adventure, city reviews, places, travel tips

Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Page Arizona

Page Arizona is a small, desert town right next to the lake Powell Dam on the Colorado River. It is probably on the map primarily due to two popular tourist attractions nearby besides Lake Powell: Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River and Antelope Canyon in Navajo Nation.

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View of Horseshoe Bend at Sunrise with the sunlight reflecting off distant clouds, great lighting this time of day!

Horseshoe Bend is a spectacular vista point on the river where the Colorado takes a sharp turn shaped like a horseshoe with deep canyon walls resembling the Grand Canyon but smaller. While not as grand as the larger canyon, this area is certainly large enough to invoke awe. Below are a few tips

Sunset vs Sunrise: The sun sets almost directly behind horseshoe bend overlook. So the site can be spectacular but the lighting can be hard to capture. Sunrise from behind gives better lighting if you can get up early enough but you will be facing away from the sun.

Crowds: This is a popular spot. English speaking American’s are probably a minority here which is super cool. For whatever reason this is a very popular place with international travelers. It certainly is spectacular. But can also be quite crowded. Go in the winter, on a week day, early morning for best results.

Temperature: Both times I went it was cold. In fact there has been snow there as the winters can be rather cold. But remember it is a dry desert and in the summer can be sweltering. So bring water!

Getting there: Tons of parking with bathrooms! I’ve never had trouble parking at all. The hike is approximately 0.4 miles each way. You briefly walk up a hill an then the rest is downhill (with the reverse on the way back).

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Where to shoot: The middles (where the most tourist are) is the symmetrical image classic to Horseshoe Bend. However, going to the right (and I’m sure the left as well), offers incredible alternative perspectives equally as beautiful if not so symmetrical. Walk around and don’t just shoot from one spot (like so many people there do).

Antelope Canyon is the most famous of many slot canyons that dot the desert landscape around Page. Upper Antelope Canyon is the primary place that people visit here. However, there is also Lower Antelope Canyon, and numerous less famous ones that one can potentially visit as well.

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Visiting: First pick your canyon. Upper is the most popular and is easy to get to but the other options can be beautiful too. Next pick a tour agency and preferably book in advance to secure your spot. Because this land is owned and operated by the Navajo Nation, they create the regulations for its use. Due to overuse and vandalism, guided tours are required to limit the number of visitors and to protect the beautiful landscape.

I recommend Antelope Canyon Tours Inc. I used them and enjoyed my tour immensely with an excellent tour guide and quick reasonable service. They are highly rated on Yelp as well. Total cost was about $40/person with optional tip (I tipped because I thought she was exceptional but didn’t notice anyone else doing so). Its a bit more expensive during the summer.

Getting The Photo: The photo that everyone wants to get here is that classic image of the light streaming down through the slot into the darker canyon. Its a beautiful shot. To get it you have to go close to noon when the sun is the highest. The canyon will be quite crowded so you may want to take a photo tour which allows more time and privacy (DSLR and tripod required to eliminate more casual tourists).

However, remember, the classic photo isn’t the only aspect of beauty here. A good tour guide will point out exceptionally beautiful spots in the canyon that require no special lighting or positioning of the sun. I went at 3pm and got some awesome photos!

Set your camera up before you go based on current lighting conditions and be prepared to shoot quick. The tour is fun but somewhat rushed as there are lots of people trying to see the canyon all the time. If you go in the winter and later in the day the canyon is much more deserted.

Page Arizona is a small, touristy, southwestern town. There isn’t a whole lot to do there besides the two main things I just mentioned and anything to do with Lake Powell (which is currently quite low). Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Canyon are all within 2-3 hours which makes it possible to use Page as a base camp. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is also nearby and quite enjoyable to visit.

Where to Stay: We stayed in the Motel 6 in Page Arizona. It was newly remodeled. Very inexpensive (about $50/night). Quite clean. Nicely decorated (simple Ikea style). And very close to everything (10 minutes or less).  We looked at some of the other budget hotels and some nicer ones, but none seemed to give the same value for the money.

