The five smartest vacation photos you've never taken
Use your digital camera as a "visual notebook" to record things you may find useful later on—not just for photos of your family at your destination. Here are some ideas:
"Return to owner" Take a photo of a sign you make that says "This camera belongs to..." and lists your name, contact information, and (perhaps) the promise of a reward. Set this image to "read-only" to make it difficult to erase. Keep it as the first picture on your memory card. If strangers find your lost camera and start looking at its photos, they'll know it belongs to you.
"Where was that again?" Snap the location of your parked car, or take a picture of your hotel door with the room number on it. At the end of your jetlagged day, whether you're in an Orlando parking garage or Las Vegas resort, you'll appreciate having the photo to remind you of where you need to go.
"See? My car was fine when I left the lot." Sometimes sneaky rental car companies will "ding" you for rental car damage you didn't cause. Avoid surprises on your bill by capturing "before" and "after" views of your vehicle. (Skip taking photos if an attendant walk arounds the vehicle with you and notes any damage on a form you both sign.)
"Which temple was that one again?" Let's say that on a vacation you see dozens of the same category of sights: a Madonnarama of paintings at European art galleries; a Buddhathon of temples in Cambodia. Be sure to record the context of what you're photographing by shooting up close the text of a street sign, historical plaque, or a relevant page of your guidebook.
"Darn it. I wish I could print out this webpage." Let's say you're using your hotel's computer to look up some information, such as a map for a museum's location, but you don't have access to a printer—or maybe don't want to pay a silly printing charge. Simply take a photo of the screen, and then use your camera's built-in LCD screen to view it as you walk.
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What does "ethical travel" mean to you?
In your childhood, traveling is uncomplicated. The biggest dilemma might be whether it's okay to touch a wild turtle's shell at the seashore. But some adults see a more complex world because of their political ideas. Others are concerned about the environmental impact of their travels. In other words, some people ask how can they travel with a clean conscience, putting their money where their heart is? In 1996, travel writer Jeff Greenwald founded Ethical Traveler as a nonprofit group "to use the economic clout of tourism to protect human rights and the environment." Here are some of the group's tips for being an ethical traveler no matter where you go. Some may strike you as provocative and politically biased. Others may seem commonsensical. Never give gifts to children. Too often, children are used by adults to bait tourists into giving money and gifts. Donate instead to adults at local charities and churches. Visit "The World's Best Ethical Destinations." The organization has named 10 developing nations it says are doing the most work to protect the environment, promote human rights, and encourage "social welfare." Argentina, Barbados, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Latvia, Lithuania, Palau, Poland, and Uruguay made the group's list for 2011. Do you best to respect basic local customs. Skim through a guidebook or talk to a tour guide about the most relevant traditions for a traveler to observe. "Never, for example, pat a Thai child on the head, enter a traditional Brahmin's kitchen, or refuse a cup of kava in Fiji!" Buy local. Patronize locally-owned inns, restaurants, and shops. The theory here is that locals will gain financially from your visit if you buy directly from them instead of from, say, a foreign-owned chain. You can make your best guess here about how to do this. Small and medium-sized inns and guesthouses are more likely to be owned by locals, who keep profits in the community. Choose your safari carefully. Safaris bring income that encourages the preservation of Africa's wild spaces. But some companies do more to support environmental protection and community development than others. Ask questions before you plunk your money down. Pick your "poverty tour" wisely. Some tour groups go into impoverished neighborhoods. Locals may be offended at the perceived voyeurism. But when locals are in charge and earning income from the tour, it can be ethical, says the group Ethical Traveler. Be sensitive about how visiting a country may favor one political group over another within a country. A UK organization, Tourism Concern, keeps track of many of these issues on its site, from its left-of-center political perspective. But some issues are matters of taste, regardless of political belief. For example, most people would think it's polite to avoid taking sides in political arguments when you're talking with locals overseas. What are your thoughts about so-called "ethical travel"? SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 5 ways to keep your cords tidy and organized in your bag Should the TSA's airport pat-downs be outlawed? Is it cheaper to fly or to drive?
