Expert Vagabond • Adventure Travel & Photography Blog
Matthew Karsten is a travel photographer and blogger known as the Expert Vagabond. For the past 6 years he’s been on a mission to inspire others with entertaining stories and beautiful images from his wild adventures around the world. He specializes in covering outdoor activities, natural landscapes, and cultural experiences
Some will tell you that it’s a symbol of Jewish solidarity. In the 1930s, a sizeable population of Jewish refugees arrived in Chefchaouen, fleeing Nazi persecution and the growing threat of war.
The blue is meant to represent peace, safety and the power of heaven. In this version of the story, blue walls rapidly spread outward from the city’s Jewish quarter, until the entire city was aglow.
Kalam farigh! others would say (that’s Arabic for “nonsense”).
They’ll say the tradition of painting walls blue is Jewish, certainly, but goes back to the time of the city’s founding, in the 15th Century, when it was built around a fortress used to defend inhabitants against Portuguese invaders.
At this time, local Moroccans lived alongside Jews and Moriscos (former Muslims who had converted to Christianity) for a century or more.
View from Spanish Mosque Trail
Early Morning Calm
Exploring The Blue City
The narrow streets of Chefchaouen (or Chaouen, as the locals call it) make no attempt to soften the impact of the hillside the city is built on. In some cases, stone steps march straight up the slope, giving your legs a good workout.
But when the streets open into public squares, look above the city, towards the nearby Riff mountains.
The mountains above the city give the appearance of two horns – and it’s believed that this is where the name Chefchaouen comes from (literally meaning “watch the horns” in a local dialect).
But the rest of the time, keep looking around you. This is a jaw-droppingly beautiful city! It transports you into a different world.
Things To Do In Chefchaouen
Go Shopping in the Medina
Wander The Streets
This is why most travelers seek out Chefchaouen, to wander aimlessly through the narrow streets & alleys, painted in an endless array of blue — turquoise, powder blue, celeste, robin’s-egg, indigo, cyan, periwinkle.
Go shopping for colorful blankets or lamps in the souks hidden throughout the medina. Marvel at the variety of beautiful doorways and detailed tile work that decorate each residence.
Sit down at a street cafe, order a steaming glass of mint tea, and watch locals dressed in djellaba robes go about their daily life. Soak it all in — the whole Moroccan experience.
Get Your Kitty Fix in Chefchaouen
Go Cat Spotting
If you’re a cat person like me, you’re going to love Chefchaouen. It’s a cat city for sure — a bit like Istanbul. Locals feed them, however they generally live outside in the street as strays.
You’ll find cats in alleys, cats on the stairs, and cats in the souks. Cats will be roaming through restaurants and on terraces. They’re hiding in trees and bushes, and stretched out on sidewalks.
If you want to get a cat’s attention in Morocco, try hissing. It’s a great way to get them to pose for photos! Meow.
Rock The Kasbah
Kasbah Fortress Museum
Make sure to visit the large 15th century Kasbah fortress and dungeon located in Chefchaouen’s main square — Place Outa el Hammam. It’s pretty easy to find this red-walled structure among all the blue buildings.
Built in 1471 by Mulay Ali Ben Mussa Ben Rached, the Kasbah features a beautiful garden and small ethnographic museum. Climb the towers inside for some great views of the city and the Grand Mosque.
The Kasbah was built in the Andalusian-Maghrebian style to defend Chefchaouen from attacks by the Portuguese and Spanish. Entry only costs €1 Euro! It’s totally worth a quick visit.
Getting Lost in Chefchaouen
Stay In A Riad
“Riad” comes from the Arabic word for “garden”, and it’s referring to the space in the centre of these traditional Moroccan guest-houses, open to the sky, usually with a water fountain.
Most rooms in a riad point inwards towards this space, the symbolic heart of the home – and when you open your door first thing in the morning to find sunlight streaming down into the building.
The distant noises of Morocco will filter down through the hole in the ceiling. You’ll hear movement, the clank of morning tea being prepared, the Arabic call to prayer, and the rhythms of life outside. It’s all extremely relaxing.
The Horns Above Chefchaouen
Spanish Mosque Hike
There’s an old Spanish Mosque perched on a hilltop overlooking the blue city, built by the Spanish in the 1920’s. The mile-long hike passes by prickly pear and agave cacti — with wonderful views of Chefchaouen at the top.
Because the mosque is kind of abandoned, non-muslims are allowed to go inside and take a look. Make sure to bring water though, because on a sunny day it gets hot up there.
The trail to the mosque crosses the Ras el’Ma river, where you’ll see local women doing laundry the traditional way in cold mountain water. The hike up takes about 45 minutes one-way.
The City of Blue
Visit A Hammam
With a cleaning ritual that hasn’t changed for centuries, a visit to the hammam will leave you steamed, sweated, pummelled and scrubbed until you feel like every inch of your skin has been upgraded.
The main public hammam is across the square from the main mosque, Jama’a Kabir, and there are different attendance times for men and women.
You will also have to go shopping first for your own plastic sandals, soap, shower scrub and towel. The hammam experience is an integral part of life in Morocco!
Morocco’s Riff Mountains
The blue city of Chefchaouen has a long history of hippie-culture and the production of hashish — the most basic and traditional form of marijuana THC concentrate. Morocco is the world’s top supplier.
You might be offered a farm tour, where they drive you outside the city to the marijuana fields and demonstrate how they produce hash from kif, THC crystals extracted from the plant.
Just be wary… it is illegal to produce, trade, and smoke hash in Morocco, even in a place like Chefchaouen. Always remember that if you’re spotted, you could get arrested. Or blackmailed by the police for money.
Beautiful Cascades d’Akchour
Cascades d’Akchour Waterfalls
Cascades d’Akchour is a trail that leads to a pair of waterfalls in the Rif Mountains. You’ll need a taxi to get to the trailhead, and sturdy shoes for this 2-3 hour hike.
The trail is full of lush green vegetation, an interesting natural stone bridge called “God’s Bridge”, and a beautiful swimming hole with a waterfall as your reward at the end.
You’ll find makeshift “cafes” along the way, which serve Moroccan food and tea during this long, and somewhat steep hike. It’s nice, but a little touristy.
Vegetable Couscous was Delicious!
Eat Moroccan Food
One of the top reasons anyone should travel to Morocco is the amazing food, and you can find all your favorites in the Blue City. Stuff yourself on kefta (lamb meatballs), tajines (slow cooked stews in clay pots) and mountains of couscous.
Oranges and orange juice is a big deal in Morocco — and super delicious. A freshly squeezed glass will only set you back about 4 Dirhams ($0.40 USD). I couldn’t get enough!
Hot mint tea in Morocco is a sign of hospitality, friendship and tradition. It’s one of the most delicious treats you’ll find in the whole country, with a rich flavor you’ll struggle to find elsewhere.
Traditional Pastel Paints
Steep Cobblestone Streets
Getting To Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen is built on the edge of the Rif mountain range in the far north – and the only way there is by road, winding up a rocky landscape that’s surprisingly lush and green in the summer.
RentalCars.com searches all the big car rental companies and finds the best price. This is probably the easiest way to rent a car in Morocco.
Driving in Morocco can be a bit crazy sometimes, but it’s a relatively straightforward journey of 115 km (about 2 hours of driving) from Tangier. I recommend using a parking garage, then explore the old-city on foot.
The cheapest way to get to Chfchaouen is by bus. There are multiple buses per day from cities like Fez, Tetouan, Casablanca, Rabat, Tangier and Ceuta. The main bus company for tourists is CTM.
From Tangier, visit Gate Routiere (Place Al Jamia Al Arabia) and look for the next bus – there’s usually at least two running per day, with one departing at noon. The fare to Chefchaouen is 45 Dirham ($5 USD).
Morocco is full of unauthorized or semi-legit taxis driven by people who have one aim in life: to get as much money out of tourists as possible.
The standard price of a one-way trip in a private taxi from Tangier to Chefchaouen should be in the range of 300 – 500 Dirhams ($31 – $52 USD).
Take the night train from Marrakesh to Tangier, then continue to Chefchaouen by bus or taxi. The train leaves Marrakesh at 9:00 pm and arrives in Tangier at 7:25 am. There are sleeper cabins available.
There are plenty of hotels in Chefchaouen, but you’re missing out if you don’t stay in a traditional Moroccan riad. It’s like a mix between a private townhouse, a hotel, and a European “bed & breakfast”. We stayed at Riad Assilah Chaouen — and loved it.
If you’re wondering where to stay in Chefchaouen, Morocco, here are my recommendations:
COUPON CODE! For a special $30 off your next Booking.com hotel stay over $60, make sure to use my special link.
An Explosion of Color
Chefchaouen Travel Tips
Spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) are the best times to visit due to weather, but the crowds are large too. Summer is usually so hot that even the locals don’t stick around.
Morocco is a Muslim country — so conservative clothing is recommended. Chefchauoen is a bit more liberal than other cities, but showing too much leg or mid-rift will attract unwanted attention.
It can get pretty cold at night in the Riff mountains, so bring something warm like a sweater or light jacket.
Haggling over price with local shop owners is expected — always try to negotiate a better deal for souvenirs. Except when buying food, as this is already super cheap and no haggling is necessary.
Many people only pop into Chefchauoen for a day trip, however I’d recommend spending at least 2-3 days here. It was one of my favorite stops in Morocco.
Many locals in Chefchaouen actually speak Spanish, as opposed to the more common Arabic & French found in the rest of the country.
This is a city designed to stop you in your tracks for all the right reasons. Whatever is going on in your life, especially if you’re feeling weary of travel, Chefchaouen wants you to put your feet up, drink mint tea and take it deliciously easy.
Then, when you’re ready, you can go for a walk within the ancient city walls, and let the medina work its soothing magic upon you. In a country known for being a bit chaotic, the blue city of Chefchaouen is a pleasant oasis. ★
Location:Chefchaouen, Morocco Useful Notes: I think Chefchaouen was my favorite city in Morocco. It’s much more laid-back than the rest of the country (probably has to do with all the hash). It’s a little out of the way, but SO worth a visit. Especially if you’re into photography. Recommended Guidebook:Lonely Planet Morocco Suggested Reading:In Arabian Nights
Tripods are a fixture of a good travel photographer’s tool kit. These are the best lightweight travel tripods for capturing stunning landscapes around the world.
As a professional adventure travel blogger, I rely on a lightweight and sturdy travel tripod to create epic landscape and adventure images from my travels around the world.
Whether it’s hiking in the mountains of Afghanistan, or wandering the streets of Paris. My travel tripod joins me almost everywhere.
I seriously can’t imagine traveling without one!
Today I wanted to share some of the best lightweight travel tripods currently available, and reviews of my favorites (pros, cons) along with the one I pack with me most.
Why Should You Use A Tripod?
Why Are Tripods Important?
Do you really need a tripod? Well, not everyone one does. Tools like sensor based image stabilization and optical lens stabilization make them less mandatory than ever.
But if you want to capture professionally sharp landscapes, stunning sunsets, time-lapse video, flowing waterfalls, low light situations, or star photography during your travel adventures — a good lightweight travel tripod is key.
I also use my tripod for shooting selfies if I’m traveling solo. For video and vlogging too. Because not everyone wants to wake up at 5am during their vacation to help you hold the camera!
If you enjoy creating smooth curtain effects with waterfalls, sunset time-lapse footage, or climbing mountains to shoot the Milky Way, you’ll need a lightweight tripod that can take a beating in the field and keep going.
Tripods Are Great For Star Photography!
Travel Tripod Features
BUILD MATERIALS – Aluminum and carbon fiber are the most common materials for travel tripods. Carbon fiber is stronger, lighter, and resists rust in wet conditions, but it’s more expensive too.
HEIGHT – Not only how high does the tripod extend, but the minimum height as well. Some can get as low as 3” from the ground while others can extend up to six feet high. Smaller tripods weigh less, but they can also limit your framing options.
