16 January 2022

Four Years of Traveling... What's Next?

 “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world” 

Kayci.Lee Jan 2018 with me in Leon, Nicaragua. It's weird seeing her with clothes on, I know. Bear with me on this. I'll fix it on the next one.

Honestly, who knows? I mean... dang! Covid has wrecked so many plans for so many people, who can say what they'll be doing in 3 months, much less the next year. 

BUT... I can tell you I will remain optimistic and plan as smartly and as practically as I can. I remain in Vietnam and aim to stay here for a while longer. The country as started to open up again and the immigration rules are returning to pre-Covid regulations... slowly. 

This month marks 4 years since I set out traveling around the world. How many of you thought I'd be gone this long? I left in January 7th, 2018 accompanied for one month by Kayci.Lee. She and I traveled through 3 countries until she left early February. I spent 9 months in Central America, 9 months in South America, and then I came to Vietnam in Feb 2020 and a global pandemic hit as soon as I got here. 

I have lots to get done here and I have not finished with my photographic goals. Last year was too restrictive to travel around to get the scenic landscape spots I wished for. I respected the government's recommendations to not travel unless absolutely necessary and I adhered to the lockdown regulations while they were in effect. 

Things are opening back up now, so I want to begin getting outside Hanoi (for a start). I have an apartment here. If the surrounding countries also become easy to move around in, I'd like to use Hanoi as a base and hopscotch around SE Asia. I will wait for things to normalize some more, so that I don't leave and then for some reason have a problem getting back into Vietnam, while I have an apartment full of my belongings. If all goes well, I'll jump over to Thailand for a month or so, get some great shots, and then return! And then do the same thing visiting Cambodia.

Kayci.Lee Jan 2018 with me on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Probably the thing I'm interested in most is getting back to shooting film. I don't have all the answers to doing that just yet, because I am so accustomed to not letting anyone else into my artistic process. I don't have a darkroom or a scanner. That means I have to let someone else develop and scan my negatives and possible even print them. This is particularly true if I shoot color film. I can process B&W provided I have the facilities. I can't say the same with color film.

Also, I want to shoot medium format 6x7 this year. Mamiya RZ67 (with the 110mm 2.8 and prism viewfinder) or the Pentax 67 (3rd Gen, 1990 version and 105mm 2.4) to be exact. Neither of those cameras are available here (as far as I can currently tell) and they are as expensive as the rumored Sony a7RV ($3500) that has yet to be announced. Don't let me get my hands on a Fuji GX617! Man, for only 4 shots a roll, I'll take one with the 105mm lens. I don't think I can handle the 90mm. You need that center-weighted ND filter and if you lose it, finding another is damn near impossible. This is another hard to find and $3000+ camera! Lord a-mercy!

Kayci.Lee Jan 2018 with me in Leon, Nicaragua

And truth be told, another reason I want to do medium format film is because the Mark V may be delayed until NEXT Christmas, from what I hear. That's what sent my mind to film originally. Another challenge is that... I can't see traveling with either of those film cameras. They are HUGE! It's one thing that I'm sitting in one spot right now in Vietnam. It's another ordeal entirely when I'm traveling continuously again. Can I make that sort of investment and then give them up after a year or two of shooting? Maybe I can donate it to an upcoming aspiring film shooter. I'd still have to get the Sony when it becomes available. Maybe I just want too much! As the Sony article states, this could be a year to upgrade skills rather than cameras. 

11 January 2022

Traveling Abroad Part 2- It's Not Real Until You Book it!


Tikal, Guatemala

While you wait for your passport, get back to planning!

  1. Where do you want to go? 
  2. What sort of budget do you need? 
  3. What is the weather like? 
  4. What travel restrictions do you need to consider?

I look at Google Maps (or Earth) and start dreaming! What do you want to see? They pyramids? Waterfalls? What do you want to do? Backpack mountains? Go sledding down a volcano? What type of environments interest you most? Beaches? Jungles? Think about all those places you dreamed about but thought it was unrealistic. Where did that crazy aunt tell you she had her craziest adventures? Where did your grandfather deploy in service to his country?

