Planning A Trip – A New Camera!

I debated for ages over whether to get a new camera or not. In the end I decided I really wanted one, I am going to the Galapagos and my pictures will be my main souvenirs. So I took the plunge and started to research camera’s.

I am a point and shoot girl who dreams of taking photo’s with a fancy DSLR, National Geographic style!

As I did research I decided that I was not going to go with a DSLR but still wanted more flexibility than a compact camera. I found the middle ground with the compact system camera’s. I don’t understand all the technical speak so I won’t even try to explain all the specs of the camera.

In the end I chose the Olympus EPM1 with the 14-42mm lens, it was at the low end of the compact system cameras, is still fairly small, I can buy more lenses as I learn more and it’s easy to use now. It has preset scene settings, some artistic choice settings and also an auto setting. Basically I still get the convenience of a point and shoot with more manual options similar to a DSLR that I can use as I learn more about how to manipulate the camera.

Here is my camera:

So far I LOVE it! It is easy to use, light, the menu is easy to navigate and so far the pictures I’ve taken have come out great!

Can’t wait to see how the pictures from the Galapagos turn out!

Planning A Trip – Icebreakers!

I can’t say enough good things about Icebreakers. I got my first one back in 2007 for my trip to Peru and I still have that one. Since I have added several more t-shirts and a hoodie. They are wool and therefore proclaim that they don’t stink. Which is almost true. You can tell that it’s been worn but you can wear these over and over without having to wash them. Wool is naturally antibacterial so they don’t stink like cotton does. It breathes better than cotton or synthetic shirts as well.

Also if you do have to wash one they dry quicker than cotton. The t-shirts are light and comfortable, I would say cooler than a cotton shirt but when layered warm as well. REALLY! They have many different styles and while they are more expensive than your average t-shirt even my first one is still going strong and looks pretty new. Well worth every penny.

I have four short sleeved shirts, one long sleeved one and a hoody these are pretty much the only shirts I pack. All I need to do is invest in one of the dresses (YES they have dresses) and I’ll be all set!

Also wool socks! Partly for the same no stink but also you are much less likely to get blisters with wool socks than you are with cotton. I wore wool socks when I did the Inca Trail and had no problems with my feet. They have cush and are really comfy, they also last a long time as well.

If you are going somewhere colder then I would really recommend one of their camisoles, I live in Calgary, AB and during the winter I wear it almost everyday for that little extra layer of warmth that really makes a difference!

My Icebreakers:

Planning A Trip – Things I don’t leave home without

There are things you should take with you because you don’t want to be looking for them when you NEED them.

I always take a travel roll of toilet paper, sometimes toilet paper can be hard to come by and if you need it you will be SO glad you have it.

If your a girl always take tampons or pads with you, travelling can throw your cycle off and you don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere with nothing.

I take Peptobismol tablets, a friend years ago told me to get some and then take one everyday to just settle my stomach. New foods and such can throw your system off and this usually works for me.

When the Peptobismol isn’t strong enough and things are moving too fast (you know what I mean) take Immodium with you. You do not want to be looking for Immodium when you need it.

Tylenol or Advil, some generic pain killer. A headache or aches can impede your fun and you didn’t travel all that way to be miserable!

I take 5 HTP, you can find it in health food stores. Take two and they help you sleep, with time changes and such these can help you get a good sleep. I also find they are great on long flights for helping me get some sleep.

Also bandaids and moleskin. Blisters can really be annoying and painful, moleskin can help prevent or help if you develop a blister. You want to be able to walk pain free and usually there is a lot of walking when travelling, comfortable feet are a necessity!

I also take some Emergen-C packets they help if you feel like your getting a cold and also help (alot) if you have a few glasses of wine and are feeling groggy the next day.

Other things I take are my head lamp. I got mine for a my trip to Peru and have taken it with me on every trip since. It’s handy for walking in the dark, reading when you don’t want to disturb somebody who is sleeping, the hands free is awesome! I use it so much and am always glad I brought it!

