

For the first time that week, my thoughts were on the present. I wasn't counting down the hours until I could be home for the day, going through all the tasks on my to-do list, or worrying about what tomorrow would bring.

No, I was simply feeling the magnificent energy of the heat from the road, and the sun on my skin.

I reflected on this moment of clarity on my drive home, and I was reminded of being on the road last year, and how much time we spent in living in the present. How much time we spent barefoot around the campfire, gazing at the stars. How the hot Arizona sun would warm our tent in the mornings, how unbearable it would become within a matter of minutes, and yet how I jumped out of bed those mornings so invigorated and alert. How often we felt the earth below our feet, or sang at the top of our lungs. How we let the wind whip through our hair as we drove through the Mojave Desert with the windows down, after - you guessed it - our AC broke.

In those moments, I felt more alive than I ever had before, because those moments were lived entirely and fully in the present.

I think everyone can agree they want a simpler life.

So many of the decisions we are faced with on a day-to-day basis are concerning the future. Striving for that promotion, planning for retirement, always thinking of what we have to do next.

But all of that dissolves when you're confronted with a hardship that you have to deal with at that given moment. When your car breaks down on the side of the road in the desert, or you're out hiking and you lose your bearings, when you aren't sure where you're going to sleep that night and are driving around desperately for a place to park and pitch your tent - you aren't considering what will happen a year from now - you are trying to get by in the present. It matters today.

Even if these decisions are tough, scary, and some of them even life-threateningly dangerous, I'm inclined to believe they are simpler, because they belong to now. And breaking through, finding a solution, making it out alive or with just a few scrapes - not only is it so much more rewarding, but I find that you end up learning so much more about yourself, your potential, and your surroundings through them. Experiencing hardship and discomfort is the ultimate teacher.

Every time you grow, your world gets a little bit bigger. Your skin gets a little thicker.

That is why I dream of  the "vanlife" - as a vehicle for growthconnection, and mindful living.

Seeking risk and challenge because it will allow me to grow and learn.

Seeking exposure to the elements in order to be attuned to my surroundings. Seeking that connection to my primal roots, and to the earth and her natural cycles.

Living simply with few belongings so I can focus my energies on the things that really matter to me. Living mindfully and intentionally - in the only time that exists: the present.

How To Get Banned From Greece

Published by Rach from Hookups and Handshakes

Rach is an adrenaline junkie, amateur chef, wannabe Sommelier, travel addict from the 313, who happens to book wine induced, impromptu flights abroad. Her stories will have you laughing for days!

Instagram: @hookupsandhandshakes
Website: www.hookupsandhandshakes.com

 
 

When anyone asks me about my trip to Santorini, it can go one of two ways.  The first version is a typical “ohmygod, Santorini was soooo beautiful…” bull-s.  The real version, to no surprise of my close friends is a little less typical and a little more NSFW.

Let’s start from the beginning.  I had no intention of visiting Greece anytime soon, or really traveling anymore for the rest of the year.  But one quick visit back to the Mitten and many drinks with friends changed all that.

Over Labor Day, I drove to Detroit for a wedding.  My first night back in town, I ended up catching up with two of my guy friends’ for drinks.  Now, I’ve been friends with these guys for the better part of a decade and could expect the amount of trouble we would get into.  It always goes down with this crew.  Fast forward a few hours and a few too many shots of whisky later, we decide to write a list of five counties, toss them inside a hat and play Russian roulette.  I’m not sure at this point we even knew what was going on, because the next thing I know I’m getting out of an Uber, heading into a strip club and downing bottles of Dom.  But the best cure for a raging hangover?  Waking up to an email confirming your flight to Athens.

A few weeks later, my buddy arrives in Chicago and I make a comment that I will continue to laugh about for months, “if neither of us dies, OD’s or gets arrested, I will consider this a good trip”.  Knowing both of us, we couldn’t make any promises.

Neither of us planned any detail of our trip, but did make a drunken last-minute decision to book a budget flight with Aegean Airlines from Athens to Santorini for the week.

On our flight to Athens, I hit the economy class jackpot; an ENTIRE row of seats to myself.  But as we’re both a little buzzed anyway, my buddy sits down in the seat next to me, we down four mini bottles of wine, pop a few Xanax and pass the F out for the next eight hours.

We finally land in Santorini, exhausted as all hell and the reality hits that we haven’t booked a place to stay.  We hightail it the “visitor’s desk”, which if you’ve ever flown into Santorini, you know that this airport has two gates and the airport is tiny AF.  Lucky for us, we were traveling during shoulder season so we had no issue finding somewhere to stay.  We booked a room for the next week at Andromeda Villas Luxury Hotel in Imerovigli.  The views at this hotel are what Santorini dreams are made of.

The following morning, when we both feel like real humans again, we rent an ATV and head out to explore the island.  Santorini is bigger than I expected and renting an ATV is a cheaper, faster and more convenient way to visit the most famous island in the Cyclades.

After spending the day exploring Oia we head back to our hotel for a few ‘tails before heading to Fira so my buddy could buy a swimsuit.  Because it’s totally normal to head on vacation without one (yes, let me insert an eye roll).  After we complete this chore, we head to happy hour and bar hop around Fira.

