Note: Retirement is more than just a math problem. Yes, money is important, but you need meaningful activities and relationships too. When money and meaning intersect, you have the chance for something special. With that in mind, I’m starting a new periodic series called “aMUSEments” that will focus on a particular trip, activity, idea or adventure. Each article will be packed with links and resources to help you dream, plan and do. I hope they act as a muse to stir your imagination and help you plan your own adventures. Enjoy!
America’s Best Idea
Writer and historian Wallace Stegner called the national parks “the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” Filmmaker Ken Burns summarized this sentiment when he named his wonderful national parks documentary “America’s Best Idea.”
With spring in the air, now is the perfect time to begin planning an adventure in one of the parks. Incidentally, I’m eating my own cooking on this recommendation. In about a month, I’m heading to the Grand Canyon to hike it from one side to the other and back again. Rim to Rim to Rim. My family and I will also be hitting a few of the other parks this year to do some hiking and camping. Assuming I survive the GC, I’ll let you know how it goes.
What they are
There are 59 national parks that cover 51 million acres in 27 states and two U.S. Territories. They contain some of the most beautiful scenery and natural wonders anywhere in the world. The first National Park was Yellowstone. It was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. President Theodore Roosevelt established more national parks (5) than any other president. California has the most (9) and Alaska has the biggest (Wrangell-St. Elias) as well as the least visited (Gates of the Arctic). The most visited parks are the Great Smokey Mountains and the Grand Canyon.
List of Parks
Here’s a list of all 59 parks.
It’s fun to visit exotic, far flung places, but let’s not forget that we have some pretty incredible places right here in the United States and the national parks are the crown jewels of that collection. They are relatively inexpensive to visit and because they’re spread out across the states there is a variety and selection that is tough to beat.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. There will be special programs at the different parks to celebrate the milestone and there will be 16 days where entrance fees will be waived in order to encourage people to visit. Throw cheap gases prices in the mix and this is the perfect year to plan a road trip to one or more parks.
Why retirement is the ideal time to visit
Retirement is the ideal time to visit the national parks. Why? For starters, you can get a lifetime annual park pass for $10 once you hit age 62. That same pass is normally $80 per year. Also, because you have a flexible schedule during retirement, you can visit the parks during the off season when things are less expensive and there are few crowds. Finally, there tons of volunteer (or even employment) opportunities geared towards seniors.
If you’re planning on visiting a few parks each year, it’s probably cheaper to buy an Annual Park Pass. The pass is normally $80, but is only $10 for a lifetime pass for those 62 or older and free for current members of the military. In addition to the pass, some parks require you to apply for permits if you plan on camping or staying in the backcountry. You can find specific requirements at the NPS website for the park you’re considering.
Best time of year to visit
This depends on the park, of course. If you’re visiting Death Valley, best to go January through March before the heat becomes unbearable. If, on the other hand, you’re heading to Glacier National Park, go in June when the weather is warming and the park is in bloom. Just Google “best time to visit <park name>” or visit the park’s official website to get recommendations on the best time to visit. In my opinion, the worst time to visit many of the parks is when the weather is the hottest and the crowds are the biggest. That means June and July for most parks when school kids are on summer break. Thankfully, one of the benefits of retirement is the flexible schedule so you can avoid peak crowds and visit in the shoulder seasons (just before or after peak season). September and October are often ideal months because the crowds have gone and the weather is mild.
What to do
Each park has a unique list of things to do and see like Old Faithful in Yellowstone, Half Dome in Yosemite, giant Redwoods in Sequoia and the Grand Canyon in…well…the Grand Canyon. In addition, there are plenty of other activities in the parks like hiking, camping, horseback riding, rafting, spelunking, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, swimming, rock climbing, wildlife watching, sandboarding, hang gliding and leaf peeping. There is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to things to see and do.
There are tons of volunteer opportunities in the parks (usually in exchange for free lodging). You can get more information about the Volunteer In Parks (VIP) program here or find specific volunteer opportunities here.
