Tag: Travel Tips

Travel Photography: Ultimate Gear Guide

All good travel bloggers are secretly photographers. I mean we need images for our posts, and with it comes the right equipment. I am frequently asked about what I use to take my images and my various photography gear, so today I am going to show you the inside of my camera bag as well as share some of my tips.


I have had two different Canon DSLR cameras, and I highly recommend them. I love my Canon EOS 70D, it’s a high quality, crop-body camera, ideal for intermediate level photographers. I really love the video and wifi features, which were new compared to my first camera. If you’re just getting started, I suggest the Canon EOS Rebel models. My very first DSLR was a Canon Rebel XSi.

When it comes to lens, I have four of varying lengths. My go-to lens when I’m traveling is the Canon EF-S 18-55mm, but I also have a wide-angle lens, a mid-range lens and a telephoto lens. Anytime I go to a photography workshop I always bring my whole kit, but anytime I am traveling I try to limit my lenses and accessories depending on the situation. Plus carrying a limited kit will help with back and shoulder pain later.

Note: Make sure you always have an extra battery (unless you charge at night) and spare memory cards.


In addition to my big DSLR, there are occasions that call for a smaller pocket size camera. I love the Canon PowerShot models. I always have this guy in my purse for when the occasion calls, and it is perfect when a situation doesn’t allow you to shoot with a larger camera.

I have an older model, but this Canon PowerShot ELPH 190 IS is comparable to the one I have. I really like that in addition to great megapixels for a point-and-shoot it also has video and wifi.

Underwater & Action Sports

It wasn’t until my recent trip to the Caribbean that I started to use a camera solely for underwater and action sports shots. I use a GoPro HERO Session. The GoPro cameras take some practice, but you can get some great shots once you get the hang of it. Like my other cameras, this camera has wifi capability that allows you to download those images you have already taken or to shoot remotely.

iPhone Apps

We all use our mobile phones to get those quick photos, but sometimes those quick photos require a few edits. My favorite on-the-go photo editor is A Color Story. I use this not only for the photos I take on my phone but also for those I download from my other cameras. My other favorite app is the Later app, which I use this for scheduling my photos for Instagram. I also use the Canon Connect app and the GoPro Capture app for remote shooting and to download my images via wifi.


Now, all cameras require a few accessories. For my DSLR, I have two separate flashes (here and here) depending on the need, a remote, and a tripod. I also use two different bags depending on where I’m traveling. I use this one (similar) for my full kit and this one for basic travel needs. Both have pros and cons, but I love the over-the-shoulder one as it is easier on my back. I also use Ape Cases for my lenses when I want to grab an extra lens but don’t want to bring a big bag. These cases are great for tossing your lens in a backpack or purse without damage. Last but not least, your DSLR needs to have a fun strap. I absolutely love mine by mod.

I also bring another tripod for my phone. I LOVE the Joby Gorilla tripod. This works for almost any smartphone. I also love the HISY Bluetooth remote for when I’m alone and need some help taking those selfies with my phone. Lastly, my phone is always in a LifeProof case. Let’s be real, I’m clumsy at best sometimes and this case has saved my phone more times than I care to count.


What are your favorite photography accessories?

How to Travel More with a Full-Time Job

It is no secret that I love to travel. In fact, my boss asks me almost every Friday where am I off to for that particular weekend or he just assumes that I am taking the day off.

So, how do I do it? How to I balance traveling with a full-time job? Well I’m going to share a few of my tips.

Make Travel a Priority

Trust me. I know it can be hard to find the time and money to travel, but if you really are passionate about traveling then you need to make it a priority. When travel becomes a priority, it makes it easier to focus on what you need to do to reach your travel goals. This can mean working overtime to earn extra vacation days or cutting unnecessary expenses to build your travel fund. If travel is your priority then all the work is worth it!

