Choosing a Travel Camera

Having grown up the son of a Kodak engineer, photography has long been an important part of my life.    I received my first camera, a Kodak disk camera, in 1984 on a family vacation to Bar Harbor, Maine and when I was older I spent some time working as a newspaper photographer – mainly doing covers and sports.  So my choice of cameras is pretty important to me when traveling.

On my last trip to Europe (Germany, 2009) I had just purchased a Nikon D90 SLR with the GPS attachment.  I loved it and the pictures from that trip and having GPS data added automatically made the trip a lot more meaningful as later we were able to look back at the pictures and not just guess where I was at the time but could know exactly where I was.  Instead of just being pretty to look at, the pictures actually told a bit of the story.  My family back home could see my progress day by day simply by looking at my pictures being uploaded to Flickr.  I never wanted to travel without photo-GPS again.

That brings us to now.  The D90 is a stunning camera but it is huge and out of the question for this trip loaded down with our children and no car.  Any camera going with us has to be light, portable and resilient.

After doing a bit of research I came across the new Nikon AW100.  This camera is very portable fitting easily into a pocket, is water proof (important as it will be exposed to unknown weather), shock proof (from a few feet at least) and has built in GPS with compass, time sync and maps.  A pretty good combination.  Additionally the lens does not need to mechanically extend and retract between uses which can be quite a nuisance when traveling and needing to get pictures taken quickly.  It also takes beautiful 1080p video which is perfect for recording the action on your trip.  And for still pictures it is 16MP, not too shabby.  And, of course, it is a Nikon.

We decided to get the camera straight away and so far we are very happy.  It takes great pictures and great videos and is truly light and easy to use.  It’s not the D90, of course, but for everyday picture taking and vacation pictures on the go, it is perfect.

Decisions, Decisions

When we started preparing for our first big trip to Europe with our kids we discovered that there was a real lack of good travel material addressing our needs. So we set out to produce our own.  Traveling with kids presents many challenges but also opportunities. Our trips are necessarily less about fancy restaurants, romantic getaways and extravagant resorts but having our children forces us to focus on safety, practicality and ways in which to turn our fun travel into valuable educational situations.  We are both professional consultants and always intended to homeschool our two girls in order to give them the ability to live highly mobile and flexible lives.  Traveling with them gives us the ability to turn normal travel into lessons on sociology, history, geography, art, music, anthropology, archeology and more.

Being mobile workers with kids with backgrounds in technology, media, writing and venturing into home education we felt that sharing our adventures in traveling Europe with our children would potentially be of great value.  We hope that you think so.

One of the hardest choices that we had to make on our first trip to Europe was whether to do the bulk of our traveling by car or by rail.  Unlike the United States, Europe is extremely well connected by rail and traveling that way is possible with few limitations.  When I was in Germany in 2009 I arrived in Amsterdam with no plans and just trusted the rail system to get me to the right country and city.  And it did without a problem.

At first we were planning to use trains so that we would not have to deal with expensive care rentals and the headaches associated with driving in several foreign countries – many of which have very different driving cultures than we are used to, being from the US.

But then we discovered low cost car purchase options that lead us to think that the added flexibility of the car might make sense.  In the end, however, the sensibility of riding comfortably and safely in the train, not getting lost, having the kids able to move around won out.  We decided to get an all Europe access Europass and have the ability to see the entire continent if we so chose.

As Dominica hates driving, even in her home country, I was very relieved with the choice of train over car travel.  No one wants to see Europe more than me and having to “see” it al from the driver’s seat would mean that I would miss most of it and be very sad.  Train travel will be much more equitable and will keep me from becoming stressed worrying about maps, schedules, sleep, etc.

After months of planning we finally settled onto a plan for our trip that, at the very least, included our end points.  Contrary to every plan that we have had thus far, we are starting our trip by flying from Newark to London and we are returning from Lisbon.  If you were privy to all of the “we think that this is the final plan” moments that we had over the past several months you would never believe that these ended up being our starting and stopping cities.

For the last several months we were sure that we were going to be flying through Dusseldorf.  Originally we had been starting in Ireland.  Now Ireland is not even making our agenda.  After Ireland we were flying directly to Warsaw, Poland thinking that I would be working there but that was changed to London.  Our flights alone have been an extremely fluid topic.

At the end we both felt that we were more upset not getting to see Iberia than not getting to see farther east.  So we dropped Prague and Berlin in the hopes of seeing Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon.  Our trip is going to be focused very heavily on very western Europe with Nottingham, England as our starting point, western Switzerland and Piedmont, Italy as our main foci and short trips down the Rhine, into France, into eastern Italy and maybe Austria and then crossing Spain and Portugal before returning home.

One of the most important aspects of our trip to us is getting enough time in each place for us to settle in and get a feel for the area.  No matter what we do the trip is going to prove to be a whirlwind and we want to make is as relaxed as possible.  We don’t want to exhaust ourselves or the kids.  We have a lot to see but we want to be a little less tourists and a little more a piece of the places that we visit.

Even with our starting and stopping cities selected there is a tremendous amount of unknown lying between them.  We know that we are flying into London and heading straight up for a several day stay in quiet Nottingham where we will acclimate to European life and the cold weather (I am writing in early march from Texas where it is already warmer than summer in England) before heading to Belgium where we will also be staying for several days.