How to Enjoy a Rewarding Vacation to Orlando, Florida

 

Orlando, Florida is a great vacation destination for couples, families and more that want to enjoy theme parks, beaches, nature and a wide variety of entertainment. Located in the heart of Florida, Orlando is actually home to more than 50 theme parks and attractions spread across almost 4,000 square miles. With so many things to do, it’s hard to know where to start and planning a trip here can be overwhelming. The good news is that there is something for everyone and with such a diverse range of available activities, it’s difficult not to have a rewarding visit to this destination.

Here’s a list of some of the best ways to enjoy your vacation in Orlando…

 

Go to Disney World

Disney World is the most popular theme park in the world, and it’s easy to see why. There are four parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Each of these theme parks features rides and shows that will excite children and adults alike. You could easily fill up your vacation simply by visiting these four parks. Naturally, if you are coming to Orlando for a vacation, visiting at least one park is probably on your mind. And you should. Choose the one or two that match your interests the most and then spend the rest of your vacation at other places in the region, without the crowds and lines.

 

Take an Airboat tour through the swamps

For a different kind of excursion, why not join one of the airboat tours that take you through the wilderness of the Central Florida Everglades. You’ll encounter a combination of wildlife and beautiful nature, while enjoying time away from the city itself. Alligators are frequently seen as you zoom through the wetlands.

There are many options as well. You can take a short tour, longer tour, sunset tour, night tour or even a private tour just for your family or group of friends. Either way, if you love spending time in nature, this is an experience that should be on your list.

 

Visit the beach

You can visit the beach anywhere in Florida, and the beaches near Orlando are certainly not to be missed. Only 45 minutes away, you can easily reach places such as Cocoa Beach (a surfing haven!), Cape Canaveral (relaxed beach) and the expansive sands of New Smyrna Beach.

Each beach offers its own vibe, along with activities such as renting a boat, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, fishing, manatee sighting and more. You could even rent a bike and ride along the coast, passing through quiet neighborhoods and chilled-out town centers, finding no shortage of places to eat along the way. Rarely crowded the way that Miami Beach can get, these beaches offer a great day trip from Orlando in order to ensure you don’t leave Florida without having taken a swim!

 

 

Stay at a resort

If you’re traveling with kids, a resort stay can be an ideal option. With a lot of pre-planned activities at these resorts, it makes for an easier time since you won’t have to plan out every minute of the day on your own. Staying at such a resort also eliminates the need to find a place to eat for every meal.

All-inclusive resorts offer great value in many cases – especially when all food and drinks are included – so they are perfect for those on a budget. There are many resorts to choose from in Orlando, such as Westgate Resorts, and it’s worth looking through them all to see which one suits your family or group the best.

 

Visit the Kennedy Space Center

Only a 45 minute drive from central Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center is a great place to learn about the history of space travel. The center has an extensive museum and interactive exhibits that allow visitors to get a better understanding of how astronauts train for space flight, as well as how they live in space. You can see real rockets and other space vehicles there, too.

You can take tours of both launch pads (where rockets were launched) and flight decks (where they landed).

Even better, check the schedule in advance to see if you’ll be in Florida during an actual launch. If you are, head to the pier in the nearby town of Port Canaveral and watch the launch live. It’s a spectacular event to witness as you observe the rocket burst into the sky, with the sonic boom that soon passes over land.

 

 

Crystal River kayak tour

The crystal clear waters of Crystal River await anyone looking for a pristine slice of nature to marvel at. Hop in a kayak and enjoy a guided tour along this magical river, with two variations depending on the time of year you’re there. If you’re in Orlando during the winter months, you’ll have an excellent chance of seeing manatees as hundreds of them make this river their home in order to escape the cold. During the rest of the year, you’ll have an opportunity to visit several springs, including the famous Three Sisters Spring. You can swim in the beautiful water, look for dolphins, turtles and fish and paddle among some of the most impressive scenery in the entire state.

 

Spend time at Universal Studios

Universal Studios is another one of the more popular places to visit in Orlando of course. But it’s popular for a reason. It’s home to some of the most exciting rides and entertainment in the city and provides are more interactive experience, with activities that take you into the world of ET, Harry Potter, the Minions, Transformers, Fast and Furious and so much more.

