The Off-Duty Photographer’s Camera


2015 / Travel Planning

Fujix100sReview_TheCarsonsTravel-9-2I have this dilemma: drawing the line between my job and my personal life. When your job is something fun like taking pictures, it’s not something you generally stop doing when you’re not at work. And you kind of can’t stop doing it, because it’s a craft that constantly needs practice. Plus personal work feeds your creativity and keeps things fresh.

Taking pictures while I’m traveling is one of my favorite things to do for personal work, but dragging around 5 lbs. of heavy gear to shoot just for fun is not something that is enjoyable for me. Sure the iPhone is decent, but I consider myself a quality freak!

I follow Julia Engel’s beautiful style blog because I love her outfits as much as I love the way her husband, Thomas, shoots her outfits. Fortunately Thomas has started a blog about the behind the scenes of blogging so people like me who enjoy the final product as much as the process can read about both! They travel a lot and Thomas always seems to be carrying the charming-looking Fujifilm X100S camera around his neck. After some online research of many rave reviews, I decided I should rent it to see how it would compare to my usual personal travel setup.


Fuji X100S next to my usual travel setup: Canon 5D Mk III w/ 24-70 2.8 lens

Just a slight difference, right? :) The X100S design looks like a classic film camera, which of course is super on trend right now, but there’s no denying its appearance is attractive!Fujix100sReview_TheCarsonsTravel-4 Fujix100sReview_TheCarsonsTravel-5 Fujix100sReview_TheCarsonsTravel-6Things I was looking for in a travel camera that brought me to rent this one:

  • lightweight
  • fast lens (large aperture)
  • manual controls
  • digital
  • wifi sd card capability
  • can shoot in raw

The Fuji X100S meets everyone of those things! Here are some images I shot with it over the past week:DSCF9063DSCF9088DSCF9093DSCF9085DSCF9034DSCF9053

I am super impressed with this little camera! I love that the lens is fast (f/2) because I often like to shoot portraits on my trips. Having the shallow depth of field is so much more fun to work with! The colors look great (photos above have all been slightly edited) and the camera has built-in film simulator settings that are nice and subtle.

The downside? Brand new this sucker runs just over $1000. I do see some used ones on for $600 – $700 and I’m sure there are ones on eBay for the same or less.

So now to decide…do I invest in one? Will I freak out and want the security blanket that is my full frame DSLR? Or will I feel freed to shoot for fun without sacrificing (too much) quality? Chime in in the comments or stay tuned to find out.

Southwest Road Trip!


2015 / National Parks / New Mexico / Southwest / Summer Travel / Travel Planning


Trae and I recently went to New Mexico for some time off together and it was tha best. Our original plan to do absolutely nothing for two weeks changed when Trae had the great idea to take me to the Grand Canyon! I had never been and always loved the idea of road tripping out there just like The Brady Bunch. But it turns out that there’s so much to see on the drive from Taos to the Grand Canyon! So we took six days to do a road trip loop of National Parks and natural wonders!

Here’s what our Southwest road trip route looked like. We stopped to see Great Sand Dunes National Park, Durango, Mesa Verde National Park, The Four Corners Monument, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Grand Canyon National Park, Flagstaff, The Petrified Forest National Park, The Painted Desert, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe.

Southwest Road Trip Loop Map

G R E A T  S A N D  D U N E S  N A T I O N A L  P A R K

Great Sand Dunes National Park is only a two hour drive from The Enchanted Circle area of New Mexico (Taos, Red River, Eagle Nest, and Angelfire). This could easily be a day trip if you’re in that area! Trae had been when he was younger but I had never been. It was seriously impressive. My initial thought was “It’s a pile of sand. How exciting can that be?” But wow. It is so massive! 750 feet high massive!009_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 011_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 001_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel007_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravelThe highlights of the park for us were the sand sledding (though we did not do it, we watched others and decided we want to come back prepared do it!) and the freedom to wander wherever you want. I feel like most National Parks have designated trails and whatnot but the dunes are completely open for roaming. You can even camp in the dunes!

