Swimming With Whale Sharks In Mexico (They’re HUGE!)

Whale Sharks in Mexico

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico

Isla Holbox, Mexico

Swimming with whale sharks is an underwater adventure I’ve wanted to try for years. I finally took the plunge, and swam alongside these gentle giants in Mexico!

I’ve swam with regular sharks before — the kind that occasionally dine on humans. But swimming with whale sharks is a totally different experience.

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean, growing up to 40 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. However you don’t have to worry about them eating you with their very tiny teeth.

Which is why you should try swimming with them in Mexico!

Isla Holbox Boat Trip

Sailing Around Isla Holbox

Whale Shark Snorkeling

Anna Snorkeling with a Whale Shark

Whale Sharks Won’t Eat You

Whale sharks are filter-feeders, sucking up microscopic plankton and baby fish with their giant mouths. This makes them similar to whales, although technically they are from the shark family.

They can’t eat humans — which is why swimming with them has become so popular in places like Mexico, the Philippines, and South Africa.

Whale sharks can live up to 70 years old. They move slow enough that we can keep up with them underwater, but barely. You have to swim really fast with fins to stay beside one.

The only real danger is swimming under one. After feeding they sometimes descend without warning… imagine being trapped under a sinking dump truck!

Whale Shark Boats

Tour Boats Waiting for Snorkeling

Sailing The Gulf Of Mexico

My girlfriend Anna (AnnaEverywhere.com) and I booked our whale shark tour with Willy’s Tours in Isla Holbox.

Setting off from the dock at 8am, we sped over the Gulf of Mexico for the next 2 hours. Stopping briefly for photos of a pod of playful dolphins!

The boat was covered, which was nice, because that tropical Mexican sun is hot! Eventually we saw other boats gathering in the distance… this was a good sign.

Whale Shark Tours

Swimming with Whale Sharks

Waiting Our Turn

Unfortunately there was only one whale shark that day. But that’s still better than none, which sometimes happens early or late in the season. So a group of 6 boats took turns sending customers into the water.

We sat on the edge with our snorkel gear on, waiting for the signal to jump in. Once you’re in the water, the goal is to kick hard and fast to keep up with the shark. Because if you hesitate, you might miss it.

They swim effortlessly, but are much faster than they look.

You aren’t allowed to touch the whale sharks because it stresses them out, and may cause them to dive deep, ending the experience for everyone. Only 2 people go into the water at a time, along with your guide.

Whale Sharks Underwater

Huge 30 Foot Whale Shark

Swimming With Whale Sharks

Swimming next to a 30 foot long sea creature, the size of a small bus, was a wild experience. It’s a bit intimidating to be honest… they’re huge! It looks like they could swallow you whole…

But the world’s largest fish won’t try to eat you.

It’s just slurping up tasty plankton and expelling excess seawater through its gills. The white-spotted shark kept her eye on us, but didn’t seem to mind our presence.

Normally whale sharks live much deeper in the ocean — only coming up to eat about 46 pounds of those microscopic organisms each day.

How an animal this big can live on something so small is a mystery to me…

Flamingos at Isla Holbox

A Flamboyance of Flamingos!

Sea Turtle Swimming

Snorkeling with Sea Turtles

Flamingos & Sea Turtles Too!

After swimming with the whale shark 3 times, for a few minutes each, it was time to leave it alone and motor off to the next part of the trip.

Our guide prepared fresh ceviche as we sped back to Holbox, on our way to a reef. There we snorkeled for about 30 minutes with sea turtles, manta rays, and a bunch of fish. Including a few barracudas!

We then sailed into a protected bird sanctuary to watch flamingos and other sea birds hanging out in the shallow water, before heading back to the dock.

Snorkeling with Whale Sharks

Great Day on the Water!

Sustainable Tourism

Is swimming with whale sharks ethical? Personally, I believe responsible and sustainable tourism can help these animals survive.

Sharks of all kinds are being wiped out by overfishing. But conservation & awareness projects to save them are often funded by tour permit fees. Without tours, these programs don’t get much funding.

Yet we also need to be careful, and not wreck the animal’s habitat due to unchecked tourism either. There’s no easy answer.

When To Visit

Whale Shark season on the Yucatan Peninsula is from June to September. This is when the sharks migrate to waters around Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Isla Contoy, and Isla Holbox to feed.

But the best months are July & August, when populations are highest.

Sunny days are better than cloudy days too, but not just because you’ll get better photos. The plankton whale sharks feed on only comes up to the surface when the sun is out, so if it’s cloudy, they stay below.

Holbox Dock

Boat Dock in Isla Holbox

Holbox Beach

White Sand Beaches in Holbox

Getting To Holbox

Most tourists base themselves in Cancun. However, if you have the time, I recommend visiting the beautiful sleepy island of Isla Holbox. Voted a top travel destination by the New York Times.

To get to Holbox, you take a ferry from the fishing town of Chiquila, which is a 2 hour drive from Cancun (3 hours from Playa del Carmen). A bus is also possible, but takes a lot longer with all the stops. Hiring a taxi/shuttle can cost $60 – $100+ USD.

Best Places To Stay

We based ourselves from Isla Holbox at hotel Cielito Lindo, 2 blocks from the beach. I enjoy using AirBnB, but there are great hotels and hostels on Holbox too. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels.

Budget

Los Arcos

Mid-Range

Cielito Lindo

Swimming with whale sharks in Mexico was a pretty unique experience, there are only a few places in the world where you can do this.

Witnessing these gentle giants up close really helps you appreciate how small humans are, and how diverse the ocean is. ★

Traveling To Mexico Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

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More Information

Location: Isla Holbox, Mexico
Total Cost: $1100 Pesos ($70 USD)
Official Website: Willy’s Tours Holbox
Useful Notes: The whale shark tour lasts from 8am – 3pm. Normal sunscreen isn’t allowed (to protect the sharks), so make sure to pack some natural stuff if you don’t want to get burned. The sea can be choppy, resulting in seasickness for some people.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Yucatan
Suggested Reading: The Maya: Ancient Peoples & Places

Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico
Whale Shark Snorkeling

READ NEXT: Exploring Mexico’s Secret River

Have any questions about swimming with whale sharks in Mexico? Would you do it? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Rio Secreto: Exploring Mexico’s Underground Rivers & Caves

Rio Secreto Mexico

Rio Secreto Underground River

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Hiking in waist-deep water through dark caves at Rio Secreto, we turned a corner to discover a massive cavern decorated with incredible stalactites all over the ceiling.

Spelunking, or exploring caves, is one of my favorite adventure travel activities. I’ve hiked and crawled through natural underground passageways in South Africa, Guatemala, Iceland, and more.

But Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is teeming with incredible caves too.

There is something exciting about wandering through the darkness, deep into the Earth, not sure what you’ll discover around the next bend.

Visiting Rio Secreto gives you a taste of this rarely-seen and magical world.

We walked through the jungle to one of the cave entrances led by our guide “Ro”, who told us camera traps nearby had recently captured images of wild jaguars that call the area home.

Rio Secreto Mayan Blessing

Traditional Mayan Blessing

The Maya Underworld

Our adventure begins with a sacred Maya cleansing ritual using smoke. A local shaman asks Mayan death gods for permission for us to enter their domain.

The Maya consider these caves scared, a portal to Xibalba (aka “the place of fear”) — the Mayan underworld.

Ancient skeletons, artifacts, and petroglyphs have been discovered in the cenotes and caves that cover the Yucatan Peninsula. Some date back 13,000 years!

Caves like this were often used for human & animal sacrifice, and even today many local Maya keep clear of them.

In 2007 Rio Secreto’s owner decided to allow eco-tours through 10% of the natural reserve, in order to fund conservation for the rest of it.

Cave Entrance

Entrance to the Underworld

Stalactites in a Cave

Amazing Cathedral of Stalactites

Exploring Rio Secreto’s Caves

There are a few different entrances to the caves, covered in vines. Black holes ready to swallow us into the earth. We switch on our headlamps and head into the darkness, not sure what lies ahead.

Rio Secreto is a maze of passageways and dramatic mineral formations. Water drips lightly from the ends of stalactites on the ceiling into the pristine blue pools at our feet. This water has slowly filtered through the porous rock, which is why it’s so clean.

We’re witnessing millions of years of geological history as we hike and swim through different chambers.

The water is cold, but the air is warm with humidity too. We squeeze through narrow cave passages, sometimes with water up to our chests. But there are also massive chambers, large enough to fit a small house inside.

Secret Caves in Mexico

Swimming through Narrow Passages

Underground River Systems

Limestone cave environments like this are very fragile. Rio Secreto has taken great pains to keep the area pristine, without installing concrete paths or tons of cheesy artificial lighting. It’s just you and your headlamp in the darkness.

You have to watch your footing though, as the cave floor constantly changes from wet and slippery to sharp and jagged. It feels like a proper caving adventure!

Our guide occasionally placed a couple of powerful waterproof flashlights into the water, turning it into a giant glowing river of blue light.

This water is part of an intricate network of rivers that flows beneath the Yucatan Peninsula’s hollow limestone shell. It’s actually the 2nd largest underground river system in the world.

Professional cave divers love the area’s many underwater caves. But at Rio Secreto, the water level is shallow — allowing anyone to explore these caves on foot. No need for specialized scuba gear or expensive training.

Yucatan Caves width=

Pristine Underground Rivers

Getting There

Rio Secreto is located a few miles south of Playa del Carmen, off Highway 307 along the Riviera Maya. It’s about an hour south of Cancun, or 40 minutes north of Tulum.

If you have a rental car you can drive there yourself, jump in a local taxi/collectivo van, or arrange for them to pick you up at your hotel.

Rio Secreto Tips & Advice

If you don’t get too claustrophobic and love exploring caves like me, then Mexico’s Rio Secreto is a pretty awesome experience. You are going to get wet. But don’t worry, that’s part of the fun!

Make sure to bring a swimsuit and towel. Rio Secreto provides a wetsuit, water shoes, lifejacket, helmet, and light.

Cameras are not allowed because of the wet & hazardous cave environment. However trained staff can take photos with special equipment, which you can buy at the end of the tour.

Best Places To Stay

The closest town to stay nearby is Playa del Carmen — but Cozumel, Cancun, and Tulum are not too far away either. I’m a big fan of AirBnB, but there are also great hotels and hostels in Playa too. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels.

The limestone cenotes and caves of the Yucatan Peninsula are very unique to this area, you won’t find anything quite like them anywhere else around the world. They’re one of my favorite tourist attractions in Mexico! ★

Traveling To Mexico Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Amazing Rio Secreto in Mexico
Amazing Rio Secreto in Mexico

READ NEXT: Things To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Have any questions about Rio Secreto? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

How To Visit Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor (Safety, Visas, Cost)

Travel in Afghanistan

How to Travel Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor

Afghanistan

In August 2016 I traveled through Afghanistan for two weeks, an American backpacking across the beautiful Pamir mountains in the Wakhan Corridor. This is how I did it.

DISCLAIMER: The US government warns against travel to Afghanistan. Just because I went, does not mean I recommend everyone should go. The safety situation changes on a weekly basis, and requires a good deal of research/planning beforehand.

