Travel

Yes, You Need Travel Insurance...

This is not an advertisement for travel insurance companies. I am not affiliated with any insurance company. This is just simple advice you need to hear. An alarming number of people go abroad without any additional travel or health coverage. Worse, some go without any at all. This is insane, because travel insurance that covers up to 100% of your medical expenses and travel interruptions is cheap. Whether you simply need to reschedule or cancel a flight, your hotel is overbooked, or you have an unexpected medical emergency, the top travel insurance providers offer plans that cover you. Usually it’s only around $70-100 a week for coverage. I always buy insurance, but never had to use it until last fall when it saved me hundreds of thousands in medical bills.
Here’s the story:

The Time My Pancreas and Gallbladder Tried to Kill Me

I was visiting my family down in North Carolina during the Thanksgiving holiday. I was looking forward to having some good southern food again (food that does not exist in Western Canada). On Thanksgiving Day, I had a growing pain in my upper right side. It started out dull and grew worse. I didn’t get to participate in the Thanksgiving meal. I just reclined in a chair in the corner near Grandpa’s wood burning stove trying not to groan too much.

That night I was hurting a lot. I was nauseous. My Dad took me to urgent care in the morning. The doctor told me I’d be okay with some meds. My gallbladder was acting up, but he thought I’d be okay to travel back to Canada by taking proper medication and avoiding fatty foods. Later that day the pain got much worse and I was vomiting. The pain in my guts was sharp. My folks took me to the emergency room. The rest is a bit blurry, especially after the morphine hit me (which barely helped the pain and made me feel loopy).

I still don’t know how many days exactly I was in the hospital…4, 5, 6 days? At some point my wife came down from Canada. All I really remember is watching Friends reruns on the hospital TV, complaining to the nurses that the pain meds weren’t working, and having occasional visitors. I ate nothing for several days. Apparently my gallbladder was inflamed, but the worst part was that my pancreas became inflamed as well. That was a more serious issue. They simply couldn’t remove my gallbladder until my pancreas was stable. That took days.

I had the surgery, was discharged the next day, had my first meal in a week, and began the recovery process. I cancelled my return flight to Canada and stayed with my parents in NC for the next few weeks until after Christmas. My activities and diet were limited, and I was still in pain from the surgery for several weeks after.

Eventually I began to feel normal. While in recovery I mostly played guitar, but managed to get up the strength to go out and photograph a bit on the nearby beaches. That was therapeutic.

My first outing after the surgery. A chilly morning on Sunset Beach, North Carolina. December, 2018.

My first outing after the surgery. A chilly morning on Sunset Beach, North Carolina. December, 2018.

So, Yeah…You Need Travel Insurance!

Needless to say, that was not a fun trip. Luckily, as I normally do, I purchased travel insurance through World Nomads before the trip. My wife contacted the insurance company to start a claim while I was in the hospital. The insurance covered my medical bills, which were very high. The travel insurance reimbursed me for all the medication and doctor visits and covered my hospital bills and all expenses related to treatment (like the MRI, ultrasound, follow-up appointment, meds, etc.). Ultimately, the insurance saved me almost $200,000 USD in medical costs. The insurance plan was only $100; that’s a pretty good deal if you ask me. Had I not purchased the travel insurance, it’s unclear whether my Alberta Health Plan would’ve covered much of my stateside medical expenses (likely not). I would have been responsible for thousands and thousands of dollars in healthcare costs if I hadn’t spent that $100 on travel insurance.

It’s ironic that I enjoy free healthcare in Canada, and that my first hospitalization happened in the states, but I am happy that I was in a place I was familiar with and had my family there to help me through it all. If I’d been in another country, things would have been more complicated and stressful. So, make sure you get travel insurance that covers the cost of trip cancellation and interruptions, but also covers any possible medical situations as well.

I’d recommend World Nomads, but there are other reputable options out there, so you can shop around, but wherever you go, don’t leave home without travel insurance!

My Top Travel Tips...