Take Your Vacation Days

According to The Wall Street Journal, Americans left 658 million vacation days unused in 2015. That’s crazy to me! You work hard at your job and you deserve some paid time off. Plus, plain and simple, you can’t travel if you don’t take the time off. Plan out ahead of time when you want to use your vacation days so you can maximize your time off.

Plan Trips around 3-Day Weekends and Holidays

Planning is a big part of travel. So, look at the calendar at the beginning of the year and plan your travel around the 3-day weekends and holidays your employer provides. If you know you want to go somewhere where 3 days won’t cut it, then try adding your vacation days to the paid time off so you can maximize your vacation days. For instance, when I traveled to the Carribean at Christmas, I was off work for 7 days but I only used 3 vacation days due to the Christmas and New Year schedule. This allowed me to use my other 7 vacation days for other trips throughout the year (like my trip to Austin).

Take Advantage of Business Trips

I don’t get to travel frequently with work, but when I do I always try to tack on a day or two to take advantage of exploring a new place. This tactic will take some negotiation with your employer and some research on prices, but it usually works out. For me, my employer will pay for my flight and I’ll usually pay for the hotel stay on the extra nights of my visit. This has allowed me to spend a 3-day weekend in New York City prior to a work trip or 24-hours in Chicago.

Don’t Be Afraid to Go Alone

This is something I am working on myself, but I am learning the advantage of traveling alone. Bottom line, it allows you to go when you want and where you want, and once you arrive you don’t have to worry about what your travel companion wants to do. My first solo trip was to New Mexico with National Geographic. Even though I was with a group, I didn’t know anyone prior to arriving but made some great friends in the process. I’m hoping to plan a couple of solo trips this year as well.

Take a Staycation (Explore Local)

If traveling is new to you, start local. Travel four to six hours away from home, book a hotel room for a long weekend and explore some place closer to home. If you can take the trip on a regular weekend, you just saved yourself a vacation day and saw a new place. If you don’t have the money or time to travel outside your city, treat yourself to a staycation and play tourist in your own city. Exploring home can be fun and give you a new perspective on your city, state and/or region. If you live in the south, check out some of these destinations.

Sign Up to Travel Newsletters & Sale Alerts

I’m a huge fan of travel and sale alerts as they can save you a lot of money on your travels. Sometimes these deals require you to be flexible with your travel dates, so I, personally, find those easier to book with long weekends. Some of my favorite sites are Groupon, Jetsetter, Roadtrippers and Hotels.com. For more spontaneous trips, check out the Hotel Tonight app (use promo code CNORTON70 to receive $25 off your first booking).

Just Go

I have now given you plenty of ways to travel with your full-time job, so it’s time to stop making excuses and take action! If you want to travel, you’ll find a way. Best of luck and let me know if you have any questions! I love helping people explore the world.

What unique ways have you found to combine travel with a busy schedule?

Cruise 101: What to Pack & What to Leave at Home

When it comes to traveling, I am a big fan of trying to get everything into a carry-on suitcase. I have not always been that way, but the more I travel the less I want to deal with baggage. This is especially true when it comes to cruising. If you have never cruised before, or even if you have, it is very easy to over pack. Especially, since you never know what you are going to face.

In addition to packing your main suitcase, I highly recommend packing a “day pack” for your embarkation day. This bag should include all the essentials you will need until you can gain access to your stateroom later that day. The day pack should include items like passport and curise documents, money (cash and/or credit card), medications, swimwear, change of clothes, and minor toiltries.

Below are a few cruise packing tips to keep in mind on what to pack and what you should leave at home.