Most of the official park websites have Trip Planner pages. Just visit the NPS site for the park you want to visit and look for the link that says something like “Plan your visit” or “Trip Planner.” Here’s the Trip Planner page for the Grand Canyon so you can see an example.
Can I take my pet?
Most National Parks don’t allow pets, but there are some parks that do. Acadia (Maine), Shenandoah (Virginia) and Cuyahoga Valley (Ohio) have hundreds of miles of hiking trails open to you and your pet. Other parks, like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, don’t allow pets in certain areas of the park, but do have limited trails or other parts of the park where you can take your pet as long as they’re on a leash. If you want to take your pet, do some research before you go. The NPS website for each park lists their official pet policy.
There are thousands of videos online about the national parks, but I wanted to highlight a series by Jim and Will Pattiz called More Than Just Parks. They are brothers and filmmakers and have set a goal to create a short film using time lapse photography for each of the national parks. The videos are amazing. Click on the Zion video for starters. That 4 minute video will do more to convince you to get out and enjoy the parks than anything I could ever say.
If you’re thinking of visiting a park you might want to pick up a book or guide to help supplement the information you get from the park’s website. Lonely Planet makes great guide books and they have guides designed for many of the parks available at Amazon. Also, on April 19 they are publishing National Parks of America: Experience America’s 59 National Parks. It will be packed with photos as well as information, tips and sample itineraries for all 59 parks. If you’re looking for amazing photos, Ansel Adams in the National Parks is also a great option.
There is a new IMAX film called National Parks Adventure that is narrated by Robert Redford. It not only provides a history of the parks, but follows modern day adventurers as they explore some of the best things the parks have to offer. Here is a list of cities and theaters where the film is playing.
As I mentioned earlier, Ken Burns has a wonderful, six part documentary on the parks. It used to be available for streaming on Netflix, but I don’t see it there currently. You can try checking out a copy from your local library or it’s available for purchase at Amazon if you’d like to buy a copy.
Photos by Jeff Gunn, Srini Sundarrajan, Michael Balint, Arches National Park and Tupulak. Used under Creative Commons License. Note that several of the Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. That means Amazon will pay me a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you make a purchase using one of the links.
Sleeping bag? Check. Tent? Check. Pocketknife? Check. Horse? Wait, what? For years my father-in-law has invited me on a cowboy camping trip that involves a four-hour horseback ride into the Wind River Range in Wyoming. It’s never quite worked out in the past, but this year I was determined to make it happen, which is how I found myself on the back of my trusty steed (a.k.a. El Diablo) riding into the mountains on the Friday before Labor Day.
It wasn’t just me. My father-in-law was there, of course, but also his brother-in-law Rusty (the organizer of the annual trip) and Rusty’s three sons. We were each riding a horse and then we had three packhorses that were carrying all of our gear. We made it to our remote campsite, unloaded the horses and began setting everything up. What followed was four days of hiking, riding, fishing and telling stories around the campfire, all while miles away from the nearest cell phone signal. Needless to say, it was a great time.
When the trip was over and we got back to civilization, I took a much-needed shower and started the long drive home. I had plenty of windshield time so I thought back on the trip and a few takeaways came to mind.
There will always be reasons to say no. As I mentioned earlier, my father-in-law has been inviting me on this trip for years. As much as I wanted to go, I had just as many reasons to say “no” this time as I had previously. Life is always busy. There will always be schedules, commitments and to-do lists. If you wait for the stars to align perfectly, you’ll never do anything.
“Yes” is more complicated than no, but much more rewarding too. It can often be complicated and costly to say “yes”, but that is usually the price of admission for doing interesting/fulfilling things. I had to take several days off work. The drive was 11 hours each way. And did I mention the horse? “Yes” gets you out of your comfort zone. It costs time and money. It takes effort. But to summarize Mark Twain, someday we’ll all regret the times we said “no” much more than the times we said “yes.”
Opportunities are finite. You and I will only have so many chances to say “yes.” To take the trip. To mend the relationship. To embrace the new opportunity. Even if the world were perfect, our opportunities are finite and—newsflash—the world is far from perfect. Case in point. Both my father-in-law and uncle-in-law are battling cancer. They’re doing well, but illness is always a good reminder that you won’t always have the opportunity to say “yes.”
