Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Italian Apps...

I can remember, and this wasn't too long ago, when the best thing we had going for us when traveling was being able to print out driving directions on our computer. I used to travel extensively in Canada, and did that more times than I could count. One of the guys I worked with bought a GPS unit, but it was over $600, and Taylor Guitars wasn't too eager to let their sales reps spend so much money on what was, at least at the time, little more than a pricey gadget.

Only a little over ten years later, though, and our technology age has made traveling a whole lot easier than it was not long ago. Long gone are the days when you'd have to get to the airport early to check in only to find out that your flight's been delayed. These days, every single airline in existence has an app where you can check in, check flight status, etc. 

Of course, those aren't the only apps a traveler can benefit from. In this entry I'll cover a few of the ones I've found that I'll be using in Italy. Some of these can be used anywhere, and they're bound to make various aspects of your traveling a little smoother.


I first became familiar with this app when I went to Ireland in August of 2018, and it's incredibly simple to use. Download the free app, which is available for Android, iOS and BlackBerry (does anyone still use a BlackBerry?) and then update the app with maps as you need them. It works offline, and it works well. You can search a location by address or, better yet, by simply calling it what it is. Want to go to the Vatican? Well, alrighty then. The hyper-accurate map at your fingertips will show you where to go.


I've talked about this app in a previous entry, but it's so good it bears repeating. RGPS stands for "Really Great Photo Spots". Used in conjunction with, it can really open up your potential photographic possibilities. Even if you have no idea if there's anything photo worthy near you (which could be the case during a drive to the Amalfi Coast or to Terni), this app will let you know what's nearby and it will even show you pictures of it. This app makes it a bit easier to get off the beaten path.

3. Waze (Well, maybe)

I absolutely love using Waze here in the States. It's a great GPS app. But, if you choose to use it, beware the caveat: It uses data on your phone. How much? Depends on your carrier and what kind of plan you have. My understanding is that GPS often fails in Italy, simply because two different roads having the same name isn't unusual. 

When I went to Ireland, I purchased an international plan for my phone. This could address the data issue (I didn't use Waze in Ireland), but I'm not sure. Check with your carrier (I'm going to check with mine) to find out for sure.If it works, and isn't cost prohibitive, having a familiar app at your disposal could prove to be a godsend.


I know, this one almost seems too obvious. But the fact of the matter is that it's chock full of information and travel tips. For instance, if you only had, say, five days to spend in Rome it will lay out an itinerary of all the things you can do in Rome in those five days. I probably won't spend too much time playing with this one until I get to Italy, but it certainly looks like it could make things a bit easier if I'm wondering what to do next.

5. Foursquare

Foursquare has been around for a while, and with good reason. It's a solid resource when you want to find your way around town; any town. Whether you're trying to figure out where to get your next meal, where to go shopping or where to go out on the town once the sun goes down, this is a great app to have.

The nice thing about Foursquare is that it works everywhere. I'm in the preliminary phases of planning trips to Scotland, Portugal and Moscow and this app will be going with me.

6. ZonzoFox

This app is similar to Foursquare, but with some differences. First, unlike Foursquare, this app isn't free. In fact, as apps go, it's pretty expensive; $13.99. Also, unlike Foursquare, it doesn't work everywhere. So, if it's similar to Foursquare, is expensive and won't work everywhere, why bother?

Fair question.

While this is specific to Italy, there's nowhere in Italy it doesn't work. Regardless of where you want to go, what you want to do, what you want to eat or what you want to see, this app has more information than you could ever possibly hope to absorb. The way I see it, at fourteen bucks, it's a worthwhile investment for me since I'm going to be traveling both north, south and east while in Italy (not a whole lot of "west" to be had from Rome).

Of course, if you don't want to drop fourteen large for the app, when you first download it you get the trial version. It's fully featured, but it only lasts for five days. This would be perfect for someone who'll be in Italy for only a few days.

Between now and the time I get to Italy I'm sure I'll be made aware of even more apps which could be beneficial during my trip. Who knows? Maybe I can find a "best pizza" app for when I go to Naples (pizza was invented in Campania, near Naples).

In addition to those above, I've already downloaded a host of photography apps like Light Meter and Magic Hour. The light meter app is pretty self-explanatory but, if you're not sure what significance the "magic hour" has for a photographer, I wrote about it, and the app for it, back in December. You can read about it here: Magic Hour.

