Q is for Queues

Standard

Continuing with the travel theme for the A to Z ChallengeQ is for Queues (ah, alliteration). Queues (or lines) are one of the worst parts of travel. No one wants to wait in queues, but everyone wants to see that famous statue, or ride the teacups, or make their first shrine visit – and so they queue up.

Therefore, I have dedicated this post to Avoiding Queues. These are some tips I researched, and during my research I found that the most common “how to avoid queues” hits were for avoiding queues at Disneyland. The second-most popular hits were for avoiding queues in Rome.

So, without further ado, let’s look at some tips to avoid queues when traveling!

Queue at Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

1. Find Out the Busiest Time – and Don’t Go!

You want to see the Christmas lights at Disneyland on Christmas Day, visit the Vatican at Easter, and visit Meiji Shrine on New Year’s Day? So does everyone else! It’s better to find the “off season” for famous locales, or to go when most local people are at work or school. Famous places in Rome may be consistently busy, but you can still avoid the huge queues by researching online the least busy times.

If you absolutely must go during a busy season or a holiday, then try going earlier than the main crowds, even if you must get up early. Many people don’t want to wake up early while on vacation, so if you wake up earlier then you might be able to get ahead of the crowds. Continue reading

P is for Packing Tips

Standard

For this installment of the A to Z Challege, I’m diverging from my usual post of travel places and instead giving you some travel tips. Specifically, P is for Packing Tips.

Why packing tips? Packing is one of the most important parts of taking a trip, but it is usually one of the last things that most people think of. I definitely put off packing to the last minute (but maybe that’s just because I procrastinate), and I find it to be one of the more stressful things about travel.

Whether you’re traveling for work or pleasure, packing is something you should plan at least somewhat in advance. So even though you might not be planning a trip right now, at some point you will pack for a trip, and you can keep these tips in mind!

Strasbourg, France

1. Pack Ahead of Time

This seems like a simple tip, but it took me a while to follow it and to realize its benefits. For business trips I think it’s especially important, so that you don’t leave anything important behind. Packing ahead of time ensures that you don’t forget anything, allows you to get plenty of sleep the night before your trip, and reduces stress.

How early you start packing is totally up to you. I start thinking about what to take usually as soon as I plan the trip, and I start the physical packing up to a week before a long trip, or 2-3 days earlier for a shorter or business trip. I also like to pack over a few days rather than all at once. It’s best to find what packing strategy makes you feel less stressed and tweak as needed.

2. Pack Mix & Match Outfits

Packing mix & match outfits will make your suitcase lighter. I used to just put together outfits and throw them in the suitcase, until I realized that I needed to make sure that every top could be worn with multiple pants/skirts/etc, and that the jacket matched everything. If a piece can’t be used multiple times, leave it home. In addition to making the suitcase lighter, it also makes it easier to put together an outfit during a jet-lagged stupor when you have to go to a meeting with friends or coworkers less than 3 hours after you land.

This tip is most likely applicable to women rather than men, because while I’m mixing and matching outfits in the mirror, my husband grabs a handful of shirts and throws them in the day before we leave. However, when men are packing for a trip to a wedding or a more formal event, mix & match is important when bringing a combination of casual and formal wear.

Mt Fuji

3. Don’t Pack More Than You Need

This seems logical, right? But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve packed way too much. And it can get expensive! Most US domestic flights charge you around $25 to check a bag. And the more bags you check, the more expensive it gets. International flights usually will check your first bag free, but a second bag can run $100. If your first bag is overweight by 50 lbs or 23 kg, it can be another $100 charge.

If I am going on a business trip or a weekend trip, I will try to keep my suitcase to fit in a carry-on. Most US domestic flights will not charge you for a carry-on, and if it’s a rolling suitcase and the flight is full, they may check it free for you and return it to you at the plane at the end of the flight or at your destination. You have to be aware of liquid limits on US domestic flights, which is usually 3 oz in a quart size zipper bag. You can usually get away with slightly larger zipper bags, but the 3 oz for each separate container is usually strict.