What to Pack

  • Power Strip – Most of the rooms only have one or two outlets, so I highly recommend adding a small power strip to your bags so you have a place to charge all your devices.
  • Towel Clips – Boat decks can be very windy making towels unweildy. Purchase a set of towel clips to help keep your towel locked down as you soak up the sun while at sea. These clips will do the trick, but I particularly love these fun clips by Boca Clips.
  • Travel Clothing Steamer – Irons and Ironing Boards are not allowed on the ships, in fact, they are not even provided. If you are packing some items that will need to be refreshed, packing a travel clothing steamer (like this one) will come in handy.
  • A Watch – A watch will help you keep track of the time and make sure you don’t miss your ship from port. You will be operating while at sea on “ship time”, or the time zone of your ship iniatlly left, and sometimes cell phones don’t know your timezone.
  • Lanyards – Ladies, this will be a life saver when it comes to keeping up with your room key. Trust me. I recommend getting one with a hook. You can buy in advance or on board.
  • Spare Luggage – If you are planning to take advantage of the shopping while on your cruise, you may want to pack an extra piece of luggage in your check bag to bring back your purchases.
  • Deck of Cards/Travel Board Game – Not all days are going to be sunny, so make sure you have something to entertain you and your party when you can’t find something on the day’s itenerary you want to see/do.

What to Leave at Home

  • Towels – Your room will include towels that you can take with you to shore or to the pool, and you can also check them out while on deck.
  • Extra Books – Unless you plan to spend all port time on the ship, then you really won’t need the extra book. Consier swapping books with others in your party or checking out the on-board library. Another alternative is packing an ereader to help cut down on the weight.
  • Hair Dryer – Like hotels, your stateroom will provide one so there is no need to pack one. Or consider doing a heat-free week.

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a FREE cruise packing list, and check out these first-time cruiser tips. Also, don’t forget to check the packing lists provided by your cruise line to get a sense of dress code.

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Getting Around Atlanta: MARTA Stops & Attractions


Atlanta is a big city to navigate, and with the added traffic factor, getting around to see the memorable landmarks can be even more difficult. MARTA is the quickest, most efficient way to navigate around Atlanta, and some of the best attractions minutes from a MARTA rail station.

MARTA Stops and Attractions

Here are some not-to-miss MARTA stops and attractions:

Peachtree Center MARTA Station

Apex Museum
The Apex Museum, just minutes from the Peachtree Center MARTA station, celebrates the historical significance of African-Americans, the Civil Rights Movement, and the profound culture and history of the city’s African-American community.

Get off at the Peachtree Center MARTA station for Skyview, another big Atlanta attraction, located near Piedmont Park. It offers one of the best ways to see the city lit up at night as well as panoramic city views during the day. Visitors can also visit the Ferris wheel during other big events, such as Music Midtown.

Atlanta Streetcar
The Atlanta Streetcar, a new addition to the Atlanta public transportation system, is the 21-century symbol representation linking Atlanta to its past with train and rail transportation. Functioning as a piece of the MARTA system, the Atlanta Streetcar, now in Phase One, shuttles passengers on the East-West route to several other area attractions and landmarks.

Inman Park/Reynoldstown MARTA Station

Atlanta BeltLine
The Atlanta BeltLine is one of the biggest developments to hit the city in recent years. With planned hiking trails, parks, and neighborhood strengthening programs in place around the city, the BeltLine is a must visit. Take advantage of the free year-round tours of the 22-mile railroad corridor encompassing Atlanta. The tour leaves from the Inman Park Station on Friday and Saturday mornings.

Little Five Points Shopping District
Little Five Points is one of Atlanta’s alternative neighborhoods. Lining Moreland and Euclid Avenues, storefronts and consignment shops sprinkled throughout the small district, it is easy to see why the small district attracts Atlanta locals.

Shops like Junkman’s Daughter and Criminal Records or restaurants like Vortex and Savage Pizza lend an eclectic vibe similar to the Haight-Ashbury counter-culture in the 60s and 70s, but without the psychedelic tie-die and drugs.

Arts Center

Unifying design and functionality, MODA or Museum of Design Atlanta, incorporates the best parts of design fused with functionality. It enriches the local community through exhibits and educational events for all. Exhibits range from the art of 3-D printing to sustainable architecture.

Discover exhibits highlighting the best in functional design and art, or if creation is your fancy, consider immersing yourself in a creative design class offered at the museum.

