photography, travel

20 Below // Yellowstone

Life is all about adaptation. If you can’t stay flexible, especially when on the road, you’ll end up frustrated and angry. Plans are going to change. Your best efforts will be thwarted frequently. I promise.

This year’s winter Wyoming road trip wasn’t my first rodeo… But perhaps my first trying to camp in the beautiful, frozen hell that is the Yellowstone Caldera. It is common to reach dangerous temps of -60F here. Maybe we got lucky, it only reached -20 for us.

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Most people think I’m crazy… some of the things I do, get myself into. No, I’m actually relatively sane. I see a great human potential to do things that seem impossible or “nuts” to many, and I want to prove that they are quite normal. And maybe even fun.

Yellowstone is one of those places that immediately captured my heart. Love at first sight… smell, touch, feel. It is magical. But of all the seasons I have experienced in this place, winter was the untouchable. Most of the park is only accessible by snow mobile, snow coach, or cross country skis. It requires a lot of preparation and investment to make an overnight camping excursion into Yellowstone in the dead of winter. It demands to be taken seriously. Especially in winter.

I was looking for an opportunity to test myself in a new way.

Sounds dumb, I know. But I’ve always been this way.

When I was little, I wanted to be a stunt man. Often, I would jump off the roof of our house to practice my falls, or bungee a bunch of pillows around my body and throw myself down the stairs. I’ve always enjoyed catching snakes with my bare hands, only to identify them as poisonous or non, afterward.

It’s not that I don’t feel fear. Trust me, I do. Every time I sleep out in grizzly country, I lay awake most of the first night seeing terrible visions of ferocious bear(s) attacking me ruthlessly. Every snap of a twig makes my heart race. But all I have to do to finally get some shut eye is remind myself of the many hundreds of nights I’ve spent under the stars, and how I’ve never had a terrifying experience… with bears, at least. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, that’s just to point to the reality that it’s more likely that I get struck by lightning. An event about which I literally never worry.

The fact remains, my life is not my own. It is controlled and ordained by a much higher reality than my fears or eccentricities.

It’s really about testing my limits. It’s less about man vs. nature, and more man vs. himself. Testing one’s mental and physical resolve.

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So back to the point: I can scheme for months, but I’d better be ready to surrender each and every meticulous plan.

This whole trip was brought on by my random stumbling on a new program offered by Yellowstone. A few months earlier, while surfing recreation.gov I came across the brand new self-guided snow machine permit. I’d always wanted to see Yellowstone in the winter, but it never appealed to me to go on a guided tour. So this sounded perfect.

I lucked out and got a permit for the timing and area I wanted. Not easy to do since almost every permit was already taken. And it started a whole chain of events that led us to this point. I began planning everything; the road trip, the activities, shot lists, I started lining up sponsors, gear, etc. It was on. We were going no matter what, in my mind. It seemed to be providence.

When we arrived in Wyoming, after a night at Devils Tower, the plan was to head all the way up and over to Cooke City, Montana. Cooke City lies just across the Montana/ Wyoming state line along the Beartooth Highway, just a few miles from the Northeast entrance to Yellowstone. It was going to be a long drive, but for me the payoff was well worth it. It was still a week until our scheduled permit date to enter the park from the South on snow machine. This would serve as our introduction to winter camping Yellowstone.

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I know that the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Cooke City is open all year. It’s the only road they plow in the park. However, for some reason, the short drive from Sunlight Basin to Cooke City via the Beartooth Highway is not plowed. I had to learn that the hard way. We ended up adding 4 hours to our drive for that mistake. And it was already getting dark.

After a long detour up to I-90 through Montana, and an overnighter at a cheap motel, we finally arrived at the North entrance to Yellowstone at Gardiner, MT.

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Entering Yellowstone is like being dropped on to another planet. At first, it seems familiar; rocks, trees, mountains, rivers. But then you start to see colors and formations rarely seen anywhere else on earth. Steam rising from mountain streams. The smell of sulphur. Vast herds of bison, elk, pronghorn. It’s so unique. And in the winter, when the snow blankets everything and people are harder to spot than the wildlife, Yellowstone possesses even a more haunting spirit.