For longer trips, I will check a larger suitcase, simply because I don’t want to deal with carrying it around the airport and I want some extra space for the things that I know I will buy on my trip. For domestic US trips, this means a $25 fee, and making sure that it is well under the 50 lbs/23 kg weight limit to avoid the extra charge. For international trips, I haven’t been on a flight that charges me for the first bag, but the second checked bag will usually incur a fee up to $100 depending on the airline.

When you are going on a longer sightseeing trip or traveling to a study abroad destination, you may tend to overpack (I know I do), so make sure to leave room (and lessen the weight) for souvenirs, presents, and anything else you will likely buy while on a trip. This way, you won’t have to ship things home or buy a second suitcase, which can get pretty expensive.

Bonus Tip: When in doubt, leave it out. Pack ahead of time, double check the items you think you need on the trip, and trust your instinct – if you are having second thoughts about an item, don’t bring it!

Grand Teton National Park

4. Bring Any Medications You Think You May Need

Last but not least, I have learned that it is a good idea to bring medicine from your own country or hometown when going on a trip. In addition to any medications you usually take, think about medications you might need. Pain killers for headaches, medicine for any unexpected stomach issues, herbal supplements for colds, and any other medicine that can help make travel a little less painful. This is especially for traveling abroad, when medicine in another country might not be of the same strength or over-the-counter availability as in your own country. Best case, you won’t need it. Worst case, it’s there and you don’t have to try to figure out what medicine you want in another language or try to get to a town when you’re far out from civilization.

 

I hope that these travel tips are useful! What travel tips do you have? Let me know in the comments!

O is for Oklahoma

Standard

For today’s A to Z ChallengeO is for Oklahoma. Oklahoma is a southern state in the US that is considered a midwest state. Confusing, right? It’s location is southern, but the people consider themselves part of the midwest culturally. It’s located north of Texas, and is home to a large proportion of Native American tribes (although not all by original choice).

Oklahoma City State Capitol

State Capitol at Oklahoma City – photo by kei

Oklahoma has a very expansive (read flat) landscape, except in the southern part of the state, and is mainly dominated by agriculture and oil and gas industry. The capital is Oklahoma City, which is a smaller big city. Continue reading

N is for the Netherlands (and some other European nations)

Standard

Today I thought I would share some European photographs for the A to Z Challenge, and thus today’s travel theme is N is for the Netherlands (and some random European nations).

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Windmill in Amsterdam, The Netherlands – photo by kei

The city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands is famous for many things – it’s canal system, the profuseness of bicycles, the legality of certain substances, the red light district, and, of course, windmills. You can join a tour and venture just outside of Amsterdam, traveling through a picture-perfect landscape dotted with canals, authentic wooden houses, windmills, and fishing villages, as well as have an opportunity to observe traditional crafting.

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg, France Maison des Tanneurs – photo by kei

Strasbourg, located in France, is the capital of the Alsace region, and has been heavily influenced by nearby Germany. Although Strasbourg is primarily known for its Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame, it is also dotted with quaint provincial buildings reminiscent of its German heritage.

Koblenz, Germany

Koblenz, Germany – photo by kei

Koblenz is a 2,000-year-old town in Germany, nestled in the picturesque landscape of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, and surrounded by four low mountain ranges. The town features abundant cultural monuments and historic buildings amidst a relaxed atmosphere of town squares and river promenades.

I think that one of the most interesting parts of European cities is the diversity as well as the blend of cultures that you find. The historic geopolitical ties have bound these cities and countries together inextricably, and yet each city possesses a culture that is all its own.

What is your favorite city in Europe? Where have you been, or where would you like to go? Let me know in the comments!

M is for Meiji Shrine

Standard

In light of the recent series of earthquakes in Kumamoto 熊本, Japan, I once again turn to Japan as part of my travel theme for the A to Z Challenge. Today, M is for Meiji Shrine or Meiji Jingu 明治神宮, located in Shibuya, Tokyo.