A few hours later, we arrive back at our hotel to freshen up and chill at the bar for a few more cocktails before dinner.  Since the restaurant was only a few blocks from our hotel, we decide to drive the ATV back to Fira to get crazy.  It was Saturday night after all.  Now, I am NO proponent for drinking and driving, ever.  But at this point in the night I was ok with us driving to Fira and leaving our ATV parked for the night.

Walking back into Murphy’s we order a round and head out to the patio.  A few moments later a server walks over and hands up a shot and informs us that they came from the bartender.  We walk back inside to introduce ourselves and the night immediately turns into a downward spiral.  With every round of drinks we order, at least three shots followed.  But I guess this is what you get when you tip ten euros per round.  Everyone in the bar is staring at us wondering who the hell the unicorn Americans are who can throw back drink after drink.

Toward the end of the night we try to catch last call on the way to get gyros.  No one and I mean no one would let us into a bar, let alone serve us a cocktail.  We officially got kicked out of Fira.

As we are standing in line to grab food, by buddy takes off running down the road.  And I am pissed.  Later I find out that in his mind, he was going to grab the ATV to pick me up before heading back to our room (this was NOT my plan).  I finish my gyro and head to try to find a cab.  I’m not at all proud of how hammered I was but I couldn’t even unlock my phone to figure out where I was staying.  I told this poor cab driving that I was staying in Imerovigli and he continues to drive around before I jump out of the car and throw cash at him.  I face plant in the bed.  I was done.

I couldn’t have been passed out for more than an hour when I wake up to someone banging on my hotel room door with a flashlight looking through the window.  I open the door and this old man start frantically screaming at me in broken English, “Jail.  You go to jail.  Right now.  Friend.  Jail.”.  Okay, cool.  The old man from the front desk calls me a cab to take me to jail.  I have no idea what’s going on, I’m beyond fucked up and this is the last thing I want to deal with.

I arrive at the police station where an officer is waiting for me.  He takes one look at me, laughs and tells me that I too, am very drunk.  No shit buddy.  I walk in and see a look that I don’t think I will ever forget.  My friend is sitting on a bench, while two Syrian Refugees are chilling on a mattress in a jail cell, helping the other officer look up YouTube videos.  He takes one look at me and I just bust out laughing.  He is trying to tell me how smoking hot the one refugee is, the cop is yelling at him to shut up.  I mean, how is this my life?  How did he even get here?

In his belligerent state, he thought he was more than ok to drive us home.  In his attempts to come pick me back up in Fira, an older man ran a stop sign and T-boned him causing the ATV to flip and roll down a hill.  The old man, who could only scream in Greek, called the cops.  This was a pretty gnarly accident and later I learn that his BAC was a .3.  My immediate thought was, oh fuck, how are we not dead right now?  The road rash on the entire left side of his body was on an entire different level.

I hand over my passport to the officers as they try to explain what happened and what needs to happen for me to bail him out of jail.  Let me tell you, this was the most lax shit ever.  The cops were in the process of issuing three tickets, one for the accident, one for the DUI and one for the ATV not having insurance.  Since it was now early on Sunday morning, the cops informed us that we would have to wait until Monday morning to pay the tickets.  A little while later one of the officers pulls me outside and tells me that we really don’t to pay one of the tickets since we don’t have the Greek tax ID number, the ticket for not having insurance was the responsibility of the ATV owner, however, we would need clearance from the US Embassy to enter Greece otherwise we would be detained at the airport.  I still wasn’t sure I comprehended this information correctly but the sun was rising and I needed to crash.

After chilling at the police station, trying to keep my cool, the officers let us go.  The sun is rising, we are pretty much in the middle of nowhere and there are no cabs  anywhere.  The cops, being cool as hell, offer to drive us back to our hotel.  Cool by me.  And maybe a few hundred Euros are left in the back of the cop car, you know, just to help the situation out a little.

Once we get back to our room and get over the entire “what the hell did we get ourselves into tonight”, it was time to crash.  I mean, the sun was up and we could hear people walking to go get breakfast.  This wasn’t how I usually like to spend a Sunday Funday.

In the early afternoon, we finally braved the sunshine and desperately needed food.  Once we made it the bar, the woman at the front desk approached us and lets us know that the owner of the ATV was waiting for us.  I have the most horrified look on my face and my friend leaves to take care of it.  An hour later, he shows back up and tells me the ATV owner, not the little 5’5 guy who rented to us, picked him up, drove him to the garage and handed him a 800 euro bill for the damage.  We had 48 hours to pay up.  Completely exhausted and mentally drained, we spent the rest of Sunday napping in the cabana, while the story of how the drunken American got arrested made its way around Andromeda.  Later on in the afternoon, our favorite bartenders show up and we explain what happened and showed them the three tickets.  The bartenders laugh at us and tell us to make sure we leave Santorini and head back to Athens before the week is up and avoid paying.  The officers were right however, we were not going allowed to travel back to Greece without contacting the American Embassy.  The decision was made, we were going to hightail is off the island…in a few days.