When I told family & friends I was planning a trip to Afghanistan, they thought I’d lost my mind. Afghanistan, that war-torn middle eastern country full of terrorists, soldiers, car bombs, predator drones, and IEDs.

Why the hell would I want to go there?

Afghanistan has been on my bucket-list for a few years after I met fellow traveler and public speaker Shane Dallas who happened to share his experience with me at a travel industry conference.

I learned that the version of the country most of us see each night on the evening news is simply not the full story…

Parts of Afghanistan can be dangerous, sure, but it’s also full of beauty, hospitality, and history too.

This is the Afghanistan I was on a mission to seek out and share.

Wakhan Corridor

Exploring the Wakhan on Foot

The Wakhan Corridor

Afghanistan’s remote and desolate Wakhan Corridor is called the “roof of the world” by the local people who live there. It’s located in the far North East corner of the country, surrounded on three sides by Tajikistan, Pakistan and China.

The Wakhan is incredibly cut-off from the rest of Afghanistan.

There are no government services, large parts of the region have no roads, and people are basically living on their own in the mountains.

The area is inhabited by two main ethnic groups, the Wakhi and the Kyrgyz. The Wakhi often have two homes, one for winter and one for summer months, made of stone.

The Kyrgyz are more nomadic, living in semi-portable yurt tents made of felt. They move their homes and animals to different valleys depending on the season.

A majority of the population raises livestock for a living. They trade sheep, goats and yaks to merchants from Pakistan or other parts of Afghanistan for clothing, food, and necessities they can’t produce themselves at these remote high-altitude locations they call home.

The Wakhan used to be part of the ancient Silk Road, and explorers Marco Polo and Alexander the Great both passed through this part of Afghanistan on their travels around the world.

Afghanistan Safety

Friendly Faces in Afghanistan

Woman in Blue Burka

Afghan Woman Wearing a Burka

Safety In Afghanistan

Travelers don’t have to worry about the Taliban or Al-Qaeda in the Wakhan. It’s one of the few places in Afghanistan that has remained relatively conflict-free over the years.

The Wakhan is part of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province. While the Taliban does have a presence in parts of Badakhshan, the Wakhan region itself is terrorist-free (for now). The main road leading in is currently controlled by the Afghan Military, who keeps the Taliban out.

Most locals living in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor are Ismaili Muslims, who practice a moderate form of Islam. They despise the Taliban, and generally welcome foreign travelers. It’s become an important part of their economy.

But that doesn’t mean the Wakhan is a tourist hot-spot.

The area sees a total of about 100 tourists every year. This is partly due to the taboo of traveling in a war-torn country, lack of reliable travel information, and remoteness of the region.

Afghanistan Visa for Americans

My Tourist Visa from Afghanistan

How To Get A Visa

There is a very specific process for obtaining a visa to enter Afghanistan’s Wakhan corridor, and it involves a trip to the neighboring country of Tajikistan and a town called Khorog near the border.

But first, you’ll need a double entry visa for Tajikistan. You cannot get a double entry visa on arrival at the airport, so you must apply for one in advance at an official embassy or consulate.

Why? After you travel into Afghanistan through Tajikistan, you’ll need to leave through Tajikistan too. Which counts as a 2nd entry into Tajikistan. But typical visas for Tajikistan are only single entry.

With your double entry Tajik visa, the next step is to travel to the town of Khorog, where it’s possible to apply for an Afghanistan visa at the local consulate. Keep reading to learn more…

Dushanbe Monument

Dushanbe, Tajikistan

Arriving In Dushanbe

Flying into the city of Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, is going to be your first adventure. Tajikistan has a reputation as one of the most corrupt countries in the world — and you’ll soon know why.

Dushanbe airport officials asked me for bribes on 2 separate occasions. If you refuse, they send you to the back of the line, or move you to another line, over and over again until you give up and pay them.

Dushanbe Accommodation:

Twins Hotel | Rohat Hotel | Green House Hostel

I recommend spending at least one night in Dushanbe, but probably more. You’ll need to exchange cash, buy last-minute supplies, and get a local sim card for your phone.

The best cell phone company to use is TCell for cell service in the Pamir Mountains. You’ll even have some service on the Afghanistan side for a while.

There’s a basic outdoor shop in Dushanbe called “BAP3ИШ” where you can buy a knife, stove gas, and other camping supplies you might need in the Wakhan. Nothing high-end, just cheap Chinese made stuff.

Khorog Tajikistan

Khorog from Above

Traveling To Khorog

Khorog is a mountain town in the heart of Tajikistan’s remote GBAO region. To travel in Tajikistan’s GBAO region, you need a GBAO permit.

This can be obtained either when applying for your double entry Tajikistan visa, or in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe at the OVIR office.

Now you must travel to Khorog and apply for the Afghan visa in person.

This requires a rough, dusty, 20 hour long 4×4 taxi journey over the Pamir Highway from Dushanbe.

While there’s also a short flight from Dushanbe to Khorog, it’s not easy to get a ticket and is often canceled due to weather.

Khorog Accommodation:

Mountain River Guest House | Delhi Darbar Hotel | Pamir Lodge

Khorog is a major stop for trekkers/cyclists/motorcyclists who are exploring the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. It’s also the last place you’ll find an ATM, there are 2 or 3 in town. Plan on spending a least a night or two here before heading to Afghanistan.

Khorog Downtown

Downtown Khorog, Tajikistan

Visiting The Afghan Consulate

Khorog is home to a small Afghan consulate that has a reputation for giving out Afghan visas in as little as an hour. As an American, this same-day visa service cost me $200 USD.

Why so much? Because the United States makes it difficult for Afghans to get a visa. So they return the favor with a high visa fee for Americans.

The woman at the consulate was trying her best to persuade me not to visit. Saying the visa is too expensive for Americans, that it won’t be easy to travel there, etc. I assured her I was prepared, and had been planning this trip for years.

At the consulate I had to explain why I wanted to visit Afghanistan (hiking in the Wakhan), and write/sign a letter acknowledging I alone was responsible for myself and my actions in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Border

Afghanistan Border Crossing

Afghanistan Checkpoint

Hanging with Soldiers at a Military Checkpoint

Crossing The Border

With my shiny new Afghan visa in hand, I traveled to the Tajik border town of Ishkashim. It’s a 3 hour drive South of Khorog. One or two shared taxis head to Ishkashim from Khorog each morning.

The desolate Afghanistan border post sits on the right side of the road before you actually reach the town of Ishkashim. Tajikistan border guards have a reputation for requesting bribes, so just be aware.

On the Afghan side of the border, they searched my bags and scanned my passport through the INTERPOL database to ensure I wasn’t a fugitive. After that, I was in! Welcome to Afghanistan.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling nervous standing on Afghan soil.

The border post is a few kilometers away from the nearest Afghan town of Sultan Eshkashim, so unless you want to walk there, an overpriced taxi ride costs $20 for a 10 minute drive.

Ishkashim vs. Sultan Eshkashim: These are two different towns, and it can be confusing. Ishkashim is the border town on the Tajikistan side, Sultan Eshkashim is the border town on the Afghanistan side.
Wakhan Guesthouse

Marco Polo Guesthouse in Sultan Eshkashim

Wakhan Corridor Permission

Hand-Written Wakhan Permit

Eshkashim & Wakhan Permits

Sultan Eshkashim is the entrance to the Wakhan Corridor. Many travelers are happy to just hang out there for a few days to experience a taste of Afghanistan before heading back to Tajikistan.

But if you want to go hiking in the Wakhan, you need to acquire additional permits.

Sultan Eshkashim Accommodation:

Marco Polo Guest House (no website)

While getting these permits on your own is possible, it’s a huge pain in the ass if you don’t speak Persian/Farsi. Instead, I hired an English speaking local to help for about $50.

The permit process involves multiple passport photos, paperwork, plenty of tea, and stops at a few different government, police, and military offices. You’ll have to explain yourself to local officials questioning why you are there, what you do, etc.

The whole ordeal takes 3-4 hours, provided all the offices are even open. They sometimes close down on certain days (Friday/Saturday). I got lucky, but if something is closed you may have to return the next day.

Local officials eventually gave me a hand-written letter granting permission to travel to the next village, where I’d have to request permission again to move on further.

Driving in Afghanistan

Driving in the Wakhan Corridor

Khandud Afghanistan

Ruined Mosque in Khandud

Driving To Sarhad-e Broghil

Now that I had my permits for the Wakhan, it was time to make my way 200 km up the valley in an expensive 4X4 taxi to the village of Sarhad-e Broghil, where the road ends and the true wilderness begins.

I hired a local translator/guide to join me on the trek.

For the next 2 days, Yar Mohammad Attahi helped me navigate additional checkpoints and permit stops as we drove into the mountains, while giving me the opportunity to actually communicate with locals.

The 4X4 journey to Sarhad navigates some of the roughest roads I’ve ever seen. Over boulder fields, into rivers, along the edge of cliffs, and through deep desert sand.

Our beat-up Toyota van was equipped with crappy shocks, broken windows, and was repeatedly crippled by flat tires (5 times). It was one wild ride!

But because so few cars travel out here, and the route is unforgiving to vehicles, the price of this “taxi” journey is high — $350 one way.

Once we made it to Sarhad-e Broghil, Yar and I spent the night at a guesthouse. The next day we began our 100 mile trek across the towering, snow-capped Pamir Mountains.

Tent in the Pamir Mountains

Camping in Afghanistan

Crossing a River in the Pamirs

Hiking in the Wakhan

Hiking In The Wakhan

While I’ll go into more detail about the trek itself in future articles, I just wanted to share some logistics here. I found my guide/translator Yar in the Afghan border town of Sultan Eshkashim.

At the end of the road in Sarhad, we hired a pack horse accompanied by its owner Panshambe to help carry our food & gear for the next 10 days of hiking.

The three of us were completely on our own in the wilderness after Sarhad. Only passing through tiny Wakhi or Kyrgyz communities made up of a few stone huts and yurts. No markets, no doctors, no roads.

I’d brought a camping stove and enough freeze-dried meals for 12 days, along with energy bars and trail mix for snacks. My companions packed rice, tea, and bread for themselves. Over the course of the trip we mixed and shared our supplies with each other.

Unless you bring your own trekking food, your options are going to be limited. Canned fish, beans, rice, and sugar are available to buy in Sultan Eshkashim. But that’s about it. You can sometimes buy flatbread from locals in the mountains.

The 10 day trek maintained altitudes between 12,000 and 16,000 feet. The trails themselves weren’t terribly difficult, as they are used by locals on a daily basis, but it’s the altitude and the dramatic weather that can mess you up.

Some of the trails were perched on the edge of 300 foot drops, and when it snowed (yes, in August), these became much more dangerous. There were many river crossings, but nothing deeper than your knee.

We hiked a loop from Sarhad to Chaqmaqtin Lake, starting on the “high” route through the 16,000 ft. Garumdee Pass, returning on the “low” river route back to Sarhad. You can read more about these trekking routes here.

How Much Did It Cost?

I spent 2 weeks in Afghanistan, with 10 days of those trekking. It cost me about $1800 USD. That doesn’t include 1 week spent in neighboring Tajikistan before and after the trip. Because just getting to the border of Afghanistan is a separate adventure that takes 2-3 days!

