Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Travel Tips : Getting Lounge Access in Airports

Traveling can be brutal: long layovers, uncomfortable seating, having to lug your bags around.  So whenever possible, your travels can be made a lot easier by gaining access to the many lounges throughout airports around the world.  Often, I find many people don't know how they can gain access to these lounges and they can be a life saver in more ways than one while you're waiting for hours at an airport.  These lounges offer everything from showers to free food and drinks to comfortable areas to wait out your layovers.  And actually, there are many ways to gain access to these lounges and make your airport experience that much better. 

Become a frequent flier with a specific airline.
Becoming part of airlines' loyalty programs can have lots of perks, but one of the best is the access to lounges.  Not all airlines handle this the same and many of them you have to be top tier fliers to achieve free access, though some airlines will allow you to pay a minimal fee to have access to their lounges when you're an MVP with the airline.

Daily passes.
It's becoming more and more common for lounges (especially in major airports) to offer day passes for purchase.  We've done this in the past including once at the Virgin America lounge in LAX.  The day passes are usually around the $30 range and you get to use the facilities all day.  This is a great option if you have a long layover.  Keep in mind too even though you're paying for it, usually it's free wifi, free food and soft drinks and comfortable areas to stretch out and sleep or do work.  Considering you'd probably spend that much on food or wifi charges anyways in the normal terminal, it's usually a pretty fair deal.

Priority Pass.
This is a program you pay yearly for but that let's you have access to any lounge worldwide.  My dad pays for the premium membership for work but for Christmas last year, he signed up Nick and I for the Friends and Family membership plan at a discount.  With this plan, it's around $100 per year and every time we use it when traveling, we pay $24 per person for access to any lounge at any airport worldwide.  It's been a great thing for us and we've used it multiple times already since receiving it in December of last year.  My favorite use so far was at the United lounge at Newark in February en route to India.  We had a 6 hour layover in Newark and with bag weather in NYC, we decided to stay at the airport instead of venturing into the city. So we holed up in the United Lounge, were able to take showers, stretch out and be really comfortable for 6 hours.  They also have a great app that you can see all the lounges at your access and what each one offers.  It's a great program to check out if you travel a lot.

Get upgraded or book a business class ticket.
Whenever you book a business or first class ticket or get upgraded, you'll get access into the airline's lounges.  The only time this has happened to us internationally was from London to Seattle last November and though we got upgraded to Business Class and would have had access to the BA Lounge, our flight time was soon and we didn't really have time to use it.  But keep in mind, when you get that magical upgrade or you've already booked a business class or first class ticket, you'll get lounge access on your boarding pass.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Those Special Places

I've seen a lot of the world over the years, starting with my childhood in the Middle East and then subsequent travels around the globe for work and pleasure.  I've traveled alone and with other people, I've liked many places and loved others, but when I look back on the places I've seen so far in my life, there are a handful of places that have totally left a permanent mark on my heart.  They are the places that I see myself living someday, or places that I've never felt emotions quite like I have there, they are places that have a deep hold over me, places where my emotions seem to answer all the questions.  They are places that I have felt an instant connection with, places that pull me toward them.

Places in general shape me deeply but there are certain places in this world that upon my first steps there, I know immediately that it's a place that will stay with me, a place I'll miss when I'm not there, a place that will always mean something more than other places.  I've been fortunate to encounter a few of these places along the way, and while I hope I come across many more in my life, these are some of the places around the world that will always mean something incredibly important to me, that will always reside in my heart when I'm not there and places that truly have shaped who I have become.  These are "my places" if you will, places that mean something to me more deeply than the others, they are places that are rooted in my soul, places that will always be my special places.

If you've read this blog for any period of time, it's pretty obvious that I have a long standing love affair with the French Capitol.  Paris, for me, will always be that dream city, that place that I long to be, that place that I feel a comfort come over me when I'm there.  It's a place that I have a long history with, a place that just fits me completely.  It's a place that I feel at home, a place that holds so many of my best memories, a place that will always be a city that I hold extremely dear.

Portland, my home city, is a place that is extremely special.  I've seen a lot of the world and a lot of the United States and I have yet to find a place like Portland.  It's a city that I could list on and on all the reasons why I love it, why I fit here, why I've chosen it as my home.  It's a place that I immediately felt at home in, a place that I sort of knew I was meant to be, a place that has held my hand through some of the biggest moments of my life so far.  It's the place I met Nick, the place I lived on my own in for the first time, it's the place I graduated from college and the place we got married.  It's the place I know like the back of my hand and the place that to this day, still takes my breath away.  Portland is a city that will always be in my heart, it's a place that has engrained itself deeply into my soul and it will always be my city.

