Wanderlust Blog Wanderlust Blog

Here at Amazing Journeys, we’re lucky have the best jobs in the world—and we think our good fortune is worth sharing. So, when your next journey seems like a distant dream, take a few minutes to explore our WANDERLUST blog—it’s chock full of engaging tales and helpful tips from our travels around the world. Check out the most recent entry (at the top) or search by your preferred criteria. Consider it motivation for your next embarkation.


Hanukkah Shopping Guide: Travelers Edition 2015

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

With Hanukkah right around the corner, we’re all racking our brains, trying to find that perfect gift for friends, family, or what to tell others we want… Amazing Journeys to the rescue! Here is our 8 Nights of Hanukkah Travel Gift Idea list! Buy for others or share the list to hint at what you want!

Anti-Theft Cross Body Bag

A new addition to the AJ staff wardrobe, this travel bag is perfect for travel with its slash-proof locking pockets, cut-proof shoulder strap that attaches to chair and RFID blocking card slots. Available here.

Foldable Carry-On

This carry-on weighs less than 5 pounds and when you are done wheeling it around the airport, collapses into a much smaller, space-saving pouch. Available here.

2-in-1 Backpack

Use it as a mid-sized backpack or tuck it into a space-saving fanny pack. It’s a lightweight quick-change artist that’s great to have on the road. Available here.

Mini Umbrella

This is the perfect “just in case” umbrella. Measuring less than 7 inches when closed, this pocket-sized protection makes sure you are never caught without an umbrella again.  Available here.

Packable Rain Boots

Constructed in a lightweight rubber, the leg of the boot folds down, wrapping around the shoe for easier packing and transportation. Available here.

Shoe Sleeves

shoe bag

Protect shoes and clothing from dirt and debris as you explore the great outdoors. Available here.

Travel Pillow

Make sure you are comfortable on planes, trains and buses with this lightweight travel pillow. Available here.

Compression Socks

Keep your legs comfortable and ready to hit the ground running after sitting for hours on exhausting flights. Available here.

Looking for more ideas?  Click here to see last years list of gift suggestions.

Enjoy your holiday shopping, happy Hanukkah and hope to travel with you soon!

AJ Staff Picks – Hotel Edition

Monday, November 16th, 2015


At Amazing Journeys, we think travel is seriously fun!  Over the years, we have clocked thousands of miles traveling by trains, planes and automobiles and now we want to share some “insider information” from our travels around the world.  In this first edition of Staff Picks, we will be focusing on our favorite hotels.  With so many fun options to choose from, we each narrowed it down to our favorite hotel and explain why it is at the top of our list!

Malori: Without a doubt, the W Barcelona. Perched along the beach in the newly revitalized area of Barceloneta, this chic and modern hotel had everything we wanted from a free day in Barcelona after a busy trip.  Big comfortable loungers poolside with a never ending supply of iced tea and marcona almonds – check.  Seaside views – check.  Fun décor – check.  Stellar service – check.  Rooftop bar – check.  Trendy party by the pool that went on until 5am – check.  We didn’t want to leave!


Michele: Baldi Hot Springs Hotel in Costa Rica.  Imagine going inside the hotel but you are still outside in nature… in the hot springs, no less.  The ambiance is like no other.  You can experience over 20 thermo mineral hot water pools flowing naturally from the base of Arenal Volcano.  Each “pool” is magnificently lit and surrounded by magnificent landscape.  If you are lucky, as you continue traveling up to the top of the hotel where you find the hottest water temperature, you will also have the amazing view of the volcano.   An amazing experience for the soul!


Stacey: The Leela Palace in Udaipur, India.  It is the most gorgeous hotel, has stellar sunset views over a lake, amazing grounds that you could spend hours exploring, and the staff is some of the best I’ve ever worked with.  And when you step off of the ferry and enter the hotel, they shower you with rose pedals from above.  I could not make this up.  Oh yeah, and they give you freshly baked gourmet cookies in your room and they are magically replaced every time you eat them!


