Technology

Best Apps for Your Mindfulness Practice

I am currently in week 3 of my 100 Days of Mindfulness challenge (already!), so thought it would be a good time to share a couple of my impression and favorite apps that are helping me along in this journey.

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Headspace

I am using Headspace to learn how to meditate daily. I first downloaded it sometime last year and quickly ran through the first 10 (free) guided meditations. I was hesitant to subscribe ($12/month or $100 annually) because I wanted to try out other apps first that may have better features or be more economical (some of them I will talk about below). Yet, after trying many other guided meditation tools I found myself coming back to Headspace over and over again, replaying the 10 free sessions! At the end of last year I took advantage of a $1/month for 3 months promotion shortly after gifting my sister an annual subscription for her birthday. This promotion worked on me because I got hooked on the full version of the app and haven't looked back since! My partner and I particularly love the sleep meditations and found that to be a reasonable way to get into almost-daily meditation. For me, $9 a month for a service that teaches me, adds lifelong value, and I frequently use (daily now!) is a steal. I also love the game-like features including the app employs like tracking usage, instructional videos, and the mindfulness reminders. 

Tide

Tide is a simple and beautifully executed pomodoro style application that helps you focus. I have been exploring the concept of "single-tasking" lately and this app has been perfect for this. I turn the app on and it will play a soundscape for 25 minutes of focused effort and then allow a 5-minute break. I find the gentleness of this type of timer much friendlier to use as opposed to the timer that comes with the clock app on the iPhone. It allows me to really get into the grove of working without anticipating and fearing the buzzer.

Calm

Calm is a meditation app with a few added components meant to help improve your sleep and breathing. I particularly like the breathing exercise because I have noticed through my yoga and meditation practice that I am a shallow breather. If you become a paid subscriber of this app you can unlock many more "programs," which are multi-day series (the Headspace app calls these "packs"). And if you are really into relaxing soundscapes it is very likely you'll love this app.

Simple Habit

This app is a collective of meditation instructors that you can follow and learn from. To access all features a paid upgrade is required (like most of the other apps I have mentioned), but there are lots of free guided meditations and lessons to try out first. This app also offers daily reminders and some tracking features much like Headspace. If you want more choice in who is teaching you (aka the voice that guides you) this may be the app for you. This app also has a great analytics dashboard to help track your progress and set goals in your practice.

Moment

I want to end with both a tool and a tip. I highly suggest turning off non-essential notifications on your phone and even opt to remove counter that appears on the app icon. This is a great way to reduce the number of distractions that pull us out of focus and away from the moment. This strategy is allowing me to control when I check my phone and email and limit how much digital content "consume" each day.

If you really want to dive deep into meditation and mindfulness apps check out this scientific study that evaluates and ranks mindfulness apps. A couple to note at the top of their list includes Stop Breathe Think and Smiling Mind that appear to have a lot of the features I like in the apps above.

What apps have you come across that you either like or didn't like so much? I would love to know, as my never-ending quest for good tools continues!

Travel Photography - How I Shoot

I love photography and ever since I started embracing a more minimal lifestyle I depend on my travel photos as souvenirs. Both my partner and I aren't big fans of bringing things back for ourselves or friends and family from trips (for a few reasons that I will get into in another post sometime soon!). Since photos will pretty much be the only tangible memory of my travels I take a lot of them and I put quite a bit of care into editing and storing them. Today I want to focus on my shooting "technique" if you can even call it that 😅! These are a few things I noticed about how I take my travel photos.

1. Look with the eyes first

Although I am all about getting a great picture and documenting every moment of a trip I try to make sure I am actually experiencing each moment. If the camera has been to my eye for too long or I get sucked into reviewing pictures while still on vacation that means I am not being present and I need to step back for the camera for a while. And if I don't catch myself, my partner has gotten really good at doing it for me. I'm all about creating real memories first, pictures second.

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2. Content

Now that I am enjoying my vacation there are a few things I like to have pictures of:

Landscapes

Part of the thrill of visiting new lands is a change of scenery. That's why I end of taking soo many pictures like the one below documenting all of the foreign beauty I see.

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Architecture

I love architecture and design. Part of what gives a destination charm are the buildings it has. Thats why I inevitable come home with a gigabyte of pictures like these...

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Food & Objects

I may be basic but I love taking pictures of my food. Food evokes some of the strongest memories because it takes you back to place using almost all of your senses. I love having pictures of delicious meals like these amazing traditional tacos I had in Coba below. Similarly I take picture of interesting objects I wouldn't find at home.

