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Archive for the ‘Travel Accessories’

The flashpacker as amateur photographer

Let’s face it. Unless your home is strewn with authentic keepsakes from when you navigated the Amazon on a homemade raft or that time you revived a caribou that had collapsed next to your Mongolian yert (I’m talking to you, J. Peterman…), photographs are probably your most reliable means of reliving your travels. Most of us who travel the world snapping two-dimensional remembrances are not trained professionals, and even with the incredible pace by which camera technology is advancing these days, our best documentary efforts sometimes fail to capture the elusive quality that made something worth photographing in the first place.

With that in mind, here are a few ideas to help you make the most out of your picture-taking short of shelling out for that $5,000 Nikon.

The Novoflex Photo Survival Kit is an alternative to lugging around a bulky and heavy tripod. Basically it’s a system that allows you to connect your digital camera to four different mounts: a mini-tripod, a suction cup (for small cameras and phones), a ground spike, and a clamp that can attach to bike handlebars, among other surfaces. The entire kit weighs only 1.3 pounds (0.6 kg) and is small enough (1.4″ deep, 10.4″ long x 7.5″ wide) to fit snugly into your daypack. It retails for $210.

The XShot is a handheld extension than you can attach to your digital camera to take self-portraits or panoramic shots at greater than arm’s length. If a fear of social contact prevents you from asking strangers to take your picture — or if the video-camera-thief scene from European Vacation has scarred you for life — the Xshot is the perfect accessory for you. It telescopes out to 37″ long but retracts to just 9″, so it easily stows away in your pack’s pockets. It retails directly from the product homepage for $29.95, or you can save a few dollars at

The Aquapac is a waterproof camera case with a clear, LENZFLEX window through which your camera can take underwater pictures. The one shown at left is for smaller point-and-shoot cameras (and retails for $40, though you can find cheaper prices at, but there are several different sizes to choose from depending on your needs. All the Aquapacs are guaranteed submersible up to 15 feet and also promise to keep out dust and sand, taking the worry out of beach photography.

Next up is Joby’s Gorillapod, a lightweight (1.6 ounces) tripod with flexible legs that adjusts to uneven surfaces and wraps around poles, tree branches, etc., to stabilize your camera where a standard tripod would be useless. The original model, which retails for $24.95, is perfect for smaller point-and-shoot cameras, but it’ll only support about 11 ounces (300 grams). Joby makes sturdier models that support up to 3000 grams and cost more accordingly.

I don’t think this one’s actually been marketed yet, but if it the Flee Digital Camera ever becomes available, I’d love to snatch one up. It’s basically an aerodynamic throw-toy with a camera built into it, so you can give it a toss and it’ll take pictures from perspectives you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. The concept camera is bluetooth-enabled, so it can snap photos in mid-flight and send them to your mobile phone. The real question about the Flee is not how well the in-flight shots turn out, but whether it can even make a second flight after crashing down the first time. The fact that there are no actual Flee-taken photos up on the website suggests that the prototype may not even be a functional one, but what a cool idea nonetheless!

And on a final note, I just downloaded and started using Google’s newish, free photo-sharing service, Picasa. Picasa enables you to create a web album of travel photos (or whatever) that you can upload straight from your computer. It’s faster than uploading pictures individually to photobucket or flickr, and it keeps your photos organized as you have them on your hard drive. Once they’re uploaded you can brush them up and create slideshows and movies, although I haven’t got there yet.

Thanks for reading!

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A different kind of travel pod?

Please pardon this rant, but I’ve just left the longest and most excruciating two-hour flight of my life. Was it rough air, you ask, that made it so miserable? Did the flight attendant unload the newly brewed contents of a coffee carafe in your lap? No, it was worse than either of these. Misery was two-and-a-half feet of mobile terror, cleverly disguised by a seraphic face and a copse of platinum hair. Misery sat right behind me, a sugar-fueled fiend in a yellow jumper.

I’ve come across, and sat within an ear poke of, every possible kind of kid in my travels. There have been plenty of complete angels, of course. But that’s not the kind I’m concerned with. I’m talking about kids with vocal cords of solid titanium. Burgeoning kung fu masters engaged in mortal combat with the back of my seat. Children gifted with the ability to project bodily fluids over great distances and with frightful precision. But this one had a knack for chaos clearly imparted from on high.

