What is the history of PhotoEnrichment Adventures and who founded the company?

PhotoEnrichment Programs, Inc. d.b.a. PhotoEnrichment Adventures (PEA) was founded in 2004, part-time, by Ralph Velasco, as a way to offer digital photography instruction in the form of one-on-one meetings with clients and small group Photo Walking Tours in Southern California, where he was living at the tie.  During that period, Ralph taught classes at a number of institutions, including the Cities of Newport Beach, Orange, San Juan Capistrano and others.  He also taught adult education travel photography classes at Santa Ana College, Saddleback College, the University of California at Irvine extension program, the Irvine Fine Arts Center and many others.

Over time Ralph began organizing and leading half-day, full day and multi-day trips throughout Southern California, the Central California coast, as well as to San Francisco and Chicago.  Eventually, in 2008 he decided to go full time with PEA and in 2009 led his first international trip to the Central European Christmas markets.  That same year he wrote his first book titled Ralph Velasco On Travel Photography: 101 Tips for Developing Your Photographic Eye & More.

As of this writing, Ralph has organized and led more than 70 international small group trips, and over 100 domestic tours in the United States.

Today Ralph serves as President and CEO (Chief Experience Officer) of the company and he personally plans, scouts, organizes and leads every tour on the PEA calendar, so you can rest assured he has a personal interest in your enjoyment on each and every trip.

 

Can you give me a brief overview of a PhotoEnrichment Adventures trip?

Much more detailed information can be found below, but in a nutshell, our trips can be described as small group cultural tours, with a focus on photography.

Depending on the trip they range in size from 6 to 11 participants, but can vary by one or two participants either way.  We keep our group size down so that participants can have a more intimate experience and we can offer a smaller participant to instructor ratio.  When practical this allows us to stay in boutique hotels, travel in smaller vehicles that can get into more off-the-beaten-path places and better parking places, and so that we can have meals at more intimate restaurants where the locals eat.

Depending on the trip and destination, we typically stay in well-located, 3 and 4 star (some times even 5 star) boutique accommodations so that our guests can walk out the front door and be in the heart of it all.

Our tours are thoroughly scouted in advance, and our goal is to provide, on average, a half day of scheduled and organized group activities, and a half day of free time, so that participants can go out and explore each place alone, as couples, or in small groups, and not feel like they have to be with the entire group 24/7.

The goal is to provide clients an opportunity for not only the benefits of small group travel, including pricing power, well-planned and organized activities, and the camaraderie and networking found in a small group, but also the ability to go out and create their own, unique experiences.

Because travel is about getting to know the people in any destination, immersion and cultural exchanges with the locals are always a top priority, and we use only high quality local experts and guides to provide some history, cultural information and language skills and translation that help us get closer to the local people.

In a word, a PEA trip provides variety.  For additional information, please keep reading.

Know that in a recent study, over 42 percent of our trip participants have traveled on an organized trip with Ralph before.  This tells us that they’re returning over and over again to enjoy our style of travel and approach to photography.

How would you summarize your overall philosophy for organizing a tour?

Our trips are organized and designed around the idea that we want to give our participants a really good overall sense of the places we’ll be visiting.  At times this means getting in close and personal with the locals, having meals or tea (or something stronger?) with them, even visiting them in their homes and places of business to experience how they live and go about their everyday lives.  We also like to include a sampling of the main attractions in the places we visit, but for various reasons will often leave some of these sites for participants to explore on their own, in their free time.

Food is such an important part of travel and so more and more we’re including locally-guided foodie tours in our trips so that we can learn about the local food, how to shop for it, where it comes from, perhaps how to prepare and eat it, and more.   Meals are usually held at independently-owned and operated restaurants, where the locals go.

 

What destinations do you go on your trips?

Each year our trips can be found on 3 or 4 continents around the world.  Destinations include, or have included, many parts of Europe (Spain, Italy, Romania, the Baltic States, the Adriatic, Central Europe, Finnish & Swedish Lapland and others), Asia (Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Bhutan, Nepal), North America (Cuba, Chicago, San Francisco, Southern California) and Africa (Morocco and Egypt). And we’re always scouting new destinations to add to our portfolio of trips each year.

Wherever your interest to travel, you’re sure to find a great destination with PhotoEnrichment Adventures.

 

How long are your trips?

Our trips vary in length, mostly dependent on where they are located.

Although our reach continues to grow each month, and we have wonderful clients from around the world who enjoy our trips, the majority of our people are based in the United States, and it’s our feeling that it’s not worth traveling half way around the world for just 7 days, so our trips to Asia are typically 13 to 14 days in length.  Other trips, such as to Morocco and European destinations, range from 10 to 14 days, and our Cuba People-to-People program is currently 7 days.  At times we offer an optional extension for certain trips so that those with available time and budget can see more of a destination while in that region.

Please understand, especially if you have never traveled with a small group before, that you are now a part of a group of travelers, and so this creates a different sort of experience and travel dynamic.