Once I settle on a region of the world to visit, I think about what is might cost. That also helps determine how long you'll be there. $2,000 in Central America can mean 2 months or it can mean a week in Europe. It will also help you determine WHEN you can go. Do you need to save up a little more money? What are you going to do when you get there? Are you doing Tours or are you just relaxing? 

El Remate, Guatemala

The seasons and weather can help you determine WHEN you want to go. That'll help you know how to pack and give you an indication on things you can do. Rainy seasons can be cheap times to go, but can you deal with that? Keep in mind... seasons flipflop south of the equator. Summer in the US is winter down there. 

Covid-19 has definitely forced some changes to travel. You'll have to check with the State Department to see what Covid-related travel restrictions and Travel Advisories are for each country of the world. Aside from that, they'll also tell you what entry/exit requirements are necessary. That usually tells you what sort of visa you need. Keep in mind. The US has everywhere listed as, DO NOT GO, or RECONSIDER GOING recommendations right now, due to Covid. And do consider enrolling in the STEP program to get email updates on changes in your area when you are abroad. If you are not vaccinated... well, your scope of travel might be SEVERELY limited.

Las Siete Cascadas, Juayua, El Salvador

I started with Central America for 4 reasons. One, I was invited. Two, it's cheap. Three, it's close (to the US), but it feels like you are on the other side of the world. And Four, it was something I promised myself I'd do when I was in the Army after I was deployed to Panama the first time (mid-90's). I fully, completely, and whole-heartedly recommend starting in Central America! Mainly because of the first three reasons I mentioned, but it's also much safer than what you might believe AND you (Americans) get a 90-day visa. 

It's not uncommon to begin travels to Europe. If you have that sort of bank, go get'em. European English speaking countries might make you more comfortable, but they are going to be costly as well. It's up to you, but I invite you to leave your comfort zone at Baggage Check and come on out and have some fun.

Esteli, Nicaragua

From there, after I knew the region I wanted to travel to, I jumped on Amazon and bought the latest Lonely Planet book on Central America. I could have just as easily got one from the Library, but I knew I'd take this book with me and I needed to make notes in it. I learned so much from this series of books. You'll learn about the usual BEATEN PATHS that most tourist take, but you'll also get info on the OFF THE TRAIL spots you can check out, too. The best information from this book series is on requirements to get into the country, places to stay, and things to be wary of. The latest versions are usually up to date with the latest information and details.

Having said that, I haven't used those books in years! After a while, you can sort of graduate from them and learn on your own by researching the internet. I'll usually begin with Wikitravel.org and start make book hostels/hotels on Booking.com or AirBnB.com. I might get some more details from Wikipedia.org or a Google search, but next I'm booking my flight, once I have a passport in hand!

Flores, Guatemala

You can use anything you want to book flights. GoogleFlights, Cheap-O Air, Kayak.com... anything. If you have an airline preference, great. Got points, use'em. Otherwise, book your flights based on your budget preference. Most airlines have pros and cons and people will have opinions about their services.

Once you have that passport in hand... Book it! It's not real until you book that flight and hotel. Once you do that, start shopping! You may not already have a backpack. I love me some REI. I think on one of my trips, I laid out my clothes and everything that I was taking with me and all of it, aside from electronics was from REI. It's a great company and they've earned my loyalty... like proactively, so. 

I usually select cargo pants that convert into shorts, dry fast, and are lightweight, but durable. I have the same criteria for my boots. I may get into more details in another post on packing and what to bring. Pack for your durations, the season, your comfort, and your convenience. 

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Ten Additional Tips:

Make sure you automatic payments for bills while you are gone.

Let your bank know you are abroad, so they don't block your cards!

Arrange to suspend mail with the post office.

Make sure you have ample supply of your prescription medication.

Bring an extra pair of glasses in a hard case.

Download books, music, and movies before you go! 

Keep the camera gear simple. DO NOT bring all your lenses. You won't use them.

Pack some Pepto Bismol and or Alka-Selzer tablets with you.

Drink water from unopened bottles ONLY!

Get an app that converts the local currency.