Joseph Roybal is a Denver, Colorado based photographer specializing in travel, landscape, and documentary style photography that captures the essence of a country or culture. His passion for “off the beaten path travel” comes from several years of living overseas and immersing himself in the traditional lifestyle of a country. Joseph’s photography has been published in AFAR Travel Magazine, Denver Magazine, and promoted in The Denver Post. In this blog Joseph shares some of his tips and resources to help you prepare for any upcoming travels. From safety preparations to making reservations, the following information will have you ready for almost any situation - and prepared to capture those destination shots you came for.
Combine Your Photographic Inspiration with Summer Travel - by Joseph Roybal
Summer is rapidly approaching and many of us are looking forward to the annual trip that takes us away from our daily routine and transports us into exciting and unfamiliar photographic adventures. For some this may be as close as a neighboring state, and for others as far away as an exotic vacation to the Caribbean. What pushes many of us forward as photographers is the desire to personally explore uncharted destinations and capture captivating and storytelling images. What drives us forward is an inspiration that simply cannot be put out or turned off. This post will aim to inspire and inform: a well-informed tourist will feel safer, more prepared, and completely ready to take on the challenges of a well-seasoned traveler.
Your bags are packed, your inspiration and motivation are driving you forward, and your desire to get out and shoot is keeping you up at night. You have a location in mind and are beginning the research phase, yet you need a little insight on how to arrange the details - where to look for airfare, travelers insurance, car rentals overseas, visa information, and alerts about whether it is safe for you to go to a particular destination. Here are a few of the resources I utilize while organizing my trips that I’ve found indispensable and very helpful.
Airfare: Kayak is a phenomenal resource that anyone in any country can use to search airfares, hotels, and car rentals. Easy Jet and Ryan Air are two budget airlines originating out of Europe that have a wide range of flights. Flying into Europe first and then purchasing budget airline tickets in a point-to-point manner is a great way to save on travel costs and allow for spontaneity. Also look into train passes and buses to travel affordably within a region. Pre-purchase these before you go if you have fixed dates, otherwise simply arriving at the station is an equally viable option.
Accommodations: I try to keep my living arrangements as basic as possible, mainly because I plan to spend most of my time shooting outside of my hotel. Hostelworld is an easy-to-use site with reliable reviews of local hostels and low budget hotels. I recommend staying somewhere with a safe so you can lock up your passport and camera equipment when you leave it behind at the hotel.
Car Rental: Argus is similar to Kayak and other online databases that search hundreds of rental car suppliers around the world and give a list of matches and prices. I find Argus offers the best deals, and I have had nothing but positive experiences using their services. When possible, I try to book an American car agency overseas as opposed to a local supplier, simply for the reason that I am more familiar with American standards and business practices. Ultimately, use your good sense when renting a car - left in the hands of a fly-by-night dealer, your card details could be compromised or rental-deposit never returned upon your arrival back home.
Money: Buy foreign currency at your local bank branch before you head out. Generally $500 USD is a safe amount to start with. Place a large portion of this in an envelope along with at least two or three extra credit/debit cards. Include a copy of your passport and stow this envelope in a very safe and secret place in your bag. I put $300 away immediately and carry the rest on me. Having different cards guarantees a meal or hotel rental; should your Amex be declined, you have a back-up Visa and vice-versa. You will also have several hundred dollars and extra cards along with ID at the hotel should you fall prey to pickpockets. To stay organized, I keep my passport copy, extra cash and cards, itinerary details, and insurance information in a letter-sized sealable document file.
Phone: To avoid racking up hundreds of extra dollars on data and roaming charges on my current mobile phone while travelling overseas, I simply stop by any local phone agent when I arrive at my destination and purchase a $15-$20 unlocked GSM phone and pre-paid SIM card. Make sure this phone is unlocked so you can insert any SIM card in any country you travel to. I always state I will be calling the United States and inquire into the carrier with the best international rates. If you run out of time, you can typically purchase a recharge from any tobacco store or newsagent. When you move on to another country, you must purchase a new SIM card, as they do not easily “roam” like our phones here do from state to state. This method is very easy and economical, and guarantees you will be able to both make emergency calls and also receive them.
Health - This little gem is worth its weight in gold. Get it before you head out and make sure to purchase a plan that covers everything you might need based on your length of time away and destination. The most comprehensive insurance I have found is offered by Square Mouth. They cover everything from cancellations to emergency evacuations using the most trusted names in the business.
Car - You can even add car rental insurance onto your health policy for just a few extra dollars, saving hundreds compared to the individual rental company plans. I learned this firsthand on a recent trip to Morocco when my tire blew in a small mountain village and my spare had deflated. I was fortunate to have the help of a few local residents to repair it, only to learn later that tires were not covered under the standard rental insurance policy. Had I invested in additional car rental coverage with my traveler’s policy I would have been reimbursed for the repair costs. If a more serious incident occurs in a remote area this extra insurance will pay for any tow and repair fees. Knowing everything is covered in one place eases my mind in the event of an unforeseen circumstance.
Gear – There’s nothing worse than realizing the person you asked to take your photo is now running down the street with your camera. Taking the steps to insure your valuable equipment can save you thousands of dollars if the worst-case scenario occurs. A comprehensive policy can be acquired on its own, or added to your homeowners insurance. State-Farm offers policies that will cover a semi-pro photographer and their gear up to $5,000 anywhere in the world.
Safety: Checking the U.S. Department of State’s international travel website is critical prior to booking a trip. The page gives travel advisories as well as pertinent information regarding warnings for visitors, visas, and even offers the opportunity to register with the site before you take off should an emergency occur overseas. I also keep my family and friends apprised of my travel plans, and leave them with the pertinent details of my trip.
Immunizations: Before heading out on your travels, being prepared and knowledgeable about illnesses and disease in the area(s) you are heading is critical to health and safety. Before you leave, consult Ziplocal to get a listing of doctors in your area that are licensed in Travel Medicine and familiar with the areas you will be travelling to. It is recommended to begin most medicines 4-6 weeks prior to your departure date so plan accordingly. Another incredible resource for listings of qualified and licensed physicians overseas is the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers. Complete the free registration process to gain access to the database where you can view detailed listings of doctors in the countries you will be visiting before heading out. These physicians sign up to be a part of this database and are going out of their way to assist travelers in need. I print these lists and place them in my folder with my money, credit cards, etc. to have on hand should anything happen. You never know when you may need assistance and being prepared is the first step to ensuring a safe trip.
These tips have helped me countless times in organizing my travels, and it is my hope they serve as a jumping-off point for you as you begin to plan your next adventure. I hope they serve you well in your travels, and I look forward to posting a Part II to the Zenfolio blog in a few weeks time. And remember: in everything you do and are planning this summer, be safe, have fun, and enjoy the journey.