06/14/12

Travel Photography for the Free at Heart

Shutterbugs need to fly (for some reason I always picture a ladybug). Sitting at home and taking pics of your cat can only entertain you so far and if you’re not hoping to become a professional photog then you really want pictures you will be happy to frame and throw on your wall (and let’s face it unless there’s some really amazing light your ‘Apple in Repose’ is not making it up there).

Equipment

I have three cameras – a manual 35mm Sony (I think), a Casio 500, and a Nikon CoolpixP90. The Nikon has an incredible zoom which is mostly why I bought it, however, the light meter is pretty awful. My Casio is pocket-sized and takes the best night photos. My Sony is somewhere in my closet, I haven’t tried to use 35mm since finishing my art courses in undergrad. I’d suggest finding a pocket-sized, high pixel/resolution, with at least a 10x zoom for traveling. Also I am quite fond of those play settings like “party time” and “dusk”. I wish you could rename them since half are actually perfect aperture/f-stop readings for scenarios the company didn’t think of. Also buy at least 1 extra battery and 3 memory cards. Instead of buying one 16MB SD card I buy multiples so I can leave them in the hostel while I’m out. This way if I decide to go whale-watching and the boat tips I don’t lose all of my photos (also theft blah blah blah).

Timing

Automatic cameras are nice while traveling because you can literally snap a photo while running passed a church. You probably won’t be alone and should you have 3 seconds to snap a picture of the Louvre while you run to a tour bus, make it count. There is a limit to how much people will wait for you if you’re not with photo-friends, I generally got around this by doing the run-point-shoot method, getting behind and then sprinting, or suggesting a meeting place. This is good because your friends will have varied interests and while you weren’t particularly interested in cutting your trip to the Taj Mahal short to take a few pictures of a local market those pictures might be awesome to the point of iconic.

Tourist Pics

That being said, there are a lot of “iconic” pictures floating around my friend’s photo albums so don’t skip the Taj Mahal just because “everyone takes pictures of that”. They all take pictures cause it’s awesome!

Theft

If it is dark, and you’re lost, and there are very few people around put away the camera. This happens at least once a trip and even though most of your anxiety is cause by your unfamiliarity with the area it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Before You Go

Break out your camera and head to the local church, park, or parade. This will help you find all the right settings for direct sunlight, candle-lit churches, running water, and flood-lit buildings. It used to be that you’d take 100 pictures and get home and found out you’d been at the wrong aperture the entire time, film ruined. Now, you know immediately and spend twenty mins. finding the right one.

Final Word

Accept that some pictures won’t come out and that some memories will not be remembered any better because of a picture.

06/8/12

Are You Alright? You’re Clutching Your Pants

More on accents and Englishisms

Every time I go out someone asks me if I’m alright. My New York cynicism makes me want to scream “Yes. Why are you talking to me get away.” While my self-conscious nature leaves me thinking “why? what’s wrong with me? don’t I look alright?” Finally I remember I’m in the country whose slogan is Keep Calm and Carry On because if you hear the way they talk you’d think they were all about to Panic and Freak Out. Saying ‘are you alright?’ is the same as ‘how do you do’ or more aptly ‘let me know if you need anything’ (in stores that is). It’s a friendly non-committal I’m here for you which is a little odd for a country that has a national hug allergy. It’s so cold here you’d think everyone would be cuddle together for warmth but English stoicism is more than a myth it’s a pandemic; which is exactly how I like people – reserved, sarcastic and emotionally repressed (I think all the English soldier moved to New York after the war).

I’ve just gotten used to their make me feel awkward greeting when I discovered a new foe, the word clutching. I don’t know why but it makes me feel like someone’s just called me out on showing up to class drunk. I was in a meeting the other day when someone abruptly stopped speaking and asked me ‘what are you clutching’. -it was a bottle. I wasn’t holding it for dear life or anything but I got this self-image of me quivering in a corner clutching the bottle and drooling in bug-eyed fear like a raccoon who found a hot dog with bun and ketchup in the trash (the holy grail of nocturnal dumpster diving) and was terrified the night foxes would tear me to pieces for it. Oh dear I think I’ve just shat my pants (panties… remember?… see we’re learning!)

06/6/12

Cheers to my Pants – English Wit and an American Accent

Since moving from New York to London I have heard nothing but the constant and sardonic question, “do you have an accent yet?” The simple answer is no, but then again my answer would be I never did, which my friends here would disagree with since I came here begging for ‘cawfee’. While I have yet to learn to speak the Queen’s English, as far as I can tell it takes three years and then your in accent limbo where you don’t sound American nor do you sound English, I have lost a bit of my New York guttural drops and I have slowly adopted Lotte. Lotte is the voice in my head and she sounds like a daintier version of a GPS guide. Why my inner monologue is now broadcast with a British accent I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s something to do with being around Brits all day and my voice-box being unable to keep up. Either way I’m quite fond of Lotte and will be sad to see her go. For one, I think she’s had a rather beneficial effect on my writing. Not only in articles and papers but I find my e-mails have improved. While before I never knew how to end a semi-professional letter that was already rife with thank yous, Lotte had the answer. Cheers. It’s quirky, cute, and forces the person to ask about my time abroad, allowing me to try and express in mono-syllabic locutions just how fascinating I am and that they simply must hire me. Best works just as well when super-professional is required.