Erin: The Grand Wailea Resort in Maui – the rooms have amazing balcony views of the incredible grounds, beautiful gardens, an incredible world-class spa and included classes like sunrise yoga on the beach and scuba lessons in the tiled pool.


Top Reasons to Visit China

Friday, November 6th, 2015


China is one of the world’s most fascinating travel destinations, both for a look into its past and for a chance to ponder its future. China’s evolution from the oppressive Mao years to the current rampant consumerism may be one of the most amazing transitions in human history. This country is changing faster than any place on earth, so it’s important to go now before any more of its history disappears.

Here are the top reasons to visit China now:

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Beijing is the historic heart of China where courtyard homes still line old, narrow alleyways called hutongs and a traditional way of life continues despite the constant threat of redevelopment. The capital city also contains many sites essential to understanding this sometimes baffling country.

Begin at the Forbidden City, an impressive palace complex built in the early 1400’s where twenty-four emperors ruled for 500 years. Hidden from view behind imposing walls and a deep moat lies a totally different world of marble bridges, tranquil gardens, and thousands of rooms once used to house the emperors and their households. The Forbidden City was designed according to feng shui principles with red buildings (for luck) topped with yellow roofs (for power). Common people were not permitted to enter, and many of the royals rarely ventured out. Why would they have any desire to leave? After all, of the 10,000 people who once lived here, 3,000 were concubines.

Tiananmen Square fulfilled Chairman Mao’s dream of creating the largest and most spectacular square in the world. Designed to hold 500,000 people, it’s easy to envision the intimidating military displays regularly performed here during the days of the Cultural Revolution. The site also evokes memories of the hundreds killed by government troops during the 1989 student protests. But today, the most common sight is the street vendors hawking cheap Mao wristwatches, with the Chairman pounding out the seconds with his fist. If you want one, be sure to bargain hard!

The Summer Palace is a gorgeous spot outside the city where the royals went to escape the summer heat. While The Forbidden City was all about power and impressing visitors, this summer retreat was a pure pleasure palace. Don’t miss the Marble Boat down by the lake. This “boat” that looks more like a boat-shaped marble pier, was built by the crazy Empress Cixi with funds supposed to be used to modernize the Navy.

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The Great Wall

Reputedly 5500 miles long, The Great Wall is considered one of the wonders of the world and is China’s number one tourist attraction. The Chinese have a saying, “You are not a real man until you have climbed the Great Wall.”

The Great Wall is simply awesome, a truly unbelievable engineering feat. The 12-foot wide wall has crenellated sides like the edges of a huge castle, a height that varies between 20 to 30 feet depending on the terrain, with scenic watchtowers strategically placed all along the route. The wall itself is impressive enough, but to build it in this unforgiving terrain seems insane. At least one million slaves and prisoners of war worked on the project. Walking from watchtower to watchtower is an incredible way to see the beauty of the country while participating in an activity that you can brag to your friends about for years!

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Discovered in 1974 by Chinese farmers drilling for a well, The Terracotta Warriors are one of the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century and the highlight of any visit to Xi’an. Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, was obsessed with the hereafter. To ensure that he would continue the sweet life of commander-in-chief even after his death, he had his minions create a terracotta army made from local clay baked in a kiln. This effort resulted in thousands of warlike, life-sized soldiers with weapons in hand, decked out in full battle armor, and positioned in military formation.

The Warriors are housed in 3 separate buildings (“creatively” named Pits #1, # 2, and #3). Each pit is an unfinished archeological work in progress, with many of the soldiers and other artifacts still in the process of being discovered. It is estimated that 6,000 soldiers will be unearthed in Pit #1 alone. Walk around the periphery of the excavations to observe the details of each soldier and horse. Remarkably, no two soldiers are alike – you’ll see different faces, heights, and statures along with a variety of mustaches and hairstyles. Each soldier’s head is actually a separately molded piece that fits together with the body, like inserting a peg into a hole. The idea was to provide the soldiers with a wider range of motion so they could turn their heads during battles in the afterlife.