So there we were, on the doorstep of testing a new resolve in ourselves, a new level of resiliency. Could we take it? Would a wintry Yellowstone break us?

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We spent the night near Mammoth Hot Springs on top of several feet of snow. It was too cold to hang out long enough to make a fire that night, and we were tired from the days of driving, so we opted to burrow into the cozy tent and our sleeping bags early.

The wind, coyotes, and wolves howled through the night.

The temp when we woke was a solid -20 with the wind, so even the most enjoyable of morning tasks like making coffee became painful. We weren’t deep in the backcountry. In fact, we knew that there might even be fresh coffee to be bought nearby at Mammoth. At the very least, we thought, getting out of the wind and into a quickly warming car would be worth it. I would later come to realize that this moment would serve as the beginning of the end of the test of our resiliency. At least in the way I had imagined.

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Our time in North Yellowstone was short. We had friends to meet up with and clients to shoot for down in Jackson and Pinedale, so we left the park, expecting to return from the South in a week.

Over the next week, we spent a few more nights outdoors, but the cold and the snow was wearing us thin. It became harder and harder to sleep at night and warm up in the morning. On top of this erosion of the physical, several friends we had lined up to go with us on the Yellowstone excursion had to cancel.

The epic adventure was in danger of not happening at all. I was undeterred.

Something that once seemed so providential, so “meant to be,”started to feel cursed. Then I received an email from the snow mobile rental company that I was angling to trade marketing photos for free machines, stating that they would not be able to do the deal any more.

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We’d been on the road for two weeks already and were out of money. It was the last straw. The Yellowstone dream would have to wait. This fact, regardless of how obvious, would take a long time for me to accept.

How do we deal with our disappointments and failed plans? What I wasn’t realizing was that my test of resolve on this trip had now taken a new form. It was no longer the sexy physical test of manhood I wanted. It had become all of our worst nightmares… not getting what we want.

For someone who plans as much as I do, I can become fixated, even obsessed, with objective. The trip was such a beautiful success in so many ways, but from my myopic attitude, it looked like a failure because of the one unrealized objective.

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I learned from this trip that man vs. himself is more than just climbing mountains or wrestling alligators. Man’s true resiliency is shown clearly in his/ her ability to roll with the punches. To watch their carefully made plans go down in flames and still make something of it.

It remains one of the hardest things that I (and all of us will) consistently face in life.

— andrew


In honor of the NPS Centennial this year, I have put together a special collection of (some never before seen) my favorite National Park prints. Please check it out and know that 5% of all the profits from the sale of this artwork will be donated to a wonderful organization that works hard to help preserve our Nation’s most magical places, The National Park Foundation.. We will be visiting almost all of the 59 National Parks this year, so check back often as we will be updating the page regularly. Thank you so much for your support!


 
Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016 – ONLY 2 SPOTS LEFT!
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016 – 4 SPOTS AVAILABLE
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016 – 4 SPOTS AVAILABLE
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2016
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photography, random thought, travel

The Ocean Song

The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.”
― Christopher Paolini

Ellen is an ocean girl.  And clearly I’m a mountain guy.

So I planned a trip recently that I hoped would offer the best of both worlds… the Pacific Northwest Coast.

It really didn’t disappoint.

But I was surprised at how deeply I too fell for the ocean song.

Pacific surf along Del Norte Coast

Dusk falls on the Pacific at Wilson Creek Beach

There’s more to the music of the sea than just the crash of the waves.

A silhouette of a photographer as dusk falls on the Pacific at Wilson Creek Beach

Or the melodic ebb and flow of the tide.

Dusk falls on the Pacific surf at Wilson Creek Beach

There’s the distant surf rolling and rumbling faintly.  Steadily.

