Last week I shared seven highlights from Amsterdam, but really it should have been eight. I had a half day in Amsterdam on my way to and from Paris for a workshop. I was excited to have some time in another city and country as a solo traveler before I joined 12 other people for six days of learning. I was equally looking forward to that alone time on the way back, knowing it would be a nice way to wind down.
It was so great to just wander the city, drink a coffee and people watch and, of course, take tons of photos! The thing about solo travel, though, is it can be really difficult to get photos of yourself in those kick ass locations. I’m an avid selfie hater. You will rarely find a selfie of me anywhere. It’s cool if other people do it, but I’m not a fan of doing it for myself. I just hate the whole process of it and how it makes me feel. In fact, sometimes when I see people trying to take a selfie, I’ll walk up to them and offer to take the photo for them. As a photographer I also have a vision for what I want in a photo and how I would like a photo look. Most non-photographers are not thinking about what I’m thinking about, so while asking a random person to snap a pic is completely reasonable and better than not getting the photo, I was on an epic trip and I wanted a few photos to represent that.
So I decided to woman up! I went ahead and booked a Flytographer shoot for myself to get some cool photos in Amsterdam on my way back home. Photographers are so used to being behind the camera, we forget sometimes we need to put our money where our mouth is. For me this was the perfect situation. I tend to love photos of myself on vacation more…I think my face is just more vibrant and I am usually having less bad hair days (#girlprobz). I also wanted to go through the process of booking through Flytographer so I’d know what my Houston Flytographer clients are experiencing. In fact, it was my clients from my last Flytographer session that convinced me to do it. They had previously used the service and were planning to use it again. When I mentioned I was thinking of booking the session in Amsterdam, they told me not to even think about it, just do it. So I did.
Now I feel like I need to disclose some information here, because I think it’s so important for you guys to know that I understand there’s a lot that goes into making the decision to book a photo session. For me it was one specific thing. I wasn’t holding back because of the cost. I did a one hour session for $350 which is such a fair price for the quality and service. On a European trip it would be easy to spend that much on souvenirs in the form of stuff. Souvenir money gets spent, but in my life I have come to see that the pictures last and a lot of the time, the stuff doesn’t. So it was easy to redirect souvenir cash to a photo session. It also wasn’t about the time. I was going to be walking all over the place regardless of someone being with me or not. It was so easy to schedule a time and place to meet that it was a non issue.
For me the thing that was holding me back is how I look. This is a real human issue. We worry about how we look. We worry if we’re dressed okay, how our hair looks, how our face or makeup looks. We’re spending money on photos and we want to look our best. It’s a completely reasonable expectation. But how I look, is how I look. I’m not going to look any better NOT being in photos. Like a bride on her wedding day we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect and for everything around us to be perfect that when that doesn’t happen we consider it a fail or a waste. It’s not a fail. The fail, the waste, is failing to make the most of the fail. It’s life…and life is nothing if not a grand adventure.
I’ll never be as young and awesome as I am right now. I mean, I suppose I could be more awesome, but obviously I’m not going to age backwards. So I had to get over myself a little. And you know what? It rained, the pink dress I had picked to wear to help me stand out against the Amsterdam backgrounds ended up under a trench coat, it got dark much earlier because of heavy cloud cover, and MY HAIR LOOKED STUPID! And despite everything that could have gone wrong actually going wrong, I love my photos. They tell such a great story from a trip that, as Flytographer says, deserved more than selfies!
Major huge thanks to my Amsterdam photographer Steven for his enthusiasm and for the stroopwafel recommendation!
Despite Amsterdam having a pretty polarized reputation for being a party town with lots of porn, I really didn’t have any particular expectations about it. I wasn’t even planning on going to Amsterdam when I booked my spot for The Signature Atelier, but plane ticket prices from Houston to Paris were astronomical…as in $1600. That was a straight up no way Jose! I had to get creative about getting to my workshop. My husband was actually the one that worked out the airfare debacle and my final itinerary had me flying in and out of Amsterdam. I only had a nights stay in each direction, but it ended up being a great bookend to each side of my adventures in Paris.
Since I had such a small amount of time, I decided to skip the museums and tours and just wander the city. Other than my Rick Steves Pocket Amsterdam book to clue me in on what I was looking at, I just walked where my heart desired. This is really the best way to experience Amsterdam. I talked to the locals (I didn’t meet a single person that didn’t speak perfect English) and even met a fellow solo female traveler at dinner and we had an awesome conversation over our Asian faire and Heinekens! After no more than 40 hours in the city, I came away with seven highlights I hope will inspire you to consider at least a nights layover in the Venice of the North!