Xi’an offers more than just clay warriors, and even if you are not usually into song and dance, you should check out the Tang Dynasty Show. This extravaganza features wildly colorful stage sets and elaborate costumes. Plus a fascinating musical mix of unusual Chinese instruments and dancing that is the definition of graceful, especially when the female dancers wave their long, drooping sleeves like ribbons in the wind.

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Food fit for an emperor

If your knowledge of Chinese food is limited to your neighborhood take-out place, you haven’t begun to appreciate this complex cuisine. Chinese dishes are varied, healthy, always a treat for the senses, and each region glories in its own specialties.

Ancient chestnut trees still grow near The Great Wall, and these wonderfully chewy nuts are the star of savory dishes. Xi’an has a longstanding dumpling tradition and eating a “dumpling dinner” ranks right up there with seeing the Terracotta Warriors as a Xi’an must-do. Wooden steamer bowls are spread out on your table, each one holding several beautifully presented dumplings. The paper-thin wrappings conceal ingredients such as chicken, vegetables, fish, and even walnuts. One of the most loved foods in China, dumplings are delicate works of art often shaped to look like animals or flowers – a delight to the eye and the tummy.  And don’t forget to sample the fragrant Chinese teas. Some of the more elaborate teas even open up like a flower unfolding in your glass.

Beijing is renowned for Peking Duck, a roasted duck dish that was a favorite in the Imperial Court. The lean and crispy duck arrives at your table intact where it is expertly sliced in front of you. Then, you go to work creating the equivalent of a Chinese taco: spread some plum sauce on a steamed pancake and add succulent slices of duck, some scallions, and cucumber slices. Now down it all with a cold Tsingtao beer. Hao chi! (Delicious!)

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Shanghai is a city of contrasts where east meets west, and an historic waterfront faces off with a modern, neon skyline. Shanghai is at its most romantic along The Bund, a sublime riverside walkway and people-watching paradise. This part of Shanghai feels almost European with many buildings unchanged since the 1930’s when Shanghai and The Bund became the chief shipping, trading, and financial district for the colonial powers (Great Britain, France and the U.S.). In those days, Shanghai was considered the Wall Street of Asia. A walk along the 1-mile promenade reveals why The Bund has been called a “museum of international architecture” with a mix of architectural styles including a number of exceptional Art Deco structures.

The architectural delights of The Bund compete with the marvelous modern structures of the area called Pudong, directly across the Huangpu River. While The Bund holds on to its colonial heritage, Pudong is bright and brassy, clearly demonstrating the power and financial might of the new Shanghai. At night , the Pudong skyline is a neon fantasyland from the crystalline rooftop of the Jin Mao Tower to the Chinese Oriental Pearl Tower that looks like it swallowed two giant Christmas balls.

The people of Shanghai are as shockingly modern as the skyscrapers of Pudong. Designer clothes are de rigueur, and shopping seems to be the principal pastime. The tranquil Yu Yuan Gardens provides a peaceful respite from the bustle of the city. And the pearl shops nearby offer an astounding selection of these lustrous gems.

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An unexpected welcome

The best reason to visit China now is because foreigners are still a novelty. At first, you may feel uncomfortable with the way that the Chinese stare at you — like you are the most exotic animal in the zoo. But you need to understand that many Chinese tourists are traveling from their homes in the provinces for the first time, and some have never seen a western face before.

You may find yourself surprisingly popular. When visiting China, you may be amazed when Chinese tourists at breathtaking sites like the Temple of Heaven or The Great Wall want to take pictures of you. Some of your favorite memories of China may be these fun picture-taking interactions.

