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

READ NEXT: Isle Of Skye Road Trip

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.

I’m Going To Afghanistan

Hiking in Afghanistan

I’m Going Trekking in Afghanistan

Afghanistan

After a year of extensive planning, I’m heading into the mountains of Afghanistan. And you can follow along.

I’m back from Afghanistan! Will be writing about my experience shortly… please subscribe for updates.

No, this isn’t a joke. And no, I haven’t lost my mind.

Do you have a travel bucket list? Yeah, so do I. A big one. And for the past 2 years, there’s been one country peering down at me from the very top.

Afghanistan.

Well I’m finally off to explore some incredibly remote & mountainous tribal areas of Afghanistan for the next few weeks. Hiking and camping through one of the most isolated locations on Earth.

Completely off the grid. No cell phone. No wifi.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it?

That’s because all most of us ever hear about Afghanistan is doom & gloom from the evening news. But there’s another side to the country, one that doesn’t get shared enough. A beautiful, hospitable, and adventurous side.

This is the Afghanistan I’m off to find, and report back on.

The other Afghanistan…

Are You Crazy?!

I’ve never been more excited to visit a new country then I am right now… but honestly I’m a bit nervous too. Even though I think I’m immune to sensational news coverage, and know that the area I’ll be traveling in is relatively safe — Afghanistan is still considered a war zone.

What you may not realize is that Afghanistan does get some tourism. Not very much, but people do travel there. And they come back with amazing stories about both the people and the landscapes.

I’ve hired a trustworthy local guide to help me navigate through the wilderness and communicate with the people I meet on this journey. I want to learn about their lives, their customs, their hardships, their joys.

And then share what I’ve learned with you.

Where In Afghanistan?

I’ve decided to keep my exact location in Afghanistan semi-private from the online world for safety sake. Not that I think I’m in any real danger where I’ll be, but it’s good to play it safe anyways — just in case.

There are no Taliban or ISIS in the immediate region I’m traveling in. However the Taliban has been moving closer, which is one of the reasons I decided to embark on this trip sooner rather than later. It very well might not be possible next year. I didn’t want to take that chance.

When I return in September, I promise to share everything with you.

Follow Along!

I’m carrying a Delorme InReach Explorer Satellite Communicator as I trek through the mountains of Afghanistan for the next few weeks.

This amazing technology helps keep me safe in case of an emergency, while also giving me the ability to share my adventure with you from one of the most remote locations on Earth!

I will be attempting to send text-message style satellite updates/stories to my Expert Vagabond Facebook Page on a regular basis.

So go check it out if want to see what I’m up to in Afghanistan.

There is a small chance the military will take away my GPS device, so don’t freak out if you don’t see any messages. I’ll just have to report back once I return from the trip.

Watch Video: I’m Going To Afghanistan…

(Click to watch I’m Going To Afghanistan on YouTube)

Blog comments are closed — but feel free to join the discussion on my Facebook Page!

Isle Of Skye Road Trip: Scotland’s Land Of Fairies

Isle of Skye Scotland

Isle of Skye Road Trip

Isle of Skye, Scotland

The Isle of Skye’s dramatic landscapes are some of the most scenic in Scotland. The best way to experience its epic mountains, waterfalls, and sea cliffs is on a road trip.

When most people think of visiting Scotland, Edinburgh and Loch Ness are the first spots that come to mind. While both are nice, I think a road trip up through the Highlands to the Isle of Skye is far better.

The scenery on Skye is rugged, breathtaking, and raw.

Free to explore at your own pace, you’ll be stopping around each bend of Skye’s notoriously narrow and winding country roads for one incredible photo opportunity after another!

I recently road-tripped around the Isle of Skye in Scotland to experience one of the United Kingdom’s most adventurous and scenic travel destinations for myself. It didn’t disappoint.

In this travel guide I’ll help you get the most from an Isle of Skye adventure.

Exploring The Isle Of Skye

If photography and exploring mountain landscapes is your thing, then you’ll love road tripping around the Isle of Skye. The area is steeped in myth and legend — a place where giants and fairies roam. Bloody clan battles were fought here, and ancient castles still stand.