Center For Puppetry Arts
Children love the Center for Puppetry Arts. A community favorite in Atlanta, the center is known for their lively shows and hosted events throughout the year. The center really comes to life during the holidays with puppet shows such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty, The Snowman.

Additionally, the center is also a focus the performance industry with knowledgeable staff leading on-site workshops and museum tours.

Atlanta, a hub for multi-cultural dining, events, and history, is brimming with activities and excitement for locals and visitors. Don’t miss the most iconic places in Atlanta: World of Coke, Georgia Aquarium, or CNN Center. Visiting Atlanta? Explore Atlanta like the locals do.


About Holiday Inn Express® Hotel & Suites Atlanta North-Perimeter/Dunwoody

Neel Shah is the principal of The Holiday Inn Express® Hotel & Suites Atlanta North-Perimeter/Dunwoody located directly off Georgia 400 and I-285. This means they’re just minutes from several corporate offices and training centers. Additionally, Buckhead, Sandy Springs, Roswell, the Dunwoody Medical Centers, Northside Hospital, Children’s Health Care, St. Joseph’s, and the Dunwoody MARTA station are nearby. Enjoy a memorable stay at our modern Perimeter hotel, part of Atlanta’s upscale corporate Perimeter Center. With our courteous staff, reasonable rates, and terrific amenities, this Atlanta Perimeter hotel is the place to “Stay Smart” in the Perimeter Center area.

For more information visit: http://www.PERIMETERHOTEL.com


Southern Exhilaration was not compensated for this post. 

10 Caribbean Experiences to Add to Your Bucket List

My next European adventure has begun, and for the next 10 days I’ll be singing and serving alongside my church in Alba Iulia, Romania! I’m excited to announce several fantastic guest bloggers will be taking over Southern Exhilaration in my absence. So glad to have Megan starting us off!

Hi there! My name is Megan and I blog over at Chasing Pradas and PR about navigating this pretty little thing we call “adulthood” while hustling after your career dreams and enjoying the occasional glass of wine. I’m ecstatic to be sharing something with you that I don’t blog about very often – my love for travel.

I love reading Caitlin’s blog and being able to see all of her amazing travel photos (Santa Fe, anyone?) because while I feel extremely lucky to have traveled as much as I have, there is still so much more I want to explore! My first real taste of adventure was in August of 2004 when my parents took me on my very first cruise, Monarch of the Seas by Royal Caribbean. Since then, I’ve been back to the Caribbean five times and visited nine different Caribbean islands.

Last year, when my boyfriend and I cruised together, he traveled outside the country for the first time! It seems like ever since we’ve both been severely bit by travel bug and itching to go back. We’re either talking about vacation, dreaming about vacation or planning a vacation back to the Caribbean… so, I wanted to share items growing bucket list for traveling the Caribbean!

Interact with real pirates. You can call me crazy (and this probably isn’t the safest idea I’ve ever had), but I’ve seen “real” pirates twice while on jet ski tours in the Caribbean Islands and they have always mystified me.

Sunbathe under low-flying planes at Maho Beach. This isn’t just a Caribbean bucket list item – this is a life bucket list item! Every time I think about going to Maho Beach, I think about that scene from Wayne’s World… just going to leave this here…

Chop open a coconut with a machete in Nassau. One of my favorite memories is from my senior year of college where we spent the day at the little shack bar on the public beach in Nassau, Bahamas. Watching the local men wield a machete to create instruments and cups from fresh coconuts kept my interest for hours!

Take on the legendary Atlantis Resort water slide. I am a chicken when it comes to heights, but between the view and the adrenaline rush – the experience would be worth every second of fear.

Snorkel under the sea in St. Maarten. Last year, I went snorkeling for the first time in Nassau, Bahamas. It was by far the best on-shore experience I’ve ever had on a cruise. I’ve heard the snorkeling is insane in St. Maarten and am looking forward to the amazing underwater views the next time I visit.