Our takeaway tips:

  • OMG wear sunscreen. Lots of it and carry it with you. Put it on places you don’t usually burn b/c my calves got burned and that has never happened in my entire life.
  • Wear waterproof shoes because you have to cross Medano Creek to hike the dunes and if you read about Medano Creek here you’ll see that it can be low like it was here or high enough to float in!
  • The sand makes a really great tripod for a selfie stick. Just sayin’ :)

D U R A N G O ,  C O L O R A D O

We spent the night in Durango after visiting the Sand Dunes. We stayed at an awesome Best Western. And by awesome I mean their hospitality was so good. Warm chocolate chip cookies upon arrival good. We spent the following day exploring Durango in the form of coffee shops, liquor stores, breweries, and shopping downtown.IMG_1411 IMG_1413Some highlights from Durango were 81301 Coffee Roasters, Ska Brewing, and Brown’s Shoe Fit Co. store where a super knowlegable guy helped me find a better fitting pair of hiking boots!

M E S A  V E R D E  N A T I O N A L  P A R K

So Mesa Verde National Park was like the underdog experience of our trip. Its presence on the NPS website had us expecting a kind of bland experience, but it actually turned out to be our favorite experience of the entire trip! The impressiveness began at the entrance to the park with an incredible view from the Visitor Center and then an even more incredible drive up to the mesa tops.208_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravelWe booked a stay inside the park at the Far View Lodge. The accommodations were bare bones (no tv, no telephone, no a/c, double bed) but as the name states, it’s all about the view. It stormed pretty intensely that night which gave us a spectacular lightning show (we also learned the next day that the park is highly prone to fires from lighting strikes).015_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 019_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 020_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 018_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravelWe booked two cliff dwelling tours (Cliff Palace & Balcony House) the following morning and then did a little drive around the mesa to see some sights that didn’t require a ranger-guided tour.

The cliff dwelling tours were so awesome. You have to climb down the side of a cliff – they have designated steps and everything so getting down is pretty easy. The rangers we had were really great, particularly Bailey who guided our Cliff Palace tour. While giving us facts and history about the dwellings, they kept the information honest (there’s a lot of unknowns and they leave it at that until they know) and encouraged the group to discuss. I think their goal is to help people understand that even though technology is different now than it was from AD 600 to 1300 when the Ancestral Puebloans lived there, we are all still humans and at the core, our wants and needs are really not that different. It was just an awesome discussion. I think one grumpy old conservative man hated it, but if you’re not grumpy and conservative then I’ll think you’ll like it too.021_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 032_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 027_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 026_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 033_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 037_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravelMaking it back up from the dwellings was the most exciting part! It’s part scary, part thrilling, but I never felt unsafe. Depending on which dwelling you are leaving you may have to climb ladders or crawl through a hole on your hands and knees!mesaverdeclimbing_thecarsonstravel

Our takeaway tips:

  • Have a backpack or somewhere safe to put your camera so you can use both hands for entering/exiting the dwellings.
  • The pre-tour speech the rangers give you about the conditions of the tour will scare the shit out of you. It’s okay. It will make everything seem really easy once you’re doing it lol.
  • Food options in the park are limited and sub par. Think school field trip cafeteria type stuff. Just a heads up!

F O U R  C O R N E R S  M O N U M E N T

From Mesa Verde to Arizona we drove straight through the four corners of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. This was one of the prettiest drives!! So pretty that I had Trae pull over so I could set my tripod on the side of the road to get a picture of us with our super fun and borrowed road trip vehicle: the H2!041_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 044_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravelWe had to stop at the Four Corners Monument though so we could officially say we’ve stood in four states at once. It was cheesy and so fantastic.

A N T E L O P E  C A N Y O N

Antelope Canyon is one of the most photographed places in the world. It’s located on Navajo land just east of Page, AZ. The canyons are iconic for the ray of light that comes through the slots at noon!075_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravelIt’s best to book a tour in advance, which you can do online with a few different companies. We booked with Chief Tsosie for a 10:30 – 11:30am tour of Upper Antelope Canyon (there is an Upper and a Lower) and it was a great choice! We had to meet a half hour early in a parking lot where we were pleasantly surprised to see Chief Tsosie perform a hoop dance. Then we piled into the back of pickup trucks that drove us out to the reservation and onto the very bumpy dried up river bed!054_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 055_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 058_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravelOur tour group consisted of the 12 or so people on the truck with us. Lilian was our guide and she was really great – very knowledgable about the canyon and how to photograph it. The canyon is kind of broken up into “rooms” where there will be different features in each one. Since it’s very dim in there you have to take your time with your shots since you can’t bring a tripod on the regular tours (there are photography tours where a tripod is required). The struggle with taking your time though is that the canyon is so crowded with people that your window of time to get a photo without a person in it is very small. I was stressed out the entire time, honestly, but nonetheless I still got some amazing images that I’m very happy with! And Lilian offered to take our picture twice so I really appreciated getting photos of us in the canyon too!063_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 071_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 070_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 062_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 066_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 064_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 080_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 083_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravelNow that you’ve looked at these photos, go watch Britney Spears’ Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman music video.