You’ll feel like you’ve been transported into an epic fantasy novel.

The island is split up into a series of peninsulas. For the purposes of this guide, I’ll cover the Trotternish Peninsula in the East, the Waternish Peninsula to the West, and the Black Cuillin Hills region of the South.

Shimmering lochs (lakes) dominate the Waternish Peninsula, while jagged volcanic formations left over from landslides form the Trotternish Ridge. Wind-swept Red & Black Cuillin mountains rise to meet the clouds in the South.

Landscapes on Skye are some of the most impressive in all of Britain.

Isle of Skye Scotland

Sligachan Bridge

Planning Your Road Trip

How Long Does It Take?

You can drive around the island in half a day without stopping. But because there’s so much to see, I recommend spending at least 2 full days on the Isle of Skye. Plus you should schedule an additional half day to drive up from Fort William, and another half day to get back.

Combine your Skye road trip with a few days in the Highlands near Fort William, plus a full day in Edinburgh or Glasgow, and you’ve got yourself a wonderful week-long vacation in Scotland.

This is if you don’t plan on any really big hikes or other longer excursions.

When Should You Go?

You’re bound to get some rain whenever you go, but the best season for traveling to the Isle of Skye is summer. There’s a slightly better chance for dry weather between April and mid-June.

However summer is also high-season. The roads will be more crowded, and accommodation is more difficult to find.

Gas/Petrol

The island is small. You should be able to fit a 2 day road trip in on a single tank of gas starting from Fort William. However there are 4 different gas stations on the Isle of Skye just in case you need to fill up.

Food/Groceries

In the main towns you’ll find plenty of cozy pubs and cafes, with a few dedicated restaurants too. However most of the towns are spread out from each other. So make sure to stock up on sandwiches and snacks at a local grocery store each morning. Sausage rolls are a big deal in Scotland, and while not exactly healthy, they are perfect for road trips.

There is a wonderful pub & traditional Scottish restaurant at the Sligachan Hotel called Seumas Bar if you’re craving some neeps & tatties. Or my personal favorite, haggis! Mmmmm. Sheep guts…

Internet/Mobile Phone

Mobile internet on the Isle of Skye is pretty bad. In Broadford and Portree you’ll have 3G, but outside the major towns there’s a good chance you won’t have a signal at all. Vodafone and O2 seem to have the best coverage.

Isle of Skye Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle

Getting To Skye

The most common way to get to the Isle of Skye is to fly into Glasgow, rent a car, and drive up through the highlands from there. It takes 5-6 hours. I flew into Edinburgh, took a train to Glasgow, and then started driving. Fort William is a great place to stop for a night in the highlands to help break up the drive.

Mallaig Ferry

From Fort William, drive 1 hour West on route A830 to the small fishing town of Mallaig and catch the 30 minute long Skye Ferry to Armadale.

Skye Bridge

From Fort William, head North on routes A82 and A87 to the Skye Bridge, a trip that takes about 1.75 hours non-stop. But you will certainly want to stop with so much to see on the route. Like the incredible Eilean Donan Castle.

To mix it up a bit, I recommend trying them both. I started my road trip riding the Mallaig ferry over and finished it driving back on the Skye Bridge.

Car Rental

Cars are super reasonable, starting around $26 USD per day for an economy rental out of Glasgow Airport. The car we used for our Isle of Skye road trip was from Arnold Clark Rental.

Renting a car on the Isle of Skye itself is a bit more expensive with fewer choices, but possible through Skye Car Hire or HM Hire.

The big benefit to waiting to rent your car on Skye is that it allows you to take the famous Jacobite Steam Train (aka the Harry Potter train) from Fort William to Mallaig, voted the most scenic train ride in the world.

Isle of Skye Scotland

The Fairy Pools

Isle of Skye Scotland

Black Cuillin Moutnains

Southern Skye Highlights

Sligachan Bridge

Sligachan is a small village located at the base of the Black Cuillin mountains. It’s been a hub for climbers and travelers to Skye since 1830, forming a major crossroads to other parts of the island.