…and I don’t mean what you think I mean…necessarily (wink, wink). For real though, one word: Stroopwafel. This divine little cookie made up of two thin waffles with a layer of caramel in the middle is freakin glorious! Move over Oreos. Also, cheese. I LOVE cheese. This leads me to the conclusion that for their equal love of cheese, the Dutch are my soul mates. That’s actually a little bit literal, as my husband has Dutch ancestry and I love the $hit out of him too. I didn’t get too crazy trying all the cheeses because some of them are rather stinky, but I did try a nice array of the pleasantly pungent kind, of course including Gouda!
It tastes better at the source. Coming into drinking age when I lived in Michigan, my beer of choice was Labatt’s, a Canadian beer from just over the border, a stones throw from where we lived. When I moved to Florida, I learned a valuable lesson about beer when I purchased a pack of Labatt’s and it tasted like crap. Travel does something to beer, so the closer you can get to the source, the better it will taste. I was never a fan of Heineken, but when in Amsterdam… I had one with my teriyaki bowl while overlooking the ferry port at Centraal Station and it was pretty amazing!
Speaking of the ferrys, water and boats for days. The Dutch have a rich maritime history. Amsterdam began as a small fishing village, but in the 1600’s became one of the most important trade ports in the world with the advent of the Dutch East India Company in 1602. Soon after, the city became the financial center of Europe. With all that money and trade, city planners devised a plan to expand the city and the canals were born. There are boats everywhere, even houseboats where people still live. One of the things I was a little sad to miss was the National Maritime Museum, but I’ve got it on my list for my next visit. Even if you miss the museum you’ll see little homages to seafaring all around the city. One of my favorites was a passage I stumbled upon that had an elaborate tile mosaic on the ceiling that featuring fish and nautical instruments. It also had lights on the walls in the shapes of sea creatures. If you’re traveling by train to another city (which I highly recommend just for the experience) take a walk through the bicycle tunnel at Amsterdam Centraal Train Station and see the beautiful hand painted Delft Blue tile mural depicting sailing ships.
Not to be outdone by boats, bikes are everywhere and as far as the eye can see, but I didn’t ride one. Why didn’t you ride one you ask? Because, in a word, you need to know what the heck you’re doing if you ride a bike in Amsterdam. You can’t be looking around and taking it in because you will literally get run over, into some kind of horrid accident, or end up in one of the canals. You need to know where you’re going. The best way I know how to explain it is, if you’ve ever been on the 405 in California at 5pm on a weekday and seen how people drive, pretty literally on top of each other, then all you need to do is replace the cars with bicycles and you get Amsterdam. Even if you’re just walking around you need to pay close attention to where you are in relation to the road. Many of the streets have multiple medians and curbs. To cross larger roads you may have to go over a bike lane followed by a median followed by car lanes in one direction, and then another median followed by car lanes going the other direction, and still another median and another bike lane…all before you get to the other side of the street! And sometimes there’s no curb, there’s just a line dividing the sidewalk from the bike lane. I learned that when I almost got run over by a 5 year old because I didn’t realize I was in the bike lane! He was screaming at me. It was equally hilarious and terrifying because he had no intention of stopping…he would have run into me and not thought anything of it!
I’ve never seen buildings so old in my life. If you look closely at some of the photos you’ll see how crooked some of the buildings are…for instance that second photo under the water section. A good amount of the structures in Amsterdam are older than the United States and it was so crazy to me not only to see buildings that old, but to see people still live in them. It helps that part of Amsterdam is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so we are able to see the city operate modernly in an historic setting. Probably one of the most stunning buildings in the city is the Royal Palace in Dam Square. It was built in the 17th century as a city hall, but later became a palace for the monarch.
Flower boxes everywhere, even on bridges, and vines growing up door frames and spilling over to the sidewalk. Amsterdam is an old world concrete jungle filled with master container gardeners. The muted colors of the buildings were happily offset by bright colored blooms, and the unmistakable scent wafting out of coffeehouses was met with the fresh, clean scent of lavender.
7) Guys in white pants and t-shirts
Okay, this one maybe isn’t a highlight, but it’s hilarious and, therefore, worth mentioning. Why don’t I have a photo…I think I was so confused it never crossed my mind to take one. There was a larger percentage of guys than I feel is socially acceptable, wearing the white t-shirt paired with white skinny jeans look and I periodically felt like the whole city was punking me. I don’t know if this is a trend there (is it a trend in America and I just missed it somehow?) or if there was a Backstreet Boys convention or what, but it was definitely “a thing.”