Where to Eat: For dinner we ate at a local American style Mexican restaurant called El Tapatio which was quite delicious. It seemed popular with tourist and locals alike as there was a 20 minute wait on a random week-day night. Other than that there didn’t seem to be many good local restaurants, coffee shops, or bars though I’m sure there are a few gems we missed.

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

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city reviews, iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is the little big city. Its official population is 119,000 people with about twice that living in the surrounding towns. In the US or most of Europe this would be quite a small city; however, Reykjavik really pulls off a bigger town feel.

Language:

Almost everyone in Reykjavik speaks decent English so communication shouldn’t be an issue if you know that language.

Transport:

The city is very navigable with a couple of larger roads but no real highways. There is plenty of free parking if you are willing to walk a few blocks which I always am! The city is quite walkable once you park. There are also public buses which will get you from place to place; however, they don’t come that often and were a bit hard to figure out for me.

Lodging:

I recommend Airbnb. I paid about $40/night to take a private room for two in an apartment. We had full range of the apartment and hardly saw the owner. Another visit we did use a hotel which was under $100/night for 3 people and included a large delicious European style breakfast. My upcoming trip I have rented a 5 bedroom house for a large group of us for about $350/night.

Eating:

Food is quite expensive in Reykjavik. Going out to eat at an average restaurant that might cost $10-20/person in the US would be about double that in Iceland. However, shopping for your own food is reasonable, sometimes cheaper than the US, but still more expensive than most of Europe.

Because of this I haven’t eaten out much in Reykjavik. There are plenty of other blogs where you can learn more about the cuisine there, but if you are budget traveling like me, you may want to skip it.

Two recommendations I can make: Omnom Chocolate: got a bunch of free samples from them and loved it. Quite delicious dark homemade chocolate bars. Reykjavik Roasters makes some awesome brews. They are located in a quaint red house that really sets that perfect coffee house mood.

Shops and stuff to see:

Most of Reykjavik’s shops and restaurants are located along Laugavegur street and its side streets. Here you will find numerous bars, restaurants, locally hand made products of all sorts, clothing shops, and more. Much of it is touristy of course so prices may be a bit higher than elsewhere. We discovered some cool pottery shops and lots of wool clothing stores on our last visit.

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A view of the city with the mountains behind it from one of the hotels I stayed in on my first ever visit to Iceland in 2015

Nightlife:

For its size Reykjavik has amazing nightlife. Both times I visited, I took one night to go out on the town and had an amazing time. Tons of people out including many locals not just tourists. Last time I met a guy who recognized me from my Instagram where he had seen photos from my previous visit. We also met some random Icelandic guys who showed a great time, skipping the line to get into a more exclusive club. One of the most fun bars in Reykjavik is the gay bar, Kíkí Queer Bar, fun music and a great mixed crowd. We also enjoyed Lebowski BarKaffibarinn, and Austur.

Because drinks are expensive in Reykjavik ($10/beer, $15/cocktail), I’d recommend a good pregame to get the night started. Drinking age is 20 and there are bouncers but they are pretty chill. Icelandic people love to drink and party (or so they have told me), and from what I’ve seen they seem to be right. Most of the bars are off that same main street with all the shops and restaurants. Just walk up and down and go bar hopping. You will have a good time!

Touristy Stuff:

Like most towns there are all sorts of tours including free walking tours. I’ve never done one in Reykjavik but I know that in some towns the system kind of rips off the tour guides, so make sure you tip well and maybe read up on the way the tour guides work before going on one.

Whale watching is tons of fun and a good way to enjoy the nearby natural beauty. I recommend Elding Adventures At Sea, whom I went with and quite enjoyed. They have their own museum about whales as well.

There is also a large swimming area (well lots of them but one in particular) in the city, taking full advantage of the thermal waters underneath Iceland. Every pool at this swimming park is somewhat warm and there are multiple hot tubs of various temperatures. The park is called Laugardalslaug and is open to the public.

Another popular tourist attraction is the Hallgrimskirkja, a large church deigned to resemble the natural volcanic rock formations found in Iceland. It is quite beautiful and offers a great view of the city from the top.

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Random tourist saying a prayer in front of the great church

The best thing about Reykjavik is you can do all this stuff in just a day or two, giving you tons more time to see the rest of the nature on the Island.

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

camera, photography, travel tips

How do I get my Photos?