The old stone bridge at Sligachan is probably the most photographed spot on Skye. Legend has it the cold waters beneath the bridge grant eternal beauty to whoever dips their face in for 7 seconds…

Fairy Pools

The Fairy Pools are a long series of small waterfalls and beautiful crystal blue pools cascading down from the Black Cuillin range. Hiking from the car park takes 30-40 minutes depending on high up you decide to venture.

If you want to go for a swim, feel free to jump in! The icy cold water might just take your breath away — but so will the views.

Black Cuillins

A series of 36 imposing peaks huddled together at the southern end of Skye, the Black Cuillins have been a hiking and climbing mecca for 150 years. Dark rocky formations that seemingly rise straight out of the sea. A narrow 12km ridgeline scramble called the Black Cuillin Traverse can be tackled in 2 days with equipment.

We decided to take the Bella Jane Ferry from Elgol to the base of the mountains and spent a morning hiking around Loch Coruisk. When the weather is clear, you can hike to the summit of Sgurr na Stri for the best view in the United Kingdom.

Isle of Skye Scotland

The Quiraing

Isle of Skye Scotland

Old Man of Storr

Trotternish Highlights

Old Man Of Storr

You can’t visit the Isle of Skye without hiking up to the Old Man of Storr. Large pinnacles of rock that rise from the ground, this location has been used as a backdrop for many movies, including the sci-fi thriller Prometheus. Legends say the rocks are fingers of a dead giant.

A muddy trail leads up to the rocks and takes about 45 minutes (one way) from the parking area below. The Old Man is often covered in clouds, but it’s not too far from Portree, so you can always come back later in the day and try again when it’s clear.

The Quiraing

Definitely my favorite location on the Isle of Skye, the Quiraing is an other-worldly landscape where huge landslides have created a series of strange cliffs, jagged pinnacles, and plateaus. Trails criss-cross the area, and it’s a great spot for hiking.

A steep winding road leads up to the top of the plateau, with excellent views of the coast below. On a clear day, you’ll see the Islands of Raasay and Rona too. Take a stroll along the steep cliffs, but be careful, it’s a long way down!

Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls

Located off the A855 coastal road, there is a viewpoint on the edge of the cliffs here called Kilt Rock. The massive Kilt Rock Cliffs sort of resemble a Scottish kilt, hence the name. Mealt Falls is a long waterfall that cascades off the cliffs into the ocean below. You need to lean your head out to get a good photo (or bring a drone!).

Isle of Skye Scotland

Dunvegan Castle

Isle of Skye Scotland

Neist Point Lighthouse

Waternish Highlights

The Fairy Glen

A strange and magical place, the Fairy Glen is hidden away off the main road near the village of Uig. It’s a miniature green valley with odd, perfectly conical hills, gnarled dwarf forests and packs of grazing sheep. Whoever named this place couldn’t have picked a better one.

Hiking the maze of trails, you’ll find a new wonder around every bend. Like white stones arranged in concentric circles on the valley floor. A lone rock tower rises above it all, with excellent views of the enchanted landscape below. If fairies do exist, this is their kingdom for sure!

Neist Point Lighthouse

Located on the most Westerly point of Skye, Neist Point is a finger of land stretching out into the sea with a powerful 480,000 candlepower lighthouse on the tip. Massive cliffs ring the coast here, and it’s a wonderful photography spot, especially around sunset.

A walking path takes you all the way to the lighthouse if you want some exercise. It gets very windy on these cliffs, and there have been cases of tourists falling to their deaths. So be very careful near the edges.

Dunvegan Castle

A magnificent castle perched on the edge of a lock, Dunvegan has been the ancestral home to the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for over 800 years. Still owned by the MacLeods, it’s pretty cool that you can walk through their home, and it’s full of old heirlooms and paintings.

One of the treasures on display is the mystical Fairy Flag, a sacred banner with miraculous powers. Supposedly given to the clan by the queen of fairies, legend says when unfurled during battle, the MacLeods would always defeat their enemies.

Talisker Distillery

The Talisker Distillery has been on the island since 1831. Scotland is famous for its whisky around the world. The flavor of a whisky changes depending on where in Scotland it was distilled, and whiskies like Talisker brewed on the islands have a strong, peaty taste.