I’ve also discovered new words. I knew they existed before but much like tasting truffle oil for the first time knowing something exists and feeling it on your tongue are two entirely different sensory experiences. I’m not wearing pants I’m wearing jeans. This, and the fact that my dissertation advisor literally wrote the book on the consumption of denim, has made me see the blues in an entirely new light. Because while slacks and jeans are both pants in America, in Britain pants are undies; forcing trousers and jeans into their own separate corners and liberating slacks from that boring work appropriate, funeral mandatory section of your wardrobe – you know, the one you never touch. Now, I want to buy trousers for the sake of owning trousers. (Say the word… isn’t it fun?) Crisp linens and starched cotton, I no longer envision them in khaki or black but in a frenzy of colour Rainbow Brite would enjoy.

04/24/12

Around the European Union: Study Abroad Advice

I’ve been reading a lot of Around the World Blogs and I’m a little jealous of the ATW lifestyle. Reading about new adventures every week always gets me on online, trying to see where I can afford to go, and while an ATW might be out of my financial grasp, an ATEU (around the European Union) is not.

I also realize that I’ve titled this as a travel blog and have been neglecting that bit. To explain: I’m living in London while finishing my schooling, but am originally from New York. While here it is UNBELIEVABLE how cheap it is to leave the country for a weekend. So to gear up for my travelogue I thought I’d jot down some things I’ve learned getting this far and then y’all can break out the passports and join me!

Doing an ATEU is pretty easy if you’re studying abroad in a European country, this is how everyone I know has gotten their passport stamps. You can get financial aid, family and friends are more willing to help out, and at the end of it you get class credit / a degree making the financial burden even more worth it. When studying abroad the first time (one semester) I was told to budget $5,000 and nearly threw up. Of course that immediately turned into $2,500 pounds upon landing and while I didn’t spend it all I was glad I had it. I was lucky and found one of those magical unicorns of New York City – a paid summer internship – so if you want to study abroad start saving immediately (even if your 12 and run a lemonade stand, actually most of my money came from well-saved cat city money).

Plan where you want to go early. Not only do rates go up but you will be making a slew of new friends upon your arrival – this is true if your backpacking or studying abroad – and those friends will have their own travel plans. It’s great to be flexible but if all of your new friends have already seen Paris and it’s your “destiny”, or whatever romantic notions you’ve been nursing, make sure it stays in your plan. You will have to wade through a bit of travel-snobbiness (You haven’t been there?! You want to do something touristy?!). Not letting someone bully you into a weekend in middle-of-nowhere Slovenia instead of seeing Paris for the first time is difficult.

Not wanting to travel alone isn’t horrible! Even though so many so-called “experienced” travelers make it out to be. I still don’t like it. I get bored, also who is going to take my picture? There are International Student Houses, Travel Clubs, and tours for younger folks in every city just for people like us who like travel buddies. (I’ve always been a wee bit skeptical of these too but just went on one I LOVED it so that showed me.) (This is also so much safer, especially for women, a friend of a friend spent 3 weeks in a South American hospital with dysentery (where she was robbed of her passport), this would always suck, but ALONE?! If things get all Oregon Trail it’s nice to have a friend.

Pack things you want to throw away. I brought a few junky old sweaters, jeans that were on their last legs, and cheap tanks. For a semester, this fit into one massive suitcase and my business carry-on, and for a year it was two massives and a carry-on. You always wind up buying a few things – either gifts, textbooks, or clothing; maybe even a blanket that you buy because you’re cold and you love it so you take it home even though it dominates half your suitcase, cough *Becca* cough. Yes, you want cute outfits for your travels but I’ve never met anyone who had trouble dressing themselves once they got here. Odds are you’ll get so into the style of your host city you won’t even want to wear the new clothes you got for the trip. Bring the old stuff and donate it before you leave. (I’m in an apartment here and am thinking if I sold all the kitchen and home stuff I had to buy I could finance another trip that way).

Think business traveler when you think luggage. My parents got me a new suitcase before my semester abroad that has fold out backpack straps, wheels, and fits in an overhead (FYI: use Easyjet’s dimensions when buying as they’re one of the smallest and most frequently used for European student travelers). I can’t even tell you how many trips have met with crisis because people don’t have a carry-on size bag. Lots of crying and screaming, “how can I go to Milan without these shoes?”

Carry-on is always best, it saves you time and about $80 on the cheap airlines. The only thing my bag doesn’t have, which I’d suggest -hence the business idea – is a laptop case. Odds are you’ll be using this for any academic trips and at the very least on your way home, be prepared to remove your laptop at security. P.s. Laptops are HEAVY. I never realized how heavy until I was lugging it all over Europe.

Take photos! I know everyone is a photog these days but so many people never step out in front of the lens. Recently, a friend visited me and didn’t get a picture of herself in front of Big Ben! You don’t even need to look at the picture ever again but maybe one day you’ll want to and wouldn’t it be nice to have?

Coming up:

Hostels vs hotels, transportation, tour groups, money and more! Feel free to ask questions or request topics!