With rollercoasters, rides, live shows and plenty of shopping and dining, it’s not surprising that you could easily fill up two days at Universal Studios alone.

 

 

Get wet at Aquatica

When you visit Orlando, getting wet at a water park is a very fun way to pass an afternoon. The water park Aquatica is particularly popular given its range of waterslides, rapids and more. There’s 13 different slides and water experiences to choose from!

Reef Plunge is a waterslide that actually takes you underwater to observe marine life and Riptide Race is the world’s tallest dueling waterslide. There’s also pools where you can simply relax, dining options and a lazy river to float down in order to enjoy some real calm vibes.

 

Experience the outdoors at Bok Tower Gardens

If you’re looking for another excursion out of the city, pay a visit to the Bok Tower Gardens approximately 1 hour away. This serene 250 acre garden is designed to offer a contemplative experience for visitors, right at the top of Iron Mountain. You can wander through the Olmsted Gardens, with over 126 different species of birds, and you can view the Singing Tower, with its impressive carillon (an instrument consisting of 23+ bells). You can also take a walk on over 2 miles of nature trails in order to learn about the unique upland savanna-like ecosystem that sits on one of the highest points in Florida.

If the hustle and bustle of Orlando gets to be too much, Bok Tower Gardens could be the answer to help you re-balance.

 

Conclusion

It goes without saying that there are endless ways to create a memorable Orlando vacation. As you can see, from theme parks and beaches, to hiking and boating, to nature and wildlife…and beyond, it’s hard to find a destination that offers such a variety of experiences. As a result, you simply need to look at the long list of options and figure out what suits you the most so that you can plan a fun-filled trip to this world-famous vacation destination!

 

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Most Scenic Villages in Germany 

 

Germany is already a world-famous destination among tourists and travelers. However, it has much more to offer than culture-packed big cities, wine-growing towns, and charming hamlets. Why not make a trip to explore some of the scenic villages in Germany this year?

Depending on your country of origin and the purpose of your visit, you may need a visa to enter Germany. Check here to see if you need a visa and how to apply for one well in advance of your trip.

Germany is home to many charming and scenic villages worth visiting. There’s so much more to this beautiful country, apart from the bustling and diverse Berlin

Here are some of the most scenic villages in Germany:

Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a medieval town in the heart of the Franconian region of Bavaria that is famous for its half-timbered houses, cobbled streets, and extensive gardens. The town is surrounded by a well-preserved city wall and is home to several landmarks, such as the St. James Church, the Town Hall, and the Plönlein, a lovely square with a historic fountain. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is also a popular destination for tourists due to its Christmas markets, which are held in November and December.

Mittenwald – Located in the Bavarian Alps, Mittenwald is a village with a charming old town and an ideal mountain setting. The village is known for its colorful houses, painted in shades of yellow, green, and blue, and its many artisan workshops, where you can watch craftsmen at work. Mittenwald is also home to several landmarks, such as the St. Peter and Paul Church, the Maria Himmelfahrt Church, and the Linderhof Palace, a remarkable Baroque palace built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

Quedlinburg – Quedlinburg is a very well-preserved medieval town in the Harz Mountains with a rich history and an atmospheric old town. The town is known for its unique houses, narrow streets, and beautiful gardens, and it is home to several landmarks, such as the Quedlinburg Castle, the St. Servatius Church, and the Romanesque Church of St. Mary’s.

 

 

Tübingen – Situated in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Tübingen is a charming university town with a rich cultural and intellectual tradition. The town is known for its quaint old town, with its narrow streets, diversely colorful houses, and picturesque squares, and it is home to several landmarks, such as the Hohentübingen Castle, the St. George’s Church, and the Tübingen Old Town Hall. Tübingen is also known for its lively student culture and its many festivals and events.

Bacharach – Located in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, Bacharach is a town with a rich history and a pleasant historical area. The town is known for its narrow streets and beautiful gardens, and is home to several landmarks of its own, such as the Bacharach Castle, the St. Peter’s Church, and the Stahleck Castle, a well-preserved medieval castle that now serves as a youth hostel. With its wine festivals and idyllic setting on the banks of the Rhine River, Bacharach is certainly worth considering.