This is my personal favorite type of whisky, and it seems writer Robert Louis Stevenson agreed. In one of his poems, he says “The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker, Islay, or Glenlivet.”

Isle of Skye Scotland

Camping on the Isle of Skye

Accommodation

The Isle of Skye is a small island, so it doesn’t have a ton of accommodation options. During the summer high season, hotels and B&B’s can all be sold out. Skye is one travel destination where it’s very important to book your accommodation months in advance!

Hotels

Portree is the capital of Skye, and a perfect place to base yourself in the middle of the island. I stayed at a wonderful place called the Royal Hotel.

Bed & Breakfasts

If you prefer staying in B&B’s, there’s plenty of those too. here’s a list of great Bed & Breakfasts located around the Isle of Skye.

Backpacker Hostels

Portree SYHA
Broadford SYHA

Camping

Here is a good list of official campsites on the Isle of Skye. Wild camping is allowed, as long as you follow Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code. There are a few “bothys” too — wilderness cabins free for hikers to use.

We spent one night camping on the coast at Camas Malag, and another night at the Rubha Hunish bothy on the edge of a massive coastal cliff.

Isle of Skye Scotland

The Fairy Glen

Hiking & Cycling

Accompanying me on my road trip around the Isle of Skye was Scott from Wilderness Scotland. Working as a guide in the Highlands for years, he showed some of his favorite spots. If you’re looking for a bit of adventure during your trip, check out their Isle of Skye tours.

Hiking

Whether you’re into short walks or long-distance hikes, Skye has it all. The Skye Trail is a 128km route that covers incredible mountain & coastal scenery. It takes about 7 days to complete.

Cycling

Road cycling tours are very popular on Skye due to the island’s paved winding roads and amazing scenery. A support vehicle can take your gear to the next town where it’s waiting when you arrive to spend the night.

Waterfall Scotland

Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls

Isle Of Skye Driving Tips

Google driving times are not what they seem, due to all the scenic stops, it can take 2-3 times as long as you think. Remember to park frequently and explore areas on foot, you never know what you’ll find!

The weather changes quickly on the Isle of Skye. So just because the famous “Old Man Of Storr” happens to be covered in clouds at 9am doesn’t mean that will be the case an hour or two later.

For the same reason, it’s wise to keep some waterproof gear (jacket, pants) in a backpack with you at all times when you’re outside of the car.

The roads here are narrow, often without shoulders, and most backroads are single lane. If you’re not used to driving these, it can be nerve-wracking. We saw at least 2 rental cars off the road in a ditch.

The single lane tracks have special passing areas every 400 meters or so. Proper etiquette is the car closest to the turnoff pulls over and lets the oncoming vehicle(s) pass. ★

Watch Video: Scotland’s Isle Of Skye

(Click to watch The Land Of Fairies – Isle Of Skye on YouTube)

READ NEXT: Hanging From A Helicopter Over NYC

Have any questions about traveling the Isle of Skye? 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.

Hanging Out Of A Helicopter Over Manhattan

Helicopter Flights NYC

Open Door Helicopter Flights in New York

New York, New York

One of the best ways to see New York City is by air, and this scenic helicopter flight company lets you dangle your feet over famous Manhattan landmarks for amazing photos!

I’m a complete helicopter fanatic. Sometimes I think if I hadn’t become a travel blogger, I’d have become a professional helicopter pilot by now.

Soaring free above the clouds, hovering only hundreds of feet over mountains or buildings, able to take off and land almost anywhere.

Helicopters are incredible machines. While expensive, I try to hitch a ride in one whenever I can for a truly unique photography experience.

Plus, helicopters are just so much damn fun!

FlyNYON Helicopter

Eurocopter TwinStar AS355

Manhattan Helicopter Flight

Flying Over Manhattan Skyline

Scenic NYC Helicopter Flight

After all the times I’ve visited New York City over the years, I’ve never taken a scenic helicopter flight over Manhattan. It was Instagram that finally convinced me to take the plunge and splurge on an aerial photography helicopter adventure.

I started seeing these crazy “shoe selfies” showing up in my feed on popular accounts. Photographers were taking photos of their shoes floating over the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, and Central Park.