In a group, we now all have to be aware that our own actions may affect the overall group, so being late, or otherwise unnecessarily holding up the group, can be an issue as it has an impact on the all participants.

If this is an aspect of our trips that you cannot agree to, we strongly encourage you to find a private guide who can organize a trip that is solely based around your needs and desired level of activity, timing and pace of travel, because a small group trip with us will likely only frustrate you, and we want you to have the best travel experience possible, whether it’s with us or another company.

 

What sort of things are included and not included in your trips?

With just a few exceptions, all of our trips include the following, and this will be clearly outlined in the program itinerary we send you for the specific trip you’re considering, as these can vary.

Included:

  • Loads of advanced information about what to expect and how to prepare for your trip.
  • A complete itinerary outlining your adventure, and clearly detailing what is and isn’t included in your trip fee.
  • Individual or small group airport transfers at the beginning and end of the trip, as well as for any included internal flights.
  • We’ll stay in well-located 3 or 4 star (sometimes even 5 star) boutique accommodations, often with pools, spa services, a restaurant and bar.
  • Most meals, including all breakfasts and an average of one other meal per day (we don’t like to include all meals so that you can go out and find other restaurants that you’d like to enjoy)
  • Transportation in high quality air-conditioned and heated vehicles with high quality drivers.
  • Entrance fees for all group activities, unless otherwise noted.
  • The services of local, English-speaking guide(s) throughout.
  • Orientation tours with our local guide(s).
  • Periodic group photo walks with your tour leader.
  • Basic tips for our local guides and drivers, as well as for group meals and most activities.

Not included:

  • Airfare to and from the destination starting and ending points (we’ll provide specifics about arrival and departure times in advance).
  • Any local visas, if necessary.

Items of a personal nature such as, but not limited to, laundry, Internet access when not included (this is rare), souvenirs, telephone calls, additional tips, drinks and other alcoholic beverages not mentioned in the itinerary, and other items not specifically outlined as included.

What kind of scouting and research do you do before each trip?

All of our trips are thoroughly scouted in advance by Ralph.  This is usually done a full year or more in advance of the actual group trip, so that similar weather and seasonal conditions can be experienced and planned for.

Ralph will also work closely with the local tour operator to stay at and/or visit a variety of hotels, eat at a number of restaurants and have the experiences that our guests may have on the trip.  He’ll meet the local guides, drivers, restaurants owners/management teams and other service providers in order to try their services and determine which are of the quality our guests demand.

After the scouting trip Ralph does a complete analysis of the experience, works closely with the local tour operator and then picks and chooses the best services and providers for his groups, ones that meet PEA standards and our clients have come to expect.

It’s Ralph’s feeling that a thorough and high quality scouting trip is the essential ingredient for any great tour.

 

Do you recommend purchasing travel insurance?

We always recommend that our clients secure travel insurance to protect their travel investment against any unforeseen circumstances that would prevent them from joining a trip.  Our cancellation policy is clearly outlined in the Terms & Conditions form you’ll be asked to complete.

Our partners at World Nomads have created an easy-to-use quote system so that in less than a minute you can see exactly what this very affordable coverage would cost you should you choose to use it.

For more information about travel insurance, WorldNomads and to get a quick and free quote, please visit THIS LINK.

 

What kind of information do you provide to help me prepare for a trip?

It’s our job to make your trip as wonderful and painless as possible, and that includes providing travel information and tips we’ve learned along the way to make your travels safer and simpler.

Along with the information we provide on each trip’s page on our website, we also send out a variety of information before the trip to help you to know what to expect, and how to prepare.  This will often include a full set of FAQs on the country or region, notes on how to more effectively and considerately travel in a group, links to suggested apps, electronics, gear and other travel items you can benefit from.  We also send a complete set of photography tips (it’s more than 12 pages long!) that you can use on this trip and for any trip into the future, as well as a recommended gear list (none of which you are required to have or purchase, they’re just suggestions).  Information includes how the money works, health issues, safety and travel tips, food and drink, weather and packing tips, among others.

We don’t think you’ll ever feel like we didn’t provide you with enough pre-trip information, that’s for sure!

 

Is there any way to get to know the other participants before the trip?

Although we understand that not everyone has an account, we do set up a Private Facebook Group just for participants so that you can get to know your fellow travelers in advance.  Since we’ve introduced this practice it’s been extremely popular as it’s also a great way to share travel tips, links to relevant articles, documentaries and TV shows having to do with the destination, travel gear and clothes, or other such things the group can benefit from.  We’ll also make some group announcements before the trip in the group, as well, so we do encourage you to introduce yourself and to participate fully.

We also set up a private WhatsApp group for our travelers on each trip so that we can easily communicate with each other in the destination.  WhatsApp is free, as is communicating using the app when on Wi-Fi.  It can also be used to communicate for free with friends and family back home or around the world.

 

Is there anything I can look forward to after the trip to keep it going in my mind, and to stay in touch with other travelers on the trip?

