The Gadgets Some Of My Favorite Travel Bloggers Carry

October 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Luggage, Tech

There’s one way to test the reliability, usefulness, and battery life of any techtravel extensively with it. You might know some of the tech gear and gadgets I travel with but I was curious to see what devices made the essential list of these bloggers who are also on the road most of the year.

The more you travel the more scrutiny you give to every gram you pack so if you’re looking for the right phone to hike with you through the Pamir Highway or the DSLR that will endure Lithuanian winter, you’ll probably find it in the backpack of these travelers.

Kate McCulley (Adventurous Kate)

Laptop: Macbook Air 256 gigabyte (GB) hard drive; Phone: Unlocked iPhone 6, 128 GB; eReader: Kindle Paperwhite; Tablet: iPad 2 (don’t travel with all the time; only occasionally); External hard drives: (2); International adapter: Portable power strip (US)

Adventurous Kate McCulley

Kate McCulley quit her job to travel the world. Four years and 50+ countries later, she’s still traveling, and now teaches women how to travel the world safely and independently. You can follow her @adventurouskate on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Jodi Ettenberg (Legal Nomads)

Laptop: MacBook 11″ Air, 512GB, 8GB RAM plus Roost Stand for 11″ Air; Keyboard: Logitech bluetooth keyboard (for the Roost) and mouse; Camera: Olympus EP-3 with aspherical f/1.7 lens; Phone: iPhone 5; eReader: Kindle

Jodi Ettenberg

Jodi Ettenberg quit her job as a lawyer in 2008, thinking she would travel the world for a year. Now almost 7 years later, she works as a freelance writer, public speaker, and soup eater, documenting her adventures on her site Legal Nomads.

Derek Baron (Wandering Earl)

Laptop: Macbook Pro with Retina display 2013, Phone: Nexus 5 64 GB

derek baron wandering earl

Derek left home for a 3 month trip to Asia in 1999 that has still yet to end. Want to know more? You can ask him directly on Plansify.

Barbara Weibel (Hole In The Donut)

Laptop: MacBook Pro 2014 13.3 with Retina Display with 500GB HD, 16GB RAM, 3 GHz Processor, two power bricks; External Hard Drive: Western Digital My Passport 2 terabyte; Cables: HDMI to HDMI for viewing movies from laptop on TV; Ethernet with Thunderbolt adapter;

  • Wifi Extender: Rockland n3 USB adapter
  • Phone: iPhone 4s 16 GB; Sim Card from Truphone; Audio: Yurbuds Ironman headphones
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL1 with two 32GB SDHC cards, two batteries; Lenses: Walk-around is my Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM ultra wide zoom. Additionally, carry a Tamron SP-70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD telephoto and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM prime lens

Flashlight: Nebo Larry 8 LED Light with Magnetic Clip; Scale: Brookstone Electronic Luggage Scale; Speaker: Brookstone Mobile Mini BT Speaker with Bluetooth connection for iPhone; Battery: Brookstone USB Backup Battery

barbara weibel hole in the donut

After years of working at jobs that paid the bills but brought no joy, Barbara Weibel realized she felt like the proverbial “hole in the donut” – solid on the outside but empty on the inside. Determined to pursue her true passions of travel, photography, and writing, she started her blog, Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel, and set out to see the world.

Dave Dean (Too Many Adapters)

Laptop: Asus U36-SD 13″ display, 512GB hybrid drive, 6GB RAM, Windows 7 (It’s still going fine, but is now 3.5 years old so I’ll be looking to upgrade early next year); Phone: Google Nexus 5 32GB; Tablet: Google Nexus 7 32GB (Theoretically a joint purchase with my girlfriend, although I totally monopolize it.)

External drive: 1TB Seagate; USB Wi-Fi adapter: Alfa AWUS036H; Chargers and cables: Far too many, mostly thrown in a small dry bag where they tie themselves in knots. I’ve also got a small travel-sized power strip with 3 plugs and a USB socket.

dave dean blogger

Dave has been based out of a backpack for the last few years, writing about travel and tech from anywhere with half-decent Internet and a great view.  You can find him at Too Many Adapters and What’s Dave Doing?

Gary Arndt (Everything Everywhere)

Laptop: 15″ MacBook Pro Retina, 16gb RAM, 500gb flash drive; Smartphone: iPhone 5 with 64gb storage; Camera: Nikon D300s; Lenses: Nikon 18-200mm VR, Nikon 12-24mm, Nikon 50mm f/1.4, Sigma 150-500mm; Shutter Release: Trigger Trap cable + iPhone app; Tripod: Oben Carbon Fiber tripod and head

Power Cable: Monster Cable Outlets to Go, 3-port USB power strip; Mouse: Apple wireless mouse; Misc: Assorted power adapters, extension cord, USB cables, SD card reader, neutral density and circular polarizing filters.

gary arndt

Gary Arndt sold his house in 2007 and has been traveling the world ever since. He has have visited all 7 continents, over 165 countries and territories around the world, every US state and territory, every Canadian province, every Australian state and territory, over 125 US National Park Service sites and over 275 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Gary blogs at Everything Everywhere.