It is hard to believe that the Cultural Revolution ended just two generations ago. Throughout China, young people seek out foreigners to show-off their fluent English, and little school children jump up and down yelling, “Hallo! Hallo!” whenever they see western tourists. In general, China is much friendlier than you would expect. As new generations emerge, the old antagonism towards the West seems long forgotten, and the deep suspicion of foreigners that Mao encouraged is nowhere in sight.


edited from BootsnAll

Balloon Fiesta Recap

Monday, October 26th, 2015

by Michele


An amazing morning and an amazing sight, one to embrace and remember for years to come.  Truly an opportunity everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime… the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.  Tens of thousands come from all over the world for this annual event and I had the privilege and honor to take our amazing group of 25.  We boarded our bus by 5:00 am and everyone, albeit a bit tired, was filled with anticipation to see hundreds of balloons take flight during mass ascension.  The weather was perfect, we could not have asked for a better day.  The sun began to rise above the spectacular scenery that surrounded us, it was a breathtaking moment.  Balloons of all shapes and sizes filled the clear blue sky as though it was a canvas and painted an awesome picture that will not be soon forgotten.  The field was filled with smiles on faces young and old alike, that too was a pleasure to see and embrace… there is something to be said about a festival that can bring together so many people all to enjoy one of life’s amazing moments!

Bridging Gaps

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

by Malori

The other night, we went to our synagogue to enjoy the Simchat Torah celebration. In the midst of the celebration, I noticed a visitor who I had not seen before. The guest was visiting from Punjab, a province in India. He was wearing a turban and looked unlike anybody else present. Towards the end of the evening, one of the children asked him, “are you a Genie?” He told the little girl, “yes I am. Do you have a wish you want me to grant?” She said, “Can I have some pennies?” He smiled and walked away. Ten minutes later he returned with several pennies. The little girl now believes there are Genies in the world who grant wishes!

It is a true diplomat who can bridge cultural gaps instead of destroy them. If every traveler can bring a bit of their country to share with others, imagine what we could learn. Sometimes we are the teachers. Sometimes we are the students. Keeping our eyes and our hearts open to new experiences can present opportunities we never thought possible.

malori in india

Summer Wrap-Up

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

by Erin

Summers are always busy at Amazing Journeys and this was no exception. During three calendar months, we do nearly half of our year’s trips, and bring along nearly half of all of our year’s passengers! This summer, over 200 amazing journeyers participated in a variety of trips to some incredible destinations.

From the cold climate in Iceland to the hot days in the Mediterranean with a few stops in between, we covered a lot of the earth’s circumference.

Iceland fishing
We started with a trip to Iceland to explore the land of fire and ice. From powerful waterfalls, impressive geysers, interesting history, horseback riding, thermal bath soaking, cave hiking, cod fishing and whale watching, we were able to take in breathtaking scenery all while enjoying new friendships in the perfect weather of the Iceland.

Med group picture
Next was our Mediterranean Cruise that began in the beautiful city of Rome. This group of 74 cruisers in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, many of them new to Amazing Journeys, discovered Greece, Italy and Turkey and visited some of the Mediterranean coasts most loved cities. We spent our days enjoying the beauty of the Amalfi Coast in Italy, experiencing food tours in Rome and Mykonos, hiking in Santorini and Mykonos and visiting the synagogue in Rhodes, where we were touched by those who lived the history of the Greek Jews. We reveled in the music, wine tasting and learning to dance Greek, all with a great group and the warm summer sun!

Iceland caving
Then it was back to Iceland for another tour of the beautiful island. This Ladies-Only vacation offered the highlights of Iceland with the relaxed and casual feeling of traveling with a built-in group of friends from day one.  The ladies took their turn horseback riding, cod fishing, whale watching and spending time at the thermal baths, all while keeping a lookout for the infamous trolls of Iceland.  This trip was much warmer and when the June trip was bundling up to stay warm, the ladies were basking in the sunshine and making good use of their sunglasses.

Ireland mountains
Next up was a trip to Ireland to explore the Emerald Isle.  This group of travelers ages 24-45 filled their days visiting the Guinness Storehouse, hiking the Gap of Dunloe, learning to make Irish Sodabread at the farm and peering over the Cliffs of Moher. From their whiskey sampling and Killarney Pub Crawl to the music they heard in the pubs and out on the streets, and from Shabbat with Irish Sodabread “challah” to visiting the Irish Jewish Museum, the tastes and sounds of Ireland will be etched in their memories for years to come.