People often ask me how I get such amazing shots (their words not mine). I don’t think my shots are that impressive most of the time. They certainly aren’t professional yet. And I would love if you guys would give me some constructive feedback on how to improve.

However, I would love to share the few tips I do have so far on getting these shots, including setting, timing, location, equipment, and editing.

Lets start with the gear that I use.

For panorama shots, videos, and certain difficulty lighting situations (where HDR setting is best), I actually use my Samsung Galaxy S7. I wish they would sponsor me haha. Some of my best photos come from this phone. I use an Auto or Panorama setting occasionally using the HDR option on Auto. That’s it!

Brand New cost $600

My DSLR camera is a Nikon D3300. This is a crop sensor (as opposed to full-frame) entry level DSLR with a surprising number of options including full manual settings.

Brand New about $460

My favorite lens is the highly rated Nikon AF-S Nikkor 18-140mm 1:3.5-5.6 DX VR zoom lens. This lens has an auto focus that is usually accurate and a manual focus which I find somewhat stiff to adjust precisely. I hope to upgrade to a professional grade lens soon.

Brand New about $500

My second favorite lens is the Tokina SD 11-16 F2.8 (IF) DX which works with Nikon though I’m not sure if the auto focus is accurate. I use this for wide-angle photos of landscapes at least 7 feet away (the manual mode for this lens adjusts to infinite after 7 feet. Make sure the focus marker is perfectly in line with the infinite symbol ∞.

Brand New cost $450

Besides that I also use multiple SD cards, preferring smaller 4gb ones over larger ones, some filters (Neutral Density filters to extend exposure time and Graduated Neutral Density filters for differing exposures). I need to purchase a Polarizing filter next to reduce glare. I also use an SD to Micro USB converter that allows me to directly put photos from my DSLR to my phone for Instagram posting on the go. I also own an older manual Nikon Nikkor.C 1:4.5 f=80-200mm zoom lens. It’s a really nice older lens that works well on most Nikon camera.

I’m looking to upgrade to a professional grade Camera and am torn between the Nikon D810, Canon Mark III or IV, and the Sony Alpha a7R II Mirrorless. Any suggestions or opinions?

Happy Travels!

 

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

Affordable Lodging and World Travel

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How do I afford housing while I am traveling? Especially when I am usually paying rent on at least one place in the US during the same time?

One of the first places I look when friends complain about not being able to afford travel, is at how much they spend on hotels. I rarely spend more than $25/per person per night when traveling. And yet I see people who will literally spend $300/night on a weekend in LA and who can’t seem to understand how I travel so much more than they do. If I spent that much per night traveling, I honestly don’t think I could afford more than 3 weeks a year if that!

I’ll be honest, I don’t need anything super fancy when I travel. I don’t find that the return on investment is usually worth it. Most of the things I want to do don’t involve the place I am lodging in. I’m not one to spend hours relaxing at a resort.

But I also like my privacy. I’ve done the bunk beds. I’ve done the couches. They work for a time. But they aren’t my favorite option. I prefer a bit of relatively clean place to unwind at the end of the night.

Thus most of my suggestions focus on this niche: people who want to travel economically, who want some privacy, who want something clean, but nothing fancy, nothing over the top, no extra champagne perks if you will.

There are basically five ways to stay when traveling: hotels, hostels, Airbnb, Camping, and with friends or family.  If course there are more which I will briefly cover, but these are the primary ones that I use. Let me explain how I use each one to its fullest potential in the following articles which I will post over the next few weeks! Stay tuned 🙂

Happy Travels!

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

Norway

Some of my Favorite Norway Photos and Where I Took Them

Norway has a ton of exciting places to visit that I haven’t had the time to see yet. Like the tallest mountain in the country which apparently has an ice tube carved into it by adventurous climbers where you can literally slide down the mountain once your reach the top. Or what about the famous rock left balancing between two cliffs overhanging a fjord (Kjeragbolten)? Even Pulpit Rock, which is often super crowded, is supposed to be an amazing site to see. But guess what? It was covered in fog when I spent 4 whole hours strenuously climbing to the top and I didn’t get to see a damn thing!

