Wednesday, December 28, 2011

18 Best ways to enjoy your trip to Chile

It could be the best trip of your life.  Lonely Planet put Santiago in the top-ten city destinations for 2012. There's also Valparaiso, the Atacama desert, Pucon and Torres del Paine in Patagonia to enjoy.  Click on the slideshow link below to see some of my favorites from my last trip there.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Now this makes sense - TSA is catching on

Under the category "It's about time," the TSA announced the launch of their

TSA Cares Toll Free Helpline for Travelers with Disabilities and Medical Needs


Hopefully this will eliminate many if not most of those terribly embarrassing moments we all hear about. For full details, read about it here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Photographic Creativity Study

Have a "nature" photo that you shot that you think is award worthy? If so, it will pay $10 minimum if you submit it here: Photographic Creativity Study If it's the best, it could pay $1,000.

This is actually a study being done by a university professor, so you will be asked some questions in addition to submitting your photo. The whole process takes less than 10 minutes.

$10 for 10 minutes = not a bad deal

Sunday, December 18, 2011

All dressed up – let’s travel

Sport coat and slacks that look good – day in and day out – from Magellan’s

When you've traveled close to a million air miles, you learn that one thing you can’t live without is a good men’s blazer.  Whether for an important meeting or fine dining, a blazer that travels well is pure gold.

I finally found it!

A few months ago I discovered the Ultimate Travel Blazer from Magellan’s. For well under $200, this is the most forgiving coat I’ve ever worn. Folded in a suitcase for three days, it unpacks and wrinkles fall out almost immediately. On a 12 hour flight back from Taiwan, I sat in it for the first couple hours and then used it as a blanket for the last four hours. No wrinkles!

If its wrinklelessness wasn’t good enough already, they pack it with extra features. In addition to the typical exterior pockets, this comes with four generous-sized, zippered, internal pockets. They are perfect to hold airline tickets, cellphone, compact camera, mp3 player with earbuds, and even a seven-inch Android tablet. Keep that in mind next time you’re stuck in your seat waiting for the “fasten seatbelts” light to go out. With this coat, you’ve got everything you need for hours of enjoyment on the plane and terrific stylish looks while you’re off the plane.

Magellan’s offers the Ultimate Travel Blazer in two colors: black and tan. Here’s how they describe it:

The soft, wrinkle-resistant, microfiber thin wale corduroy is perfect year round, and dresses up or down with ease. Mesh half lining is breathable, and a touch of spandex ensures ease of movement. Classic tailoring details include a two-button front, shaped shoulders, chest pocket, flapped hip pockets, and back vent. And inside there are four zippered security pockets. Made of 85% polyester/13% nylon/2% spandex.

And slacks too

As a perfect complement to the coat, I also picked up a pair of their Flat Front Denim Pants. Available in denim and dark denim, these are some comfortable, smart-looking slacks. With just a hint of Lycra in the fabric and a hidden, stretch waistband, these slacks just fit great, day after day. I got the darker denim ones, and they don’t show dirt the way my khaki pants do. Even on two-week trips to Zimbabwe and Chile, they still held their shape and looked sharp. They even include a fifth hidden security pocket.

If you are looking to perk up your wardrobe for 2012, you need to seriously give these a look, or pass this article on to the Santa Claus in your life. While you are at Magellan’s website, you’re liable to find a slew of products you never saw before. Happy shopping. 

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Luxury in London

Tired of small European rooms?  If you are in London, you simply must try a night at Landmark London

If you had taken a train into London in 1899, you would have undoubtedly booked a hotel room at Landmark London, which celebrated its grand opening that year.  Rail was a glorious way to travel then and the hotel was just as grand. Now, a century later, it has been restored and continues to be a destination in itself on London’s north side.

Set between Regent’s Park and Hyde Park, Landmark London is a feast for the eyes of those who love gothic architecture. With its stained glass windows, impressive stone walls and tastefully appointed interiors, you can imagine yourself as that king returning to his castle, even if only for the duration of your stay.

