Tuesday, July 29, 2008

World in Focus photographic competition

Have you ever dreamt of becoming a National Geographic photographer? I certainly have! Well, here is your chance. National Geographic Traveller along with Photo District News are sponsoring the annual World in Focus photographic competition.

If you're not a pro with a camera don't worry, the contest is open to both amateur and professional entries and covers a number of categories including Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place, Spontaneous Moments and Photo Essay.

The first prize for amateurs is a 15-day trip for two to Antarctica aboard the National Geographic Endeavour with National Geographic Expeditions. The top prize for professionals includes a 6-day professional photography workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as professional camera equipment (how does a Nikon D-80 digital SLR sound for starters?). For details on the terms and conditions for entries see the official website.

The original deadline of 21 August has now been extended to the 8 September (an additional fee of $10 is for entries received after the 21 August). So you’d better get snapping.

Gook luck!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Travel disasters: When things go wrong

I know it has been ages since I have posted on my blog. Unfortunately, the last few weeks have been very hectic, internet access has been erratic and I've had a few major dramas along the way that have spiced things up a little. So I hope that this blog explains at least one of the reasons for my lengthy silence.

When it comes to travelling the old saying, "hope for the best, and plan for the worst" rings true. Because, in spite of the best laid plans, things can and will go wrong. While most travel frustrations can easily be navigated around, as I recently discovered, there are those unavoidable bumps in the road which can quickly turn a fun, relaxing holiday into a stress-filled nightmare.

In all the years I've been travelling for work the most that has gone wrong has been a delayed flight or two and the odd case of traveller's diarrhea. (Mind you, I did once almost get arrested in Transdniestr for arriving at the border crossing half an hour later than I was officially allowed – but that's another story!). This time, however, not only did my luggage manage to go missing on a short 1-hour flight from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi, but, en route home I unfortunately got waylaid by a nasty three-day stint in a hospital in Jamaica after picking a severe case of salmonella food poisoning from something I ate in Cuba.

The drama all started the day I was leaving Cuba. Sitting waiting for my flight in the departure lounge of the airport in spite of searing outside temperatures I suddenly began to feel very cold, my head started throbbing, my stomach turned and I began to visibly shake. Not wanting to get stranded in country where I couldn't speak the language, I simply boarded the plane and buried myself under a blanket for the 2-hour flight back to Jamaica hoping that whatever was wrong with me would soon pass.

By the time I made it through immigration and to my hotel room in Kingston, however, I could barely stand. Still not wanting to draw attention to how sick I was for fear I'd miss my flight the next morning to the US, I thought that it would be best if I tried to sleep off my illness. When I woke up three hours later and realised I was getting worse rather than better, I finally decided to call reception to ask for a doctor. With no doctor available and the on-call nurse MIA, the hotel's duty manager came up to check on me, though, after taking one look at me he decided to rush me to emergency room of the nearest hospital. Luckily for me he did as by the time we made it to the hospital my temperature had reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit and I was verging on delirium. Needless to say I was immediately admitted.

Landing in hospital wasn't exactly how I envisaged I would end my trip (yes, that is a picture of the view from my hospital bed above), but I suppose I should consider myself lucky – at least it didn't happen at the beginning and stop me from enjoying the journey. What's more, I was so inspired by this latest [mis]adventure that I contacted one of my editors and have now sold three separate story ideas for a short series of articles on "What to do when things go wrong"!

So what are your worst travel disaster stories?

Friday, July 4, 2008

How to waste time in an airport

The journey towards our ultimate destinations can be very tedious, especially when it involves long hours wasted in airports. I certainly understand the frustration and boredom of lengthy airport waits — I was once forced to spend 10 hours in the airport in Accra, Ghana, with nothing more than my Lonely Planet West Africa guidebook (which I had just spent the previous two months working as part of a team to update!) to keep me company, and over the years I've spent more hours hanging out in Singapore's Changi International airport than I care to remember. So here are my best tips on how to entertain yourself and pass the time while waiting for your next flight.

Take a city tour
If you have more than a four-hour stopover in an airport, try to arrange a short city excursion. Naturally, this will depend on visa regulations, but these days, most international airports offer a variety of city tours for transiting passengers that range from half-day to full-day excursions that take in the city's major sights. I recently had an unexpected 12 hour stopover in Cairo and to my surprise I was able to arrange a tour to see the Pyramids of Giza — the stopover actually became the highlight of my whole trip as I was finally able to cross off one of my "must sees" from my travel wish list.

Shop 'til you drop
Most international airports have at least one duty free store. In some cases, such as at London's Heathrow, you'll find virtual shopping malls, so the long airport transit provides you with the perfect opportunity to pick up all those last-minute presents for family and friends back home. Even if you aren't interested in buying anything, window shopping is a great way to fill in time — start making your Christmas list or imagine what you'd buy if money wasn't an issue.

Read a book
Long airport waits are perfect for catching on your reading. I normally have at least one or two books on the go as part of my research. Though, reading for work can be tedious in itself. So I'll often pick up a quick pulp-fiction novel that I can easily immerse myself in for few hours, or I'll buy a magazine or local paper at one of the airport kiosks.

Talk with people
Deliberately choose a seat in the waiting room, bar or restaurant where you can maximise your chances of striking up a conversation with other travellers. Most people enjoy talking about themselves and what's important to them, and if they, too, have a long wait until their next flight, they'll probably be just as happy for the diversion as you are.

People watch
If you're like me and not the most gregarious of travellers, sitting back and observing the comings and goings of the people around you can be quite entertaining. I usually focus on one particular thing, such as comparing everyone's shoes or hairstyles. Otherwise, I'll try to imagine where the person is from and where they are going. I am sure the scenarios I come up with are far more romantic and adventurous than is really the case!

How do you waste time when stuck waiting at an airport? If you have any tips to add let me know.

An edited version of this article is on MSN NZ Travel
Image sourced from FreeFoto.com