To keep things simple, prices are in US Dollars.

Tajikistan Costs

Double Entry Tajikistan Visa: $55 USD
GBAO Permit: $4-$20 USD
Dushanbe Hotel: $10-$80 USD per night (x 2)
4X4 Taxi to Khorog: $38 USD (x 2)
Khorog Hotel: $20-$50 USD per night (x 2)
Taxi to Ishkashim: $9 USD (x 2)

Afghanistan Costs

Afghanistan Visa: $200 USD (cheaper if you’re not American)
Taxi to Eshkashim: $20 (x 2)
Guest House: $10-$25 USD per night (x 8)
Wakhan Permits: $50 USD
4×4 Taxi: $350 USD one way (x 2)
Pack Animal: $20 USD per day (x 10)
Guide/Translator: $30 USD per day (x 14)
Camping: Free

I’d say you want to budget at least $2500 USD and 3 weeks for a similar trip, not including flights. Stuff goes wrong, delays happen, prices change, and credit/ATM cards are useless once you’re in Afghanistan.

It’s a tough place to travel in that respect. You need to plan at least a few buffer days, and bring plenty of extra cash for unexpected situations.

Wakhan Hiking Guides

My Horseman (Panshambe) and Guide (Yar Attahi)

Warnings

Afghanistan is still a very volatile country. While the Wakhan Corridor itself is pretty safe, a foreigner did disappear there recently, and other parts of the province have seen kidnappings and Taliban attacks.

Just because it felt safe when I was there does not mean it always will be.

Also, it’s important for me to point out that the Afghanistan/Tajikistan border sometimes closes without warning. Usually because of Cholera outbreaks, sometimes just because of bureaucratic arguments.

If it closes when you’re on the Afghan side, you’ll be stuck there until it opens again. Which could be a few days, or a few weeks. You need to be prepared for that possibility.

Traveling overland to Kabul from the Wakhan is not a safe option at the moment.

Helpfull Websites About The Wakhan

Other Areas Of Afghanistan

Wakhan Corridor Guide

If you’re planning a trip to the Wakhan, I highly recommend Yar Mohammad Attahi as a guide and translator. Tell him I sent you!

More From Afghanistan

This was just a brief overview of the logistics for traveling in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. I’ll be sharing much more about the incredible trek itself in future articles.

If you’d like a notification when I publish something new about Afghanistan, make sure to sign up for my newsletter here. ★

READ NEXT: Should You Go To School Or Travel?

Have any questions about Afghanistan? Would you ever consider traveling there? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Road Tripping Dartmoor National Park

Dartmoor National Park

Exploring Dartmoor in the Vauxhall Mokka X

United Kingdom

Petting a wild pony in Dartmoor National Park probably wasn’t the best idea. It lunged for my hand, attempting to bite. There’s a reason these furry ponies are called “wild!”

Dartmoor has sometimes been described as the ‘last wilderness’ of the United Kingdom. Its vast open landscape is home to a variety of unique features — wet peaty bogs, stunted oak forests, rocky outcroppings called “tors”, and icy mountain waterfalls.

If you’re looking to escape London for a while, Dartmoor National Park is an excellent place to relax and enjoy the serenity of nature. The park is only a 4-5 hour drive away from the hustle & bustle of the city.

My friends at Vauxhall loaned me their new Mokka X SUV for the trip, a fun city-friendly turbo diesel with 4×4 capability that can handle off-the-beaten-path adventures.

Dartmoor Ponies at Haytor

Wild Dartmoor Ponies

Sunset at Saddle Tor

Lone Hawthorne Tree at Sunset

Exploring Dartmoor In Autumn

Autumn in Dartmoor is a beautiful time to visit. Sure, it’s a bit colder then normal, but the ground and trees are rich in color. A mix of burnt reds, yellows, and greens. There are less people on the roads too.

The narrow lanes in Dartmoor are a lot of fun to drive, if not a bit scary.

Winding asphalt hugs the hills & valleys, passing through small villages from time to time. Some of the smaller roads are single lane, causing trouble when two people approach from opposite directions.

The area is covered with small stone bridges too. Some of them, called “clapper” bridges, date back to the 1300’s. You can’t drive on the clappers, but they’re a wonderful piece of British history.

Emsworthy Farm

Emsworthy Farm

Waterfalls in Dartmoor

Beautiful Venford Falls

Legends Of Dartmoor

Humans have been living on Dartmoor for at least 12,000 years, so there is a ton of history here. Which means there are plenty of legends and myths too. Here are some of my favorite…

Spectral Hounds: Roaming the misty mires and barren hills of Dartmoor at night, abnormally large and ghostly black dogs patrol the region, and you don’t want to be around to meet them…

Pixies: Small mythical creatures with pointed ears who live in caves, around stone circles, and cause mischief. Similar to fairies and sprites, but a different race.

Headless Horseman: Multiple tales of a headless horseman riding fast over narrow lanes after dark, sometimes accompanied by a pack of spectral hounds.

The Devil’s Visit: Back in 1638, the Devil visited St. Pancras Church in the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Lightning struck its tower, killing 4 people inside during Sunday mass.

Vauxhall Apple Car Play

Apple Car Play is Great for Road Trips!

Vauxhall Destination Download

Destination Download with OnStar

The Vauxhall Mokka X

Traveling from London out to the wilds of Dartmoor, the Vauxhall Mokka X was a perfect road trip companion during my drive. It’s full of features that make long road trips through unfamiliar territory an absolute pleasure.

Apple Car Play

The ability to connect the car’s touchscreen to my phone, and control my apps is super handy. I listened to my Spotify playlists, loaded previously saved navigation routes, and could make calls with ease. You can even access the power of Siri by pressing a button on your steering wheel!

Destination Download

With OnStar activated in the Mokka X, you can press the OnStar button to call an operator and ask for directions, which will then be uploaded into your car’s navigation system automatically. So nice! It’s like having a personal assistant for your drive.

4×4 All Wheel Drive

The compact size of the Mokka X makes it great for city driving, but with good clearance and 4×4 electronic all wheel drive capability, you can easily navigate winter roads, steep rocky inclines, or muddy off-road tracks in the countryside when you need more traction.

Remote Unlock

Vauxhall has it’s own smartphone app, called My Vauxhall, which gives you all kinds of power over your Mokka X. For example, you can lock or unlock the vehicle from further away then your key fob allows, check tire pressure or fuel level, plus much more.

Haytor Rocks in Dartmoor

Haytor Rocks

Climbing in Dartmoor

Climbing the Granite at Haytor

Hiking Around Haytor

Dartmoor National Park is covered in “tors”, exposed granite rock outcrops sitting on the summit of hills in the region. There are hundreds of these, some of them are pretty impressive.

Many can be climbed, either by scrambling, or rock proper climbing with ropes. One of the most famous is called Haytor.

Hill walking through the moors is a popular activity in Dartmoor, and you can find short or long-distance trails all over the place.

Many take you from tor to tor, passing by old farms, ancient stone circles, or ruined Bronze-age villages along the way.

Mokka X Off Road

Exploring Off-Road with the Mokka X

Sheep in Dartmoor

So Many Sheep!

Dartmoor Ponies

Dartmoor has its own special breed of horses, called the Dartmoor Pony. These hardy ponies have been living on the moor for millennia — there’s evidence of them from 3,500 years ago.

They reminded me a lot of Icelandic ponies, with thick fur, long manes, and short powerful bodies. The harsh winter weather on Dartmoor can be similar to Iceland too.

While the Dartmoor ponies are collectively owned by locals, they roam free throughout the national park, and are not handled by humans. So be careful if you approach, there’s the possibility of getting bitten or kicked.

Yes these ponies are super cute, but they are still wild!

Dartmoor Pony Group

Herd of Dartmoor Ponies

Driving Dartmoor National Park

Driving Dartmoor National Park

Tips For Visiting Dartmoor

There are a handful of villages within the park with decent accommodation like Postbridge and Two Bridges. I spent 3 nights at the Two Bridges Hotel, a wonderful old building on the side of a river. They have an excellent restaurant too.

Some people decide to stay outside the park in the towns of Tavistock or Bovey Tracey. Summer is the most popular time to visit, but I had a great time enjoying the fall colors of early November.

You can embark on all kinds of different outdoor activities in Dartmoor — hiking tors, horseback riding, cycling, rock climbing, even whitewater kayaking is popular here. Wild camping is allowed in certain areas of the park, you can find a map here.

Driving to Dartmoor from London was a fun little weekend road trip getaway. It was nice to discover a slice of rural life in the United Kingdom that I hadn’t experienced before. ★

Tips for traveling to Dartmoor National Park
Tips for traveling to Dartmoor National Park

Watch Video: Dartmoor National Park


Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for new Adventure Travel Videos!

(Click to watch Driving Dartmoor – United Kingdom on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Dartmoor National Park, United Kingdom
Official Website: Dartmoor National Park
Accommodation: Two Bridges Hotel
Car Details: Vauxhall Mokka X
Useful Notes: I spent 4 days and 3 nights in Dartmoor, basing myself in the town of Two Bridges. In the fall, there aren’t many shops or restaurants open in the park. So pack some extra supplies.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Great Britain
Suggested Reading: Hound Of The Baskervilles

READ NEXT: Should You Go To School Or Travel?

Have any questions about Dartmoor? Do you think the ponies are cute? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Vauxhall

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Driving Dartmoor National Park With The Vauxhall Mokka X

Dartmoor National Park

Exploring Dartmoor in the Vauxhall Mokka X

United Kingdom

Petting a wild pony in Dartmoor National Park probably wasn’t the best idea. It lunged for my hand, attempting to bite. There’s a reason these furry ponies are called “wild!”

Dartmoor has sometimes been described as the ‘last wilderness’ of the United Kingdom. Its vast open landscape is home to a variety of unique features — wet peaty bogs, stunted oak forests, rocky outcroppings called “tors”, and icy mountain waterfalls.

If you’re looking to escape London for a while, Dartmoor National Park is an excellent place to relax and enjoy the serenity of nature. The park is only a 4-5 hour drive away from the hustle & bustle of the city.

My friends at Vauxhall loaned me their new Mokka X SUV for the trip, a fun city-friendly turbo diesel with 4×4 capability that can handle off-the-beaten-path adventures.

Dartmoor Ponies at Haytor

Wild Dartmoor Ponies

Sunset at Saddle Tor

Lone Hawthorne Tree at Sunset

Exploring Dartmoor In Autumn

Autumn in Dartmoor is a beautiful time to visit. Sure, it’s a bit colder then normal, but the ground and trees are rich in color. A mix of burnt reds, yellows, and greens. There are less people on the roads too.

The narrow lanes in Dartmoor are a lot of fun to drive, if not a bit scary.

Winding asphalt hugs the hills & valleys, passing through small villages from time to time. Some of the smaller roads are single lane, causing trouble when two people approach from opposite directions.

The area is covered with small stone bridges too. Some of them, called “clapper” bridges, date back to the 1300’s. You can’t drive on the clappers, but they’re a wonderful piece of British history.