A few days later as we settling up our bar tab, the woman at the front desk must have called the owner of the ATV because he showed up at out hotel within minutes.  He wanted him money for the damaged, which my friend gladly paid and we high tailed off that island.

Fast forward a few months later, I receive a call from an unknown Greek number and my buddy receives a Facebook message from the ATV owner wanting us to pay for the no insurance ticket that we bailed on.  Needless to say, we had a good laugh but it looks like we’re not heading back to Greece anytime soon.  Cheers.

Travelling With A Migraine - Tips from a chronic Sufferer

Published by Tosh from whereintheworldistosh

Tosh is a photography nut, motorcycle enthusiast and travel massive travel junkie! Tosh's blog is a wonderfully refreshing description of travels around the world, one country at a time!

Instagram: @whereintheworldistosh
Website: www.whereintheworldistosh.com

It’s no secret that travelling and planning can be somewhat stressful from time to time. Now, imagine having a migraine while travelling. That quintessential jabbing, stabbing, shooting, piercing, sharp pain that accompanies a migraine.  It is quite literally, the living version of hell. Take it from me, I’ve been a chronic migraine sufferer since the tender age of three. Yup! You read that correctly, three years old. I’ve gotten migraines in every imaginable scenario, whether it be school, work, riding my motorcycle, on a train, plane, or driving a car. You can kind of call me a “migraine connoisseur” at this point in my life. Trust me, it’s not a title I wear with pride, or have joy of owning. To be honest, it’s really. crappy! And if I hear another person say, “Isn’t there something the doctor can do?” Oh, and my personal favourite, “Ya, I get headaches too!” I will literally EXPLODE!

As an avid traveller, whether it be by train, plane, car, or motorcycle, I’ve mastered how to deal with my migraines, or at least how to calm them slightly. I’ve listed some tips and tricks that may hopefully help another migraine sufferer in the future whether they are trotting around the globe, or simply commuting home from work.

Always Plan Ahead

Having a plan of attack is surely one of the ways to reduce stress, anxiety and of course, migraines. Any advance planning will definitely help in aiding a headache that may potential spiral into a painful migraine.  Organizing your itinerary and pre-travel errands will reduce the stress of running around right before your trip. I’m not saying to plan your every exact move on your itinerary, but knowing where to go, what gate to go to, or train track to be on makes a huge difference. Nobody likes running around last minute like a chicken with their head cut off. Make sure to give yourself enough time to get to the airport, board any trains, get through customs and don’t forget all of that waiting in numerous lineups. Then, once you’re through with all of that, grab a bite to eat and relax before your flight, or train ride.

Don’t Forget Your Pain Medication

Whether it’s over the counter pain medication, or prescription, it’s imperative that you don’t forget to bring some sort of medicinal relief for migraines. Try to remember to bring extras as well. It’s always better to have too much with you than not enough. I try not to take as much pain medication now, as I know it has damaging effects to the kidney down the road, especially after years and years of usage, but sometimes you absolutely need them. #MigraineProblems

Stay Hydrated

It’s clinically proven that migraine sufferers tend to get dehydrated a lot faster than those who do not suffer from migraines.  Dehydration can happen faster while travelling within the dry environment of a plane, doing vigorous activities such as hiking, cycling or being outdoors all day in the heat. To avoid this from happening, always, always, always drink some glorious H2O.

Be Mindful Of Climate Change

If you’re travelling to a warmer and more humid climate than your body is used to, chances are a migraine may be in the forecast. If you’re anything like me when it comes to killer migraines, the climate change will literally debilitate you. More specifically, rain, extreme heat and humidity are my arch nemeses. When I was in Thailand, I remember having SUCH a brutal migraine, that I basically forced everyone to call it an early night because I couldn’t stand to be in the bar any longer. I only had one beer, but it was the heat and humidity mixed with the constant noise that drove me crazy. It didn’t help that we had the “Party Tuk-Tuk” the whole way home busting beats as I sat there slumped over and pretty much ready to jump out. Oh, and the morning I woke up in Malta with a headache only to look out my window and see the darkest clouds and massive waves crashing onto the promenade in front of my hotel. People commonly joke about how I am in the wrong career and should be a weatherperson, since I am usually 95% right when it comes to guessing if it is going to rain, or if a storm is approaching anywhere along the Eastern seaboard of North America. It’s crazy. My head is usually more correct than the weatherman on TV. Heading to the cottage on the weekend and wondering what the weather will be like? Just ask me how my head is.

Try To Eat Somewhat Healthy

What’s that old saying? “Eat like s#$%, feel like s#$%?” Did I just make that up? I don’t know! It isn’t completely wrong though. While travelling, I still try to stick to somewhat healthy eating habits, without completely depriving myself of indulging on local cuisine. If I eat a salad with chicken, or salmon for lunch and have some pasta, schnitzel with gravy, dessert and beer for supper, then I’ll feel fine. If I’m going to eat cakes, cookies, sugar, booze and carbs all day long, chances are I’ll end up with some kind of sugar induced headache. For many migraine sufferers, certain foods can be a trigger (see my next point). Everything in moderation, folks.