H O R S E S H O E  B E N D

We had never heard of Horseshoe Bend until we checked into our Best Western in Page, AZ the night before! The woman at the counter showed us a picture of it on her desktop and we were blown away, but thought something that amazing would probably take a long hike to get to. Um, no. We stopped at Wal-Mart in Page on our way out to the Grand Canyon when a few miles down the road we saw the sign and parking lot for Horseshoe Bend. We pulled over and found out it was only a 3/4 mile flat hike.084_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel093_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 092_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel

Just remember, minutes before we had been in Wal-Mart. There is no reason you should not stop here lol.088_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel

Our takeaway tips:

  • OMG wear sunscreen. So much sunscreen.
  • Be careful how long you stand out there because the heat is real, my friends.
  • Wear this mascara because when you get sweat in your contacts on the walk back you can completely wipe your eyes and it will not come off!! :)

G R A N D  C A N Y O N  N A T I O N A L  P A R K

The peak of our trip, the Grand Canyon! Planning for this part alone was kind of overwhelming because I had no idea how visiting the park worked. If you’ve never been, let me break it down easily for you. The park is broken up into three sections based on the bus routes that run through them. Each section has lots of stops of lookout points. There is a rim trail if you want to walk from viewpoint to viewpoint, or you can just ride the bus and it will take you. You can seriously come to the Grand Canyon in a cocktail dress and heels and see it easily. No hiking or stepping off of concrete is necessary. This just blew my mind!

But the canyon also blew my mind. It’s just so big and amazing that it’s hard to take it all in by just staring at it from above. We attempted to hike down into the canyon at Hermit’s Rest but didn’t make it too far down thanks to my tired knees. But I really think getting into the canyon makes the experience much more organic!097_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 100_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 105_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 110_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 124_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 138_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 131_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel

Our takeaway tips:

  • If you can’t find accommodations in the park (they book out far in advance) look for hotels just south of the main entrance in Tusayan. We stayed at – you guessed it – another Best Western.
  • Pack your big zoom lens. I wasn’t going to, but Trae convinced me to throw it in the backpack and I’m so glad I did!
  • Get to a sunset spot early to stake out your spot!

F L A G S T A F F ,  A R I Z O N A

We spent one night close to the Grand Canyon and then the second night in Flagstaff because it was much less expensive, and closer to our next destination. We stayed a ghetto Travelodge, but it did have this cool painting on the side of it.IMG_1463

We had dinner and beers that evening at Lumberyard Brewing Co. The Vietnamese Burger rules. Other highlights were Macy’s European Coffeehouse, eggs Benedict at La Bellavia, and Historic Brewing Company.

P E T R I F I E D  F O R E S T  N A T I O N A L  P A R K  &  T H E  P A I N T E D  D E S E R T

We timed our departure from Flagstaff so that we would be going through the Painted Desert at sunset, but it turned out that it didn’t matter because a big storm followed us the whole way! I was driving when the rain got so heavy that I couldn’t see anything in front of me. So scary! It made for an even more eery experience at the Petrified Forest National Park with the dark clouds looming over the post-apocalypic looking scenery!154_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 144_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 143_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravelThe landscape was unlike anything we’d ever seen. It was hard to grasp the idea that this was once a forest and that these pieces of petrified wood are 225 million years old! 149_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 159_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel162_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 161_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravelThe park is experienced via car with hiking trails at some of the stops. We pulled over to see Crystal Forest, Blue Mesa, Agate Bridge, and Newspaper Rock. Because it looked like it was going to be lightening we didn’t get to hike any of the trails, but that would have been fun to do!

I felt like the Painted Desert was not as impressive as it would have been if it were sunny (or maybe it wasn’t as impressive compared to the other amazing things we had seen prior?) We stopped at a few places for pictures and tried not to get blown over by the wind, seriously!