FOLDING SIZE – How small can your tripod fold up? Will it fit in a backpack? A tripod that folds down small makes it easier to travel with. But small folding tripods often have to sacrifice maximum height and sturdiness.
WEIGHT – If a tripod is too heavy, you won’t want to lug it around all day through a city, or hiking in the backcountry. Lightweight tripods are usually more expensive. The key is to find a balance.
STURDINESS – A sturdy tripod is important when shooting long-exposure images, when any small vibration can blur the photo. You can generally get an idea of a tripod’s sturdiness by looking at its weight capacity.
SECTIONS – The fewer leg sections a tripod has, generally the sturdier it is, and the quicker it will be to set up.
LEG LOCKS – Some photographers prefer twist locks because they’re low-profile. Others prefer lever locks, because you can visually see that they’re secure. Both are quick to use with practice.
The Sirui T-1205X mixes carbon fiber and aluminum to create a lightweight marvel. It’s aluminum components are anodized to increases the corrosion resistance and hardness of the metal.
The center column is reversible to suit your composition needs, plus it comes with a shorter center column for shooting as low as 5.1” from the ground. It’s one of the lowest priced carbon fiber tripods on the market, and insanely lightweight.
5 section legs
Ball head not included
This is the tripod I owned for many years before upgrading to a more professional model recently. Loved using it for all types of photography situations. Fantastic value, and well-rounded.
The Manfrotto Befree is a favorite for many travel photographers. It’s very lightweight, even with the included ball-head. However it’s not the most stable tripod in this group.
Lever leg locks are easy to engage, and the whole system packs down very small. It’s not a tripod for large cameras & lens combinations though, as the maximum load is the weakest of all tripods reviewed here.
Low load capacity
No ballast hook
Not very sturdy
Low maximum weight capacity makes the Manfrotto better suited to mirrorless camera kits. It was the least sturdy tripod, but also the lightest (with included ball-head). I’m not a big fan of the Manfrotto RC2 style camera plates though.
The 3 Legged Thing Leo is an extremely high maximum load capacity tripod, with a 23-degree leg angle. It makes it the sturdy tripod of choice for videographers and other gear-heavy photographers. The legs and center column all come with twist-lock sections for extra security.
For photographers who need stability on the move the center column can also be attached to a single leg to create an instant monopod. It’s not the lightest of the bunch, but it’s rock-solid.
This is the heaviest combination on the list, however it’s also the most stable. A great option for videographers, or photographers who need a super stable tripod for long-exposure night photography. The monopod feature is slick!
Tripod Weight: 1.55 lbs. Build: Stainless steel, aluminum, plastic Maximum Load: 11 lbs. Extended Height: 15.2” Folded Length: NA Ballhead: Included Price: $155
If portability is your #1 consideration, the Joby GorillaPod is the smallest tripod here. At only 1.55 lbs. with included ball head, it fits into anyone’s photography kit. This model is built for large cameras & large lenses, but there’s a 3K version for smaller mirrorless systems.
Mixed construction materials of the GorillaPod help keep the tripod inexpensive yet sturdy enough for most shooting conditions. It’s a wonderful option if you’re visiting tourist attractions that prohibit the use of full-size tripods.
Flexible gripping legs
Light load capacity
Short maximum height
The gripping legs mean you can set it up almost anywhere for great photography, including attaching it to fences and trees. It’s especially good for taking selfies and vlogging (video blogging).
Best High-End Travel Tripods
RRS TQC-14 – Built To Last
Tripod Weight: 2.6 lbs. Build: Carbon Fiber Maximum Load: 25 lbs. Extended Height: 58.5” Folded Length: 17.7” Ballhead: Not Included Weight With Ballhead: 3.3 lbs Price: $935
The Really Right Stuff TQC-14 is my favorite high-end travel tripod. Ratcheting angle stops control the angle of the legs. The legs are extended using twist locks, and designed to secure and undo instantly.
A ballast hook on the center column allows you to add weight in unstable or windy conditions. This actually isn’t the lightest tripod of the group, however I’ve found it’s the easiest to use, and is tall enough (with the quick-column version) that I don’t need to bend over to look through my viewfinder.
The extra height also helps when I’m shooting video of myself, so the camera is at eye-level, rather than below looking up. A much more attractive angle for video.
High load capacity
Ball head not included
While the TFC-14 is the most expensive tripod here, there’s no question you get quality for your money. The design is rock solid, easy to use, and gives a lot of height. Out of all the tripods I’ve used, this is my favorite.
The Gitzo Series 0 Traveler is a rugged carbon fiber tripod weighing in at 2.8 lbs. This tripod also includes a ball head with Swiss Arca-style quick release plate. It uses a reverse folding leg design when stowed to ensure it fits even into overhead flight storage.
The twist-lock design of the legs is quick, smooth, and secure. Gitzo makes a few different versions of the Traveler, for example the Series 1 is much taller and slightly heavier at 3.2 lbs.
High load capacity
No ballast hook
The Gitzo Series 0 is also not cheap. However it’s very sturdy and compact thanks to the cleverly designed ball head. Gitzo tripods are the choice of many professionals worldwide.
How To Choose A Tripod For Traveling
So Which Tripod Is Best?
Each tripod here offers photographers and videographers a unique set of creative features. While I can share my personal favorites based on MY needs, every photographer is different.
If you’re looking for the ultimate lightweight, full-size hiking tripod that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, I’d probably go with the Manfrotto Befree.
If you want the best all-around tripod that’s a combination of lightweight, sturdy, and affordable, I’d pick the Sirui T-1205X.
If you don’t think you’ll need a tripod that often, or do a lot of vlogging, the Joby GorillaPod is your best bet.
If you have money to burn and want nothing but the highest quality gear, both the RSS TQC-14 (often on backorder) or Gitzo Traveler will make you very happy.
Whatever lightweight tripod you decide to use, they will certainly help you improve your travel photography skills in all sorts of different landscape and low-light situations.
Win This Gitzo Traveler Tripod!
Free Travel Tripod Giveaway!
If you don’t have a travel tripod yet, but want one, here’s your chance to win one of the best available for your next travel adventure!
I’m giving one lucky reader their very own Gitzo Series 0 carbon fiber tripod (worth $899 USD).
This high-end carbon fiber travel tripod is easy to pack, lightweight, durable, and will help you take your landscape & adventure photography to the next level.
ELIGIBILITY: Ages 18+
Promotion is open and offered to residents of any country. However the winner will be responsible for their own country’s customs fees.
CHOOSING A WINNER:
A winner will be selected at random from the list of entries, and notified by email or social media on July 2nd. If the winner does not respond within one week, an alternate winner will be chosen at random.
The winner will receive (1) Gitzo Series 0 Tripod. Prize value worth $899. Prize is shipped to winner’s chosen address. Local customs fees are not included with the prize.
Here’s a collection of my favorite photos from our safari trip in Tanzania. We managed to see all big five safari animals, hiked to a beautiful waterfall, and met with local tribes.
Last December Anna and I visited Tanzania for our honeymoon, heading out on safari with Soul Of Tanzania. We began our adventure from the town of Arusha, flying into the Serengeti in a small plane.
We then spent a week bumping around on red dusty roads in a Land Rover exploring Africa’s Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara, and Lake Eyasi.
During the course of the trip we managed to locate all “Big Five” safari animals, journey through the savannah, into green forests, an extinct volcanic crater, and along massive shallow lakes.
Tanzania’s wildlife and geography is as diverse as its people, and finally getting to visit the Serengeti itself was quite a treat, as it’s the world’s most famous National Park.
If you’ve ever dreamed about going on safari in Tanzania, these images should give you a glimpse of what the experience is like!
1: Lake Manyara Flamingos
Flamingos Take Flight Over Lake Manyara
Lake Manyara National Park lies on the edge of the Rift Valley, attracting thousands of pink flamingoes to its brackish waters. Surrounding the lake is a large grassy floodplain, and groundwater forests beyond that.
We stopped for lunch along some algae-streaked hot springs, with a boardwalk leading out over the lake. From there you could watch the huge flocks of flamingos stoop and graze in the water.
Occasionally, they’d all leap into the air and take flight together as a moving wall of pink and black feathers. It was quite a sight!
Did you know that flamingos are actually grey, and get their pink color from a diet of brine shrimp and blue-green algae? The alpha and beta carotenoids in the food they eat is what turns them pink.
2: Visiting The Maasai Mara
Sokoine Shows Us Around His Village
There are about 800,000 Maasai Mara living in Tanzania, many around the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. I’d always wanted to visit the Maasai, so we stopped by the village of Endyoi Nasiyi as we left the Serengeti.
Maintaining a traditional pastoral lifestyle has become increasingly difficult for the Maasai. With their cattle grazing lands diminishing, they’ve become dependent on purchasing food like sorghum, rice, potatoes and cabbage.
Tourist visits help provide the tribe with money to make these purchases. Each village (boma) has a few college-educated & English speaking members like Sokoine, who taught us about his culture.
These village trips can feel a little awkward, like everyone is putting on a show. And they are a bit. However it’s one of the only ways the Maasai can earn money while maintaining their traditional lifestyle.
3: Materuni Waterfall
Hiking to Materuni Waterfall
Outside the town of Moshi, along the slopes of Kilimanjaro, there’s a beautiful and imposing 150 meter high waterfall called Materuni located deep in the lush jungle.
Locals lead hikes to this magical place, usually in combination with a coffee tour. The waterfall hike takes about an hour. On the way we saw brightly colored chameleons and butterflies.
You can swim under these powerful falls — however be warned, the water is very cold! I jumped right in though, never one to turn down a refreshing wild-swim. It makes you feel alive!
After returning from Materuni waterfall, we learned how to make coffee from scratch with a group of Chagga boys, one of Tanzania’s largest ethnic groups.
We helped separate the husk from dried beans, roasted them on an open fire, and finally grinding into powder for brewing — all while singing to keep up a good rhythm. Probably the freshest cup of coffee I’ve ever tasted!
4: Kings Of Ngorongoro
Lions in Ngorongoro
One of the best places to see wildlife in Tanzania, aside from the Serengeti, is the Ngorongoro Crater. The crater is the result of a large volcano that exploded and collapsed into itself about two million years ago.
High crater walls protect a large variety of wildlife at the bottom, including a population of 70+ lions. Tanzania is actually home to about one third of the world’s remaining lions.
We got lucky stumbling onto a pride of 8 East African lions hanging out beside the road! We watched them from the top of our Land Rover — lounging in the sun, playing in the grass like big house cats.
Surprisingly a group of antelope was only 200 feet away, but it seemed these lions weren’t hungry. These were only a few of the lions we saw while visiting Tanzania, but were the closest.
5: Elephant Pool Party!
Elephants at the Four Seasons Pool
Because Anna and I were celebrating our honeymoon in Tanzania, we decided to stay in some nicer hotels. The one we were most looking forward to was The Four Seasons Serengeti. Why?
Well, apart from being a luxury safari lodge in the middle of the world’s most famous national park, the complex itself is almost always surrounded by animals!
You’ll see all kinds of wildlife during their game drives, but you might also spot waterbuck, monkeys, antelope, elephants, and even the occasional leopard while walking the property’s elevated walkways.
There’s a popular watering hole right beside the pool, which often attracts large groups of elephants passing by for a drink. Definitely one of the most unique hotel experiences we’ve ever had!
6: Africa’s Miniature Deer
A Cute Pair of Dik Diks
Standing just over a foot tall, the Dik Dik might just be the cutest safari animal you’ll find in Africa — and probably has the funniest name too. These tiny antelope have long noses and big doe-eyes.
They travel in pairs instead of herds, and dik-diks mate for life. The males may have horns, but the females are larger and the ones in control of the relationship.
These guys are super fast! It was fun watching them dart off as our safari vehicle drove by. Dik-diks are gernally shy, hiding from others most of the time.
