Step Up Your Travel Photo Game: iPhone Camera Lenses

Several years ago, I read Chase Jarvis's book The Best Camera Is the One That's with You. His argument is that most people don't need fancy equipment to capture photos; they just need to use the camera they already carry with them everywhere in their pocket. When he wrote the book in 2010, his iPhone had a 2 megapixel camera. I upgraded to an iPhone SE prior to my trip to Morocco, and I have been incredibly happy with the images captured by its newer 12 megapixel camera. For Christmas this year, Mike bought me a set of clip-on smartphone lenses that allow me to take a wider variety of shots. They include a fish eye lens, a macro lens, a wide angle lens, a telephoto lens, and a circular polarized lens designed for bright sun settings. My favorite of these is the macro lens, which allows me to shoot incredibly close details at high resolution. And they're so quick and easy to use!

Biltmore Estate: Flowers, Film Fantasies, Wine, and Chocolate

As Mike and Ben were on their annual guys' dive trip, I was treating my mother to a visit to Biltmore Estate for Mother's Day. I've been to Biltmore at least a dozen times, and they manage to change things up so that I see something new every time.

Moroccan Adventure: Almond Groves and Gnaoua Musicians in Merzouga and a Camel Ride in the Sahara to Camp under the Stars (Bonus: Moroccan Kefta Recipe!)

During my volunteer trip to Rabat, my new friend Paige and I had the opportunity to take a weekend excursion to Merzouga. It's a small town in the eastern part of Morocco, just 31 miles (50 km) from the border of Algeria. To get there, we took a 10-hour drive through the Middle Atlas Mountains, and the scenery was beautiful enough that I never opened the book I'd brought with me for the journey.

Moroccan Adventure: Kings and Cafés in Casablanca

During my volunteer trip to Rabat, I had the opportunity to take a weekend excursion to Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco. It lies along the Atlantic Ocean on the country's western coast and is home to one of the largest artificial ports in the world. The city was originally called Anfa in Berber, but the Portuguese renamed it Casa Branca, or "white house," when they took over in the 15th century AD and built themselves a large, white fortress. When Portugal became part of the Spanish union, the town was renamed Casa Blanca to reflect the newly predominant language. Today most Moroccans simply call the town Casa.

Solo in Morocco: Camels, Kasbahs, and Guacamole

“Aren’t you afraid to go by yourself?” Before I went on my volunteer trip to Rabat, that was the question I heard most frequently. I left for Morocco in April 2016, a month after airport bombings in Brussels had left 32 dead and 300 injured, and my flight had a day-long layover in Paris, where 130 people had died just five months earlier in a terrorist attack. It never occurred to me to stay home. While my “job” on this volunteer trip was to teach English classes at a women’s center on behalf of Cross-Cultural Solutions, the bigger purpose for these excursions is cultural exchange. The only way to do that is to show up and get to know people on the other side of the world.

Why We Travel: “Join the Navy, See the World”

In looking for our next home, it must be a place that inspires stories. These are some of the stories from our life’s adventures that have inspired us. They are why we travel. As you learned of my father in Mike's post about our Australia adventure, Dan Smith is a man of action. He is also a man of the world, and his travels began at an early age. So did mine, thanks to his annual training with the U.S. Navy. He is why I first began to travel, and this is his story of a life of adventure.  High school just could not hold my attention. I was born in San Diego, California, but I was raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When I was in high school, I was always daydreaming of traveling to exotic locations. I dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Navy, and my navy boot camp (basic training) was in San Diego. After boot camp, I completed specialized training at Treasure Island in San Francisco. I was transferred to a small ship homeported in Newport, Rhode Island. That ship, the U.S.S. Courtney (DE-1021), was set to circumnavigate South America along with four other ships. Our mission was to conduct naval exercises with most South American navies.

Australian Adventure: Mornington Peninsula Wine Country

Our Australian adventure took us all up and down the eastern coast of the country, beginning with beautiful Brisbane, heading to Cairns for our liveaboard dive excursion along the Great Barrier Reef, then to Sydney and Melbourne for some cosmopolitan dining, museums, and parks. Before we headed back to the States, my brother and sister-in-law surprised us all with a day trip to Mornington Peninsula, the heart of Australian wine country.

Australian Adventure: Melbourne Walkabout

In Aboriginal culture, a walkabout historically referred to a boy's rite of passage into manhood. Today it refers to a nomadic lifestyle, and after walking all over Brisbane, Cairns, and Sydney, it felt pretty spot-on for the way we'd been seeing the sights of Australia's east coast. Our walkabout continued in Melbourne, where we stayed at the Radisson in the city's central business district. It was across the street from Flagstaff Gardens, which is the city's oldest park, and next door to Melbourne's famous Queen Victoria Market. Locals call it the Queen Vic, and at 17 acres, it is the largest open-air market in the Southern Hemisphere.

Australian Adventure: Sophisticated Sydney

After wrapping up our Great Barrier Reef dive adventure, we met my parents, brother, and sister-in-law for a few days in Sydney. Mike and I tend to prefer staying in Airbnbs where we can meet locals and get a feel for what it's like to live in a city, but my parents enjoy a bit more luxury on their vacations. And since Dan and Betty were footing the hotel bill for everyone, we spent our nights at the Sydney Four Seasons. The Four Seasons is located in the city's central business district, which is also home to the famous Sydney Opera House. We walked in and around the iconic building, taking in the views of the surrounding harbor along the way.

Australian Adventure: Keep Cairns Weird

After a few wonderful days in Brisbane, we took a short flight north to Cairns, where we would spend a night before setting sail for a week on a liveaboard to dive the Great Barrier Reef. We booked an Airbnb apartment at the home of Kaj and Nicky, who left us a friendly welcome in our cute kitchen.