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5 Affordable Items That'll Transform Your Social Media Presence

By Maya Stanton
November 6, 2018
woman using camera phone at show
Sumetee Theesungnern/Dreamstime
If you love to share your travel photos, videos, and narratives across social media, here's how a modest investment in gear can jump-start your personal brand.

In a world awash with social-media travel influencers and megastars, it can be difficult for the aspiring writer/photographer to stand out from the crowd. From revamping your Instagram feed to enhancing your YouTube channel’s production values, here’s how to take your show on the road—and make your voice heard.

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1. A Reliable Microphone

Sure, smartphones come with pretty good built-in mics these days, but if you’re serious about upping your social-media game, improving the sound quality of your broadcasts is a simple way to take things up a notch. For phones with headphone jacks, Rode’s VideoMic Me is a solid, affordable option: It’s a directional microphone, so it does have to be pointed toward the sound it’s recording, but it comes with a furry puff called a windshield that cuts down on background noise, which is especially handy for outdoor shoots. For newer iPhones, Shure’s MV88 iOS hooks up via the Lightning connector, rotates to pick up sound from all directions, and comes with a molded carrying case to boot. (You'll need to make sure your phone is fully charged, though, since you won’t be able to plug in while the mic is attached.) Both models are compact, light (less than an ounce and a half each), and easy to use.

Rode VideoMic Me directional microphone, $54; amazon.com. Shure MV88 iOS Digital Stereo Condenser Microphone, $129 (discounted through 12/31/18; regularly $149); amazon.com.

2. An External Light Source

Some of the best things happen in dimly lit places, but that doesn’t mean you should keep your followers in the dark. For those cozy meals in candle-lit dining rooms, late nights in murky bars, or really, anytime natural light is in short supply, a little illumination goes a long way. Whether you’re snapping selfies or small plates, brighten things up with LuMee's combination LED light/battery charger, a small brick that comes in handy in more situations than you’d imagine. (Just watch out for the strobe function—you’ll want to save that one for the club.) As the kids say, pics or it didn’t happen.

LuMee Power Light, $50; lumee.com.

3. A Flexible Tripod

Anyone who’s attempted to take a few minutes of video with increasingly shaky hands can attest to the importance of a tripod. Fotopro's uFO2 has bendable legs that wrap around the nearest surface (a railing, a signpost, an arm rest) for stability, and a Bluetooth remote control for hitting that record button or capturing the perfect still shot. It includes a mount for a regular camera as well as adapters for phone and GoPro, and its legs are waterproof, so when you're conducting a rain-soaked interview or going whitewater rafting, you won’t have to worry about it failing. Not to mention that at twelve inches in length, it also works as a selfie stick—ideal for the solo traveler and aspiring Instagram star alike.

Fotopro uFO2 tripod, $23; amazon.com.

4. An Emergency Power Boost

Don’t get stuck in low-power mode in the middle of a key livestream or tweet storm. TravelCard's slim little charger will give you a quick 35 to 45 percent boost, and, at just under two ounces, it’s barely bigger than a credit card and will take up next to no room in your kit. Consider it an insurance policy, and keep one on hand at all times.

TravelCard charger, $29; travelcardcharger.com.

5. Something to Stash It All In

Once you’ve got the right equipment, you need to corral everything so it's easily accessible, and this pouch serves double duty, simultaneously organizing your gadgets and protecting them from the elements. Part of a collaboration between two Maine outfitters, New England stalwart L.L. Bean and Flowfold, a Portland-area brand that creates minimalist gear with high-performance fabrics, it’s made from a composite that’s tough, lightweight, and water-resistant, so it’ll keep your stuff safe and dry if unexpected weather conditions arise. And, with bright-orange loops on each end, it’ll never get lost in your bag.

L.L.Bean x Flowfold Utility Organizer in olive, $50; llbean.com.