Lindau – Lindau is another attractive destination with a delightful old town and a picturesque waterfront. The town is situated on the shores of Lake Constance and is home to several landmarks, such as the Lindau Lighthouse, the St. Stephen’s Church, and the Lindau City Hall.

 

 

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Active Holiday Ideas in the French Alps for Solo Travelers 

 

Traveling alone is no longer terribly daunting. In fact, it is now seen as a common and wonderful way for people to avoid travel regret. Why not head out on your own? There’s no reason to wait when the world provides so many rich experiences for solo travelers to enjoy as well.

Some of those memorable experiences involve being active. Mountain sports, for example, involve activities that can be perfectly-suited to solo travelers given their focus on connecting with nature and relying on ourselves to move around. And there is perhaps no better place than the French Alps for such activities.

Fun-filled active holidays in French Alps can provide a fascinating experience, one that allows you to discover other cultures, partake in a variety of adventures, build confidence and create long-lasting memories on the way.

 

Why the French Alps?

  • Easy and affordable access: To keep costs down as a solo traveler, affordable transportation can be the key. With a bus connection to almost every village and railhead, the Alps has an excellent public transport network.
  • Safety: Solo travelers in this region need not fear about safety as it is considered to be a very safe and secure area.
  • Accommodation: There is a wide network of huts (over 800 of them) spread across the Alps which allow solo travelers to spend the night in affordable rooms  instead of using tents.
  • Signage: Trail markings and signage are fool-proof throughout the Alps, good enough even for the less confident traveler.
  • You might be solo, but you aren’t alone: The Alps attract a large number of solo travelers every year. As a result, you just might run into some of the same people over and over again and you’ll always come across new people. If you want to meet other travelers, you’ll have no problem at all while here.

 

Activities to try

There are a wide variety of activities that you could choose during a solo trip to the French Alps. And they all offer ways to spend some quality alone time in the fresh mountain air, in serene settings that will provide the quiet and peace of mind that you might be craving. Here are some ideas…

 

MOUNTAIN BIKING 

Extraordinary terrain, an exceptional lift system, serious investment in mountain biking infrastructure and spectacular scenery all come together to make the French Alps one of the best biking destinations in the world.

The Downhill and Cross-country riding programs provide you an opportunity to explore the forested valley floors over a network of trails. You can also take advantage of the lifts in order to navigate the high mountain routes marked Green, Blue or Red depending on their difficulty.

 

 

HIKING

From the famous multi-day trek that is the incredible Tour du Mont Blanc to hiking the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, the French Alps are a paradise for hikers. With accessible and well-marked trails in the shadows of soaring peaks, the Alps always provides options for all levels of walkers.

Solo hikers need not worry as plenty of accommodation is available through a combination of mountain huts, family owned chalets and hotels. To get the best out of this experience, you can have your luggage transferred from one accommodation to the next one in order to travel lightly and simplify the logistics while you enjoy the hiking.

 

MOUNTAIN CLIMBING

A high altitude solo climb on a mountain route is simply one of the best ways to have an unforgettable adventure. When you climb solo, you are out there relying on your abilities to take you up to the summit and once you do reach the summit, the sense of achievement is something to behold.

The Alps have long been a hub of mountain climbing tourism given the sheer diversity of opportunities. Summer is naturally the most optimal time for such climbing, especially for first-time and solo climbers, as the snow cover will be gone. The weather is generally calm with plenty of sunny days. Even if you are not a seasoned mountaineer, you’ll find options and you can also find plenty of equipment to rent or purchase to help make your climbing easier.

 

 

VIA FERRATA

A via ferrata, also referred to as an ‘Iron Path’, is a style of protected mountain route located mostly in Italy and Austria. However, they also exist in the French Alps. Though it’s not for the faint hearted as such a hike will involve metal cables and footholds, hence the name. You’ll cross over deep ravines and climb steps that leave you exposed right on the side of the mountain… it’s certainly enough to get the adrenaline flowing.