Emsworthy Farm

Emsworthy Farm

Waterfalls in Dartmoor

Beautiful Venford Falls

Legends Of Dartmoor

Humans have been living on Dartmoor for at least 12,000 years, so there is a ton of history here. Which means there are plenty of legends and myths too. Here are some of my favorite…

Spectral Hounds: Roaming the misty mires and barren hills of Dartmoor at night, abnormally large and ghostly black dogs patrol the region, and you don’t want to be around to meet them…

Pixies: Small mythical creatures with pointed ears who live in caves, around stone circles, and cause mischief. Similar to fairies and sprites, but a different race.

Headless Horseman: Multiple tales of a headless horseman riding fast over narrow lanes after dark, sometimes accompanied by a pack of spectral hounds.

The Devil’s Visit: Back in 1638, the Devil visited St. Pancras Church in the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Lightning struck its tower, killing 4 people inside during Sunday mass.

Vauxhall Apple Car Play

Apple Car Play is Great for Road Trips!

Vauxhall Destination Download

Destination Download with OnStar

The Vauxhall Mokka X

Traveling from London out to the wilds of Dartmoor, the Vauxhall Mokka X was a perfect road trip companion during my drive. It’s full of features that make long road trips through unfamiliar territory an absolute pleasure.

Apple Car Play

The ability to connect the car’s touchscreen to my phone, and control my apps is super handy. I listened to my Spotify playlists, loaded previously saved navigation routes, and could make calls with ease. You can even access the power of Siri by pressing a button on your steering wheel!

Destination Download

With OnStar activated in the Mokka X, you can press the OnStar button to call an operator and ask for directions, which will then be uploaded into your car’s navigation system automatically. So nice! It’s like having a personal assistant for your drive.

4×4 All Wheel Drive

The compact size of the Mokka X makes it great for city driving, but with good clearance and 4×4 electronic all wheel drive capability, you can easily navigate winter roads, steep rocky inclines, or muddy off-road tracks in the countryside when you need more traction.

Remote Unlock

Vauxhall has it’s own smartphone app, called My Vauxhall, which gives you all kinds of power over your Mokka X. For example, you can lock or unlock the vehicle from further away then your key fob allows, check tire pressure or fuel level, plus much more.

Haytor Rocks in Dartmoor

Haytor Rocks

Climbing in Dartmoor

Climbing the Granite at Haytor

Hiking Around Haytor

Dartmoor National Park is covered in “tors”, exposed granite rock outcrops sitting on the summit of hills in the region. There are hundreds of these, some of them are pretty impressive.

Many can be climbed, either by scrambling, or rock proper climbing with ropes. One of the most famous is called Haytor.

Hill walking through the moors is a popular activity in Dartmoor, and you can find short or long-distance trails all over the place.

Many take you from tor to tor, passing by old farms, ancient stone circles, or ruined Bronze-age villages along the way.

Mokka X Off Road

Exploring Off-Road with the Mokka X

Sheep in Dartmoor

So Many Sheep!

Dartmoor Ponies

Dartmoor has its own special breed of horses, called the Dartmoor Pony. These hardy ponies have been living on the moor for millennia — there’s evidence of them from 3,500 years ago.

They reminded me a lot of Icelandic ponies, with thick fur, long manes, and short powerful bodies. The harsh winter weather on Dartmoor can be similar to Iceland too.

While the Dartmoor ponies are collectively owned by locals, they roam free throughout the national park, and are not handled by humans. So be careful if you approach, there’s the possibility of getting bitten or kicked.

Yes these ponies are super cute, but they are still wild!

Dartmoor Pony Group

Herd of Dartmoor Ponies

Driving Dartmoor National Park

Driving Dartmoor National Park

Tips For Visiting Dartmoor

There are a handful of villages within the park with decent accommodation like Postbridge and Two Bridges. I spent 3 nights at the Two Bridges Hotel, a wonderful old building on the side of a river. They have an excellent restaurant too.

Some people decide to stay outside the park in the towns of Tavistock or Bovey Tracey. Summer is the most popular time to visit, but I had a great time enjoying the fall colors of early November.

You can embark on all kinds of different outdoor activities in Dartmoor — hiking tors, horseback riding, cycling, rock climbing, even whitewater kayaking is popular here. Wild camping is allowed in certain areas of the park, you can find a map here.

Driving to Dartmoor from London was a fun little weekend road trip getaway. It was nice to discover a slice of rural life in the United Kingdom that I hadn’t experienced before. ★

Tips for traveling to Dartmoor National Park
Tips for traveling to Dartmoor National Park

Watch Video: Dartmoor National Park

(Click to watch Driving Dartmoor – United Kingdom on YouTube)

READ NEXT: Should You Go To School Or Travel?

Have any questions about Dartmoor? Do you think the ponies are cute? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Best Travel Gift Ideas For Men & Women In 2016

Best Travel Gifts for Travelers

Best Travel Gifts in 2016

Travel Tips

Looking for the perfect gift for that traveler in your life? It’s not always easy! Here are my top recommendations for the best travel gifts for those with a case of wanderlust.

Skip the moneybelt this year, and buy something that your favorite intrepid globe-trotter will actually love to use.

These travel gifts can help make any journey more comfortable and convenient. As a professional traveler for the past 6 years, I’ve become especially careful about what I pack on my trips around the world.

After all, there’s only so much room in your bag! I only pack travel gadgets that have multiple uses, don’t take up to much space, and improve my international travel experience.

So here are some of my best gift ideas for travelers that are guaranteed to put a smile on the recipient’s face!

Best Travel Gifts For Everyone

Filtered Water Bottle

LifeStraw Filtered Bottle

A must-have for international travel to keep yourself safe from sickness. The LifeStraw Filtered Water Bottle cleans up 99.9% of waterborne parasites & bacteria from water sources in countries where water quality can be an issue.

The 2nd stage activated carbon filter reduces odor, chlorine and leaves zero aftertaste too. I also use mine for hiking and camping in the wilderness! They have a minimalist version, for people who want to use their own container. Filters 1000 liters of water for long life.

Travel Duffel Bag

Foldable Duffel Bag

Have you ever found yourself in a situation when your bag was too heavy to check on a plane? I have. That’s why these days I carry a packable duffel bag as a backup. But that’s not its only use!

You can use it as a beach bag, a laundry bag, and a grocery bag too. I also use it when I’m hiking & camping abroad, to store extra gear/clothing at a hotel or hostel until I return from the journey.

Travel Headphones

SoundMagic E10 Headphones

I listen to a lot of music, and recently discovered incredible headphones that sound like they should cost 3x more. Whether you’re watching movies on flights, listing to podcasts, or relaxing with tropical tunes at the beach, SoundMagic’s E10 Headphones are truly “magic”.

The bass is excellent but not over-the-top, while the mids and highs make it feel like you’re listening to a live show! Plus the cord isn’t too long (I hate long cords) and it comes with a great little carrying case.

Portable Travel Charger

Anker Powercore

We all use our smartphones, cameras, and other portable gadgets a lot. There’s nothing worse then running low on power when you need it the most. For travelers, this can be an extra headache if your ticket confirmations, directions, or translation app lives on your phone.

The Anker PowerCore 10,000 is about the size of a credit card (just thicker) and can fully charge your smartphone up to 3 times! It has smart quick-charge technology, and is the smallest & most powerful power bank in its class. I also use mine to recharge cameras, my Kindle, and more.

Portable Travel Neck Pillow

Trtl Travel Pillow

Neck pillows are one of the most popular items to pack for long-haul flights. But not everyone likes the standard, bulky U-shaped travel pillow. The Trtl Travel Pillow is super small, easy to pack, and holds your neck in a comfortable ergonomic position for sleeping.

I never fly without mine! It works like a soft, comfortable neck-brace. However if you’re looking for something more fun & quirky, check out this hilarious giant shrimp neck pillow. Yes, it looks like a giant shrimp. LOL!

Bluetooth Speaker

Sony Bluetooth Speaker

I love this thing! The Sony Bluetooth Speaker makes it easy to watch movies with other people on your laptop when traveling, throw an impromptu hostel party, or play your favorite songs on the beach.

There are a lot of bluetooth speakers on the market, and I’ve tried many of them. The Sony simply has the best sound quality for its size, and the battery lasts up to 12 hours! The only downside is it isn’t waterproof, but I don’t physically sit in the ocean when I’m listening to it either…

LifeProof Case for Travel

LifeProof Smartphone Case

I’m sure we’ve all dropped our phone before, or had to replace one. Those expensive smartphones aren’t invincible – they can break if you’re not careful. This is when a protective case comes in handy.

I’ve been using a LifeProof FRE for over 2 years now. These cases are waterproof, dirt-proof, and drop-proof — so your iPhone or Android is protected from anything a wild life of travel might throw at you.

Travel Hammock

ENO Travel Hammock

A hammock is a great gift for travelers and backpackers. String it up in the woods or on the beach to relax and enjoy the view. I’ve even used my hammock on boats, between palm trees for beach naps, or as a comfortable swinging seat after a long hike.

The ENO DoubleNest Hammock is extremely strong, lightweight, and easy to pack, perfect for people who don’t want to waste space in their travel bag. Designed to hold up to 400 lbs, you’ll always have a place to sleep.

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle

The Amazon Kindle probably doesn’t need an introduction. It’s the ideal gift for a bookworm, or even those who like to read occasionally. Travelers like me love it due to its small size and long battery life.

The “paperwhite” version allows you to easily read in the dark, plus there’s no glare from the sun when reading on a beach (unlike trying to read on your phone). You can fit thousands of books on it — a library in your hands. Excellent for flights and long bus rides.

Desk Globe Travel Gift

Antique Ocean Desk Globe

Maybe not be something you actually bring with you traveling, a fun desk globe is the perfect accessory to show off inside the home of a travel addict. The Antique Ocean Desk Globe is a quirky conversation piece and wanderlust-inspiring planning tool for your next travel adventure.

Your favorite traveler can day-dream about exploring Africa, South America, Central Asia, or any other destination from the comfort of their desk at work or at home. I’m planning new adventures looking at this thing right now!

Best Travel Gifts For Women

Ok, I admit I don’t personally own these travel gifts for women. However after consulting my traveling girlfriend Anna Everywhere, she assures me these are some of the most popular products for women who travel!

Travel Jewelry Box Gift

Portable Jewelry Box

Storing a few jewelry items when you travel can be a pain. Especially when it comes to earrings, many women complain about them breaking in their luggage. This pretty little Travel Jewelry Box from Vlando is perfect for your next journey.

Keep delicate and expensive jewelry items safe and secure in one place. It has room for earrings, rings, necklaces, and even bracelets. A super simple and compact design.

Diva Cup Travel Gift

The Diva Cup

The Diva Cup is a reusable, bell-shaped menstrual cup that is worn internally to collect menstrual flow, rather than absorb it. Apparently women love this thing for travel.

It’s leak-free, comfortable, and convenient for travelers on their periods. Women don’t have to worry about running out of pads or tampons, or remembering to pack enough on vacation.

Travel Garment Organizer

TUO Origami Unicorn

TUO stands for Travel Undergarment Organizer. It’s purpose is to store anything travel-related, like socks and panties, electronics and jewelry, or other loose items that women find necessary when they travel.

Staying organized when you’re off galavanting around the world is so much easier using this fun little bag. You can hang it from towel racks or doors and unfold for full access to your stuff in hotels or bathrooms.

