Postcard From Our Traveler: The Power of a Tour Leader

I have no doubt you have heard this many times before, but we wanted to share our enthusiasm about our Tour Leader, Suzanne Noakes! We were greeted at the airport like this was her first group tour! She focused in on each individual’s special interests, was always available for extra bird walks, always had a sense of humor and always kept us fully informed about up-coming activities and all the extras that were added. She was a natural for special touches for special needs—she would say to the local guides, “SPEAK LOUDER, I am hard of hearing!” when in reality, it was my husband Bob who was hard of hearing.

She went out of her way to ensure the safety of all group members, especially on the walks on slippery mud paths—she was always right there to assist. She always made sure to do a personal re-introduction to the chief villagers, before we intruded on their territory, and it was obvious they loved her greetings. And, very best of all, she never rushed us out of any village visit. She gave us plenty of time to explore on our own. We felt the itinerary was an ideal mixture of destinations and cultures and to end up in Tufi was spectacular. We are so glad to have had the extra days—the snorkeling was awesome!

One of Suzanne’s comments really stuck with us. When a bridge was destroyed on our way to the airport in Mt. Hagen, in no time at all, she had a Plan B. We knew we were in good hands when she said “leave the worrying and stress to me—thats what you are paying for!” LOL! Suzanne made the trip exceed our expectations! Thanks so much for this adventure of a lifetime!

– Sue and Bob

Suzanne & the Huli

Sue and Bob embarked on our Small Group Tour Papua New Guinea: Island in the Clouds – Tumbuna
 with a Custom Extension to Tufi to relax and explore the beautiful coastal environment. Asia Travel Specialist, Tom Lastick, planned their itinerary. This was their first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys.

Photography Tips for Your Trip

 Michele WestmorlandWant to take that perfect photo on your next trip? Renowned photographer Michele Westmorland shares her tips for capturing those memorable images.

1.  Ask permission when photographing people.

Respect will get you a long way when photographing people in foreign lands. Engaging a person and getting their approval is the cornerstone of cultural photography. Of course, with large crowds, that is not always possible, but when singling one person out,  just ask or move on.

2.  Pack light and review equipment needs.

Review all your equipment needs and make a list. Not only will this ensure you don’t forget any important gadgets but it will also help you to be selective and abide by airline weight restrictions.

3.  Lenses

I tend to select my lenses based on weight and needs. A wide-angle zoom lens such as a Canon 16-35 will provide the capability of photographing landscapes and large groups of people. A medium zoom, such as a 24–70mm, will give you nice portrait photos or detail shots. Then to finish, a telephoto zoom will provide the best results for wildlife, such as birds.

4.   Details

It’s easy to just focus on capturing the “big picture” but don’t forget to get the details. When taking portraits, focusing on interesting elements such as the hands, an interesting piece of clothing or jewelry or a musical instrument being played.

5.    Circular Polarizer

I never leave home without mine. A polarizer allows those rich forest images or puffy clouds to really pop.

6.   Back-Up Those Images

Don’t rely on just your laptop or viewing device—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about people losing their precious images from device failure. Small portable drives are inexpensive and can give you peace of mind that you will get all of your images home safely.

7.  Why RAW 

If your camera has the ability to shoot in RAW format—use it! RAW format this is like having a negative of your image—it allows you to post-process the images the way you saw the scene through the lens. JPEGs take up less space but they compress the image, limiting your post-processing options.

8.   Know Your Camera

Make sure you understand your camera. I am always happy to help sort out cameras but with so many cameras on the market it’s impossible to know the details of all of them. If you do not know the ins and outs of your camera, bring or download the manual—it will come in handy.

Experience Papua New Guinea with Michele this June on our “Through The Lens” small group trip. Michele Westmorland, a veteran of dozens of trips to Papua New Guinea with deep local connections, will facilitate wonderful cultural interactions and provide expert technical advice.This is travel as artistic endeavor, a deep immersion in the sound, shape and color of the world’s most kaleidoscopic land.

Postcard from Our Traveler: Papua New Guinea! On my Short List of 1,000 Places

Patricia Schultz, author of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, recounts her experience with travel to Papua New Guinea on an Asia Transpacific Journeys group trip:


A belated e-note to wax on about our August trip to PNG  — to say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience is a gross  understatement!  The list of superlatives is long – from the local  people, to those who comprised our group (all of whom had glowing things to say about Jarrod and Asia Transpacific Journeys btw — am cc’ing Jarrod on this so he  can bask in the praise, though I imagine he hears it often!) to our  leader Suzanne who everyone agreed was possibly the nicest and brightest  and funnest guide we’d ever come across – and that was one very well-traveled group of people (and one of the joys of the trip for that  reason).