While via ferrata vary in design, required skill level and length, one thing they all have in common are surreal views. If you have the nerve, head to Le Rocher du Saint Julien in the Drome region. With a vertical drop of 288 meters and a length of 1.6 km, it’s sure to get your heart racing. And for some of the most magical views of the Mont Blanc range, the via ferrata of Les Evettes takes the crown.

 

 

CANYONING

If you love the tranquillity of being near water, the Alps provides something for you as well. Canyoning in the French Alps can be a beautiful experience, especially because most of the terrain in this region is well-suited for this activity. The combination of obstacles such as glacial gorges and deep rivers provides an inspiring canyoning experience for all those who attempt it.

Local experts will guide you through an itinerary based on your ability, so you don’t need to worry about going it alone. They’ll ensure you’re properly prepared for the course ahead and will help you with any of the difficult aspects so that you can really soak up the atmosphere of your impressive natural surroundings.

 

WHITE WATER RAFTING

Rather than stand atop a snow covered mountain or bike along windy roads, another option is to embark on a day of white water rafting. Some of the most popular locations for this activity include Arve, Dora Baltea and the Giffre. Rafting can easily be enjoyed by solo adrenaline seekers, especially if you are experienced. You can rent your own raft or join a group of others on an organized trip through the rushing waters.

During the summer months, the rivers around Chamonix are transformed into rafting playgrounds, as it’s considered one of the more ideal rafting spots. The cool waters of the Mont Blanc valley offer a respite from the harsh rays of the sun and are extremely popular with adventure lovers. Even if you are not an enthusiastic water person, a day of river rafting in Chamonix could change that.

 

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Two Weeks in Kyoto: Everything You Need to Know

Two Weeks in Kyoto Zen Temple

Japan had been on my list for a LONG time. For some reason though, I always struggled to make a trip happen. But finally, it happened! And since I was excited to make it here, I didn’t want it to be a quick trip.

In the end, we decided to spend 1 month total in Japan.

We spent the first two weeks in Kyoto and it was perfect. Every day was rewarding and we didn’t regret spending two weeks in this city at all. It’s calm, picturesque, friendly and full of activities and places to visit. The food is ever so tasty, it’s easy to get around and it’s also very affordable. It really was the ideal base.

We also were there during autumn and it was gorgeous as a result. The abundant nature and truly spectacular colors were far beyond anything we could have hoped for and it certainly helped make this an even more rewarding trip.

If you’re thinking of going to Kyoto, whether it’s for 2 days or 2 weeks, I hope the information below from my own experience proves helpful!

Accommodation

Since we were spending two weeks in Kyoto, we based our accommodation situation on three things – space, price and location. We work online every day so we wanted to have more space than a standard hotel room, which can be quite small in Japan. Of course, we also didn’t want to pay a fortune for accommodation either. And we preferred to be in a relatively central, but not overly touristy neighborhood.

After some searching, we found a place that matched all of the above.

Resi Stay Nishijin
For approximately $85 USD per night, we had a large studio (40 sq meters / 430 sq feet) with a small living room, two sofas, little kitchen, comfy beds and a balcony. It was quite modern, with the kind of bathroom and shower area that you want – Japanese style with all kinds of gadgets and settings. The wifi was strong, the heat and AC worked very well and it was spotless. Resi Stay has several locations in Kyoto but we chose the one on Nishijin. It was a local, quiet area, with small lanes full of quaint wooden houses, plenty of quality restaurants, a food market, good supermarkets and a bus stop in front of the building with buses that would take us anywhere we needed to go.

Also, since we love to walk all over the place, we were an approximate 30 – 60 minute walk from almost anywhere in the city. This suited us very well.

As Kyoto is a decent sized city, there are naturally a lot of different options for accommodation. I would recommend doing research first though on the type of neighborhood that you prefer to be based in. I know a lot of people immediately head for the Gion, Nishiki or Kyoto Tower areas but those can be very crowded. So it definitely depends on what you’re looking for.

Again, we managed to find a great deal on Booking.com for the Resi Stay Nishijin ($85 USD per night), so such deals are possible.