Travel Fabric Steamer

Travel Garment Steamer

Clothes can get mushed & wrinkled in a suitcase. A backpack is even worse! If you want perfectly ironed clothes, without a necessity of carrying a huge iron, a portable travel steamer is a great solution.

The URPOWER Garment Steamer removes unwanted wrinkles from your whole travel wardrobe if necessary. It’s compact and lightweight for easy packing in luggage when you travel.

Travel Door Stop

Security Door Stop Alarm

If you travel alone and worry about safety, get a security door stop. The GE Security Door Stop Alarm requires no wires or complicated installation, powered by a single nine-volt battery.

Place the door-stop under your door before going to bed, and if someone tries to enter your hotel or guesthouse room during the night, this device blocks the door from opening. It also wakes you (and everyone else) up, scaring off the intruder with a crazy loud 120db alarm!

Best Travel Gifts For Men

Some of my favorite travel gifts that are frequently bought by men. But please don’t assume that these gifts are ONLY for men. I’m sure women would love them too!

Travel Cologne

O’Douds Solid Cologne

O’Douds Solid Cologne is an excellent product for men who want to smell nice while they’re traveling. Because it’s not a liquid, you can easily pack it carry-on too. Liquid cologne is packaged in large glass bottles, not exactly travel-friendly. Not this one!

The scent is crisp, musky, and masculine. Very strong stuff, a little dab will go a long way. Easily lasts all day. Smells better on you than in the tin — you need to give it a try.

Travel Dominoes Gift

Travel Dominoes Set

Playing cards might be the most popular game for travel, but why not change it up a bit to dominoes? Walnut Studiolo Travel Dominoes are perfect for those travelers who get easily bored or want to make some new friends while abroad.

Dominoes is a popular game around the world, and they’re easy to learn too. Play while waiting at the airport, in a backpacker hostel, or head to a public park and challenge a local. This set is especially small & packable, but made of high-quality wood.

2am Principle

2am Principle: Discover The Science Of Adventure

The 2am Principle: Discover The Science Of Adventure is a an excellent read about how to seize the day, using science to create fun adventures without ending up in the hospital.

Learn how to find deeper experiences as you travel, connect with people, and mitigate risk to produce life-long memories at home or abroad. A handbook for pushing through your comfort zone, backed by behavioral science.

Leatherman Multi-Tool Travel Gift

Leatherman Wave

A good set of tools is always useful when you travel, but it’s not realistic to pack a whole tool box. The Leatherman Wave is the next best thing. Perfect for any job, adventure, or everyday task.

It includes 17 common tools, crammed into simple compact package that can be opened and operated easily. Never be without a sharp knife, pliers, bottle opener, screwdriver, or scissors again! There’s also a smaller version called the Leatherman Squirt.

Toiletry Bag for Men

Leather Toiletry Kit

Every man needs a good toiletry bag for their adventures around the world. This Veneto Leather Toiletry Kit is made with rich antique bridle leather. It’s durable and waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about wet surfaces in hostel/hotel bathrooms.

The leather bag gives you plenty of room to pack everything the traveling man would need, plus gives you a little style bonus over a cheaper plastic toiletry kit. This is how I pack enough shaving cream to keep my head so shiny and clean!

Best Travel Photography Gifts

Do you know a traveling photographer? Check out some of these great travel photography gifts that will help them craft the perfect postcard photo during their next trip.

Joby Travel Tripod

Camera Travel Tripod

Whether you want to take photos of yourself when traveling solo, or capture the magic of the northern lights, a tripod is a necessary tool. The Joby GorillaPod Focus is small enough to take anywhere and strong enough to hold larger cameras too.

It’s easily attached to different objects, so you can shoot photos from the side of a balcony or hanging off a tree. I’ll sometimes sneak it into “tripod restricted” areas like some cathedrals, monuments, or other attractions. It fits into a daypack easily.

Small Camera Bag

Domke Camera Bag

What I love most about Domke Camera Bags is the minimal padding they have. Most companies go overboard with heavy padding, but not Domke. The tough waxed canvas is super durable, protects against light rain, and still has a classic “travel reporter” look.

It’s the perfect size for holding a mirrorless camera, 2nd lens, and a few accessories. There’s a thick belt-loop too, for carrying it fanny-pack style, or even attaching it to a larger backpack’s waist belt when hiking outdoors.

GoPro Session Travel Camera

GoPro Hero 5 Session

Adventure travelers love GoPro action cameras for good reasons. They’re small, bomb-proof, and easy to use. The new GoPro Hero 5 Session has a voice controller so you don’t have to mess around with buttons to shoot footage or take selfies.

Just tell it what you want it to do from a distance! Waterproof up to 30 feet, the Hero 5 also includes digital stabilization for smooth shots. Great little camera for biking, hiking, swimming, snorkeling, surfing, snowboarding, and more.

Camera Clip

Peak Design Camera Clip

One of my favorite pieces of camera gear, the Peak Design Camera Clip allows you to wear your camera on your belt, keeping your hands free for other tasks when not shooting photos. Fits into most tripod heads too! No need to remove it.

Clipping in and out of the device is incredibly quick and easy. You can even run with your camera strapped to your belt wearing this thing. Never miss another shot due to messing around with a camera bag. It’s a fantastic accessory for those who often go hiking with their camera.

Camera Lens Pen

Camera Lens Pen

Nothing is more annoying than a dirty lens when you’re trying to capture beautiful photos. A Camera Lens Pen is a dedicated cleaning solution for your camera lens, keeping travel shots crisp and in focus.

Smudges on a lens can distort light sources, create glare, and ruin shots. This is one of those products you can never have enough of. Small and easy to carry, it’s always good to have a few lying around.

Happy Holidays!

Well, that’s it for the best travel gifts of 2016. I hope you found some unique gift ideas for the traveler in your life.

I actually use most of this stuff regularly on my travels around the world! Well, maybe not the Diva Cup… haha. Happy Christmas shopping, and happy travels!

READ NEXT: My Favorite GoPro Accessories

Have any questions about these travel gifts? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Practical Advice For Students Who Dream Of Traveling

travel advice for students

Travel Advice for Students

Travel Tips

World travel is possible at any age. However the best time to travel is when you’re young. Here are some tips for students who want to start traveling as soon as possible.

The other day I received an email from a young reader. Like many high-school and college students who reach out to me, she was asking for advice about how and when to start traveling.

Here’s her message (shared with permission):

“My name is Almaries, I’m 19 years old from Puerto Rico. I have a dream but I don’t know where to start. I want to explore every corner of the Earth. I want to travel, live adventurously, be nomadic. I know there are ways to save money, but how much is enough? When is the perfect time? Do I need to get my university degree or could I just start tomorrow?”

She’s not alone. I receive a few of these messages each week, which tells me that many of you have similar questions. Hence this article.

It’s not something I’ve been able to answer well in a simple email.

For high-school and college students, thinking about the future can be confusing. I remember what it was like. Society is telling you to get a degree, get a career, get married, pump out some kids, then retire.

Some of us just aren’t ready for those milestones right now.

So today I wanted to share some travel advice for students who would like to travel more, but don’t know where to begin.

Student Travel Advice

Me at 19 years old, with hair!

My Personal Experience

I didn’t start traveling around the world until I was 29 years old. It wasn’t until I was well out of college and working in the real world that I became interested in the budget backpacking lifestyle.

However 11 years earlier, when I graduated high-school, I packed up and drove across the country from New Hampshire to Montana and became a ski-bum for a year.

I told my parents it was to claim residence and take advantage of cheap in-state tuition before starting college… but really, I just wanted some time off after the previous 13 years of school!

It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

My “year off” was both difficult and rewarding. Working multiple jobs (cooking, roofing, landscaping), playing in my free time (snowboarding, hiking, parties) and learning how to be a responsible adult.

When it was over, I enrolled in college the next year with in-state tuition feeling focused and ready to learn.

Travel During School

Should You Go To School?

I’m not comfortable answering this question. I don’t know you. I don’t know your background. These kinds of decisions are extremely personal. What works for one person might not work for someone else.

However I can share my personal experience and a few suggestions.

If someone else is paying for your education, then yes I think you should go to school. Don’t waste that opportunity. You can always travel after school like I did. Or even during, which I’ll explain more a bit later.

If you don’t know what you want to do with your life, and must finance your own education, I don’t think paying for school just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” will help. You’ll probably end up in debt with a degree in something you don’t enjoy.

Maybe take a year off. Figure some shit out. Travel. You can always enroll in school next year. Or look into other forms of education, there are plenty of free options available.

In my opinion, going to college with no direction is a waste of money. The US education system is far too expensive and screwed up these days. A university degree no longer guarantees a good job.

Travel While You’re Young

I’m glad I went to college. I had fun, learned a lot about business, and I firmly believe it’s one of the reasons my travel blog has become so successful over the years. Business & marketing skills I learned in school.

But I’m also happy I took a year off before starting college. While I didn’t use my year-off to travel around the world, looking back I wish I had.

All of us dream of traveling extensively one day, but sadly many people can’t drum up the courage or drive to attempt it. We procrastinate and make excuses because it’s easier. For me, I thought international travel was too expensive. Of course now I know that’s not the case.

The best time to travel the world is now, not later. Even if you are currently a student. Travel now, while you’re young, fit, healthy, and comfortable with a lower standard of living — willing to backpack on a budget.

Because it only gets MORE complicated in the future, not less.

OK, you may also be broke, unemployed, and secretly reluctant to give up the security of familiar surroundings, but don’t let these fears ruin your dreams. Think of them as challenges to overcome.

Follow these guidelines if you want to start traveling sooner.

Traveling in Hostels

Start Saving Money

As a student, it’s a lot easier to travel on a budget than when you’re older. Young people are generally more comfortable traveling cheaply and open to things like sleeping in hostels, eating street food, etc.

However you can’t count on winning the lottery to pay for your trip, so that means you need to tighten your belt. Take an extra evening job. Work over the weekends. Move into a cheaper apartment, or even back home.

Cook your own meals instead of eating out. Stop spending money on alcohol/cigarettes/coffee/video games/iPhones. Sell your car. Use public transportation.

Saving money isn’t rocket-science, but it’s going to take sacrifice!

How much should you save? That depends on your travel plans. In cheaper destinations like Asia, it’s possible to get by on $30 per day. I recommend aiming to save $1000-$2000 per month of planned travel.

So if you want to travel for 6 months in countries that cost an average of $50 per day, you’ll need to save $9000. Plus enough for a plane ticket home, travel insurance, and other miscellaneous expenses.

Enroll In Classes

Are you in school right now? One of the benefits of being a student is that you have access to professionals that can help on your path towards a life of travel. So if you aren’t quite ready to take off around the world, you can start preparing for the future.

For example, learn a new language. It’s not necessary to learn the languages of every country you visit, but your travel experiences are far more rewarding when you’re able to speak the native tongue.

How about signing up for courses on photography, videography, writing, graphic design, computer programming, social media, online business, or tourism marketing? You can enroll through the school, or learn using online courses, podcasts, and video tutorials.

You never know, you could stumble upon your dream career this way. Start learning skills that can help you make your travel dreams come true.

