The 15th Annual Travel & Adventure Show comes to Chicago on January 12-13 – Preview and an interview with travel and photography expert Ralph Velasco

If you’re looking to plan your next travel adventure, this weekend brings an array of experts in every aspect of travel to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont (5555 N. River Road) on January 12 and 13. More than 250 experts in destinations, packages, travel technology and everything you need to book your next trip are on hand including expedited passport applications from the Federal government. There’s also a wide array of educational and cultural programing to discover.  Not to mention opportunities for discounts and special offers especially for attendees.

Destination Lancaster booth at the 2018 Travel and Adventure show

From all-inclusive opportunities like cruises and safaris to highly personalized and individualized destination and adventure options, prospective travelers will find something to intrigue them. There’s programming on three stages including, Savvy Traveler Theater stage, full of practical, real-world options from how to handle emergencies to the best new travel tech, in the Destination Theater, travelers will receive destination-specific information from local experts, and the Global Beats Stage, featuring musical and dance performances form groups from around the world.

“At the Travel & Adventure Show, guests will have the chance to meet one-on-one with representatives from the top travel brands in the world. What’s more, each of these representatives will be on hand to help plan, personalize and book the trip that’s right for each traveler, at prices they can’t find anywhere else,” said John Golicz, CEO of Unicomm, LLC, the producer of the Travel & Adventure Show Series.

Samantha Brown at the 2018 Travel and Adventure Show

Some of the world’s top travel experts and celebrities present seminars and answer questions over the two-day event. In the 1,000-seat Travel Theater guests can meet:

  • Rick Steves, Travel Writer, Host of “Rick Steves’ Europe” and “Travel with Rick Steves”
  • Samantha Brown, Travel expert and television host of PBS’ “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love”
  • Pauline Frommer, Editorial Director of the Frommer Guides and Publisher of Frommers.com
  • Patricia Schultz, Author of the New York Times Bestseller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”

Fun opportunities for guest include getting their picture taken in their favorite destination at the Arizona Office of Tourism Green Screen, ride a live camel or even take SCUBA lessons in a heated dive pool.

Practical travel help is offered in Federal Row, where the US State Department and Passport Agency will be accepting new passport applications, renewing passports and taking passport photos on site. In addition, the Global Entry Program will also take application appointments right on the show floor.

As part of our pre-show coverage,  we were able to interview one of the featured speakers, Ralph Velasco, CEO of PhotoEnrichment Adventures, who will be speaking at the show in the Savvy Travel Theater about “How to take travel photographs everyone wants to see.”  Mr. Velasco left the world of finance to follow his dream as a travel photographer and was kind enough to answer our questions. His answers are as follows:

Not a lot of Pro-Photographer/Financial Advisers out there, which one came first for you?  How did you get into photography? 

I’ve always been a traveler, since I was 15 and studied overseas in Spain for a summer, and I’ve always enjoyed photography.  I’d have to say I was a financial adviser first, practicing from 2005 – 2008, but then the financial crisis hit and it was actually the best thing that ever happened to me as I didn’t enjoy the financial services industry and had been moonlighting as a travel photographer and photography instructor during that period, as well, so I suppose that’s when I “officially” became a professional.  When the crisis hit in September 2008 it was the kick in the pants I needed to get out of something I really didn’t enjoy and into something I was becoming good at and really loved doing, and that’s teaching travel photography and organizing and leading tours around the U.S., at first, and now exclusively around the world.

Two women with brooms in Jaipur, India

There’s a lot of useful information in the FAQ on your website, but what is the MOST important thing you’d tell any traveler?

The most important thing I could tell a traveler is to be flexible and patient.  Travel these days, although easier in some ways, has also gotten more difficult in others, so patience and a willingness to go with the flow are essential, otherwise a person could find themselves being frustrated throughout their trip, and that’s no fun.  Airports, planes and other forms of transportation, popular destinations and other sites are becoming more and more popular, and in turn, more crowded and in some ways less appealing, so patience, flexibility and a good sense of humor are paramount.

Do you have easy to implement tips for my readers about getting a good shot, something you’d tell your tour group?

Definitely.  My number one photography tip is simply to Get Out Early!  Get out in what is usually the best light of the day, also referred to as the Golden Hour.  That time just before, during and after sunrise when the sun is low in the sky and it creates nice, warm and often appealing light for photography.  This is also a great way to beat the heat of the day in warmer climates, get out in front of any potential tourist crowds, see the locals on their way to work, and the kids dressed in their school uniforms on their way to school.  Of course, the golden hour also occurs around sunset, but at that time there will almost certainly be more people out than in the morning.

Ladies making Lavash in Armenia

Patrick Symmes, a photographer, says, “If you don’t like getting up early…then be a writer.”  It’s so wonderful to get to a place and have it completely, or almost completely, to yourself, or in my case, to experience with just my group.  To me there’s nothing like it.

My second tip is to know your camera well.  They more it becomes a part of you, the more you’ll be able and ready to take advantage of spur of the moment photo opportunities as they present themselves.  Get your camera into a “point and shoot” mode, meaning having your settings ready for the current conditions in which you find yourself.  Then all you have to do is recognize the opportunity, point and shoot, because fast moving scenes aren’t going to wait around for you or anyone else to fumble around for settings or figure out exposure calculations and such, those fleeting moments will be gone forever.

What do you mean by “anticipating” a shot?