I stayed at Landmark London only one night, breaking up a trip from Africa back to the United States. Checking in late one afternoon, I was immediately sorry I was going to only be there one day. From the front desk staff to all the other employees encountered that afternoon, they couldn’t have been more accommodating or friendly.

 I asked many of them for shopping, dining and sightseeing recommendations and without exception, they each gave thoughtful, detailed answers. Where often you’ll receive a terse, quick recommendation, each one explained why they liked the place they were recommending as well as took the time to make sure I understood where I needed to go. Those additional 30 seconds of interaction with their guests made a huge difference.

Checking into my room, I was taken aback with the size and layout of the place. Used to small European rooms, this was nothing like I expected. In addition to a sumptuously comfortable king-sized bed, there was a full sized sofa, chair and coffee table as well as a wonderfully practical full-sized desk.  The palette of beiges and cream tones was accented with an African print on the pillows.  Gleaming marble throughout the large bath completed the luxury experience.

Grand hotels can be grand but awkward if they don’t accommodate the technology needs of today’s travelers. That’s not a problem here. Plenty of outlets, hi-speed internet and a large flat-panel TV were ready for whatever your media or communication needs.

My room (#461) looked out onto the eight-story atrium where I could watch diners in the Winter Garden restaurant below. The following morning I couldn’t resist trying the breakfast there. It was a fantastic selection of buffet fare as well as cooked to order eggs, sausages, etc. I will guarantee that no one leaves here hungry. Food was piping hot and perfectly presented. This is a place for casual paced dining though. Don’t plan to hurry in, eat and leave. You’ll enjoy your time here.

The Landmark London is a member of Great Hotels of the World Luxury Collection. Single rooms start from £179.00. For more information or to book, check out their website or call 020 7380 3658.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

They do luxury best

Viceroy Hotel Group - winners in the Hotel category
During the 2011 Luxury Travel Expo in Las Vegas, four travel professionals were selected as leaders in their respective travel segments and received the “Leaders in Luxury” awards from show presenters Travel Agent and Travel Advisor magazines.  Ruthanne Terrero, vice-president and editorial director for Questex Hospitality + Travel Group commented that each recipient truly embodied excellence in luxury travel and showed by example how dedication to the industry led to future success.

Awards were presented to the following individuals in four separate categories:

“Tours” was won by Greg Tepper, president of Exeter International.

Nicholas Clayton, president of Viceroy Hotel Group won for “Hotels.”  Viceroy distinguishes itself by designing each hotel uniquely for its market. Last year they added their latest hotel - Viceroy Maldives to their world-wide collection of properties.

Gary D. Davis, president of All About Travel, Inc. won the “Travel Professional” award.

The “Cruise” award was taken by Richard Sasso, president and chief executive officer of MSC Cruises.  MSC is now the fourth largest cruise company. Sasso founded the idea of “a ship within a ship” concept called the MSC Yacht Club, where passengers can enjoy exclusive access and privileges, yet still have access to the remainder of the ship’s activities when desired. Yacht Club members enjoy butler service, luxury suites, complimentary wine and spirits and private dining, lounge, pool and bar.

Editors of Travel Agent and Travel Advisor magazines selected the winners from a field of 16 finalists and presented the awards during a special ceremony at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. 

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No economic downturn for this group

Economic downturn? Don’t tell the thousands of travel agencies and companies who specialize in luxury travel. With over 400 exhibitors at the 2011 Luxury Travel Expo promoting their high-priced vacations and holidays, the sentiment of many of the 2,000 attendees is that luxury travel will actually increase in 2012. 

The Luxury Travel Expo is a gathering of exhibitors from around the world, including such varied locations as Taiwan, Bavaria, Croatia, Botswana, Macau and Dubai.  Over 40 countries have sent representatives from their tourism bureaus to promote their destinations.  Just about every type of travel is represented as well, with firms featuring luxury air, sea, rail and limo travel. 