Know Your Triggers & Try To Avoid Them

People who are susceptible to migraines are known to have triggers. A trigger can be anything from bright, flickering light, extreme heat, or even certain foods. Since I am a longtime migraine sufferer, I know most of my triggers by now. Some of my triggers are the weather (mostly rain, humidity and change in barometric pressure), dark chocolate, excessive alcohol, bright light, stress, getting TOO much sleep and stuffiness due to allergies. Some of the things that I find help ease the pain even slightly are Ginger Gravol Liquid Gels (for nausea caused by migraines), Advil Extra Strength LiquiGels (taken only when absolutely needed), LOTS of caffeine, peppermint gum, or the scent of peppermint (has a cooling and calming effect), an ice pack and of course, a dark, silent room to sleep my pain away in.

 
 

Even after taking every precaution in the book, migraines are still very stealthy and come on very quickly and randomly at most times. The best way to cope with a migraine if you are out travelling around town, or flying in a plane at 40,000 feet is to do the following: Stop what you’re doing, sit and relax, tell a flight attendant and see if there is an ice pack available, eat something high in protein like nuts, drink lots of water and most importantly, keep calm and stay positive. Nothing fuels a migraine faster than stress, or crying and screaming, trust me. Been there, done that. It doesn’t help.

Travelling is something that I love to do and being a migraine sufferer won’t stop me from seeing the world, so I try not to think about it, or let anything stress me out while I travel, because in the end, I’ll take a delayed flight, or missed train over a migraine any day. 

Do any of you guys suffer from migraines? Have any stories, or tips that you want to share? I’d love to hear about them and learn what works for you! Let me know in the comments below! xo

Related articles on Tosh's blog:

How to make long haul flights more bearable

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Top 10 Travel Must Have's

Published by Monique from Wanderlustmyway

Monique is a writer and consultant with an incurable case of wanderlust. Her blog captures the travels of a young, millennial woman with a desire to see the world

Instagram: @wanderlustmyway
Website: www.wanderlustmyway.com

WMY must01.jpg

My original Top Travel Must Haves list is looking quite different these days. Some things I no longer take with me and then there are others that I’ve added to the list and will swear by. Let’s get right into it.

NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES
If you can score some wireless noise cancelling headphones you will never be able to travel the same without them. I specify wireless because we don’t need ANOTHER cord to lug around, but the cord comes in handy to tune into in flight entertainment with everyone else. Even when I’m not watching TV I turn these bad boys on and take a nap. Crying babies, talking neighbors? Those are annoyances of the past. Now my biggest grievance is a seat mate with bad breath. And there’s not much I can do about that.

LAPTOP
My MacBook not only comes in handy when I have to get some work done (ex: my latest trip to Bali) but it helps because I need to have some real TV to watch. I stay in airbnb‘s with no televisions or in hotels with no good channels. I need my Netflix and Youtube! Invest in a MacBook now rather than a $300 laptop that’ll      crash in two years. Thank me later.

DSLR CAMERA
When I went to Portugal and Spain last year I barely took any photos. I didn’t want to. To be honest, I’m over it. Over missing moments by trying to perfectly capture it and OVER lugging around that thing. But I still travel with it, and a tripod too! My Nikon D5300 makes for great shots, is simple for a first timer or a pro, and I literally take it on every trip.

PORTABLE CHARGER & TRAVEL ADAPTOR
I finally unboxed my new travel charger. It was a duplicate of the old one that was pretty much dead and I wouldn’t accept it. It comes in handy on airplanes where everyone else’s airport jack works but yours and it is especially useful when you’re laying around on a beach for hours snap chatting, on Instagram, and playing games.

Now more newbie’s…

COMPRESSION SOCKS
I found an anklet in Bali and even though nobody could see my ankle, I decided to wear that baby home. After sleeping in an airport lounge overnight and taking a 15+ hour flight back to NYC, once I arrived home I noticed my ankles were huge (especially the one with the anklet). So swollen and while I wish it were just fluid from something, it’s actually blood pooling. Sounds gross and scary, right? Well, as someone who barely moves on planes (I don’t get up and do my calisthenics) it’s inevitable, especially when spending a full 24 hours traveling. So, I’ll have to get my Grandma on and invest in some sexy compression socks. They’ll assist blood in continuing to circulate as it should. Voila.

HEAVY SCARF
I tend to travel offseason. In the summer’s you can find me in New York and during all other seasons you can Cash Me Ousside, How Bout Dah? I’m usually leaving colder weather to go somewhere warm, or at least warmer than NYC. I don’t overdress so I don’t get hot, and I try not to underdress, because I still need to depart and return to winter weather. A good, heavy scarf usually makes all the difference, especially in chilly airports (lounges too) and often times freezing airplanes. It’s easy to snatch off once you reach the sunshine and simply throw in your purse or tuck into your luggage.

TRAVEL PILLOW
I remember constantly traveling and forgetting my little neck pillow. Then I would take it, but not use it. THEN I saw that most headrests have a folding feature to prevent your head from going back and forth. And THEN I started taking day long flights and let’s just say, this baby is necessary. So on flights that are 4 hours or less, you can leave it, but if you want the good sleep and leaning against the window or on your neighbors shoulder doesn’t help…get you one.

