On Staying in Touch
Another key factor in the success of any vacation is the ability to communicate with family and friends easily. In the past we have struggled to use our phones or other devices in foreign countries, but within the last few years, that has become less of an issue as major mobile carriers such as AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon have started to offer very nice international plans. Our carrier (AT&T) allowed us to add an international plan to each of our lines prior to our trip. This plan provided unlimited texting overseas (much to our daughters’ delight) and provided reasonable calling rates. In addition, each phone was granted a bucket of data that could be utilized overseas (120meg). This wasn’t a huge amount of data, but we used it wisely on each phone and we felt we were able to stay in touch and utilize our devices much the same way as we would at home. It was especially nice to have our iPhones available for the GPS and map features when we needed them.
Most hotels, restaurants, museums, and other major establishments do provide free Wifi to their customers. When we found a nice place that provided Internet, we would take advantage of it and stick around for an extra dessert or drink to quickly catch up on things (and post some pictures) prior to moving on to the next site. We also ensured all our lodging choices provided reliable and fast Internet so the mornings and evenings were spent posting updates, pictures, and getting some remote work done.
Another key means we utilize to keep family and friends up-to-date on our adventures is the use of various social media sites. My wife and I post frequent updates and pictures to FaceBook and Instagram, and my daughters update on sites like Tumblr. This has the benefit of not only sharing our progress but also getting some of our priceless photos off our local cameras or laptops (discussed below) and onto the web. Should anything happen to our devices, we can at least recover those photos.
One of the proudest souvenirs I have of our recent trip is the Tumblr account of my daughter Emily.
On Photographing Memories
One of the most frequent questions I get about our travel is what type of camera we use (as we post a LOT of pictures). My daughters are starting to get more into photography through their high school and some journalism classes, but neither my wife nor I know much about what it takes to fully take advantage of the wide array of higher-end cameras out there. It is something we’d like to address and maybe take a class or two but for now we are somewhat ignorant of the basics known to many photographers. That said, when it comes to higher-end cameras and sophisticated lenses, we do not own one. We have always traveled with a small reliable point-and-shoot camera that served our purposes. They are easy to pack, easy to use, and less risky if we lose or break them.
As the quality of camera in your average mobile phone has increased (in our case the iPhone 6), we have found our phones take the equivalent quality pictures as our basic point-and-shoot cameras. For this reason, on our most recent trip we did not take a single camera, and our entire vacation was photographed from our mobile phones. This shocks many people to hear (especially those with more knowledge of photography who tell me what we could be doing). We found it to be very efficient and are perfectly content with the quality and quantity of photos we were able to take.
iPhones take great pictures, but you do run the risk of quickly filling up an individual phone with too many pictures and then, while out exploring, spending time on the device clearing space. To address this, each of our family members removed any unnecessary applications and images from their devices prior to our trip. Our devices are the 64-gig iPhone 6 model, so we did have a fairly large amount of storage anyway. Prior to our travel, I did plug each device into my MacBook Pro and remove all existing pictures and images to clear space.
Each day of our trip we took roughly 5,000 total photos (roughly 700-1,200 per person). Rather than sort these photos during our stay every day (or sometimes every other day), I went through each family member’s phone and synced the images to my laptop in bulk. This cleared their phone for the next day but also quickly filled up the hard drive on my MBP. To alleviate this, I purchased a 2TB external HD from Amazon prior to traveling and took it along. After every night’s picture sync, I copied all the newly synced pictures to this HD. I then uploaded what I could to an online Cloud storage provider as a fallback. I was never able to sync everything to the Cloud (due to Internet speed issues), so the external HD is the “master” copy of all my family’s trip photographs.
Another key consideration of using you mobile device as your sole means of photography is the risk of a device running out of battery midway through the day. That family member would then be left without a camera. As this has been an issue for us in the past, we found the easiest way to solve it is by taking along one or two external USB chargers purchased prior to our trip. We used a pair of Mophie Powerstation XL chargers. We took two just as a precaution and ended up using them pretty heavily due to having five people and sometimes multiple devices per person. We recharged our battery chargers overnight, and the next day we had enough external power to recharge each of our iPhones multiple times. As we explored, we took only a small pack with our battery packs and cables, some extra water, and a few other essentials. Everyone carried their own iPhone as their camera and we became pretty light and portable. Sitting at restaurants or on trains we’d frequently have at least one or two family members ask to charge their device so we’d set the battery pack on the table and let them plug in.
We also use our iPhones for a significant amount of video when we felt it necessary. That said, one of my daughters did invest in a GoPro Hero 4 for a prior trip, and we do travel with that and a number of accessories. All video from the GoPro goes through the same archival process as the video from our iPhone devices.
I hope that these tips and tricks help you on your next adventure! Let me know in the comments what’s worked for you, whether I’ve mentioned it above or if it’s something I might have skipped over. I’d love to hear from you!