It's hard to describe the way I felt in Dublin when I first visited last Fall.  Ireland is a place I've heard about my whole life, it's a place I'm deeply connected to with my family, a place I still have lots of relatives.  It's a place that has always held this mystery for me, a place I wasn't sure I would like but hoped I would.  Turns out, I felt a deep connection to Dublin when I finally stepped foot on Irish soil. Dublin is one of those cities that just breathes an electric energy, it's a city that inspired me, a city that I could see myself living in someday.  It's a place that I felt an instant connection with, a place that in a spiritual way I felt a kinship with.  Dublin is a place that I'll always feel connected to, a place that holds more than just a deep love for the city but also my heritage.

I've never felt the way I did in Iceland anywhere else I've ever traveled to.  I'm not sure if it was the biting cold or the spontaneous decision to take this trip, I'm not sure if it was the time of year we went (November) or the few hours of daylight each day, but Iceland changed me.  Never have I seen such serene beauty as I did in the Icelandic landscape or felt such a spiritual pull as I stood alone in the middle of the snow and clouds.  Iceland is a place that will forever be a turning point for me, it was a place that I felt emotions while traveling I never had before, a place that we spent every moment in wonderment at the landscape, at this beautiful untouched place.  

A list of special places to me wouldn't be complete with beautiful Udaipur, India.  I have a long history with India, family connections to the country and many visits as a child, but in spite of all my connections to this magical country, I didn't know if I would love it as an adult.  And truth be told, I could do without the smoggy congestion of Delhi (though totally worth the experience) and the poor streets of Agra (but don't miss the Taj Mahal here), but Udaipur was a place for me that pulled at my heartstrings, that made me fall completely in love with India.  The magical lakeside city of Udaipur was one of the most naturally beautiful places I've ever seen, a place that I felt an instant connection with, a place that holds a sort of magic in the aura of the place.  Udaipur is a place I see myself going back to again and again over the years, a place that is beyond special to me in a country I fell in love with.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why You Should Book That Ticket

One of the things I hope to accomplish here on True Colours is to inspire people to travel, to see the world in front of us, to open ourselves up to all the amazing things that exist out there beyond our doors.  And one of the things that I hear a lot from people in my every day life as well as readers are all the reasons why they can't travel.  I hear all the things holding them back, all the things in our lives that we have the power to change but most never will.  The part of that I won't accept is that there is always a way if you make it a priority and rearrange things to make it work.  So while I've done many posts before on how to make it happen, from how to fly to Europe cheaply to getting around Europe on a budget and from ways to save money while traveling to credit cards that can help you save money on trips, I've not touched much on the reasons why you should book that ticket and take the trip you've always wanted to.

There are always going to be obstacles in our lives but finding a way to work around them and figuring out what your priorities are will help you get to the point of booking that ticket to wherever it is you want to go and here's why you should!

The biggest push to book that ticket and see those places you've always dreamed of is the fact that we don't know what will happen in the future.  We could get sick, lose abilities to travel or have major life events come up that make traveling harder.  Today is what we have in front of us and if you want to see the world, don't wait around to make it happen, make plans to do it as soon as you can.

One of the things I hear a lot is, "oh that will be there for years and I can see it later" and while for many places that might be true, there is a lot of the world that might not always bee there to see later. Places that are old already and may be crumbling, world monuments that might fall apart over the years of use or even countries that may be falling apart politically.  There are places in the world that I long to see but due to political unrest may not be the same when we see them down the road.  Don't bank on those dream destinations always being there because there are lots of reasons why they may not be there down the road.

Traveling the world opens you up to lessons that you can't learn any other way.  Lessons in tolerance, in language, in experience can be used everywhere in your day to day life as well and will help you become a better person and a better citizen.  Traveling only enriches your life and will offer you lessons and experience to fulfill you in ways you never thought possible!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Travel (Photography) Tips : In My Camera Bag

Most of you are aware by now that the majority of the photos on these pages are by my husband Nick who has a wonderful eye for creating gorgeous images.  And in my new monthly series, Nick is back guest posting today, offering tips and tricks he's picked up over the years through our travels.  From some of his favorite lenses to travel with to how he gets the shots he does and so much more, welcome to the next installment of Travel (Photography) Tips!

I am really fortunate that I have had the opportunity to travel to a lot of wonderful places over the past few years. I have been lucky enough to bring my camera and shoot photos at all of these interesting locales, places you’ve seen on this blog, like Iceland, Morocco, Ireland, Paris, India and Cambodia. I often get asked what's in my travel bag, how much gear do I take and how do I pack it. Traveling with photo gear adds a bit of complication to your trip, so having a plan for your gear will make a big difference and today I'm sharing my thoughts and strategy below. 

First off, I will be the first person to tell you I pack a little too much gear. I like to prepare myself for anything and there have been many times I’ve gone to a location planning to use one lens and ended up using an entirely different one. How do I handle all this gear? I use what I like to call the 2-Bag system. One bag is the kitchen sink full of gear and accessories and another much smaller bag with only the essentials for a day of shooting. 