PENS!!
Look, y’all. I happen to always have a pen because sometimes I like to jot down notes for work or maybe even journal during my transit. It’s a nice thought, but I usually end up watching all the latest movies from the time I sit down until the time they turn off the in flight entertainment. However, I still have a pen and for some reason 75% of the plane doesn’t. If you’re traveling internationally and/or returning to the United States, you know you need to fill out a Customs/Immigration form, right? Now maybe the flight attendants have two extra or you don’t mind having to stand around filling it out while in line, but how about we quicken this process by being prepared, you little traveler, you. And because I love to write, I love a good pen.

Oh and don’t worry, I still have my dope passport case  in addition to taking a journal along for the ride, even though it’s no longer the one that I dedicated to travel. I was packing WAY too much.

Is Solo Travel All Its Cracked Up To Be?

In the Weekend Magazine from UAE's Khaleej Time, Thuymi from AdventureFaktory and I discussed the pro's and con's of "solo travel". Whilst we took opposing sides for the article, I think its fair to say we shared similar views on travel. 

 
 

Why I am a fan of "solo travel"

Would I consider myself a solo traveller? No.  Well, not anymore.

These days, almost all of my travel is done with my wife and we fit snugly into that #travelcouples bracket – candlelit dinners instead of the late nights, politely asking strangers to take our photo infront of The Bridge of Sighs and debates over whose suitcase the heavy family gifts are going in.

As we excitedly await the birth of our child, we will soon transit into the world of family travel – itineraries dictated by sleeping patterns, carry on luggage full of nappies and bulk-head row be default.

But some of my fondest travel memories also come from the times I travelled solo. When I would book tickets impulsively, plan my itinerary around sporting events and accommodation was determined by cheapest price! Solo travel shaped the way I experience different cultures, different countries and experiences. It challenges you to meet new people, solve your problems and make decisions. The one thing I will say about solo travelling is, you are never actually alone. Everywhere I travelled “by myself”, I found that I would make new friends, start conversations with strangers and discover that people in different countries are really not too different from myself. All this was before smart phones and social media! And it was incredible!

As we plan a trip back to South Africa for a family wedding, I sit making email enquiries about a 4 day photography safari in the Kruger. Just me, my camera and some of the most beautiful animals on the planet. It isn’t an escape, it isn’t any need for “me time”, but it is something I really am looking forward to. For a short few days, I will make my own plans, I will seek out conversations with people I don’t know and if things go wrong, I will sort it out myself.

Solo travel is all about life experiences. It doesn’t mean you wont ever enjoy travelling with other people. It doesn’t mean you wont make new friends. It doesn’t mean you will be that lonely guy without a partner at the barn dance. You may define your travel style as a “solo traveller”, but rarely are you ever truly alone.

Five of the Best Yoga and Wellbeing Holidays and Retreats

Published by Melanie from Desertswan

Journalist by day and yogi by night, I am passionate about sharing my views on living healthy in both body and mind. 

Instagram: @desertswanblog
Website: www.desert-swan.com

As yoga rises in popularity, more and more people are looking to incorporate it into their holidays each year. It’s a great way to go to an amazing new destination while deepening your practice, allowing you to do at least two classes a day while still managing to relax and explore a new place. It’s especially good if you’re a solo traveller and want a place which feels a little more sociable than simply traveling alone. Many destinations are catering to this growing demand, meaning you can find yoga holidays all year round, and not always at a price that breaks your wallet. So here are a few escapes, all of which are doing their bit to take better care of Planet Earth, which I’ve really enjoyed and I hope you might too.

Kamalaya, Koh Samui, Thailand

This hillside retreat will always hold a special place in my heart. I first came here almost ten years ago, stressed out, unhealthy, totally unbalanced, and left ten days later, deciding to leave my job and move away from the UK in search of healthier, happier adventures. Set in the beautiful surroundings of Koh Samui, but away from the chaotic, more touristy parts of the island, Kamalaya is a total wellness resort. Isolated in nature, night times are dark, and silent, other than the sounds of the creatures around you. I did the detox package both times I was there which meant eating much like I eat now; no dairy, wheat, sugar, meat or fish. The food is amazing, fresh and diverse every day. It’s the kind of place which for the uninitiated, will convert you from thinking healthy food is boring, to thinking it’s even better than what you eat already. The one thing I love about yoga retreats is that they’re the one place I never have to worry about my diet; being gluten and dairy intolerant, I often struggle when I’m away. I first went to Kamalaya by myself but this is the kind of place you can be as social or alone as you choose. Packages such as yoga synergy, emotional balance and stress and burnout, include treatments, food and accommodation, so once you’re there, you’ll have no shortage of things to do or pampering to be had. Classified at 4 star, Kamalaya is positioned at the more luxury end of the yoga retreat scale, though this is worth every penny spent when you’re investing in your health and wellbeing.