After each trip we ask everyone to upload a number of images to the Facebook group so that we can share what we’ve captured.  We’re also working on a Gallery for our website where participants can provide us images to share with each other and with people who are looking at our trips, so that they can get an idea of what types of images they might be able to capture (assuming they’re as good as you are!).

Some of our Facebook groups are still quite active, years after the trip has ended, and we have more that 42 percent of our clients who return over and over again to our trips (some more than a dozen times!) to enjoy our approach to photography and style of travel.  Many have become lifelong friends with each other, and often plan to join other PhotoEnrichment Adventure trips just to be together again in some other great destination.

“I can’t tell you how many of our clients have become much more than simply clients, but instead great, great friends of mine, due to their participating in our trips.  It may sound cliché, but I feel I’m traveling with friends on my trips, not customers, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

 ~ Ralph Velasco

Founder/CEO, PhotoEnrichment Adventures

What are the overall demographics of the people that go on your trips?

Our clients are experienced international travelers who are busy, but have little or no time, or the inclination, to do the in-depth research necessary to plan a great trip.  They simply want to show up and know they can look forward to a once-in-a-lifetime trip organized by a highly experienced operator.

Our guests are looking for some structure to their trip, but are also extremely comfortable with free time and exploring on their own.  They love to create their own experiences, perhaps taking a cooking class, visiting local museums, government buildings, gardens or palaces not on the itinerary, or simply sitting by the pool, in a café or on a park bench watching the world go by.

Many of our guests have an interest in improving their photography, but they don’t want the inflexibility of a typical photo workshop where it’s all photography, all the time.  They’re looking for photography to be a part of the trip, not its sole purpose.  That said, we often have couples or friends traveling together where one has an interest in photography, and the other, not necessarily, but there is surely something for everyone and the non-photographer will not feel out of place and is welcome to participate in all activities, with or without a camera.

We often get a high percentage of females traveling alone on our trips (single or married), women who are looking for the security of a small group, as well as to travel in comfort knowing everything is in place for them.  This certainly doesn’t only apply to females as men can certainly take advantage of these benefits, as well.

 

Basic Demographics of Our Participants

  • Average age: 40 – 79
  • Country of origin: approximately 80% U.S., 20% other (mostly from English speaking countries, such as Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada)
  • Gender: approximately 60% female, 40% male
  • Health: 85% very healthy, 15% healthy
  • Fitness: 30% very fit, 65% good, 5% poor (perhaps need some additional help or special considerations)
  • Photography skill level: 20% beginner, 50% intermediate, 10% advanced or pro, 20% non-photographers
  • Travel experience: 60% well-traveled, 30% medium experience, 10% have little to no travel experience.

Because the majority have quite a bit of travel experience, our clients tend to be extremely patient and understanding of the uncertainties of travel, and so remain flexible in all situations, knowing that things can change at any time.  There are of course circumstances for which we have no control, and so when necessary we adapt and carry on…it’s simply what good travelers do.

The old saying goes, “Don’t sweat the petty stuff, and don’t pet the sweaty stuff!”

Our travelers are also cognizant of the importance of being culturally aware and sensitive to the fact that we are guests of the locals in each destination and that to remain good citizens of the world we need to respect their customs and way of life.  For this reason, we ask our people to do plenty of research before each trip, but we also provide quite a bit of information to help in this respect.

 

What percentage of people return on your trips and/or are referrals from previous clients?

In a recent study of past tour participants we found that over 42 percent of our clients have traveled with us before, so this is a very telling number that shows our clients are returning to our trips over and over again.  And we get a large percentage of clients who are friends or family members referred by past clients who have recommended us and want these folks to enjoy the same wonderful experience they had.

 

What sort of physical condition do you expect from your tour participants?

This is a really important question that warrants an in-depth answer.

Our clients should be in good physical health to be able to comfortably participate in a trip such as we organize.  Good walking ability is a must as often times we’ll be walking several miles or more per day, and you may want to do your own exploring, which we highly encourage.  They’ll also need to be prepared to negotiate stairs, cobblestones, inclines and declines, rough terrain such as gravel and rocky paths, and/or wet and slippery grass.  Plus there will be times when it’s necessary to get in and out of our vehicles several times per day.  Keeping the itinerary and schedule in mind, we always try to maintain an easy, comfortable pace, and will take into consideration the group with regards to making regular rest stops and bathroom breaks.

Because of their charm and location, as much as possible we like to stay in the historic center of the places that we visit, so although this is rare, at times our hotels, which regularly provide the most modern conveniences, may not have elevators, and so the ability to walk up several flights of stairs, with your personal items, may be necessary.  And please note that clients may be responsible for their own luggage at times, and so being able to lift and negotiate your own baggage is essential as there may not be someone else to help you.

So, in a nutshell, we do request that our guests be in good enough physical condition to be able to maintain a moderate pace in order to keep up with the group, and that they are aware of their own abilities, and will be upfront with PEA administrators when it comes to physical abilities and limitations.