Juno Kim (Runaway Juno)

Laptop: MacBook Pro 13inch retina display, 2.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5; 8GB RAM; Phone: iPhone 5; Tablet: Acer iA6

runaway juno

Juno Kim is a travel writer, photographer, trained mechanical engineer, and life-ling nerd who left her cubic farm to reclaim her creativity and inspiration. She enjoys digging information passionately if it interests her, like astronomy, comedy shows, and musicals. Currently she’s on a quest to find the place where she can call ‘home’ while publishing her work on Runaway Juno. You can also find her on Twitter @RunawayJuno and the Runaway Juno Facebook page.

What Are Your Go-To Devices?

A laptop and phone seem to be essential electronics these bloggers (and pretty much all of us) can’t travel without provided we’ve got enough batteries to stay charged. From there, depending on personal interests and focus of our work, it varies quite a bit. I’m curious, what gadgets are always by your side on a trip? Any ideas for new additions to your backpack from the lists above? Let us know in the comments right below!

How To Get A Visa For Every Country In Central Asia

This is a guest post by Nick and Dariece, the couple behind Goats On The Road, a website designed to inspire others to live a financially sustainable, location independent lifestyle. Masters at making money abroad and turning their travels into a way of life, they’ve been on the road since 2008 and have explored some of the least visited places on Earth, finding adventure wherever they go.

central asia visas

Planning a trip to one of the least visited regions on Earth can be a daunting experience, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. For the most part, traveling Central Asia comes with a lot of paperwork; i.e. permits, letters of invitation and visa applications, but finding the right information is often the biggest hurdle you’ll face.

Within it, the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan form one of the last great travel frontiers and a trip here is a truly epic experience that doesn’t need to be discouraged by bureaucracy. Below we cover how to obtain a visa for these countries for most nationalities.

Why Central Asia?

Central Asia’s group of 5 former Soviet Republics, also known as “The Stan Countries,” were once a blank spot on the map south of Russia and north of Pakistan. More travelers are finally starting to realize that Central Asia nations are a prime backpacking and adventure travel destinations because they blend rugged accessibility with inviting exchange rates. We spent 4 months in 2013 traveling through this region trekking mountains, exploring ancient cities, road tripping and flying in helicopters, only to crave even more!

central asia mapVisa Basis: What You’ll Need

Generally you will need to hand in the following at the consulate:

  • A copy of the visa application form (usually available at the consulate where you apply or online)
  • 1-3 passport photos (save some money by printing your own)
  • The visa fee in the appropriate currency
  • Your passport (valid for at least 6 months from date of entry)
  • A photocopy of the portrait page of your passport
  • Letter of Invitation

We also recommend you bring pens plus two extra copies of passport pages and photos to the consulate in case they’re spontaneously requested (which isn’t unheard of).

BTW, What’s A Letter Of Invitation (LOI)?

A LOI is an extra bit of paperwork Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan require before you can apply for a travel visa (the stamp in your passport that allows you to enter a country). A LOI on the other hand basically what it sounds like – a formal invitation from a registered travel agent or tour operator in the country for which you are applying.

central asian visas

You will be asked for the LOI to be submitted with your visa application at the consulate. They cost between $30-150 US dollars (USD) and can be obtained from a reputable company like StanTours, which we recommend.

Visa Policies For Each Central Asian Country From Easiest To Turkmenistan

Below you will find everything you need to know about the visa policy for different nationalities traveling through Central Asia.

Kyrgyzstan

Issyk kul Kyrgyzstan

  • No visa needed for visits up to 60 days for these nationalities; no LOI required for most nationalities.

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan is a great place to stock up on other visas for onward travel as well. You can spend a week or so in the capital applying at embassies and you’ll save yourself some time and hassle as most embassies in Bishkek are easy to deal with. For more on traveling here, check out our Ultimate Guide To Backpacking Kyrgyzstan.

Kazakhstan

Astana Kazakhstan

If you’re traveling through Central Asia heading east, apply for this visa in Ankara, Turkey – good consulate reports and little hassle. Processing time is around 4 days; while you’re waiting, read up on Kazakh culture and customs.

Tajikistan

If Bishkek is on your Central Asian travel itinerary we recommend applying for a Tajik travel visa there if possible, since you can get a free GBAO permit on request. If you’re heading east through Central Asia and turning Ankara into a tourist town, you won’t be able to get your GBAO there. Alternatively you can apply for a GBAO permit after arriving in Dushanbe. For more on traveling here, check out our Ultimate Guide To Backpacking Tajikistan.

