Top Apps for Travel

Smartphones have definitely made some aspects of travel much easier, and there are tons of great ones out there. This list is a few of some favorite apps for international travel.  These are all available on the iTunes Store for Apple devices, and most of them have an Android equivalent. These are all free, unless otherwise noted. It is important to note that many apps will only work with a data or wifi connection, so you want to sort that out before you leave home.  You can check with your cell phone carrier to see if they offer international plans, or you can purchase a sim card in your destination country.

  • Screen capture of Iphone
    Travel apps can make life on the road a little bit easier.

    Google Maps:  Where am I?  Google maps can help you figure out where you are and where you’re going.  It gives walking, driving and even includes public transportation routes for many major cities.  Does require a data connection.

  • MapsWithMe: Allows you to use maps even while offline.  Maps can be downloaded, bookmarked and shared with other. ($4.99)
  • GuideWithMe: Offers destination guides that can be viewed offline.
  • Google Translate: You do need to have access to a data or wifi network for this to work, but you can save recent translations. I’ve had conversations by typing in what I want to say and passing the phone back and forth.  Of course, it’s not always accurate, but the funny translations can add levity to a conversation.
  • White Noise:  It’s amazing how much a little white noise can help to drown out noise from roommates, hotel doors, traffic outside, etc… I like this app because you can set it turn off at a certain time.  I set it to fade out about 10 minutes before my alarm goes off, that way I wake up a little more gently. You can also set it to have a continuous clock readout, when you want to glance at time without have to handle the phone.  The Lite version is free.
  • FlightBoard:  Got a tight connection, and need to find out the gate for your connecting flight?  With this app, I’ve figured out my gate, even when the airline attendant doesn’t announce it.   I’ve also made friends on the tram, by helping fellow passengers find their gate info.
  • Airline Apps:  Whether it’s American, United, Delta or Southwest, by downloading the airline app, I can stay informed about my flight information.
  • GlobeConvert:  Need to convert miles to kilometers or pounds to kilograms, or Dollars to Yen?  There are several apps that will do this for you in an instant. I use GlobeConvert.
  • Yelp:  Has helped me find a restaurant, coffee shop or hotel on more than one occasion.
  • Skype:  Great for communicating with the folks back home.
  • Shazam: Uses your microphone to identify music you may here in a cafe, shop or on the street, and lets you save the tag so you can purchase the music later.
  • Camera+:  The best camera is the one that you have with you.  So why not make your smartphone camera better.  Camera+ has some great features that allow you to adjust exposure, and focus points.

Japan Specific Apps:

  • Hyperdia:  A must have for figuring out the Tokyo Metro system.  You can type in your location and destination, and it will tell you exactly which trains to take.  This is one case where the Android app is better than the iPhone app, but at least it’s available for both platforms.
  • FotopediaJapan: A photographic Journey through Japan.
  • Gurunavi: Japan Restaurant Guide.  Apps for both iPhone and Android.  Website is also a great resource.
  • Japan Goggles:  The idea behind it is great, you can point your camera phone at Japanese word in Kanji, and it will give you an English Translation.  However, reviews on it are mixed, so don’t count on it working for everything.  I hope it will keep me from inadvertently going into the Men’s room.

Sleep Button:   The convenience that our smart phones provide can prevent a lot of headaches, but don’t let them get in the way of actually experiencing the destination.  Use them as tools, not as crutches or constant companions.   Technology can be addicting, and it can be a barrier to REAL experiences and connections, so don’t be afraid to put the smartphone to sleep, and put it away!

Color Story

I love color!  If you come to my house, you’ll see walls that are bright yellow, blue and red, turquoise kitchen cabinets, a green sunroom and lots of other colors sprinkled around to brighten things up.  I’ve always loved color, just ask my parents about the “primary colors and polka dot” decorating scheme that I used to decorate my junior high bedroom. (groan…)

This love of color definitely translates into my photography.  Like many photographers of a certain age, my first introduction to photography was in the black and white darkroom.  I stil love a good black and white print, and believe that making b&w images is a great way to refine an eye for composition. Hover, for me personally, I know that my photography became more of an expression of my personality when I embraced the creative use of color in my images.

