The Art of Packing

The other day I was thinking about packing. I know weird thing to randomly think about right. In the past when I’ve often traveled with my wife and our packing setup has been something like this. We each carry a backpack of some kind with things we need to keep handy. I swear by crumpler backpacks by the way. Then we have one large rolling suitcase that my wife pulls along with clothing and larger items. That’s the bag that get checked if we are doing a plane trip. You often have to pay to check bags at this point but we feel it's usually worth it. Sometimes I’ll also place another bag with handles on the back of my wheelchair over top of the backpack. I was thinking though what if I was traveling on my own or with someone I couldn’t share a suitcase with?

Packing is not going to be a one size fit all solution by any means. The fact that we all have different abilities and strengths means that some could push a rolling suitcase along while others may not be able to. I might be comfortable with a bunch of weight on the back of my wheelchair but for some that is a huge balance issue.

If you’re traveling and using a wheelchair I have a few basic tips.

  1. An under the seat pouch is great for things you need to be able to get right away and want to keep safe. Things like your passport or boarding pass are good to keep there. Maybe some allen keys for wheelchair repairs.

  2. If you’re traveling by plane or a train have a reasonable size carry on bag. For me this is a backpack that fits onto the back of my wheelchair. This is where I keep my camera gear, laptop or ipad. Maybe a change of clothes just incase and some snacks too.

  3. Regardless of the size or style of bag you use for you clothing make sure it's something you can maneuver without too much trouble. Perhaps this is less important if you’re just going to travel by car. But if you have to trek through the airport or from public transit to your hotel that bag is going to seem a lot heavier as time goes on.

  4. Consider if where you’re going to be has some kind of laundry facility. You can get away with packing light if you’re able to wash everything part way through you trip. Even if you have to pay it could be well worth it.

In all how you pack is going to be a very personal thing. If I was going on a long trip on my own I think I’d do something like this. A seat pouch bag which I always carry anyway. Next would be my backpack for carry on. Finally I'd take a four wheel rolling bag if it was a longer trip. If it was a short trip I'd take a bag I could strap to the front of my chair or put over my shoulder and rest above my feet.  

Packing is a pain, I don't enjoy it even though I enjoy planning a trip so much. However it's one of those things that has to get done. Take the time to think about what you really need and try and pack as light as you can. You'll thank yourself later. 

Let me know below what you do for packing. I'd love to hear some ideas.

Travel Photo Accessories

Regardless of what camera you take on vacation having some great accessories can make things a bit more enjoyable. I've picked out a few that I think are worth your time and money. Let me know in the comments below what your favourites are and I'll considering add them to the list too. 

Western Digital Wireless Hard Drive

The Western Digital wireless hard drive is something that I wish I had with with me on many of my past trips. Sometimes you just don’t want to travel with your laptop. The problem is then that backup and reviewing your images on the road becomes an issue. This drive lets you directly download an SD card to the 1 or 2 TB drive. Then you connect connect to it via WI-FI a hotspot the drive creates to review your images on a tablet or phone. You can connect up to 8 devices to it at once. It’s also battery powered so you can do this while still in the field if you want. Once you get back home you can use usb 3.0 to more quickly access the files on it.

Joby Gorillapod

I’ve owned a Gorillapod for a number of years now. I don’t normally travel with a full size tripod as I tend not to use one that often. I will however take the Gorillapod incase I want to do a quick night time long exposure. It weighs almost nothing and is pretty versatile considering it’s size. I have the Gorillapod SLR from when I use still using a larger camera. However it still works perfectly with the Fuji X-T1 of course.

Fuji SP-1

The Fuji SP-1 is a fun device regardless of what time of photography you do. It’s basically just a WI-FI instant printer. Polaroid for the digital era if you will. This printer was designed to work with smart phones, android or iPhone via a downloadable app. However it also works with a number of fuji cameras that have WI-FI built in. This includes the X100T and XT-1 among others. The printer is especially fun when you travel. Being able to make a print for someone you’ve just met and made a portrait of is really cool. It can help break the ice and leaves them with something special at the same time. The paper isn't super cheap but I still think it's worth it. 

Good Coat / Rain Gear

You might think this is an odd thing to put on a accessories guide. However trust me you’ll appreciate it when it’s pouring rain or freezing cold and you have to walk 3 blocks to that next attraction you want to see. I picked up a The North Face jacket last fall and it’s made winter outings much more bearable when it's -20 C. For the summer I have a Gor-Tex rain coat which is pretty great. I’m not one who loves to go out and shoot in the rain but when you’re traveling you’re not about to sit around at the hotel just because of some rain right?


