W is for Wyoming

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For today’s A to Z ChallengeW is for Wyoming. Wyoming is a semi-arid state which is usually dry, and primarily receives precipitation in the form of snow, which can close down roads in the winter. Wyoming is the least populous US state, with plenty of wide open spaces perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.

Bighorn Basin Wyoming

Near the town of Lovell in the Bighorn Basin, WY – photo by kei

The state consists of many geologic basins (low spots), which formed in between mountain ranges (high spots) due to tectonic plate movement during the Cretaceous through Eocene periods. This is called the Laramide orogeny, or mountain-building episode, and this is what formed the Rocky Mountains in the US and Canada. This also means breathtaking views from mountains across the expanse of the basins. Continue reading

V is for Variations on Vacation Photos

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For a slight variation on my A to Z Challenge travel theme, V is for Variations on Vacation Photos. I absolutely love to take vacation photos, and I usually come back with thousands of photos. Once I get back I like to share them with friends, family, and complete strangers. However, no matter how memorable the trip was for me, showing tons of photos of places that other people haven’t been isn’t the best way to share the memories with other people. Have you ever sat through a photo album of photos that meant a lot to your friend, but looked like just a bunch of old buildings to you?

The point is, the majority of vacation photos are for the person who went on the vacation and wants to relive the vacation in the future (or shove the photos into a box in the back of a closet). But you still want to share your photos with other people, right? So how can you prevent them from falling asleep halfway through your slideshow from Rome, or clicking to another page on your blog?

The key is to get creative. Try these 4 variations on typical vacation photos, and make a unique album or webpage that catches the eye and leaves everyone wanting to know more.

1. Play with Poses

Not only does this make for creative photos, it’s usually fun to do. At first, it might seem kind of weird, and you might get some sideways glances while striking a silly pose, but the result will be more interesting than if you stand stiffly in front of a landmark with an awkward smile. Plus you can try a few variations until you find something you won’t mind showing other people (I’ve deleted a few photos with a pose that sounded like a good idea, but didn’t work in execution).

Osaka Castle

I’m mimicking the castle shape…
photo by kei

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U is for Utah

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U is for Utah in today’s entry of the A to Z Challenge. Specifically, Salt Lake City, Utah. This is the capital and most populous city in Utah. Its name comes from its proximity to the Great Salt Lake, a huge inland salt lake that contributes much to the dry continental climate, that produces hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. This makes Salt Lake and the surrounding resorts a popular summer resort and winter skiing destination.

Salt Lake City Utah State Capitol

State Capitol building at Salt Lake City, Utah – photo by kei

The city of Salt Lake City was founded by Brigham Young and other Mormon followers in 1847. They extensively irrigated and cultivated the arid landscape, and today the city hosts the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints headquarters and Temple Square.

Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City Utah

Mormon Temple of Salt Lake City, Utah – photo by kei

The city is a hub for air travel, conventions, music and the performing arts, and of course is a great ski destination. The city is located in a valley, and as a result offers breathtaking Rocky Mountain views of towering mountains beyond the city buildings.

Salt Lake City Utah at Night

Night view of Salt Lake City, Utah (without tripod) – photo by kei

Have you ever visited Salt Lake City? What is your favorite attraction? How about a favorite ski resort (anywhere)? Let me know in the comments!

T is for Tokyo Station

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For the letter T in the A to Z Challenge, my obvious choice (if you’ve read many of my other posts) is Tokyo. There are many places to visit in Tokyo, including Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree, so it was difficult to narrow it down. But I narrowed it down, and decided that T is for Tokyo Station 東京駅.

Tokyo Station

Tokyo Station – photo by kei

Tokyo Station is located in the Marunouchi shopping district of Tokyo, Japan. It is the main intercity rail terminal and the busiest station in Japan with over 3,000 trains per day, and serves Shinkansen bullet trains from around the country.

Tokyo Station Ceiling

The iconic ceiling of Tokyo Station – photo by kei

Tokyo Station opened in 1914, and has been rebuilt several times due to fire and WWII bombing, as well as undergoing extensive remodeling. When I was there in late 2014, the surrounding streets were undergoing renovation.

Tokyo Station Christmas Illumination

Tokyo Station Christmas Illumination – photo by kei

 

In addition to being a train hub, Tokyo Station is also a shopping hub, with many stores, souvenir shops, and small restaurants within the indoor station complex.

Tokyo Station Shops

Tokyo Station Shops – photo by kei

If you are traveling around Tokyo, to the Imperial Palace grounds, Ginza, or by Shinkansen, you may find yourself in Tokyo Station. If you have some time to spare, it’s well worth a look around this iconic train station.

Have you ever visited Tokyo Station? Or a train station or major hub in another country? Tell me about it in the comments!

S is for Sakura

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S is for Sakura for this installment of the A to Z ChallengeSakura 桜 is the Japanese word for cherry blossom, the light pink flower that blooms for only a few weeks a year in the spring before falling to the ground in a flurry of blossoms. Cherry blossoms have fallen for the most part in mainland Japan, although Hokkaido is still due to be in full bloom next week. So I thought I would post about these beautiful flowers.

Sakura at Shiroyama

Sakura (cherry blossoms) in Yamanashi Prefecture – photo by kei

Japan has a whole flower-viewing culture 花見 based around cherry blossoms. When spring hits, sakura themed food, drink, and cute characters bloom like the flowers they represent. School ends during cherry blossom season, and many graduation songs reference cherry blossoms. School rejection letters have even been known to contain a metaphor that goes something like “the cherry blossoms are falling.” Continue reading

R is for Roppongi Hills

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In the heart of Tokyo, Japan, R is for Roppongi Hills in the A to Z Challenge. Roppongi Hills 六本木ヒルズ is a hub for shopping and night life, and is a result of a massive integrated property development. At the center of the development is the 54-story Mori Tower 森タワー, home to the Mori Art Museum 森美術館 on the 53rd floor, and the Tokyo City View 250 m-high observation deck.

Mori Tower

Mori Tower – photo by kei

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Q is for Queues

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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

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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

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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)

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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!