The show runs from 6 December to 8 December and offers the attendees opportunities to network and learn about dozens of travel offerings in one, convenient setting. The show is located in the convention center of Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

The Expo is presented by Travel Advisor and Travel Agent magazines, both members of the Questex Media group.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Something for travelers to think about

The internet is full of lists for things to pack,  top sites for deals, etc. etc.; but, I just ran across a good, quick-read article from Matt Long on blog.  It's entitled Five Things Your Should Do on Every Trip.  It's worth a look here: .

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The HDR Book by Rafael “RC” Conception

Unlocking the pros’ hottest post-processing techniques – a book review

There’s no better feeling for a photographer than to have people gush over your photo, suggesting you submit it to National Geographic, or better yet, asking if they could buy it. Unfortunately, most of your shots don’t get that way with a simple press of the shutter. Most are post-processed, some heavily and more often than not, it’s the HDR images that pull the most praise.

So how hard is it to learn HDR? Can a hobbyist learn HDR, or does it take years to perfect? The answer is Yes and No.  Learning HDR, whether you use Photoshop, Photomatix or Nik’s HDR Efex Pro, could take years; but, with RC’s newest title The HDR Book, you’ll be producing fantastic shots in under a week.

What makes people crazy is that the first time you use Photomatix, after you press the “create” button, you wait for your masterpiece to appear. When it finally does, it usually looks plain awful.  That’s because the image created is really not finished. You next need to “tone-map” the image. That’s where the magic begins to happen. 

Only problem here is that there are so many choices in the tone-mapping process that most mere mortals get overwhelmed with all the check boxes and sliders at their disposal. It can be quite intimidating.

Enter The HDR Book.  Just as the Canadian Mounties save the day up north, RC saves the photographic day for his readers.  In a non-techie tone, he explains what you need to do to make the choices that will both start and finish your photos into the masterpiece that you hoped for. 

Luckily for you, he doesn’t confine his suggestions to one specific brand of HDR software. He actually shows you how to create your art using each of the three primary software choices. He also spends an appropriate amount of time discussing the setup of your shot, what type scenes are the best candidates for HDR and shortcuts that will save you processing time. He even discusses how to do single-shot HDR’s and using HDR for black and white photos. 

Step by step, in ten different photos, he shows how each situation can be handled using each of the three software packages. But then, the secret sauce is revealed when he takes each image back into Photoshop for the final tweaks that make that photo really pop. 

As a bonus, Kelby Training did an hour- long webcast about the book that anyone can view for free. View that first or just head straight for your local book store and get started with the real thing. Your pictures will love you for it.

Freemake Video Downloader 3.0 Rips Videos from 10,000 Websites

New Freemake Video Downloader 3.0 rips videos, converts videos, burns to DVD and more

Whether you find it on the web, get it from a friend or create it yourself - this is a video app you are going to NEED. It does EVERYTHING! Create an MP3 from a video, burn an M4V file to DVD, does it fast, does it well and it's freaking FREE.

Download it here and you can thank me later.

From their press release:

Ellora Assets Corporation released Freemake Video Downloader 3.0 which introduces innovative technique to rip streaming video. Now Freemake users are able to download any videos from thousands of websites.

Ellora Assets Corporation, a developer of audio/video software for Windows, releases a crucial update for its award-winning video download tool. Due to the new video capturing algorithm, Freemake Video Downloader 3.0 now downloads video from over 10,000 websites including most popular video-sharing resources and minor websites embedding videos. The updated video downloader also lets keep download history and resume broken or unfinished downloads.

Responding to numerous users' requests to enlarge the list of websites for video download, Freemake team elaborated an advanced method of online video ripping. A special technique analyzes information coming from a video web page in order to detect the video source. Thus, the program quickly picks up the needed video file when a user pastes a URL for download. The algorithm is applied to any website with standard video coding scheme, except Hulu, Netflix, MTV and MTV Network.