Sea birds and pastels accompany the rocks in the Pacific surf along Del Norte Coast

The chatter of the seabirds.

starfish in the tidal pools near Arch Rock

plant life and wildlife in the tidal pools near Arch Rock

The gentle sway of the tiny creatures.

Arch Rock at dusk

There is a sound to the light.  It carries all of these other notes of the sea to create one grand song.

The sun sets on the Pacific and a tent campsite with beautiful displays of color

The sun sets on the Pacific and a tent campsite with beautiful displays of color

The sun sets on the Pacific with beautiful displays of color

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

And when the sun drops beyond the horizon, out of view, the symphony doesn’t end.

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

In fact, the orchestral crescendo begins to take shape with soft colors and the gentleness of the breeze.

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

This is where the song takes shape.  This is where the minor key takes hold.

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

Dusk falls on Bandon Beach

It is primal song. And it is one that I will forever try to capture, impossible as it is… it hangs just out of reach in the air around us and passes through us tenderly. It tells us that we are not alone. That this is not all by chance.

It reminds us that every song has a composer.

— andrew


 
Join me on an amazing adventure… check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2015
 
 
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random thought, travel

How To Travel All The Time… Forever

Ellen and I get asked all the time, “How do you do it?!?” With baffled looks, most people begin to wonder whether we are trust fund babies or maybe secret oil barons.

Ellen slaton hiking and camping the Cirque of the Towers

Well the truth is, neither of us come from any money at all, and contrary to popular belief, photographers and yogis really don’t necessarily make a ton of cash. So we’ve learned to be… well… resourceful.

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Ellen slaton hiking and camping the Cirque of the Towers

The road to Willow Lake

Don’t get me wrong, we do just fine and feel so blessed to be able to do what we do and not worry about paying our bills or having enough food for our bellies… most months :)  “So what’s the secret?” you may ask.

silhouette of a man and woman holding hands at dusk with the Tetons in the background

We don’t have children, spend much money on clothes, or even own a home. We have chosen to “invest” our money in experiences. True, they are fleeting, and probably we won’t be able to retire until… well… ever.  But when I think about it, we would both do what we’re doing if no one was paying us, so why would we ever make a goal to retire from our passions??

Rocky Mountain Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Here’s the deal; we have very different priorities from most folks our age.  And that’s okay.  Our way is not better than the folks that prefer the security of a steady job, and making sound financial investments, and sacrificing their lives to raise children.  In fact, those are all wonderful and even very noble things.  But they aren’t what God has called us to in our lives. At least not yet.

So for now, we travel.  And I might even venture to say we’ve gotten pretty good at it. So I’d like to share a few things that we’ve learned over the years to cut costs and keep the dream alive.

Sunlight Basin Road (Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, Wy

Ellen slaton hiking and camping the Cirque of the Towers

Early morning on Lulu Pass in Gallatin National Forest near Cooke City, MT

First thing’s first… once you’ve determined the where, you have to be able to calculate whether it will be cheaper to drive there, or fly and rent a car, or take public transport. It’s not as hard as it may seem. Figure out your gas mileage and divide that by your calculated total driving distance (I recommend very liberal estimates… better to over-prepare and stay under budget than the reverse), then multiply that number by the average price per gallon of gas.  There’s your travel cost for driving.  Sometimes even though driving may be cheaper, the amount of time (including food + lodging) ends up making it a better deal to fly. Know when to say when is too far a distance to drive.  For me, there is no such thing. Except for ocean crossings! But a deal is a deal, and if I can fly for cheaper, then that’s what I’ll do.

van life, early morning on Lulu Pass in Gallatin National Forest near Cooke City, MT

Travel is your first major cost that you can’t really get around. It’s essentially fixed.  The next few elements are more variable, depending upon your resourcefulness and desired comfort level.

Coleman tent with Tetons in the background

Lodging is something that Ellen and I have down to a fine art. Most locations we visit we camp 6 out of 7 nights.  So for our three week Pacific Northwest trip, I only budgeted for three nights in a hotel.  This saves you… big time.  You can expect to camp for an average of $0-35 per night, depending upon the state/ country you’re in, and what regulations they have.  This info is super easy to find nowadays online. I recommend camping in undeveloped National Forest campsites as much as possible. They are free and usually the most beautiful and quiet. Developed sites usually cost between $5-20.