A company called FlyNYON are the ones who make these epic Instagram shots possible with their crazy open-door scenic helicopter flights over some of Manhattan’s most famous landmarks.

Open Door Helicopter Tour

What a Crazy Helicopter Ride!

Shoe Selfie Photo

New York City Shoe Selfie!

Open-Door Photography Flight

Here’s the thing about aerial photography. For the best possible shots, you don’t want a window in front of your lens. So flying in a helicopter without doors is the perfect way to capture incredibly clear, crisp images from the air.

Anna and I began our adventure from Blade Lounge Heliport in midtown Manhattan, where the FlyNYON team briefed us on safety and asked where we wanted to go.

There were 4 of us going up, and we discussed which landmarks we should visit during our 15 minute helicopter flight. They also fitted us with full-body harnesses.

Flying a helicopter over New York without doors means you need to be strapped into a harness for safety. Your camera gear is also attached so it doesn’t fall on people below or get sucked up into the rotor.

You literally have your feet dangling outside the door on the skids!

Inside the Helicopter

Pilot Christi Rocking the Controls

Empire State Building

Empire State Building from the Sky

FlyNYON Helicopter Experience

Our badass pilot Christi brought us out to her sleek black Eurocopter TwinStar AS355 “Angry Bird” to be strapped in. Engines were powered up and off we flew into the sky!

We then soared past some of New York’s most iconic landmarks like Governor’s Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, Battery Park, One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, and Central Park.

Earlier, Christi was yanking on my photography gear, making sure nothing would come apart once we were flying. I thought she’d been a bit rough…

Until I actually felt the force of those blades whipping around directly over my head 1000 feet in the air. It was like a mini-tornado!

Helicopter Photo Tour

Difficult Tail Rotor Shot

Central Park NYC

Flying Over Central Park

Incredible Aerial Adventure

At first it’s a bit unnerving to be sitting on the edge of a chopper thousands of feet in the air. But you slowly get more comfortable as the flight goes on.

Eventually I trusted the harness enough to lean out and feel the power of the wind as adrenaline coursed through my veins, shooting photos of the helicopter’s tail rotter.

When the helicopter banks sideways in a turn, you’re looking straight down at the tops of New York City’s massive skyscrapers, the only thing keeping you from plummeting to your death is those straps!

If you find yourself in New York, and want to have the experience of a lifetime, make sure to book an epic open-door ariel photography helicopter flight with FlyNYON. You won’t regret it. ★

Watch Video: Helicopter Over New York City

(Click to watch Helicopter Over New York City on YouTube)

READ NEXT: How To Visit Cuba For Americans

Would you fly in a helicopter without doors like this? Afraid of heights? Let me know 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.

Horseback Riding & Tobacco Farms In Viñales

Vinales Cuba

Viñales, Cuba

Riding through endless fields of green tobacco and fertile red soil in Viñales, we passed local farmers harvesting the leaves that would become Cuba’s world famous cigars.

Viñales is a small town located on the Western tip of Cuba. Set in a beautiful lush valley with funky looking hills and limestone caves, people have been growing tobacco in the area for over 200 years.

In Havana we hired Jose and his sweet red 1957 Ford Victoria to drive the four of us 3 hours out to Viñales, passing only a handful of other classic cars and a bunch of horse-drawn carriages on Cuba’s poorly maintained highways.

Vinales National Park

Vinales Cars

Welcome To Viñales

Viñales feels stuck in time. The main street is lined with small single story wooden homes with faded paint. Locals pass by riding old bicycles, horses, or driving colorful vintage American cars.

While there are some hotels in town, most travelers stay with locals in casas particulares, which are like guest bedrooms in other people’s homes.

Our host was Lay, a welcoming lady who turned her home into a guesthouse with two double rooms. This is how many Cubans make extra income beyond their communist government regulated salary of about $30 USD per month.

The town has plenty of small restaurants and bars with live music, but it doesn’t feel overcrowded. In fact, Viñales is rumored to be Fidel Castro’s favorite part of Cuba!

Horseback Riding Vinales Cuba

Vinales Cigars

Viñales National Park

Viñales Valley was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 due to its dramatic landscape of karst limestone domes called mogotes, traditional agricultural methods of farming, and rich cultural history.