Crash a private beach. In St. Thomas, beach access isn’t accessible right when you get off of the ship. Our group decided to hail a cab and ask him to take us to his favorite beach – little did we know it was a private resort! Besides the risky decision to crash a private beach, we had a great time on our secluded piece of paradise.

Attend Stanford Antigua Sailing Week. Not only has Antigua always been on my list of destinations to visit because of its majestic beauty, but it’s also home to one of the world’s top sailing regattas. People from all over the world gather for this race and to celebrate Antigua’s beauty.

Experience a whale migration in Grand Turk. Turks and Caicos has always been among one of my top 5 places to visit. And whale watching ? If I don’t have to go to Alaska and face the cold weather (sorry, Caitlin!) to do it, I’m sold!

Get a “local” tour from a cabbie. This is hands down my Dad’s favorite thing to do in every foreign city he visits and while I didn’t always understand his reasoning for doing it when I was younger, I definitely get it now. Riding along with a local for a behind-the-scenes tour of town may not take you to the touristy sites, but it will highlight all of the places that are sacred and important to the residents of the place that you’re visiting.

Spend a week in St. John. Out of all the Caribbean destinations I’ve been to, I haven’t been lucky enough to visit St. John’s, Antigua yet. Everything I’ve ever been told about the culture and hospitality screams luxury and makes me want to spend a lifetime week there.

Want more Megan?
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10 Tips for First Time Cruisers

I wouldn’t call myself a cruise aficionado, but I have had the opportunity to take few cruises for various vacations with my family. Here is my our advice on how to make the most of your cruise experience:

Get Off the Ship and Explore

One of the best parts of a cruise is the opportunity to travel to places you normally would not go, and seeing so many different places in one vacation. So, get off the boat and explore! You can choose to go with a shore excurison that is pre-coordinated, or you can go explore on your own. Either way, do your research before hand to decide which will work best for each port call – some are more suited for self exploration than others. If you do decide to book a shore excursion, I recommend booking it advance online through the cruise line but you can also book it once you are on board. Keep in mind some excursions sell out in advance of departure. Regardless of what you choose, enjoy your time traveling to new places.

Participate in Onboard Activities

Cruises offer so many onboard activities from trivia to karaoke to shows to competitions to late-night parties … well, the list goes on and on. So, be sure to check out your daily newsletter to find out what’s going on that day to plan out your day. Definitely do something outside your comfort zone…it’s not like you’re ever going to see these people again. Can’t sing and have always wanted to try karaoke…give it try!

Get a Room with a View

Most ships offer four different styles of staterooms: Interior, Ocean View, Balcony, and Suite. After a day of exploring, nothing beats coming back to the privacy of your stateroom. Each room is different in both size and offering, so be sure to do your research prior to booking as each cruise line is slightly different. I personally am a huge fan of waking up with the sun, so I love staying in the Ocean View staterooms.

Eat all you can eat!

Let me start by saying, cruise food is amazing! Seriously! I encourage you to throw your diet to the wind and indulge in all they have to offer. To make the most of your food experience follow these tips:

  • Avoid buffets on embarkation day but instead check out one of the other specialty restaurants or main dining room for your meal. If you opt for one of the speciality restaurants, be sure to book it before boarding the ship. My family usually opts for the main dining room or the speciality buffets on lido deck.
  • You are not limited to one of each appetizer, entrée and dessert in the main dining room. You can also order appetizer-sized portions of entrées as an appetizer or order a few appetizers for your main meal. (My dessert recommendation is the chocolate lava cake! Yum!)
  • Room service is free of charge, except on certain lines for late-night hours. I definitely recommend this if you have an early morning excursion or you enjoy sleeping in, and you can even set up delivery the night before! Definitely helps beating the lines at the buffet first thing in the morning!
  • FREE ice cream — whether soft-serve machines on the Lido Deck or hard-serve stations at the buffet ! Live a little and indulge!