Camping is hands down, the best way to save money, making it possible for you to travel all the time.

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Sunrise over the Winds near Soda Lake, lit Nemo Tent, man camping

Food is the next (somewhat) variable expense.  We try not to eat out much on the road, as it is typically unhealthy and expensive. But it’s not always easy to travel with groceries. Especially if you elect to fly, coolers can be a hassle. But you can always pick up a $2 styrofoam cooler at Walmart, and that will give you a huge advantage when on the road.

If we’re driving, we bring a regular sized cooler, and keep just the essentials in our car at all times: breakfast (coffee, eggs, butter, yogurt, granola), lunch (peanut butter & honey, tortillas, chips, fruit), dinner (veggies, meat), and snacks (nuts, crackers, snack bars, water, etc.). Clearly, this kind of living is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Especially in the U.S.  But the fact is, many of the people of the world live this way because they have to. Sometimes I think of that fact when I’m growing weary of living out of my car, eating peanut butter and honey.

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Cooking over an open fire really can be such a simple way to “spice up” your meals.  Just some fresh veggies and meat (or eggs even!) will break the monotony (and unhealthy nature) of eating on the road.

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And chopping wood is might fine workout, and often free fuel.

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The truth about travel is that it can be really expensive.  But it doesn’t have to be. You just have to have a realistic budget, a good dose of planning, and expectations to match the budget.  If you desire to travel, but don’t have cash to throw around, just be truthful with yourself and manage your expectations.

Morning brings dramatic light on the Winds

Oh yeah… one more thing that’s really important… work. Most folks with steady jobs can’t just pick up and travel all the time, forever. Well, if travel is your thing, I would sincerely consider a career change. But really, nowadays, a lot of jobs can be done remotely. There’s nothing wrong with working while you travel.  That’s what we do. It’s rare that we take an actual “vacation”.

So it may be worth having a sit down with the boss to see if you have the option of working remotely.  Because if not, it may be back to square one.  But there are a lot of ways to make a living from the road.

Travel writers, food bloggers, consultants, photographers… people are even making money from their Instagram following. If you have something to say, there are advertisers that will gladly partner with and enable you to make a decent living from the road.

Ellen Slaton hiking to and looking out over Seneca Lake in the Wind River Range

All of the images in this post are from a Wyoming/ Montana/ Colorado road trip we did this summer. We partnered with Ambler, a fantastic hat company out of Canada to make it happen, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities.  They’re out there.

Ellen Slaton hiking Bridger Wilderness

When wanderlust takes hold, it can be insatiable. And those of us who aren’t independently wealthy need to get creative to carry out our dreams.

Don’t let life on the road intimidate you… you might find it as exciting and fulfilling as we do…

— andrew


 
Join me on an amazing adventure… check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016
 
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew R. Slaton
Image Brief // Andrew R. Slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
Andrew R. Slaton | photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2015

 

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education, instructional, photography, travel

Photographing // Waterfalls

Creating stunning waterfall and river shots is not always as simple as finding a compelling composition and just pointing your camera. There are some basic, and even advanced techniques that you need to consider.

I just returned from a three week road trip through Washington state, Oregon, and Northern California; one of the regions of the world with the most abundant waterfalls and cascades, thanks to the very high annual rainfall of the area.

Punchbowl Falls

Toketee Falls

Wahkeena Falls

The scenic Ohanapecosh River

I’ve shot waterfalls from Arizona to Scotland and beyond over the years, but none compared to the concentration and variety I visited recently… I was just blown away by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.  The forests are lush with vegetation and the rivers run crystal clear and some even take on a deep blue hue.