Apps Vs Maps

Okay so this isn’t really so much app vs map as much as app vs paper I guess. I was recently asked what mapping applications I use when I’m on a trip. I thought about it a bit and honestly I don’t use many apps when I’m traveling. I really mostly just use google maps and a few paper based maps. Sometimes I’ll use a transit app specific to the place I’m traveling. They sometimes give you a bit better directions that google maps can. There are also apps you might want to look into depending on your specific needs. Some examples are things like topographic maps, nautical maps or ones that show hiking trails. There are of course advantages and disadvantages to each so lets look at each option a bit.

Transit Directions

This is the area where apps can really shine. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve used google maps to figure out what bus route to take to my destination. Not only which route but all the alternative routes too. Just punch in where you want to go and get directions from your current location. You can also pick which form of transportation you want to take. For example in New York I wanted to take the bus and not the dirty subway most of the time so I could just filter by bus. “Transit” is also a great dedicated transit app that currently works in 86 different cities. It shows you routes and travel times. It uses google for the maps but the transit information is pulled from a different place I believe. 

Paper transit maps can still be good. However in cities where there are a lot of options the maps can get just too confusing.

One thing paper maps have going for them is they often have the accessible transit stations or stops marked on them. I have yet to find an app that has the information embedded in it. If you find something please let me know in the comments and I will update the post going forward.

Offline

There are a few situations where you might be offline or off the grid so to speak. The two most common for me are being overseas without access to my cell service, and being in rural areas with no service whatsoever. There are of course ways to download maps ahead of time to your mobile device for offline viewing. However I’ve often found myself in an area I wasn’t planning to visit and didn’t plan ahead. Also depending on the app storage space on your phone could be a problem. This is where paper maps rule for me. No matter where I am they just work of course. I often try to carry at least two different paper maps with me. I find that there are different details sometimes on each printing and sometimes it helps if you’re really lost. 

Attractions

Another situation where I apps win out. There are often lots of attractions marked on paper maps, especially in large cities. On paper maps though they tend to be only major tourist destinations. This is fine if you're just looking to get to a major landmark or museum. If you're trying to find something more local or off the beaten path though it might not help. The sheer amount of details on google maps is amazing to me. There are even floor plans for some major shopping malls which I personally think is pretty cool. 


How to avoid stress and just enjoy your trip

A trip or vacation should be fun. However sometimes we get too stressed out to just enjoy it. I thought I’d try and give you a few tips to make things go a little more smoothly. Now I can’t honestly say that I obey all these suggestions myself but I try at least.

1. You don’t have to see everything

On my last trip to New York we had 6 days including travel days. We also had a huge list of possible things we wanted to see. We missed out on seeing a good chunk of them. While I’m sad that we didn’t make it to the High Line or the Chelsea Market I still think we tried to do too much. Also keep in mind that your travel partner or group might not want to see or walk as much as you. I’m not so good at the part if I’m honest. Don't worry if you don't get to see everything. It gives you a reason to visit again. 

2. Don’t worry if plans change

I often try to plan out what we are going to do day to day on a trip to maximize our travel time. However sometimes things come up where your plans have to change. Sometimes this is something as simple as a freak rain storm on the day you were planning on having a picnic in the park. Maybe a there is a transit problem preventing you from getting to an attraction. Or that special restaurant you wanted to go to is closed due to an emergency neighbourhood water outage. Sure you could plan backup activities but that’s not always realistic to do. The main thing to remember is you’re on vacation, just go with it and find something else in your area to see or do.

3. Buy Travel Insurance

I won’t get into suggesting which travel insurance to purchase here. That’s for another day and time. However I’ll just say it’s important to have. It’s easy to forget about sometimes if you’re like me and from Canada. Here going to emerg won’t cost you a thing other than a lot of time. However in a lot of countries that’s not the case. Not only could you end up with food poisoning but also a large medical bill to show for it. It might seem costly upfront but for piece of mind travel medical insurance is always worth it.

4. Do what you want to do, not what you think you have to do

Sometimes when you travel to a big name destination like New York or Paris you feel like there are things you really should see. When planning my New York trip I got asked by everyone if I was going to go see a Broadway show. It seemed like this is something everyone assumed you had to do when visiting New York. However it wasn't something that either of us were too interested in. While I do enjoy seeing a lot of major attractions on my first trip someplace I don’t want to make myself see things just because they are popular, or it's the thing to do. For example I wouldn’t recommend anyone go up the empire state building. The lines are just too crazy. Sure it’s a great view but you can get that are the top of the rock too.