See, the way I see it is that, in this day and age, there's not a single reason not to avail yourself of all that information that's flying through the ether into your phone. Someone has taken the time to compile all of this wonderful information and make it available (sometimes, yes, for a price), so why not take advantage of that?

Saturday, February 9, 2019

What To Pack?

There's always a part of me that likes to think I can pull off something like the Italy trip with just a carry-on. I used to work with a woman who would travel throughout Europe for three weeks with just a carry-on, so it can't be that tough, right?

Yeah, right.

No, I'll be going with the big suitcase for this trip, as I did for the Ireland trip. Before that trip I bought the TPro Bold "Spinner" by TravelPro. It was expensive, but worth it. List price on it is $399. I bought mine for $239, but you can find them pretty easily for around $200 these days. They're far and away superior to anything you'll find at Target or Wally World. It expands, it's got pockets galore, and there seem to be handles all over the thing. I've used this to go to Ireland, Seattle, San Francisco and New York, and I think this was money well spent.

Also, the important thing to keep in mind isn't what you'll be packing to go on your trip, but rather what you're going to be packing when you come home. When I left Dublin in August I would've been hard-pressed to get anything else in my suitcase because of the amount of space taken up by souvenirs. Remember this when packing for a trip: It's not only a question of space, but also of weight. The fee for a suitcase that weighs too much can be astronomical.


So, suffice it to say, I'll be packing way too much stuff; I always do. The only exception was when we went to Ireland. I thought I'd packed enough socks and underwear and, in fact, I had. Barely. Had the trip lasted another day, though, I'd have been washing socks in the bathroom sink.

Now, one of the things I have to take into consideration is that my carry-on bag is going to hold all of my camera equipment, my computer, power cords, chargers, etc. I'm not going to want to lug all of that stuff all over Italy. So, I'll have to pack a camera bag into my suitcase so I'll have it to use once I'm there. I used a backpack in Ireland and I wasn't quite happy with it.

For my camera gear, I'll be packing the Canon 200DG. It let's me carry a camera body and up to four lenses, as well as batteries, memory cards, a remote release and a small travel tripod. It's a good, sturdy bag that handles the rigors of the road well.

I'll take the foam partitions out and lay them flat in my suitcase and fill the suitcase with socks, underwear and what have you. That should help mitigate the amount of usable room it takes up.

My carry-on will be the Tamrac Cyberpro Express that I bought about 12 years ago. I suppose I could justify treating myself to a new bag, but this one's hangin' tough, it's still in great shape and it's still getting the job done. It's going to be carrying pretty much everything I'll need while getting from Jacksonville to Rome, and on larger planes and international flights fitting it into an overhead bin is a breeze. 

This bag has been a monster for me, and has proven itself to be well worth the $270 I paid for it way back when. The takeaway from this is don't skimp on the bags you put your camera gear in! This bag has cost me $22.50 per year, or $1.88 a month, and it's been a powerhouse! The bottom line is that, when you're standing at the cash register, bags like this aren't inexpensive, but they're definitely worth it.

So, what am I going to be packing into that bag?

Well, most importantly, it'll be carrying my camera gear. This is a full-on photo excursion, so I don't really want to skimp on the gear I'm bringing. I don't know when I'll find myself in Rome again, so I want to make sure I've got what I'll need while I'm there so I don't miss out on any shots.

First and foremost will be the Canon 6D MKII. This is the camera I took to Ireland and it performed flawlessly. The nicest thing about it is how well it works at high ISO's. I'm going to guess that a lot of the indoor shots I'll want to take will be in locations where lighting is a challenge. This body works really well in that environment.

I won't have this particular lens...

Next will be the "workhorse" lens. In this case, it's going to be the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L which will just be coming back from being serviced, cleaned and calibrated by Canon. Lenses just don't get a lot better than this, and the f/2.8 will mean that I won't have to wrestle with the available light as much, nor will I have to boost my ISO as high as I would with a slower lens. This lens is nicknamed "The Brick", and for good reason. It does, however, produce stellar results, so it's a no-brainer to bring this one.