The scenic Ohanapecosh River

The first concept you want to think about when photographing moving water is whether you want the water to blur or whether you want to stop the action. 9 times out of 10, your image will be more compelling and interesting with blurred water, so that means you will want a shutter speed of at least 1/2 a sec.  I prefer around 2.5 to 10 seconds to achieve the look I like.

But if you have an element of action in your image that needs to be stopped, you will want a faster shutter speed. Consider the image below. Although I would’ve liked the water cascade to be blurred and smooth, I knew it was more important that I stop the action of the cliff jumper… so I made a split second decision to change to a 1/125 sec shutter speed.

Cliff jumping at Punchbowl Falls

So, you might be asking, “What if it’s the middle of the day? How can you achieve such a slow shutter speed?” Well, that’s a great question.  I would refer you to an earlier post on neutral density filters.  But if you don’t have a solid or variable ND, you can often get close enough to the speed you need with your circular polarizer… Which brings me the next consideration to make; to polarize or not.

Proxy Falls

This series of images, shot at Proxy, Toketee, and Punchbowl Falls in Oregon are good examples how of using a circular polarizer can enhance your waterfall photographs. First, the polarizer will give you at least 2-3 extra stops, allowing you to utilize slower shutter speeds. But it will also cut the glare from the water, allowing the colorful water to take shape in your image. But perhaps my favorite reason for using the polarizer is because it will also cut the glare from the surrounding vegetation and make the greens pop like never before.

Proxy Falls

Toketee Falls

Punchbowl Falls

Two men wade to get a closer look at Punchbowl Falls

Lit Nemo Equipment tent on the Ohanapecosh River

The next thing to consider, as I’m sure you’ve butted heads against already, is camera stabilization.  All these long shutter speeds do not work unless you have a very sturdy tripod. I have three tripods that I cycle between that are all great for different reasons and applications.  The best for waterfalls, is my Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 Aluminium 3-Section Tripod with 410 Junior Geared Tripod Head. It is heavy duty though, and if I’m flying to a location or backpacking in, I use my lighter Gitzo GT2340L Series 2 Aluminum 4 Section Tripod, with the same sturdy, geared head.

A good tripod will save you from many headaches in the field and heartaches when you get your images on your computer (or get your film back) and see that none or very few are even sharp.

Proxy Falls

Proxy Falls

But even with a hefty tripod, you will need one more piece of equipment… a remote shutter release. Canon makes two different kinds; the Canon RS-80N3  & the Canon TC-80N3.  I have both and like them, but they are pricey for what they are.

I recently stumbled upon the Polaroid Wireless Camera Shutter Remote.  It is wireless, which is fantastic for so many reasons (including the fact that I can shoot star pictures without leaving the comfort of my tent!), it is an intervalometer (so I can time-lapse, and shoot really long exposures with precision), and the price is right.

There is one way around the shutter release, but you have to set your timer delay every time you want to do a long exposure.  I would recommend investing the money in a decent shutter release, and I would even go with the wireless, intervalometer.

Having a good tripod and shutter release, whether wired or wireless, will ensure no camera shake, giving you the sharpest images possible.

Toketee Falls

The trail to Wahclella Falls follow the beautiful and serene Tanner Creek

The trail to Wahclella Falls follow the beautiful and serene Tanner Creek

Now that we’re done with the technical side of things, I’d like mention something more on the subjective/ artistic side.

Only in recent years have I begun to add people to my landscape images.  And it’s become a bit addicting. It’s a whole different mindset in many ways. But in practice, I simply compose the landscape image I want first, and then I look for the perfect (and most interesting) location within the composition to place the human element.

People admiring the majesty of Wahclella Falls

You may be like me and vehemently resistant to such an idea initially, but I would encourage you to round out your portfolio with interesting “people in nature” images. Unless you exclusively make your living from fine art print sales, you stand to make some decent coin from shots like this.  Both advertisers and editorial producers alike love this type of image.

