Greetings! I’m packing for my upcoming trip with National Geographic Expeditions to Iceland and I thought it might be useful to share some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years about how to make traveling a little more comfortable. I estimate that I spend about half the year on the road in hotels, airplanes, airports, ships, boats, surfboards, cars, trains and just walking around. It can be exhilarating and exhausting, so I’ve learned a few things that make everything from camping to glamping a little more pleasant.
- Stay Organized. The best thing to do while traveling is to develop good organizational habits. This makes everything from passing through airport security to checking into hotels, to dealing with lost luggage, a lot easier. I photograph my luggage both inside and out so that in the dreadful event that it’s lost, I have a photo to show the airline and/or insurance company.
- Packing Cubes Are Your Friend! In March, I had to travel to the East Coast to give a TEDx talk, (you can’t wear black or red for the video), head directly from there to Ireland to photograph a 2 week story in the bitter cold, (picture horizontal rain and blowing snow while carrying a carbon fiber tripod and a heavy camera kit), then head straight to the Caribbean to teach photography on a luxury yacht, (think 90 degree heat and opulent accommodations). Just trying to work out what shoes to take was a challenge, not to mention having to wear arctic gear for shooting outdoors as well as some nice dresses for dinner on board the SY Sea Cloud. When I pack my clothes, I separate everything into cubes based on clothing categories: dresses, socks, pajamas, bottoms, etc… Then, using white tape and a sharpie, I label each cube with its contents. When I’m staying in a different hotel every night, my suitcase is already organized as though it were a closet. Even if I’m exhausted and in a dark and unfamiliar hotel room, I can always find my clean shirts and my toothbrush.
- Pick Smart Travel Clothing. Sorry guys, this is a post for the lady travelers 🙂 I wear skirts when I travel. For one thing, they are much more comfortable for long haul flights, or hiking, than pants. They are also slightly dressier than jeans or sweatpants. I choose the Royal Robbins Cargo Skirt because it is made of stretchy, water-wicking fabric, so if you spill something, it’s easy to clean. In my skirt pockets I can fit a small wallet, passport, iPhone X, Kleenex, a small bottle of hand sanitizer and some aspirin. This way, I don’t have to dig around in a bag at security when they ask for my ID, nor do I have to rifle through my purse to find a credit card to buy a sandwich on the plane. I also slip a Shout Wipe into my pocket in case I spill, or am spilled on. On my last flight to Dublin, I dripped mustard on my skirt. I used a Shout Wipe on it on the plane, then when I got to my hotel, I just rinsed the skirt in water in the sink. Not only was it not stained, the skirt looked freshly laundered! I wrote about my favorite travel clothes in a previous blog here, so if you want to read on, there is more info!
- Your Medicine Is the Best Medicine. There is nothing worse than getting sick when you’re traveling. When you are staying in a place with limited resources, it pays to pack a few extra things for those “just-in-case” situations. My favorite cough drops are Ricola Wild Berry and are difficult to find in the best of situations. I pick up a Family Pack size every so often and pack a snack bag of them in my First Aid kit. It is nice to have a small comfort like cough drops when you’re feeling miserable. I also put Wet Ones and some lavender scented organic hand sanitizer into my kit. In an attempt to avoid getting sick, I use the Wet Ones to wipe down my airplane tray table and I use the lavender hand sanitizer on my hotel pillow, which not only kills germs, the lavender scent is a natural sleep aid. A Benadryl stick comes in handy if you get bitten by just about anything. It’s small enough to carry and doesn’t leak like a lot of other liquids. Deep Woods OFF! Wipes are not as messy as other insect repellants and are convenient if you really need to use this powerful chemical. A pocket size of Kleenex tissues is handy for just about anything, and don’t forget to floss!
- Bar Soap. One of the latest trends in hotels is the bulk shampoo/shower gel/body lotion. I really appreciate the fact that these decrease packaging waste. The problem for me is that I cannot tolerate lemon scented cleaners and it seems that lemon verbena is the scent du jour. I always carry a small bar of unscented soap in my toiletries kit when I’m gone for longer than an overnight trip.