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Travel Tips

Read This Before You Travel Solo

Have you ever thought, “It might be nice to go on vacation by myself”? If so, you’re not alone. Roughly one in four Americans say they will travel solo this year, according to an annual survey by marketing firm MMGY Global. One of the benefits of vacationing by yourself, of course, is the freedom. “You can do what you want, when you want,” says Janice Waugh, author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook and founder of the online resource Solo Traveler. Want to eat lunch at 4 p.m.? Go for it! Have no desire to see, for instance, that world-famous boardwalk? Just drive right by and on to your next destination. Solo travel can also make you more resilient. “It’s a huge confidence builder,” says Waugh. “When you’re on the road by yourself, you’re managing everything. You’re navigating new territory. You’re getting to know yourself better.” Furthermore, a recent survey of 2,000 American travelers by the tour company Intrepid Travel found that 57 percent of respondents said they enjoy traveling alone because there’s no pressure to take part in certain activities, 45 percent said it’s more relaxing, 31 percent said it makes for a better learning experience, 27 percent said it makes it easier to meet new people, and 20 percent said they do it because it's difficult to coordinate the same vacation time with friends. Planning your first journey for a party of one? Follow these five steps to make your inaugural solo vacation special. 1. PICK A SOLO-FRIENDLY DESTINATION Waugh recommends that first-time solo travelers stay relatively close to home. “Travel within your own country,” she says. “That way you know how to navigate the area and the culture and you know the language.” For U.S. travelers, Waugh particularly recommends Nashville—“it’s interesting, it’s safe, and it’s easy to get around,” she says. We echo that sentiment, and,of course, have tons of other awesome and affordable U.S. destinations to recommend. Feeling more adventurous? Consider taking a trip to Canada or Western Europe. In addition to obvious English-speaking choices such as Ireland and the U.K., Waugh says, “I’d suggest Paris or Amsterdam, because you’ll find English speakers in both cities easily.” 2. GET TO KNOW LOCALS AND OTHER TRAVELERS Traveling alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Indeed, there are a number of ways you can immerse yourself with locals. Waugh recommends searching MeetUp (meetup.com) for a local group that matches your interests. “When I went to Hong Kong, the most popular MeetUp group was a hiking group,” she says. “I joined them for a hike and met a lot of people, and it showed me parts of the city that I never would have seen.” Similarly, mobile apps like MealSharing (mealsharing.com) and EatWith (eatwith.com) let you dine with locals in the area. Another way to meet people is through the Global Greeter Network, a group of volunteers in cities around the world that have offered to show visitors the sites and their favorite places. (You can search for greeters at your destination at globalgreeternetwork.info/location.) Connecting with other travelers can also be a great way to enhance your trip. You can meet these people by staying at hostels, taking free walking tours, booking a one-day group tour of a city, or searching for a travel buddy on a site like Trip Giraffe (tripgiraffe.com) or an app like Tourlina (tourlina.com), which is tailored specifically for solo female travelers.   3. AVOID PAYING THE DREADED “SINGLE SUPPLEMENT” Solo travelers often get hit with a “single supplement” (often abbreviated as “s.s.”) for hotel rooms, tours, and cruises. Single supplements range anywhere from 10 to 100 percent of the double occupancy rate—meaning they can drive up your travel expenses significantly.   One way to avoid single supplements is by being flexible with when you travel. “If you travel during the shoulder season, you might be more successful in negotiating the single supplement,” says Waugh. In addition, some tour companies, including Abercrombie and Kent, Classic Journeys, and U.K.-based Solos Vacations, cater exclusively to singletons and offer supplement-free pricing. (You can also sign up for a monthly newsletter from Waugh’s Solo Traveler to receive deals on tours, cruises, and other travel products with no or low single supplements.) 4. FOLLOW THESE SAFETY TIPS Of course, safety is a top concern for solo travelers—men and women alike. Taking some common-sense measures can help you stay safe while traveling alone, including: Book accommodations in advance “You don’t want to arrive in town without knowing where you’re staying,” especially on your first night, Waugh says. Arrive during the daytime Waugh advises getting to your destination before dark. “If you get there and realize that it’s not a place you want to stay, you have time to make a change before it’s late at night,” she says. Book a room above the first floor Perpetrators have easier access to ground floor units, Waugh says, so reserve a room on an upper level. Share your itinerary Keep friends and family updated on your whereabouts. Also, consider scheduling a daily check-in with one of your emergency contacts. Stay in public spaces Meeting new people—whether they’re locals or other travelers—is one of the best aspects of traveling solo. But stick to public spaces like museums, coffee shops, restaurants, or bars when hanging out with your new pals. “If you just met someone, don’t go to that person’s house or some other private space,” Waugh cautions. 5. REVEL IN YOUR SOLO-NESS! A solo journey is often the perfect opportunity to focus on you. That’s not selfishness, that’s self-care, which is an essential ingredient to living a happier, healthier life. You can relax as much as you want, de-stress, do the things you’d never be able to do if you had the kids in tow. You have complete and total freedom. You have our permission to have a blast.