Bag 1:
My main bag is full of all the gear for the trip, usually a backpack but sometimes I use a medium sized messenger bag. Everything goes in this bag: camera, laptop, lenses, accessories, etc… The main bag stays in the hotel or rental car and only comes out with me when I’m doing photo specific outings where the sole purpose is to take photos.  When I’m not leaving the main bag at the hotel I lock it up to prevent people from walking away with it. 

Bag 2:
I have a small shoulder bag that I can fit a couple of lenses in and a few accessories. This is the bag I take out during a day of exploring. It only fits a few items that I will need during the day and no extras. Being that it’s light, it’s easy on my back, I can move through crowds easily and doesn’t look inconspicuous for pick pockets. This is great when we are shooting on the streets, exploring attractions like museums or out for an evening stroll. 

Below are a couple examples of typical bags. I don’t want you to think that because I take this much gear you have too as well. My hope is you find something that I pack that might help you on your trips or that gives you an idea to pack your photo gear a little better.

1.  Thinktank Airport Essentials. I love this bag because it fits a ton of gear but still can fit under the seat on most airplanes.

2.  Lowpro shoulder bag.  This bag is great for a day's worth of gear and is easy to carry around.

3.  Canon 5D Mark II. This is my workhorse camera that I use on most shoots.

4.  Sigma 35mm Lens. This is my favorite lens right now. It’s really versatile on the street and crazy sharp.

5.  Canon 70-200 f/4.  I love the 70-200, it’s great for portraits and taking close up shots on the street. I prefer the f/4 for travel because it’s quite a bit smaller and cheaper than its f/2.8 cousin but still really sharp. I’m testing out the rubber lens hood in the picture. Because it’s rubber it can collapse down to a small size and takes up a lot less room in my bag then the normal plastic lens hood. 

6.  Canon 17-40 F/4.  I have a love/hate relationship with this lens. Some of my favorite images have come out of this wide angle lens but the corners are really soft which drives me crazy!

7.  50mm F/1.8.  This is a great lens to keep around because it’s so small and cheap. Sometimes when I just want to be really light and mobile, I’ll just take my camera with this lens. 

8.  Lumix Gx7.  This is a fairly new addition to our collection and camera that Casey and I share but that she usually carries around when traveling. It’s mirrorless, so it’s quite a bit smaller than my Canon. Mostly on trips Casey is using this camera but at home I take it out for errands and or quick outings. My favorite thing about this camera is the wifi: when we are traveling I can connect my phone and post images taken on this camera on Instagram (@nicknieto). 

9.  Lumopro LP180 Flash and Pocket Wizard Plus III receivers.  I don’t do a ton of flash photography on our trips but there are the few occasions that it’s nice to have. I love the LP180 because it’s really rugged for travel. 

10.  This is Ground Cord Tacos.  These are my new favorite obsession from This is Ground. I love being organized and these leather cord holders keep my cords from getting tangled and knotted and easy to access.

11.  Accessory Pouches.  I found these pouches a few years ago at Target and they are the best!  I went back to get more but haven't been able to find them since. I keep all sorts of things in these pouches: batteries, chargers, cables, etc… I have one pouch dedicated to my flash accessories and one pouch with all the rest of my items.

12.  Lens Cloth.  It’s always a good idea to have a microfiber cloth for your lenses. I bought a bulk pack from Amazon and throw them in the pockets of all of my bags. 

13.  Small Reflector Dish. I use this a lot for food photos but it's also great for portraits. It unfolds into a 12” dish and is great to add a little bit of light to a plate of food or to a person's face. 

14.  Filters.  I use two different filters with my photography: I will sometimes use a circular polarizer to cut through the glare and saturate the colors in my landscape images and I also use a 10+ neutral density filter. This is great for waterfalls, streams, etc… when you want to keep the shutter open for longer amounts of time. 

15.  Garmin GPS.  I like to try and geotag my images with the GPS location and this works great for that. It’s just a fun way to keep track of all the places I’ve shot images. 

16.  Gorilla pod.  I love my Joby Gorilla Pod. It can roll up and fit in my gray shoulder bag when we are walking around. It’s nice to have in case something comes up that I wasn’t expecting. I have attached it too all sorts of things to take images like fences, branches, walls, fire hydrants, poles, etc.

17.  Induro Tripod.  When I really want to take serious images, nothing beats a good tripod. For travel I will take the head off, which make it easier to fit in my carry on bag. 

18.  Gaffers tape.  You never know when it will come in handy. I roll about 2 feet of gaffers tape around a small golf pencil so I always have a little bit handy. 
19. Ziplock bags. I keep a couple of ziplock bags with me in case it rains, I can throw my camera into the bag and protect it a little better. When I shoot in the rain, I will sometimes cut a hole in the bag and poke the lens out to be able to keep shooting.

20. Business cards. It’s always a good ideas to have a few handy to give out.

21.  Memory Card Wallet.  I love this memory card wallet by Think Tank I got a few years ago to hold all of my memory cards while on the go.

22. iPad.  I love my iPad, it’s great for flights and getting work done on the go. I use services like Evernote and Dropbox to keep my information available on my iPad no matter where I am.