Travel articles and gear

  • Written by: Marko Samastur
  • Published on:
  • Category: Catchall

We like to travel, but I avoid reading travel pieces unless we are researching for an upcoming trip as we currently are. Too much of this semi-fictional genre is snobbishly prescriptive or laughably overconfident (and sometimes both).

The most annoying example of former is almost a sub-genre of writing describing the right way to travel while scolding “detractors” where right usually means backpacking for months with a small backpack and on cheap trying to meet locals. I find it especially annoying because not only do we not all travel for the same reasons, for most of us how we travel is a compromise between our wishes and abilities including available time and money. What every traveller should strive for is to minimise their negative impact on environment and visited cultures and apart from cruises there are few travel approaches that I would describe as a priori wrong.

The other grating notion is the idea that spending a few months in a foreign society will result in your understanding of it. This is not true even if you are an anthropologist. More exposure rarely hurts, but I wish more people stayed humble in their interpretations of observed events. I understand English pretty well, have spent cumulatively almost two years in England, have friends there and have spent decades consuming British culture through media, books, TV, movies and music. An investment I am unlikely to be able to repeat with any culture and yet I am still not completely fluent in it. There are bits I don’t understand and frankly not all British do either as is likewise true for me and Slovenian culture.

However, I find an interesting advice or insight can salvage almost anything. With this hope, here’s mine. Try watching local TV at least a bit during your travels, especially commercials. I find advertisement provides a skewed, but interesting lens on how society wants to see itself and what it finds important and profitable. Also, asking for opinions instead of facts is more likely to elicit richer answers and repeating previously answered questions to newly met people can be illuminating.

(Photo) gear

Like I said, I read articles about travel rarely except when doing research, which mostly is looking for information about specific locations and travel gear.

Over the years we’ve developed check lists for all types of trips we do and got pretty good at packing, but the need to tweak our gear never goes away if for no other reason to replace worn out stuff.

Few items I am almost obsessed about. Backpacks are one of them. Their designs have immensely improved over the years and I have also accepted that we need several, but I think philosophical differences between me, and backpack designers make it unlikely I will find a perfect one for multi-day treks.

Trekking trousers are another. Men trousers are usually serviceable, but women’s are generally awful because of creators seemingly almost phobic fear of external pockets. If one needs to wear a jacket or take off their backpack to have access to a map or one’s phone, then they are not fit for use and most aren’t.

But since we are both keen photographers, I especially try to optimise photo equipment we lug around. Last decade brought a lot of changes to gear I see used on our trips. Most casual shooters have switched to using smartphones and mirrorless cameras are replacing DSLRs among photo enthusiasts although later group may carry as much as it used to since new space and weight are now often taken by drones. Everyone uses whatever device makes desired shot the easiest (e.g. wide panoramas tend to be taken with smartphones).

Our trips usually include up to a weeklong off grid treks. It took me way too long to figure out that the best way to handle those is carry a high-capacity power bank and making sure every electrical device can be powered through USB connection. This makes everything easier also when we are back as it reduces number of cables, is generally easier to fix if something goes wrong and reduces the need to find free electrical sockets. We don’t use solar cells because they would rarely if ever be practical to us.

On our last trip I tried to see how well I can do with smartphone as my only camera. Generally, I was pleased with the results but found phone’s lack of zoom too limiting. Which is why I have switched to iPhone X with its 2x optical zoom. Still, while better than before this is often not enough and cannot be compensated with cropping because significant crop of a 12M image does not leave many pixels even when change of perspective is not an issue.

It seems new phones will add even wider lenses that are fairly useless to me as stitched panoramas are excellent and have better resolutions. I have experimented with switchable lenses from ShiftCam. I still love their design, but lenses themselves are of poor quality, a problem also plaguing their competitors based on published online images. Would gladly pay more for an easy to use quality zoom lens if I could find one.

On the other hand, apps available for tweaking photos are often phenomenal. As an iOS user I mostly rely on built-in tools, SKRWT for perspective corrections and TouchRetouch for removing unwanted items. It can feel almost magical how easy it can be to shape up a photo. I am sure equivalent tools exist also on Android platform.

Nevertheless, the technical quality of these photos is still noticeably worse than those taken by our Nikon so we will continue carrying all that stuff. If only I could now find a compact travel tripod that would be easier to attach to our backpacks.