When startled, they take off in a series of zigzag leaps calling “zik-zik”, hence their funny name. They also mark territory using “tears” that come from that black spot in the corner of their eyes.
7: Lake Eyasi Sunset
Sunset over Tanzania’s Lake Eyasi
We spent a night along the shores of Lake Eyasi, a large salt lake in the fertile Great Rift Valley. Staying at Kisima Ngeda Tent Camp, it was possible to hike up to the cliffs overlooking the lake for a nice view of the region.
The landscape around Lake Eyasi feels very different than the hot, dry grasslands we’ve been traveling through up until that point. It’s wet and tropical, with large palm trees full of squawking birds.
Animal life isn’t as dense here, other than birds, but the reason most people visit is to meet with the local Hadza and Datoga tribes, curious to see their ancient hunting and blacksmithing abilities in person.
I climbed up to a high viewpoint in order to watch the sunset over the mostly-dry lake. During the wet season, it can actually get pretty deep and attracts groups of wading hippos cooling off in the salty water.
8: Hunting With The Hadzabe
Hadzabe Village near Lake Eyasi
The Hadza bushmen are one of the last true hunter-gatherer tribes left in the world. About 800 of them live semi-nomadically in the dry woodlands of remote Lake Eyasi — surviving on wild game, berries, and root vegetables.
We got up early one morning to visit a Hadza encampment, learn a little about their culture, and tagged along as they went hunting for small birds and antelope using hand-made bows and poison-tipped arrows.
The story of the Hadza is fascinating but sad. Basically their land has slowly been stripped away from them by commercial agriculture, the government, and wealthy Arab wildlife trophy hunters.
Their traditional way of life, which hadn’t changed much in thousands of years, is under threat. Like the Maasai, some have turned to tourism to support their families with limited other options available. Efforts to settle them in more modern farming communities have largely failed.
9: Dirty, Dirty Hippopotami
Africa’s Most Dangerous Animal
Anna’s favorite African animal is the hippo, so there was no way we were going to miss them on this trip! Luckily she got her fill of these massive dirty water pigs in the Serengeti and at Lake Manyara.
Ok, maybe they aren’t technically pigs. But they do have a habit of belching, snorting, and loudly shooting explosive diarrhea out their backsides… not MY favorite animal.
The hippopotamus is also Africa’s most dangerous animal, if you can believe that. They kill an estimated 500 people every year. They are extremely territorial, and much faster than they look!
I went kayaking with them in South Africa once, and it was a little unnerving to be so close. While it’s fun to watch them play in the water and splatter poo everywhere, you should always stay aware of your surroundings.
10: Leopards Of Tanzania
Baby Leopard Making Faces
The one animal I was most looking forward to seeing in Tanzania on safari was the leopard. Locating them can be a bit tricky sometimes, which is why it’s known as Africa’s most elusive big cat.
Luckily we were traveling through the Serengeti’s Seronera River Valley, one of the best places to find them in the wild. We eventually witnessed four different individuals perched in yellow-barked acacia trees.
However my favorite sighting was at Lake Manyara National Park while driving down one of the bumpy dirt roads. A baby leopard suddenly appeared just on the edge of the brush, about 50 feet away.
The cat briefly hesitated as we approached, then disappeared back into the trees. But not before I snapped the photo above. We continued searching for his mom, but never found her.
11: The Datoga Tribe
Narajah’s Beautiful Jewelry & Tattoos
Also living within the Rift Valley is the Datoga people. Originating from the Ethiopian highlands 3000 years ago, this ancient tribe moved South into what’s now Kenya and Tanzania.
The Datoga are expert blacksmiths — forging arrowheads, bracelets, and knives out of aluminum and brass over open fires. They trade these products with their Hadza neighbors in exchange for meat, honey, and animal hides.
We stopped in to visit with Narajah (pictured above) and learn a little bit more about her family and culture. Narajah is just one of her husband’s 7 wives. Each has her own house for raising their children.
Apparently Narajah’s husband gave her 10 cows as a marriage gift. When she asked Anna how many cows I offered, she wasn’t very impressed to learn all she got was a cat! Apparently I’m cheap…
A common body modification among women in the tribe is the tatooing of circular patterns around the eyes. It helps identify who belongs to a certain family and, to the Datoga ethnic group.
12: Magic Baobab Trees
Massive Baobab Tree
Finally! My first Baobab tree. I’d heard of these ancient giants for years, and didn’t even realize any grew in Tanzania. I thought the only place you could find them was Madagascar…
There are actually 8 species of baobab around the world. The largest is Adansonia digitata, which grows up to 30m tall in Tanzania. I think baobabs have to be the most iconic trees in Africa.
The trees vary in size depending on the season, as they can hold up to 100,000 liters of water within their trunks.
Hollowed out trunks of the baobab trees are often used as shelter by Hadza Bushmen, especially when it rains. Some trees can accommodate up to 30 people inside!
13: Angry Blue Monkeys
Blue Monkey Screaming in the Trees
Blue monkeys are not really blue, more of an olive or grey color. They live largely in the forest canopy, eating fruits, figs, insects, leaves, twigs, and flowers.
We came across a group in the trees on the edges of Lake Manyara National Park, calling out to each other. Some families can be composed of up to 40 individuals, mostly female, with one male leader of the group.
Other monkeys we saw on safari in Tanzania include vervet monkeys, baboons, and the black-and-white colobus. Look at those teeth! I wouldn’t want to get too close — even if they do prefer eating fruit.
14: Buffalo VS. Land Rover
Buffalo Encounter at Lake Manyara
I love this shot at Lake Manyara. An old Cape Buffalo stands off against a Land Rover, each waiting for the other to make a move.
Buffalo are very successful in Africa because they aren’t picky eaters. We saw hundreds of them during a week of safari drives through Tanzania. Munching away at the grasses, or rolling around in the mud.
However they can become aggressive towards vehicles, charging them if they feel threatened. They have also been known to gore hunters (good for them!) after being wounded.
Buffalo herds stick together, and when attacked by predators, will sometimes return to save one of their own. They’re not afraid of fighting lions either, or killing lion cubs as a preventative measure!
15: Endangered Black Rhino
Lone Black Rhino in the Distance
The last of the big five animals we wanted to see in Tanzania was found in Ngorongoro Crater. The black rhinoceros is critically endangered, with only about 5500 left in the world.
Ngorongoro is home to about 26 of them, and because they are on top of everyone’s list to see, safari guides coordinate with each other over radio for news of recent sightings.
While we weren’t able to get very close (vehicles in the crater aren’t allowed to drive off-road), we did manage to spot a single rhino walking in the distance.
The poaching these animals for their horns is still a problem, however it’s been reduced over the past few years due to improved conservation efforts & security.
Tanzania Safari Travel Tips
The safari tour we booked was through Soul Of Tanzania. We had an amazing time! The jeeps are very comfortable with big windows, wifi, and plugs to charge your electronics.
Our guide Huruma was very friendly, knowledgeable, stopped frequently for photos, and was plenty cautious with the animals.
WHEN TO GO – Tanzania’s primary rainy season is during March, April and May. The famous Great Migration happens during the dry season, between July and early October. We were there in December, during the “mini” wet season. No matter when you go, you’ll see tons of animals.
COSTS – Going on safari in Tanzania isn’t cheap, however there are options for different budgets. National Park fees alone can cost $70 a day. While self-driving is technically possible, it’s incredibly complex to arrange, and often just expensive as a tour.
BUGS – Beware the Tsetse flies, they suck! Literally. These painful and annoying flies are attracted to dark colors – especially blue and black. This is the reason everyone on safari wears white or tan clothing!
PHOTOGRAPHY – If there’s one place where you’ll want to splurge on a zoom camera lens, it’s on safari in Africa. I’d recommend something at least 200mm, but 400mm is even better. I rented a huge 400mm lens from LensRentals.com (and highly recommend them). ★
Any questions about going on safari in Tanzania? Are you planning a trip? Drop me a message in the comments below!
It’s -16 degrees fahrenheit outside, and we’re pitching tents on a thick layer of hardened ice, preparing for a night of extreme cold weather conditions. Welcome to polar expedition training!
Twelve strangers from around the world traveled to Manitoba, Canada to spend a week camping and skiing across Lake Winnipeg, simulating the cold weather conditions of an expedition to the North Pole.
Leading our group is professional polar explorer and arctic guide Eric Larsen. Eric is no stranger to traveling in extreme winter conditions. He’s spent the past 20 years visiting some of the coldest places on earth.
In fact, he’s the only person to have trekked overland to the North Pole, the South Pole, and summited Mount Everest, unsupported, all in a single year!
Eric runs a Level 1 Polar Training Course in Canada to help prepare other adventurers for the unique challenges of camping and trekking in cold weather situations.
This year, Citizen Watches invited me to tag along and document the training, while also sharing some winter camping survival tips with you.
Ready to Tackle the Cold!
Eric Larsen’s Polar Training Class
Cold Weather Survival Tips
Who in their right mind would want to go hiking and camping in the ice and snow? Not many. However winter travel gives hardcore wilderness-lovers the challenge they crave, and a completely different outdoor experience.
Staying safe in these freezing conditions requires a bit more planning, and a unique set of survival skills.
If you do it right, like Eric does, you shouldn’t actually feel cold — the thing preventing most of us from enjoying winter adventures in the first place.
Being prepared for cold weather is the difference between a great trip, and a miserable one.
While I love a good winter hiking trip, I don’t have tons of winter camping expereince. So I was eager to learn how Eric stays warm on his epic long-distance polar adventures in the middle of nowhere.
Trekking Across the Ice
Layering Is Critical
What does layering mean? Basically, regulating your body’s temperature by adding or removing different layers of clothing.
Because while you don’t want to get cold, you also want to prevent getting so hot that you start sweating. Sweat sucks heat away from the body, eventually making you colder.
So staying warm requires a fine balancing act. This is why wearing multiple layers helps, as you can add or remove layers depending on your level of activity.
Eric recommends a 3-4 layer system, starting with a synthetic moisture-wicking base layer to draw sweat away from your body.
Next up is a warm insulating layer, preferably fleece. Now if it’s REALLY cold, you may want to add a 2nd, thicker base layer under the fleece.
Finally, a windproof, waterproof, and breathable shell jacket (like GoreTex) to protect against the outdoor elements.
On his extreme North & South Pole trips, he also brings an oversized expedition down jacket to throw on during breaks, because your body heat quickly drops once you stop moving.
Example of Cold Weather Footwear
Keep Your Feet Warm
If you’re trudging through ice and snow, you need to take care of your feet. The frozen ground will quickly suck heat away from them without proper insulation, risking frostbite on your toes.
It’s wise to wear a proper winter-rated boot. Something that includes a removable insulation layer if possible, which helps you dry them out later.
Don’t pick boots that fit too tight, as you’ll need room for at least 2 layers of socks. And tight fitting boots means less blood-flow to your toes.
Eric recommends wearing thin liner socks, followed by a thicker pair of wool ones. Plus a 2nd set for sleeping in while the others dry out.
In extreme temperatures, you can also wrap plastic bags on your bare feet, wearing socks over them. This “vapor barrier” traps in heat while also preventing your socks from getting soaked with sweat.
Clear Cold Night on Lake Winnipeg
Remember To Hydrate
It’s sometimes easy to forget drinking water is important in the cold, because we’re so used to feeling thirsty in hot weather. But staying well hydrated is an important part of any outdoor winter adventure.
Eric recommends taking a break every hour from your activity (hiking, skiing, etc.) for a drink. Make it a regular routine. Proper hydration maintains good blood flow and other bodily functions — helping you stay warm.
Filling a bottle up with hot water helps prevent it freezing, as does using an insulated container or cover of some kind. Drinking warm water keeps your body warm from the inside.
There are different types of cold too. For example, at the North Pole, the air is wet & humid (feels much colder). But Antarctica is basically a dry desert — so staying hydrated in that environment is more difficult.