Food, Food, Food (You can eat it all with 2 weeks in Kyoto!)

Oh my. The food was incredible. Every single meal.

In the beginning, we would do a lot of research to find the best local restaurants to eat at. But by the end of our two weeks in Kyoto, we were confident that any place we went into would serve up a delicious meal, regardless of whether or not we could read the menu.

Some restaurants have English menus, some don’t. Some have photos of the dishes on the menus or on the walls, others don’t. Some also have beautifully artistic creations of their menu items in a display case in front of the restaurant or in the window, and of course, some don’t. So sometimes you know what you’re ordering and most of the time you have no idea.

Either way, eating in Kyoto and beyond was a major highlight of this trip.

Our food journey could be summed up by three categories:

1. Restaurants/Cafes – I could give a list of the places we ate at, but it’s not worth it. Trust me when I say that you just need to pop into any place you pass that looks interesting (especially if there’s a line of locals out front waiting to get in) and see how it goes. This was by far the best method of choosing restaurants and the success rate was 100%. From sushi to ramen, kaiseki to soba, Shojin ryori to okonomiyaki and everything in between, get ready for a food adventure like no other.

2. Nishiki Market – See below under activities. This place is food heaven and we visited this market several times in order to eat ALL the things.

3. Supermarkets – Kyoto’s fantastic supermarkets also played a role as there were several nights we just wanted to pick up some prepared food and eat back in our hotel room. Our favorite was Life Supermarket. The sushi at this supermarket was fresher and better than most sushi at proper restaurants in other countries. The set prepared meals (of which there are dozens) were always delicious too. This was such a cool way to eat here, and the shopping experience, which involved trying to figure out what most items were, was always super fun.

*Okay, I also need to mention the Japanese Fluffy Pancakes. If you don’t know about them, please make sure they are part of your Japan trip. We ate them more times than I’d like to admit. Insanely soft, fluffy, meringue based pancakes that can be made with all kinds of toppings such as fruit, chocolate, matcha, granola, caramel and more. Go to A Happy Pancake location (they can be found in many cities, including Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo), stand in line and wait for a table and then enjoy what will undoubtedly be the absolute best pancake you’ve ever tasted.

Transportation

A lot of people talk about the Japan Rail Pass. It’s a pass that you can reserve before you enter Japan and it gives you unlimited rides on Japan Rail trains throughout the country. The price starts at about 30,000 JPY ($220) for 7 days, 47,000 JPY ($345) for 2 weeks and 61,000 JPY ($448) for 3 weeks. It’s a good deal if you’re going to use the trains often.

However, it’s worth doing research to see if this pass is indeed for you. We assumed we would need one, but after our research, we realized that it wouldn’t save us any money based on our particular itinerary. Since we were going to be in the Kyoto/Osaka region, then fly to Okinawa and then fly to Tokyo, the Japan Rail Pass was not suitable. In the end, our transportation costs were remarkably low, even without the Japan Rail Pass.

To start, we flew into Osaka Kansai Airport and this is what we did…

Arrival: Osaka Kansai Airport to Kyoto

Upon arrival at the Osaka Kansai Airport, we walked over to the airport train station went inside the JR Trains main office. The staff speak English and they can explain all of your transportation options.

We ended up purchasing the ICOCA Haruka Pass which was ideal for our stay.

It’s not exactly a pass though. It’s more like a card that you can top-up and use to pay for transportation on buses, subways and almost all trains (as well as vending machines and at some restaurants). The biggest benefit is a discount on the Kansai Express Haruka train from Osaka Kansai Airport to Kyoto. Since we needed to get from Kansai Airport to Kyoto and then back to Kansai Airport two weeks later for our flight to Okinawa, we got the round-trip discount.

We paid 5500 JPY ($40 USD) each for our ICOCA cards. This included 1500 JPY credit to be used on buses, trains and subways and a 4000 JPY roundtrip ticket for the Kansai Express Haruka train from/to the airport. In the end, we saved about 1000 JPY each on the airport train, making it very worthwhile.