Meiji Shrine

Torii gate at Meiji Shrine – photo by kei

I most recently visited Meiji Shrine in January of 2015. The shrine, dedicated to the Meiji emperor and empress, is located within the expansive Yoyogi Park and was built in 1921. The Meiji Shrine represents the naturalistic system of beliefs and customs known as Shinto, rather than a Buddhist temple such as the Jodo Mission in Maui or the Great Buddha in Kamakura.

Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine – photo by kei

This shrine is one of the most highly visited shrines in Japan, especially by foreigners. The beautiful grounds of Yoyogi Park, the January sumo wrestler entry, and the many celebrations that occur at this shrine are part of the attraction.

In a fitting entry for this Photo Friday Challenge: Future, I submit Meiji Shrine as a symbol of the future for Japan. Although there has been extensive destruction in Kumamoto and the entire island of Kyushu during this week’s series of magnitude 7 earthquakes, just like in 2011, Japan will come through this stronger. As a country built on a volcano and close to a triple junction where tectonic plate motion causes strong earthquakes, Japan has a history of surviving geologic disasters. Meiji Shrine will host the Spring Grand Festival or Haru-no-Taisai 春の大祭 in the beginning of May, a symbol of renewal and rebirth. As always, Kumamoto will be rebuilt and will be stronger in both construction and community as a result.

Fortunately, my friends and their families in the Kumamoto and Kyushu region are safe, although some have lost their homes. I pray for their safety in the coming aftershocks, and in the future. がんばれ日本!

Meiji Shrine

Colorful barrels of sake at Meiji Shrine – photo by kei

Have you or anyone you know been affected by the Kumamoto earthquakes this week? Have you visited Meiji Shrine? I wish everyone a safe week!

L is for Las Vegas

Standard

For today’s entry in the A to Z Challenge, L is for Las Vegas. Las Vegas is located in Nevada in the US, and is famous as a gambling capital. Other things Las Vegas is famous for is marriages performed by Elvis, conventions, and general debauchery.

Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Strip – photo by kei

My first experience with Las Vegas was at age 18, much younger than the legal gambling and drinking age of 21, which really limits the places you can go. In the hotel casinos you can’t go near the gaming machines – which are often between the hotel rooms and the hotel entrance. You can’t enter clubs, and your activities can be limited, especially if you are with a group of 21+ people.

Las Vegas

The Chandelier Lounge at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas – photo by kei

Las Vegas

Paris & Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas – photo by kei

My later trips to Las Vegas were after I turned 21, which opened up a lot of options. I don’t gamble (except the occasional game of pachinko, where I know I’ll at least win back my money) but the shows in Las Vegas are pretty awesome. From pricey shows like Cirque du Soleil (visually stunning acrobatics), to mid-range shows like the Tournament of Kings (a medieval jousting show) at Excalibur, to free shows like the Bellagio Fountain show – you can find something that appeals to you.

Las Vegas

Chandeliers at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas – photo by kei

Las Vegas

Paris Tower in Las Vegas – photo by kei

I’ve been to Las Vegas for a conference, a wedding, and even at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a popular time for Japanese (and other) foreign exchange students to visit Las Vegas. You can eat a Thanksgiving dinner (buffet style or Chinese), go shopping, and enjoy the usual Vegas attractions. I will warn you that it gets really crowded, and you probably want to get reservations well in advance.

Las Vegas

Bellagio water fountain show in Las Vegas – photo by kei

Las Vegas isn’t for everyone, but even if you only go for a weekend I think it’s an interesting experience. My advice is to plan ahead with a few attractions that appeal to you, and then enjoy yourself!

Have you been to Las Vegas? What was your favorite attraction? If you could get tickets to any show or event, which would you pick? Let me know in the comments!

K is for Kamakura

Standard

K is for Kamakura for the A to Z Challenge. Kamakura 鎌倉市 is a coastal town in Kanagawa Prefecture 神奈川県, Japan, less than an hour from Tokyo and Enoshima.