Time for Adventure!
Stay On Schedule
In cold winter camping situations, setting up and taking down your campsite takes longer than it does in the summer. It’s important to stay aware of what time it is.
For example, stopping early enough to prepare camp before the sun goes down. Timing regular snack and soup breaks to keep you warm during the day. But not too long — or you’ll quickly get cold standing around.
Not only does the watch hold up to the extreme -40 F temperatures found at the North Pole, it’s also powered by the sun, which means you never have to worry about dead batteries.
The Altichron features an integrated compass and altimeter too. Having backups of these adventure tools on your wrist, in something that won’t run out of battery power in cold weather, is handy for peace of mind.
Fur Ruff, Goggles, and a Nose Break
Head & Neck Protection
There are many blood vessels near the skin’s surface on your head and neck. Exposing them to cold weather cools your blood down quickly, which then flows into the rest of your body lowering overall temperature.
Obviously a good winter hat that covers your ears is required. Fur lined hats or jacket hoods with a fur ruff work especially well, which is why they’re common in places like Siberia and Alaska.
Another piece of gear Eric recommended is a simple balaclava ski mask that only exposes part of the face.
Stretching a buff over everything holds your head warmth system together, in addition to providing yet another layer of protection. Remember, layers!
If it’s going to be windy, winter goggles and a face mask or homemade “nose break” will protect the last of your exposed skin while still allowing you to breathe freely.
Camping in the Snow
Winter Shelter Systems
You wouldn’t think the thin nylon walls of a tent would protect you much outside in the winter, but it can. In fact, even a shelter made of snow can keep you alive!
When choosing a shelter for survival in cold temperatures, pick a 4 seasons rated tent. A tent that’s specifically made for camping in the Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.
Four season tents have less mesh netting than 3 season tents, meaning they hold heat in better. Winter tents also come with larger vestibule areas where you can keep snow-covered boots and outerwear, outside.
Tramp down the snow to create a firm & level base for setting up your tent. Place the tent door perpendicular to the wind. Pile snow onto the bottom outside edges as an additional wind barrier.
Snow is a great insulator! So if you ever find yourself stuck in the wilderness without a tent, building an emergency snow-cave shelter may help you survive the night.
Re-Fueling With a Hot Meal
Fuel Your Body
On Eric’s two month long ski expeditions to the Earth’s poles, the weight of his sled full of supplies can top 300 pounds. So maximizing food calories while also minimizing weight is essential.
To be as efficient as possible, he prefers to remove meals from their original fancy packaging, using thin plastic bags instead. He also packs each day’s meals together for easy & quick access.
Choose foods that can be eaten cold or require very little prep time. Granola. Salami. Cheese. Trail mix.
Eating food is like putting fuel on a fire. Your metabolism kicks into action to digest it, heating up your core body temperature and radiating outwards through the bloodstream.
Instant soup is also a regular staple of Eric’s arctic diet. He prepares it in the morning, storing in an insulated flask for later. Eating hot soup is wonderful for emotional support, hydration, and warmth.
My Polar Training Tent Crew
Sleeping In The Cold
You are not going to have a great time on your cold weather adventure if you can’t recharge with a good night’s sleep! That’s why it’s so important to pack a warm & comfortable sleep system.
You lose way more heat from the ground through conduction than you do from the air. So during our training we used two sleeping pads — at least one made of closed-cell foam, the other can be an insulated inflatable type.
To stay warm in -16 degree F temperatures, I used a 0F/-18C down sleeping bag that cinched up close to my face keeping the heat inside, as well as a 20F bag over that. This way if any frost builds up inside the tent, it doesn’t penetrate into your main bag.
Before going to bed, we also filled a Nalgene bottle with boiling water and placed it inside our sleeping bags. This makeshift hot-water bottle will radiate heat for about 5 hours of bliss.
Winter Stove Training
Frostbite & Hypothermia
The dangers of cold weather travel are real, and include frostbite and hypothermia. So I wanted to talk a bit about how to identify and treat these conditions.
Frostbite is when your skin falls below the freezing point, causing ice crystals to form in your cells, killing them. Your skin will change color to red, then white, and if it’s really bad, black.
It’s very important to warm your skin gradually. Sticking your fingers or toes into hot water can make it worse! Instead, try your armpits. Or soaking in luke-warm water.
Hypothermia is when your body loses more heat than it produces, and your core body temperature drops. Symptoms include slurred speech, loss of coordination, uncontrollable shivering, and mental confusion.
To treat hypothermia, it’s important to remove wet clothing and put on dry stuff, get into a sleeping bag, break out the emergency space blanket, start a fire, etc. Warm up as soon as possible.
Eric believes in the importance of being “selfish” during cold-weather adventures. In order for the whole team to function, each member needs to pay attention to their own health & comfort.
So if you’re feeling a bit cold, it’s ok to stop the group and put on another layer — before it turns into more serious problems that will affect everyone later (like caring for frostbite or hypothermia).
Skiing Over the Ice
Emergency Cold Weather Gear
Maybe you aren’t planning a trek to the North Pole. Or even spending one night winter camping. But on regular winter day hikes or car trips, you should still have some basic cold weather emergency gear with you:
Fire-starting kit with waterproof matches & lighter
3/4 piece of closed-cell foam pad insulation
Emergency bivy bag and space blanket
Spare hat & gloves
Extra fleece mid-layer
Chemical hand-warmers/heat packs
Your chances of surviving the night outside in the cold without these essentials drops significantly, so it’s wise to pack them with you just in case.
Maybe you get injured. Maybe the weather changes. Maybe you get lost. Maybe your car breaks down.
No one ever plans on getting into trouble. It just happens!
North Pole: The Last Degree
Trekking around Manitoba’s frozen Lake Winnipeg and learning polar expedition skills from Eric stoked my enthusiasm for future cold-weather adventures. His advice has really helped me become better prepared.
Many of my fellow students are planning expeditions of their own to the North Pole, South Pole, or crossing Greenland’s ice cap! Hanging out with them was pretty inspiring.
Right now Eric is leading his next Arctic expedition, a North Pole Last Degree trip.
This means participants fly up to the 89th parallel and then proceed to ski the last 60 nautical miles to the Geographic North Pole. It takes about 12 days.
I’ve wanted to visit the Big Island of Hawaii for years, mainly because of the Kilauea volcano. But there’s so many other cool things to do there too! Here are some of my favorites.
Did you know I once lived in Hawaii? On the island of Oahu, for a year back in college. Oahu is the most popular and busiest Hawaiian island, but The Big Island of Hawai’i is the largest, and incredibly it’s still growing!
When I lived on Oahu, I was a broke college student who couldn’t afford to visit the other Hawaiian islands…
However after my recent trip to the Big Island, I can’t believe how much I was missing!
With so many adventure activities, a laid-back attitude, and far fewer people, it really demonstrated how different the Hawaiian islands can be.
Planning a trip to the Big Island? Here are some of the best things to do!
View Overlooking Kona from Holualoa Inn
Best Of The Big Island!
Because the Big Island is, well, so big (4,028 square miles, a bit smaller than Connecticut) — driving around it takes a long time. You won’t be able to do everything unless you stay a while.
I’d recommend visiting for at least 4-5 days, however a full week should let you experience the best of what this beautiful Hawaiian island has to offer.
While the Big Island has some nice beaches, it’s really not a typical “beach” destination like Oahu is. Most people travel to the Big Island for the many volcanoes — both active and dormant.
You can find stunning beaches all over the world, but visiting a actual erupting volcano is much more unique!
I think another highlight of the Big Island is fewer tourists, and a laid back country vibe — making it a great place to relax if that’s what you’re after.
Crater Rim Drive – Driving your car along this route is the easiest way to see the park, it’s an 11 mile route full of scenic overlooks and interesting stops.
Jaggar Museum – A museum on volcanology with displays of equipment used by scientists to study the volcano. Also one of the best views of Halemaumau Crater!
Thurston Lava Tubes – A cool lava tube/tunnel you can explore after a 20 minute walk through a tree fern forest.
Kīlauea Iki Trail – This 4 mile (6.4km) loop trail takes you into a former lava lake that erupted with 1900 foot tall fountains of lava back in 1959.
Red Hot Magma!
Where To See Lava Flows?
If you drive up to Jagger Museum at Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, you might catch a glimpse of lava bubbling in the distance. But nighttime is the best time to visit, as the whole crater glows with red light.
To see lava up close, you’ll need to visit the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area, an hour long drive away from the National Park entrance (and closer to the town of Hilo). After the road ends, it’s another 3 miles by foot or rented bicycle.
To find the lava flow at Kalapana, you can either join a tour, or you can explore on your own like we did. The bike rental places will give you a basic map with instructions on how to find the lava.
The dark black sands of Punalu’u Beach is the result of the Big Island’s long history of volcanic eruptions. It formed over time as hot lava flowed into the ocean, exploding into tiny fragments and washing ashore.
The beach is home to endangered Hawksbill turtles and Hawaiian Green sea turtles that like to sunbathe on the warm black sand.
While it’s a wonderful spot to see these incredible creatures in person, just remember not to get too close.
There are rules in place to protect the turtles from human harassment.
Aside from checking out the turtles, Punalu’u is also good for swimming, snorkeling, walking, or even camping (with a permit).
Historic Kealakekua Bay
Anna Snorkeling the Bay
Kayak Kealakekua Bay
The water of Kealakekua Bay is crystal clear, and full of colorful fish and coral reefs. It’s also where Captain James Cook, the first Westerner to visit Hawaii, was killed in a skirmish with Native Hawaiians.
The bay is one of the best places to go snorkeling on the Big Island. Most people book snorkeling tours by boat, but for the more adventurous, you can also rent a kayak and explore on your own.
Anna & I rented a two-person kayak from Kona Boys and spent the morning swimming with tropical fish. Occasionally you can even find spinner dolphins and sea turtles!
Unfortunately we didn’t see any dolphins that day… but we heard they were spotted further down the coast.
On the East side of the bay you’ll find the ruins of a Hikiau heiau (sacred temple) dedicated to the Hawaiian fertility and music god Lono.
Watch the Sunset from Mauna Kea
Sunset On Mauna Kea Volcano
Did you know that it snows in Hawaii? And that Hawaii is actually home to the tallest mountain in the world? Well now you do!
Mauna Kea Volcano is Hawaii’s tallest mountain, at 13,796 feet (4205 meters). But most of the volcano is actually underwater. If measured from the sea floor, Mauna Kea towers 33,476 feet (10,204 meters).
That’s taller than Mount Everest!
At the summit of this long dormant volcano lies the Mauna Kea Observatory, a collection of 13 high-powered space telescopes.
Driving up to the observatory for sunset is a popular activity, and so is late-night stargazing. There are also a few short hikes around the top of the volcano. In the winter, the summit can be covered with snow.
Our Fun Cottage in Holualoa
Breakfast At Holualoa Inn
Unwind In Holualoa Town
Sitting along the fertile slopes of the Hualalai Volcano above Kailua-Kona lies the artist-friendly town of Holualoa, where we based ourselves on the western side of the Big Island.
Holualoa has tons of small-town charm, with a winding two-lane road lined with art galleries, coffee shops, and friendly locals. It was the perfect place to relax after our different adventures.
We stayed at the Holualoa Inn, in the heart of Kona Coffee Country. In fact, the inn grows its own coffee, fruits, vegetables, and collects eggs from a chicken coop out back.
When not off exploring the rest of the island, we were strolling through Holualoa Inn’s zen gardens, sunbathing by the pool, or getting a massage on our cottage’s lanai.
Hawaii’s Green Sand Beach
Papakolea Green Sand Beach
The Hawaiian islands are full of beautiful beaches, but one of the most peculiar is the green sand beach of Papakolea located on the South West coast of the Big Island.
This 49,000 year old cinder cone belonging to the Mauna Loa volcano contains billions of green crystals called olivines that give the beach its name.