In case of an emergency during the trip we do require that each participant complete a Medical Information Form asking for basic health information, including a self evaluation of one’s own physical condition and stamina, blood type, emergency contact information, dietary restrictions, medications and more.  All information submitted is for each participant’s safety and well being, and will of course be kept private within the PEA organization, unless it is necessary to release such information to local authorities in the case of an emergency.  Dietary restrictions will be conveyed to our local tour operator in order that we can try to accommodate any particular allergies or other restrictions you’d like us to.

If you have a question about a specific trip’s activity level, please request and itinerary and feel free to reach out to Ralph to ask questions (ralph@PhotoEnrichment.com), or if you’d like to tell us about a particular physical issue you have and what our recommendation would be for a particular trip.

 

I’m pretty independent and comfortable getting around on my own.  Do I have to be with the group at all times?

Absolutely not.  Other than in Cuba where currently participants are required by the U.S. government to adhere to our itinerary and group activities, our trips are organized so that, on average, we provide a half day of scheduled activities and a half day of free time.  For this reason we strongly encourage our participants to go out and explore on their own.

Again, other than in Cuba, all group activities are optional and although we trust each participant knows his or her limitations, but because of our experience we do reserve the right to limit activities for certain individuals whom we think they may not be right for.  This is, of course, in the client’s best interest and for the consideration of the group.  We do expect clients to trust the tour leader’s judgment and to understand his reasoning if in a rare case such a decision in necessary.  We want nothing more than for you to be able to experience all of the wonderful activities we have planned, but do understand that at the same time we need to keep in mind the safety and comfort of each participant, as well as the overall group.

How much of your trips are scheduled as opposed to spontaneous?

At times we are up early to enjoy the best light of the day, beat the crowds, and to have more interaction with the locals on their way to work, and the kids on their way to school.

We do tend to stick to a schedule as we have many places to visit and often timing is essential to beat crowds, be in certain places for certain reasons, and then we move on to the next.  That said, Ralph makes it a point to not jam pack too much into each trip, so that we can experience each place at a leisurely pace.  The last thing we want is for you to come back from your trip feeling you need a vacation because the itinerary was so full of activities there was no down time.  It’s important to “stop and smell the roses” some times, so we try to make that a point.

Also, it’s imperative that the participants of our trips understand that we can’t make stops to photograph every beautiful scene or horse cart along the way, or meet every interesting person we see working in a field, or break for every photo opportunity we see.  The places to which we travel are full of these opportunities and if we did make every stop, we just wouldn’t get anywhere.  Know that there will be other opportunities down the road and that we do have your best experience in mind.

 

How much free time will we receive?

If there’s one comment we get on our trips it’s that our past clients have really enjoyed and appreciated the ratio of scheduled group activities to free time.

Depending on the trip and the itinerary, on average we like to provide a half-day of scheduled activities with the group, and a half-day of free time.  The benefit of this is that participants can explore each place on their own, and not feel like they have to be with the group 24/7.  This of course works really well for those travelers who are comfortable going off on their own or in small groups to pursue their own interests, perhaps going back to places we’ve already visited as a group, but with more time, to see them at different times of day, or to photograph at their own pace, or taking in other activities not on the itinerary (perhaps visits to public buildings or palaces, gardens, cooking classes, museums, etc.).

If you’re the type of person who isn’t comfortable going off on your own, or filling time with activities that you’ve researched, or that we or others have suggested, and doing them on your own or with small groups of people on the trip, then you’ll need to consider whether our trips are going to be to your liking.

Is there such thing as a typical day?

Although we can talk in generalities, this of course is highly dependent on the specific trip we’re discussing, and the location we are visiting, but see below to get a general idea of how our days may flow.

 

What are the types of activities we’ll do on a typical day?

Put simply, our philosophy is to get you into the local culture, and so on a PhotoEnrichment Adventures trip we’re more likely to visit a man in his workshop repairing saddles or making horseshoes, or a woman making rice paper, painting eggs or doing other crafts.  We’re also more likely to get into the actual home of local person, than we are to visit another museum, public garden or royal palace. Those types of activities, if you’d like, can be done in your free time.

Depending on the hours for breakfast at our hotel, we’ll often start the morning meal as early as possible, say 7 am, then leave as a group around 7:30 or 7:45 to start our day (we’ll always let you know what time we’re leaving and where to meet the group).  We do this in order to get ahead of the heat of the day, if any, out maneuver the tourist crowds, as well as to experience the place when the locals are on their way to work, and the kids are on their way to school, often in colorful uniforms.  Then we may do a two to three hour orientation walk with our local guide who will give us an overview of the history of the place, telling us interesting facts about the location so that we can get a better understanding of where we are.  Or it may be a photo walk with your trip leader, where you can take advantage of few crowds and better light, or a combination of the two.