Kamakura has a number of temples and shrines, and is famous for the Great Buddha or Kamakura Daibutsu (鎌倉大仏). This large, bronze Amida Buddha is located at the Koutoku-in Temple 高徳院. The Daibutsu is the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan at 13.35 m. (Remember my last Amida Buddha post?)

Kamakura Great Buddha

Great Buddha at Kotoku-in at Kamakura – photo by kei

Another famous temple is Hasedera 長谷寺, a temple famous for its large statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. You can’t take photos of the giant wooden statue within Kannon-do Hall, but at over 9 m and gilded in gold it is spectacular. There is also a small cave called Benten-kutsu 弁天窟 which has several smaller deities enshrined within.

Hasedera in Kamakura

Hasedera (temple) at Kamakura – photo by kei

The view from Hasedera overlooking Kamakura and the nearby beach at Enoshima is beautiful. The walk between Kotoku-in and Hasedera is partially forested, making a beautiful (~10 minute) passage between the two temples.

Kamakura

View of Enoshima from Kamakura – photo by kei

Have you had the opportunity to visit Kamakura? Or another Buddha statue? Let me know in the comments!

J is for Jodo Mission of Lahaina

Standard

Just outside the historic whaling town of Lahaina on the island of Maui lies a Buddhist temple. Thus, J is for the Jodo Mission of Lahaina for today’s entry in the A to Z Challenge.

Amida Buddha at Jodo Mission

Amida Buddha at Jodo Mission in Lahaina – photo by kei

The great Buddha and temple bell were constructed in 1968 to commemorate the centennial of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. It is the largest Amida Buddha outside of Japan. It was cast in Kyoto and is made of copper and bronze. It is 12 feet high and weight 3 1/2 tons. Continue reading

I is for Iconic Landmarks

Standard

Instead of one locale, today’s A to Z Challenge travel theme is a collection of Iconic Landmarks for the letter I. Rather than focusing on one place (besides the fact that I couldn’t find any good photos from a place that started with I), I wanted to introduce a few iconic landmarks from Japan.

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower – photo by kei

Tokyo Tower 東京タワー

Tokyo Tower is the second tallest structure in Japan at 333 m high. It’s a communication tower located in Tokyo, Japan. It was built in 1958, and currently serves as a TV broadcasting antenna. It’s also a famous tourist spot, and an iconic landmark that is easily recognizable. You can ride up elevators to first the Main Observatory at 150 m, and then the smaller Special Observatory at 250 m. The observatories offer amazing views of Tokyo, and are great places to see the sunset. At night Club333 offers music, and there are shops at the Main Observatory. Continue reading

H is for Hakone

Standard

H is for Hakone for today’s A to Z Challenge! Hakone 箱根町 is a famous tourist destination in Kanagawa Prefecture 神奈川県 in Japan. It was also my honeymoon destination, so today is all about the letter H.

Hakone is a resort town in the Fuji Hakone Izu National Park, and is best known for its abundant hot springs or onsen 温泉. A cooler climate than nearby Tokyo, Hakone offers beautiful mountain views, including Mt. Fuji. Hakone is a UNESCO Geopark location due to the volcanic activity underlying Hakone, which heats the famous hot springs.

Hakone Outdoor Hot Spring

Bath fed by natural hot springs in Hakone – photo by kei

Hakone is beautiful at any time of year, and is particularly pleasant during the hot Japanese summer, as it is often much cooler than sweltering Tokyo. Fall boasts vibrant leaves and spring offers cherry blossoms as well as a variety of other blooms. In the winter, when I visited, it was quite windy and although it wasn’t unbearable, outdoor activities are less fun when you are fighting the wind. At Lake Ashinoko, a lake formed in the crater left by a previous volcanic eruption, you can take a boat on a tour around the lake, unless the wind is high and the boat is not running. Continue reading