Papakolea is a bit off the beaten track, and not easy to reach. The hike out is 5-miles (about two hours) round trip, so be prepared with plenty of water. There’s nowhere to hide from the sun either.
However this also means only the most adventurous souls make the trek — limiting the number of people out there.
Snorkeling with Manta Rays in Kona
Manta Rays Feeding at Night
Snorkel/Dive With Manta Rays
Just off the coast of Kona, groups of huge 20 foot (6 meter) wide manta rays soar through the water hunting for plankton to eat. It’s possible to jump in the water at night and watch them feed.
Our manta ray adventure began by chasing a stunning pink & orange sunset along the coastline on a sailing catamaran with Kona Style.
After the sun went down, we jumped into the ocean and grabbed onto a custom floating SUP board with hand holds. The board also has an ultraviolet light shinning down onto the ocean floor.
The light attracts millions of microscopic plankton, and the graceful manta rays swim under you to scoop them up in their massive mouths. It’s a magical experience! Scuba diving with the mantas is also possible.
Drinking Some Kona de Pele Coffee
Coffee Trees Growing in Kona
Coffee Tasting In Kona
You can’t leave the Big Island of Hawaii without getting your caffeine fix at one of the world’s most famous coffee towns. Kona’s rich volcanic soil helps produce smooth coffee with low acidity.
There are roughly 600 coffee farms in the Kona area, and many offer tours to the public, some are free! The most famous one is probably Greenwell Farms.
As a hardcore coffee lover, I was in heaven trying all the different types of Kona coffee around town. Make sure to bring some home too!
Akaka Falls State Park
Visit Akaka Waterfall
At a towering 442 feet tall, Akaka Falls is Hawaii’s largest waterfall. It’s located in Akaka Falls State Park, about 11 miles north from Hilo. Entry into the park costs only $5 per car.
The easy 0.4-mile loop hike takes you through a lush jungle filled with orchids, bamboo trees, and a stream-eroded gorge. You can complete the whole thing in about 30 minutes.
Along with the famous Akaka Waterfall, there’s a second “smaller” 100 foot waterfall called Kahuna Falls.
Akaka Waterfall can be viewed from several points along the trail through the park, but the best spot is from high above on the edge of the gorge. Late morning is a good time to visit so the sun will be shining on the falls.
Ki’i Statues at Puuhonua
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park
In ancient Hawaii, long before it became a state, local sacred laws or kapu governed every aspect of Hawaiian society. The penalty for breaking these laws was death…
But if the criminals managed to get themselves to a pu’uhonua, or place of refuge, they were absolved of their crimes and could return to normal life.
The Hale o Keawe temple located here contains the bones of chiefs that infuse the area with their mana (power). Dramatic looking wooden statues called Ki’i act as guardians to the bay and nearby temple.
Getting To The Big Island
There are two main airports on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kona International Airport (KOA) to the west, or Hilo International Airport (ITO) in the east.
You can try flying directly to these airports, or hop on a short 40 minute flight connecting from Honolulu.
We choose to visit the Big Island after our trip to Oahu, booking a one-way flight to Hilo, renting a car to drive around the island, ending in Kona, where we flew out from.
Generally Kona is the more popular destination/airport for travelers.
Our Holualoa Inn Cottage
Where To Stay
For most of our trip, we stayed at the beautiful Holualoa Inn outside Kona in the small village of Holualoa. It was the perfect place to relax after exploring the island all day.
Its position perched on the slope of the volcano gave us awesome views of the ocean and Kailua-Kona area down below, plus the gardens were full of birds and colorful green geckos.
They provided yoga classes, snorkeling equipment, as well as excellent food and coffee sourced from their own farm. The breakfasts were amazing!
More To See In Hawaii!
While we spent 5 days exploring different things to do on the Big Island, I really wish we’d stayed longer — at least 7. There was a lot more we didn’t get a chance to see!
For example, the Hawaiian cowboy countryside of the Kohala Coast and the thick tropical jungle and waterfalls of Waimea Canyon.
However I know we’ll be back one day, because the amazing Hawaiian Islands are one of my favorite travel destinations in the United States. ★
After traveling the world for the past 7 years, I’ve learned a lot about staying safe – sometimes the hard way. Here are my best travel safety tips for avoiding trouble on your next trip.
Nothing ruins an adventure quicker than getting scammed or robbed!
In Panama, some women distracted me while my laptop was stolen from my backpack. I figured it was gone forever, until incredibly, this happened 3 months later. I got lucky.
In Mexico, a pickpocket grabbed my iPhone as I was walking. I managed to get that back too, chasing the thief down the road screaming like a maniac and brandishing a bottle of tequila!
You don’t even need to travel internationally to have bad stuff happen. In Miami, my camera was stolen from the beach when I wasn’t paying attention.
After seven years of almost constant travel around the world, I’ve grown accustomed to deceitful taxi drivers, two-faced tour guides, insincere offers of help, and the occasional robbery or scam.
For the most part, the world is a pretty safe place for travelers. I don’t want to scare you too much! However it’s wise to be prepared for the worst.
With that in mind, here are my best travel safety tips to help minimize your chances of something bad happening to you or your belongings during your travels.
Useful Travel Safety Tips
Research Local Scams
1. Learn Common Travel Scams
Wherever you go in the world, you’ll always find people ready to trick you out of your hard-earned cash. If you’re lucky, they’ll be kinda obvious – but there are plenty of craftier, professional con-artists out there too.
Everyone thinks they’re too smart to be scammed — but it happens.
Here are some of the most common travel scams I’ve come across. I recommend you learn them all – then fire up the Google and do even more in-depth research into the worst scams happening at your specific destination.
For example, the milk scam in Cuba. Broken taxi meters in Costa Rica. Or the ring scam in Paris. Every country has its own special ones to watch out for!
Forewarned is forearmed, and this research can help defend you from being tricked out of hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars (while suffering the kind of frustration and misery that ruins a dream trip).
2. Write Down Emergency Info
If disaster strikes, you might not have time to search for numbers for local police or ambulance services, or directions to the nearest embassy for your country. You may also be too stressed and panicky to think straight.
Don’t put yourself in that position. Instead, record that information in advance, and create an “Emergency Plan” for you to follow if things go badly. Save it on your phone somewhere (I use the Evernote App).
I also recommend you write it down on a small card or sheet of paper, get it laminated (easily done at your local office supply store) to protect it from moisture, and keep it in your wallet/purse.
That way, if something goes wrong out there, you’ll always know exactly who to call and where to go for help.
3. Check The State Department Website
The U.S. Department of State has a page for every country in the world, where it lists all known difficulties and current threats to the safety of visitors. You can find it here.
However, a big caveat for this one: it’s the State Department’s job to warn you about everything that could go wrong, which is sometimes different to what is likely to go wrong.
This means their advice is generally on the hyper-cautious side. Factor that in, while you dig up more on-the-ground information.
But researching travel warnings will give you a general idea of what’s going on in the country you’re visiting, and specific problem areas you may want to avoid.
For example, just because certain parts of Thailand or Mexico have problems, doesn’t mean you should completely avoid those countries.
Lock Up Expensive Stuff
4: Lock Up Your Valuables
Putting aside the fact that traveling with anything super valuable is usually a bad idea, there will always be something you absolutely cannot afford to have stolen. I travel with a lot of expensive camera gear for example.
Your job is to minimize the easy opportunities for theft.
Firstly, know that most bags aren’t very secure. It’s easy to feel that a zipped, even locked bag is a sufficient deterrent to any thief, and doze off next to it. Waking up to find someone’s slashed a hole in the side!
Unless it’s a slash-proof backpack (but I’m not really a fan of them), the material can be cut or torn by anyone determined enough. Many zippers can be forced open with sharp objects like a writing pen too.
Always be aware of your valuables, and try to keep an eye on them in such a way that it would be impossible for someone to steal without you knowing. I’ll use my backpack as a pillow on train/bus routes that have a reputation for theft, and will sometimes lock it to a seat using a thin cable like this.
Secondly, call your accommodation to ask about secure storage options like a room safe, lockers, or a locked storage area. Carry your own locker padlock when staying at backpacking hostels.
5: Get Travel Insurance
You never think you need it, until you do. If you’re really worried about the safety of yourself and your gear while you travel, you can almost completely relax if you have some good insurance.
People ask me all the time if I’m worried about traveling with an expensive computer and camera. I was, when I didn’t have insurance for them. Now that I do, I’m not worried. If stuff gets stolen, it will get replaced.
Everyone should carry some kind of health and property insurance when traveling. Why? Because shit happens. Whether you think it will or not. It doesn’t matter how careful you think you are.
My recommendation is World Nomads for short-term travel insurance (less than 6 months). They make it super easy to buy online. Just be aware that they have “per item” limits on coverage of $500. So it’s not going to cover a whole $3000 camera.
If you’re going to be traveling for a long time, there are good long-term options like a mixture of expat health insurance from IMG Global and photography/computer insurance from TCP Photography Insurance.
If you really want to know which neighborhoods are safe and which might be sketchy, ask a local resident of the area.
Most locals are friendly, and will warn you about straying into dangerous areas. On the other hand, if a stranger offers up advice, it’s also wise to get a second opinion – just in case they don’t really know what they’re talking about but simply wanted to help (or worse, are trying to scam you).
Taxi drivers can be hit or miss in this regard. Some can be excellent sources for good information, others are miserable assholes who might actually lead you into trouble.
I’ve found that hostel or hotel front desk workers are generally pretty good sources for local advice.
Don’t be afraid to ask them which parts of the city to avoid, how much taxi fares should cost, and where to find a great place to eat!
7: Register With Your Embassy
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, from the U.S. Department of State, is designed to make a destination’s local embassy aware of your arrival and keep you constantly updated with the latest safety information.
It’s free, it’s available for all U.S. citizens and nationals living abroad, and it’s a great way to get reliable, up to date safety information as you travel, along with an extra level of security in case of emergencies.
That way if an emergency happens, like a natural disaster or terrorist attack, the local embassy can get a hold of you quickly to share important information or help with evacuation.
Mom, I’m Camping on a Volcano…
8: Email Your Itinerary To Friends/Family
Once you’ve worked out where you’re going and when, make sure someone else knows too.
The best way is to email the full itinerary to a few family members (and double-check with them that they received it – don’t just assume it landed in their Inbox, make sure it did). Then, if you can, check in from time to time.
Before I travel anywhere, I make sure my parents know where I’m going, what my general plans are, and when I should be back.
That way, if they don’t hear from me for a few days after I’m supposed to return, they can help notify the proper local authorities, the embassy, etc.
9: Don’t Share Too Much With Strangers
If you’re ever tempted to make your itinerary more public, say in a Facebook post, just remember it can be a roadmap of your movements – just the sort of thing someone with ill-intentions would love to know.
I also don’t recommend sharing too many details about your travel plans or accommodation details with people you’ve just met. For example, don’t tell a local shop owner or street tout where you’re staying when asked.
If someone does ask, rather than be rude, you can be vague about an area of town rather than the name of your hotel. Or lie and name a hotel you’re not actually staying at.
Sometimes people will ask if it’s your first time visiting their country or city. If you don’t trust them yet, you can pretend it isn’t your first trip. Because sharing that you’re new might also signal you’re a good target for scams.
When feeling vulnerable in a strange place, little white lies won’t hurt.
Anna Trying the Traditional Omani Abaya
10: Be Aware Of Your Clothing
When it comes to travel, the wrong clothes scream “TOURIST” and make you a target for scammers, thieves and worse. The less obviously a visitor you look, the less attention you’ll get from the wrong kind of people.
Wearing the right clothes is a sign of respect. Many Islamic countries have specific dress code guidelines that are often strictly enforced – and other destinations have laws that may catch you out (for example, walking topless through the streets of Barcelona is illegal for both sexes).
However, it’s possible to stay within the law and still offend locals with what you’re wearing – generating a lot of hostility towards you in the process. Ignoring local customs can come across as both arrogant and ignorant.