"With the former video download algorithm, we well understood our shortcomings: in case of any changes in video portal coding, our software would stop downloading from it. To ensure the endless download support, we switched to a new method of web video ripping. Now we don't depend on portals internal changes: websites with standard video coding like YouTube or Vimeo will be durably supported. Plus, due to astonishing increase of supported resources, our users can enjoy videos ripped from their local sites," said Vladimir Mikhailov, the Product Development Head.

In addition to top portals and local video services, the tool now supports download from numerous websites embedding videos. It means that a user can get a video from almost any minor resource smoothly.

Freemake Video Downloader 3.0 also keeps download history, thus letting users quickly detect the destination of downloaded videos and search them by title, format and source.

Plus, the new version brings the option to resume all broken, interrupted or unfinished downloads. As a result, in case of unstable or slow Internet connection, users can easily complete any initiated video and music downloads by a simple click on "Resume all" button.

Thereby, with the latest update Freemake Video Downloader becomes an all-in-one solution to grab any video streaming content, no matter where it's hosted.

About Freemake Video Downloader
Freemake Video Downloader is a free video ripping application which downloads video and music from thousands of video portals like YouTube, Facebook, Dailymotion, Vimeo. The tool also features in-built conversion of online videos to handheld gadgets, common video formats and MP3. The software is absolutely free, without any feature or time limitations.
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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Getting just the right amount of a good thing

The Tiffen Variable ND filter handles a full range of photo opportunities

If you’ve ever admired those beautiful fluffy white waterfall photos, or creamy streams flowing past those polished boulders, you’ve probably been looking at a photo where a neutral density (ND) filter has been used.

To achieve that soft texture in water, you need to leave your shutter open for a longer period of time, allowing the sensor to capture what then becomes a soft flow of water, versus a sharp rendition of the water at a given moment in time.  A photo taken at 1/250 of a second in bright light will never get that creamy look.  However, if you could reduce the amount of light hitting your camera’s sensor, and take the same shot at 1/15 or 1/10 of a second, then a much smoother version of the water is quite apparent.  A neutral density filter is what makes the magic happen.

Without changing the color of your photo, a neutral density filter blocks much of the light coming through it, creating the need for extra exposure and hence, a slower shutter speed. Depending on the brightness of the daylight, you may need a slight exposure increase and would therefore use  a 2 stop filter, or you might need an extra, extra deep dose of filtration, in which case you would use an 8 stop filter. There are also various other steps available as well.

If that sounds like a lot of filters to carry…you are right. Tiffen heard the photographer’s plea and created an answer to prevent needing a boat-load of filters in your bag…the Tiffen Variable ND filter.
The Tiffen Variable ND filter operates on the same principle as a Circular Polarizer – rotate until you reach your desired effect and shoot. It allows you to have continuous control over the amount of light coming through your lens in an approximate range of 2 (ND 0.6) to 8 (ND 2.4) stops – while maintaining the integrity of your image. Note: The evenly spaced indexing marks between MIN and MAX do not represent calibrated stops. They are for reference only, to be used as a density bench-mark to return to a previous setting.

Having tested the filter in a range of situations, I was always able to find a setting that worked. Having that complete range of adjustability is quite liberating. If you want to only pack one filter, this is the one to consider. 

Presently, the filter is available in one size only – 77mm.  If your lens is smaller, you’ll want to also purchase a step-up ring to handle the transition. Various rings are available for most of the popular lens diameters.  According to their website, additional size filters are coming soon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

12 things to know about traveling in Zimbabwe

Travel to Zimbabwe confirms their marketing mantra, “WOW (a World of Wonders).”  From natural geological wonders, to fabulous wildlife, to the warmth of their people, you’ll be saying “WOW,” day after day. 

To get the most enjoyment from your trip, here’s a list of things an American needs to know when planning a trip to Zimbabwe.

#1 Zimbabweans have a culture of using the sun to tell time. That’s more figurative than literal, but it does mean that “Zim time” is a rather loose definition. “Meeting at 7:30am” definitely means meeting in the morning, but you might leave at 7:30 am, 8:00 am or perhaps, even 9:00 am.  Double check with your host, if the time referred to is Zim time or English time. 