The following destinations are all nearby to Flåm, a popular tourist and vacation spot on Norway’s largest fjord just a few hours away from Bergen.

Stalheimskleiva

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Stalheimskleiva is a scenic spot on a narrow winding mountain pass near Flam Norway. The valley below is green and fertile with innumerable waterfalls flowing off the sides and grassy farmland filling the middle. This was one of my favorite views in all of Norway that did not involve a Fjord. To get here you have to leave the main highway which tunnels under the mountain before resurfacing in the valley. You will also get stunning views of Stalheimsfossen (126 meter horsetail waterfall) and Sivlefossen. At the bottom of the hill there is a small parking area and some hiking trails which I’m sure are beautiful although I haven’t done them yet myself.

 

Kjelfossen

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Continue following the main road (E16) for another couple of kilometers and you will come to Kjelfossen, one of Norway’s tallest waterfalls. This photo hardly does it justice but I thought the clouds midway up made the scene absolutely epic. The falls is approximately 755 meters tall or 2,477 feet tall. Apparently it is a popular ice climbing destination in Norway. The entire area is breath-taking and to the east is a harbor for the ferry to Flam. Or if you prefer you can take the E16 as I did.

Stegastein

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Stegastein is a view-point overlooking the part of the Sognefjorden fjord where Flam is. This fjord is the largest in Norway and the second largest in the world and is absolutely beautiful. You must see it and this is one of the best viewpoints. In fact all along this road are numerous overlooks and pull outs to get a better idea of the land’s beauty.

All three of these sites can be seen and enjoyed in a single day trip from Bergen as we did this summer with time to spare.

Happy Travels!

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

country profiles, Norway

A Quick Guide To Norway

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Norway is one of the most beautiful, clean, advanced countries in the world. The natural landscape is second to none. The cities are advanced and so is the economy. However, it is also one of the most expensive countries in the world, certainly that I have ever been to.

What I hope to provide you in this post is bit of advice on how to do Norway in an economical fashion without missing out on the beauty of the country.

How to get there:

From the US you can fly to two main cities: Bergen and Oslo; or perhaps a slightly smaller one Stavanger. Oslo is the largest and most common but I would personally recommend Bergen as it is closer to most outdoor activities. One economical way to get to Norway which I used in 2015 is to fly to Reykjavik with Wow Air and then from there to Norway with Norwegian.

From Europe, Norwegian is a budget airline that goes to most cities in Norway and from most cities in Europe. Once again I’d recommend Bergen over Oslo.

Where to stay:

There is so much to see in Norway, and unlike some other European countries, you really can’t see it all from one base point. If you just have a few days, stay in Bergen and take day trips (this is what I did in 2016 on a 4 day trip.

If you have more than 4 days (I’d recommend 2 weeks if you can afford it), I’d start in Bergen and than loop around the country, perhaps heading south to Stavanger or even further to Egersund where I stayed in 2015. Then make your way back up north to Oslo before cutting back to Bergen. For a longer loop, continue from Oslo all the way north to Trondheim, before heading back down through the fjords to Bergen.

Lodging:

While there are of course many hotels and a few hostels in Norway, Airbnb is by far the most economical. In 2015, my two friends and I booked a private Airbnb apartment for 3 people with a kitchen for about $70 total.

In 2016 I rented a private room for two in an apartment for 4 nights for about $170 total. The owner was hardly ever home, super hospitable, and allowed full use of her kitchen for us to cook.

Oslo is extremely expensive, hence I don’t recommend staying there unless absolutely necessary.

Transportation:

There isn’t really any public transportation in Norway. You can get around the cities by buses and a friend of mine took a bus from a major city to a popular hiking area, but if you want to see more than just the top tourist attractions and the city centers, you need to rent a car.

That being said: renting a car is extremely expensive. The car rental itself is fairly reasonable ($50/day or so but varies). Make sure you get a diesel (its cheaper) and something with good gas mileage. Unless you are there in the dead of winter you don’t need a 4X4.

Getting Around, the roads and fuel:

Gas is approximately $8/gallon or 1.74 EUR/liter. Tolls are outrageous. If you can plan your trips to include minimal back tracking (so you don’t pay the same toll twice) and try to avoid toll roads (Google Maps isn’t quite up to speed on which roads in Norway have tolls and which don’t), you may save a bit.

