Five reasons to unplug your vacation

We don’t get all that many vacation days. Even if you think your hard-earned three weeks is cushy, you’ve got nothing on Europe where they typically have weeks and weeks more — even Singaporeans get 30 days. Surveys like this one have proven that Americans don’t even take all their vacation days. I understand this; there’s always a fear that you won’t get ahead as quickly or that people will think you’re “taking advantage.” Unfortunately, in many office cultures, this can be true.

And so, you feel pressured to stay available, even on your vacation. Your away message reads “available by Blackberry.” You ensure your hotel has high speed internet so you can get a little work done. You know what that is? Vacation sabotage. For sending to your boss, or maybe your spouse, here are Five reasons to unplug your vacation:

1. You’ll sleep better.
Part of the importance of vacation is to get some long hours of sleep. That iPhone buzzing, the little red Blackberry light flashing, even the knowledge that you might have a new message, especially if you’re vacationing in a different time zone; these are all things that can mess with your sleep. Though you might have withdrawl for your first night or two, with no one counting on you to be available and no deadlines looming, you’ll sleep much better.

2. Time to think.
For many of us, a day of work is a day of putting out fires. We may come into the office in the morning with a good idea, but by noon there have been several crises and we’ve forgotten all about it. This isn’t the path toward innovation. By unplugging yourself, you allow your mind time to ponder your work experience from the outside. You might be surprised at how you can simplify or improve a business matter by stepping away from it. Unplugging will help you reenter your workplace with fresh eyes, an invaluable commodity.3. Physical and emotional health.
There’s a lot to be said for taking a step back from the stresses of work. Not only can you find new ways to do a better job, but the time also gives your poor mind and body a break. Balancing the stresses of modern day life and work, both physical and emotional, can be quite a juggling act. Don’t bring your laptop and spend time hunched over it like you would back home; unplug and get a massage or lie on the beach — it may be the only rest those muscles get until next year. Furthermore, don’t worry so much about everything, which is what being available will inevitably cause you to do. Constant reminders of what you’re missing at work will interfere with your relaxation. A vacation should be a break from physical and emotional stresses — it’s what you need to have you feeling refreshed when you’re back in that office or cubicle.

4. Your family.
Your vacation may be the longest stretch of time you get to spend with your family … ever. Use the time to get to know them, play with them, love them and don’t waste their time looking for a good wifi signal or make them wait while you answer an email. Staying available and working can lead your family to feel that the vacation is some kind of favor you’re doing them and that you don’t want to be there. That’s not good.

5. You earned it.
Take your vacation days. Take them, and maybe we can get our country’s mindset about these hard-earned days back on track. Request them on one of your good days, so that your request gets returned to you with a smiley face and a “You deserve it” scribbled in the margin. You do deserve to not answer your Blackberry or iPhone while you are trying to unwind. Time things so that your bosses view your unreachability as a reward, not an inconvenience.

Five sexy ways to carry your valuables safely

We all want to be safe when we travel. It’s a given. Crime on the road is almost always unexpected and can really mess up your trip. There are some situations we simply can’t prepare for (Godzilla, for example, or the Spanish Inquisition), but we can be smart about what we wear and how we carry our valuables.

Safety-wear is a dangerous can of worms for the fashionably inclined. I am not someone who can handle wearing a fanny pack (or “bum bag” for those of you who are British and appalled that I said “fanny”). I don’t like things that are too bulky and I completely disapprove of anything that is aggressively “anti-theft;” it usually means “heavy” and “ugly.” One should not have to sacrifice their sense of style for safety.

There’s good news: one does not. Here are five sexy ways to carry your valuables safely:

Money belt
“That’s not sexy!” you might proclaim. There was a time when I would have agreed with you. However, this was before I discovered the secret joy of the money belt: put it under your clothes and pull it tight. It shrinks your waist or flattens your stomach; it basically does everything Spanx would if you bothered wearing them while traveling. Be careful you don’t pull too tight or you’ll have an uncomfortable breathing situation which could lead to friction burns, and make sure the clothes you wear over it are skimming, not form-fitting. Most importantly, make sure you position it so you can get to it without disrobing publicly. That will invite a different kind of crime.

Thigh sheath
The thigh sheath is arguably the sexiest way to carry your valuables. Scott reviewed the PortaPocket, and I’m into that, but I like the sexy lambskin Wallet with Garters above ($19.95, and yes, it comes in other colors), or for vegans, the ruggedness of the Medical Trauma Thigh Pouch in “Coyote Tan” ($89.95). It calls forth images of video game and film heroines. Plus, if someone’s stealing from a pouch on the inside of your thigh, you’re going to notice. I recommend wearing it under a dress or skirt for full concealment.Bag that zips
I will always argue that a fanny pack doesn’t make you safer; it makes you look like a tourist. Don’t buy one. Backpacks can be easy to pickpocket, as can most tote bags. Stick with messenger bags and purses that zip for carrying valuables. Even a bag that zips can be a liability in a loud place, as you won’t hear a gentle pickpocketer. Another common trick: someone will start a conversation with you to distract you from their friend, who is quickly digging for your wallet. You best bet is to keep your bag zipped and hold it under your arm so that you can see the zipper pull at all times. Don’t bother putting things in the outside pockets unless you’re willing to lose them.