Now I don’t travel without my ITouch, it is my book, my calculator, a camera, takes video, my entertainment, my alarm clock, has my itinerary, is my connection to email and the internet (when there is wifi, looking for wifi? Look for a Starbucks). I actually don’t know what I did without it!

I am also lazy so I take address labels for postcards. All I have to do is buy the postcards and stamps, slap the labels on and I’m done. Usually I throw in a “Greetings from…” or something else equally lame on note side, I’m really bad at writing postcards.

Planning A Trip – Research

Actually research can happen anytime along the planning. Even years before, I’ve done a lot of research on Iceland but the Galapagos, except what I learned in school and PBS specials I didn’t know much. I needed a refresher. I like to research the food, things to do, possible souvenirs, what to look out for, places to go, a bit of history.  I look up anything that will give me some clue before I arrive.

I to give me an idea of what other activities I may want to do while I’m there. What are the optional activities on the tour? How much are they?

Looking up the weather can help pick a date and also what to pack. Some tours are cheaper because it is off season, sometimes off season means rainy season.

Research will also inform you of how prevalent crime is and what to watch out for. With this though common sense is mostly what you need.

The approximate costs of taxi’s is a good thing to look up, often you arrive and the first thing you need is a taxi. Knowing before hand how much that should cost can be very helpful. Also you can look up any shuttle services available from the airport which can often save you quite a bit.

If you’ve gotten a really good deal on a flight check the baggage allowance, this can vary between airlines and you may check in and be hit with extra baggage fee’s.

Find out what kind of converter you need for recharging your batteries or computers. How accessible is wi-fi? These are all things to look up to be prepared.

Also look up if there are any vaccines you need before you go. There are many medical websites that will provide up to date information on each country. You can also look up travel warnings for areas that may be more unstable.

In the end research helps you to be prepared so that when you get to your destination you can just enjoy!

Planning A Trip – Budget and Money

I figure out my budget. I save the year before for the next years travel. I have about $5,000 to work with, this really opens up my options, $5,000 can get you a very good trip! (I don’t make a ton of money but travel is a priority to me, I don’t own a car, I rarely eat out, I don’t drink a lot, I love to work out a budget, I’m cheap and like to save)

Then I work out the actual costs to make sure it fits with my budget and the Galapagos trip will pretty much use my whole budget. The cost of the four day Quito tour, hotel on arrival and before the Galapagos cruise, the Galapagos cruise, hotel after the cruise. Also the airfare, before you book a tour always check what the airfare will be (it can be surprising how expensive some flights are). Then there is spending money, airport taxes, I will need the entrance fee for the Galapagos, also money for souvenirs and other incidentals. It all adds up quickly before booking the tour check out any other costs associated with it. I have changed my mind on where to go after checking the price of the flights or the cost of other activities not included in the tour price.

Reading reviews of others that have done a similar trip can give great insight into approximate costs. Especially food, entertainment, hotels, also what souvenirs you might come across that you will want to take home.

While on a tour I’ve found the tour guides are good at knowing where ATM’s are located and informing you when you may not be able to find one for awhile. I usually pick a minimum amount I always like to have on me and then when my funds start dwindling I’ll go get more. Although that went out the window in Hungary because for some reason I just couldn’t figure out the money, never had a clue as to how much I had or how much I was spending (in the end I had enough). It will be easier in Ecuador as they use the American dollar.

Never keep all your money in one place. I always put my days money in my little wallet that fits in my pocket and any extra I carry in a money belt or leave in the safe at the hotel along with my passport. My credit card only comes out if I know there are shopping opportunities, in Europe I always carry it but in Peru and Vietnam I often left it with my passport back at the hotel. My little wallet is also handy because it has a clear pocket on the front that perfectly fits business cards. Always grab a business card from the hotel, it can help if you get lost or to let a taxi know where you are staying. You think it’s common sense to know where you are staying but often on a long tour hotels start to blend together.

My favourite little travel wallet:

Always Check Your Passport

I check my passport to make sure it’s valid for at least six months. If you don’t have a passport get one, if you do have one check the expiration date. Some countries require that your passport is valid for at least six months after the end of your trip.