The valley was formed underwater, rising from the sea millions of years ago. Ancient ocean fossils can still be found in the caves that dot the landscape.

The New York Times called Viñales one of the top places to visit in 2016.

But aside from being a beautiful travel destination, Viñales is known for the quality of its tobacco. I’m not a “smoker” per se, but I do enjoy the occasional cigar at the end of a big trek or for special occasions.

So I was excited to learn how Cuba’s world-famous cigars are actually made.

Tobacco Farm Cuba

Vinales Livestock

Home Of Cuban Cigars

Why are Cuban cigars so special? Well, many people believe Cuba is the birthplace of cigars. Christopher Columbus encountered native Cubans smoking cylindrical bundles of twisted tobacco leaves in 1492.

The practice was eventually exported to Europe, and by the 19th century, smoking cigars became a popular pastime for wealthy men — who formed special cigar clubs called divans.

Cuba’s time-honored tobacco growing and production techniques were exported to places like the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Then came the United States trade embargo, making Cuban cigars illegal — and increasing their value even more.

The fertile land and favorable climate of Viñales make for perfect cigar tobacco growing conditions. Most residents here are in the tobacco farming business.

Farmhouse in Vinales

Vinales Tobacco Farm Tour

Tobacco Farm Experience

We hired a guide and some horses to take a tour of Viñales National Park, learning about the traditional techniques used here for hundreds of years. No machines are used, which means crops are picked by hand and fields are plowed with oxen.

Passing through farms with pigs, chickens, and turkeys, we rode along green tobacco fields where local workers were harvesting the last of the season’s prized leaves. Tobacco grows fast, ready for harvest after 2-3 months.

The leaves are then hung in special curing barns, where they dry for about a month, turning a toasty brown color. The Cuban government buys 90% of the tobacco, while locals are allowed to keep 10% for themselves.

To prepare Cuban cigars, the center vein of the leaf is removed, where 98% of the nicotine resides. Next, leaves are sprayed with a special mixture of ingredients like pineapple, lemon, honey, cinnamon, vanilla, and rum for the fermentation process.

Three different types of leaves are used to roll the final cigar — filler (inside), binder (holding it together), and the wrapper (visually appealing outer layer).

Tobacco Barn Cuba

Vinales Cuba Cowboys

Adventures In Viñales

Visiting tobacco farms isn’t the only thing to do in Viñales though. As part of the farm tour, we also explored one of the many limestone caves in the area. Rock climbing these unique limestone formations is a popular activity too.

Aside from guided horseback riding, you can also rent a bicycle, ATV, or motorcycle and explore the valley on your own. There’s a popular cave called Cueva del Indio where you can ride a boat on the underground river that flows through the cave.

We heard stories about a nice little beach about an hour North of Viñales called Cayo Jutías, but didn’t have time to visit.

Vinales Ox Cart

Tips For Visiting

Viñales is located about 3-4 hours West of Havana. There are regular Viazul Busses that run twice a day for about $15 USD per person. But you often need to buy your ticket a day in advance.

Or you can do what we did, and rent a vintage taxi with room for 4 people for about $60-$70 depending on your bargaining skills.

While walking the outskirts of Viñales, you might be waved over to learn about the cigar making process at some random farm. It’s a fun experience, just understand that at the end your host will ask you to buy a bundle of 15-20 cigars for about $1 each.

Cuban cigars can cost $10-$20 each in the USA… so it’s a pretty good deal!

“If I cannot smoke in heaven, then I shall not go.” ~ Mark Twain

Watch Video: Viñales Farm Adventure

(Click to watch Viñales Farm Adventure – Cuba on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Viñales, Cuba
Accommodation: Casa Lay (email: layvinales@nauta.cu)
Horseback Farm Tour: 35 CUC ($35 USD)
Useful Notes: Our tobacco farm tour was done on horseback, but they also have ox carts or bikes available. It lasts about 4 hours, with an option for a short cave excursion for a few CUC more. In addition to cigars, you can also purchase cuban coffee at the end.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Cuba
Suggested Reading: The Other Side Of Paradise

READ NEXT: How To Visit Cuba For Americans

Are you planning to visit Cuba? Have you ever smoked a cigar?