Uzbekistan

samarkand uzbekistan

Citizens of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Malaysia, Spain, Switzerland, UK and USA do not need a letter of invitation to apply for a Uzbekistan tourist visa. Everyone else, you can can obtain an Uzbek Letter of Invitation here. Heading east you can apply for your Uzbek visa in Ankara which has good consulate reports from other travelers. Heading west we recommend applying for your visa in Beijing, China or Bishkek, which have an average turnaround time of 2 days, enough time for your to prepare for your trip to Uzbekistan.

Turkmenistan

mary turkmenistan

  • This is by far the most annoying tourist visa to obtain. You must have an expensive LOI for any stay longer than 5 days and even with one, you may be denied a visa. We recommend the 5 day transit visa which is what most travelers end up getting. A transit visa costs $55 ($155 for Russians), allowing you to travel in Turkmenistan for up to 5 days, no LOI needed.

Another reason that this visa is so difficult to apply for is that you will need to indicate specific dates of entry and exit on your visa application, have hotels previously booked, as well as state the exact land border crossings that you plan to enter and exit Turkmenistan through. Once you’ve written down the borders and dates there is NO changing them, so make sure of your plans beforehand.

If you’re traveling to Turkmenistan heading east through Central Asia, you can apply for your Turkmen visa in Ankara; heading west you can pick it up in Beijing. Additionally, a consulate is set to open in Bishkek in the near future.

Flight In And Over Paperwork

There are a number of airlines flying into major Central Asian capital cities (particularly to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and Dushanbe, Tajikistan) where there are deals to be found, especially from Europe and east Asia. Not only do these routes save you money on flights, they are great because arriving at these airports lets you to get visas on arrival.

pamir mountains tajikistan

For example, upon arrival in Bishkek, you’ll get a free 60 day stamp where you can then apply for any of the other four Central Asian nations in capital.

You Know What You Need, Now It’s Time To Go!

Central Asia is, without a doubt, one of the most stunning, friendly and rewarding destinations we’ve traveled to. In our 4 months traveling in Central Asia, we horse trekked over mountain passes, swam in crystal clear alpine lakes, soaked in natural hot springs, flew a helicopter over the Pamir Mountains, slept in yurts and so much more! This is a place where adventure and culture collide to create a memorable travel experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.

Thank you again Nick and Dariece for taking the time to compile this detailed guide on obtaining travel visas to all five Central Asian nations. You can keep up with Dariece and Nick on Goats On The Road, a website designed to inspire others to live a financially sustainable, location independent lifestyle. Don’t forget you can also follow Nick and Dariece on TwitterFacebookGoogle+ and YouTube.

How To Spend A Short Trip To Vilnius, Lithuania

October 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Advice, Culture, Security, Travel

cathedral square vilnius lithuania

The capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, is the ideal size for active travel feet who want a city that can be wandered around with nothing more than leg power. Like 2 to four minutes in Dubai, Vilnius is small enough to be thoroughly explored on a short day or two trip but leaves enough behind for a subsequent visit or longer stay. Here’s how to best introduce yourself to this Baltic city of 540,000 people.

Get To Your Hotel First, Not The Airport

Vilnius is really refined almost to its edges, except where taxi drivers meet Vilnius International Airport. The majority will gleefully try to charge you triple the normal rate to get into town and while there are airport shuttles available, an honest cab is too inexpensive plus convenient to pass up. One quiet way to beat those shady taxi drivers is to call ahead to your hotel or hostel to have them send a cab for you.

vilnius city tour

Speaking of hostels, I can highly recommend Jimmy Jumps House which is comfortable, clean, and close to town. Here’s my full review of Jimmy Jumps House with more details.

Most of you who’re familiar with eastern Europe know this is standard practice to avoiding getting ripped off (in India as well) so be sure to have your unlocked mobile phone and hostel digits handy. (In case you don’t, the departures terminal upstairs has free wireless for a Skype Out call.)