However, you cannot fully avoid them. Most car rentals charge by plate or by chip on the windshield and you get the bill a few weeks after your vacation. I spent $100 in tolls in 4 days on my last trip. If they have an option for a fixed daily rate to go through unlimited tolls, take it! I did that in 2015 and it probably cut my toll costs in half.

Norway doesn’t have many traditional 4 lane highways. Many of its roads are single lane roads with turn outs for passing and some of these sketchy passes still charge you for a toll. There are also tons of tunnels which is nice because it helps preserve the external landscape. Just drive with care and watch out for other drivers.

DON’T SPEED. Seriously. They give out tickets in some places for just a couple of km over speed limit. Plus it’s not very safe to speed on the curvy roads of Norway.

What to see in Norway

There is too much to see in this beautiful country. Stay tuned for more coming soon!

Happy Travels!

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 tips

Travel really IS for everyone, and don’t let people tell you otherwise

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Matador Network (whom I frequently read and enjoy) recently posted an article entitled LET’S STOP PRETENDING THAT TRAVEL IS ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE.

Sounds intriguing right? I am well aware of the numerous posts out there saying that anyone can travel! And I’ve much enjoyed learning their tips on how to make it happen.

However, this author apparently feels that this is unfair to many people whom he believes just aren’t privileges enough to travel like him.

I could not disagree more. Sure there are a few situations that may temporarily or very rarely permanently inhibit travel. However, for people in the west (whom his audience is directed), really have very few excuses not to travel.

Having children is one of the most frequent ones I hear. And yet I know penniless young single mom’s who travel the country, child in tow. It takes resourcefulness and hard work, but in no way is a privilege.

The author states that if you didn’t come from money than you probably never thought of traveling. I completely disagree. I came from extreme poverty (by American standards, though I never lacked what I needed). And yet from a very young age I dreamed of travel. And the desire awoke even more fully when I was working and paying my way through college.

Some of the most traveled people out here in the west coast are homeless hobos, hopping from city to city. While I don’t condone their lifestyle, it just shows that money isn’t the privilege that make travel a possibility.

And on top of that, travel is super cheap! If you are willing to put in the work and discipline, you can literally do a trip for about the cost of buying the latest smart phone.

The biggest problem that people have is not living within their means. And this problem affects people of all level of income, privileged and oppressed. Its part of the curse of the so-called American Dream (which in my opinion is more of a night mare).

I am a travel nurse at the age of 30 and finally make a good living by most people standards. I know how much it costs to live where I do and how much most nurses make. There is absolutely no reason why any nurse in my area should not be able to travel fairly often. And yet all the time I get the question “how on earth do you travel so much? how do you afford it? I’m so jealous”.

I will go into more details on how I afford to travel so much in future posts. So stay tuned.

But suffice to say, I went overseas raising my own money, on a humanitarian trip for 10 days at the age of 16. At the age of 23 I did 3 weeks in Costa Rica using my own money while waiting tables (only 25 hours a week) and paying for college. Granted I took out some extra loans which I later paid off, but they were interest free student loans so I figured it was worth it.

I have never had the privilege of money. Certainly I am aware of numerous other privileges and understand how not having these can make it harder to travel. But don’t let that be a crutch.

If you are truly serious about traveling the world begin thinking about ways you can eliminate expenses and increase your income. Don’t get into a serious relationship. Don’t have a kid. Don’t buy a house. Don’t get that new car. Learn how to leverage credit cards to your advantage. Don’t go out to eat. Don’t buy drinks at bars (especially fancy cocktails…what a rip off!). Don’t buy name brand clothing. The list goes on.

When someone writes an article about how not everyone can afford to travel or has the privilege of being able to, I just think about how many people I’ve met who I know make way less than I do and yet drive a brand new $30k car or have expensive designer clothing. There is nothing wrong with that. But don’t tell me how you can’t afford to travel.

And yes there are still some people in our country who are destitute, hungry, trapped in their circumstances. These are people who need a hand up from society to get back on their feet…but this is a travel blog, not a political blog.

Happy Travels!

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