Read Books

Education by other means is a viable step you can take right now if you would like to travel more in the future. Even if you’re busy with high-school or college, everyone can still find time to read!

Read books about budget travel. Read books about online entrepreneurship. Read books about marketing. Read books about writing. Read books about saving money.

Here are some of my top recommendations:

Working Holidays

Are you currently in school but want to travel over the summer? Did you just graduate but are low on funds? Why not consider a working holiday visa, which lets you visit a foreign country and work for a few months.

There are plenty of opportunities for students to work abroad doing things like sheering sheep, picking grapes, teaching kids to ski, working as a bartender, teaching English, or starting a corporate internship.

Popular destinations for working holidays include Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, Ireland, and Singapore. The travel & international work experience from a working holiday can help boost the power of your resume to future employers too!

Working Holiday Application Information:

Study Abroad

Most universities offer an option to work or study abroad and gain valuable experience as part of your degree. It’s a wonderful way to start traveling, arranged and approved by your school.

Study Abroad programs offer the chance to study in a new country, often in English, although you’ll certainly pick up some of the local language just by living in a new culture and surroundings too.

These programs provide a crash-course in self-confidence and self-reliance within a structured study environment, and you may even be eligible for scholarships or grants.

This is probably one of the easiest ways to convince your parents to let you travel. Yes you’re traveling, but it’s for school! How can they say no to furthering your education with international experience?

Traveling with Friends

Take A GAP Year

If you’ve finished college and want to explore the world, you could plan a GAP year and make the most of the time between college and a career. Or, take a year off after high-school before starting college.

The GAP year (or Bridge year) is very popular in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany. It’s practically a right of passage. Students save money and travel before starting college or a career.

While not so popular in the United States, it’s definitely an option, and growing in recognition. In fact, even Malia Obama is taking a GAP year! I hope more students follow her lead.

Many colleges will postpone admission for a year allowing you to travel without losing your hard-earned place. Higher education experts agree that students who take GAP years do better than those who don’t.

Teaching English

In addition to a working holiday visa, one popular option is to work abroad as an English teacher. At one time I was looking into this myself, planning to teach English in Japan for a year.

It never happened, but many travel addicts have decided to make money this way. Basically you move overseas and teach children or company employees how to speak better English.

The job is in high demand, and can often pay well.

Most positions require a college degree first, and there’s a certification process too. But once you have all that sorted, it’s a wonderful way to see the world and make some income.

Student Travel Volunteering

Volunteering Abroad

Many students dream of volunteering abroad and helping solve problems in the developing world. I understand. I did some volunteering when I first started traveling. It makes you feel like you’re making a difference.

This can be a good thing. But I’ve also learned over the years that not all volunteer organizations are doing good work. Some are downright scams to steal your money. Many others are doing more harm than good.

While international volunteering is certainly an option for students, I suggest you tread carefully. Please read this article before you start any kind of international volunteer project.

One organization that I think is making a difference is the United States Peace Corp. But again, it is important to know what you’re getting yourself into. You probably won’t change the world.

Convincing Your Parents

So, you’ve decided you want to travel more. But your parents don’t like the idea, or your friends think you’re crazy. How do you convince them? With scientific facts and testimonials of course!

If you want to take a GAP year, you can share this study showing that students who take GAP years end up doing better than students who don’t. Plus, if it’s good for Malia Obama, it’s good for you too.

If you want to study abroad, explain how foreign schools provide better value than those in the Untied States. Tell them that the US State Department provides resources for students to study abroad.

If you want to volunteer in other countries, let your parents read this long list of famous Peace Corp Alumni. Remind them that volunteer experience is highly regarded by top universities & companies.

If you want to spend some time working abroad, explain to your parents how the best companies in the world prefer to hire employees with international work experience.

Do you know any adults who took time off from school to travel? Relatives? Friends? Teachers? Ask them to have a chat with your parents and help calm their fears.

Travel As Education

You know why the US State Department is actively trying to get more students to study abroad? Because it actually makes America stronger.

International travel experience is helping students get ahead in life. It’s good for business, good for government, and produces an intelligent, empathetic, and well-rounded society.

No, travel by itself is not better than a formal education.

But travel is a type of education. You learn about cultural differences, discover universal truths, gain personal independence, and figure out what’s going on beyond the curtain of media propaganda.

Combined with a formal education, students who travel are going to do better than those who don’t.

So yes, make it a point to travel more while you’re young, even if it’s just for a few months. It might not be easy, and it might take some planning, but I’m confident you won’t regret the experience.

Student Travel Resources

Here’s a list of resources for students who would like to find a way to travel more while they’re young.

READ NEXT: 9 Reasons To Study Abroad

Have any questions about how to travel as a student? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

The Unbelievable Pink Lakes Of Las Coloradas In Mexico

Las Coloradas Mexico

Pink Lakes of Las Coloradas

Las Coloradas, Mexico

Hidden away on the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is a magical place full of color. These stunning cotton-candy pink lakes filled with salt are called Las Coloradas.

Las Coloradas means “the red” in Spanish. It’s the name of a tiny Mexican fishing village with a population of 1000. Nearby, a series of brightly colored pink lakes cover the landscape on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.

The region is part of the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, a protected wetlands area home to animals like flamingos, crocodiles, sea turtles, jaguars, and all kinds of sea birds. The reserve covers some 150,000 acres.

I rented a car and drove up from Playa del Carmen with my girlfriend Anna (AnnaEverywhere.com) to check out the biosphere reserve, but it’s these strange pink lakes that really steal the show!

Las Coloradas Water

Enjoying the Hot & Salty Water

Las Coloradas Drone Shot

Pink Lakes from the Sky

Mayan Salt Production

Fishing isn’t the only industry here, salt is big business in Las Coloradas. It has been for thousands of years, when the ancient Maya used this area to produce highly valuable salt. How do they do it?

Salty ocean water from the mangroves nearby floods onto hard flat salt plains, creating shallow lagoons. The sun then slowly evaporates this water, leaving fresh sea salt behind.

Salt was extremely important to the Maya for both nutritional needs as well as food preservation. It was mined here in the northern Yucatan then shipped by canoe to other parts of the Mayan empire.

Las Coloradas Salt Factory

Mountains of Salt

Las Coloradas Salt Production

Traditional Salt Production

Why Are The Lakes Pink?

While this “solar salt” production process is a natural one, the large pink lakes of Las Coloradas we see today were constructed by a company who produces salt on a much larger scale (500,000 tons per year).

The vibrant pink color of these lakes is due to red-colored algae, plankton, and brine shrimp that thrive in the salty environment. As the water evaporates, these organisms become more concentrated, glimmering pink in the bright Mexican sunlight.

Want to hear a cool fact? The reason flamingos are pink is because they eat these pink creatures. Normally their feathers are white, however they change color after eating this stuff!

You can often find pink flamingos hanging out in the pink lakes.

Las Coloradas Pink Lakes

Real Flamingos Live here Too

Las Coloradas Mexico

Floating in the Salty Water

Visiting Las Coloradas

The amazing pink lakes of Las Coloradas are located off the beaten track a bit. Getting here requires a 3 hour drive from Cancun or Playa del Carmen — 2 hours from Valladolid. So you can do it as a very long day trip, or even better, spend 2 days in the area as there’s plenty to do.

Las Coloradas (the village) has no real accommodation options, but they do have a restaurant. Most travelers stay in the nearby town of Rio Lagartos 30 minutes away. Popular mangrove and flamingo boat tours are based in Rio Lagartos, which usually stop at the pink lakes too.

There is a local bus from Cancun to Rio Lagartos, but because of different stops/changes it can take 7 hours. Renting a car like we did is much easier.

The pink water is incredibly salty, so while safe to get in, it can sting a bit — especially if you have cuts. However it’s more for the photo op than anything else, because the lakes are only about a foot deep!

Las Coloradas Mexico

Brilliant Pink Colors in the Sun

Mexico's Pink Lake

Swimming in the Pink Lake

Beautiful Mexican Beaches

The road to Las Coloradas stretches along the coastline, with a few places to turn off and explore the white-sand beaches, dunes, and brilliant turquoise water.

The beach is a favorite stop for sea turtles, so be careful where you step! The turtles bury their eggs on the beach at night.

Road tripping up to Las Coloradas is a wonderful way to spend a sunny day in Mexico. The pink lakes show off their best colors in the sunshine. Remember to pack plenty of water & sunscreen too.

Some of the roads are very narrow, so watch out for the large trucks making deliveries from the salt factory. They can hog the whole road. ★

Watch Video: Pink Lakes Of Las Coloradas

(Click to watch Las Coloradas Pink Lakes – Mexico on YouTube)

Amazing pink lakes of Las Coloradas in Mexico

READ NEXT: Driving The Scottish Highlands

Have you ever seen pink lakes like this before? Any favorite spots in Mexico? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Driving The Scottish Highlands: Mountains, Lochs, and Glens

Scotland Highlands

Highlands, Scotland

The Scottish Highlands are just as beautiful as you’ve imagined. An incredible road trip destination that features rocky peaks and sweeping glens shrouded in mist.

The Scottish Highlands have been on my bucket list for years. After recently returning from a wonderful 4 day journey through the region of Lochaber and the West Highlands, I wanted to share my favorite highlights and tips to help you plan your own adventure.

Why should you visit the Highlands of Scotland?

Well, if you’re a fan of hiking majestic mountain ranges, floating mist-covered lochs, or exploring ancient forests, then you’ll love the Highlands.

They provide intrepid travelers with fantastic travel photography opportunities and a hearty dose of Scottish charm.

The Scottish Highlands are a playground for hikers, bikers, kayakers, and anyone who loves outdoor adventures. The area of Lochaber around Fort William is considered the outdoor adventure capital of the United Kingdom!

Highland Cow Scotland

Scottish Highlands Mountain

Exploring The Scottish Highlands

My Scottish Highlands road trip began in Glasgow after taking the train from Edinburgh. Driving up to Fort William from Glasgow along route A82 on my way to the Isle of Skye in early July.

The landscape was exceptionally green after weeks of rain.

Weather in Scotland is often cold, windy, and rainy — however don’t let that dissuade you, these conditions also produce some very dramatic scenery.

There’s tumultuous history here too… dark tales of epic clan battles and murderous plots. Mythical legends of lake monsters, fairies, and goblins.

In the Highlands, you never know what hidden treasures you’ll uncover while venturing off into the Scottish countryside. I certainly found plenty! The landscape can be harsh and unforgiving, but totally worth a trip.

Route A82 Scotland

Drover's Inn Scotland

Loch Lomond

My first stop on the drive from Glasgow into the Highlands was the town of Balloch on the banks of Loch Lomond. The area is part of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

It was raining pretty heavily, so we didn’t stick around too long, but I did walk aboard the Maid Of The Loch, a fantastic 60 year old paddle steamship currently undergoing renovation.

Further up the road, make sure to pop into the 300 year old (and some say haunted) Drovers Inn for traditional Scottish food or a dram of whisky (unless you’re driving of course).

This quirky historic stone lodge sits directly in front of a steep mountain waterfall. Stepping inside the building feels like stepping back in time…

Glen Etive Scotland

Foxglove Flowers Highlands

Driving Glen Etive

A winding single track lane passing into the narrow valley of Glen Etive will have any driving enthusiast grinning from ear to ear. It’s a wonderful little side trip off the beaten track when driving through the Scottish Highlands.