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Candid Portraits

Some of my favorite portraits are those taken when your subject is caught off guard. Candids have the power of recreating a moment and taking you back in time.

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3. Style

Most photographers have a definitive style that makes their work recognizable. Although I certainly haven't developed a real style (yet at least!) I do have a few specific ways I really enjoy shooting right now. 

Flat, straight on

The flat shot is one of my favorite photos to take. I usually have a specific subject in mind  (below my subjects are those gorgeous cacti) and shoot in such a way so that my camera lens is parallel to a wall (or floor) behind what I am shooting.

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Up close & minimal detailS

Sometimes you just need to get a little closer. Photos like those below highlight one item in detail with very little context. I take photos like this when shooting food, little objects or when I have taken a few wide photos of a place and want to capture more of its unique details.

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Wide & contextUAL

Other times it helps to take a step back. An wide photo has the potential to capture and entire setting including tons of information (and beauty!).

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4. EQUIPMENT

I honestly don't think equipment really matters that much. I have taken pictures with the front facing camera on an iPad before (I implore you not to do this) and although not the best quality I have photos form my trip to Paris I still hold dear! When traveling I alternate between my iPhone and my Sony mirrorless camera - on my last trip I had the 5s with which I took all of my instagram photos. Both of these devices are easy to operate, lightweight and produce very high quality images.

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I hope this little how to helps you take more photos you can cherish forever. Look out for part 2 on how I edit my pics coming soon!

See Part 2 on how I edit photos here

The Best Travel Apps

As glamorous travel is, if we are honest with ourselves travel is stressful. From planning, to just getting around in a new place a vacation can quickly turn into a hustle. I believe travel should be made as simple as possible. From road trips to going abroad these are the apps I trust to take some of the guesswork out of my adventure.

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Getting There

TripIt  TripIt is a very popular app that organizes your trip by allowing you to forward your emailed plane itineraries, car reservations and hotel booking and it automatically chronologically organizes it.

App in the Air App in the air is very similar to trip it and actually can sync information from it, but I prefer its interface. It provides great user added tips for airports and alerts you of time estimations for check-in, security, passport lines. Also it send reminders about boarding, take off and landing and best of all it works offline while taking you in flight. I find this particularly helpful when crossing many timezones or meeting people on other flights.

Passbook  I underrated passbook for far too long. Passbook can organize your flight tickets, accommodations and passes to other attractions in one place, only thing is that it is only available on Apple iOS products I believe.

Airbnb  The airbnb app has a great interface and is the number one way to keep your airbnb bookings organized plus communicate with your hosts and leave your reviews after your stay.

Getting Around

Google Maps  Google maps is probably my number 1 app to have. In some locations you can get your location whether you have data on or not. I also like to create a map for each destination and save locations of all the places I am interested in seeing so if I happen to be in the area I can just pop over and be more spontaneous with my sightseeing.

Google Translate  Google translate has come a long way since my college level french class. While it may have failed me back then, it is now equipped to read a menu or sign using your camera and translate on screen for you!

Speak & Translate  This is a new discovery I made recently and although there is a free option with a limited number of daily translations, I purchased the full version. This app is great if you are in a serious translation pinch, it supports almost all languages you’ll run into and listens then speaks the translation for you.

Official Metro Maps  When looking for a good metro map, find one that works offline or I like to screenshot the map lines I plan on using for the day.

Rail Planner Rail planner and other transportation itinerary apps have saved my skin, especially when traveling around places where english (my native language) isn’t spoken readily and trains are inconsistent (I’m talking to you Italy).

Uber  In case of emergency I like to have uber installed. You can find uber in many countries and is great if you are in a pinch and can’t find or don’t trust local taxis

Seeing Stuff

Trip Advisor  I love trip advisor and their mobile app, although at times difficult to navigate, is still great to scout out user approved places at your destination.

Triposo This series of apps has location specific guides for places worldwide and although I haven’t used them on my trips first glance they look super useful and I plan to revisit on my next adventure.

Official City Guides  Lots of big cities produce their own tourism apps and make them openly available. I relied on these in Barcelona, Rome, Athens and Cinque Terre and not only do they include information on attractions and history on the city, but often times offline maps, transportation information and booking tips.

Museum Guides  Many national and popular museums have their own free apps to help you create your own self-guided tours.