lodging, travel tips

Where should I stay when I travel?!? – Closing Thoughts

There are quite a few other options out there as well. I recently spent a few nights in a rustic cabin in Moab, Utah for $25/night with an external bathhouse (hot running water, heat, showers, etc) to be shared with other cabin campers. It was a cute, cozy cabin with a heater, nice bed, end table, lights, window, free parking, and a chair. The separate bathroom wasn’t far at all and kept quite clean. For the price it couldn’t be beat.

Some people enjoy using Couch Surfers. This is sort of like crashing on your friend’s couch while your in town, except with a stranger. It seems to work well for attractive women as there seem to be many young men willing to host them. My experience is limited but mostly involved emailing 7 people looking for a place without getting a single response. However, I know a number of young single women who have had positive experiences with the community and even the enjoyable spontaneous hook up.

I dislike the lack of safety checks that even Airbnb has (though Couch Surfing has worked to improve these and has a good review system in place), the lack of privacy, and the lack of establishing a means by which to ensure the availability of your stay (if your a stranger offering me a free place to crash, I can’t really get upset if you cancel last minute or stand me up).

If you have a large social media following and influence you can often get places to let you stay for free in exchange for some social media marketing or a good review. Research the place first to make sure you can in good faith give them what they are asking for. I see so many travel bloggers sharing photos on Instagram about their lovely stays at such and such a villa, and I can’t help but feel the knowledge being shared in being diluted by advertising. But if offered, I would certainly do the same while ensuring that my readers knew it was a paid endorsement so as not to be misleading.

Nepal has a lodging option called Tea Houses. These are often small hotels or rooms in people’s larger homes that may be rented by wayfarers and often include meals or have a restaurant associated. During off-season you can sometimes stay for free if you buy your meals from the owner. A private room may only cost your $10, but if probably won’t have hot running water or a private bath. Certainly an adventurous way of travel that I intend to use in the near future.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

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Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikon D810
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

adventure, places

Sonoma Coast State Park

The California Coastline is renowned for its spectacular cliffs, rocky outcroppings, pebble beaches, black sand beaches, lighthouses, Redwood forests, and waterfalls plummeting off cliffs onto Sandy beaches below.

Massive waves crashing on a boulder near Bodega Bay
Massive waves crashing on a boulder near Bodega Bay

The Sonoma Coast State Park in Sonoma County has most of these things and more. If you start at Bodega Bay and drive north, you will find most stops than you can make in one day…or even three (I just finished my third visit this month!).

Gazing off into the Horizon near the Arched Rock along Sonoma Coast State Park
Gazing off into the Horizon near the Arched Rock along Sonoma Coast State Park

Its only just over 1.5 hours north of San Francisco and well worth the day trip. From the quaint little resort town of Bodega Bay you head north stopping to see numerous waterfalls rushing over 50 feet over the cliff’s edges onto the sand below. I imagine all the rain we’ve been getting has greatly improved the quality of these waterfalls. The hills slope away from the beaches behind and are dotted with sturdy trees and covered in green grass.

A fun rock to climb and watch the waves on Goat Rock State Beach
A fun rock to climb and watch the waves on Goat Rock State Beach

A pull off not far north brings you to Arched Rock, an amazing arch out in the ocean perpetually pummeled by gargantuan waves.

Long Exposure over the Sonoma Coast at a dynamic sunset
Long Exposure over the Sonoma Coast at a dynamic sunset

A few miles father and you reach my favorite spot: Goat Rock State Beach. Here you can turn down a poorly maintained narrow road that leads down to the beach itself and allows you to park feet from the waves. To the right is the Russian River, powerful and flooded at my last visit, spilling muddied water into the Pacific Ocean, changing its color for miles. To the left is another beautiful arched rock and some of the most spectacular sunset watching I’ve seen in California. 

Spectacular Sunset Views on Goat Rock State Beach
Spectacular Sunset Views on Goat Rock State Beach

Continue across the Russian River north through Jenner, CA and you will find several small pull-off with hidden trails leading to secret beaches. My favorite one, not more than a mile north of Jenner, has ropes leading down the embankment to help you climb down to a spectacular pebble beach below. If you make it safely down, hike to the right, following the beach to a huge rocky outcropping where waves splash 30 feet or more over impressive boulders, drenching the rocks below and you if you get too close (Yes of course I got to close).

Directing the waves at a hidden beach just passed Jenner CA
Directing the waves at a hidden beach just passed Jenner CA

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Buy prints www.creatingezra.com

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikon D810
Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

camera, photography

How I get my Photos: Detailed Editing (on my Laptop)

For exceptionally high quality edits, there is no real substitute for a full blown photo editing tool such as the desktop version of Lightroom or even Photoshop. I have an older version of Lightroom but it seems to work just fine for my skill level.  Adobe offers both as a subscription now rather than a one time program download. You can get both Photoshop and Lightroom as well as numerous mobile apps for just $9.99/month which I’d recommend if you are serious about editing your travel shots!