- Sunscreen. SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense Sunscreen is my new go-to sunscreen for the face, neck, ears, etc… It is both broad spectrum and reef safe. I like the sample size for my kit, and then get the 50ml for everyday use.
For those of you who are traveling to some of the cooler places on the planet, the next section is an update on my favorite travel gear. This may come in handy if you are joining me in my forthcoming trips to Iceland, Antarctica or Alaska.
- Women’s Patagonia Down Sweater This jacket is lightweight, warm, warm when wet, packable, and provides good color for pictures. I have two – one with a hood and one without. You can layer them easily for extra warmth, which is a necessity when in Antarctica.
- These Boots are Made for Expedition Travel – knee high neoprene boots from the MUCK company keep your feet dry, even when you submerge them completely for long periods of time. They have a fleece lining for extra warmth. However, if you are traveling with Lindblad/National Geographic, you may want to consider renting them. I tried the rentals out and they are great, plus it means you don’t have to haul them around the world – they can take up the better part of a suitcase. My Ariat Fatbaby Cowboy Boots are also waterproof, have a grippy sole with a wide toe box and are actually cute with a skirt. Keen Hiking Boots are top notch because although they aren’t as waterproof as the MUCK Boots, they hold up well under wet conditions and are fairly lightweight. I’ve had mine for years and although they aren’t completely waterproof, they still stay fairly dry.
- Red Ledge Rain Pants Rock! These lined, waterproof pants are the best. They are warm and unzip down both legs so as you warm up you can cool off as needed. I picked up a pair in Sitka because the ones I had bought for the trip were insufficient for the Alaska deluge. I’ve been using them ever since not only in Alaska but at both poles.
- Buff Headgearfor Warmth and Style: These are indispensable as I have very sensitive ears. I wear them all the time in both cold and warm weather as a way to tame my hair in the breeze but also a way to cover my ears without ungainly headwear. They make them in a light merino wool as well as a cotton/poly blend for warmer climates. I often wear them surfing or SUPing to protect the top of my head from getting sun. They are also good to wear when snorkeling to help keep your hair out of your mask.
- ACCESSORIZE! I always carry a few carabiners for my water bottle and lens wipes. Drybags are better than ziplocks to keep your gear dry in the rain or while you’re transiting in a zodiac. I carry these 3 for a range of purposes. The ThinkTank Rapid Belt with a Hubba Hubba Hiney and Digital Holster are great for keeping all of your gear on hand but hands free. Each camera bag from ThinkTank also comes with a rain fly which is super handy. I use the BlackRapid Hybrid Breathe when I’m using a 2 camera setup, and also have leashes for them.
CAMERA GEAR. What’s the best choice? This is a question I am asked frequently, and there is no easy answer. I still carry Canon DSLR cameras. My brain and body are molded to the form and function of these cameras. I love the sharp glass, responsiveness of the shutter and the control over everything using external buttons as opposed to having to dig through a menu to find a function. Even the custom function buttons on some of the newer cameras, which are designed to put those at your fingertips, don’t seem to live up to their promise, for my purposes. That said, my new favorite travel camera is the Sony RX10 III. (Note: They have since released the RX10 IV). This is a great, all-around travel camera that is fairly compact. What blows me away is the fact that it has a 24-600mm optical zoom!!! Seriously. That’s very cool. And it’s pretty fast. The widest aperture is f2.4-4, but what disappoints me is that it switches to f4 maximum pretty quickly, so you can’t exploit the shallow focus once you’ve gone beyond about 35mm. But for most travel photos, this camera has everything you need to shoot both cityscapes and wildlife. It has a burst mode, is completely silent and can be controlled remotely with your smartphone. It’s also very easy to send an image to your phone, thus not having the inconvenience of downloading an image and then transferring it to your iPhoto library. It doesn’t allow for interchangeable lenses, but who needs anything else with the zoom range on this camera. And it’s optical! So for the money, this is my pick. I found a blog post comparing the Canon 5DMK IV and the Sony RX10IV, and it covers all the things I would cover, so here it is.