Then we may stop for a WC (bathroom) break, have a cup of coffee in a local café, go to another location, a market for example, receive an explanation and orientation to the place and then split up for some organized free time so that you can explore the place at your own pace.  We’ll always have a specific duration of time to spend there and a meeting point, then move one.

You’ll also have your own free time outside of the group activities, which will allow you to pursue your own interests and make your own personal experiences.  Some people like to explore on their own to photograph and put into practice any photography tips they’ve learned, others go off on their own, as couples or in smaller groups, to visit museums or other sites, or have other experiences, ones not on the itinerary.  Some simply choose to rest in their room, have a spa treatment, or sit on a park bench, in a café, or by the hotel pool, if it has one, and watch the world go by.

Then we may either have the remainder of the day free, with lunch and/or dinner on your own, or meet up later for an afternoon walk or other activity, and finally have dinner together as a group (remember that on most trips, an average of all breakfasts and one other meal per day is provided, so you’ll always have an opportunity to skip a meal if you like, or to find other types of restaurants that you’ve researched and would like to discover).

What type of accommodations do you typically use?

Our order of main priority in choosing accommodations for the group is

  1. Safety
  2. Cleanliness
  3. Location

That said, we try to stay at 3 and 4 (sometimes even well-priced 5) star boutique properties.  They always include breakfast, and most of the time offer free Wi-Fi (even in the room, but at times only in the common areas), optional laundry and spa services, and depending on the itinerary and location, a pool.  That said, please look at the itinerary, and once registered we always send out a list of hotels, and emergency contacts, so that you can leave this with friends and family back home to follow along on your journey.

 

Where are these accommodations typically located?

Depending on the itinerary and type of city, town or village where we’ll be visiting, we look to stay at well-located hotels, often in the historic center, so that you can walk out and be in the heart of it all, especially during your free time.  Please know for a variety of reasons there may be exceptions to this but we will always make an effort to be in the right place.

How many meals are typically included on your trips?

Unless there are no other options in the area, or logistics call for it, on most itineraries we include all breakfasts and an average of one other meal per day.  This has worked really well for our clients in the past and we do this so that you have the option of skipping a meal if you like, or you can go out into the culture and discover new restaurants on your own, with friends, or as a small group, and not feel like you have to be with the entire group for each and every meal.

And don’t worry, we’ve never received a complaint that there wasn’t enough food on our trips!

 

To what types of restaurants will we go?

This varies by trip, but we’ll almost always have breakfast individually at our hotel, and at times we’ll also eat at our hotel for a lunch and/or dinner, it just depends.  Otherwise we may include a meal at a local restaurant that has been vetted by our team, or include a locally-guided foodie tour where you can discover a variety of foods over a short period of time.  That said, we try to expose participants to the local specialties, at locals-only restaurants, but at times, and for a variety of reasons, we may go to a restaurant that is set up for groups.

Know that our main concern is the cleanliness of the restaurant and not putting our clients in situations where they may get sick.

 

What about getting sick?

As mentioned above, in the 70+ trips we’ve organized over the years, we’ve had a very, very small percentage of people get ill on our trips.  That said, only you know your tolerance for the local food and water, so please use your best judgment, and err on the side of being conservative.

 

What about the water, can we drink it?

This certainly depends on the country or countries we’re traveling in, but we’ll always give you plenty of notice as to whether or not you can drink the water in the places we’ll be going.  That said, we’ll almost always recommend drinking only bottled water to be sure of its purity, and to avoid fruits, vegetables and salads that may have been washed in contaminated water.

What types of vehicles do you use?

Almost without exception our vehicles will be provided by locally licensed and insured vendors secured by our local tour operator.  All vehicles have necessary air conditioning and/or heaters, but understand that at times these features can malfunction, but you can be sure we’ll do our best to have them fixed, or the vehicle replaced, should this be the case (in over 70 international trips, this has only happened once).  The safety and comfort of our guests is paramount.

That said, other modes of transportation we’ve been known to experience on our trips include, elephants, camels, tuk-tuks, cyclos, bici-taxis, coco taxis, scooters, basket boats, river boats, speed boats, dog sleds and others.  Fun, fun, fun!

 

What’s the experience of your drivers?

Our drivers are hired directly by our local tour operator who is instructed to use only fully-licensed and insured transportation vendors for our trips.   They all carry local licenses, are trained in customer service, and know that safety is the number one priority for our guests.  Especially in Europe, we are required to follow local laws regarding the amount of time a driver can be behind the wheel, how long he or she needs to rest overnight and during each day, and how fast he or she can drive.  These analytics are often built into the vehicle so that the transportation company and local authorities can monitor their drivers and keep them within these guidelines.  This is of course in our best interest.

 

How crowded are your vehicles?  Are we packed in like sardines?

We try to provide vehicles with an average of 1.5 to 2 seats per guest, so that they can spread out and have room for an extra small bag, but at times this could be more or less.  This often depends on how long we’ll be in the vehicle and where we’re going, as smaller vehicles may be required for more off-the-beaten path locations, for limited parking reasons, or for shorter trips.