He was a bonanza of irritating noises: from the brash clacking together of plastic toys and seat belt parts with his havocking little hands, to the soul-wracking squeals that would outdo a stuck pig in a sack, to the favored electronic game whose sole redeeming qualities seemed to be its ability to mimic an ambulance siren and its eternal battery life.

Where were his parents? Across the aisle, leaving the monitoring and reigning in of this viking-in-the-making to his overwhelmed grandmother, whose meek castigations were rebuffed with the glee of a defiant dictator. And speaking of dictation, midway through the flight he filled our collective ear canals with a tantalizing taste of his in-progress work of literature, surely the first to be composed entirely of ‘goos’, ‘ghees’, and ‘ghaas’, and punctuated exclusively by exclamation marks!!! He ended the oratory with a wholly unexpected and murderous scream. As with all great art, my reaction to it was a visceral one.

OK, I understand that it’s developmentally important to let kids express themselves and exercise their creativity. But I also think it’s necessary, just as a precautionary measure for a select few tyrannical tykes, that airplanes, restaurants, and theaters be equipped with sound-absorbant pods, lockable from the outside, in which these kids can be placed when the “creative” urge strikes. This way, they can develop the expressive aspects of their personality and their sense of independence. Everybody wins. I’m only one-eighth serious, of course. The other seven-eights of me thinks the parents should be thrown in there with them.

I was still fantasizing about my idea as we began our descent, when a pointed jab caught me in the underarm. I turned to peer through the gap between seats, catching brief glimpses of a whirling, yellow column of air and, behind it, a resigned look on his grandmother’s face, as if to say, “Oh well, what can you do?” I responded with a look that said, “Get a pod.”

Thanks for reading. See you next week…

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Luxe among the cockroaches

Sometimes flashpacking isn’t an option. Perhaps the economy’s got you down and you can only afford budget accommodations for this year’s vacation. Maybe you’re planning on going far off the beaten track and there’re slim pickings. The question du jour is can you fake flashpacking?

In my line of work you often have to stay in some pretty wretched places, including where I was last week – a $7 a night guest house, away from the usual tourist haunts somewhere in Laos. The general idea with faking flashpacking is to trick your brain into thinking you’re “in the wild” à la Meryl Streep in Out of Africa . As opposed to “in the wild” à la Lord of the Flies. Speaking of flies…

Meet the Mombasa Defender – Mosquito nets are good for more than just mosquitos. Roaches, lizards, and even rats are deterred by them, which means sounder sleep for you. So try to forget the roaches and pretend you’re actually in Mombasa…

Linens and things – Ditch the sure-to-be-disgusting bed sheets (if there are any) and bring along your own. Up the luxury with a nice, compact, silk sleeping bag. You can find these quite cheap all over Asia, but if you’re headed elsewhere, try making your own or score one online.

Avoid that mildew smell – The best way to trick your brain is through scent. You will not be able to pretend you are anywhere but a dingy, dirty place if that’s what it smells like. Even decent dwellings can smell damp and dank during the rainy season, so I always try to pack scented travel candles. Now crawl under your net in your silk sheets, light some candles, and grab a good book. Pretend it’s luxury and a relief to be staying in a place without internet…

Avoid a gross shower and cold water – Dr. Bronner’s is a fantastic organic/fair trade line of soaps and shampoos. At some eco retreats you might even be asked only use Dr. Bronner’s since it’s completely biodegradable and only vegetable based. The downside? You’ll need substantial waterflow for a good lather and rinse. I tend to travel with wet wipes because you can avoid gross guesthouse showers (or freezing cold water) for a few days and stay perfectly clean. And now I’ve found this ezine article, which explains how to make your own Dr. Bronner’s wet wipes with tea tree and lavender oils! You can make the disposable kind or put the solution in a spray bottle and use it with a quick-dry travel towel. If it’s warm where you’re traveling and there’s some privacy, try washing your hair outside and pretend it’s Robert Redford lathering up your hair with those minty suds on your very own high-altitude coffee plantation in Kenya…

Keep your daily buzz -I love these small french press solutions! Death to Nescafe! There’s no reason to drink that horror or do without your daily fix just because you’re far from café culture. Pick your roast, grind your beans, and pack your tiny caffeine savior. Pretend you’re Meryl Streep’s next door neighbor in Out of Africa and that waking up to a rooster crowing before dawn is worth it because you live right next to a high-altitude coffee plantation in Kenya….

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