You’ve probably already seen Glen Etive before, but didn’t know it. The landscape was a filming location for the popular James Bond movie “Skyfall”, where James takes his iconic Aston Martin DB5 out for a drive.

The icy cold Etive River passes beside the road, and for the more adventurous, it’s a great place to go cliff jumping. Hiking or kayaking (with your own gear) around Loch Etive at the end of the road is another option.

Wild camping is popular in the glen, but PLEASE remember to leave no trace. It would be a shame to ruin such a beautiful landscape with trash from disrespectful campers…

Hiking in the Highlands

Wire Bridge Highlands

Hiking The Highlands

If you’re a hiker, the Scottish Highlands have trails for all levels. Lochaber is home to Ben Nevis, the United Kingdom’s highest mountain at 4,416 feet (1,346 meters). Munro bagging is a popular activity — summiting mountains over 3,000 feet.

For those who enjoy long distance treks, the West Highland Way stretches some 96 miles through the best of the Highlands and takes most hikers 5-7 days. You can carry everything with you, or hire a company to transport the bulk of your gear to guesthouses ahead of your arrival.

Countless shorter day hikes can be found in the area too.

One of my favorites was Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge, where the trail follows a mountain river funneling into a narrow rocky gorge. It ends in a huge meadow, with Scotland’s 2nd highest waterfall dropping over 300 feet from the high mountains beyond.

Glencoe Mountains Scotland

Scottish Highlands House

Glen Coe

Widely considered one of the most beautiful areas of the United Kingdom, the spectacular valley of Glen Coe has a haunted past as the site of a 17th-century massacre which saw 38 members of the MacDonald Clan hunted to death in the snow.

Another 40 women & children died of exposure when their homes were burned to the ground.

Yet the landscape is equally as haunting as its past. Driving around the towering peaks of the “Three Sisters” under foreboding clouds & drizzling rain, you can feel the weight of sadness on this place.

Pull off on the side of the road for photos, or spend an afternoon hiking a few of the trails. Further on is the village of Glencoe, where you can find lodges, cafes, or restaurants to help break up the drive.

Train in Scottish Highlands

Hogwart's Express Scotland

Jacobite Steam Train

Remember the Hogwarts Express from Harry Potter? Well, that train really exists! The Jacobite Steam Train has been called the most scenic train journey in the world, and for good reason.

Starting in Fort William, this 84 mile journey takes passengers deep into the Highlands, ending at the small fishing village of Mallaig. Along the way it travels across old stone bridges, through misty mountain passes, and past deep freshwater lochs.

Tickets sell out fast, but if you’re driving nearby, you should stop at the lookout over Glenfinnan Viaduct, where the train passes around 11am and 3pm for wonderful photo opportunities!

Loch Ness Scotland

Urquhart Castle Highlands

Monster Spotting At Loch Ness

Loch Ness is a deep, cold, and very murky lake in the heart of the Scottish Highlands near the town of Inverness. For years locals and tourists have reported witnessing a large unidentified creature with a long neck swimming through the water.

A popular activity is sailing across Loch Ness to the ancient ruins of Urquart Castle, searching for the Loch Ness Monster (aka Nessie) along the way. I hit up Loch Ness while driving back from Skye to catch a train to Glasgow at the end of my journey.

Some people believe Nessie is a plesiosaur, a dinosaur who’s survived to modern times by living isolated from the sea within the loch.

What do you think? Is the Loch Ness Monster real?

Mountain Biking Highlands

Mountain Biking Nevis Range

Under the shadow of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, lies the Nevis Range mountain bike trails. They have trails for all levels, from relaxing forrest routes to white-knuckle World Cup downhill tracks.

You can rent all sorts of different bikes and protective gear from £25 – £60 per day, and either cycle uphill through the cross country trails on your own, or ride the gondola lift up to the world-class downhill trails.

I spent the morning riding the “Witches Trails”, a fun mix of single track and wider trails that wind through the trees, with the occasional wooden boardwalk or ramp. A low mist had the forrest looking particularly eerie.

Scotland is home to quite a few professional mountain bikers, including Danny Macaskill, the star of an epic short YouTube film called “The Ridge” shot on the Isle of Skye. It will make your heart race!

Eilean Donan Castle Scotland

Episcopal Church Highlands

Ancient Castles & Cathedrals

It goes without saying that Scotland is overflowing with its share of magnificent castles. There are literally hundreds of them, both ruined and active residences.

Scotland’s castles were built as military fortifications, and there are plenty of epic battle stories or sensational legends to learn about once you visit them.

I had the chance to visit a few, like the incredibly picturesque Eilean Donan, the MacLeod family stronghold of Dunvegan in Skye, and the ruins of Urquhart Castle along Loch Ness.

If you’re a fan of old stone churches too, make sure to stop by Glenfinnan Church, St. Andrews, and St. Johns of Ballachulish as you drive through the Highlands.

Hotels in Scotland Highlands

The Old Pines Hotel

Best Places To Stay

The unofficial capital of the Highlands is the town of Fort William. During the summer high season, hotels and B&B’s can sell out fast so it’s very important to book your accommodation in advance!

We stayed at the beautiful Old Pines Hotel outside of Fort William in the village of Spean Bridge. But I’m a big fan of AirBnB too. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read my article about how to find cheap hotels.

Camping

Wild camping is allowed all over the Scottish Highlands, as long as you follow Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code. Remember to leave no trace! There are a few “bothys” too — wilderness cabins free for hikers to use.

Scottish Highlands Tips & Advice

Once you visit the Scottish Highlands, the area will remain etched in your memory long after you’ve returned home. Here are a few tips to consider before you arrive, to ensure you have a great trip.

Everyone thinks of Scotland and the UK as expensive places to visit. While that may have been the case a few years ago, right now the exchange rate is excellent if you’re American (thanks Brexit!).

Scotland is often wet. April – June are usually the driest and most sunny months of the year. But make sure to pack waterproof gear because weather can, and does, change very quickly year-round.

While the drive from Glasgow to Fort William only takes about 2.5 hours, you’ll want to set aside more time to explore the many hidden glens and fun hikes nearby! I’d recommend at least 3 days in the Highlands, if not more.

Don’t be afraid of the food! Yes it’s greasy, heavy, and often made of animal guts, but consider what they had to work with. I recommend trying some Haggis, Blood Sausage, and of course a Full Scottish Breakfast. ★

Watch Video: Scottish Highland Adventures

(Click to watch Highland Adventures – Scotland on YouTube)

READ NEXT: Isle Of Skye Road Trip

Have any questions about traveling in the Scottish Highlands? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

17 Useful Travel Photography Tips For Improving Your Photos

Travel Photography Tips

Useful Travel Photography Tips

Photography

Looking to improve your travel photography? I’ve spent the last 5 years shooting photos in exotic locations around the world, and these are my favorite travel photography tips.

Some people collect souvenirs when they travel, I prefer to collect beautiful images with my camera. Travel photography is like a time machine, freezing memories from a journey that you can look back on and enjoy for years.

Every travel destination has its own look, culture, history, people, feelings, landscapes, and stories. Learning how to capture these subjects through photos helps convey the spirit of a place to others, giving them a glimpse of what it might be like to venture there.

I never went to school for photography. And yet here I am now, making my living as a professional travel blogger & photographer who regularly licenses images to tourism boards, brands, and occasionally glossy magazines.

I’ve slowly learned the techniques of travel photography over years of reading books, watching online tutorials, and regular practice to improve my craft. You can learn this way too — if you put in the effort!

Here are my favorite travel photography tips to improve your images.

Travel Photography Tips

Early Morning Blue Hour in Norway

Wake Up Early, Stay Out Late

The early bird gets the worm. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase. Well it’s also very true for travel photography. Light is the most important ingredient for great photography — and soft, warm, morning light creates amazing images.

Waking up early also means you’ll have to deal with fewer tourists and other photographers. Want an epic postcard shot of a famous landmark like the ruins of Chichen Itza or the Taj Mahal? Just get there early right when it opens and you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself!

Sunrise isn’t the only time to catch good light. Sunsets are also great. The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are nicknamed “golden hours” because of their soft, warm tones and eye-pleasing shadows. “Blue hour”, is the hour after sunset (or before sunrise) when the sky is still blue, but city lights are turned on.

In comparison, shooting photos at noon on a bright sunny day is probably the absolute worst time for travel photography! In fact sometimes I’ll just take a nap during the middle of the day so I have more energy for early morning and evening photography missions, when the light is best.

Travel Photography Tips

Famous Postcard Location in Scotland

Pre-Trip Location Scouting

Read travel guidebooks about your destination. Scour the internet for articles and blog posts to help give you ideas for photos. Talk to friends who have been there. Reach out to other photographers. Become more knowledgeable about which images will capture the essence of a place.

Some of my favorite tools for travel photography research are Instagram and Google Image Search. I use them to learn where iconic locations are. Actual postcard racks are also a great tool for helping to create a “shot list”.

Once I know the names of potential photo locations, I’ll do more research. Which time of day has the best light? How difficult is it to reach certain vantage points? What time does an attraction open, and when will tourist traffic be low? What will the weather be like?

Wandering around with no plans has its place, but being well prepared with research beforehand saves time so you can fully commit to producing amazing travel photography once you’re there, and maximize your time.

Travel Photography Tips

Shooting Portraits in Afghanistan

Talk To People

Photographing local people in a foreign country is tough for many photographers. What if they don’t understand you? What if they say no? Will they get offended? It took me a couple years to get comfortable shooting portraits of locals, and even now I still get a bit nervous.

But I’ve learned the key is to talk to people first. Say hello. Ask for directions. Buy a souvenir. Compliment them on something. Chat for a few minutes BEFORE asking for a photo. It’s far less invasive this way.

Always ask permission for close-ups too. Spend 15 minutes learning how to say “can I make a photograph” or “can I take your portrait” in the local language before you arrive. People really appreciate the effort, and it’s a great way to make a new friend.

Some people will say no. Some will ask for money (I sometimes pay, but that’s up to you). It’s not the end of the world. Thank them for their time, smile, and move on to someone else and try again. Actually the more you get rejected, the easier it gets to ask!

Travel Photography Tips

Composition with Rule of Thirds

Rule Of Thirds

One of the most basic and classic of photography tips, understanding the Rule of Thirds will help you create more balanced compositions. Imagine breaking an image down into thirds horizontally and vertically, so it’s split into different sections.

The goal is to place important parts of the photo into those sections, and help frame the overall image in a way that’s pleasing to the eye.

For example, placing a person along the left grid line rather than directly in the center. Or keeping your horizon on the bottom third, rather than splitting the image in half. Remember to keep that horizon straight too!

Composing using the Rule of Thirds is easily done by turning on your camera’s “grid” feature, which displays a rule of thirds grid directly on your LCD screen specifically for this purpose.

Now, before you compose a travel photo, you should be asking yourself: What are the key points of interest in this shot? Where should I intentionally place them on the grid? Paying attention to these details will improve the look of your images.