 

Do you arrange our flights over to the destination?

We don’t arrange flights to or from the start and end of the trip.  This is simply because there are so many variables when it comes to flying, and most travelers have specific airlines they like to use because of wishing to accumulate frequent flyer miles and other credit, or using frequent flyer miles to pay for a trip, or perhaps they want to fly Business or First Class, arrive early or stay later than the published itinerary, etc.  Plus, our tour participants are coming from all over the world.  That said, we’ll give you a clear understanding of when you need to fly in and out of the destination so that you can easily arrange your own flights.  We will also request your flight information via our Flight Info Request Form that we will send out well in advance of your trip, once it’s called a go.

Please never make any non-refundable travel arrangements until given instructions by PEA administrators to do so.

What if I get sick during the trip?

Our local guide or hotel staff can always help should medical attention or a pharmacy visit be required to assist with your illness.  That said, out of respect for the group, we ask that individuals who do get sick to please be considerate of the group by taking a day or two off from activities if they’re contagious with a cold or other ailment which could spread to the group.  This will allow you to recuperate so that you can enjoy the rest of the trip, and in turn not jeopardize the overall group’s health.

We will at times be in close quarters and a cold or other seemingly innocuous sickness could spread rapidly to the other members of the group, so we ask that these individuals refrain from participating in group activities or otherwise exposing members to their ailment by taking a rest day or two in order to get back on track.

 

How many people get stomach ailments on your trips?

Our hotels and restaurants are closely vetted by our local tour operator and your trip leader during a thorough scouting trip that is done before each and every trip, so it’s rare that people get sick on our tours, although it does happen.  Some people have strong stomachs and can eat the local cuisine, including street food and raw vegetables and salads and not have any issues, while others may be more sensitive to such items.  Keeping this in mind, we strongly encourage you to use your own best judgment with regards the foods that you eat and where, as only you know your body’s tolerance.

 

Should I bring my own medications?

We do suggest bringing along your own over the counter (OTC) and certainly prescription medications as these are not always available in the places we go and you can rest easy that you have a supply of your favorite brands with you.  The reliability, quality and availability of medications around the world can vary. Always keep medications, both OTC and prescription, in their original containers as you may be questioned by local authorities about unmarked products, especially at airports and such.

What’s the best way to get the local currency over there?

We’ll always provide more detailed information in your orientation packet about how the money works in the country or countries we’ll be traveling to on a particular trip, but know that it’s almost always best to get money by using ATM machines abroad.  This will usually give you the best exchange rate, and allows you to get local currency as you need it.

Before you travel research if your bank works with other overseas banks so that you’re not paying a non-partner bank fee of as much as US$5 per transaction.  Bank of America, for instance, partners with Deutsche Bank, Santander and others and so there is no additional transaction fee when using these banks to get money.  You may want to have a good idea of what your fees are going to be before you travel, but don’t get too caught up in this as it’s just a cost of traveling and usually doesn’t add up to a very significant amount in the overall scheme of things.

A very important tip is to always contact your bank and credit card companies to let them know that you’ll be traveling overseas and that they should expect activity on your card(s) in all the countries you’ll be traveling to, including any layovers before or after the trip.  If you don’t do this, it’s very likely the company will turn off your credit card thinking it’s been lost or stolen and is being used illegally.

And if you’re looking for a good credit card for travel, you may want to consider a site like CardsforTravel.com or The Points Guy where they provide updated information on great credit offers, and rate and suggest different credit cards for different uses (points, low fees, special offers, etc.).

What can you tell me about tipping on your trips?

Basic tips are included for our local guides, drivers and group meals.  Should their service go beyond the call of duty then we’ll always encourage participants to give a bit extra to these people as their income is mostly based on tips.  Your trip leader will always try to provide participants with guidance in this respect, so feel free to ask.

 

Do I need to tip my trip leader?

As with any type of tipping, this is of course up to the participant, but is greatly appreciated should you feel the trip leader did an outstanding job providing you with a great experience.

How much of the local language do I need to know for your trips?

You really don’t need to have any foreign language skills on our trips, although we do encourage you to learn a few basic words before arrival as this goes a long way with the locals, who will surely appreciate even a basic effort to learn their language and customs.  To be sure, our local guide(s) will be glad to help you to develop a small vocabulary of words you’ll be able to use throughout the trip, to help you blend in, even if just a little.

Our guides are always available to translate, answer questions, provide a bit of historical knowledge and background on each destination, plus introduce us to the locals and their way of life.  This is what travel should be about.

Would you consider this a photo workshop or photo tour?

Our trips are definitely not a photo WORKshop (hey, W-O-R-K is a 4 letter word!), and we’re even getting away from specifically calling them “photo tours.”  These are cultural tours, where photography is a part of the overall experience, along with the people, food, drink, music, dance, and other cultural aspects that make up a well-rounded trip.

 

What sorts of photography can I expect on your trips?