My Top Travel Tips (For All Types of Travellers)

I just started breaking ground on my next ebook on travel photography. It got me thinking about some things I’ve learned, not only about photography, but about travel in general over the last several years. I’d like to share a few of those tips with you; these are practical and apply to everyone. They’ll not only make your travel experience better, but also make you a more efficient image maker. You’ve spent a lot of time planning and a bit of money getting to your destination, this is how you get the most out it.

Spend More Time, Less Money.

It’s easier than ever to go on amazing trips on a budget using sites like Airbnb.com and Booking.com. Make sure you’re spending enough time at your destination to soak it all in. Don’t rush around from one site to the next trying to pack in a lot on a tight schedule. I like to book enough time to really get to know a place; greater understanding of your destination enhances your experience and increases your chances of getting meaningful and unique images (instead of forgettable snap shots).

The less money you spend on your day-to-day, the longer you can stay. Set a reasonable, yet lean, budget for your trip. Research the best local (and cheap) eateries like hell before you go. I (almost) always book Airbnbs with kitchens so that I can cook most of my meals instead of eating out two or three times a day. Shopping at grocery stores and markets like the locals will save you money, and give you a better understanding of what it’s like to live there. Make sure you’re centrally located too, so you don’t have to travel far and spend a lot money on transit. Paying a few bucks more per night in that downtown Airbnb might be cheaper than cabs, Ubers, and public transit from the big chain hotel on the edge of town.

Click here for my post on How to Afford to Travel.

Pack Less.

For the love of everything you hold holy take less crap with you! I carry one 35L backpack with everything I need, including camera gear, for up to two weeks on the road. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to the Canadian Rockies just 3 hours from my home or if I’m flying to Europe and visiting multiple countries, I only take one bag. I know what you’re thinking…“That’s easy for you! You’re a young dude willing to rough it for good pictures!” My wife only takes one 34L backpack and her purse as a personal item. That’s it. She always looks good! We never check anything when flying.

I find that minimalist packing relieves some of the stress of being in transit. Despite my love of visiting new places, I hate being in transit. With me, it’s the destination, not the journey. By packing one carry-on bag, I have less to keep up with and can get around airports and train stations more efficiently: no waiting for my checked luggage to be rechecked and risk missing a flight; no worrying that luggage will be lost or damaged (which happened to me in past before I knew better).

Click here to see my Travel Photographer’s Master Packing List.

Wear Good Shoes.

Sturdy, practical, and comfortable walking/hiking shoes are essential. Break them in before you go. Say you’re spending a week in Paris or Prague: those cobblestone streets are gonna tear your tootsies up if you’re not wearing the right footwear. Make sure to start walking in your main pair (especially if they’re new) several days to a couple weeks before your trip to make sure you break them in and to know in advance if they’re going to cause blisters. Blisters can ruin a trip.
Pro Tip: Pack a little coconut oil to rub in between your toes each day. It’ll help relieve friction and help prevent blisters.

I have a couple different foot issues I battle with about every time I travel. It’s frustrating. Being a photographer means I have to be mobile and need the ability to walk several miles a day. Gradually, I’m learning how to deal with these issues. You can save yourself a huge amount of woe and discomfort simply by picking the right shoes. I’d recommend a good hiking shoe brand; trail runners that are breathable are great for summer. Whatever you choose, make sure they’re not gonna hold you back. Accept function over fashion and save yourself some serious aches and pains.

Not signed up for the Maps & Cameras email list? Subscribe by clicking here.

Behind the Image: Sun, Oak, and Marsh

This photograph was not an accident. I did not coincidentally happen upon this beautiful oak just as the sun was about to set on the horizon. Happy accidents are very rare in photography. This image was the result of planning, scouting, and timing. I’m afraid that most people have this idea that photographers walk about aimlessly with their expensive gear and picture opportunities just jump out at them. Then the camera does all the work, right? Nice gear equals nice pics? Not at all. I can’t stress that point enough.

I was recovering from my recent surgery down on the North/South Carolina border near the coast over the holidays and getting very tired of sitting around. I had my camera gear in my backpack and decided to take a drive early one morning and arrived just before sunrise at Sunset Beach, North Carolina. It was surprisingly chilly weather for the low country, but it was great to be out doing my thing again (see images from this outing in the previous post). After my time on the beach, I drove over the border to Vereen Gardens in Little River, South Carolina.