In conservative countries, it’s just safer to dress more conservatively yourself. Obviously as a foreigner you’re still going to stand out a bit, but much less than those who ignore the local customs.
Start by checking out Wikipedia’s general advice on clothing laws by country – and then narrow down your research until you find someone giving advice you can trust, ideally a resident or expat turned local.
11: Splurge On Extra Safety
If you’re traveling as a budget backpacker, like I was, it can be tempting to save as much money as possible with the cheapest accommodation, the cheapest flights, the cheapest activities.
But it’s important to know that this isn’t always the safest way to travel.
Ultra cheap backpacker hostels aren’t always the safest places. I’ve stayed in some without locks on the doors, that felt like make-shift homeless shelters for drug addicts and other seedy people.
Budget flights can often arrive in the middle of the night — usually not the best time to be hailing down a cab in a dangerous city and hoping the driver doesn’t abduct you.
Sometimes it’s worth the extra few bucks to splurge on a slightly better hostel, a more convenient flight, a taxi home from the bar, or a tour operator with a strong safety record.
12: Stay “Tethered” To Your Bag
Most quick snatch-and-run type robberies happen because the thief can do it easily, and has time to get away. Therefore, anything that slows them down will help prevent it in the first place.
If you can keep your bag tethered to something immovable at all times, and do so in a really obvious way, thieves will consider it way too risky a job – and leave you alone.
A simple and effective method is to use a carabiner clip. Even a regular strap around your leg or chair.
It doesn’t need to be secured with a steel cable and padlock all the time, just attached to something that will make a snatch-and-run attempt too difficult.
Learning to Box in Johannesburg
13: Learn Basic Self-Defense
You don’t need black-belt skills, but joining a few self defense classes is a worthwhile investment in your personal safety. Some good street-effective styles to consider are Krav Maga or Muay Thai.
Next, learn WHEN to apply it. Just because you can kick someone’s ass, doesn’t mean you should in all situations. In the words of author Sam Harris:
“Do whatever you can to avoid a physical confrontation, but the moment avoidance fails, attack explosively for the purposes of escape.”
A great way to neutralize a threat is to get yourself as far away as physically possible. If someone with a gun or knife just wants your phone, give it to them, run away, and live another day.
Use force only when your life is threatened & there are absolutely no other options available.
Keep your head up, stay alert, and aware of you’re surroundings. When you’re confident, potential attackers can sense it through your body language and eye contact.
Most will choose to move on and find an easier victim to attack.
In many places, making direct eye contact with potential threats can help ward off an attack, ensuring they notice you see them and what they may be planning. Yet in other parts of the world, too much eye contact might invite trouble…
Generally you should stay aware of who is around you, walk with a purpose, and don’t look worried, lost, or scared (even if you feel that way) — but I’d also avoid staring contests with sketchy looking strangers.
Protecting Your Money
15: Tell Your Bank Where You’re Going
Imagine the agony of doing absolutely everything right and keeping yourself perfectly safe and secure – only to have your trip ruined because your bank thinks you’re the thief, and locks down all your cards.
If this happens and you’re lucky, you’ll be asked security questions to determine your identity. The rest of the time, you’ll get a notification from the bank’s fraud detection team that irregular activity has been recorded on your card, and they’ve put a hold on all transactions until the situation is resolved – which might take days.
The solution is simple. Most online banking services have a facility for letting the bank or credit card provider know about your upcoming travels. Make sure you use it, shortly before leaving – and keep them in the loop if your travel plans change.
I also recommend using your debit card at the airport ATM machine as soon as you arrive in a new country, as this also helps let the bank know you’re traveling.
While it’s good to do everything you can to prevent worst case scenarios – it’s equally smart to assume it’ll happen and plan ahead for it. This is the thinking behind having an emergency stash of funds, stored in a safe place.
How much emergency cash? This will be personal preference, but I usually prefer $200 spread out in 2 different places. Some hidden on me, some hidden in my bag. A hidden backup credit card is wise too.
Now if things got really dire, and everything’s gone, what then? You call up a friend or family member, and ask them to send you the emergency money you left with them before you went traveling, via a Western Union or Moneygram transfer.
Hopefully it will never come to that. But these things do happen occasionally, and it’s better to practice safe travel techniques than to remain ignorant about the possibility.
Staying Safe While You Eat
17: Food & Water Safety
After traveling extensively the last 7 years, to over 50 countries, eating all kinds of weird stuff, I’ve only had food poisoning a couple of times.
Don’t be scared of the food when you travel! In fact, eating strange new foods can be a highlight for many people on their adventures around the world.
I also recommend getting a filtered water bottle. In many modern cities around the world the water is safe to drink, but outside of those places it often isn’t.
Sure, you could keep buying bottled water everywhere you go, but that plastic waste is a huge environmental problem. Why not get one sturdy filtered bottle, and then re-use it?
It pays for itself and saves the environment at the same time!
18: Use ATMs Wisely
You may have been told to cover your hand when keying in your PIN number at an ATM. That’s good advice worth following, both for others looking over your shoulder, as well as hidden cameras trying to record your pin.
Always take a close look at ATM machines before you use them. Pull on the card reader a bit. Does it have any questionable signs of tampering? If so, go into the bank and get someone to come out and check it (and then use another machine, regardless of what happens).
If an ATM machine appears to have eaten your card, run a finger along the card slot to see if you feel anything protruding. The “Lebanese Loop” is a trick where a thin plastic sleeve captures your card (preventing the machine from reading it) – then as soon as you walk away, a thief yanks it out and runs off with your card.
Another overlooked factor is where other people are when you’re at the machine. Can someone peer over your shoulder? Are they close enough they could grab the cash and run off?
If so, use another ATM elsewhere. Better safe than sorry! Never let anyone “help” you with your transaction either.
19: Stop Using Your Back Pocket
It’s the first place any pickpocket will check – and short of putting a loaded mousetrap in there (not recommended if you forget and sit down), the best way to deal with the dangers of having a back pocket is to never use it…
And if putting money in the back pocket of your pants is a habit you can’t seem to break, grab some needle and thread and sew it shut!
Your front pockets are a lot harder to steal from without being noticed.
If you’re REALLY worried, or plan to travel to a city where pickpockets run rampant, you can wear a money belt. I’m not a fan, but I know many who use them for peace of mind.
20: Travel In Numbers
The more people around you, the more eyeballs are on your valuables – and the more legs are available for running after thieves.
A group is also a much more intimidating physical presence, which helps ward off predators of all kinds. It will help to keep you safer than trying to go it alone in a foreign country.
If you’re traveling solo, consider making some new friends and go exploring together.
Staying at backpacker hostels is an excellent way to make some new friends. Often you’ll find other solo travelers there, who may want to do some of the same activities you want to.
However, I’d also like to highlight the importance of not trusting new people TOO quickly. There are some professional scammers who use the backpacker trail to take advantage of other travelers looking for a friend.
If you’re looking to get away, unwind, and reconnect with nature, you really can’t beat a backcountry canoe trip into Minnesota’s pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
With the wind at my back, I glided effortlessly over the cool lake water with every thrust of my paddle. The calming silence broken only by the lonely wail of a loon swimming close by…
My father & sister were slightly ahead of me, scouting for our first campsite. Our lightweight kevlar canoes loaded with enough food & gear to support us for 10 days in the wilderness.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is an outdoor lover’s paradise — encompassing over one million acres of North Woods backcountry and 1000+ scenic lakes.
Part of Superior National Forest, it hugs the border between Minnesota in the United States and Ontario in Canada. This is a summary of our first adventure canoeing the lakes of the BWCA, fishing for dinner, and camping in the forest.
I hope it inspires you to embark on your own journey into Minnesota’s Boundary Waters one day!
Me, my Sister, and Father
Canoeing the Lakes of BWCA
Boundary Waters History
Canoeing, camping, fishing, and hunting have been practiced in the Boundary Waters area for hundreds of years. The Ojibwe and Sioux indigenous tribes called these woods home, traveling the numerous lakes in birch-bark canoes.
Next came French fur trappers and the English-owned Hudson Bay Company, who made fortunes selling beaver pelts caught in the region. Eventually, in the 1900’s, the area became a popular recreation destination.
It’s one of America’s greatest land conservation success stories, and is enjoyed by over 200,000 visitors a year. However because it’s so large, the BWCA doesn’t feel as crowded as more popular National Parks.
In July of 2017, I drove up to Ely, Minnesota along with my father and sister to begin our first “epic” Boundary Waters adventure into the North Woods.
We’d been looking forward to it for months! A way to bring back childhood memories of canoeing & camping together in New England… some family bonding time.
It’s also good to simply take time off, immerse yourself in nature, and disconnect from the outside world occasionally. One of the best ways I’ve found to recharge your senses, de-stress, and gain some perspective on life.
After packing our gear up the night before at a rented cottage in Ely, we awoke before sunrise, strapped two canoes onto the car’s roof-rack, and drove towards Entry Point #23 at Mudro Lake to start our 10 day journey.
Our Boundary Waters Route:
(then back to Mudro the way we came)
Portage Trails in the Boundary Waters
Canoes are Carried Using Yokes
Portaging Through The Forest
If you think a long-distance canoe trip is easy, I’ve got some news for you. While many of the lakes are next to each other, you still have to cross portions of land to get from one lake to another. This is called a “portage”.
Basically, you get out of your canoe, unload it, then take turns hiking the canoe and your gear through the woods to the next lake. Depending on how many people are in your group, and how much gear you have, it could take a couple trips back and forth to get everything over.
Some Boundary Waters portage trails are only 50 yards long. Others can be up to a mile long. And portage trails aren’t measured in meters or feet, but in “rods”. A rod is about 16.5 feet long, or the approximate length of a canoe.
Portaging can be a nice way to break up the trip — a chance to stretch your legs and give your arms a rest.
However if the trails are overgrown, steep, or muddy — or if you hit a series of small lakes with multiple portages over a short time, it gets tiring too.
Camping in my Hennessy Hammock
Sunset Over the Boundary Waters
The “Biffy”, or Campsite Toilet
Camping In The Wilderness
Each lake has a handful of designated campsites that are snatched up on a first-come, first-serve basis. They’re equipped with a fire-pit, metal cooking grill, and a biffy (open-air camp toilet).
If all the campsites are taken, you must continue on to the next lake and check there. True wild camping is not allowed in the Boundary Waters, unlike on the Canadian side (called Quetico Provincial Park).
Usually we’d pick a good campsite in the early afternoon, set up our tents and tarp, then go fishing nearby. Sometimes we’d stay in the same spot for 2 nights in a row — in order to relax between travel days.
Gathering firewood was a regular task, requiring us to jump into a canoe and seek out dead trees (white pine, cedar, jack pine) along the shoreline. We’d saw some limbs off, load the canoe, return to camp, and cut the wood into smaller pieces.
Lindsay Catching an 18″ Walleye
Frying Fresh Fish for Dinner
Fresh Water Fishing
Many people take canoe trips into the Boundary Waters for the amazing fishing found there. The fish are plentiful, and large! The most common types are walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike, lake trout, brook trout, and crappie.
The pristine lakes offer plenty of opportunities for catching fish.
A Minnesota fishing license is required for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Licenses may be purchased online here or in person at many local businesses or canoe outfitters.
We caught a mixture of walleye and smallmouth bass using leeches as bait. My sister hooked a northern pike one afternoon, but unfortunately it snapped the line with its sharp teeth as she attempted to reel it in!
When fishing the BWCA, it’s important to only keep what you can reasonably eat. That said, we ate plenty of fresh fish for dinner during our journey. Often breaded & fried up with onion, lemon, beans and rice! Yum.
Early Morning Moose Sighting
Swimming Garter Snake!
One morning, on Gull Lake, we watched from camp as a large female moose came crashing out of the forest and swam across the bay to disappear on the opposite side.
