5 ways to thwart homesickness

Homesickness.As every traveler knows, sacrificing the comforts of home can be difficult. Strange foods, inclement weather, and lying in bed at night without the one you miss the most (your dog) can all lead to the ruination of your vacation or trip. Particularly when you’re somewhere very different from your usual surroundings, the pangs of craving the ease of your normal routine and the desire to share your new experiences with loved ones back home can be crippling.

It’s a good idea to address the possibility that you may get homesick before you leave. Here are 5 ways to thwart homesickness — things you can do before and during your trip to help stave off the blues.

1. Photographs. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in this digital age, many of us don’t carry photographs with us anymore at all. It’s nice to have something tactile with you that you can take out on the top of a mountain or on a boat in the middle of the sea. On the flip side, having a hard copy will keep you from sitting in your room stalking your loved ones’ Facebook pages.2. Talk. My friends who’ve been solo backpacking in foreign lands all say the same thing: you’ll never feel more alone in a crowd than when you don’t speak the language and nobody knows you. It’s fortunate for us that many countries in the world speak English, but there are still plenty of places where you can go and be totally linguistically helpless. After a day or two of struggling to communicate, you may feel like shutting up altogether — but don’t. Think about it as developing your non-verbal skills. If you don’t continue interacting with the people around you, you will almost definitely get bored and/or sad. And you will want to go home.

3. Keep moving. In the great tradition of “fake it till you make it,” keeping yourself occupied means less time to pine away. It’s that simple. Just get out of that hotel bed, put down that phone, and go experience something, even if you don’t want to.

4. Limit your contact with home. While cutting off communication altogether is unnecessary, those from whom you are away are bound to respect your need to be just that: away. Constantly reading e-mails may make you worried about the office, constantly calling home will get you too involved in the day-to-day stuff which can probably be dealt with without you or wait until you get back. If saying “goodnight” to your honey is your crutch, go for it, but don’t waste your precious sleep with any of that “you hang up first” nonsense. Say “goodnight” and rest up for another exciting day.

5. Bring yourself a comfort item.
Nobody has to know that you still sleep with a nightlight or a teddy bear, or that you deeply love Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (which you can totally make with most hotel coffee-makers), or that you like to watch your dvd of Mary Tyler Moore reruns when you’re lonely — but these are all things that are easy to bring along on almost any trip. A simple thing like your favorite trinket on the nightstand can help you feel grounded when you are far from home.

Got more ideas? How do you keep from getting homesick on the road?

Through the Gadling Lens: 5 of the best travel photographers of all time

I’m in the middle of a crazy travel time: I’ve been to both New York and Chicago in the past two weeks, and there doesn’t seem to be much relief in sight in the upcoming 2 or 3 months: Portland, Atlanta, London and Paris are all distinct possibilities. And while being away from my family for all of these trips doesn’t please me in the least, I can’t help but be a little excited at the prospect of some great photo ops coming my way.

Like most, I often search Flickr and other sites for some inspiration. In addition, I’ve been known to pour through the work of some of my photography idols — Herb Ritts, Annie Leibovitz — the people who got me interested in photography in the first place, to get some ideas. But since I’m in the throes of traveling, I thought that this week, I thought I’d share the photographers who, in my opinion, are absolutely the tops when it comes to travel photography. Greater minds may differ, though, so I hope you’ll challenge me in the comments.

With that, on with the show:

Landscapes: Ansel Adams

I think it’s arguable that Ansel Adams is the most recognizable name in photography — I’d heard of Ansel Adams and his stunning images of Yosemite before I’d ever heard of an SLR camera. According to the official website, American photographer Ansel Adams was born in San Francisco, California, at the beginning of the last century. Originally, he was training to be a professional piano player, but eventually left music to pursue photography. In addition to being a photographer, he was also an avid environmentalist — and his passion for the environment is obvious in his images of Yosemite, and other areas of the Southwest United States.