Before I start sharing all the goodies and pretties from my trip to Europe, I wanted to blog about a subject often overlooked because, well, it can be kind of a downer. Traveling abroad, or even to the next state over, is exciting, but there’s also risk involved and it’s important to acknowledge those risks and NOT avoid their reality. Be responsible now, so you can have fun in the moment.
If you are any or all of the following, 1) a woman (honestly this goes for men too), 2) traveling alone, 3) to a new and unfamiliar place, 4) where the primary language is not your native tongue, you need to spend some extra time taking your personal safety into account. The place you are traveling too might be beautiful, exotic, modern, even quite similar to where you’re from, making it seem no more dangerous, but the reality is, every place in the world has bad guys and more often than not you’re the first line of defense when it comes to your personal safety. It’s not fun to think of yourself as a target, but it’s less fun to feel helpless when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation in an unfamiliar place where you don’t know anyone or the language.
While I was preparing for my trip abroad, my husband and I had many conversations about what to do in case I found myself in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation, or god forbid, a terrorist attack. We were both in the military so for us this is a normal conversation, but I firmly believe this topic should have a place in everyone’s mind, especially womens. It was certainly on mine, since Paris has had so many issues with migrants and refugees and many locations throughout France and all of Europe have seen multiple attacks in just the last year. This coupled with a large city’s tendency to have more crime anyway, a la pickpockets, regional scams, etc. I’m by no means a paranoid traveler, but I’m also not an idiot. Crime can happen to anyone. Even if you’re the most vigilant traveler, well versed in the martial arts, crime can happen to you.
So it’s important to acknowledge the possibility that something COULD happen and take some steps to at least make it more difficult for the unsavory types to get at you and your stuff and I’ve got a few suggestions below!
This is a protective device for your money! I hadn’t ever worn one, but after reading about the pickpocket issue at many of the Paris sites, I decided it couldn’t hurt. I got the Eazymate Money Belt in blue. It was comfortable and you couldn’t see it under my skirts. I kept a backup credit card and some cash in it, just in case my bag got picked or stolen. This way if someone got a hold of my wallet, I’d only be out one credit card and my drivers license (I kept my passport at the house I was staying at). In the photo below, I’ve got my moneybelt on under my clothes and you can’t even tell.
This little bottle of mace in what looks like a makeup tube went with me everywhere. Most of my skirts and dresses had pockets so I was able to store it where I could grab it easily if need be. Its small size made it easy to carry and not cumbersome at all. While you’re not allowed to bring mace in an airplane cabin via carry on bags, you are allowed to pack it in your checked baggage. According to the TSA website passengers are allowed to pack self defense sprays with certain guidelines.
Gel Pepper Spray
This spray was a little harder to hide due to its size, so I carried it in my camera bag. I figured if someone tried to run off with my camera bag, I’d still have the mace in my pocket, but if someone was coming at me, the gel pepper spray would be a lot more devastating if I had the time to grab it. If you get this, just be sure to keep it somewhere on it’s own where you can get to it quickly. I kept it by itself in a front pocket of my bag. See the TSA website for pepper spray guidelines.
I brought this rechargeable flashlight taser with me, but didn’t really carry it out in town. That being said, if I had gone out at night for drinks or a night photography session, I would have had it with me. It just so happened that in July, it’s light out until 10pm and I didn’t feel I needed it since we were usually back well before that time. I was out at night on Bastille Day and on the way back from Disneyland Paris, but I had both of my sprays on me. The TSA website refers to a taser as a stun gun.
A Note About Packing
All of these items are allowed to be packed in checked baggage according to the TSA website. That being said, I still wanted to cover all of my bases when actually packing these items. I packed both sprays and the taser in their original packaging in a bag together, taped the bag shut and then taped the TSA allowed item pages to the outside of the bag. This way if TSA searched my bag en route, they would know I wasn’t hiding anything and that I was explicitly following their rules.
A Note About Laws
Every country will have their own laws on self defense. It’s a good idea to do some research before you purchase and pack self defense items so you are within the confines of the laws of the places you are visiting.
Traveling is one of the highlights of life, but it does come with risk…especially for women. If you do some prep, though, you can reduce the risks and give yourself the gift of peace of mind!