Travel Photography Tips

Setting Up my Tripod in Mexico

Use A Tripod

I think more people should be using lightweight travel tripods. A tripod allows you to set your camera position and keep it there. With the camera fixed, you can then take your time arranging the perfect composition.

You can also adjust exposure settings, focus points, and really spend time paying attention to the image you want to create. Or use advanced techniques like HDR, focus stacking, and panoramas.

Tripods give you the ability to shoot much slower shutter speeds (waterfalls, low-light, stars, etc) without worrying about hand-held camera shake. You can keep your ISO low (for less sensor noise) and use smaller apertures, so more of the image is in focus.

You’ll have greater creative control over your camera’s manual settings when using a tripod. This doesn’t mean you have to lug a tripod around with you absolutely everywhere. I don’t.

But for tack sharp landscapes, low-light photography, self-portraits, flowing water shots, and sunsets/sunrises, a travel tripod makes a huge difference.

Travel Photography Tips

Get Low For A Different Angle

Experiment With Composition

You can almost always come up with a better photo composition after some experimentation. Sure, take that first shot standing up straight. But then try laying on the ground for a low angle. Maybe climb up something nearby and shoot from a higher angle.

Along with different angles, try shooting from different distances too. Start with a wide shot, then a mid-range version, and finally, get up-close and personal. Never be satisfied with your first idea for an image!

Try to include powerful foreground, midground, and background elements too. If your subject is a mountain range — find a flower, river, animal, or interesting rock to include in the foreground. This gives images a 3-dimensional feel and helps convey scale, drawing a viewer’s eye into the rest of the photo.

Focal compression is another great compositional tactic in travel photography. Compression is when a photographer uses a zoom lens to trick the eye into thinking objects are closer than they really are.

Travel Photography Tips

Shooting as a Storm Approaches

Make Photography A Priority

Attempting to take quick snapshots as you rush from one location to another will leave you with the same boring photos everyone else has. Make sure you plan “photography time” into your travel schedule. Good travel photography requires a solid time commitment on your part.

If you’re traveling with friends who aren’t into photography, it can be difficult to find the time necessary to create amazing images. You need to break off on your own for a few hours to make photography your priority. I often prefer to travel alone or with other dedicated photographers for this reason.

Good luck trying to explain to a non-photographer that you’d like to wait around for an extra 30 minutes until the clouds look better. It doesn’t go over well. For organized tours, try waking up early to wander alone for a few hours, getting photos before the tour starts.

Even better, splurge on a rental car for a travel photography road trip. This allows you to control when and where you stop for photos. There’s nothing worse than being stuck on a bus while passing an epic photo opportunity, powerless to stop and capture it!

Travel Photography Tips

Contemplating and Complimenting the View

The Human Element

People like to live vicariously through human subjects in photos. Especially if the viewer can pretend the person in the photo is them. It adds more emotion to an image, you feel like you’re experiencing the location yourself.

How do you accomplish this? By posing the subject in such a way that they become anonymous. Not showing the subject’s face. This is why Murad Osmann’s “follow me to” Instagram photos went viral. Viewers felt like they were the ones being led around the world by a beautiful woman.

The human element also gives a better sense of scale. By placing your subject in the distance, you can get a better sense of just how big those mountains really are. It’s why photographing “tiny” people in large landscapes does well.

Adding a human element to photos helps tell a story too. Images seem to be more powerful when people are included in them. You can completely change the storyline of a particular photo depending on what type of human element you decide to incorporate.

Travel Photography Tips

Waiting For the Aurora in Iceland

Patience Is Everything

Photography is about really seeing what’s in front of you. Not just with your eyes, but with your heart & mind too. This requires dedicated time and attention. Slow down and make a conscious effort at becoming aware of your surroundings before pressing the shutter.

Pay attention to details. Are the clouds in an eye pleasing spot? If not, will they look better in 15 minutes? Sit at a photogenic street corner and wait for a photogenic subject to pass by. Then wait some more, because you might get an even better shot. Or not. But if you don’t have the patience to try, you might miss a fantastic photo opportunity!

When shooting the Northern Lights in Iceland, I spent all night camping in the cold at a perfect location, simply waiting for the magical aurora borealis to appear. When it finally did, I waited a few hours more to capture the brightest possible colors.

Good photography takes time. Are you willing to spend a few hours waiting for the perfect shot? Because that’s what professionals do. The more patience you have, the better your travel photography will turn out in the long run.

Protect Against Theft

Ok, this one is slightly off topic, but I think it’s important too. Cameras are small expensive products. As such, they’re a prime target for theft while traveling. I’ve heard many sad theft stories from other travelers. Luckily I’ve never had my camera stolen, but I also take precautions against it.

First of all, buy camera insurance. This is the best way to minimize losses if your camera gear does wind up in the hands of a criminal. Homeowner or rental insurance might already cover you. If not, organizations like the Professional Photographers of America offer insurance to members.

Keep your gear secured when not shooting, like in a hotel safe or hostel locker. Never check expensive photography gear under a plane, always take it carry-on. Try not to flash your camera around in sketchy or poverty stricken areas, keep it hidden in a nondescript bag until ready for use.

Register new gear with the manufacturer. Copy down serial numbers and save purchase receipts to help speed up insurance claims. Include your name & camera serial number on image EXIF data, so if your camera is stolen, you can track it down online using StolenCameraFinder.com.

Travel Photography Tips

Long Exposure Waterfall Shot

Shoot In Manual Mode

You’d think that modern cameras are smart enough to take incredible pictures on their own, in AUTO mode. Well that’s just not the case. While they do a pretty good job, if you want truly stunning images, you need to learn how to manually control your camera’s settings yourself.

If you’re new to photography, you may not realize all the camera settings that need to be adjusted. These include ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. If you want the best images possible, you need to know the relationship between them, and how to adjust these settings on your own.

To do this, switch your camera’s dial into Manual Mode. This camera mode gives you much more control of the look of your images in different situations. By manually adjusting aperture you’ll have more control over the depth of field in your image.

By manually controlling shutter speed, you’ll be able to capture motion in more creative ways. By manually controlling ISO, you’ll be able to reduce the noise of your images and deal with tricky lighting situations. Here’s a good free online tutorial about Manual Mode.

Travel Photography Tips

Prepared for Wildlife in Greenland

Always Bring A Camera

There is a saying in photography that “the best camera is the one you have with you”. Be ready for anything, and always carry a camera around, because luck plays a pretty key role in travel photography.

The difference between an amateur photographer and a pro is that the pro is planning in advance for this luck, ready to take advantage of these special serendipitous moments that will happen from time to time.

You never know what kind of incredible photo opportunity might present itself while you’re traveling. Maybe while out walking you happen to stumble upon a brilliant pink sunset, a rare animal, or some random street performance.

While hiking in Greenland I kept my camera ready and within easy reach with a 70-200mm lens attached. This helped me capture great shots of reindeer, rabbits, an arctic fox, and musk oxen. If the camera had been packed away in my bag, I would’ve missed these wildlife opportunities.

Keep your camera on you, charged up, and ready for action at all times.

Travel Photography Tips

Lost in the Streets of Granada

Get Lost On Purpose

Ok. You’ve visited all the popular photography sites, and captured your own version of a destination’s postcard photos. Now what? It’s time to go exploring, and get off the beaten tourist path. It’s time to get lost on purpose.

If you want to get images no one else has, you need to wander more. The best way to do this is on foot — without knowing exactly where you’re going. Grab a business card from your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then just pick a direction and start walking.

Bring your camera, and head out into the unknown. Check with locals to make sure you’re not heading somewhere dangerous, but make a point get lost. Wander down alleys, to the top of a mountain, and around the next bend.

In many places, locals tend to avoid tourist spots. So if you want to capture the true nature of a destination and its people, you’ll need to get away from the crowd and go exploring on your own.

Travel Photography Tips

Some of my Hard Drives…

Backup Your Photos

Along with camera insurance, I can’t stress enough the importance of both physical and online backups of your travel photos. When my laptop computer was stolen once in Panama, backups of my photography saved the day.

My travel photography backup workflow includes an external hard drive backup of RAW camera files, as well as online backup of select images and another online backup of final edited images.

Sometimes, for important projects, I’ll even mail a small hard drive loaded with images back to the United States if the internet is just too slow for online backup of large RAW files or video. I use Western Digital hard drives for physical backup and Google Drive for online cloud storage.

Travel Photography Tips

Improve Your Photography with Processing

Post Processing

There is a ridiculous myth out there that editing your photos using software is “cheating”. Let’s clear that up right now. All professional photographers edit their digital images using software like Lightroom, Photoshop, or GIMP.

Some do it more than others, but basically everyone does it.

Post processing is an integral part of any travel photographer’s workflow. Just like darkroom adjustments are a part of a film photographer’s workflow. Learning how to process your images after they’re taken is FAR more important than what camera you use.

Learn how to improve contrast, sharpen image elements, soften color tones, reduce highlights, boost shadows, minimize sensor noise, and adjust exposure levels (without going overboard) using software.

If you are going to invest money somewhere, I’d recommend spending it on professional post-processing tutorials before you invest in the latest camera gear. Post processing knowledge can really improve your travel photography.

Travel Photography Tips

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem

Don’t Obsess Over Equipment

Want to know what photography gear I use? Well, here you go. But if you went out right now and bought all that stuff, not only would it be super expensive, I guarantee it won’t improve your photography skills.

Why? Because the gear you use is not what makes a great photographer. Just like the type of brush a painter uses doesn’t make them a great painter. It’s knowledge, experience, and creativity that makes a great photographer.

Camera companies are much better at marketing than paintbrush companies. That’s why you think you need that $3000 camera. Trust me. You don’t.

Professionals use expensive gear because it allows them to produce a greater range of images. For example, extremely low light star photography. Or fast-action wildlife photography. Or because they want to sell large fine-art prints.

Instead of buying new equipment, spend time learning how to use your current camera’s settings. It’s a far better investment, and cheaper too!

Travel Photography Tips

Getting my Fortune Read in South Africa

Never Stop Learning

Enroll in some online photography tutorials. Invest in a travel photography workshop. Go out and practice on a regular basis. This is how you get better – not because you have the latest gear or use popular Instagram filters.

Even though I’ve been earning money with my photography for the last 5 years, there’s always something new to learn. I regularly invest in online courses and books about photography to improve my craft. You should too.

Think you know everything about landscapes? Then go out and challenge yourself shooting portraits of strangers. Stalk animals like a hunter for a taste of how difficult wildlife photography is. Stay up late experimenting with long-exposures of the Milky Way.

You’ll become a more skilled and resourceful travel photographer when you take the time to learn new techniques and skills from other genres of photography.

Travel Photography Resources

To go along with my top travel photography tips, here are some of the tools I’ve used to improve my photography over the years. I hope you find them as useful as I did! Remember, never stop learning.

Post Processing

  • Adobe Creative Cloud – Powerful suite of editing programs (Lightroom & Photoshop) used by most professional travel photographers.
  • JPEG Mini – Reduces the size of images by up to 80% without loss in quality. Amazing plugin for faster upload speeds and faster websites.
  • Google Nik Collection – Free photography plugins for polishing your final images. Noise reduction, sharpening, color filters, etc.

Photography Tutorials

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Have any questions about travel photography? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.