Of course, the subject matter of Adams’ photographs is pretty breathtaking, but the reason I love his work is not because of his composition, so much as the way he processed the images. Again, from the official website: “Adams developed the famous and highly complex “zone system” of controlling and relating exposure and development, enabling photographers to creatively visualize an image and produce a photograph that matched and expressed that visualization. He produced ten volumes of technical manuals on photography, which are the most influential books ever written on the subject.”

In other words, Adams was one of the first photographers to codify the idea of visualizing the resulting image before you actually squeeze the shutter, and then using the developer chemicals (or, these days, Photoshop) to ensure that the resulting image accurately reflects what you visualized. He was one of the first photographers to think of the image as a form of expression, rather than documentation. And for this, in my mind, he will forever be a rock star.

(For more information about Ansel Adams, be sure to visit the official website.)

Portraits: Steve McCurry

You may not know his name, but chances are you’re familiar with his famous photograph of the young Afghan girl with the piercing green eyes, which graced the cover of National Geographic Magazine in the mid-1980’s. Steve McCurry is an American photographer born in Philadelphia, and graduated cum laude from my dad’s alma mater, Penn State University, from the College of Arts and Architecture. But my favourite part of his official bio describes how his career got its start:

“His career was launched when, disguised in native garb, he crossed the Pakistan border into rebel-controlled Afghanistan just before the Russian invasion. When he emerged, he had rolls of film sewn into his clothes of images that would be published around the world as among the first to show the conflict there. His coverage won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad, an award dedicated to photographers exhibiting exceptional courage and enterprise.”

See what I mean? Rock. Star.

I seriously can’t get enough of McCurry’s work, and frankly, he’s my very favourite photographer of those I’m featuring here on this post. In particular, I love two aspects of his work:

a) He is masterful when it comes to understanding colour and light. When you look at his images, it’s clear that the colour palates of compositions are at least as important as the subject matter itself. The light of his images is always breathtaking, and the catchlights in his subjects eyes’ always draw you right into the image; and

b) He is prodigious when it comes to capturing a glimpse of the spirits and souls of his subjects. When you look at his portraits, you’re not just looking at a pretty face, or a weathered expression, you’re catching a glimpse of the thoughts and emotions of his subjects as well. I absolutely believe that this ability of capturing a quick flash of someone’s soul in a photograph is one that is truly a gift, and can’t be taught. But that’s not to say I don’t try to tap into my own ability to do this every single time I click my camera.

(For more information about Steve McCurry, visit his official website. Also? Be sure to check out the posters and fine art prints he has for sale. I purchase the portrait of the woman in Peshawar, Pakistan to hang in my studio for inspiration.)

Wildlife: Jim Brandenburg

American photographer Jim Brandenburg has been a photographer with National Geographic for more than 30 years. As I look through the gallery on Brandenburg’s website, it occurs to me that his portfolio entirely and decisively debunks the myth that all you need to take a good wildlife photograph is a long lens: his images of the animals in the prairies and other wild locations show emotion in these animals; whether it’s the sheer, frozen determination on the faces of the bison caught in the blizzard, or the apparent hysterical laughter on the face of rabbit on Brandenburg’s image, entitled appropriately, “Laughing Rabbit.” In addition, his panoramas of wide open spaces are wonderful studies in colour and pattern and repetition. Really inspirational work.

(For more information on Jim Brandenburg, be sure to visit his official website.)

Architecture: Julius Shulman

If you’ve ever been struck by the way many historic images of mid-century modern houses are shot, chances are you have photograp
her Julius Shulman to thank. Shulman was widely considered the most innovative architecture photographer of all time — and sadly, he died at the age of 98 this month. In the obituary announcing his death in the L.A. Times, the late Robert Sobieszek, former photography curator at the Los Angeles County Musum of Art, described Shulman’s work as follows: “He has a sense of visual bravura of composition, so that he can take a rather mundane house and make it look exciting, and take a spectacular house and make it look triply spectacular.”