Ralph is a huge proponent of working from a shot list, which simply put, is a list of the types of shots you should be aware of in a place.  He likes to say that a travel photographer needs to be a jack of all genres of photography, and master of some.  By that he means that if you’re looking to tell the story of a place with your photography, whether through a coffee table book you self publish, via a Facebook gallery or Instagram posts, or by a slideshow or website, however it is that you’re presenting your photography, you need to capture a variety of images in order to do that.  Being able to accomplish this entails capturing high quality images of landscapes, city and village life, people, the food and drink, architecture, religious sites, images at night, interiors, details, and so many others, and this, along with other travel photography skills, is what Ralph plans to teach you to do on your trip.

I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s nothing worse than having to sit through someone else’s slideshow of 300 images of monuments, government buildings or plates of food (and we’ve all probably created those kinds of presentations ourselves!).  But if you can show 5 to 10 images in a variety of 20 to 30 or so relevant categories, then you’re sure to be giving the viewers of your photography an overall sense of the place and they’ll come away with a really good idea of what it must have been like to be there.  Other categories include fashion and style, or what people are wearing, man-made wonders, natural wonders, street scenes, recreation, agriculture, industry, culture and customs, and so many others.

For a list of the 52 categories of a shot list that Ralph uses in the iPhone app he created called My Shot Lists for Travel (available for free on iTunes, more info here), see his blog post called Summary of All 52 Categories of a Shot List or Non-iOS Users, or simply download the app for free to your iOS device (iPhone, iPad or iPod touch©).

 

I only have a basic point-and-shoot camera, can I still join your trips?

Oh, definitely.  Again, our trips are open to all levels of photographers and non-photographers alike, so there’s no pre-requisite for the type of camera you should have.  Plenty of our clients come on trips without a camera other than their smart phone, or with a point-and-shoot or other camera.

The old saying goes, “The best camera is the one you have with you.”  And Ralph likes to add, “…and that you’ll actually use.”  In other words, there’s no use having a high end, complicated and expensive camera if it intimidates you and so sits on the shelf unused.

The number one tip we can give you with regards to your camera is to use it a lot, and well before your once-in-a-lifetime trip, especially if it’s a brand new camera.  Too often we hear, “I just bought a new camera for this trip, haven’t had a chance to use it, but I’ll read the manual on the flight over.”

Please don’t do this, instead buy and work with it months in advance of your trip, until it becomes a part of you so that you’re not fumbling around for settings and missing shots along the way.   Travel photography, where the scenes are moving quickly (like in markets, or street or people photography) often requires shooting quickly, or you’ll miss what’s referred to as “the decisive moment.”   That decisive moment is often gone in a split second, never ever to reveal itself again, so you have to be ready to point, and shoot.  And the importance of anticipation and timing can’t be stressed enough, either, but again, we’ll send you plenty of information about how to prepare for the photography on our trips, so you won’t be lacking in that area.

 

Do I need a tripod for your trips?

Tripods are not required for our trips, and are discouraged in crowded places like markets and on busy streets, but there are often times when there will be some lowlight photography opportunities, so if you have a tripod, you may want to consider bringing it.  If you do choose to bring a tripod, we highly recommend that you get a good quality tripod, not an inexpensive one that won’t be stable and can fall apart.

 

Can I bring a friend or spouse who’s not interested in photography?

Absolutely.  We welcome photographers and non-photographers alike on our trips, so feel free to bring a friend or spouse who maybe doesn’t share your enthusiasm for photography, they’ll surely fit in.  More often than not the non-photographer will become interested in photography when they see how fun and easy it can be (as well as get some great tips from Ralph).  Our trips won’t have us standing around a single flower for an hour photographing it every which way.  We take our time, but we also move along, so participants won’t feel like they’ve got to wait for the group to stop and shoot every 2 minutes.  There’s a nice flow to our trips and the non-photographer will, in the least, learn how to see, which is about the best quality a photographer can have (that and being curious).

Again, photography is just a part of our trips.  There’s plenty of free time for you to go out and explore on your own, and make your own experiences, perhaps taking in a play or opera, participating in the cooking class, visiting a museum or other site that’s not on the itinerary, or simply sitting in a café or pub, or by the pool, if our accommodations have one, and watching the world go by.  This is an activity we highly encourage.

 

Is there a discount for friends or spouses who are not interested in photography?

Since our trips are not by definition a photo tour or workshop, they’re open to all interested travelers, and so there is no difference in pricing according to a person’s particular interest in photography.

Outside of photography, what other kinds of technical savvy do I need to participate in your trips?