Yoga Searcher, Uluwatu, Bali

What’s unusual about Yoga Searcher is that it’s only a stone’s throw from the action of Uluwatu. Everything is just a scooter ride away around the cliffss, and you’re a short walk from places like the trendy Single Fin restaurant and bar, while in your poolside eco lodge, you feel as if you’re cocooned in a cosy little mountainside retreat. With three or four classes a day, from yin to acro yoga, there is more variety than many places. Their gluten free, organic and vegan restaurant is incredible, so there is no shortage of good local, seasonal food, different each day, though there are a lot of cute places to explore around the area, not least Nalu for amazing acai bowls and if you want a little bit of something more fancy, try El Kabron, a Spanish cliff top restaurant and ‘beach club’ around ten minutes’ drive away. We enjoyed the nearby Bingin beach and a little further away, Dreamland beach, but be prepared for some steep hikes up and down hill. 

Villa De Zoysa, Boossa, Sri Lanka

Devinda’s colonial ‘White House’, built in 1907, has been in his family for generations. This elegant, character-filled Villa De Zoysa has year round retreats, where international teachers take the helm for set periods of time. With home made Sri Lankan food every day, there is no risk of upset tummies here. Just a short walk to the beach and a short tuk tuk ride to nearby towns such as Galle, it’s a perfect location to have that feeling of isolation, without being too far from things to do. With cooking classes and ayurvedic treatments all at the villa, or surfing nearby, there is plenty to do beyond your yoga mat, whether you want to stay at home or venture further afield to the beaches or jungle. 

Yoga Magic Eco Retreat, Goa, India 

I loved this place for so many reasons, not only the passion of its owners, who sit and share meals with you during your stay, or the beauty of owner Ishi’s morning yoga and meditation sessions, but it is a living breathing organism of yoga. Usually, tourism and hospitality and sustainability are at polar ends of the spectrum, but the beauty of yoga retreats is that you can usually find places which are doing their bit for the cause of conservation. Yoga Magic is certainly doing just that. Its eco tents have solar halogen lighting, natural composting toilets and waste management using EM (effective micro organisms). The hot showers get their heat directly from the sun and where possible, buildings are constructed from locally sustainable materials such as mud, clay, stone, bamboo, jute, wood, palm leaves and cow dung. If you don’t fancy dealing with the natural composting toilets however, which I admit, I did not, you can also stay in one of the two rooms in the main house. Its vegan and vegetarian food is simply amazing. Every day was something different and quantities in no short supply. A short drive from Anjuna beach and hippy market, and any of the other well known beaches of North Goa, such as Ashvem or Arambol, the location is easy to navigate if you fancy soaking up the smells, colours and sights of stunning Goa. 

Bamboo Yoga Retreat, Goa, India

Right on Patnem’s beach front in South Goa, Bamboo Yoga Retreat is the perfect spot to feel like you’re having a beach holiday, while throwing in your yoga practice. With two classes a day, its resident teachers will lead most, with other guest teachers coming in to offer special workshops. While I was there, I was lucky enough to have an amazing Iyengar teacher lead us through the mechanics of backbending. Its beach huts are not the most noise proof of things so if you’re a light sleeper and unlucky enough to have a local wedding while you’re there, you could be in for a rough night, but otherwise, you’ll fall asleep to the magical sound of the waves. The beach is stunning and a bit of walking will take you to uncover other amazing nearby beaches and nature spots. Monitored quite strictly, the beach is not packed full of people trying to sell you things so you won’t be bothered every five minutes as on some stretches of Goan beach. Though the food was good, it was a hard act to follow on the back of Yoga Magic, but its sunset yoga from the beach front shala is just blissful and makes the location of this place a beach and yoga lover’s dream spot. 

*Note: None of these holidays are particularly child/family friendly, meaning, you can possibly bring children, though they are not geared towards children’s activities.

Five Natural Ways To Prevent or Reduce Jet Lag

Published by Melanie from Desertswan

Journalist by day and yogi by night, I am passionate about sharing my views on living healthy in both body and mind. 

Instagram: @desertswanblog
Website: www.desert-swan.com

As summer time approaches and trips to exciting destinations far and wide draw close, there is lots to plan: which clothes to pack, the new bikini you absolutely must buy, which hotel will you stay in, picking your favourite sites to see, beaches to explore. But there is one thing which we can never quite plan for; the dreaded jetlag. We all love to travel, but this is probably the one thing which gets to us all. It can be the bane of any holiday, or trip home for those living the expat life, so I spoke to Ayurvedic doctor, Dr Asha Jones, from the Dubai Herbal Treatment Centre, to find out some ways of kicking jetlag to the kerb. 

  • Stay Hydrated – Start drinking lots of warm water from several days before your travel so you are well hydrated by the time you fly. You can use ginger infused water hot or cold, by adding two inches of ginger in one litre of water. Avoid caffeine or tea on the day you travel as it causes dehydration. The more dehydrated you are, the more issues of fatigue and digestive problems you may encounter.  
  • Improve your Digestion – Eating healthy and easily digestible foods starting in the few days before travelling will help in terms of bloating, constipation and general fatigue. The better your body is when you arrive on the flight, the better equipped to handle the challenges of travel, it will be.
  • Thriphala tea remedy – Mix one teaspoon of thriphala powder in warm water with honey once or twice a day for good digestion, in the lead up to flying, and when you land. This is a great drink to have daily if you suffer with irregularity. You can also find ready mixed capsules from brands such as Pukka, if you need something easy to pack. 
  • Warm spice sleep remedy – Mix 2 grams of cinnamon or nutmeg powder in one glass of warm organic milk or in honey will naturally aid your sleep. Using Coconut oil massaged into the head or massaging coconut oil or sesame oil into the soles of the feet will also help.
  • Massage – If you feel tired and swollen, try to get a good massage as it improves your circulation, the organ functions and clears the fluid retention. For swollen ankles or feet, dipping your feet in warm salt water will help.