The other short zoom I'm going to bring is the 17-40mm f/4L. The nice thing about this, despite being an f/4, is the wider focal range. It worked well for me in Ireland, especially inside the cathedrals. While I had to boost my ISO, I was boosting it on the 6D MKII which handles that well.


Now, since I'll be traveling alone, I don't know that I'll really have a need for a "portrait" lens. Even still, I'm going to pack the Canon 50mm f/1.4. It's about as boring a focal length as you can get, but it's an amazing little piece of glass which can produce some wonderful images. It also doesn't take up a lot of room, so I figure it'll be better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.


I don't know that I'm going to need a longer zoom than what I already plan on bringing. I have two to choose from; the 70-200mm f/2.8L and the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L II. I'll knock around that idea for a while before deciding.

Now, as I'm hoping to be able to do some night shooting, I'm going to want to have a tripod at my disposal. Unfortunately, my carbon fiber Manfrotto tripod (which, interestingly enough, is made in Italy) would just be too much, so enter the Slik Mini-Pro table top tripod.

Despite its small size, this ting can hold a lot of weight. While I would foresee using this primarily with the G7X MKII, it'll also handle the weight of my DSLR with the 17-40mm. Of course, if you want to get nice, sharp nighttime photos, the tripod is only half of the equation. You'll also want a remote shutter release.

For the 6D MKII, I use the Canon RS-803N. It's a wired remote that minimizes the possibility of camera shake while taking a picture. At just under $50, it's a worthwhile investment if you want to do any type of night time or macro photography.

I'm also going to be packing my Canon G7X MKII. I used to use the Canon G12, but it was a bit on the bulky side. I picked this one up a few months ago on the used market and, I must say, it's pretty awesome. Unbeknownst to me, it's a ridiculously popular choice among "vloggers" (of which I am not one). I was informed of this by my daughter (who is one). I'm sure I'll shoot some video during my trip, and I may even dabble with video editing, as well.

Why am I bringing this? Well, there will be times when I won't want to be lugging the 6D MKII around; say, when going to dinner or just wanting to walk through a market square or something. The G7X MKII is a superb choice for this.

As for a remote release for this camera, there's an app in the Apple Store and Google Play which allows you to connect your phone to the camera. I've yet to figure out how it works, but I will.

Now, one of the biggest concerns I had when I was in Ireland was my phone maintaining a charge. It's not like I was making a lot of phone calls from the Emerald Isle but, when I was lucky enough to have access to wifi, it was nice to be able to check in on social media and, maybe, even include a photo or two. For that reason, I'll be bringing along two "power banks".

When these first came out, they weren't cheap. I think the first one I ever saw retailed for almost $100, and the first one I ever bought was about $40. Now, though, they've become so commonplace that they're often given away as promotional items. I have one that I got while doing a shoot at Jaguar of Jacksonville and the other (and admittedly slimmer and easier to carry) one I got this past January at the Mecum Auction in Kissimmee. I have the iPhone Xr, so battery life is rarely an issue as it is. Having these at my disposal will allay any fears I may have about my phone running out of juice before I get to my hotel at the end of the day.

Power banks. Don't leave home without 'em...

Now, aside from the camera gear and the power banks, I'll be loading my laptop into my carry-on. When I use it at home I have a wireless keyboard and mouse, but I'll be leaving the keyboard at home and will just be bringing a logi wireless mouse to use with the Toshiba Satellite C75D.

Now, along with all of this stuff will be all of the associated cords and other paraphernalia which I'll need to operate them. I'll have to bring voltage converters, battery chargers, a phone charger, etc. As I probably won't need the battery chargers before I get to Italy I'll pack those in my suitcase to save space in the Tamrac. I don't have any layovers in Europe (my only layover is in Charlotte, NC), so I won't need a power converter during the trip. These, too, will go into the suitcase.

I'll also pack a notebook for taking notes while I shoot. I've tried doing voice annotation on my phone but it just never seems to work out as well as I'd hoped. The other two things I'll put in my carry-on are a toothbrush and a pair of socks, just in case I get delayed in Charlotte or diverted to some random European city. Nothing makes you feel better than brushing your teeth and putting on fresh socks.

As it sits right now, that's what I'll be packing. Of course, that's likely to change eleventeen times between now and April 8th, but I guess that's part of the fun!

Wrapping Up Another Year...

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