Although not an absolute requirement, it does help to have a certain level of technical savvy on our trips. We always try to set up a Private Facebook Group for the trip so that participants can get to know each other in advance, share information about themselves, as well as to share articles, links, travel and photography tips, and any other pertinent information others in the group could benefit from.  We also like to set up a WhatsApp group, which this is a free way for us to communicate with each other and the group during the trip when Wi-Fi is available (and this allows participants to converse with friends and family back home for free, too).  This is perfect for when there is a short notice announcement that needs to go out to the group about a schedule or meeting point change.  Again, this is a free app and the use of it is completely free, as long as the user is on Wi-Fi, which all of our hotels have (there may be an exception here and there, especially in Cuba where free Wi-Fi is almost non-existent yet, but it’s rare elsewhere).

Being technically savvy also comes in handy when it comes to our mid-trip image review where participants can share their photographs and your trip leader can provide valuable feedback for how to improve.  Participating will require some sort of device (tablet, smartphone, laptop) where you can process images (although this is not required) and transfer them to your leader either by email, Airdrop (iOS only), USB device or SD card.

What kind of clothes should I bring?

This is of course a personal choice, but we do make certain recommendations for our trips.  Should there be special customs that require more conservative dress at certain sites, like temples, mosques or churches, we’ll make every effort to let you know in advance, but we do recommend that you conduct your own research as well.  Often times this just means no sleeveless tops, no short shorts, no bare feet or open toed shoes, or that women, or at times even men, need to cover their heads with a scarf.  You’ll definitely want to check the weather as close to the trip as possible to see if more or less layers are required.  Speaking of layers, this is the best way to stay warm, but be able to peel off and put on layers as temperatures rise or fall.

A popular packing tip is to bring a set of clothes that can be mixed and matched because they are of a neutral color set (black, gray, white, beige) and then to add colorful accessories that can accent that attire, such as scarves, belts, hats, etc.

In all our years of travel, packing light is one of the key secrets we’ve learned.  The old travel adage goes, “The night before your trip, take out half the clothes you’ve packed, and bring twice as much money.”

 

How formal is the attire at group meals?

Although the restaurants we go to as a group are nice, meals are almost never a formal occasion, so come as you are.  Shorts, pants, skirts, dresses, t-shirts, casual shoes or sandals are almost always welcome at the restaurants we’ll be going to, but if you aren’t sure, please ask your guide for more information.  And you may want to have clothes that are a bit more upscale should you decide to enjoy a higher class meal, or attend an opera or play where you’ll feel more comfortable dressed a bit nicer.

 

How much luggage is too much?

We recommend that if you can get your luggage down to a single personal item (such as a small camera bag, purse or laptop case) and a carry on bag, both of which should be approved by your airline (because all airlines have their own regulations, you’ll have to do your own research in to this), then you’ll have a much easier and more fulfilling travel experience.

If you do choose to check a bag, please understand porters are not always available at our hotels or upon arrival in a location, so more often than not you may be responsible for carrying your own bag from the vehicle to the hotel and up to your room, or back down and to the vehicle again, and possibly need to lift it into the vehicle, so never bring more than what you can handle yourself.  This, of course, applies to airports and other transfers we may be making.  Assume you will be handling your own luggage throughout, although we’ll try to ask the local hotel staff to help when possible.

Rest assured that most, if not all, hotels on your itinerary should have laundry facilities, but prices and availability do vary, plus you’ll have to consider how long we are in each location to give the hotel time to wash, and dry your clothes (often outside on a line), and return them to you.  We suggest that you give laundry to the hotel on the first day you are there to give them plenty of time to complete it before you leave (and please don’t forget to pick it up!).  There will, of course, almost always be a chance for you to do small items in the sink of your hotel room, so you may want to bring your own laundry detergent, and a universal sink stopper and clothesline to dry your things.

Bottom line, because we can’t always count on local help at each location, please assume that you will be responsible for your own baggage throughout the trip, so pack accordingly and only bring what you can handle yourself.

 

Do you provide a photography gear list?

Yes, in your orientation information we will provide a complete Photography Gear List, but it is completely up to the traveler to determine what he or she needs.  We do make some suggestions for a basic kit, but these items are not obligatory by any means, and some of our guests don’t even use cameras, or simply use a smart phone or point and shoot camera throughout the trip.  If you have a quick question about gear, you can always email us.

 

I’m looking to buy a new camera, what kind should I get?

This is a question we often receive, and Ralph recommends that you start with these three questions when it comes to buying a new camera:

  1. What type of photography will you be doing?
  2. What’s your budget?
  3. How much gear are you willing to carry around?

Some great sites to do research on cameras and to see camera, lens and accessory reviews are CameraLabs.com, DPReview.com and on Amazon.

If you’re looking to purchase gear online from Amazon, Think Tank Photo or B&H Photo, we highly recommend that you do so as far in advance of the trip as possible, and we also ask that you use our affiliate links.  These companies will give us a small commission for referring you, but of course this won’t cost you a penny more.

If you’re not quite sure what you’d like to buy, before you make a commitment you may also consider renting a camera and/or different lenses well before your trip to see if you like their weight, feel and how they operate.  This can be easily done at BorrowLenses.com (another affiliate partner of ours) and is a great way to go if you need a specialty camera or lens for a one-time use.