Little Girl near rose offerings in Nizamuddin, India

Anticipation and timing are critical for good photography, and in this case I’m referring to travel photography which often means shooting in places where the action is moving, like in busy markets, on the streets and such.  Being able to recognize a nice background and then anticipate an interesting subject walking into the scene, and timing your shot so they are against a complimentary part of the background, and in a good position, is essential.  This absolutely takes practice, but over time it becomes easier and you’ll get better and better at it.  I often say, “You can’t get worse at photography,” so just keep shooting and practicing your craft and you can only improve, but you must also know your gear and how to use it properly so that you can take advantage of spur of the moment opportunities when they present themselves. 

I’m intrigued by the “theme” concept. What do you mean by that?  Humans are clearly creatures of routine and are more similar than different, but they don’t live scripted lives.  How can you theme people’s random actions for a photo group?  (I am a great admirer of Vivian Meier and her secret was not obviously photographing people.  Candid = genuine. How do you preserve that?)

I don’t think working from a theme necessarily means “scripted” or not being genuine.  By having a theme in mind I’m simply referring to the fact that the more you know what you’re looking for, the more you’re likely to recognize it when you see it.  Some themes are ongoing; like I have a theme I simply call “people reading newspapers.”  This idea first started for me in Kathmandu, Nepal, when I’d photographed six or seven people reading newspapers over a short period of time, perhaps a span of 30 minutes or so, but now I look for it wherever I am in the world.  I’m on a constant watch for interesting people reading newspapers and I try to photograph them and add these images to an ongoing collection.  When I tell people on my trips that I have this theme, inevitably they start pointing out people reading newspapers to me throughout the trip because now the idea is in their head, too.  Same goes for when they tell the group what their theme is, then everyone starts pointing them out to each other and we have some fun with it.

Other themes might include the color red, interesting hands, broomsticks (which can often be very different around the world), bicycles, and on and on.  I just recommend not choosing a theme that’s too broad, such as “people.”  It’s good to narrow it down, such as “people at work” or “people at rest” (or people reading newspapers!).

You are clearly designing your trips to provide your tour groups with unique and special insights into the places they visit basically skipping the traditional “tourist” sights.  Why?  (You clearly allow free time for them to be visited, but why don’t you guide your groups there?)

Over the Druro River at dusk

On my trips I love to provide free time for my people to pursue their own interests, to go out in small groups or as couples, or by themselves, to create their own unique experiences and not feel like they have to be with the group 24/7.  This isn’t for everyone as some people like to have each day planned from morning to night, but those aren’t the kinds of trips I create and so my tours attract a certain type of traveler who likes some structure, such as knowing they don’t have to think about airport transfers, hotels, guides, buying tickets, timing, how they’re going to get from one location to the next, where to eat each and every meal, etc., but they can still have windows of time to do things not on our itinerary, pursue special interests they have of their own, take a cooking class, visit a museum, enjoy a spa treatment, go swimming or simply sit in a café and watch the world go by. 

We certainly visit some popular tourist sites on our trips, but when possible we get there early, before the tourist crowds show up.  Then there are sites that you can hardly skip, such as the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.  Everyone’s heard of it, probably dreamed of seeing it, but these days it’s very difficult to go there, at any time of day, without throngs of people, most of whom are the Indian people themselves looking to enjoy one of the great man-made wonders of the world that is conveniently located in their own country.

That said I do love to incorporate the main “have to” see sites in a place along with more off-the-beaten-path locations and activities for my groups.  We try to have experiences where we can get invited to local people’s homes and places of business to see how they live and work.  Perhaps share a meal, or have a cup of tea or a shot of the local “palinca” (Romania) or “raki” (Turkey).  We’ll sit down with our local guide/translator and learn about their lives, family history, outlooks and more.  To me, this is what travel is all about, not ticking off countries or the number of UNESCO World Heritage sites I’ve visited.  The more I travel the more I realize that people are pretty much all the same all over the world, and my best travel moments almost always include meeting the locals.

Are there certain moments when it’s better to put the camera down? When would those be?  And do you advise your groups to do it?

For sure.  I’m a big proponent of putting the camera down.  As travelers, and especially those with an interest in travel photography, it’s sometimes easy to go through a day realizing that you’ve only seen the place through the viewfinder of your camera.  Sure, you may have some nice shots as a result, but were you really present?  Did you truly experience the place?  The more I travel the easier it is for me to put the camera down and not feel guilty about not constantly photographing every single thing.  It’s kind of flipped for me, now I feel guilty the more I’ve been photographing and not forcing myself to be in the moment and creating memories with my mind’s eye, not my camera.

You can learn more about Ralph and the fantastic photography tours he offers at the PhotoEnrichment website.

The Chicago Travel & Adventure Show will take place on January 12 and 13 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, 5555 N River Rd in Rosemont, Ill. The show opens at 9:30 a.m. Saturday for travel professionals; the public can attend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Attendees can purchase single-day and two-day tickets online now for the discounted rate of $11/$18 with promo code: CHPR19 or on-site for $15/$22. Children 16 and under are free and on-site tickets can be purchased with cash only. For tickets and event information, visit http://travelshows.com/chicago.

From Chicago, the Travel & Adventure Show will move on to San Diego, Jan. 19-20; Boston, Feb. 9-10; Los Angeles, Feb. 16-17; Denver, Feb. 23-24; Philadelphia, March 9-10; Washington, DC, March, 16-17; San Francisco Bay Area, March 23-24; and Dallas, March 30-31.

Learn more at the Travel and Adventure show website.

Show photographs provided by Carol Fox & Associates and travel photography by Ralph Velasco.

About Suzanne Magnuson 67 Articles
Professional writer with 20 plus years of experience. M.A., M.B.A. Travel Editor and Social Media Manager for Splash Magazines Worldwide. Senior Editor. Member of Advertising Team.

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