Then, once we arrived in Kyoto, we simply used our ICOCA cards to tap on to buses, trains and the subway. It also worked for trains to Osaka and Nara, the subway in Osaka and for trains, subway and buses in Tokyo as well at the end of our Japan trip.

Trains – Again, we didn’t get the Japan Rail Pass because we realized that we wouldn’t be using trains often enough. We ended up taking the train from Kyoto to Osaka and back on one day and from Kyoto to Nara and back on another day. The total cost for those four train rides was 3360 JPY or $24 USD. That seemed like reasonable prices to us and the Japan Rail Pass would have cost a lot more than that. (We did use the Express train from Narita Airport to Shinjuku in Tokyo as well but the cost for that ride was 3050 JPY or $22 USD so it still didn’t justify purchasing the Japan Rail Pass since we only spent a total of $46 USD on trains.)

Buses – In Kyoto, the bus system is very easy to use. We used Google maps to figure out which buses we needed and then we simply used our ICOCA card to pay for each trip. The fare was 230 JPY per trip, which is only about $1.70 USD. We took the bus about 10 times during our stay for a total of $17.00.

Subway – We did not use the subway/metro system during our two weeks in Kyoto. Between the buses, taxis and walking, we covered everywhere we needed to go. However, we did take the subway/metro during our day trip to Osaka and it was also easy. We again used our ICOCA cards to pay for each ride, which cost either 180 JPY or 230 JPY depending on the distance. We took the subway 4 times during our day in Osaka and it cost us a total of 820 JPY ($5.85).

Taxis – Due to the favorable exchange during our stay, taxis were actually quite reasonable and far less expensive than we had imagined. We took 20 taxis during our 2 week stay in Kyoto and the total cost was 30,000 JPY or $214 USD. As we were in Kyoto in November, there were some cold and windy days where we simply wanted to get into a taxi and out of the cold. And since most rides cost $10 USD, it ended up being a good option. Also, the taxis are a cool experience with the automatically opening doors, extremely clean and roomy interiors and dedicated drivers who make sure they get you exactly where you need to go. There’s also no funny business so you can flag any taxi knowing you will simply pay the official metered fare.

Walking – We also walked a ton. Kyoto is a great walking city especially since it allows you to wander through random neighborhoods that you wouldn’t visit otherwise. This was certainly how we found many of our favorite restaurants, cafes, architectural curiosities, hidden temples and so on.

Two Weeks in Kyoto Fushimi Inari

Activities for Two Weeks in Kyoto

With two weeks in Kyoto at our disposal, we took our time in terms of activities. We’re not the kind of travelers to make a list well in advance and to run around all day checking things off. We prefer to wake up, do some work (we both work online), look for a sight or area that seems interesting, head out for a late breakfast/early lunch and see where the day takes us.

During our stay, here’s where the days took us:

Fushimi Inari – Well worth visiting. This famous Shinto Shrine is dedicated to the god of rice and is home to thousands of orange torii gates that line the long pathway that loops around the hillside. We did the full 1.5 hour walk up the hill and back down again and it was beautiful. The higher up you go, the less tourists and the more time you have to soak up the peaceful setting.

Kinkaku-ji Temple – This temple is located in the west of Kyoto and it was our favorite. Kinkaku-ji is a Zen temple that is covered in gold leaf. It’s location, right on the edge of a small lake, makes for a mighty eye-catching sight. Naturally, the gardens around the temple were meditative too and there’s a nice path to roam around.

Nijo Castle – An impressive castle in the center of Kyoto that was once home to powerful shogun that ruled over Japan for 200 years. The site consists of a castle and palace but the palace was closed for renovations when we were there. But the wooden castle was quite a display of the shogun’s wealth and power with its endless rooms, intricate wood carvings, painted panels and sheer size. The grounds surrounding the castle, along with the very pleasant tea house/garden, made for a nice visit too.

Philosopher’s Path – This was a short and reflelction-inducing 2 km walk along a meditative tree-lined canal surrounded by nature and traditional homes. It’s located between the Ginkaku-ji and Nanzen-ji temples on the east side of the city. If you walk slowly and visit several temples along the way, you can turn this activity into an all day event. This is especially the case if you stop for a coffee/pastry break at the cozy Botanic Coffee Kyoto halfway along the path.