Your body is in a constant state of entropy. The horseback ride up the mountain was difficult, but the horseback ride down the mountain was one of the craziest things I’ve ever done (think “The Man From Snowy River”). I managed it in my 40s, but I don’t think I’d want to attempt it in my 60s. As we get older, things change. Our bodies start to break down (entropy) and doors begin to close on certain opportunities. I wrote about this concept in The Funny Thing About Time. Take a minute to read it because it’s a good reminder.
Routine is the enemy of time. A guy by the name of Jed Jenkins said that and he is so right. When you’re stuck in a routine, time flies by. Getting out of your routine slows things down. It helps you look at things differently. It refreshes and makes you better when you get back. Four days in the mountains seemed like a really long time. Not because it wasn’t fun, but because I was doing something different and new. I had fresh eyes. I was having new experiences. Rather than my brain being on autopilot, I was aware and focused and present. If you regularly fill your life with new experiences, it won’t seem so short and hurried.
How about you? What travel plans are on your to do list? What have you wanted to get around to “someday”? What can you do today, this week or this month, to make those plans a reality? Don’t keep putting it off. Just go already.
When I was in college, I wanted to take a photography class as an elective. Unfortunately, I was required to take “Fundamentals of Drawing” as a prerequisite. I can’t draw to save my life, but I gave it a shot, assuming that the teacher would grade according to the “finance student who wants to take the photography class” curve.
On the first day of class the professor said, “I know many of you are here because you need this class to take the photography class. I am not an easy grader. If your drawings are bad, you will fail the class.” And that’s the story of how I ended up not taking a photography class in college.
Thankfully, we live in a completely different world today. Most of the rules, roadblocks and gatekeepers are gone and you can learn just about anything you want online, often for free.
Want an example? Just a few weeks ago I learned how to tile a floor watching a 5-minute YouTube video. Then I tiled my floor. It turned out great. I learned how to adjust my sprinkler heads the same way. Ditto with how to play new songs on my guitar.
YouTube is great, but sometimes you want a more formal learning process so you can take a deeper dive into a subject. For that, I’ve been experimenting with three companies that provide thousands of interesting online courses.
What it is. Coursera is an online education website started by a former Stanford professor. The company has agreements with more than 120 top universities (e.g. Princeton, Yale and Stanford) to make their most popular and interesting courses available free of charge to anyone who wants to take them.
How it works. Courses are a combination of videos, assignments and tests and usually take four to six weeks to complete. You study at your own pace and can go back to review material if needed or pause the lecture if you want to look something up, do further research or cook dinner.
What it costs. The courses are free for anyone who wants to take them, but you can pay a nominal fee (usually between $50 and $95) if you want to receive a course certificate that you can show a potential employer or list on your resume.
Types of classes. Imagine a college course catalog and that’s what the list of Coursera courses looks like. Want to take a nutrition class from Johns Hopkins? Check. How about a music class from the Berklee College of Music? Check. Computer programming at Stanford? Law at the University of London? The history of Beatles music at the University of Rochester? Check, check and check.
What it is. CreativeLive was founded by the super talented Chase Jarvis. If you’ve ever seen an ad or commercial for Nike, Apple, RedBull or Starbucks, chances are you’ve seen Jarvis’ photography and video work. The idea behind the company is to bring together some of the top creative minds in the world and do live classes in their areas of expertise.
How it works. Browse the list of upcoming classes and sign up for whatever sounds interesting. The live classes are often free, but if you miss the class or want to browse the catalog of hundreds of past classes, you can take those for a small fee.
What it costs. Again, the live classes are often free, but if you sign up for a past class from the catalog, they usually cost anywhere from $29 to $99 (some are more) depending on how in depth the class is.
Types of classes. There are classes in areas like photography, videography, design, music, money, travel and life. For example, I recently took a class on travel hacking (taking great trips for less money) taught by a guy who just finished visiting every country in the world. I’m also signed up to take an upcoming class on travel photography in July. Those are just a few examples, but there are hundreds of others to choose from.