The trip was especially wonderful to me, as I had  proofread my last chapter for the 1000 Places revision on the plane from  NY to Sydney — and for the first time in 4 years, I was able to  truly feel liberated and free to immerse myself entirely in the adventure  without any stress and deadline concerns. Now THAT was priceless!

So the revision (a complete rewrite) and gorgeous app for 1000 Places are out Nov 15 – just in time for Christmas!! :)

Big Book Tour Jan-March.

Many many (many!) thanks again for everything.

Warm regards,

Patricia Schultz
New York, NY

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Patricia Schultz is the author of, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. This was her second trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys, and we look forward to helping her explore many more of the destinations on her list.

See Another Side of Papua New Guinea

Asia Transpacific Journeys offers once-in-a-lifetime tours to Papua New Guinea, taking travelers to remote tribal villages, sing-sing celebrations and wildlife explorations. Although there is much to discover on land, travel to Papua New Guinea and you’ll find a wealth of incredible uninhabited islands some of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world.

On True North’s Adventures in Paradise cruises, travelers are able to relax on a series of isolated deserted islands, such as the Lusancay Islands, that are ideal for swimming, snorkeling and fishing. Travelers also have the opportunity to embark on thrilling helicopter flights to the Isurava Memorial on the Kokoda Track and then discover the wrecks of WWII ships, planes and submarines while snorkeling in the shallow waters of Kavieng.

The True North’s Adventures in Paradise cruise is a wonderful add-on to any of Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Small Group Trips to Papua New Guinea. For a traveler who wants to experience the land, the people and the sea of Papua New Guinea, there really is no better way to go.

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Learn more about Asia Transpacific Journeys‘ trips to Papua New Guinea and True North cruises by speaking to a Papua New Guinea Travel Specialist at 800-642-2742.

Interview with Traveler and Award-Winning Photographer Dimitra Stasinopoulou

Among the things that make our jobs so rewarding are the special people who travel with us. Dimitra Stasinopoulou has been to Asia four times with Asia Transpacific Journeys, and photography is her means of connecting with local cultures. She has traveled with us to India, Bhutan and Papua New Guinea and has published books about her travels. But the books are not for sale—Dimitra gives them away. She has given away nearly 10,000 books so far.

We called Dimitra in her native Athens to talk travel, photography, and how she finds joy in “giving the books away.”

ATJ: What drove you to begin photographing people and producing such beautiful books?

DS: “Five years ago I was 52, I quit my job at Chase Manhattan Bank in Athens, in order to be involved in the pharmaceutical business my husband has in Romania. This was a big change in my life. I was feeling depressed there until I bought a camera and began taking pictures, mainly of the local people and their life. I had never photographed anything before. This was like opening a door for me, to really see the people. I published a book called Romania of my Heart. In this book I tried to express my love for this country that has moved me with its genuine character, its beauty and its boundless hospitality. The 4,000 copies printed have been offered as a gift both in Greece and Romania. For this book they gave me the UNESCO prize, since, as they said, it has deepened the friendship between our two countries. The book was officially presented to Greece by the President of Romania. After distributing the book I received many letters, but what I cherish the most is the Romanian people, who, as they told me, felt again proud for their country. It was a labor of love and they understood it. It changed my life.”

ATJ: In your book, Bhutan—Smiling Faces From the Roof of the World you take many portraits and seem to have a gift for engaging people. Can you comment on that?

DS:  “Communicating with people for me is the most interesting and rewarding experience. In Bhutan my eyes opened to a completely different world. It is so peaceful and the people are so innocent and welcome you wherever you go. I believe they understood that I really liked them and that I wanted to communicate with them. It was very special.”

ATJ: How do you go about getting someone’s permission to take their photo?

DS: “I never ask. I just engage. If you ask, then they freeze, everything changes. With my photography I try to really see the person. I smile and they smile back. That’s the permission. My camera does not come between us, it helps me to really see their heart. They feel this too.

I don’t look for perfect light or position. I don’t know how to adjust the camera for this type of thing. I just try to communicate with people.  Even if I knew I wouldn’t have time enough to adjust the camera since it is only a second that you capture.”

Dimitra Stasinopolou © All rights reserved | Girl at Pushkar, India

ATJ: You also just published an amazing book of photographs called India—Unity In Diversity. Can you highlight some of the differences and similarities between photography in India and Bhutan?