Tilley hat
Tilley hats are pretty darn cool looking. Flip through the gallery in Serious traveling hats and you’re likely to find something you like. As an added bonus, each one has a hidden compartment right on top of the head. That’s a good place for your stuff.

Secret pockets
And, speaking of hidden compartments, one safety feature many stylish garments already include is the secret pocket. You’ll find these in perfectly respectable (even sexy!) coats, on the inner rims of some shorts and all over the place on ScotteVest products, including fashionable jackets and form-fitting pullovers. When you’re packing, choose the item with the secret pocket over the item without, and you may find yourself freed from carrying a bag in some situations — and much safer than you would be if you had your wallet and phone in your back pocket.

I mean, even if you don’t get pickpocketed, I hear about a lot of things ending up in the toilet that way.


Five ways to get the person in the seat next to you to stop talking

Some people don’t mind a little chat on the airplane, but what do you do when you’re sitting next to the world’s most effusive babbler and all you want is to read, work, sleep or jump out the window?

It’s not your responsibility to act as your seatmate’s captive audience, but ignoring people is mean and feels awful. Here are five ways to delicately end the conversation.

1. The Book Heisman. Rather than the traditional “stop talking hand,” get your book between you and the talker. This works especially well when you have the window seat; pretend to lean against the airplane wall. Magazines can be even more effective, as they are larger. Once they notice the book is open, and between you, they should get the hint. If not, say “Sorry, I really have to finish this.” Let them figure out why you need to read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on their own.

2. Offer them an activity.
No, don’t give them a book or puzzle; they’ll ask you for help and talk to you about it the whole time. Just remind them of what they (hopefully) brought. Say: “What did you bring to read? Oh, I haven’t read that book, can I see it?” This gets their book (or laptop, or whatever they have) out of their bag and into their lap. Digging out their own entertainment may have been what they were trying to procrastinate by talking.3. Headphones. The only problem with this is that they’ll know there’s nothing to listen to during takeoff (because that’s before plane music starts and you’re not allowed to use your iPod) or landing. If you can stand it, let them talk through the first few minutes of your flight, then pop the earbuds into your ears and close your eyes or get to work as soon as you can. The trick? You don’t have to actually listen to anything at all. If they ask you anything, make sure they ask at least twice and pretend you didn’t hear them over the music. If they still don’t get the hint, add #1, The Book Heisman.3. Get excited about your activity. Even if it’s feigned,

4. Get excited about your activity. Even if it’s feigned, tell the person you are so excited to read your book, or dive into work, or nap. This works best right after they’ve told you something that you didn’t know (no matter how mundane). “Huh. I didn’t know that. Thanks. [yawn] Anyway, I’m really looking forward to this nap. Have a good flight.” If they interrupt whatever you’re doing, give them the puppy eyes so they remember they’re disturbing you.

5. Honesty. Is it always the best policy? Maybe not always, as this one might make the person feel bad. Still, if you’re tried 1-4 to no avail, the person probably needs someone to level with them about airplane talking: not everyone is into it. You’ll be doing someone on a future flight a favor. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t like to talk on the airplane. This is one of the only times I get to be quiet” works well. If that doesn’t work, or you have to repeat it more than once, you are totally within your rights to just ignore the person. You tried to be nice.

More ideas? Share them below.

Top Five Whale Watching Destinations in America

Ever wonder what the big deal is about whale watching? Well then, my guess is that you haven’t been whale watching.

Whale watching is a serene and eco-friendly activity. Actually seeing a whole darn whale in its own habitat is truly astonishing, and will fill you with wonder. What’s more, whales will often “play” with whale watchers — they know you’re watching, and it turns out they’re kind of into that. They come up to the surface and say hello, breaching and waving at you with their unique-like-snowflakes flukes.

If you’re the kind of person who can watch fishing or golf, whale watching will rock you to the core. Kidding, kidding — but it can be a lot of sitting around for just a few minutes of splendor, or worse: Sometimes you pay for a whale watching tour and see no whales at all. Still, whale watching has actually become more profitable than “whale whacking” in recent years. According to, Australian Minister for the Environment Peter Garrett has said: “Whales are worth more alive than dead!”

You don’t have to go to Australia or Portugal to watch whales (though those are great places to do it). These five American states have it all — scenery, weather, and a really good chance of seeing whales.

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.