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.

Lofoten Islands Photography: Arctic Winter Wonderland

Lofoten Islands Photography

Lofoten, Norway

Norway’s remote Lofoten Islands provide the perfect setting for incredible photography opportunities, with soft winter light and majestic mountain landscapes rising from the sea.

The Lofoten Islands are located above the arctic circle in Northwest Norway. Made up of deep fjords, craggy peaks, sandy beaches, and cute red fishing cabins, the islands are a wonderful location for landscape photography.

Especially in February, with the pleasing effects of low winter light.

I rented a car and spent 10 days driving around the Lofoten Islands with my camera, hunting the Northern lights, tracking down hidden beaches, and hiking through deep snow to capture inspiring images of this amazing section of Norwegian wilderness.

With very little daylight and seemingly endless sunrises & sunsets, winter in Lofoten is the perfect time to visit for photography. Frequent aurora sightings and white snow-capped peaks are just icing on the cake.

Below you’ll find travel photography from my adventures in Norway’s Lofoten Islands, along with a short video I produced along the way.

I hope my Lofoten Island photography inspires you to visit for yourself!

Hamnoy Lofoten Islands

Hamnøy Island

This is probably the most iconic photography location in Lofoten. Hamnoy is a small island and village near the spectacular fjord of Reinefjord, just outside the town of Reine. Red wooden cabins hug a rocky coastline, with huge mountains rising from the background. I actually stayed in these cabins too! They are called Eliassen Rorbuer. This shot was taken from a nearby bridge after a fresh layer of morning snow covered the landscape.

Lofoten Islands Nusfjord

Lofoten Road Trip

The Lofoten Islands are connected by a series of bridges and tunnels along a main road called the E10. Splintering off it are many side roads for you to explore. Like this one, Route FV807, which winds through an impressive mountain pass on the way to the fishing village of Nusfjord. Winter driving in Lofoten can be tricky, with snowy roads and quickly changing weather conditions. All rental cars come equipped with studded snow tires.

Lofoten Northern Lights

Northern Lights

One of the biggest reasons to visit Lofoten in the winter for photography is the magical northern lights which occur between September – March. With its extreme northern latitude and long nights, conditions are good for nature’s amazing light show. However catching a glimpse of the lights is not certain. Clear skies and strong aurora activity are needed. I lucked out with two decent nights of northern lights while traveling around Lofoten.

Lofoten Islands Fishing

Norwegian Fishing Boats

Fishing has been a fixture in the Lofoten Islands for over 1000 years. The unusually warm waters lure millions of arctic cod to spawn here between February – April. Most of the population is involved in the cod fishing business in some capacity. Every morning I watched fishing boats heading out to work, or men hanging the “stockfish” on wooden racks to dry in the open air.

Lofoten Islands Sakrisoy

Sakrisoy Rorbuer

More renovated fishing cabins in Lofoten that you can stay in, these yellow wooden buildings are part of Sakrisoy Rorbuer. I was shocked at just how many of these landscapes look fake, like they were created specifically for perfect postcard photos. Here the snowy Lofotenveggen Mountains tower behind the small yellow cabins, a shallow crystal blue bay in front. It’s a colorful mosaic which continually changes with the passing of the seasons.

Lofoten Islands Rambergstranda

Rambergstranda Beach

The rusty red color is achieved with paint mixed with cod liver oil. Plenty of that around these parts! When it’s not so snowbound, this is a landscape of waving grass and sky-blue water, and temperatures hit 20 degrees C, but on days like this, everything’s locked down with the cold and if you’re taking photos, you’d better have your gloves handy.

Lofoten Islands Surfing

Arctic Surfing Unstad

Because it’s on the Gulf Stream, Lofoten’s climate is relatively mild despite its latitude above the Arctic Circle, plus the insulating properties of modern wetsuits are astonishing. (If you’re in the water and you’re feeling cold, you’re doing it wrong.) These waters attract surfers of all skill levels from around the globe – and I decided to jump in and give it a try with the guys at Unstad Arctic Surfing. What a crazy experience!