What it is. Like the others we’ve discussed so far, Udemy is an online learning platform. Rather than providing just college courses (like Coursera) or focusing on a narrow range of topics (like CreativeLive), Udemy offers a broad range of skill building classes in a ton of different areas.
How it works: Sign up by creating a user name and log in and then start browsing courses to take. And if you have a particular area of expertise, Udemy makes it easy for you to create your own course and sell it on their platform.
What it costs: Some classes are free, but most cost between $29 and $99.
Types of classes: There are more than 30,000 courses in areas like business and entrepreneurship, academics, the arts, health and fitness, language, music, and technology.
One of our core beliefs here at Intentional Retirement is that curiosity and a willingness to learn will often result in an interesting and rewarding retirement. The resources discussed above make that easier than ever.
P.S. A little weekly inspiration from over on our Facebook Page:
I think it’s fair to say that most of us believe we are rational beings and we make rational decisions. I just finished reading a book, however, that calls that premise into question.
In Predictably Irrational, professor Dan Ariely uses cleverly designed experiments to show time and again that many of the daily decisions we make—from the mundane to the monumental—are completely irrational. His point is that these irrationalities are so systematic and predictable, that we can understand them and then compensate for them so we can make better decisions.
The section of the book that really caught my eye related to the concept of anchoring. Anchoring is our tendency to rely on the first piece of information we are presented with (the “anchor”) when making decisions. As the name implies, the anchor influences all of the related decisions that come after it. If you examine your life—how you spend your money, how you spend your day, where you buy coffee, who you hang out with, how much television you watch—you can likely trace those habits or repetitive behaviors back to some sort of anchor.
What does this have to do with making retirement decisions? Again, our first decisions on a particular matter tend to act as anchors for the subsequent decisions we make in that area. When you enter retirement you make a whole bunch of new decisions. Those decisions—the who, what, where, when and why of retirement—will resonate for years to come. You should be very intentional as you make them. Professor Ariely:
“We should also pay particular attention to the first decision we make in what is going to be a long stream of decisions. When we face such a decision, it might seem to us that this is just one decision, without large consequences; but in fact the power of the first decision can have such a long-lasting effect that it will percolate into our future decisions for years to come. Given this effect, the first decision is crucial, and we should give it an appropriate amount of attention.”
In other words, the first weeks and months of retirement are critical. Many people enter retirement with the best of intentions, but because they don’t understand this concept of anchoring, one of two things happens. First, they are so deeply anchored to previous decisions that when they are confronted with the new paradigm of retirement, they talk themselves out of things, even if it is something that they have been dreaming about for years. For example, “I’d love to travel, but that’s just not me.”
Second, they transition into retirement without a lot of intention or urgency and they assume that they will have plenty of time to figure things out as they go. But while they’re waiting for the dust to settle, they make decisions early on—the first 30 days, 60 days, a year—that end up acting as anchors for years to come and that prevent them from pursuing their ideal retirement. So what are some ways that we can avoid this fate?
Stop. I’ve talked many times before about a “stop doing” list. Never is that list more critical than when you transition into retirement. By cutting out old obligations that are no longer relevant to your new phase of life, you allow yourself space and breathing room to focus on your new pursuits, activities, obligations and commitments and give them the time and attention they deserve.
Shake things up. If you find yourself in a rut and anchored to decades of old habits and routines, it’s helpful to have big, new plans—like moving, traveling, or volunteering—that will force you to steer off the well-worn path you’ve become accustomed to and proactively pursue your new goals. If you don’t have specific new plans, it’s easy to fall into a routine that doesn’t look much different from your working years, save for sleeping in a little bit and having more time to run errands.
Keep a journal. As you transition into retirement, spend a little time at the end of each day journaling. Write about the emotions, feelings, experiences and changes related to the transition. Most of all, write about the decisions you’re confronted with. If you take time at the end of each day to think and write about those decisions in the context of what you want the next 20 or 30 years of your life to look like, then you’ll likely make decisions that put you on the path to where you want to go.