Canada castle
The last stop of our summer tour was a cruise to Canada and New England, starting in Montreal and sailing to Boston. This group of 56 cruisers discovered so many charming coastal towns and enjoyed all they had to offer. From Peggy’s Cove to Acadia National Park, and from our walking tour of Quebec City to our bike tours, their time in Canada and New England will not soon be forgotten. Add to it the many tastings including lobster rolls, PEI muscles and potatoes, and ice cream, this was a feast for all of the senses. Plus, with a party in Montreal and Boston on either end of the cruise, we were excited to see local AJers and make new friends along the way.

For those who got to spend a part of their summer with Amazing Journeys, we thank you the opportunity to plan and share a part of your summer with you.

Come join us for next summer! We’re already planning and our trips will be appearing on our website soon! We’d love to show you our amazing world!

Science Says It’s OK To Spend All Your Money On Travel

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015


We’ve been telling our parents this for years – now finally there’s some science to back us up.


Recent psychological research from Cornell University in New York has confirmed that the key to happiness is through experiences rather than things. The two decade study is led by Dr Thomas Gilovich, who says that one of the key underlying differences between our value of experiences and objects is adaptation. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”

Basically, we get used to the things we own, and over time the happiness we derive from items dwindles. On the flip side, happiness that stems from things we’ve done actually goes up as time passes because those experiences become a part of us and shape our identity. (It’s why the baby pink Nintendo DS you relentlessly requested for your 20th birthday now sits buried and forgotten somewhere in a bag beneath your bed, whereas your four-month jaunt through South America is still recalled often and fondly, years later.)


Gilovich suggests that instead of saving for that plasma screen TV, a much sounder path to happiness is through spending your money on experiences like travel, or even outdoor activities, new skills or visiting exhibitions.

“You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you,” says Gilovich. “In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”

by Taryn Stenvei, from article in AWOL

Travel Transforms Your Perspective About Everything

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

Travel has a profound affect on many people – how they see the world, how they react to others, how they converse or eat or explore. Have you ever sat down to think about how travel has changed you? From meeting new people to having unique experiences, the things we do when we travel have a way of staying with us for years to come.

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To travel is to live your story

You become the central character in the adventures that you once read about only in books. Today you dive into an emerald waterfall, tomorrow you will meet a stranger whose words will change your life and the day after you won’t be the same person who took the first step into this journey. To travel is to tell your story, the one you hear more clearly now, the person you are, without everything you have always been told to be. You aren’t at the same place anymore and you can’t hear the same voices. The one that you do hear is your own.

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To travel is to change the world

When you travel, you realize that reality is subjective. All the ideas you thought as concrete unchangeable reality at home, change so easily at the next border. It forces you to choose from every culture the missing pieces of your own soul. From one land to another, one country to the next, ideas bend backwards and forwards. You can’t help but ask then, what is really important? When you move across a land, you carry thoughts and ideas of other civilizations and times, of people whose perspective is vastly different from yours. You become a carrier, not of things or goods for exchange, but a carrier of new thoughts.

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To travel is to be familiar with the scent of life

It’s the fragrance of sunlight as it plays with the earth in the air of dawn, at the place you just arrived. It’s in the smell of a steaming cup of tea in a little shop in the mountains. It’s the scent of a village when smoke rises from the wood. It’s the forest at dusk and in the rush of the rivers. When the stars awaken at night, you can smell the dark perfumed sky. Every place has its own characteristic fragrance like no other. A fragrance that can’t be captured in a bottle, nor replicated, but one that drifts in memory. When you travel, the scent of life rushes to meet you.

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To travel is to become a part of history

Far too many great souls that existed were travelers – Prophets, kings, wise men, poets, explorers, scholars and sages alike – they knew that in a journey lies transformation. Wherever they went, they left a trace of who they were. When we travel, we merge our own trace with the eternal trace of mankind and his ceaseless journeying through earth.