Happy holidaying! x

Conserving Our World To Travel

Interview with Katie – A Traveller and A Conservation Ecologist

Published By Andy Marty - The Travel Hub

Andy is the curator of The Travel Hub. A passionate traveller, photographer and story-teller. An interest in the conservation work done by Katey of @ameytravels inspired this pice.

Instagram: Andy Marty: @andrewmarty_
                  Katey: @ameytravels

“Travel is the best way of being able to educate people”

Like many of us, Katie is a keen traveler, harbouring a strong desire to see as much of this amazing planet as she can. On top of that though, her wanderlust is coupled with a passion for protecting the world for future generations. A large part of travelling is the opportunity to experience vast and diverse landscapes. We can immerse ourselves in different societies, cultures and ecosystems. We can witness first hand, nature’s beauty - whether on safari in Africa, witnessing glaciers of Alaska or diving colourful coral reefs. What most of us probably don’t take the time to appreciate as we tick items off our bucket-list, is the fragility of the world we are enjoying. 

Katie graduated from the University of Worcester with a degree in Conservation Ecology, a course that provided her with the education and platform to develop a greater perspective of the impacts humans are having on the planet and things we can do as travellers to better protect it. But it was from a much earlier age that Katie grew to love nature…..

“I was really lucky to grow up in the countryside, I became really interested in nature and would spend my days outside, rather than inside playing video games” 

“I noticed that the countryside I lived in was getting smaller and smaller”

It was through the opportunity to travel that Katie became more aware of the connections between the environment, human interactions and different cultures – a year 10 exchange trip to China was an eye-opening experience that inspired her to pursue studies in conservation.

“In addition to the nature and conservation side of things, I became really interested in the human element too. The more I learned, the more interested I became”

Katie was fortunate to undertake a very practical, hands-on degree that allowed her to be an interactive part of research work. This also provided a stimulus to travel, through volunteering to be a research assistant. This was an amazing opportunity to have the world as teaching ground, with both the practical aspects and also regular seminars.

“I went to Peru and South Africa with the charity Operation Wallacea. I fell in love with the idea of going to South Africa, but it wasn’t somewhere I had previously been able to travel to.  They were doing research on how elephants impact their environment and then looking at changes different populations were having. The project was considering the effects of dropping park fences, encouraging lots of smaller games reserves to become much larger game reserves. The research we did all went to local universities in South Africa, so that the research I was being involved in was actually getting used for the future planning of South Africa”

“I then went across to Sodwana Bay for some marine conservation research. Previously all my studies had been terrestrial, so I did a SCUBA certification and was able to go on a couple of dives”. It is great the way travel and in this case, volunteer conservation travel, opens doors into experiences you had previously not considered. We both agreed about the way SCUBA diving is literally like venturing into another world. It is also an insight into some of the world most fragile ecosystems, ones that are so dramatically affected by climate change, pollution and other human impacts.

Another ecosystem that is extremely vulnerable to damage from the effects of humans is the Amazon Rainforest. Through her role with Wallacea at Worcester University, Katie found the opportunity to travel to Peru and be involved in research work in the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve.

“We looked at how climate change had affected the flooded rainforest – looking at fluctuations in times of year and temperature variations. It’s a project that has been going on for a long time, so more and more of the local villagers have become interested in how environmental impacts are effecting them”

There is no doubt that travel and experiencing so many vast and unique places, provides a greater perspective of just how important it is to protect the planet. “This is why its so important that people do have the opportunity to travel. Its not just the environmental side of things, its seeing the way different people live and appreciating how you can change the things you do at home to improve the way you live”

Travel provides the opportunity to learn from different cultures – providing the chance to change the way communities approach issues of sustainability, or simply changing the way we as individuals live our lives with these considerations in mind. “Traveling should be about immersing yourself in another culture, not just about staying in familiar chain hotels, but trying to ensure that the money you are spending is being spent in the local economy and hopefully getting to experience the traditions of local communities and the environment”

There are a lot of things we can all do, at home, at work and when we are travelling that will make a big difference in sustaining the planet we all enjoy so much. Specifically related to travelling, Katie suggested,  “its really about being mindful”, thinking about the simple things we can do to change what impacts we are having. “Be conscious of what you are purchasing. From the simplest thing like carrying a refillable bottle to avoid throwing away plastic water bottles, it causes so much less of a footprint. And when you are looking at buying food or souveniers, don’t just go for something where the money funnels back into large international companies, look at buying street food or locally made items, where the money will go back into communities and families”.