Lightroom for desktop offers incredibly detailed photo editing and covers nearly all your editing needs. I’m not an expert with Photoshop, but from talking to more experienced photographers, Photoshop is only necessary is you need to do drastic changes to your photos such as adding blue sky or deleting entire crowds of people.

Like the mobile version, I usually start with the Basic settings and then use the more advanced methods if these don’t correct the photo enough. The basic settings are nearly identical to the mobile app.

I also use the spot removal tool extensively to remove clutter, errors in lighting, and unwanted people in my photos. This is not available in the mobile app and is not especially good quality in the Snapseed app.

Lightroom for desktop also offers a gradient tool which is exceptionally useful for fixing overly exposed skies and underexposed landscapes at the same time.

Below are 5 copies of the same photo shot with my Nikon D3300 using my Nikkor 18-140mm lens at 18mm with an aperature of f/7.1, and shutter speed of 1/80 second, and and ISO of 100. The first is the originial untouched and the other 4 are various edits with Lightroom and Snapseed.

Original photo taken at dusk January 15, 2017 at Sand Harbor on Lake Tahoe in Nevada United States
Original photo taken at dusk January 15, 2017 at Sand Harbor on Lake Tahoe in Nevada United States

 

Photo edited with Lightroom desktop edition. I wasn't trying to make them all looks the same, just going for what looked best on the app I was using at the moment
Photo edited with Lightroom desktop edition. I wasn’t trying to make them all looks the same, just going for what looked best on the app I was using at the moment

 

Edited with Lightroom Mobile, notice the blue and purple tones, this is the effect of the Dehaze setting
Edited with Lightroom Mobile, notice the blue and purple tones, this is the effect of the Dehaze setting

 

Edited with Snapseed using the Drama filter and some minor retouching manually as well, notice the grainy texture from over-processing
Edited with Snapseed using the Drama filter and some minor retouching manually as well, notice the grainy texture from over-processing

 

Edited with Snapseed using basic settings and no preset filters
Edited with Snapseed using basic settings and no preset filters

That’s it for now. Help me do better! Leave a comment with your favorite tips and advice 🙂

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

lodging, travel tips

Where should I stay when I travel: Camping

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Camping:

Outside of friends and family, camping is often your cheapest option. I’ve seen 8-10 people put 3 tents on one $20 camp site and literally pay about $2/each. There are some places you can even camp for free (Iceland and New Zealand are known for allowing people to camp for free on much public land and even the US has some free primitive sites). Being outside with nature is a travel experience everyone should have a least once a year if not much more.

Drawbacks to camping include, cold or hot nights, the need for camping gear, set up and take down, and limited facilities.

To avoid weather extremes, I’d recommend camping in the fall or spring. Bring proper warm clothing and blankets to stay warm. Plan to share a tent in cooler weather and perhaps sleep in a hammock in hotter weather.

Build a collection of camping essentials. These include (but are not limited to) a tent large enough for the group you wish to travel with, a warm sleeping bag, chairs, headlamps and lanterns, cooking utensils, fire starters, lighters, extra blankets, a tarp, a rain fly (if your tent doesn’t come with it), and a large cooler (for food to cook over your cozy fire).

Only camp if you have at least two days to stay at the site. Preferably 3 or 4 nights. While set  up and take down may only take a couple of hours, this adds up significantly when you add cooking time  and inconvenience of showering off site. If you must pay to camp, look for a spot that offers on site showers, has built in fire places with grills, and allows you to make reservations in advance.

One of the last times I went camping was in California in the Inyo National Forest. There were two of us and we stayed 3 days. It was about 45 degrees at night which was rather chilly, but we had 3  extra blankets and two sleeping bags which helped. Set up and take down was about 2 hours total. We did have a couple of fires and cooked our meals on them which was quite enjoyable. Cost was about $18/night plus $5/night for firewood. We already had all the equipment so that wasn’t a new expense.

If you plan on camping overseas and must fly equipment out there, make sure your cost of flying the equipment is worth the hassle. If you are only planning on camping a few nights and flying your gear is going to cost you $$$’s, you may find another lodging option is more affordable and convenient.

Happy Travels!

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

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Save money by traveling like I do

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Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

lodging, travel tips

Where should I stay when I travel?: Hotels

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Hotels:

The vast majority of people I know stay in hotels when they travel. I just finished a road trip across America where I stayed in hotels nearly the entire way. I thoroughly enjoyed all but one of my stays and rarely paid over $50/night.

Hotels are often overlooked by budget travelers. But if you aren’t stuck on a certain brand or “star” rating for a hotel and you aren’t traveling alone, hotels can quite often be your best bet.