Have a response ready. When you retire, you will be confronted with a number of people and organizations that will want a piece of your newfound time and freedom. Rather than hastily committing to something you might later regret, have a ready response that defers any decision. Here’s the one I suggest: “Thanks for asking. You know, I’m new to this whole retirement thing and I’m still trying to figure out what my schedule will look like, so let me think about it and then I’ll get back to you.” If it isn’t something that fits with your plans, follow up later with a quick call or email to decline.
Remember, the decisions you make in the first weeks and months of retirement will resonate for years. Therefore:
- Have specific plans.
- Be intentional.
- Have a sense of urgency.
- Understand the resistance you’ll feel if your new plans conflict with your old anchors and be prepared to push through it.
- Keep a journal to help you think through your daily decisions
- Cut old commitments that aren’t a fit for your new phase of life
- Be slow to make new commitments.
To all of my readers in the U.S., have a great Memorial Day Weekend! And to those outside the U.S., just have a great weekend. 🙂
Note: This post is part of a weekend series I’m doing throughout 2015 that is focused on fun things to do (or learn) during retirement (i.e. bucket list items). I hope you enjoy them and use them as inspiration for your own adventures. Congrats to Donna from our Facebook page who was the winner of this week’s giveaway. There’s a copy of my book The Bell Lap on the way to you Donna.
There’s just something about a good hike. Maybe it’s because modern life so often has us cooped up inside. Maybe it’s the fresh air and scenery. Maybe it’s just getting a chance to stretch our legs while we’re still healthy and active. Whatever the reason, I’ve noticed that retirees tend to front load their Bucket Lists with activities that include walking and hiking.
That’s why I jumped at the chance to share a story with you today from my friends over at One Road at a Time. Patti and Abi started their blog a few years ago and are writing about their adventures as they try to see the world (you guessed it) one road at a time.
When I saw that they were hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, I emailed Patti and asked her if I could interview her for an article on hiking the Camino. She graciously agreed and when they were taking a break to let their blisters heal (the hike takes more than a month), she took time to answer a few questions. Enjoy.
For those that aren’t familiar with it, tell us about the Camino de Santiago (e.g. What is it? How far? How long does it take? Etc.)
The Camino de Santiago – a UNESCO World Heritage site – is an ancient pilgrimage. It is believed the ashes of St. James are buried in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela and pilgrims dating back centuries would travel the Camino to pay homage to St. James. It is a pilgrimage of faith, or dedication, or discovery, or a personal challenge. The distance from the French town of St. Jean Pied de Port, to Santiago, Spain is about 800 kms (500 miles) and most pilgrims walk it in about 35 days, although there are many pilgrims who walk just a section(s) and there are those who walk sections of the Camino on different visits. Every pilgrim walks his/her own pace on the Camino. We know and have talked to people who have done the entire walk multiple times. There are pilgrims who also bike the Camino.
Where are you right now? How many miles have you gone so far?
Right now, April 30, we are in Leon and we have walked about 150 miles. We walked from St. Jean Pied de Port, in France, to Burgos, Spain and from Burgos we took the train to Leon. We chose not to walk across the meseta (approx. 100 miles) because of my foot ailments.
Sometimes the “why” of these trips evolves over time or only comes months or years later once you’ve had time to process the experience, but what initially made you want to do it? Did it just sound like a fun challenge or was there some other reason?
We jokingly say we have no idea why we are walking. We love to walk and we wanted to see Spain. We have no deeply profound or spiritual reason. We are here, living it. But I can tell you it was important to us to do it now, while we are able.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Blisters! I have been plagued with blisters on both feet. At home, we walk all the time, up to 20 – 25 miles per week and I have no memory of having a blister in the past decade or more. Here on the Camino, I refer to myself as a walking blister. Because of the blisters, we chose not to walk the Meseta, using the days instead to rest and heal in Leon before continuing on to Santiago.
Where do you stay on the route?
