Avoiding The Pitfalls of Travel for Nature Photography

Travel Tips I Have Learned Over the Many Years of Travel

Landscape and Wildlife Photography requires the photographer to travel. This could mean anything from a two-hour drive to multiple international flights. Like anything, you learn the most from experience. I have made mistakes and do my best to learn from them and not repeat them. Usually.

"Lido Key Sunrise" - A Limited Edition print of 100 of sunrise at Lido Key. This beautiful location was just a 5 hour drive from home. Click on Photo to Purchase

Travel by Car or Big Bird

I am based in South Florida so the vast majority of places I go require a flight to get there. I have driven to many locations in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. If it’s more than a two-day drive each way, I prefer to fly. For those that live out in the Western states, they have the advantage of being able to drive to more locations. It certainly is nice to be able to load up the SUV with your gear and go.

"Denali Colors" - A Limited Edition print of 100 of fall color in Denali National Park. Click on Photo to Purchase

Developing the Travel Plan

As fun as it would be to just fly somewhere, rent a car and head out, that doesn’t work very well for me. Once I determine what I am looking to photograph and the right time of the year to be there, I take the next step in planning. I want to determine how long I need to be there, the availability of places to stay along with the availability of flights and rental cars BEFORE I make the first reservation. I basically create the entire schedule first.

"Bow Lake Colors" - A Limited Edition print of 100 of Fall color at Bow Lake in Alberta, Canada. Click on Photo to Purchase

Thoughts About Booking Agencies

I book direct with airlines using my frequent flyer account. If I have to cancel, they put the funds in my “wallet” to be used later. There may be a one-year limitation, but I fly often enough so that isn’t a problem. I also book rental cars direct with the car rental companies and belong to their reward programs.

I do the same for motels as I belong to the reward programs for all the chains. I have seen people at hotel counters having significant problems they could not resolve because they booked through a booking agency and the hotel told them they would have to call the booking agency.

There are cases, like in Iceland, where the motels do not have their own reservation system and reservations have to be made through a booking agency like booking.com. I’m sure in many cases they are fine, but it has just been my preference to book direct whenever possible.

"Morning Beams" - A Limited Edition print of 100 of sunrise at the black church in Iceland. Click on Photo to Purchase

Tips For Lodging

I love to have a flexible schedule, but that is becoming almost impossible photographing in many of the National Parks. Rooms book up far in advance, especially in the summer months, and last-minute rates are sky-high if you can find them.

There is another reason I book lodging with chain motels. If I have a three-day reservation at a Best Western, for example, and decide after one night that weather conditions are just not going to cut it, I can leave without a problem paying only for the one night. The independent motels will tend to charge your entire stay upon check-in and if you leave early that is on you with no refunds.

"Factory Butte Sunrise" - A Limited Edition print of 100 of sunrise at Factory Butte, Utah. Click on Photo to Purchase

Tips For Rental Cars

I prefer to have an SUV as I can be getting in and out frequently during the day as I am scouting locations. I find the mid-size SUV easier to slide in and out of than the full-size SUVs like the Tahoes and Expeditions. It’s not unusual for me to want to go down some dirt road, which is another reason for the higher clearance SUV.

I also like to have all-wheel or 4-wheel drive to help avoid getting stuck somewhere. The problem here is the rental car companies don’t guarantee to have them. Some locations are better than others. There has been one exception. Budget Car Rental has a class called Special Elite SUV, which shows as Ford Explorer 4WD or similar. This has worked for me many times.

The only other alternative has been to reserve a Premium SUV like a Chevrolet Suburban, which will tend to come with it. I have even gone as far as to reserve from more than one car rental agency to try to be sure I get it. It’s a little crazy, but if you just have to have it, you just have to have it.

There are locations that can run out of cars (like near National Parks), so don’t hesitate to make a reservation many months in advance. The rental car companies don’t require you to pay in advance, so this can work just fine.

"Last Second Light" - A Limited Edition print of 100 of sunset at Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia. Click on Photo to Purchase

Tips for Flying

The cost of flying has risen significantly in recent years. We are all aware of the stories of flight delays and cancellations. If I am meeting others in a group situation, I will always plan to go a day early. I would rather have the extra cost than miss my connection with the group.

I am amazed at how often I now see flights that have connection times as short as 45 minutes. There is no way that I want to sign on to take that chance. I look for connection times of at least 90 minutes. I have had too many first flights that were delayed 30 minutes or more.

I always check in to my flight as soon as allowed, usually 24 hours before departure. If they change the type of plane for the flight and there are fewer seats and you haven’t checked in, you are the one that is bumped to another flight. I learned that lesson the hard way.

I have learned to take early flights that might go through cities that can experience mid-day weather issues, like Dallas for example. I would rather leave at 7 am and get through Dallas well before the afternoon storms. The one time I didn’t, we had to land in Austin and wait for the weather to pass. I missed my connection to Portland as a result.

The airline apps can be great to have on your phone. You get good updates and they can show where your luggage is and if it has been loaded on the plane. I really like the feeling of sitting on the plane and knowing that my luggage has been loaded.

A couple of times I have delayed my return flight in order to capture a pending weather event. It can cost a few bucks to do it and is just one of those decisions you have to make. I keep threatening myself to make a one-way flight reservation on the way out and then just come back when I’m ready. As ideal as it sounds for flexibility, I have not made that leap yet. Maybe someday.

"Pink Morning" - A Limited Edition print of 100 of sunrise at Oxbow Bend, Grand Tetons. Click on Photo to Purchase

Final Thoughts About The Travel Day

For me, the travel day is usually 10-12 hours with flights, layovers, driving to the location, etc. I probably eat too much on those days. I’m always glad when that day is over, but this is why I always go to a location for at least ten days. Nevertheless, the joy of being out in the field looking for new compositions always far outweighs the discomfort of the travel day and I will keep doing it month after month, year after year.