Your Choice Dinning

When it comes to selecting your dinning times you generally have three options: Early, Late or Flexible. Flexible dinning time is our favorite option. This allows you to have a lot more flexibility when it comes to your schedule, and you don’t have to feel rush about getting to the dinning room on time or sitting around waiting for dinner time. There are a few cons, with scheduled dinning you sit at the same table every night with the same people but with flexible dinning you only eat with your party so you don’t get to meet as many fellow cruisers. Also, you don’t have an assigned table so you won’t always be able to walk in and sit down when you are ready. Despite these cons, we really enjoy the flexibility that comes with your choice dinning.

Serenity Deck

If you are 21 and up and don’t have kids, the Serenity Deck is where you need to be vacationing while at sea. These decks offer a space of relaxation that is kid free, a private bar, and a place to get that R&R you want when on vacation. These decks are usually smaller than other decks, but they are definitely worth checking out if you are tired of the constant buzz of your fellow cruise passengers.

Nap Time

You are on vacation, so naps are a requirement. Plus they are awesome! Not only that, but naps will help you stay up late and into the wee hours of the morning when a lot of the activities on the ship are taking place.

Sleep on Deck

“Sea Days” are the perfect time to catch some rays, but there are a limited number of chairs. So, I recommend getting up early, grabbing some breakfast and a chair, and take a morning nap. Keep in mind that you cannot reserve chairs, so make sure you have your whole party present when you start claiming seats.


Don’t let the lines frustrate you, because they are going to happen whether it is in line for the buffet, debarkation or embarkation. Just embrace them and get to know your fellow cruisers!

Book in Advance

Check with your cruise line of preference, but most cruise lines offer the best fares when iteneraries are first posted. Early booking also gives you greater control over your staterooms. I’m a planner, so I prefer booking in advance, but cruises also offer great deals for the last minute bookers.


New Year’s Eve Peach Drop

Nothing quite beats the excitement around New Year’s Eve, the countdown to midnight and dropping things. The history of dropping things at the stroke of midnight started with the Times Square Ball, which made its first appearance in 1907. Since then various cities have added to their own flare to this New Year’s Eve tradition by dropping various objects as we countdown to the new year.

According to Mental Floss, Atlanta has one of the 34 most bizarre items dropped (I don’t think it is as weird as the duck decoy or 200 pounds of bologna). Our Peach Drop is also the largest New Year’s Eve celebration in the southeast. This celebration definitely needs to be on your list of things to do, if you aren’t a fan of hanging out in the freezing weather of New York City. 🙂 Here are a few tidbits to survive your first Peach Drop experience.

Plan Ahead

Peach Drop has several activities leading up to the midnight countdown, including live performances. Be sure to check the schedule to find out who is performing at what time. Keep in mind gates open at 5:00 PM and performances generally start around 7:00 PM.

This is a free event, but you are not allowed to bring food or drink with you inside the gates. Make sure you have enough cash to buy food and drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).

Getting There

Parking is available at Underground Atlanta, but very limited. I recommend riding MARTA to get to and from the event. Trains on New Year’s Eve run every 12 minutes, but here are a few tips to make the most of your ride.

  • Purchase your tickets in advance. Round-trip tickets are $5.
  • The last train leaves at 2:00 AM, so if you think you’ll be spending the night out make sure you park at a station with long-term parking.
  • There are two station options for getting to the Peach Drop. Five Points Station is right next to Underground Atlanta and the Peach Drop, very convenient for when you are arriving. If you aren’t a fan of crowds, walk a couple of blocks to Peachtree Center Station.


Now that you have arrived at Peach Drop all you need to do is listen to the live music, grab a bubbly beverage and wait for the countdown and fireworks! This is definitely worth adding to your Atlanta to-do list!

Peach Drop Fun Facts

I’m going to conclude with a few fun facts about the history of the Peach Drop.

  • The first Peach Drop was in 1989 at Underground Atlanta
  • The peach weighs over 800 pounds, which is almost as much as an average adult horse
  • Once the countdown begins, it takes the peach 58 seconds to descend the 138-foot tower of lights
  • The peach measures 8 feet tall and is 8 feet wide