There is nothing wrong with 2 star budget hotels. I’m always shocked to see these fellow travel bloggers who frequently stay in 4 and 5 star hotels and honestly can’t help but believe they must be sponsored to stay there. The difference in quality between a good 2-star hotel and a 4 or 5 star hotel is rarely worth the quadruple or more price difference.

I like to value hotels with the law of diminishing returns. Once your base, minimum need are met, the law of diminishing returns states that for the more your invest the less you will get on that return. In other words, you may get something that is an 8 out of 10 for $80 but have to pay $100 more to get a 9 out of 10 and $200 more to get a 10! Is it really worth it?

If money is not an issue, if you aren’t on a budget, if spending a $1000 doesn’t feel much different than buying a coffee: than why the hell are you reading this 🙂 You don’t need to worry. But if you are on a budget, get a clean two star option and be happy with it!

How do I find good deals? I use Orbitz and Skyscanner to search for the best priced hotels in the area. Why both? Skyscanner is good because it searches nearly every single site for the best deal and has certain search options  (like total price for entire week’s stay) that other sites don’t offer. However, I often find that an individual search on Orbitz will give me special deals and options that Skyscanner apparently doesn’t have access to.

Why Orbitz? I picked a travel site and stuck with it. There are so many who all claim they are better than the next but essentially offer the same deals or are even the same business. Orbitz and Expedia are the same for example with different rewards programs and page colors.

When selecting a budget hotel, I check out the photos and look for ones that appear recently remodeled in ALL the photos (often they remodel just one room, showing a few photos of that one room, giving the impression of a full remodel. However further investigation will show the rest of the hotel looks old and nasty). Next, I look at the amenities and make sure they are reasonable and standard. Most budget hotels offer free breakfast and parking with wifi as well. Finally, I read a few recent reviews and look for hotels that generally have a 75% recommendation rate or better. Reading a few reviews is helpful if you really want to be thorough. Sometimes a hotel has bad ratings  (and therefore perhaps cheaper prices) because a few demanding, unreasonable, people stayed in a 2 star hotel hoping for a 5 star experiences. You can quickly tell by their reviews that they are reviewing a Kia with Mercedes standards.

Another option is to use HotWire. This website will give you phenomenal deals on hotels which are given a star-rating, a specified neighborhood on a map, and a customer review rating without specifying the exact hotel. Somehow this allows them to give you a better deal. And sometimes it really is an exceptional deal.

I’ve stayed in brand new Motel 6’s with chic Ikia style furnishings, hardwood floors, 50 inch TV’s, and clean comfy beds for under $50/night. I once got a 3.5-star hotel in an excellent location in Paris for $60/night. I’ve stayed in 4-star boutique hotels in  Washington DC and San Francisco for about $90/night. I like hotels that offer a free breakfast and 24 hour check in as that eliminates time constraints and allows me to get some quick food on my stomach before the days adventures.

What I like most about hotels is the impersonal aspect of them. If you are just trying to spend some time alone, some time with someone special, or engage with a very particular group hotel’s allow your interactions with others to remain impersonal and distant. They also often offer a higher level of security than other options. Clean towels every day, fresh sheets, and bathrooms essentials as needed are also nice bonuses.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

travel

How I get my Photos: Basic Editing (on my Android)

So now you have the right gear, you’ve learned how to set up your camera just right, and you found the perfect spot, with the perfect lighting, at just the right time of day, and you nailed it. You got that perfect, amazing photo you’ve always been wanting.

What next? How do you edit it?

For Instagram, I edit almost all my photos on my phone. I am just now getting into more professional editing through Adobe Lightroom on my laptop which I will cover later.

I have an Android phone (Samsung Galaxy S7) and I edit nearly all of my Instagram photos on this phone including ones taken with my DSLR. I use two apps: Snapseed for basic editing, quick fixes, and dramatic effect; and Lightroom Mobile for more detailed work.

Snapseed:

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Gásadalur, Faroe Islands, edited with Snapseed

 

Snapseed is a free photo editing tool now owned by Google and essentially their response to VSCO. While VSCO focuses on softer light and quieter tones, Snapseed seems to excel on bold, deep, dramatic edits especially the very popular HDR.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range imaging and in short tries to emulate to depth of field and clarity seen by the naked eye (with perfect vision). Snapseed has its own adjustable preset HDR filter but also excels at allowing you to create a custom “HDR” setting with their basic manual editing mode.

Snapseed also includes selective mode (select a color on the photo and adjust it), brush mode (use a brush to adjust hues, contrast, exposure, etc), healing mode (“heal” or fix blemishes on your photo), vignette mode (create a vignette or reverse vignette), and more.

Besides HDR, Snapseed offers Drama (dramatic darker HDR effects), Glamour Glow (good for smoothing out faces and skin or creating a mystical slightly blurred effect), Tonal Contrast (adjust specific tones such as lights or darks), and numerous more specific filters (which I never use).