#2 Dining is a leisurely process.  Don’t expect drinks to be brought first like in the USA. Drinks seem to be an afterthought in Zimbabwe.  You might want to grab a drink before sitting down if you are real thirsty. Otherwise, drinks could easily arrive 15 minutes after you are seated.

#3 Passports are needed when you check in most hotels. Have it handy and save yourself some time.

#4 Flashpackers, get ready for electrical outlet withdrawal. Unless you are staying at a 5 star hotel, be prepared for only one or two useable outlets in your room. Other than the low amperage shaver outlet in the bathroom, there are typically only one or two 220v outlets in each suite or cabin.

#5 Take a couple outlet adapters with the two round prongs for use in Africa. Most of today’s computers and cellphone adapters’ work with both 110v and 220v, but you’ll need that adapter to fit the outlets. Don’t spend the big bucks on a current convertor unless you really need it. Convertors aren’t meant to run for more than an hour or so at a time or you will burn it up. Also, do not plug a standard power strip in after the adapter. All sorts of flashy, sparky things happen - NOT GOOD.

#6 The Internet is a prized commodity in Zimbabwe. Most urban hotels have wired or wireless connections…sometimes. Don’t expect more than a 56MB connection. A 10MB connection is probably what you’ll get. Outside the major urban centers, you’ll probably lose access to it completely.  3G is available more widely if you were smart enough to pick up a local sim card and prepaid plan. $100US can get you the sim card and 100MB of data. (My AT&T data plan from the U.S. conversely will bill you $19.95 per single MB for data!  Ouch.)

#7 Driving in Zimbabwe might not be what you expect. Most of the main roads are wonderfully paved and the tendency to exceed the speed limit is inviting. Don’t. Despite the remoteness of the countryside, there are frequent roadside checks that stop all motorists to check documents and inquire about your travels. Most are a quick, friendly “hello” and you are on your way; but, a few are equipped with hand-held radar guns and you’ll get your first Zimbabwean citation if you have too much of lead foot. Slow down, watch the speed limit and enjoy the scenery. Also, rent from the majors like Hertz or Avis so you’ll have back-up service should you need it.

#8 Travel in Africa gets you closer to the animals than you would have ever expected. Walking through major urban vacation areas (like Victoria Falls) doesn’t mean you won’t come upon wildlife. While we were there, a warthog wandered through town like he was out running an errand. People left him alone and he wandered off without any problems. Elephants have also been known to come to town to see what’s happening. Don’t be shocked, nobody else is.

#9 On safari, you’ll get even closer to wildlife than you ever imagined as well. On a typical safari drive at Ivory Lodge, our guide drove our vehicle to within 30 or 40 feet of most animals we saw. In most protected animal preserves and national parks, the animals seem to tolerate the snap-happy tourists and just go about their business. At Antelope Park in Gweru, you can even get closer, actually walking with a pair of almost full-size lions. (Read the whole story about walking with the lions here.)

#10   Don’t even think about illegal hunting or poaching. The government is so strict about the protection of their elephant and rhino populations that they have a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy with illegal hunters and trappers.  

#11  Don’t worry about changing money when you get to the airport in Zimbabwe. They use the American dollar as official currency in the country, but getting change is a bit more problematic.  They don’t officially use our coins to make change. Instead, lots of retailers offer a receipt for change, (like a due-bill) that can be used on your next visit toward the price of your order. If you won’t be returning to that store again, you might as well add some gum or something to make it as close to an even dollar amount as possible.

#12  There are many languages, dialects and tongues spoken in Zimbabwe. Luckily for Americans, a great number of people speak or understand English. Signs often have the English names as well as the local name. If you can’t way find by yourself, don’t hesitate to stop and ask someone for directions. The locals are usually only too happy to help with directions or suggestions. 

With this short list of travel-tested suggestions, hopefully you’ll be ready to explore and enjoy all the WOW that is Zimbabwe.

For more information, check out
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