Shadows on a yellow wall in Florence, Italy (Emily Naff)
Chance Encounter, Florence, Italy

So, it was an easy decision to enter my work for consideration into the current exhibit at The Darkroom Gallery in Essex Jct. Vermont.  The call for entries said  “If a confident use of color defines your work, we want to see it.”   The exhibit was juried by Seth Resnick, a highly respected photographer, digital imaging expert and fellow lover of color.  I was delighted to find out that two of the four images I entered were selected for the show, appropriately named Color Story.   Be sure to check out the other images that were selected for the show, and read Seth’s commentary on his process for selecting the images.  The show opens tonight (2/10/13) and will be up until March 3, 2013.

The images “Chance Encounter” and “Room with a View” are the two images that were selected.  These two images are part of a series on Italy, called “La Passeggiata.”  The images in the series are a sampling of my work from over 6 trips to Italy, in which I’ve explored Italy from the top to the bottom of the boot.

Room with a View, Martea, Italy (Emily Naff)
Room with a View, Martea, Italy

2012 in Review

Children playing at Winifred Beach, Jamaica. (Emily Naff)
Children playing at Winifred Beach, Jamaica. (Emily Naff)

Over this holiday break from teaching, I have been working to better integrate my blog and website.  I am also in the process of updating the galleries of images that are available on my website.  Images will now be available for instant image licensing for stock and editorial purposes, and print orders for fine art clients.  During this process, I have spent a lot of time scrolling through my images.  There are certain images that resonate with me for a variety of reasons, so I thought I’d test out the feature of embedding a slide show into the blog, and share this collection of images made in 2012.  These images are from the backroads of Tennessee to the backwaters of Brazil, the only thing binding them together into a collection is that they were all made in 2o12.  More galleries will be added soon.

I’m also using this as an opportunity to test out some of the features being used to better integrate my blog and website.  The goal is that viewers will not notice the difference between the two.  I’d love feedback on what is working or not working as you navigate between the blog and the website.

Traveler or Tourist?

Mayan ruins in Tikal, Guatemala
Mayan ruins in Tikal, Guatemala

The Mayan culture has been getting a lot of attention lately.  Especially yesterday, 12/21/12, the day that the Mayan calendar ended.  The end of this calendar has been interpreted in a variety of ways, but that’s not what I’m going to write about. All this attention to the Mayans has made me think of the two different encounters that I have had with the Mayan culture, and the contrast of travel experiences that I had on those very different trips.

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit 4 different locations with mayan ruins: Tikal, Copan, Chitchen Itza and Tulum. The first two sites were visited almost 20 years ago, when I spent 5 weeks backpacking in Guatemala in Honduras. The last two sites were day trips from an all-inclusive resort near Cancun about 6 years ago. Those two trips could not have been more different. The manner of travel and budget being the two biggest differences.

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”  Paul Theroux

Chichicastenango, Guatemala. Santo Tomas Church during Holy Week.

The first trip to Guatemala and Honduras was on a budget of less than $15/day, including food and accommodation. I was 23, single and broke.   I stayed in cheap hotels, hostels, hammocks and slept on the deck of a boat.   I ate beans, rice, avocados and lots of liquados (fruit smoothies.) I also spent about 10 days studying spanish in Antiqua, Guatemala. On that trip I met a lot of people, other travelers and locals. I would sit in the park in Antiqua and strike up conversations with strangers so that I could practice spanish. I rode public transportation, and constantly had to ask people for directions and other forms of help. During that trip I was able to visit the ruins of Copan and Tikal, and several small towns and villages that were populated mostly by people of Mayan descent. In general, I felt like a traveler, not a tourist.

Fast forward about 12 years; I’m married with a full time job, and a comfortable income. My husband and I took a trip to Cancun that was an all-inclusive package deal. We could have everything we needed for a relaxing vacation without ever leaving the confines of our resort. My husband and I booked this trip last minute during a very busy period, and we didn’t have much time to plan or choose, we just knew we needed a vacation. We were met at the airport by a driver holding a sign with our name on it. We had a room with a view of the pool and the ocean beyond. There was drink service without leaving our beach chairs, maid service and meals on site. It wasn’t an expensive trip, when you consider that airfare, lodging and food were included. It wasn’t a luxurious resort, but it definitely wasn’t shabby either.  I venture a guess, that sounds like most peoples idea of a dream vacation, we hated it.  Yes, the beach was nice, the drinks were refreshing, the service was good, etc…  It was nice for about the first 36 hours, then we were bored out of our minds.  We might as well have been in Florida. What’s the point of leaving the country, if everything is the same as home?