Travel Tips

6 Essential Secrets to Overcoming Travel Stress

It’s happened to the best of us: You arrive at your destination only to realize that you left your vitamins at home. You’re in a foreign country, you can’t get a replacement, and who knows what effect a different product will have on your body. Truth is, however, there are ways to get your body in alignment and feeling good that don’t involve a visit to the drug store. After all, cosmetics and over-the-counter drugs are relatively new inventions—people have been tending to their health since, well, since humans evolved. We turned to practitioners and experts who carry the torch for traditional health regimens to get their tips on how modern-day travelers can bring those ancient tactics to life. 1. An Introduction to Ayurveda Ayurveda literally means wisdom or science (ayur) of life (veda) and can be generally explained as a system of medicine that incorporates diet and lifestyle. Though it's hard to pinpoint its origins, its tenets have been widely practiced throughout India for thousands of years. It’s more of a comprehensive, thoughtful lifestyle than a series of remedies, not least because many aspects are rooted in the importance of ritual, but there are certainly some elements that a beginner can take up, especially when travel calls for a reboot to the bod.  “Travel disrupts some of the things we believe to be ordinarily in balance in our bodies because our environment changes. Ayurveda is not about a quick fix. It’s about the dialogue to fix imbalances that are environmental, diet-related, and anything else that a shift in circumstances—whether that’s geography or the general stresses of travel—can impose on us," says Shrankhla Holecek, the Los Angeles-based founder and CEO of Uma Oils. "All disease and discomfort emanate from imbalances in the body.” And, she notes, there aren’t products you necessarily need to buy to lead an Ayurvedic life. It’s about fostering a good relationship with the environment and having a solid understanding of your body and the ingredients in things you use. It's about being aware of your surroundings and your place in them.  2. Get Grounded When you get to a new geography, it’s important to always “plant one’s self.” That can be as basic as taking your shoes off and walking around, ideally in grassy area. “Walk in local grass or sand with feet directly in connection with the earth. It will help deal with system shocks, like jet lag, as it directs the body’s focus to the environment you are living in at the given time you’re a part of it.” Relish the local sun, the local air, and the local topography. They’re all factors that contribute to getting yourself adjusted to your new setting. Ayurveda treats the feet as one of the most important parts of the body. They are, after all, in immediate physical contact with your setting. Therefore, they deserve specific attention. “Massage your feet with sesame oil. It’s the most grounding oil,” says Nisha Saini, board-certified holistic health practitioner and founder and director of NY Ayurveda & Panchakarma Center. “It calms the feet.”  3. Outsmart Jetlag But before you can deal with the many things your body needs tending to, recalibrating your mind is critical. Everyone knows the foggy-headedness that comes with landing in a new place—let alone a new time zone. It’s hard to focus on anything else until those mental clouds recede. When Shrankhla lands in a new place, the first thing she does is wash her hair. She recommends massaging your head with oil before shampooing so your hair and your skin will better reset. 4. Eat Local If Ayurveda is all about getting your body in sync with a new environment, what you eat is clearly critical. Temperature, water quality, all sorts of other ecological factors dictate the region’s food systems, so eating locally can help you acclimate to your surrounds. “Within reason, eating and drinking locally—as long as you feel safe—helps you thrive faster in a new environment, even if it’s only a three-day vacation,” Shrankhla says. 5. Purify From the Inside Out  Some of the most powerful practices are very simple, explains Nisha, who grew up in India with a family that adhered to an Ayurvedic lifestyle from the time she was very young. Incorporating copper into your daily life can have a strong internal cleansing effect, leading to increased metabolism and immunity building. Of course, the question that immediately comes to mind is: Huh?? How do I ingest copper? It’s quite straightforward: Nisha carries a copper bottle for her drinking water throughout the day. Also, as part of her daily routine, she keeps water in a copper glass overnight to drink the next day. People who observe Ayurvedic traditions also incorporate a tongue-scraper into their daily routine: True to its name, the elongated horseshoe shaped tool scrapes impurities from the tongue, leading to healthier gums and better overall dental health. Nisha also suggests swishing with sesame oil each morning for further purifying effects. 6. Jump-start Your Immune System  Ginger, turmeric, honey, and anything iron-based, like spinach and beets, is said to help boost immunity, so incorporate those items into what you eat and drink as much as you can. Moreover, as Ayurvedic traditions center on ways to enhance the body’s capacity to absorb and process these healthful ingredients, you'll want to be smart about your consumption. Turmeric, for instance, is better absorbed with black pepper, Shrankhla explains, and even more so with food. She recommends making a tea with the spice, black pepper, and almond milk.