We stay in hotels, B&B’s, pensions, casa rurals, etc. because we want the privacy and because we want to ensure a reasonably good night’s sleep. And let’s face it, we want to be comfortable! Many pilgrims, of all ages, stay in albergues (hostels), which are either municipally or privately owned. Municipal albergues are usually free, asking for a donation and the private albergues charge anywhere from 5 to 10 euros for a bed in a dormitory or 30 to 40 euros for a private room. Albergue accommodations are most often co-ed dormitory style.
Have the people been nice so far?
Yes! Pilgrims have a comradery because they all understand what it means to be on the Camino. The locals are also incredibly nice. There is a phrase, “Buen Camino” and people passing by will just stop and say, “Buen Camino.” And the locals are so willing to help with directions or information if needed.
Are there any pros and cons to doing the trip with your spouse?
I can’t imagine doing this with anyone other than my husband, Abi. There is nothing easy about making this journey and having the emotional support of my hubby is essential. Plus, we know what the other one needs, wants and likes. There is no second guessing.
I’ve heard two types of fun described. Type 1 fun is fun while you’re doing it. Type 2 fun is painful and challenging while you’re doing it, but fun once it’s over and you have a chance to reflect back on it. Does the Camino fall more into the second category?
Absolutely! About day 5 we asked each other, “Are we having fun yet?” The answer was a resounding, “No!” Fun is going to Disneyland or playing cards and drinking tequila with good friends. The Camino is damn hard, physically demanding. But it is also incredibly rewarding and if you want to get to know a country and its people, walk across it.
What is the typical daily cost (food, hotel, etc.)?
The cost is really determined by your journey. I know a young woman who walked the Camino solo and I believe she averaged about $33 per day because she stayed in albergues and ate pilgrim meals. I would guesstimate we average $100 per day for the two of us. Our average accommodation stay is $60. Pilgrim meals (a preset 3-course meal) average $11 – $13 and they can be found most anywhere. Incidentals such as snacks, toothpaste, sunscreen and band-aids, we purchase along the way.
Did you train for it at all?
We did. We did a lot of extra walking for a couple of months before we left home, but we traveled for 5 weeks in Europe and the Middle East before starting to walk, so it didn’t really pay off.
Do you meet a lot of people and/or participate in different traditions/gatherings associated with the walk or is everyone pretty focused on the hiking?
We’ve met and talked with people from all over the world but there aren’t any traditions/gatherings that I know of, although there is a large social media network. I believe there is more social interaction with those who stay in the albergues because after all you’re eating and sleeping with so many others. During the day we’re pretty much just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. We have however, come across groups of up to 20 that appear to be walking together and there are organized tours available also.
Any tips for people considering doing the walk?
Don’t do this on a whim! I researched for over 2 years. I believe the most critical component in preparing for this walk is your gear. The right shoes, the right socks, a pack that fits well and choosing wisely what you will carry with you because every ounce counts when you have to carry it. Do your homework.
Any short/fun stories or travel serendipity you’d like to share?
The owner of our hotel kidnapped us. It’s a long story. Those interested can read about it over here.
Do you have any major takeaways, life lessons, etc. from your walk so far?
Yes! Don’t jinx yourself by saying you never get blisters! Other than that not really, but ask me again at the end of our journey.
Anything else you’d like to mention about the experience that I didn’t ask about?
The terrain of the Camino tests the walker from beginning to end. On day 1 we climbed over the Pyrenees Mtn. with a summit elevation of 4,600’ and we had to slog through snow and mud. I’ve had an ongoing debate about which is the lesser of 2 evils, uphill or downhill? Loose rocky downhill grades to flat broad farm roads to asphalt to washed away sections of the trail; the Camino throws everything at you. Walking in the spring has gifted us with the most beautiful vistas anyone can imagine.
Tell us a bit about your blog “One Road at a Time.”
I launched One Road at a Time in October of 2012. It started as a creative outlet for me; I love to write and tell stories. I try to capture the human interest side of the story with details and photos. I designed every aspect of the site, with the support of my husband, Abi, and my wizard webmaster. To get to know me and Abi a bit better scroll through the archives and read a few of our posts. You’ll find a variety of content including classic road trips, hospitality intrigue and adventures abroad. We retired early and downsized our lifestyle and while we don’t live large, we have a home base and the resources to travel. By sharing our journey we hope to inspire others to redefine retirement…One Road at a Time.