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michner

Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza, Yucatan Peninsual, MexicoMayan ruins in Chichen Itza, Yucatan Peninsual, Mexico
Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza, Yucatan Peninsual, Mexico


My husband and I made the most of that trip, by renting a car and escaping the resort for a trip to Chitchen Itza and Tulum.  We also promised ourselves, “never again” to the easy allure of a package vacation. Those types of vacation deals are designed to keep the tourist away from the realities of the lives being lived around them. It’s hard to relax, when you’re face to face with the reality of the poverty of the people who are making your drinks and cleaning your rooms. Even more difficult, when you realize they’re probably barely making a living wage, and the money you are spending often goes to the big multi-national corporations.

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman




So, how can we make the travel experience more authentic?  There are many options of ways to create travel experiences that allow you to interact with local culture, and allow your travel money to have a greater impact on the people you are meeting.  I believe very passionately in the idea of EcoTravel, which is a type of travel that does not damage the environment and helps to support local economies.  It is the idea that local communities can benefit from tourism, without the tourism ruining the environment and culture that made the location a destination in the first place.   There are a lot of ways that we can support these ideals.  Here are just a few:

Buying pineapples from a roadside vendor in Honduras.
Buying pineapples from a roadside vendor in Honduras.
  • Stay in small, family owned hotels or B&B’s.
  • Strike up a relationship with the people who work there.  Go out of your way to talk to them beyond the scope of “I need a towel, or a key”, etc..
  • Study the language, so that these types of interactions are easier.
  • Rent an apartment with a kitchenette, which requires that you…
  • Shop for groceries at the local market or corner store.
  • Eat at the locally owned restaurants, and avoid the fast food chains.
  • Participate in an educational program.
  • Be respectful of the differences in the culture.

Remember: “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Camera Choice- Compact Cameras

Compact/Point and Shoot cameras have come a long way in the digital era.  There are a wide range of point and shoot cameras on the market, so this means there is a wide range of quality that is available.  There are many very good compact cameras on the market, and many of them have functions that elevate them from being a simple “point and shoot” camera.  These compact cameras are easy to use and many have very useful features and functions.  Some of these features are easy to understand, and there are also often functions that can be taken advantage of by more experienced shooters.

Amsterdam: Sometimes you just want to go out for a drink, and then your beverage looks good enough to photograph. Glad I had my little camera with me, cheers!

“The best camera is the one that you have with you.”  The advantage of point and shoot cameras is clearly it’s small size and convenience.  I’m more likely to carry a camera with me all the time, if it is compact.  There are definitely times when I want to have the ability to take pictures, but don’t want to worry about keeping up with my SLR camera.  So, I usually pack both for a trip, and make sure those times that I don’t want to take the big camera, that I at least have my Point and Shoot.

There have also been times, when I have had both cameras with me, and I used the point and shoot for safety and security reasons, maybe I was in area where petty crime was a problem, and I didn’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention.  Or, I was in a situation where I wanted to be more discreet with my camera, and didn’t want to stand out in the crowd.

Siena, Italy Picture taken with my compact camera. This is a situation where I wanted to quickly take a picture while being discreet. I did not want the women to notice that I was taking their picture, as that might have changed their positions and or expressions.

Image quality can vary widely in the huge range of compact cameras that are available.  I finally broke down and bought a compact camera when they started making some models that shoot 12 megapixel RAW files.  I’m so glad I did, I love my little compact camera, because I can, and do, take it anywhere and everywhere.  There are a few other features to look for if shopping for a compact camera that goes beyond point and shoot.  The first would be exposure controls, preferably manual control.  I recommend having at least shutter and aperture priority shooting modes, and exposure compensation.  This gives you some control over motion and depth of field.  Sure, there might be times when you set it to auto and forget about it, but there are other times where you really need the control over those settings to get the picture you want.

The Netherlands: This picture was taken with my compact camera while riding a rental bike in the Waterlands area outside of Amsterdam. I did have my SLR camera with me, but it was tied down so securely to the back of my bike that I got tired of taking the time to unsecure and resecure it. So, I rode with my compact camera around my neck, which allowed me to easily stop, shoot a few frames, and then be on my way.