A man is drawrfed by Elowah Falls

Another prime example of why I would go with the Polaroid Wireless Camera Shutter Remote… Sometimes you will be the only person available to place in your image. The wireless remote makes being your own model a real breeze.  Trust me, I have to do it all the time :)

The scenic Ohanapecosh River

Man hiking Proxy Falls

The scenic Ohanapecosh River

People admiring the majesty of Wahclella Falls

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

One of the trickiest things about photographing waterfalls is the spray. Powerful waterfalls will produce a spray or mist within a certain distance, and sometimes the shot you want is going to fall within that wet perimeter.  It is very difficult to keep your lens dry.  So what I found is you have to stand in front of the lens until the very last moment, wait for the wind to die down or shift, and then wipe the lens with your lens cloth, all the while jumping out of the way as you press the shutter on your wireless shutter release.  Needless to say, It’s not easy.

A man admiring Wahkeena Falls

So sometimes, you just have to roll with it.  The image above is after I got one good frame, I gave up trying to keep the mist from the front element of my lens, and a very impressionistic image was the result.  I ended up really liking the look and feel. I’m glad I experimented with a non-traditional shot.

Ferns and vegetation detail near Wahclella Falls in Tanner Creek

Along these lines, the last thing I think is important to mention (and this applies to any nature photography you might be in to); don’t forget see the beautiful details.  They are easy to miss sometimes, but when we are able to slow down, tune in to them, and notice the quiet shots, we are rewarded with unique images.

— andrew


 
Take your photography to the next level… check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
 
Big Bend NP // Night/ Landscape // 2016
Isle of Skye // S C O T L A N D // 2016
Highlands // S C O T L A N D // 2016
 
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // andrew r. slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
andrew r. slaton // photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2015
 
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random thought, travel

Planning An Epic (International) Road Trip // SCOTLAND

Trying to plan road trip can be intimidating for the uninitiated.  But planning an international road trip can be downright terrifying.

There are so many unknowns when hitting the open road in a foreign country that it can paralyze even the most seasoned traveler.

So I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned over the years about road trips, and more specifically now, road trips on foreign soil.

If you haven’t read them yet, I have created a lot of content on planning epic road trips, so if you’re new to the subject, I would recommend checking out these posts:

Planning an Epic Road Trip // Intro

Planning an Epic Road Trip // The Destination

Planning an Epic Road Trip // The Plan

Planning an Epic Road Trip // Equipped

The road to Glencoe and surrounding mountains

The road to Glencoe and surrounding mountains

1.  Know Your Destination

First thing’s first.  Research the heck out of the country to which you’re traveling.  Whether your final destination is South Sudan or Norway, put in the time and effort researching the country’s customs, laws, and even safety for drivers.  If it’s a conflict zone, I would  recommend having a guide/ driver, getting the max amount of insurance, or not going all together!

For up to date travel safety info, check out The U.S. State Dept. Website.  Also, your local AAA office has a massive wealth of resources when entering into the initial planning phase.  You can also obtain your international driver’s license from AAA for $15.  It’s generally not necessary, but could definitely come in handy in certain places, so why not.

the road to Glen Afric, Scotland

the road to Glen Afric, Scotland

2. Know Thyself :)

Be honest with yourself.  Set yourself up for success and a good time.  If you’re the type of person that get’s stressed and loses it when road tripping in the States, your style may not be to hit the open road in a foreign land.  And that’s okay!  There are plenty of fantastic options for travel that don’t include the adventure (or headache, depending on how you look at it) of renting a vehicle, driving on the other side of the road, navigating round abouts and/or one lane, windy paths, and mapping routes in a different language.

Wildflowers in spring bloom along the east coast of Scotland

Wildflowers in spring bloom along the east coast of Scotland

3.  Prep, prep, prep

There is so much prep work that goes into any road trip, much less a trip to a different country… much less a road trip in a different country!  Here are a few things I know will help.

Call your car insurance company to see if you are covered in foreign countries… typically you are not, so I would go ahead and get secondary insurance either through the car rental agency or through a trusted international travel insurer.  There is nothing worse than having an accident.  Oh wait, yes there is!  Having an accident while on vacation.  Trust me, it’s worth the extra cash!