After days of tranquil silence, it was a bit startling! I imagine that’s what Big Foot would sound like if he was coming to get you…
Other animals we came across included partridges thumping the ground to attract a mate, garter snakes, rabbits, loons, bald eagles, and angry beavers slapping the water with their tails as we approached.
Timber wolves, black bears, and bobcats also call the Boundary Waters home — but are a bit more difficult to spot.
Camping on Gull Lake
Loaded Up For our Adventure!
Boundary Waters Tips
Most BWCA visitors “base camp” for a night or two near the entry points. So if you want to find less crowded lakes, you simply need to travel further out into the backcountry.
Even though we were there during the busy mid-July high season, we rarely saw anyone beyond Fourtown Lake.
Beware the mosquitos! After the sun sets, they’re the worst I’ve ever seen. You definitely want to pack, at a minimum, strong bug spray and a mosquito head net. However a full bug shirt works wonders.
Rainy Day in the BWCA
One of Our Campsites
To visit the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, you need to buy a permit online. The BWCA is made up of different “entry points” near roads. You buy your permit based on which entry point you want to begin from.
Each entry point only allows a certain number of permits per day, so you’ll want to try and book a BWCA permit at least a few months before your trip — because they can sell out fast.
We began our adventure from Entry Point #23, Mudro Lake. It’s a popular one, so we booked our July permit in March. You pick up the permit in person from the closest ranger station to your entry point.
Voyager North Outfitters in Ely, MN
Boundary Waters Outfitters
If you don’t have all the gear necessary to canoe the Boundary Waters, it’s possible to rent gear from local canoe outfitters. Or even hire a guide to help you with navigation, camp setup, cooking, etc.
While we had most of our own gear, we chose to rent two Northstar kevlar canoes with paddles from Voyager North Outfitters. Highly recommend them!
Kevlar canoes are incredibly lightweight, which makes carrying them on your shoulders during a portage MUCH easier than aluminum ones.
Packing For The Boundary Waters?
I’ll be publishing a packing guide for the BWCA shortly! Make sure to join my mailing list if you want to get notified when it’s complete. ★
Have any questions about my Boundary Waters trip? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!
Disclosure: I’m a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising & linking to Amazon.com. I’m also a member of several similar programs. But I only recommend products/services I use and trust.
Booking.com really helps you save money (and time!) when booking your travel accommodation. It’s super easy to compare different properties based on price, location, or ratings.
Their smartphone app is also slick. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to book a last-minute hotel on the app from a bus or rental car when my travel plans suddenly changed!
Trying to visit individual hotel websites (that often suck) or, even worse, actually stopping by each hotel or guesthouse in person until you find something good is a nightmare.
With Booking.com, I can scan reviews for the important qualities I’m looking for in a place to stay. Is the wifi fast? Is there a free airport shuttle? Is the neighborhood nice? Which place has the lowest price & best reviews?
Get $30 Off Your Next Hotel Stay!
Planning a ski vacation this winter? Or maybe you want to escape the snow and hit the beach? What about an African safari? American road trip?
Click here to use my special link to book your next hotel, guesthouse, or hostel stay over $60 on Booking.com, and you’ll receive a $30 credit applied to your credit card after you complete your trip.
It’s that easy!
You’ll need to sign into your Booking.com account (or create one) and link it to a credit card so they can send you your $30 credit.
Feel free to forward & share this with family and friends too!
Who doesn’t want to save some money on their next hotel stay? This is something everyone can use to help make travel a little cheaper next year.
I hope you enjoy this discount, and wishing you happy travels in 2018! ★
Where do you want to travel in 2018? How will you use your $30 credit? Drop me a message in the comments below!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
After 7 years as a professional travel photographer & blogger, I keep getting asked what’s the best travel camera. There are so many to choose from! Here’s what I would pick, and why.
If you’re into photography, traveling the world with a good camera can help you bring back images that will stand the test of time — memories to share with family and friends for years to come.
Amazing travel photos are some of my most treasured souvenirs!
But what’s the best travel camera for capturing these special moments on your journey? There’s no easy answer to this question. Different people will have different requirements and budgets.
My goal with this digital camera buyers guide is to help you narrow down the overwhelming choices that are out there — and pick the perfect travel camera for your next trip.
Norway’s Lofoten Islands
Travel Camera Features
Size & Weight: Gone are the days when a bigger camera means a better camera. If you want to travel with your camera, you’ll want something small & lightweight.
Manual Settings: Photography professionals want the ability to fully control the settings of their camera so they can dial in the perfect shot in all kinds of different situations.
Megapixels: Many people assume that more megapixels is better. This isn’t always true. However more megapixels will give you higher detail, and allow you to “crop” your image without reducing quality.
Fast Lens: Lens aperture is measured in f/numbers, like f/1.4, f/2.8, f/4, etc. The lower the number, the better it will perform in low-light situations.
Zoom Range: A zoom lens lets you get closer to the action, especially for wildlife or people. But the bigger the zoom the bulkier a camera gets. How much zoom you want is a personal preference.
HD/4K Video: Most quality travel cameras will shoot video in HD 1080p. Some even have 4K capabilities — which honestly most people won’t need unless you’re doing professional work.
WiFi/Bluetooth Enabled: Some cameras have their own wifi network, allowing you to upload your photos instantly to your computer or smartphone.
Interchangeable Lenses: High-end mirrorless and DSLR cameras have interchangeable lenses, allowing you to pick the perfect lens for different situations.
Ridge Hiking in Hawaii
What Do You Want To Capture?
When choosing the best travel camera for your needs, you must define what those needs are. Different cameras have strengths and weaknesses depending on what you’re using them for.
Are you looking for portability? Weatherproofing & ruggedness? Professional high-end image quality? Something reasonably priced? Are you going to be shooting more landscapes, wildlife, adventure activities, or people?
You often can’t have it all when it comes to travel cameras.
Keep reading below to learn the pros & cons for each type of camera, and which types of travel photography they work best for.
Point & Shoot Cameras
Point & shoot cameras have come a long way. As technology has improved, companies have managed to pack these pocket-sized cameras with tons of features. Some shoot 4k video and have manual settings, just like the more expensive ones in this list.
The big difference is the camera sensor is a bit smaller, and they don’t have interchangeable lenses.
In my opinion, a mid-range to high-end point & shoot is the best option for 75% of amature travel photographers. They combine the perfect mix of portability, power, and budget-friendliness.
Sony RX100 Series ($700 – $1000)
Sony RX100 V
The Sony RX100 V is my favorite point & shoot travel camera. It’s what I’d call a “professional” point & shoot. While it fits in my pocket, it has many of the same features as my larger primary mirrorless camera.
The Canon G7 X is another fantastic point & shoot that’s great for travel photography. A bit less expensive than the Sony, it has fewer high-end features, but shoots great video with better on-board audio than the Sony. It’s a favorite for many YouTubers and Vloggers.
Action cameras have really transformed the travel photography & video world over the years. These tiny, waterproof, indestructible cameras can go anywhere & record anything!
If you plan on hiking, mountain biking, surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, or even swimming under waterfalls during your travels, an action camera can create epic video & photos of the experience.
GoPro Hero 6 ($500)
GoPro Hero 6
The GoPro Hero 6 is GoPro’s best camera yet, with improved video stabilization, color, and 60p slow-motion 4k footage. It’s waterproof case and touch-screen will handle any adventures you dream up.
The GoPro Session is GoPro’s smaller & cheaper model. Without a screen, this tiny cube can fit just about anywhere. On your helmet, in a glass of beer, even in your mouth! All kinds of ways to get creative.
Larger than a point & shoot, but smaller than a DSLR, mirrorless digital cameras are all the rage right now. Even professional photographers are starting to switch over due to their small size and ability to produce high-quality images.
I use a mirrorless camera as my main travel camera. They offer more features than a point & shoot, like the ability to use interchangeable lenses, and a larger sensor with better low-light capability and detail.
Sony A7 Series ($1300 – $3200)
The Sony A7 II is one of the best travel cameras money can buy. Sony is on the cutting edge of camera technology lately, and other brands are having trouble keeping up. There are a few different models available.
The Sony A7S II is geared towards videographers, with extremely good low-light capabilities. The Sony A7R III is geared for professional photographers who want super-fast focusing and a giant full-frame sensor.
Can you use your smartphone for travel photography? Of course you can! You’ll sacrifice a bit of quality due to the super small camera sensor in phones, but if you’re only publishing to the web, most people won’t notice.
Some smartphones can even shoot in RAW format these days. I travel with an iPhone 7+, but the Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel 2 also take amazing photos & video. Smartphones are also great backup cameras too.
What About Camera Lenses?
You honestly don’t need a million different camera lenses. When I first started, I only used a single general-purpose lens while I was learning.
If you have money to burn, then get two: a wide angle zoom and a telephoto zoom.
These two lenses will allow you to capture a mix of landscapes, portraits, and wildlife from a distance. However lugging around multiple lenses and changing them back & forth can be annoying if you’re new to photography.
To keep things easy, I’d recommend only one lens at first. Something with a decent focal range, around 18mm – 55mm or 28mm – 70mm.
When looking at a lens aperture, the lower the number, the better it will be in low light. F2.8 or F4 should cover you for most situations. If you want to shoot star photography, go with F2.8 or lower.
Flying my DJI Mavic Over Hawaii
Drones For Travel Photography
Drones are incredible tools for capturing images & video in a totally different perspective. But this probably isn’t the most important travel camera for the average person.
Many places have restrictions on flying personal drones, for example US National Parks, and even entire countries. So you need to do your research to avoid heavy fines or confiscation.
If you REALLY want a drone, I’d recommend the DJI Spark for beginners. It’s tiny, pretty affordable, and very easy to use.
If you eventually want to make money from your drone photography, and have a larger budget, than you’ll completely fall in love with the more professional DJI Mavic Pro. You can see my review video here.
All My Camera Gear
What Travel Cameras Do I Use?
I actually travel with 4-5 different cameras on my adventures around the world. This is a bit overkill for most people.
The camera backpack I use is called a LowePro Whistler 350. It’s got room for a 15″ laptop, jacket, and incredibly fits all 5 travel cameras, lenses & some accessories if I need it to — great as an airplane carry-on.
Travel Photography Tips
I want to let you in on a little travel photography secret. Even if you have a top-of-the-line $10,000 camera, your photos aren’t going to be spectacular if you don’t know how to use it.
And I don’t mean pressing the shutter — I mean:
Learning how to shoot in manual mode
How to expose images properly
Adjusting your white balance
Framing shots for maximum impact
Paying attention to light
Post-processing your images with software
You don’t become a good photographer because you have a nice camera, your photography improves over time through practice, patience, and skills you learn from others.
So sure, invest in a new travel camera if you think you need it, but remember to invest money & time into learning new photography skills if you really want to create those jealousy-inducing images for your Instagram feed!
If you don’t have an GoPro action camera yet, but want one, here’s your chance to win a GoPro to use on your next travel adventure!
I’m giving one lucky reader their very own GoPro Hero Session 5 (along with some accessories).
I love my GoPro, and travel with it everywhere. It’s great for capturing water sports, hiking trips, epic selfies, and hands-free video from my travel adventures around the world.
I’ve been traveling with a GoPro of some kind for the last 7 years!
Here’s an article I wrote about my favorite GoPro accessories for travel, along with examples of how you can use it to capture amazing footage.
ELIGIBILITY: Ages 18+
Promotion is open and offered to residents of any country. However the winner will be responsible for their own country’s customs fees.
CHOOSING A WINNER:
A winner will be selected at random from the list of entries, and notified by email. If the winner does not respond within one week, an alternate winner will be chosen at random.
The winner will receive (1) GoPro Hero Session, (1) GoPro Backpack, and (1) GoPro Selfie Stick. Prize value worth $450. Prizes are shipped to winner’s chosen address. Local customs fees are not included in the prize.