I can edit a photo on Snapseed in about 30-60 seconds most of the time.

Quality is average but by no means perfect. You can clearly see the difference when the photo is blown up to high-resolution compare to one edited on Lightroom.

Update: Snapseed now offers Facial filters, White Balance adjustment, and Text!

Lightroom Mobile:

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Gásadalur, Faroe Islands, edited with Lightroom

Adobe now offers Lightroom Mobile free of charge on Android. This is an amazingly powerful app, nearly as good as the full version of Lightroom itself. It does lack a few key tools such as spot remover (Snapseed to the rescue?), but overall is about as complete a tool as one could possibly need for their phone.

Lightroom allows you to import as many photos as you want and edit them in the program without actually saving a copy of the edited photo unless prompted. My guess is that the app simply saves your adjustments as a sort of mask for the original photo, compiling them into an entirely new .jpg image upon saving. This results in far higher quality even with extensive editing then is allowed by Snapseed.

Lightroom has 6 primary modes: Basic, Tone Curve, Vignetting, Split Toning, Color/Black and White, and Dehaze.

Basic covers all your basic and primary needs including White Balance, Temperature, Tint, Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation with an Auto Tone setting as well. With just basic I can do 90% of all my editing.

Tone Curve adjusts the hologram for the image with primary color adjustments or focusing on highlights, lights, darks, and shadows. A bit more advance, it does offer far more specific adjustments than basic and is useful if you can’t get that exact lighting you want with the simpler settings.

Vignetting is fairly self explanatory and does what it should do.

Split Toning is something I haven’t messed with much but its supposed to do what the full desktop version of Lightroom does with Gradients. This is useful if you have an overly bright sky and darker landscape for example.

Color/Black and White adjusts specific black and white settings or specific colors. Lets supose you want to bring out a blue sky. You can adjust the saturation and Luminance (essentially brightness) of all the blue hues in the photo individually without turning up the saturation for everything else. Options include Hue, Saturation, and Luminance in 8 colors each.

Dehaze is one of my favorite options. This setting allows you to increase or decrease the “haze” effect created by the atmosphere as objects increase in distance from the camera. It does tend to make the photo overly blue if overused, but can create quite a nice bold dramatic effect that I can’t normally emulate with just the basic settings.

Lightroom takes me much longer to edit in. Partly because I haven’t developed any presets yet (yes it has a preset option for customizable settings!!!) and partly because I lack the skill at knowing exactly what needs adjusting in my photos. I’d guess about 3-5 minutes per photo.

Update: Lightroom now offers Lens Correction!

So there you have it. The two apps I use for just about every photo on my Instagram. Go check them out and tell my what you think. What apps do you use? What settings? Any tips?

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

lodging, travel tips

Where should I stay when I travel?: Hostels

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Hostels:

I feel like hostels are the classic travel option for backpackers around the world, particularly Europe. People that want to see the world but don’t necessary have a lot of money love this option. It is also the favorite option of people looking for new friends, solo travel, and trying to party their way around the globe.

My personal opinion is that hostels are not a great option in the US. I’ve heard of people paying $70/night to stay in a dirty hostel in San Francisco. I stayed in one hostel in Chicago that was full of families and people in their 70’s. Nothing wrong with them trying to save money, but it really messes up the hostel vibe. In any more expensive country (US, Norway, Iceland), you are often better off with another options ESPECIALLY if there are more than one of you.

However, eastern and southern Europe, Central and South American, and (from what I’ve heard) Southeast Asia, are all excellent hosteling choices. A bunk can often be obtained for as little as $10/night. Of course you can always pay a bit more and get a private room as I did with my girlfriend in Madrid. We got all the benefits of the social environment of a hostel, still paid a total of about $50/night, and got a clean, quiet, private room with a bathroom as well!

Hostels really are the prime social environment. Mix numerous young enthusiastic travelers, often solo, with an environment that forces you to be in close contact and gets you out of your comfort zone. Add in the frequent party atmosphere, planned or readily available events, and cheap alcohol, and you have a great recipe for new friends, adventure, and hopefully a few wild late night stories. All for a couple of dollars a night.

My last few hostel stays (at the age of 30) I’ve felt that I’m starting to out grow the full hostel scene. In  the future I’d see myself staying in a lot more hostels but focusing on smaller more intimate ones with private room options and perhaps a more mature crowd. I stayed in a wonderful hostel last year in Budapest, Hungary, that was full of happy young people cooking and mingling together and actually building relationships which is what travel is all about. Later that same trip I got wild at a famous party hostel in the same city. I don’t remember much of that but the intimate hostel will never be forgotten.

In the future, I hope to review some tips on hosteling and also to suggest some good ones that I’ve enjoyed.

 

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II