All-new South American tours for younger travelers
Contiki, the group tour specialist for travelers ages 18 to 35, just announced its first-ever tours in South America. Contiki, which has been in business for 50 years and is especially friendly to young solo travelers, has for decades offered hundreds of tours in Europe, Down Under, and North America, and more recently, in Asia as well. Over the years, travelers have asked Contiki for itineraries in South America, but it wasn't until the company's announcement in early May that the concept became a reality. So far, Contiki has announced six different South American itineraries, which range from 8 to 24 days and visit Peru, Brazil, Argentina, or some combination therein. The first tours will take place starting in November 2011, and reservations are being taken now. The experience is expected to be similar to Contiki tours elsewhere in the world, with groups of around 20 English-speaking young travelers touring cities, natural wonders, and other historic and cultural sites via private coach bus. Lodging is typically a three-star hotel, though in South America there's also an opportunity to stay in an Amazon rainforest eco-lodge. The 14-day Peru Uncovered tour (from $2,635) also gives guests the choice of either hiking the Inca Trail or riding the train to the famous "lost city" of Machu Picchu. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Contiki's new registry program: Young travelers can let others foot the bill Dream Trips: Trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu Legendary Surf Towns (in Brazil and Elsewhere)
The Budget Travel Convert: Reporting from…Panama
Hobart Fowlkes, our "Budget Travel Convert," reports regularly from around the world. Today he updates us on a recent trip to Panama where he spent time relaxing on the beach and exploring the historic canal and the pleasures of Old Panama City. I will just assume that you have never traveled to Panama, so let me begin by saying that it has a gorgeous landscape which is, for the most part, quite unspoiled. Out of a population of 3 million, more than 1.5 million live in Panama City (the rest are dispersed in little villages around the country). See photos from my trip to Panama. Now, of course, the first thing you think about when you think about Panama is the canal. If you are like me, you pretty much yawn and feel satisfied to be in the general vicinity of a human accomplishment that changed navigation and our perspective of the modern world. An early morning phone call from my father (who was not aware I was traveling), however, convinced me that I should at least get in a taxi and go look at the canal. He was SO right. Trust me, it's worth 2 hours out of your day to cab it to the Miraflores Lock and watch a gigantic cruise ship pass through. Plus, the vintage 1914 U.S. Military Canal Zone architecture is awesome. Besides the Canal Zone, Panama City at first glance might seem to be the Dubai of Latin America, by which I mean it is really a giant cluster of skyscrapers that I don't think are occupied...yet. The Old City is CHARMING (in all caps). It has the flavor of a Spanish Colonial town, is inhabited by the same locals who have been there for generations, and seems to slowly be cultivating a hip, artsy culture of clubs, bars and restaurants. It is definitely worth a visit. Where I stayed: I spent two days at the Royal Decameron Golf Resort in one of their golf course villa rooms. It is on the Pacific Coast, only a two-hour bus ride from Panama City. How much I paid: I paid $150 per night, and EVERYTHING is included (room, meals, alcohol). Why I recommend it: Royal Decameron is a chain with 11 properties spread throughout Latin America and North Africa. The property I stayed at is enormous with 1,170 rooms, 2 big buffets, 8 specialty restaurants, 11 bars, 11 pools (eight for adults, three that allow children), a disco, a full-service spa, and three boutiques. Even though I don't typically go for big resorts, in a place this enormous you can easily make it your own by finding a quiet spot away from the crowd. No one insists that you get drunk at 10AM and sing karaoke or have salsa lessons by the pool (although that seems to be what most of the guests do). As a result their long pristine beach is mostly empty and can be all yours for as long as you like it. (Tip: The further you get from a bar, the more privacy you have.) Likewise, avoid dining at the all-you-can-eat buffets. If you wake up early, make reservations in one of the many restaurants and you are guaranteed a pleasant experience. If, by some chance, your only option is the buffet, then try to get there when it opens and before the other guests have picked everything over. For a heftier price (not too bad, like $200/night) you can have one of the fancy rooms down by the water (though you will be subjected to disco dancing and karaoke until the club shuts down at 1AM). In my opinion, however, the best option is to stay in one of the cheaper $150 golf course villas, which feel like having your own little house far away from the hubbub. Next up: Tune in again with me next month when I head to Greece, where LOTS of amazing hotel deals can be found nowadays (on account of their ugly little economic crisis) So, I'll be reporting to you from the Adrina Beach Hotel on the Tiny Island of Skopelos where they filmed the movie version of Mamma Mia. SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 10 Beach Products You Never Knew You Needed How to Deal With Lost Luggage (video) 9 Great Memorial Day Getaways
Introducing. . .The Budget Travel Convert
Meet our new blogger Hobart Fowlkes: high-end jetsetter by trade, budget globetrotter by choice. We fell in love with him and his travel tales, and think that you will, too. He'll be updating us regularly from around the world—but first, a personal introduction. I've seen from the inside how the other half travels, and let me tell you, it involves an awful lot of disappointment and complaints. Here's why: When fabulous folks pay zillions of dollars on travel, they expect perfection; anything less incites anger. Who wants to waste time in Milan, Melbourne, Mumbai—or Montana, for that matter—getting worked up over trifles like no robes and the occasional lukewarm shower? In 1993, I landed a life-changing gig with a private investment-management firm [the parent company of Budget Travel LLC, the owners of BudgetTravel.com] I was to be a sort of personal travel planner, coordinating and accompanying busy execs on high-end business trips, as well as all of their meetings and conferences. The firm, deeply enmeshed in a deal to open an Italian company at the time, hired me for my foreign-language skills—and I suddenly found myself jetting off on chartered planes, dining at Michelin-starred restaurants, and staying in five-star hotels around the globe. I became quite well versed in luxury travel. And, yes, it was a treat, to be sure, as long as someone else was paying. It wasn't until my work for the company changed and the travel opportunities slowed a bit, that I reconnected with why I fell in love with travel in the first place. All that fussing with luxury had turned travel into a chore rather than adventure. It had become quite the opposite of what jump-started my wanderlust in the first place. At the green age of 14, I decamped to Europe as a cheapo student with not much more than a copy of Let's Go Europe, cash for a Eurail Pass and a pocketful of contacts—friends of my parents and grandparents who were sprinkled around the continent and who were kind enough to host a restless, couch-surfing teenager. By the end of that first mind-expanding summer abroad, I was sold, and I continued to globetrot during my college years. For a time I planted myself in Rome, where I studied art and worked for Christie's auction house, scouting for bid-worthy items among the attics of recently divorced or widowed locals, and picking up Italian, French and German along the way. I was officially hooked—even when I had to sleep on sofas or floors. Nowadays, I mostly (but not exclusively) travel on my own dime. I look for places that cost around $150/night or less. Like us all, I need to get the best bang for my buck, but I've also noticed that it is only through such a venue and experience that a place will reveal itself by showing me local flavor, introducing me to the awesome characters that make a town tick—and, when I am not paying a zillion dollars for something, I'm a lot less likely to freak out if it is less than perfect. But as Budget Travel readers, you already know all this. It's just when it comes to the specifics—Which hotel in Panama, exactly? And why?—that we could all use a little guidance now and then. To that end, I welcome you to accompany me on my journey. Think of it as a personal-travel-planning service for the down-to-earth set. Follow me! SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 7 Affordable Farmstays Secret Hotels of Paris 6 Essential Items for a Successful Vacation