In just a few days I’ll be heading to Paris for The Signature Atelier and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s a workshop for photographers in need of inspiration, a new perspective and a reassessment of their signature style. I looked for over a year for a workshop. I can feel myself losing my mojo in the face of popular, popular, popular. The same wedding on every blog, the same Pinterest photo recreation over and over, the same photo of a business owner sitting at a cafe with a laptop and coffee and perfect hair and makeup. The same. It all feels so uncreative, ungenuine and unmotivating.
I’ve been needing something. A redo, a jumpstart, a swift kick in the bedonkadonk. I feel like I’m all over the place, spread thin. I’ve been trying to balance what is “me” with what’s popular in the hopes the type of clients I have a real heart for will notice me. But what I’ve been getting is short lived success and some little victorious highs, followed by long soul draining lows. One incident in particular happened last fall.
I was in a major rut. Frustrated, I found myself questioning everything. You see, I’m the type of person who craves substance. Stories, histories, the why behind things, fires me up, pushes my creativity. Photographing a high budget, fancy wedding full of pretty and no meaning is my nightmare. I’d much rather photograph a bare bones VFW wedding that has thoughtful details, meaningful moments, true joy. I wanted couples who were less focused on their checkbook and the social pressure/competition to have a better venue than their friends or a bigger cake than their sister, and MORE FOCUSED ON being who they are and on their marriage. But all I could see was the former, everywhere…and then this thing happened.
I used to wonder how things go viral and now I know. Late last year I submitted a wedding to Popsugar for publication. The wedding had taken place the previous fall, but in the rush of the impending holiday season I missed submitting it. I knew there was a good chance Popsugar would approve the submission because the wedding had a Disney theme, which is popular with their readers. Within days the submission was accepted and published. I was happy to see the wedding posted where I knew other couples would find it inspiring.
A few hours later I was showing my husband the post and noticed it had already been shared over 300 times. I was surprised but didn’t think much else of it. Popsugar has a lot of loyal readers so I took it as a sign my fellow Disnerds were enjoying the post. That same night, I went to check my email and I saw I had been contacted by Disney Style. Now you guys that know my Disney obsession know I totally lost my cool. They had seen the wedding on Popsugar and wanted to know if they could share it too! Hard core fangirling ensued! #DreamsComeTrue
The next morning I was greeted to three more inquiries about the wedding. Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan and Country Living wanted to know if they could share it. This was crazy to me, but I honestly thought it would all stop soon. I was so wrong! By the end of the day I’d had ten more inquiries from various news outlets and blogs. The next day which I refer to as Popsugar+2 I had about 15 more emails. By Popsugar+3 the wedding had been posted about 30 times and my mom even texted to let me know there was a story about it on their local Detroit evening news! Whaaaattt?!?!
That still wasn’t even the end of it! On popsugar+4 I had completely lost track. My husband jumped on his computer and did some magical ninja search stuff and found 50 websites had posted it. It had been posted in over a dozen countries. I got an email from Queensland Brides an Australian wedding magazine asking if they could publish photos from the wedding in their print magazine! It seemed that for every time it got posted, I got another email.
After about ten days it calmed down. At that point I was able to process some things that needed processing.
Now, I just want it to be known that I am not delusional. I know this wedding going viral had absolutely nothing to do with my photography skills and everything to do with my client’s vision and creativity. Their wedding theme went viral, not my wedding photography. But, I still had to mentally process the fact that one of my favorite things on earth, Disney, coupled with one of my other favorite things on earth, photography, came together in a way that got people amped! I literally had a moment where I thought…I should just plan and photograph Disney themed events for the rest of my eternity. I wasn’t the only one to have this thought either. I definitely got text messages from friends, and family contemplating the same idea.
It was an interesting experience not so much because my work was inadvertently in the spotlight, but because it made me think about where I was and where I wanted to go in terms of photography and my business. In medical circles you’ll often hear people say you’ve got to treat the disease, not the symptoms. My feeling that I should just photograph Disney events was a symptom of me feeling like I needed to be doing something more “me”. In those few days I realized I don’t really care if any photo I take ever goes “viral” again. Viral doesn’t really mean anything other than flavor of the week, or minute. What I really care about, is that I’m photographing people and places that mean something to me, that excite me, that exude joy, adventure and love. I also realized, that spending a single second on anything that didn’t get me closer to meeting and creating for those people, was a complete waste of my time, talent and resources.
That’s a lot of epiphany over a wedding feature, but it got me moving. Three months after the wedding went viral, registration for The Signature Atelier went live and I booked my seat. It’s time for a reinvention and I can’t wait to see what Paris has in store for me!