Get all the necessary maps, and actually look at them before you’re in the driver’s seat!  Make sure you can adequately read the maps.  They may be in a foreign language.  But don’t just look for the English maps, because it may confuse you even further when you’re on the ground…  The local signage will often not include the English :)

Learn a few key phrases of the local language.  You’re definitely going to have to stop for directions at some point (just get over it).  And I cannot tell you how much of an icebreaker it is to at least try to speak to folks in their native language.  They always appreciate it, and often, people speak enough English that you can communicate with one another, albeit primitively.

Leave your itinerary open for minor changes.  Definitely have a master route planned.  And book a few hotels ahead of time in key spots you know you’ll visit.  But don’t create such a rigid itinerary that you’ll annoy any travel buddies to death or even miss out on unexpected opportunities or adventures!  That’s what travel is all about, after all.

the cliffs near dunnet head

the cliffs near dunnet head

the main road through Dunnet

the main road through Dunnet

The River Abhainn An Lethuillt with wildflowers and dramatic morning light and clouds

The River Abhainn An Lethuillt with wildflowers and dramatic morning light and clouds

The Northern edge of the Totternish Range on skye

The Northern edge of the Totternish Range on skye

A dramatic sunset over he Isle of Harris from Rubha Hunish

A dramatic sunset over he Isle of Harris from Rubha Hunish

*Other Highly Recommended Preps:

Call your cell phone provider and consider a temporary international plan ahead of time.  If for nothing other than texts and data, this might be the way you want to go.  You can communicate with family and friends cheaply and easily via text, and use your data to navigate and locate yourself or hard to find destinations.

Know what size car you need!  You may not have as much gear as me, and I would always recommend getting the smallest, most fuel efficient vehicle possible… just make sure you have enough room!  Most other countries do not have the huge cars and roads we have in the U.S., and gas prices can be way more expensive.  The smaller the car, the better.  I find there are many more “tight squeezes” while driving over seas.  It’s also common to have to pay a lot more for automatic transmissions.  If you’re comfy with manual, save the money and go manual.  However, be aware that the stick shift may be on the left side instead of what we’re used to on the right.  Be a smart, savvy traveler!

A Renault Captur hatchnack navigating the dirt trails of Dunnet Head

A Renault Captur hatchnack navigating the dirt trails of Dunnet Head

Along with currency, be prepared to convert gallons to liters. If you’re like me, you’re thrifty, and you track every dollar when you’re traveling.  Well, in case you were unaware like I was the first time, the rest of the world works on the metric system, so it can be a bit confusing when you’re trying to figure out how much gas mileage you’re getting, when everything is in liters per kilometer.  There’s an app for that!  Actually several.  Find the one that works for you.

Don’t forget your chargers and cords.  Nearly all cars you’d drive will have the traditional “cigarette lighter” outlets you’re used to.  This could be your best (or only) way to charge your devices!

Use google maps, or other software like it, to plan your route ahead of time.  And now with smart phones, you can take it with you to help along the way.  This was our route in Scotland…

The Quiraing

The Quiraing

A855 leading up to Storr and the dramatic Totternish Range on the Isle of Skye

A855 leading up to Storr and the dramatic Totternish Range on the Isle of Skye

Moon and stars as cars passing on A82 near the River Etive

Moon and stars as cars passing on A82 near the River Etive

There is so much beauty out there to see, and often times, the only way to see it is behind the wheel.  So don’t be afraid, just educate yourself, use every resource possible before and during, and get out there to find your adventure!

All in all, try to have that good blend of laid back/ adventurous mixed with some detail oriented/ planner, and your trip will be glorious.  Oh yeah, and be a courteous driver… it goes a long way… just about everywhere.  **Just don’t ask my wife if I am one… she’ll probably lie and say I am, fingers crossed behind her back. :)

— andrew

P.S. If you’ve learned anything during your travels that you think might be helpful to others that I’ve left out, please let us know in the comments!


 
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