His most famous image is the one you can see above, and I can tell you that it must have been a doozy to capture. The multiple light sources — the ones hanging on from the ceiling of the house, the lights of the city below, and the fact that the women seated appear to be lit from a source near the floor as well — makes this nearly an impossible image to expose properly, and yet Shulman does it flawlessly. The women add perfect scale to the image, without distracting. And he did all this without a digital camera. Amazing.

(For more information about Julius Shulman, see his Wikipedia entry, with links to external sites discussing his work.)

Underwater: Chris Newbert

I’m a scuba diver, but one type of photography I’ve just never been able to nail down is underwater photography. I’ve been diving in some of the clearest, stillest water possible, but still — the water never seems still enough to get a sharp image, it’s difficult to hold the camera steady while you’re floating, and the diffused light through the ocean totally distorts colours. I just can’t get it right, and unfortunately, I don’t get enough opportunity to dive in order to practice.

Which is why, I suppose, I’m absolutely blown away by the photography of Chris Newbert. Newbert is also a photographer for National Geographic Magazine, and his images of translucent underwater creatures is breathtaking. Are you looking at those? Incredible. According to his official bio, Newbert has been shooting underwater since the early 1970’s, and has received worldwide accolades for his work. It’s truly breathtaking.

(For more information on Chris Newbert, visit his official website.)

So, that’s my take on the top 5 travel photographers ever. If you have any other photographers you’d like to add to my list, be sure to leave them in the comments, below. As always, if you have any questions, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.

Five myths about traveling in Tokyo

I’ve been wandering around Tokyo for the last week or so and its been an eye opening experience. The culture is rich, the city endless and terrifying and gray and intense. Every day I’m astonished by the differences between our societies and the way that the Japanese operate, horrified by the varieties of food that we eat and warmed by the hospitality around me.

It is an experience far from what I had predicted, I am pleased to say. Back in New York we had broad, naive expectations formed by our guidebook scouring, stories from friends and films we had seen at the theater. They’re beliefs held by many Americans, I feel, and I thought that sharing my experiences would help clear some of these ideas up. Take a look at the biggest five myths I’ve found about traveling in Tokyo:

  • You won’t be a tall monster in Tokyo. While the national height average is a little lower in Japan, tall people do exist here and are not uncommon. Unless you get on a particularly short subway car, you won’t be able to see end-to-end with your friends. Similarly, your feet shouldn’t hang off the bed by 6″ when you check into a hotel. Three out of three of my mattresses so far have been fine for me and I’m pretty tall.
  • Electronics aren’t crazy awesome and cheap. While Electric City does have a ton of electronics with a remarkable variety, much of it is the same as US equipment and the price is also on par. I was looking at an IBM x40 Thinkpad for about 250$ this week, which you can get on Ebay for about 270$. Factor in the Japanese keyboard and having to carry it all of the way back to the States, and it isn’t really worth it.
  • People won’t stop to ask for your pictures. I’ve been with two tall people (over 6’4″), a nerdy African-American lawyer and a blond girl from Long Island, and have yet to be stopped for a picture. Some schoolchildren did ask for a photo at a temple in Osaka, but it was part of their homework assignment.
  • Bowing is nice and polite, but not necessary. Japanese understand that you’re visiting and don’t necessarily subscribe to their culture so don’t expect you to bow at every transaction and conversation. This especially holds true for small things like asking for directions or buying street food.
  • You can get around with English. Subway and rail stations all have English directions so you can navigate without a guide or translator.
  • Matthew Firestone is not the genial Lonely Planet and Gadling writer that you think he is. He is a dangerous, dangerous drunk that will feed you cow intestines and steal your children.

As in any metropolis, culture steps away from the traditional, outlying areas and shifts towards a central, efficient system. Most Tokyo residents wear business suits around town, work hard and party hard into the early hours of the morning. Visit with an open mind and a warm heat and you’ll find it among the most amazing cities in the planet.