Travel Tips

Airline Baggage Fees: What You Need to Know

In August, when JetBlue raised checked-baggage fees for the first time in the company’s history, it wasn’t long before the other major airlines followed suit. Delta, American, and United all upped their rates in early September, and though the increases don’t amount to much individually—a $5 bump for the first and second checked bags, from $25 to $30 and $35 to $40, respectively—they definitely add up. Last year, those four airlines raked in $3.2 billion in baggage fees alone, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and with the TSA notching a record-breaking summer this year, screening some 253 million travelers and handling nearly 165 million pieces of checked baggage in the process, those numbers only look set to skyrocket. “Airlines are not worried about fewer passengers checking bags,” says Brian Sumers, senior aviation business editor for Skift. “Generally, people check bags not because they want to—who really wants to wait for 20 minutes at baggage claim?—but because they have to. A lot of people have no choice. They need to bring a larger bag, and so they pay for it.” But putting in time at the baggage carousel isn’t the only game in town. For those who pack light, going carry-on only is a time-tested strategy, and shipping gear to your final destination can be a good idea—albeit a pricey one. So, is it worth it to pay a premium to stow your luggage in the cargo hold, or are you better off exercising a different option? That depends on your priorities, your finances, and your luggage itself. 1. Lighten Your Load To be sure, checking bags means allocating more time and money to a travel day. From getting to the airport earlier to deal with check-in to shelling out extra cash for each bag to hanging around waiting for your luggage once you’ve landed, the investment can be a significant one. And though airlines’ track record with lost luggage is getting better, there’s still a chance your suitcase will end up missing in action once it hits that conveyor belt. One alternative is keeping your baggage to a minimum. “Sticking to a carry-on and wearing bulkier items while you travel are tried-and-true ways to avoid checking a bag,” says David Solomito, Kayak’s VP of North American Marketing. “The most important thing is to ensure your bag stands at 21 inches or less so it will be accepted on most carriers as a carry-on.” But even then, if you’re not lucky enough to score space in the overhead bin, you’re still at risk for the dreaded gate-check—not bad when your rollaboard is waiting for you on the jet bridge, definitely more of a hassle when you have to go down to baggage claim to retrieve it. And then there are the emotional costs involved with paring down. “We hear stories about people cramming their carry-ons with stuff to save money,” Sumers says. “If people really can't afford the extra $30, then it's understandable that they want to carry on as much luggage as they can. But that approach can be stressful, and with bag fees only going up by $5, it's probably not worth it.” 2. Plan Ahead For those who prefer to make their departure day as low-impact as possible, services like Luggage Forward and Luggage Free and traditional mailers like UPS, DHL, and the U.S. Postal Service can take care of the heavy lifting. You’ll arrive at the airport unburdened by your baggage, but there’s more work involved in the run-up to your flight: weighing the package, pricing out options, arranging for shipping, and