Nishiki Market – This massive covered market stretches along one lane for what seems like an eternity. You enter one end and good luck trying to get to the other end without stopping dozens of times to try all kinds of street food being served at the food stalls along the way. Squid on a skewer, sea urchin, fried shrimp, omelette sandwiches, chicken katsu, roasted chestnuts, endless pastries, so many forms of mochi, dumplings, tofu and on and on and on…it never ends and it’s the perfect place to spend a couple of hours trying every food item you can. At the east end of the market, there is also a non-food market that stretches along two covered lanes going north to south. You can find some interesting shops here, including those that sell traditional Japanese artwork, so its worth exploring too.

Two Weeks in Kyoto Nishiki Market

Kyoto Sanjo Shopping Street – A smaller version of Nishiki market, if this street is close to where you’re staying, it’s also worth visiting for some delicious food. It closes at 5:00pm so it’s more of a lunch area, but with its food stalls and tiny restaurants, there is an infinite amount of options and it’s much less crowded than Nishiki Market.

Gion – This is the well-known geisha district of Kyoto and it needs to be visited, at least once. It’s quite crowded with tourists during the day but if you duck away from the main streets, it quickly becomes more quiet. Traditional buildings and homes, picturesque wooden bridges, high-end restaurants on Hanamikoji Street, endless shops selling all kinds of Japanese food items and even more temples to enjoy can be found here. We visited this area twice, once during the day and once at night. During the day, we walked from Kennin-ji Temple (with its stunning paintings and Zen garden) to Hokan-ji Temple (famous for its 5-story pagoda), up to the Yasaka Shrine and then wandered through every lane we could find. At night the neighborhood is much quieter and more atmospheric with all the lanterns and lights, with some places to eat and several bars as well.

Miyagawasuji – This neighborhood is a quick 10 minutes walk south of Gion and the difference was notable. As one of the other last remaining geisha districts, it’s home to traditional homes and shops, tiny local eateries and some of the quaintest streets in Kyoto. However, there were very few visitors in this area. It’s a small neighborhood but definitely a unique place to visit to soak up a Gion-like vibe without the crowds.

Tea ceremony – We found a simple tea ceremony in the Gion neighborhood (Tea Ceremony Camellia) where we could learn about the tea tradition in a nice setting. The session was only 50 minutes but there were only 6 people participating, making it more intimate. The hostess was an elegant, refined woman who taught us about and demonstrated the traditional tea-preparation methods. We then prepared our own tea, drank it and that was that. It was a very pleasant activity.

Temples – We visited so many temples during our two weeks in Kyoto that I can’t name them all here. If we saw a temple, we would often poke our head into the entrance of the grounds. If something attracted us, we would go in (most temples charge between 300 – 1000 JPY entrance fee). We went into huge temples and tiny temples, and all kinds in between. While walking around random neighborhoods, we always kept our eyes open for some of the more hidden temples, sometimes located in residential areas. These were quite interesting as they would have no visitors and while small, they were often a peaceful oasis.

Arashiyama – Home to the famous bamboo forest, and also home to the biggest tourist crowds we saw during our entire trip. It threw us off as soon as we stepped off the local bus as there were just so many people. To get away from the crowds, we ducked into the Hogon-in Zen Buddhist temple since it seemed quiet. Luckily, it was and we were treated to some of the most wondrous and colorful autumn scenery we could have hoped for. The tranquil gardens immediately put us at ease. After this nice break, we walked straight to the Bamboo Forest which was, as expected, full of people walking shoulder to shoulder along the path. We walked quickly and at the end, we turned right along another path and kept walking. After 5 minutes, the crowds disappeared and we enjoyed a peaceful wander through local neighborhoods and nature. We soon reached Saga Toriimoto (by accident), a well-preserved street full of traditional style homes. That led us to the Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple which had only 2 other people inside, its own (uncrowded) bamboo forest and thousands of interesting stone memorial statues.

This is what I love about travel – the randomness of days like this.