New York City - Days 3 and 4

Day 3 in New York included the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, both on the upper east side. It was a pretty rainy looking day so the museum thing was a good choice. It was also killer hot outside so we also appreciated the air conditioning. For lunch we hit up the hahla cart outside the metropolitan museum. It was surprisingly good. It's also amazing how many choices that pack into one cart. That said there are about a dozen different carts all parked right in front of the Metropolitan Museum so you’re bound to find something you’re interested in.

In the evening I went out for another walk to take some photos. I didn’t go far just in the around around Harold Square. It was a warm evening so there were lots of people out and about hanging around the park. I found it interesting that stores in the area were open to 9 or 9:30 when I’m used to things in Toronto closing around 7 during the week.


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Day 4

On Day four of our trip we went up town again to the American Museum of Natural History which is on the west side of central park. This place is large and super confusing to navigate. There is an app that is said to use GPS to guide you around. It installed it using the free wi-fi but it couldn't locate me and didn’t work. The app has good reviews so I have to assume it does work most of the time for people. We saw the Dark Universe show which was also worth the time. It’s narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson who you might know from the new Cosmos tv show. The dinosaur exhibit of course is what the place is best known for and it is well put together. However I felt that some of the exhibits haven’t been updated in a really long time and could use some attention. Also a lady in the gift store told me “I hope you feel better”. I guess she thought I wasn’t feeling well because I was using a wheelchair? It’s people like this that drive me crazy.

For a late lunch we walked over to the near by Shake Shack. It was pretty good but honestly no better than Smash Burger was on day one. There was also quite a line to get into the place, but it moved quickly.

In the late afternoon I stopped in at the 5th Ave. Apple store and FAO Swartz because it seemed like the thing to do. Both the stores are huge and crazy just as you expect them to be. Also yes the Apple store here smells the same as all the others, is that a thing?


5 Accessible Things to do in Tel Aviv

1.Tel Aviv Museum of Art

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art is Israel's largest art museum and houses a reasonably impressive collection of classical and contemporary art. This includes works by Cezanne, Chagall, Dali, Monet, Henri Moore, Auguste Rodin, Archipenko, Picasso, Klimt, Kadinsky. There was a new wing opened in the fall of 2011 which looks amazing but I unfortunately didn't get to visit. It's a close walk over to Rabin Square, #4 on our list as well. So you can visit both in the same day. 

2. Old Tel Aviv Port

This used to be a derelict stretch of warehouses and garages. However it's now been transformed into a great area to visit. Filled with a lot of restaurants and shops spread out over a great boardwalk.  You'll find the port along the north end of the beach front. So it's a bit of a walk from many of the hotels. However you can easily take a taxi or a bus up near the area. It is fenced in to pedestrian traffic only so you can only get so close by car.

3. Carmel Market

This is a great street market and is open every day of the week, except Saturday. The market mostly sells food but also a variety of home and decor items. Thursdays and Fridays there are extra vendors down another street and the side streets. You'll find jewellery and art for sale on these days as well. A lot of the stalls are covered but it can still be super hot so keep that in mind when you're heading out. 

4. Rabin Square and memorial 

A really nice large open public square in the middle of Tel Aviv. Renamed Rabin Square November 4th 1995 after Yitzhak Rabin as assassinated there the same year.  The square is surrounded by busy commercial streets that have a good variety of cafes and restaurants. 

Check out this sweet google street view of it here https://www.google.com/maps/views/view/streetview/israel-highlights/rabin-square/keTxNNeyUymqgZrz3aLoQA?gl&heading=336&pitch=99&fovy=75

5. Hit the beach and walk the promenade 

All of the west side of Tel Aviv is one long beach. It's split up into sections name after various hotels and beaches near each one. Along the beach is a great pathway that you can stroll back and forth along. It's a bit rough but most wheelchairs should be okay with it. Even if going along it did eventually start to shake the bolts out of my side guards. There are also section of boardwalk that let you get right down onto the beach as well. 

Bonus

6 Old City of Jaffa 

When I was in Tel Aviv I made a trip down to the old city of Jaffa. Being such and old city the terrain around here is pretty rough. Not all wheelchair users are going to be able to manage it unfortunately. However if you feel you're able to make the trip it's worth the time to go down and take a look around. Looks of neat shops and places to eat. Also we climbed way up the hill for an amazing view back along the Tel Aviv beaches.