DS: “Bhutan is unique. There are so few people living there. They have had very little contact with outsiders. India is quite different, India has a billion people, it can feel overwhelming at times. But, everywhere I went in India, I met an unparalleled cultural heritage and magnificent people, sometimes sad in their poverty, but always positive and peaceful within. Hindu people are the most compassionate, sweet and calm people anyone can come across. Violence is never part of their emotions. It is these people, with their disarming innocence, in reality, that represent the biggest treasure of the country. Take the slums—the people are smiling, beautiful, clean and hard working. I decided to attempt to capture with my lens the human dignity of the Indian people, their sweetness and their optimism. The qualities of these people are so strong that conditions of life are a secondary matter.  I am really exhausted after the India project but I will always remember Indian people and their smiles.”

ATJ: Do you have a favorite place or destination for your photography?

DS: “It’s very difficult to say. Every country has its own beauty. Bhutan is special, very quiet and calm. The people are smiling all the time. You must be there to feel the peace. It’s one of the happiest places on Earth.  India is also exceptional, Papua New Guinea is unique.  Every place has its own beauty.”

ATJ: Do you use all digital technology or also film?

DS: “I only use digital. That’s how I started and I think it is unique, if a person like me that knows absolutely nothing about cameras is able to take good pictures.”

ATJ: What type of camera do you use?

DS: “Canon. I started with a Canon EOS 30D, 50D and now I shoot with a Canon Mark II 5D. I am used with them and also very pleased. I don’t think I will ever change.”

ATJ: Can you give a tip or two to aspiring photographers?

DS: “Shoot from the heart. Don’t think about the quality of the picture. Engage emotionally.  Share with other people. Today’s technology is so huge, a picture can be fixed, but it should be as close to reality as possible. No Photoshop, don’t try to turn the sky blue. The technical things are not important to me.”

ATJ: Do you have any other books planned?

Dimitra Stasinopolou © All rights reserved | Boy in Mt. Hagan, Papua New Guinea

DS: “Maybe the next one will be for Papua New Guinea. I am also going to China’s Silk Road with Asia Transpacific Journeys in May. Maybe China will be the next one. I don’t know yet.”

ATJ: Where can someone buy your books?

DS: “They are not for sale. I give them away to people I love, to people I admire, to friends, so that they pass them on to their friends, and of course to people I meet while traveling—fellow travelers and local people. It’s the biggest gift to give myself, for me to be able to give to others. For example in Romania while I was at a diplomatic reception I gave a local woman who was attending the coat check the book Romania Of My Heart. She thanked me so sincerely, and said she had been working at that coat check for 30 years but no one had ever given her a gift before. When she said that to me she gave me a gift to remember and treasure for the rest of my life. She and I both made a friend that day.

It’s so personal. I put my soul in these books. I couldn’t sell them or connect them with money. I don’t think a professional photographer would spend thousands of hours putting a book with more than 950 pages together. It’s a huge effort, it takes months. It could never pay. A publisher is now asking me to reprint the Bhutan book and sell it to India. If that happens I will donate any money away to charity. I know I am very lucky I can do this and I also know that so many other much more talented photographers could have made an even better book if they had the means. I believe the most important things in our life are given free, so what I am doing is the minimum I can do. I am a happy person doing this now.”

ATJ: Thank you so much Dimitra, it has been our sincere pleasure to talk with you.

DS: “I want to make a comment about your company. I feel I am the luckiest person on earth to be able to discover Asia Transpacific Journeys out of so many companies existing. I really believe you are working in such an exceptional way that you are also the ones to be credited for the books, at least for Bhutan and India. You organize things in such a way that you made me discover the best of each country. The personnel is so friendly (especially Rebecca Mazzaro with whom I talk the most) and well informed and always understood what I am looking for and guide me accordingly. I am always traveling alone, and in the beginning I thought it wouldn’t be easy. Most of the times the rest of the group are Americans, but they all are so very kind with me, making me feel at home with them. These pictures are a wonderful keepsake of our trips together. I am honored to have traveled with them and feel so privileged to have them as my friends. I thank you from my heart for existing and enabling me to make my dreams come true.

Since English is not my native language it is not so easy for me to express what I feel but I hope you understand.”

Dimitra in Ladakh

Dimitra Stasinopoulou is the recipient of the International Aperture Award for her photography and the artist behind three books of photography. Her book on Romania was awarded a UNESCO prize. She picked up a camera for the first time five years ago.