calling ahead to let the hotel know to expect a delivery in your name. And sending stuff ahead doesn’t eliminate the risk of lost baggage either, so you’ll still need insurance—and that’s on top of the potential sticker shock associated with obtaining a quote. “Try an experiment sometime,” says Sumers. “Lug your 50-pound bag to FedEx and ask them what it will cost to ship it from New York to Los Angeles overnight. I guarantee you it will cost more than $30—a lot more. Checking a bag is still the cheapest way to get a heavy item from one place to another.” Not so fast, says Luggage Free president Jeff Boyd: For travelers who plan to check multiple bags, a shipping service can be smart value for the money. “The third bag on JetBlue, for example, recently moved to $150,” Boyd says. “By contrast, our rates start at $67 for a bag up to 25 pounds and $94 for a bag up to 50 pounds. So you’re starting to see a dual-value proposition that includes hassle-free travel—skipping check-in lines and waits at the baggage carousel—at a cost very similar to those incurred when checking with the airline.”  3. Book Smarter Say you found an irresistible bottle of rosé on a winery crawl, and you absolutely must check a bag. First, consider where your loyalties lie—a change of carrier might be in order, especially if you earn miles with one of the airlines that recently raised its fees. Thanks in part to its checked-luggage policy (two free bags per person!), Southwest was named Budget Travel’s best airline of 2018, and its passengers enjoy low fares and entertaining safety announcements to boot. If you’re not married to one particular airline, you’ll want to shop around to see which offers the best deal for your circumstances on a flight-by-flight basis: While checked bags cost the same on the major carriers, oversize and overweight baggage fees vary from company to company based on destination, size, weight, and fare class. Toggling between each airline’s website to compare and contrast can be a chore, but fare aggregator and booking site Kayak has a few tools to help travelers find the best fit for their luggage needs, including a fee assistant, which lets users modify their flight search based on the number of bags—carry-on and checked—they’ll be packing, and on the app,  a bag-measurement feature, which uses augmented reality determine whether a suitcase will fit in the overhead bin or need to be checked and compares baggage-fee policies for all Kayak tracked airlines in the process. For those who stay true to one carrier, an airline-specific credit card might be worth the annual fee. They often offer free checked bags to cardholders and a companion, but read the terms and conditions with a healthy dose of skepticism, especially if the offer seems too good to be true—that kind of perk can also serve as a hook to get new clients on the line. “Those credit cards are highly profitable for airlines,” Sumers says. “An airline would be very happy if customers who did not want to pay $30 [to check a bag] instead signed up for, say, the Chase United Airlines credit card.” 4. The Takeaway For most fliers, the extra $5 to check that first or second bag isn't going to be what breaks the bank, but families, long-haul travelers, and those packing especially heavy or oversized luggage need to do their due diligence. Read the fine print before booking, weigh and measure your suitcases, and price out shipping services before committing to check bags with the airlines. As they say, forewarned is forearmed.