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Travel is love in movement

Once you know that there is more to the world than you previously imagined, you just cannot go back. You ask yourself, ‘What does it really mean to be alive? What do I love?’ When you’re back to the life you once knew, you no longer wish to talk about the mundane. Travelling sets you free from the things you thought you couldn’t live without, having found new things that are indispensable to you: a passionate spirit with purpose. A new possibility burns within you, one that is just as limitless as the world.

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To travel is to be naked 

You may carry your clothes, but in truth you travel naked, open to surprise, wind, soil and stranger. When you travel, you are forced to leave everything familiar behind. The only thing you take with you is who you really are. Your truth is all you carry and this is what you give, to where you go. Their essence is what you take home.

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To travel is to converse with the world.

Travelers tell each other stories that they wouldn’t speak as easily otherwise, possibly because they may never meet again or because the road opens up their heart wide, enticing them to share all that’s in it. A traveler converses with the world because you put yourself out there where the whole world is conversing. It’s a real conversation with real people. About who you are beneath all the layers. A silent conversation takes place even with just a nod, an acknowledgement. Your eyes meet and suddenly you aren’t strangers anymore. You are old friends meeting once more upon distant lands.

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To travel outside is to travel within

The things you hear on the road are not to be taken lightly. They are powerful. In fact you find new words pouring out of your own lips too. Definite shapes and forms fall apart like a child’s sand castle and take new dimensions. You come to know yourself in the voices of other travelers.

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To travel is to move your mind by a million dimensions

In a journey you confront something that has never before been a part of your existence – faces you’ve never previously envisioned, the textures of a land, a new way of living life, even the way in which you show your affection. Travel is not just about moving your body from one place to another, from one picture frame in front of the Eiffel tower to the next in front of the Statue of Liberty. Travelling moves your mind, irreversibly alters your heart and merges you as one unstoppable human race.

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To travel is to confront the truth

In that moment where two completely different worlds collide, alchemy takes place. Ideas of life which were utterly unfamiliar and foreign are discussed over wine, coffee or a beer and then those thoughts don’t die or remain there. They travel onward with them, scattering to different parts of the world. When you travel, you even surprise yourself. You dance on the streets, climb mountains and swim in glacial river streams. You follow your gut and the things you do and see, change the world irrevocably forever because it changes you irrevocably, forever.

Yes you will have to eventually go back to your ‘real life’ and the real world, but you won’t ever be the same person going back home anymore.

Because Travel transforms you.

Edited from article in MSN Travel

Tips for Better Travel Photos

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015


It wasn’t that long ago that many travel photos were taken, developed and then dumped into boxes, rarely to be seen again. These days, things aren’t so different except that now the photos get dumped onto external hard drives.

In most collections of vacation and travel photos, a precious few of the very best shots are often spared this fate – those photos that are somehow more enduring or more interesting, or that best capture the spirit and sensation of the trip. What is it that keeps these photos from the dustbin of our traveling history? Often they are simply better photographs. That is, the “keeper” photo isn’t of a favorite person, place or activity – it is better composed, better lit and thus simply more visually interesting than the run-of-the-mill vacation snapshot.

Following is a collection of low- and no-tech tips to help you improve your photography skills for your next trip.

Think “people, places, things.” 3843904037_10b131c0eb_b
This old definition of the use of a noun is a handy guide to a great vacation photo: the best travel photos will often be about all three of these. To illustrate, let’s say you want to take a photo of the Tower of London on a rainy day. If you pull up your photo and snap the Tower in the gray light, you could get a decent photo. But if you put your friends in the photo with the Tower glimpsed over their shoulders (the place of interest), visible just under the rim of an umbrella (a very specific thing that evokes the conditions), you have a great shot.

Get closer. 14279953926_97bcbb87a6_h
As Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Taken literally, the closer you get to your subject, the more detail and interest you can capture.