In addition to the simple everyday things, there are also the larger scale considerations, like literally changing the ways we travel from place to place that are important. “I like to minimize my carbon footprint - so I’m very keen on using bikes and public transport and maximizing the experience from plane trips to overseas destinations”. This makes obvious sense from a financial view-point, but its also a really important consideration from an environmental perspective. If we are planning a trip that involves a long-haul flight, take the time to really see as many of the places as you can from that plane flight.

In talking to Katie, it became abundantly clear, that a lot of the things that we can all do to improve the way we travel are quite simple things. They involve keeping some perspective of the way we interact with local communities and the environment. On a larger scale, there is some great work being done by organisations around the world like Wallacea, that are constantly looking into ways humans are impacting the environment and changes we can make that will ensure the future is all about positive changes. Hopefully, whilst The Travel Hub is all about “socially inspired travel”, we can also help to inspire travel that protects our beautiful planet.

Follow Katie on her Instagram @ameytravels

An interview with Between Two Pines

An Interview With Louise - Of Between Two Pines, a travelling musical duo.

Published by Andy Marty - The Travel Hub.
Andy is the curator of The Travel Hub. A passionate traveller, photographer and story-teller. 

Andy Marty: @andrewmarty_

Between Two Pines: @betweentwopines.us
                                www.betweentwopines.us

"Music is all about community, and so is travel" - Louise, Between Two Pines

Travelling becomes even more enjoyable when you combine it with other passions, whether thats photography, recreation, a love of history & arts. Its has the capacity to take you to so many unique experiences, meet new people and share your passions with others. I was lucky enough to catch Louise from the travelling couple from "Between Two Pines" for a quick chat about their passions - music and travel.

How would you describe your travel style?

At the heart of it, our travel style is spontaneous, immersive, and geared towards experiences and sight-seeing. 

Our trips are planned on a large scale (at least our Great American Road Trip was), but our day-to-day activities are spontaneous. We do a lot of walking; it’s one of our favorite ways of getting to know a new area. You’ll never discover that hole-in-the-wall restaurant with the Actual Best Crepes in the World, or meet a local that offers to put you up for the night when you’re on a bus tour.

For our Great American Road Trip, we had a few hotels and campground booked on specific dates, so we were tied down and felt a little limited in our spontaneity. If it weren’t for those, we would have travelled much slower and spent more time in each location.

 
 

How did you decide on the name "Between Two Pines"?

Our name was inspired by John Muir’s quote: “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” I have never felt more at home than in a forest of pines, and being in nature unlocks a side of our spirits that a busy city tends to stifle.

You both graduated college with music degrees and clearly have a love of travelling, do you feel that each of these passions compliments the other, and how?

Absolutely! The idea of the “travelling musician” has been around for centuries, whether it’s the troubadours of medieval France, or the touring rock bands of today. Music and travel have always gone hand in hand, especially now that social media is so huge. It’s relatively easy to gain a following nowadays, and location has become less important to success.

We’ve geared this act to be able to take it on the road. Luckily, Will has a background in recording, and I have a background in photography and videography, which allows us to play, record, and shoot videos entirely by ourselves. Without the need to depend on others, we have the freedom to go wherever we want.

Some things just make sense – and this seems to me like the next logical step. With our loves for travel, the outdoors, music, and the other creative and visual arts, I don’t think there’s a way for us to better serve all of our passions at the same time.

It’ll be tough – I’m sure that at least at first, there will be many nights spent playing for tips just to fill our gas tank. We knew when we got into music that it would not pay much, but it would be a profession that would fulfill us every day of our lives. Knowing that we’ll be able to share our story with others on the road is what drives us forward on this grand new adventure. After all, that is what the Van Life movement is all about: taking a dream that seems unattainable and making it a reality.

Do you find you plan your travel around music or music around travel?

We are constantly seeking places or things that inspire us, and our main inspiration is the outdoors. I believe inspiration must come first in art, else it seems forced. We follow our inspiration wherever it takes us, and we’ll figure out what that means for our music.

How has travelling inspired your songwriting and music?

So many greats in music and art history come to mind – Beethoven and his Pastorale Symphony, Strauss and his Alpensinfonie, Aaron Copland and his Appalachian Spring, Jack Kerouac, Jack London – all these great artists were inspired by the same ideas and places that inspire us. To be isolated from the population density and noise pollution of a big city, alone in the wilderness, standing small amongst the ancient Sequoias or looking out into a canyon several thousand feet deep… one cannot help but feel part of something much larger than oneself. That is something we want to share with others. And how better to do it than through the one true universal language, music!

A road trip across the USA is a common to many "bucket lists". What advice would you give people looking to plan a road trip?

First off, for those of you thinking about planning a road trip – do it! I promise, it will be one of the most enriching things you’ll ever do.

What are some of your biggest travel tips:

Give yourself wiggle room - You will want some downtime from driving. Try not to see too much in too short of a time, and give yourself nonspecific “zero days” with no activities planned. Sometimes on the road, we just took an afternoon or a whole day sitting around our campsite watching movies and enjoying a six pack or a box of wine. We made sure to rest any time we were starting to get fatigued, even if that meant we’d spend a little less time doing some of the things we planned. If you plan a few days of wiggle room into your trip, you’ll have the freedom to rest when you need to.

Pack efficiently - Don’t bring five different sundresses, or both of your swimsuits