Travel Tips

Read This Before You Use Hotel Wi-Fi

When it comes to booking a hotel, Wi-Fi is an absolute must for most travelers. Indeed, when asked what services are of particular importance to them, 80 percent of hotel guests said that Internet access is the most crucial, a recent Statista survey of personal and business travelers found. That data echoes a survey from English hotelier Roomzzz, which found that 65 percent of hotel guests go online within seven minutes of checking in at their hotel, and one third of hotel guests request the Wi-Fi password as soon as they arrive. Granted, that’s not really a surprise, considering you need a good Internet connection to stream the latest episode of, say, “House of Cards” without experiencing slowdowns. Nonetheless, there are some important things to consider before logging in to your next hotel’s Wi-Fi. 1. Some hotels still charge for Wi-Fi Though most major hotel chains offer guests free Wi-Fi, 36% of hotels worldwide still charge for it, a recent HotelChatter survey found. Generally, cheap hotels are more likely to charge for Wi-Fi, says Hailey Benton of Global Travel Academy (www.travelacademy.org). “High-quality and safe Wi-Fi connections are expensive, and if you have opted for a budget-friendly accommodation style this may mean that you miss out on certain perks, like free Wi-Fi,” she says. But, depending on the hotel, there may still be ways to get free Wi-Fi. Some hotel loyalty programs offer complimentary Wi-Fi to frequent guests, says Benton. For instance, Hyatt offers free Wi-Fi to its Platinum and Diamond elite level members, Trump Elite gives its members complimentary Wi-Fi, and members of Marriott Rewards, which includes The Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), receive free Wi-Fi, Benton points out. Other potential solutions? If a hotel provides guests free Wi-Fi in the lobby or another access point, like its business center, ask the front desk for a room that’s close by. Or, politely ask concierge for a promotional code to get free in-room Wi-Fi. (Some hotels will offer them if you ask.) Can’t strike a deal? “I always suggest comparing the prices of in-hotel Wi-Fi to purchasing mobile data for your devices,” Benton says. “In many countries around the world, buying a SIM card with plenty of data is very affordable, and much more safe and reliable than hotel Wi-Fi.” 2. Know the difference between an unsecured and secured Wi-Fi connection Speaking of safety, you’ve likely heard the terms “secured” and “unsecured” Wi-Fi before. Well, there’s a big difference between them. “Unsecured generally means un-encrypted and does not require a password,” explains Robert Siciliano, a security awareness expert at Safr.Me. Meanwhile, “secure Wi-Fi connection generally requires a password and is encrypted, or is accessed by a virtual private network software.” Therefore, if you want to protect your data, look for a hotel with a secured Wi-Fi connection. “Unsecured is just that: insecure and vulnerable to criminal hackers sniffing out data as it travels through the air,” Siciliano warns. 3. Take the right safety measures to protect your computer If you still want to stay at a hotel with an unsecured Wi-Fi network, there are ways you can access the Internet without making your personal information, bank accounts, and other sensitive data vulnerable to hackers. One way to connect to Wi-Fi from your laptop or tablet is by creating a mobile hotspot from your smartphone. This entails sharing your phone’s mobile data connection wirelessly with the other device, and it may be a good option if your cell phone plan has unlimited data. (This PCMag guideshows you how to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot using an iPhone, Android, or other mobile device.) However, if you don’t have an unlimited data plan, you may be better off buying a secure portable hotspot from either your cell phone carrier (e.g., Verizon’s highly rated $200 Jetpack MiFi 7730L), or from a third party like Karma, which offers pay-as-you-go plans and flat-rate monthly plans starting at $40. 4. Follow these precautions will help you further protect your personal data when using hotel Wi-Fi Turn off your device’s wireless signal when you’re not using it. Tucking in for the night? Disconnecting your smartphone or other electric device from the hotel’s Wi-Fi network can minimize your risk of being hacked.Use a VPN. Using a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is the most effective way to safely access Wi-Fi. Why? Because, essentially, a VPN is “a private network that only you can access, hiding your important data from potential hackers,” Benton says.Confirm you’re accessing the hotel’s Wi-Fi network—not a fake one. Some data thieves prey on hotel guests by setting up nearby Wi-Fi networks that look like legitimate networks but aren’t. And, unfortunately, “a malicious individual can very easily create a Wi-Fi network that sounds plausible,” says Max Eddy, cybersecurity expert at PCMag (www.PCMag.com). So, check with the front desk to verify you’re accessing the right network before you connect.Don’t use sensitive websites and mobile apps. One way to prevent thieves from stealing your passwords to social networking sites, online banking services, and other websites and apps when using hotel Wi-Fi is by avoiding them completely. It’s not convenient, but it’s a safe approach.Install antivirus software. Antivirus software programs can help prevent viruses, worms, trojans, and other malware from infiltrating your computer.The bottom line? “Hotel Wi-Fi is convenient but it’s not always secure, even if it was set up with the best intentions,” Eddy says.

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