There are a couple of ways to do this, both equally valid and effective. One is to use the telephoto features found on most cameras to zoom in on your subject. Before anyone cries cop-out, this can be a very effective photographic technique, and has resulted in countless compelling images in this age of big lenses.

The other is simply to walk closer to your subject. Not everyone is comfortable doing this, but the person viewing the photo will appreciate it; despite how close a zoom lens makes things appear, when viewing a photo the human eye can still sense the distance, and appreciates when an image has truly been taken up close.

Be in the thick of it.
A less literal read of Capa’s statement, and probably the one closer to his intent, suggests that Capa likes photos in which the photographer him- or herself seems to be part of what is going on, and not standing apart from the action. Capa’s solution to get more intimate, engaged photos is simply to be more intimately involved in the photo yourself.

5728297735_327ffa8345_b (1)Know where the sun is.
The easiest way to flatter your subject is to put it in the best light. If you want your subjects’ faces to shine, turn them so the sun is shining on their faces. If you want your photo of your cruise ship to look like the brochures, take the photo on the sunny side of the ship. Alternately, if you want to catch the glistening of light on the ocean, take the photo when the sun is low enough to bounce off the waves.

Consider the time of day.15635520540_e3ceb753aa_k
This is a fairly simple story – there’s no time like sunrise or sunset to take compelling, interesting and even stunning travel photos. Sunrise in particular can produce very striking images, in part because most people are not awake at the crack of dawn, and so can still be surprised by a sunrise photo.

Turn the camera on its side.
In some situations, turning the camera on its side to take a vertical shot is just not good composition, it is almost essential. But taking vertical shots also has an added benefit: it will enhance the interest of your overall photo collection considerably, adding geometrical variety as folks flip through your vacation slideshow.

5728340461_b4ae53db20_bFill the frame.
The interesting parts of the scene should start at the left edge of the viewfinder and end at the right edge. That is, the subject should absolutely fill the frame such that the edges of the photo will include as little superfluous imagery and information as possible.

I find this tactic offers a couple of distinct advantages. First, the intended subject of your photo is absolutely clear to anyone who sees the photo. And second, the photo becomes a thing apart from how we usually see the world, which is more or less in 180-degree panorama thanks to our peripheral vision. A photograph can isolate and amplify our experience, which turns out to be one of the attractions of travel itself, as well.

9127445666_7df279c0a8_bDivide the scene into threes.
If you put something right in the middle of the frame, the photo is about that thing. Another great tactic for creating visual interest in a somewhat routine shot is to frame the shot such that your subject is not in the dead middle of the photo, but is placed off-center in the frame. An easy way to think about this is mentally to divide the frame into three sections (left, center and right), and put the main subject of the photo either entirely within the left or right section, or perhaps right on the line dividing two sections.

How to choose on which side to put the subject? This is easy – put it on the side that has the least background interest in the overall frame. This way, the viewer can be tricked into thinking you took a photo of both the subject and the background activities, with equal emphasis on both.

You can also divide the photo vertically into threes as well so that you have a grid of nine squares total to work with.

When taking photos of traveling companions, it is easy to prop them up in front of something interesting and then take the picture. If you go to some effort to get the attraction behind them, but cut off the top of someone’s head, or include a sloppy untucked shirt, or cut the photo off at someone’s socks, you have a good photo of the sight and a terrible photo of your friends. In this case, frame them first and then worry about the background.

I find that very often a decent photo could have been a great photo if I had just moved a little bit, whether to reframe the photo slightly, or to put something interesting into the background. This can involve moving a few steps forward or back, shifting to one side or the other, or crouching down. As a photographer, you have much more control over what you are doing and where you are standing than you do over the subject matter; if you just stand lead-footed in one spot, your photos will reflect this.

Zoom in and out until you like what you see.
If your camera has a zoom feature, and most do these days, you can help yourself to “move” by zooming in and out on your subject. I find that when you do this, at the point the scene becomes most interesting, your eye will notice it – that is, you’ll just like it more intuitively. That’s when you take the shot.