From Art To Old Then Back Again

When walking around generally one wants to see unique – and brick buildings with straight edges in Europe just isn’t it. You’re better off starting with Uzupis, literally “across the river” in Lithuanian. It’s the hippie-ish we-might-be-smoking-weed-before-painting-things neighborhood of Vilnius.

uzupis bridge vilnius

Visually, it’s interesting, whether you happen to be intoxicated or not. (Keep in mind marijuana is illegal in Lithuania.) Although they don’t look inviting, many of the alleyways are colored with extraordinary talent next to pawn shops that accept Uzupis’ own currency. Yes, Uzupis is a lot like Copenhagen’s autonomous neighborhood Christiania, aesthetically and ideologically.

vilnius uzupis alleyway

Hike, Don’t Walk To The Three Crosses

You can almost miss the Three Crosses monument, which overlooks Vilnius and offers the best views of the city. Just north of Uzupis, don’t just walk straight up, come around and stroll through Hill (Kalnai) Park first. Then, make use of the hiking trail (not the paved asphalt path) going around to the right – where you’ll be able to see the remains of the original monument destroyed by the Soviets in 1950 – the current crosses were placed in 1989.

three crosses vilnius

Hiking down the paved path this time leads you around Gedimina’s Tower, remains of a 13th century fort that most travelers without a specific interest can skip. You’ll end up in front of the Vilnius Cathedral whose side rooms filled with passionate praying reminiscent of Metekhi in Tbilisi, Georgia give a glimpse into Lithuanian faith.

vilnius cathedral

Depending on the season, there’s often a jollier atmosphere right outside in Cathedral Square next to Bell Tower; where I witnessed a student dance group practicing their moves for a large crowd.

15 Minutes On To The Old Town

Meandering slowly south you can recharge with a snack and coffee at a place like Saskaita on Pilies Street, a part of town that captures hungry tourists and locals alike. Granted you might be thirstier for a stronger drink – like a local beer at Snekutis (the one across town toward the bus station.) Whether you’re leaving town on to nearby Latvia or staying for a few more days, much of Vilnius is accessible within a half hour’s walk of calorie burning sightseeing.

Get Better Travel Photos From Your Phone With These Apps

October 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Tech, Travel

camera fv-5 app

Most of the best mobile phones of 2014 for travelers (and newer) have good camera sensors but there’s often a big difference in the resulting photos between models. What you may not realize is that lens quality is as important as the software interpreting the light coming through the aperture of any dot on the back or front of a phone.

Although it’s not feasible to change your smartphone’s photographic hardware, these apps can improve your pictures particularly in the conditions where phones tend to suck – low light and moving subjects.

Camera FV-5 ($3.95; Android Only)

The designers of Camera FV-5 have really done a good job of making your phone’s screen feel like a DSLR viewfinder, with the options to go along with it. Camera FV-5 has a light meter, let’s you adjust ISO, take long exposure shots and more. If you’re a camera control freak on Android, this is the app for you.

Camera+ ($2.99; iOS Only)

You don’t get quite as many manual controls with Camera+ as you do with say, Camera FV-5, but where the app really excels is in post editing. Once you’ve taken the shot you want, Camera+ lets you brighten, brush up, and enhance with filters that aren’t designed to be obvious (a la Instagram). Personally I like the image stabilization the app introduces to prevent blurry edges in night shots.

camera plus app

Night Camera Plus ($0.99; Android Only)

This app does its best to improve low light photos as they’re being taken – not enhance them into funky-exposed grainy messes after the fact. The developers have published a few technical details on how the app works [PDF] but for the trial price of free, you can easily see for yourself.

night camera plus

Camera360 (Android, iOS, Windows Phone)

Preset scene modes that don’t look crappy but do a good job of highlighting your subject, with respect to color and lighting. Your photos won’t look quite as natural with many of Camera360’s modes but they’ll likely look a hell of a lot better; especially if you’re fond of taking selfies. Oh, and it makes GIFs!

dancing chihuahua

Night Cap ($0.99; iOS Only)

There isn’t a lot that Night Cap does but it’s focus on low light photos and video in a simple interface really works, when it works well. A lot of the images it takes don’t turn out perfectly if you’re not resting the phone on a stable surface (i.e. not your hands) so remember to improvise something like a napkin holder as a tripod. One nice feature of Night Cap is automatic long exposure; meaning you don’t have to guess how many seconds you’ll need to get a nice starry night, the app figures it out for you.

night cap pro app

Google Camera (Free; Android Only)

Lens. Blur. It’s an effect that gives pictures a nice “hey this was taken on an expensive camera” feeling. Combined with 360 degree panoramic shots and a super simply interface, it’s not as powerful as others in this list, but effective in good lighting situations.

ProCam 2 ($1.99; iOS Only)

ProCam 2 has a select set of shooting modes phone users need most often, like anti-shake, night mode, and for fun, time lapse. Beyond that if you want more manual control, ProCam 2 provides that as well, with spot metering, shutter speed control, plus others in a highly polished interface.

Pick And Choose Depending On How You Use

Some of us like photographic control whereas for others too much of it actually hinders our main objective – getting better travel photos from our phones. Pick the app or two that gives you the level of manual control you normally like and roll with it. You can learn to turn your mobile phone into a better digital camera with the right software but don’t forget brush up on photographic basics all travelers should know. Even the best app can’t tell you how to compose an aesthetically pleasing image (hint: kitten).

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