Lofoten Islands Mountains

Lofoten Mountains

Stand on the beach anywhere in the Lofoten Islands, and most of the landscape towers above you, up to a thousand meters above sea level. Inhabitable land is the exception, not the rule – and only possible on infrequent strips of terrain between the sea and the colossal mountains that form the bulk of the island chain. In places, the mountains rise near-vertically from the sea. It’s a stunning backdrop for everything you do there.

Lofoten Islands Photography

Hiking Kvalvika Beach

This beach, in a remote corner of Moskenesøya, is only accessible on foot – park your car, take the easy trail over a nearby pass between the mountains, and after an hour you’re in one of the most beautiful places in the whole archipelago. During warmer months, Kvalvika Beach a great place to camp, complete with driftwood and a mountain stream – but even when the snow lays thick, it’s well worth a visit. Just expect the hike to take a bit longer.

Lofoten Village

Å, Norway

No, it’s not a misprint – it’s a one-letter word pronounced “Aw” that in Old Norse means “small river.” This tiny but popular village is at the southern tip of the Lofoten peninsula, and people come from miles around to have their photo taken next to the town sign – and, occasionally, to steal the sign, a constant irritation for the town’s 150 residents.

Lofoten Islands Hiking

Ryten Mountain Lookout

It may look forbidding, but Ryten (543m) is a surprisingly easy mountain to climb, thanks to low, steadily rising slopes – just give yourself three or four hours to do it. And if you’re visiting Lofoten, you absolutely should do it. The view from Ryten is unparalleled, giving you a view of Kvalvika Beach and the surrounding mountains that will punch the breath right out of you. More care must be taken in the winter when crampons & ice axe are recommended.

Lofoten Islands Sunsets

Endless Sunsets

Lofoten is north of the Arctic Circle – and that means a lot of things. It means the Polar Night, where the sun spends a full day below the horizon. It means the Midnight Sun, where the sun stays up for more than 24 hours. It means spectacular variation in day length, contracting or lengthening an hour every week between these two extremes. And best of all, it means incredible sunrises and sunsets that last for hours (yes, hours), turning the land and sea every color imaginable. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Stockfish Lofoten

Lofoten Stockfish

The tradition of drying unsalted fish (mainly cod) on huge wooden racks goes back at least a thousand years, and it’s still a big part of the Lofoten economy – and a spectacular sight, when the racks are full. If you want to understand the history of this ancient practice, head to Å’s comprehensive stockfish museum. Depending on how fresh the fish are, you may be in for a smelly surprise if you get to close to them!

Lofoten Islands Bridge

Fredvang Bridges

Opened in 1988, these sinuous structures connect the fishing village of Fredvang with its craggy neighbor, Flakstadøya by road. They perfectly match the curves of the surrounding lowland islands – and the effect is a little eerie, as if you’re getting a peek at what’s underneath all the islands if you stripped all the rock and earth away. Driving across is fun, there are pull-overs every few hundred meters because the bridges aren’t wide enough for two lanes.

Winter Fishing Huts

Rorbuer Cabins

The signature architecture of the Lofoten islands, rorbuer (singular rorbu) are well-suited to their environment. These tough wooden huts were originally built to protect fishermen as they assembled the year’s stockfish catch. These days, many have been converted (or rebuilt from scratch) into beautiful, primary-colored tourist accommodation – they can be a bit pricey, so it pays to do your homework about what’s available.

Lofoten Islands Photography

If you are looking for spectacular nature, deep silence, northern lights, diverse adventures, wild weather, breathtaking sea and mountain views, you can’t do much better than visiting Norway’s Lofoten Islands in the winter to capture some amazing travel photography. ★

Watch Video: Lofoten Islands Road Trip

(Click to watch Lofoten Islands Road Trip – Norway on YouTube)

More Information

Location: Lofoten, Norway [Map] Useful Notes: Lofoten Islands photography is particularly good in the winter from January to March due to the low, soft colorful light. However the main tourist season is in the summer. Renting a car is the best way to get around the islands.
Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Norway
Suggested Reading: Lofoten Islands Photography Guides

READ NEXT: How To Travel To Cuba

Have you ever heard of the Lofoten Islands before?

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