New Year's Travel Resolutions
formalfallacy @ Dublin (Victor), flickr
I will not overpack
Nothing weighs a trip down more than having to trudge about with heavy luggage. Not only will those bags break your back, but with the rise of baggage fees, they can break the bank as well. Called the Go-Light Guru by Time magazine, Doug Dyment of OneBag.com is the expert when it comes to streamlining case contents. We caught up with him in Kyoto for his thoughts on how to pack light.
"The most important tool for someone wishing to learn to pack lightly is a personalized packing list. I'm referring to a document that you create on your own, one that becomes a sort of contract you make with yourself: a promise that you will never put anything in your bag that is not on your list. It's a single list, not a different one for each type of trip. And although the list will evolve somewhat as you gain experience, it remains essentially unchanged for all circumstances."
Bonus tip: "Almost everything in the liquid- and gel-based products category, from toothpaste to shampoo, from deodorant to perfume, from sunscreen to insect repellent, from moisturizer to foundation, can be had in solid form, which will drastically reduce weight, significantly eliminate bulk, and not run afoul of security concerns."
I will take better photos
Whether trying to capture hilarious, heartfelt or heavenly moments, we've all been crestfallen on seeing substandard photos. Tanja-Tiziana of Doublecrossed Photography offered these tips for giving your next vacation your best shot.
Number 1: Get to know your camera functions before you leave. You don't want to be fumbling with controls and missing moments.
Number 2: Turn your flash off for nightscapes. Flash can only travel a few feet, so there is no way it's going to help you with that Vegas-by-night shot. Find a stable place to sit the camera, like a portable tripod or even a curbside newspaper box.
Number 3: Use flash in the sun. Try turning on the flash when you're taking portraits of each other in harsh sunlight. It sounds odd, but flash will actually fill in the heavy shadows caused by the sun, giving you more even light and color.
Number 4: The landscape mode on your camera is designed to give you sharp pictures from a distance, along with rich blue skies and lush earth tones. Flip to this mode when you need it, and let the camera do all the work.
Number 5: Don't always rely on zoom lenses to get you close to the action. Walk right up to your subject, interact with them, and get details that fly-by tourists would miss in their haste.
I will learn the local language
We caught up with Michael Luongo, travel writer and author of Frommer's Buenos Aires guide, from his base in Argentina and got his tips on the must-know words and phrases.
"There are many useful phrases that you should learn when traveling. Some are simple courtesy, like 'please' and 'thank you', which are simple phrases that go a long way. I also recommend, for practical purposes, 'Where is the bathroom?'
When backpacking in Germany during college I learned to say 'Wo ist Bahnhofstrasse?' which translates as 'Where is the street the train station is on?' I used 'Wo ist mein zug?' -- 'Where is my train?' -- at the station. I can't understand the German answer, but I understand the hand signals.
The key thing with learning just a few key phrases is that you'll make people comfortable, even if the rest of the conversation is laughs and hand gestures.
In any country, learn to say 'Photograph, please?' Or 'May I take your photograph, please?' It's a great way to begin an interaction with someone, and gain trust.
When covering the Afghan-American Peace Corps' efforts to give animals to poor widows in remote villages, I learned the names of the animals and through that was able to photograph a group of children and teach them the English words for the animals. It was fun, and we imitated the sounds of the animals. It meant the children weren't worried about my camera, making for great photographs.
In Afghanistan, a very good word to know is 'chai' for tea. Knowing it meant I could be invited to spend time with old men in ancient tea shops along the fabled silk route. It's just one word, but allowed a whole mysterious world to be opened up."
I will eat more adventurously
Eating adventurously doesn't have to mean jellyfish in Jinan or blood pudding in Ballybunion. We talked to Léonie Lilla, the Swiss-born chef now manning the stoves at Toronto's Le Germain Maple Leaf Square, about how to experience the local cuisine:
"Eating outside your comfort zone is different for everyone. For some people it's eating something other than mac and cheese. My best advice is 'push your limits,' but...it doesn't have to be with lizards, snakes or kangaroo.
Local food in any country is at the heart of its culture, so to travel without even trying to eat local, you only get half of the experience. I think it's not just what you eat but also the whole experience and the memory you get from eating something unknown. The first time I was out of my comfort zone was in Singapore. After 16 hours traveling, I was served Kaya toast -- toast made with milk, pandan leaves, sugar, coconut and served with soft boiled eggs and soy -- which is known as Singapore's national breakfast. I was thinking, 'Why is there soy in my eggs?' It was the first time I didn't know what I was eating.
I try to live by my mother's advice, 'Don't say you don't like it until you've tried it.' I don't always like it, but I will always try something once. There are things that I would rather not eat again, but if you say no to all the food that does not look or sound good to you, you'll miss out on some beautiful discoveries."
I will be better prepared
No one ever thinks anything will go wrong when they are on vacation. But issues from a lost wallet to a cultural faux pas can mean serious problems. The U.S. State Department has a slew of useful tips for Americans heading off on vacation.
Number 1: Know where you're going. Check the State Department's travel site for safety and legal information on the destination you're going to. It's wise to stay up to date on local conditions and laws that you might not expect. Otherwise, you might not know that in Singapore it's illegal to chew gum, that you must stand for the national anthem if you go to a movie in Thailand, and that it's illegal to take a photo of a police officer or police vehicle in France.
Number 2: Duplicate important records. The State Department recommends you store vital information such as your passport, bank and credit card numbers through an encrypted online storage site like Travel Vault or email scanned and saved versions to yourself with WinZip. If you don't trust technology, leave copies of crucial details with a trusted person at home.
Number 3: Register your travel plans with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This free State Department service will be able to find and help you if there's a family emergency or a crisis where you are.
Number 4: Leave a paper trail. Passing along detailed itineraries to friends or family before you leave means that people will know how to contact you in an emergency.
What are your travel resolutions? Let us know in the comments below.
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