I’d been there before and remembered all the old oaks that hang over the marsh. I remembered the moss swaying from the branches. It seemed like it would be a great area for landscape photographs. Unfortunately, I’d spent so much time on the beach, the sun was too high for the image I imagined. I wanted the trees to be backlit and the moss to have nice rim lighting. I decided to watch the weather forecasts and return one evening when the sun would set behind this particularly interesting tree.

An old oak by the intracoastal marsh, near Little River, South Carolina. (18mm, f16, 1/40 sec, ISO 100, tripod)

An old oak by the intracoastal marsh, near Little River, South Carolina. (18mm, f16, 1/40 sec, ISO 100, tripod)

On a clear evening I drove back over to Vereen Gardens with a particular shot in mind. I walked the wooded trails through the marshes to the old oak that I found most interesting. I knew exactly where the sun would rest briefly on the horizon before slipping behind it. There would be only a couple minutes to compose the shot. In order to get a perfect “sun star” I had to wait until the sun was just touching the horizon, then I had to compose the frame (with my tripod in several inches of black mud) so that the light poked through the branches in an aesthetically pleasing spot. I used a narrow aperture of f16 to help give the rays of sunlight more definition. Despite the high contrast in this scene (the extreme brightness and extremely dark shadows), I ended up not having to use exposure bracketing. I bracketed several exposures anyway, but the dead-centre exposure was balanced enough that there was plenty of dynamic range to pull out detail in the highlights and shadows. The sun dipped behind the tree-line, signalling my time was up. I was pleased with the results when I was able to look at the image on my big screen back in Edmonton.

This image, for me, captures the feel of an evening on the Carolina coast. Warm light, Spanish moss, salty marshes, and huge live oaks are characteristic of the region. I am happy I was able to make an image that seems wild and untouched in an area so densely developed and over-overpopulated. It’s the natural South in a single frame.

“I think a photograph, of whatever it might be – a landscape, a person – requires personal involvement. That means knowing your subject, not just snapping away at what’s in front of you.” - Frans Lanting

Camping in Dinosaur Provincial Park

Dinosaur Provincial Park has been on my radar since before I even moved to Alberta last year. I finally decided to make the 6 hour drive from Edmonton as soon as the first warm days of spring arrived. It was primarily a scouting trip. I wanted to see what the place was like before tourist season and get a feel for the area before I return for a longer trip - probably in the late summer of this year when the shrubby plants are green. The last days of April were perfect for scouting photo locations. I was actually the only person camped in Dinosaur for the duration of my visit. I had all the trails to myself and was blessed with excellent light and clear blue skies. 

My campsite in Dinosaur Provincial Park. I had the whole Provincial Park all to myself for two days in late April. Though daytime temps can be very warm in spring, I found out the hard way that nighttime lows can still be below freezing.

My campsite in Dinosaur Provincial Park. I had the whole Provincial Park all to myself for two days in late April. Though daytime temps can be very warm in spring, I found out the hard way that nighttime lows can still be below freezing.

I'm a paleontology nerd since childhood. So, of course I stopped in Drumheller along the way to visit the Royal Tyrell Museum - one of the best Dinosaur museums in the world. I geeked out over dino skeletons and fossils for about an hour and then hit the road through the vast Alberta prairie. Dinosaur Provincial Park is one of the most significant fossil beds on earth. At the time of this writing, a more diverse collection of ancient life has been found there than anywhere else. I didn't spot any fossils on my hikes through the sandstone hills and hoodoos; I was more focused on the light and land forms. 

Though it was a short visit, I came away with several good images. Beautiful golden morning and evening light bathed the desolate landscape and brought contrast to the folds and creases of unique land formations. I found myself huffing and puffing as I quickly clambered over hills and up steep escarpments to find compositions before the light faded. I'd never been to an environment like Dinosaur before. I was completely inspired by it- everything was new and exciting. I can't wait for the next trip!

For more information on Dinosaur Provincial Park, visit the Alberta Parks website: https://www.albertaparks.ca/parks/south/dinosaur-pp/