My trick for a fighting chance at a half decent passport photo is I always get my photo done right after I get my hair done. It turns out marginally better but still looks like a mugshot.

Depending on where you want to go you might need a Visa, some are easy to get and it’s an easy process. Others can be more difficult and take more time. A travel agent can help you do all the paperwork and obtain the visa’s. I needed a visa for Vietnam it took about a week and the one for Cambodia I applied online and had it the next day. If you apply online print of several copies to have them on hand. For the Cambodia one I needed a copy to get into the country and another one to leave. When you get your visa ensure that the dates are correct and I always apply for a few extra days just in case.

Always keep your passport safe, not only is it a huge schmozel if you lose it, the stamps are also great souvenirs. Losing a passport can be almost as devastating as losing a camera full of pictures. I would cry if I lost my Inca Trail stamps because then I would have to go back and cry on the Inca Trail to get them again (yes I cried, twice).

Planning A Trip – What Tour?

There are soooo many tours to choose from and I looked at lot of them for Iceland. Doing that actually gave me a head start on what to look for with the Galapagos tour. The Galapagos was also pretty easy because I ruled out diving (I have an irrational fear of fish) and then it was looking mostly at what and how many of the islands the tours stop at. With Iceland it had been more difficult because it was really what kind of tour did I want? Did I want to hike? See Wildlife? Do more of a bus tour? Really the kind of activities and experience you want to have should drive your choice. A tour in Italy I want hiking and food, a lot of food!

I choose a seven day Galapagos cruise with Peregrine Tours.

Eventually it came down to good reviews, dates that worked for me, a transfer from the airport to the hotel (very nice to have this included), the itinerary looked really good and was in my price range. Peregrine Touts also offer the four day tour of Quito which I payed a single supplement for to have my own room.

From the reviews as well the people who went of Peregrine Tours seemed to be a little older, little more established and that was appealing. On the tour we did in Vietnam the group was pretty young, which was okay and the couple that had broken up just before the trip provided plenty of drama. It was still a great trip but compared to the trip I did in Peru where the tour was older I would pick the older group every time.

I booked it all through a travel agent. A travel agent can be an enormous help with tips before you go, to helping you out if anything goes wrong on the trip. On the Peru trip which ended in Bolivia our transfer flight from La Paz to Lima was cancelled and the travel agent had already found and booked us alternative flights by the time we got the message.

These are the tours I chose:

Planning A Trip – Where To Go

Picking where you want to go can often be the hardest part and the more I travel I find the list gets longer instead of shorter. I keep adding new places I want to go such as Victoria Falls, Croatia, Turkey, Bhutan, Harry Potter’s Wizarding World (I really really want to go!) and along with so many new places there are places I want to return to. Deciding can be difficult and reading travel blogs can make it even more confusing.

I have a list and this year my initial plan was Iceland. It was a place I hadn’t really thought about but a when I went to Ireland to do a bike tour the friend that I went with said “Hey why don’t we look into it?”. We did and it didn’t work out but the research certainly bumped Iceland up the list but I waited too long and the tour I wanted was already full for this year. Hopefully next year!

On to plan b, the Galapagos. There honestly wasn’t a lot of thought put into the decision. I had recently seen an advertisement for a Galapagos tour and I guess it was already in my mind. Also this seemed like a good tour to do by myself, this year my travel buddies were all otherwise occupied.

I chose to do a tour because I like tours, I’m not quite ready to travel totally alone, I like company and the tours are already organized for you. After picking the Galapagos tour which is a 7 day cruise I decided to look at what else was available in the region. If I’m going all that way I should get in as much bang for my buck as I could. I discovered that travel to Chile would be expensive with the additional flights and so I settled on a four day tour of the region around Quito. After researching that tour which includes, volcanoes and a visit to the equator and hot springs, I’m almost looking forward to the four day tour more than the Galapagos Cruise (almost).

Tomorrow I’ll tell you what tour I picked!