I only got my driver’s license just before turning 25. This is not because I was intentionally avoiding it I just never needed it travelling around, living in big cities. But as I started taking wildlife photography more and more seriously, I felt it was detrimental to my opportunities to go out and find some cool animals. Saying that, I only rent a car on the odd weekend, being put off by the cost of petrol more than anything else, and I still use my old bag of tricks regularly. Welcome to my world…
Planning ahead is key to not only find out how to get somewhere but where to go.
If I’m looking for a particular animal/species to observe, I usually go to nature reserve websites first. A website like the RSPB (don’t know if there’s an equivalent for the US) has great species summaries and can give you a rough indication of where a species might be present and you can narrow it down from there. Otherwise it’s worth having a look on a photosharing website like Flickr or 500px and see if any photos of that species has a tag or a mention of where it was taken. If your interest is in birds especially, most local bird watching groups have websites where they report sightings, so you might find a location you otherwise never would have heard of! For the Bristol area I find Avon Birding really useful.
If you’re just looking to go to a particular area, then the two most useful websites I’ve found are Treckr.co.uk which I stumbled across randomly, and wildlifeextra.com – great resources for locations in the UK.
Other things to look out for are the weather forecasts (though they might of course be wrong!) and the sunrise/sunset times and locations – for a great little app check out the photographer’s ephemeris.
Wherever you go, public transportation will undoubtedly play a part in your travel plans. I’ve had a bit of an issue lately with first great western and missing connections, so beware it may not always go to plan (especially if you want to catch the early hours!)
Relying on public transportation, especially if you’re abroad travelling, it means either of two things – you won’t be travelling to the most remote locations. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just keep it in mind and make the most of it. You can still find some wonderful places around the UK that are well-connected such as the Farne Islands, or Loch Lomond in Scotland.
Secondly, you’ll need expert pre-planning. Depending on where you want to go, what connections you’ll need to take, and how easy it is for you to understand where to get them from, be prepared for a few bumps along the way.
With hitch-hiking safety comes first. It’s not for everyone, and if you’re not comfortable with it, don’t do it.
It can be a great way to get to places inaccessible by public transport. I have found people in the countryside more open to taking travellers.
The only problem with this is that if you have someone driving you thinks they know what you want, you might either end up somewhere else all together or be stuck going along with someone’s plans that you didn’t intend. If you can kindly insist on going where you originally want to go, that’s great but I hate having to say things like that as I don’t want to come out rude! On the other hand, you might find somewhere amazing…
Combining trains with cycling or hiking is another powerful tool. With cycling the obvious limitations are carrying your equipment on your back, though I tend to strap my tripod against the bicycle like a water bottle. Walking is the easiest option, though also the slowest, and it can be a test of your dedication to see just how far you would walk (an hour isn’t something unknown to me).
It is sometimes a pain to think about how slow you’re getting from place A to place B, but I’ve found myself frustrated with a car about not being able to park it somewhere, or not being able to randomly stop if you’re on a road.
Visit your local patch.
Obviously if all else fails, go visit a local patch. There will most likely be something quite cool not far from where you live, big parks or nature reserves. Enjoy being outside, and try to find something worth appreciating in otherwise plain subjects – I’m currently working on a shot with some pigeons. Or starlings living in Castle Park in the heart of Bristol. And I am still astounded by the beauty of a blackbird’s song.