Thanks Abi and Patti! Good luck with the rest of your walk.
Note: This post is part of a weekend series I’m doing throughout 2015 that is focused on fun things to do (or learn) during retirement (i.e. bucket list items). I hope you enjoy them and use them as inspiration for your own adventures. Congrats to Dennis from our email subscribers who was the winner of this week’s giveaway. There’s an iTunes gift card on the way to your inbox Dennis. Feel free to use it toward the purchase of the time lapsing app discussed below.
Have you ever watched one those cool time lapse videos and asked yourself “I wonder how they did that?” Me too. So I added “learn to time lapse” to my bucket list. Time lapse is one of those things that has become infinitely more approachable with the advent of apps and the smart phone. Making a time lapse used to involve complicated and expensive equipment (which you can definitely still use if you want to make super high quality videos), but now just about anyone can make a cool time lapse video with equipment they already have in their pocket. Here’s an easy guide on how to make time lapse videos with your smart phone.
What is time lapse?
Before jumping in, let’s explain what time lapse is. Many people incorrectly assume that time lapse is just shooting a video and then speeding it up. In actuality, time lapse is a series of still photos that are strung together and played back to create a moving sequence. What makes it interesting is that the rate at which the photos are played back is faster than the rate at which they were captured. This allows you to see movement that your eye wouldn’t normally pick up on. For example, you could take a picture of clouds every 10 seconds and then play those pictures back at 30 frames per second and you’d see the clouds rapidly changing and moving across the sky.
What equipment do you need?
For beginners, all you should need is your smart phone, a tripod and an app to help you sequence and render the photos. The app I use is Lapse It, which is available for both iPhone and Android. (Note: Some smart phones like the iPhone have a time lapse setting, but it doesn’t allow you to control any of the settings, so I prefer to use the app). If you already have a tripod, you’ll need an adapter that will hold your smart phone.
Step 1: Compose the photo
One of the key benefits of time lapse is movement, so when composing your shot, you want to look for things with some sort of movement (e.g. clouds, sunrise, tides, traffic, etc.). Your camera needs to be still while taking the photos, so find an interesting scene, set your camera up on the tripod and you’re ready to go. Note: Try to set up your camera where people won’t be walking in front of it (unless people are the subject of your time lapse).
Step 2: Adjust the settings
Once you’re camera is set up, you’ll need to set the frame rate. That is the number of seconds (or minutes) between each photo. Lapse It allows you to easily adjust the frame rate based on what you’re trying to capture. If something is moving relatively quickly, you can set your frame to capture a photo every few seconds. If it’s moving more slowly (sunrise for example), you can set your frame rate to capture a photo every 10-15 seconds.
Step 3: Take the photos
Once you’ve chosen your subject, set up your camera and adjusted the settings, just hit the “capture” button to start taking photos. At this point you can sit back and relax, because it can take a bit to get enough photos for the video. For example, if you plan on playing photos back at 30 frames per second and you want a 30 second video, then you need 900 photos. If you’re taking a picture of clouds every 10 seconds and you want to take 900 photos, then you need to take photos for 2.5 hours.
Step 4: Render the images
Once you’ve taken all the photos you need, just hit “stop” and Lapse It will automatically bring up the settings for rendering the final images. This is where you can choose the playback speed, add music or filters, trim the video, etc. Each time you adjust a setting, you can play back the sequence to see what your final video will look like. When you have it like you want it, just hit “render” and Lapse It will complete the project. Once it’s done you can save the video to your camera roll or share it to social media like Instagram or Facebook.
The final product
What does the final product look like? I was in Belize a few weeks ago and took a quick time lapse of the sunrise. I’ll put it below, but if you’re reading this post in your email, you may need to visit Intentional Retirement to actually watch the playback. I’m still learning the ropes myself, so this isn’t the best quality in the world, but you get the idea. Now you can give it a try yourself.