164_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel 165_southwest_road_trip_aug2015_thecarsonstravel

Our takeaway tip:

  • We came in the south entrance of the park off Hwy 180 and then drove north through the park so we would end at the Painted Desert and not have to back track to get back to I-40. Thank you to Kyle and Tiffany for that piece of advice!

A L B U Q U R Q U E  &  S A N T A  F E

From the Petrified Forest we headed into ABQ for our last night of this trip within our trip. I booked our stay last minute and ended up getting an $89 deal at the Sheraton. It was glorious!! :) We didn’t do much in ABQ the next day except visit a well-reviewed liquor store which definitely held up to its reputation.

In Santa Fe we had lunch at The Shed, which surprisingly was my first time to ever eat there! It was delicious and really spicy. We also stopped in Overland because I can’t help myself.

T H A T ‘ S  A L L ,  F O L K S !

Fortunately when we got back “home” to Eagle Nest we had four more days to chill and recoup from all of these adventures! We definitely thought about keeping the trip going though. There is just so much to see that would only be a few hours this way and then a few hours that way….so if you have more time you could do this loop and also add on Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, and then Sedona National Park in Arizona. We kept encountering people on our trip that were making the same loop but were also doing these parks or spending more time in one area to do more things. It’s so hard to do it all, but I think you’ve got to just pick your top faves and do those!

If you made it to the end of this post you get a gold star!! Thanks for reading :)

The Ultimate Small Travel Purse


2015 / Home Life / Travel Planning

05_smalltravelpurse_thecarsonstravelI’ve been in a bit of a minimalist clothing phase over the past year. The capsule wardrobe thing is hot right now, and while I haven’t gone to that extreme, my closet has taken quite the trimming – handbag collection included. It feels good to have one really good bag option for whatever situation I’m in. Except I was missing a small, lightweight crossbody for travel (and every day).

For about two and a half years I’ve been carrying a small black crossbody from the 3.1 Philip Lim for Target collection a couple years ago. I actually really love that bag except one side of the magnetic strip that keeps the flap shut fell out almost immediately after I got it. That’s the “for Target” difference. I did carry it to New York City with it flapping around annoyingly and unsafely. Fortunately I was never pick pocketed, but when my NYC-based aunt saw what I was carrying she gasped! It was time to find a replacement.

As Murphy’s Law would have it, I could never find a good replacement when I looked. I was scrolling through my Bloglovin’ feed one day and saw Almost Makes Perfect was doing another Forever 21 favorites round up. I love it when other people find the good stuff at F21 so I don’t have to sift through it all at the store! In that post she recommended this Pebbled Faux Leather Crossbody for travel. I loved the look of it immediately and since she gave it the seal of approval, I ordered one in white.02_smalltravelpurse_thecarsonstravelIt’s flat enough to stay close to your body and out of the way of busy passersby, but still has way more room than I need for everyday essentials. Here’s what I keep in mine:


Clockwise: Coin Pouch (gift from my sister’s trip to Vienna) | Rebecca Minkoff pouch for ID, credit cards, and cash | Lip stuff: pink gloss, red matte, nude gloss, Burt’s Bees | Point & Shoot Camera (mostly used for video) | Bag-o-ibuprofen | Headphones | Pottery Barn Business Card Holder | Checkbook (sounds dated, but it’s been a life saver before) | Ice Breakers Mints | Sunglasses & Slim Case | iPhone & charger

I keep most of these items in the main compartment. I will say using a slim sunglasses case is pretty crucial for keeping this bag from bulking out. The second, slightly smaller compartment stays pretty empty when I’m at home, but when traveling it’s convenient for printed materials, snacks, or tampons if it’s unfortunate enough to be that time of the month during a trip. Oh, and the main compartment has three pockets inside! One for my phone, one for my lip products, and the third is where I keep the Burt’s Bees by itself because I get really irritated if I can’t access it quickly when I need it. The small luxuries in life!


On a related note, my friend Noria wrote a super helpful post recently about preparing to go to New York City. She touched on what to carry with you everyday (spoiler: it’s not a lot!), so give that a read if you’re headed on a big city adventure!

For my fellow photographers & bloggers out there in need of a bigger bag, I have another recommendation coming up!

Other travel planning thoughts:

When to Splurge & When to Save on Accommodations

Jim Gaffigan on Traveling

Plan to be spontaneous?

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