4588278443_6a3ee4f058_bPay the most attention to the edges and corners.
A great photo is as often defined by what is left in as by what is left out. You have considerable control here, and while it is normal human behavior to look directly and in a concentrated way at the things that interest us most, the camera behaves otherwise.

Very often you can take a photo that seems like it might turn out extremely well, but when you see the print of a photo, your friend is a speck in the middle of a nondescript background. Take all that stuff out, and you have a great photo.

In the same way, if you zoom in very closely on someone’s face, and cut out the monkey standing on her head, you missed the shot.

4508752325_da920c1ddf_bAt familiar sites, emphasize something other than the subject.
If you are photographing the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Mount Rushmore or any other frequently photographed site, you would often do better to buy a nice calendar than take yet another point-and-shoot photo that will just take up space on your hard drive until it crashes.

But if you make it a photo about something else – your companion’s goofy hat with the Eiffel Tower in the background, or a bobby in front of the Houses of Parliament, or a motorcycle gang parked in front of Mount Rushmore – then you have a great photo.

Look, then think, before you shoot.
Before taking a photo, if you just take a quick look at your surroundings, and give yourself a second to think about anything interesting that might be happening, you will get a much higher percentage of interesting photos than if you simply pull your camera to your eye and snap without planning what you want to capture.

14609595601_94969e17a1_kTry to take photos where you didn’t “have to be there.”
If you want to take a great photo and not merely a snapshot of your traveling companions in a certain location, think about how a complete stranger would react to seeing your picture. Photos that are thereby intrinsically interesting will enhance and retain their interest to you as well.

Use your sense of humor.
Do not underestimate the value of capturing or expressing a little humor when taking travel photos. Travel is usually as much about how we felt and thought while traveling, not just where we went, and photos that capture some humor often bring back the strongest memories and sensations as time goes by.


Edited from article in Independent Traveler


Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

by Michele


We just got home from our incredible Southern Charm tour where we spent time in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida and it was fabulous!  We learned so much about the history and culture of the South and had the perfect weather for exploring new cities. From a plantation tour to a horse drawn carriage to rocking chairs on the front porch, this trip was simply charming.

We learned some new phrases along the way – Southernism, if you will – and we thought that they were too fun to keep to ourselves.  I dare you to use these in your every day conversations!

“I’m finer than frog hair split four ways.”
Southerners mostly use this phrase to answer, “How are you?” Even those below the Mason-Dixon know frogs don’t have hair, and the irony means to highlight just how dandy you feel.

“He could eat corn through a picket fence.”
This describes someone with an unfortunate set of buck teeth. They tend to stick up and outward, like a horse’s teeth. Imagine a horse eating a carrot, and you’ll get the picture.

“It came a Gully Washer”
Translation: A short, heavy rain, also known as a turtle floater, a duck drowner or a toad strangler or a downpour.

“He thinks the sun comes up just to hear him crow.”
On farms (not just in the South) roosters usually crow when the sun rises. Their vociferous habit wakes up the house, signaling time to work.
An extremely cocky rooster might think the sun rises simply because he crows. Similarly, an extremely cocky man might think the same when he speaks — and also that everyone should listen to him.

 “Bless Your Heart”
Translation: If you’ve heard this, especially from a Southern woman, she doesn’t mean it.  In reality, the phrase has little to do with religion and more to do with a passive-aggressive way to call you an idiot. Depending on your inflection, saying “bless your heart” can sting worse than any insult.

“Now don’t come to me and be dumber than a box of rocks.”
Translation: This is self-explanatory.  And if you don’t get it, you might just be dumber than a box of rocks.

“If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”
Translation: “You’d better do what I want or I won’t be happy and if I’m not happy then you’re not gonna be happy either.  I’ll make sure of it.

“Gracious plenty”
Translation: More than enough.  As in “we’ve got gracious plenty of it”

Translation: Innumerable.  As in “She had forty-leven children”