How To Enter Contest
Enter your name and email address below and follow the instructions.
You’ll have the option to earn extra contest entries (and more chances to win!) by completing certain tasks.
Good luck, and I look forward to congratulating the winner! ★
Have any questions about travel cameras? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
Planning to travel overseas in the next few months? You may want to think about travel vaccinations. Learn which shots you may need for which countries, and how to save money on them.
When I first began traveling on a regular basis 7 years ago, the topic of travel vaccinations and immunizations came up. Like many people, I was confused about which shots I needed. Where do I get them? How much do they cost?
Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether you’re staying at a fancy resort or a backpacker hostel – if you’re in a foreign country, you’re putting yourself at risk for the diseases and infections that reside there.
Why do we wear seat belts? Because they save more lives than they take.
The same is true with vaccinations. The diseases they prevent kill millions around the world (or used to before vaccinations).
Once you’ve taken the proper precautions, you’ll feel much better about being adventurous and saying yes to any opportunities that present themselves while traveling. It’s preventative insurance for your health.
Travel Vaccinations & Shots
I know, I know – no one likes getting shots or even going to the doctor. But a twenty-minute appointment could prevent you from contracting really bad diseases, and maybe even save your life.
A number of factors go into determining whether or not you need a vaccination – some of them personal (depending on your health, or where you are from) many of them are more general.
As a result, necessary vaccinations can vary depending on your planned destinations. Let’s take a look at these factors and which vaccinations are recommended (or required) for your next trip.
Things To Consider
There are a few things to consider regarding your own health and situation. First, how is your immune system? If you have a disease or condition that weakens the immune system, speak with a doctor before getting a vaccine.
It’s important to make sure you’ve got your body up to par for the trip!
Next, if you are pregnant or traveling with children, be sure that both you and they have any medical procedures and/or vaccines needed, and that the vaccines are safe for their age.
Check your personal vaccine history by talking to your doctor or health insurance provider (you may have had some of them when you were younger, like Hepatitis A). Just to avoid any confusion, this is often referred to in official medical circles as your Immunization Records.
Finally, I’ve shared some general guidelines below, but for more detailed information, please visit the official CDC Traveler’s Health Site to learn exactly which travel vaccinations are recommended for each country.
Bathroom in Afghanistan
Basic Routine Vaccinations
Hepatitis A is a liver disease spread through food and water contaminated by the feces of an infected person. Some sources include fruits & vegetables that were improperly handled, bad ice, and shellfish pulled from contaminated water. It can also be spread through sex. Symptoms are similar to the flu. There is no cure.
TYPE: 2 injections over 6 months PROTECTION: Lifetime COST: $75 – $100 (often covered by health insurance) RECOMMENDED FOR: All Countries
Hepatitis B is a liver disease spread through blood and bodily fluids of an infected person. Sources include unprotected sex, using contaminated needles, and sharing a razor/toothbrush with an infected person. Symptoms are often mild, so you may not realize you have it. Left untreated it can damage your liver.
TYPE: Multiple injections over a few months. PROTECTION: Lifetime COST: $60 – $90 (often covered by health insurance) RECOMMENDED FOR: All Countries
TDaP (Tetanus, Diptheria, and Pertussis)
Tetanus is bacteria found in the soil and animal excrement. If it enters a wound, it creates a deadly toxin called tetanospasmin. Symptoms include nerve spasms and contractions that spread from the face to the arms and legs, and can affect the ability to breathe. Untreated, tetanus is often fatal. The vaccine is sometimes mixed with vaccines for Diptheria & Pertussis, two more bacterial diseases.
TYPE: Single injection PROTECTION: 10 years COST: $60 (often covered by health insurance) RECOMMENDED FOR: All Countries
The Influenza virus, aka “the flu” spreads from infected persons to the nose or throat of others. It often only lasts a few days, but can still ruin a trip. Symptoms include high fever, sore throat, chills, fatigue, headache, and coughing.
TYPE: Single injection PROTECTION: 1 year COST: $50 (often covered by health insurance) RECOMMENDED FOR: All Countries
Recommended For Many Countries
Typhoid fever, or typhoid, is a bacterial infection that spreads through feces contaminated food or water. It affects 21.5 million people worldwide, with a 10% fatality rate. Most common symptoms include fever, anorexia, abdominal discomfort and headaches.
TYPE: Single injection or Pills PROTECTION: 2 years (injection), 5 years (pills) COST: $85 – $300 RECOMMENDED FOR: South America, Central America, Asia, Africa, Pacific Islands
Jungle Trekking in Panama
Recommended For Some Countries
There are four different strains of Malaria. All are transmitted by the bite of an infected female mosquito. Malaria is characterized by fever and flu-like symptoms, including chills, headache, body aches and fatigue. Malaria can cause kidney failure, coma and death.
Rabies is a viral disease contracted by the bite of an animal, usually raccoons, bats, dogs, skunks, or foxes. It affects the central nervous system and brain, leading to death if untreated. It starts with flu-like symptoms, progressing to insomnia, confusion, partial paralysis, and hallucinations. The vaccine does not prevent contracting rabies, it just makes treating it far easier.
TYPE: 3 injections over 2 months PROTECTION: 5-8 years (does not prevent, only helps with treatment) COST: $500 – $1000 RECOMMENDED FOR: South America, Middle East, Africa
Cholera is a diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It kills over 100,000 people every year. Cholera is spread by consuming water or food contaminated by the feces of an infected person. Symptoms can be mild, but severe cases include watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps.
TYPE: Single injection PROTECTION: 1-2 years COST: $30 – $50 RECOMMENDED FOR: Some African countries like D.R. Congo, Egypt, and Morocco (see full map here)
Polio is a viral disease transmitted by fecal matter or saliva from an infected person. It can cause paralysis, respiratory failure, and death. Before a vaccine was available, infection was common worldwide. In the United States, most people receive the initial vaccine as children. However an additional booster shot is recommended for adult travelers going to certain countries.
TYPE: Single injection (booster) PROTECTION: Lifetime COST: $50 RECOMMENDED FOR: Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East (more details here)
There are a few different forms of Meningitis. Basically, it’s a bacterial infection that affects the brain and spinal cord. It spreads from person to person via coughing, kissing, or eating contaminated food. Symptoms include sudden fever, headache, and stiff neck. Some countries in Africa & the Middle East have regular outbreaks.
TYPE: Single injection PROTECTION: 3-5 years COST: $80 – $200 RECOMMENDED FOR: Africa & the Middle East
Japanese Encephalitis disease is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. It is most common in rural farming areas of Asia. Risk is generally low for most travelers, unless you are spending a lot of time in rural areas during the monsoon season. Some cases can lead to inflammation of the brain and other symptoms which can be fatal.
TYPE: 2 injections over one month PROTECTION: 1-2 years COST: $150 – $800 RECOMMENDED FOR: Asia & Southeast Asia
Required For Some Countries
Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne viral disease with a high mortality rate, which is why some countries require vaccination if you recently traveled to parts of South American or Africa. Symptoms of yellow fever include: fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, and abdominal pain. Severe cases include hepatitis, hemorrhagic fever, and possible death.
TYPE: Single injection PROTECTION: Lifetime COST: $150 – $300 RECOMMENDED FOR: South America & Africa (see full map here)
When Should You Get Vaccinated?
Obviously you need any shots that are REQUIRED for entry taken care of before you leave. That said, the earlier the better, especially if follow-up rounds may be needed.
Because some vaccines require a few shots spread out over a few months.
Some travel shots can take about a week to fully protect your system, so generally it’s recommended to have your travel vaccines completed a few weeks before your trip. Ask your doctor if you have any concerns on timing.
Your Yellow Immunization Card
Once you receive your travel vaccinations, ask the doctor for a yellow immunization card, which lists all your vaccination details.
Keep this with your passport, and update it with any new shots you get, because immigration officials in some countries will want to see it. Especially as proof of Yellow Fever vaccination.
Walgreens Provides Travel Vaccinations
Where To Get Travel Vaccinations
Before Leaving Home
The first step in figuring out where to go to get your vaccines is to contact your health insurance provider or doctor. They should be able to tell you exactly where you need to go, and maybe even help you make the appointment.
Many county health departments, hospitals, and private health clinics offer vaccines on site. In some cases, an appointment will be required, at others a walk-in will be fine too.
If you live in the United States, Walgreens Pharmacy also offers many travel vaccinations.
It’s best to call ahead to learn which travel shots they offer, and what you need as far as identification or additional paperwork.
If there isn’t one available, or if you are already on the road, check the International Society for Travel Medicine. There you’ll find a directory of travel vaccination providers, doctors, and other travel health resources based on location.
Save Money Overseas!
If you’re like me, the prices for some of these vaccines can be a bit intimidating. Of course depending on your insurance, or national health care system, some vaccinations might be covered.
In other cases, if an expensive travel shot is just recommended, it might be possible to have it performed in a foreign country after you arrive to save some money.
Here are some recommendations though:
Do your own research back home first.
Find a clean, preferably large hospital in a major urban area.
Double check that the doctors are certified.
Find out if you need an appointment.
Read up on what other travelers are saying.
Be prepared to pay with local currency.
The following foreign medical centers are frequented by travelers looking for cheap travel vaccinations:
In addition to the diseases and infections above, there are a whole lot more that don’t get as much coverage called Neglected Tropical Diseases.
I want to talk briefly about two of the more common ones that people should be aware of when they travel overseas, Zika and Dengue Fever.
Both are caused by mosquitos, and neither has a vaccine, so you have to protect yourself in other ways.
Dengue Fever is a disease caused by any one of four closely related viruses. They are transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. According to the CDC, Dengue is a risk in many South & Central American countries. Symptoms are similar to severe flu, and can include a red rash on the hands and feet. Dengue can sometimes cause long-term health problems, and even result in death. I actually contracted Dengue Fever in Mexico a few years ago — it isn’t pleasant.
Zika Virus is transmitted to humans by infected mosquitos. Many people won’t have symptoms or will only have mild symptoms. However Zika can cause horrible damage to unborn babies through a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly. According to the CDC, there is risk of the virus in all South and Central American countries except for Chile and Uruguay.
Hammock Camping in Costa Rica
Mosquito Protection Tips
Try to avoid mosquito bites, particularly in remote, jungle, and rural areas. If you have one and begin to feel ill, see a doctor immediately. Protect yourself against mosquitos by taking the following precautions:
Cover up arms and legs – wear long loose fitting clothing.
Treat your clothing with permethrin – it will kill any mosquitoes that land on your clothes.
Use air conditioning, seal windows and mosquito coils to kill any mosquitoes that might get into your room.
Sleep under mosquito nets in basic accommodation or when requiring extra protection
More Travel Vaccination Tips
Ok, real-talk here. Despite all the diseases mentioned above, I don’t want to scare you into never traveling! The chance of you catching something is low.
It’s probably not the end of the world if you don’t have ALL the recommended travel vaccinations for EVERY country you visit.
I’ve been traveling for the last 7 years, visiting over 50 countries. In addition to the basic routine vaccinations recommended for all countries, I also have my Yellow Fever and Typhoid shots.
Personally I’m not too worried about Rabies, Cholera, or the others. Except maybe for Malaria in some very specific countries that I haven’t visited yet, because it can be pretty common.
I’m not a doctor, and can’t tell you which travel vaccinations you’ll need.
Check the CDC Travel Site, gather as much information as you can based on where you’re going, what you plan to be doing there, and then weigh the risks yourself.
For example, I know others who have come down with Malaria, Cholera, and who needed Rabies shots. Yet I still don’t have the Cholera vaccine, Rabies vaccine, and have never used Malaria medication. It’s a personal choice, and a risk you have to live with.
Many private travel clinics in the United States like to use “scare tactics” to convince you to get a shot for absolutely everything, while padding their profits with your ignorance and fear of the unknown.
Please do your own research, talk to your regular doctor, and then decide how much risk you’re willing to take. ★