After the temple, we started walking towards Kyoto center (which was 2 hours away by foot). After 30 minutes, we came upon a simple cafe called Cafe Yamamoto and went inside. We were treated to a memorable experience with delicious home-made cakes, excellent coffee, a cozy interior and very friendly staff. It was a highlight being inside this welcoming, random place.

Imperial Palace – We never really planned to visit the massive Imperial Palace complex in the center of Kyoto. But on our last day, we had some free time so we walked over. And it was great. The massive grounds is basically a park, with plenty of paths to stroll along and as you guessed by now, no shortage of beautiful nature to enjoy. The Palace itself is open to everyone, for free, so you simply enter the main entrance. You can then take a guided tour or walk around on your own. It’s a large site so you need at least an hour.

Random neighborhoods – One of our favorite activities, which we spent some time almost every day doing, was to simply start walking. The goal was to walk through random neighborhoods and see what we found. Often, in these neighborhoods we would grab a local lunch or a coffee or a traditional pastry for an afternoon snack. One example was when we ended up in Nishimachi, an odd area away from the tourists where the local shops have monsters in front of their shops as a way to attract customers. So I definitely recommend giving yourself plenty of time to roam around Kyoto without a plan! I’ve written about my 5-minute rule to having local experiences and Kyoto is a solid destination to put it into action.

Day Trips

We do prefer slow travel, so we really enjoyed getting to know Kyoto more than if we had stayed for only a couple of days. We also really loved the quiet, traditional atmosphere of Kyoto. But of course, there’s so much to see in Japan so we needed to go beyond the city limits as well. On two occasions, we left Kyoto to visit other cities.

Day trip #1: Osaka

Here’s how our day trip to Osaka went:

  • Took a 45 minute train from Karasuma Station in Kyoto to Osaka Umeda Station
  • Went straight to lunch at Kaiten Sushi Sakae (had to try the sushi belt experience!)
  • Took the metro over to Osaka Castle and visited the extensive gardens
  • Hopped on the metro and went to wander around the Shinsekai neighborhood, known for its 100+ year old colorful shopping district
  • Walked across the city to the Shinsaibashi area to check out the Shinsaibashi-Suji Shopping Street, eat some Japanese fluffy pancakes and soak up the energetic atmosphere
  • After sunset, strolled around to check out all the activity with the massive brightly lit neon signs, endless eateries, markets, shops and crazy crowds
  • Did some food tasting throughout the lanes of the famous Dotonburi area and still kept room for a seafood dinner as well
  • Found ourselves trying some Japanese whisky at a random bar on a random street corner
  • Took a train back to Kyoto later at night

Day trip #2: NARA

This was another perfect day trip. We boarded a train at Kyoto Station and 45 minutes later we were in Nara. And we ended up staying in the town for the entire day, getting back to Kyoto at around 9:00pm. Here’s what we did:

  • Walked from the Nara train station through the quaint center of town, along Sanjo dori Street
  • Had an excellent ramen lunch at Genkishin
  • Spent a lot of time roaming around Nara Park, home to temples, shrines, gardens, nature walks and thousands of wild deer that bow their heads in hopes of getting food from passersby
  • Walked along many of the paths throughout the parks in order to enjoy the nature
  • Visited the 1300 year old Todaiji Temple that is one of the largest wooden structures in the world and home to a huge 15 meter high bronze Buddha statue
  • Went for a wonderful sake tasting at Harushika Sake Brewery (500 JPY / $3.75 USD for 6 types of local sake)
  • Went to the historic Nara Hotel for an afternoon snack at their tea lounge (the hotel has hosted emperors, royalty, presidents, popes, actors and many more)
  • Walked back through the parks to the Kasuga-taisha Shinto Shrine
  • One last slow meander through the parks during the evening, then through the center of town (maybe stopping along the way to enjoy some street food!) and back to the Nara train station
  • 45 minute train back to Kyoto

That sums up our two weeks in Kyoto and the surrounding region! If you have any questions at all about visiting this area, please don’t hesitate to reach out and I’d be happy to assist. Enjoy your trip to Japan!

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How to Prepare for Life as a Digital Nomad

Remote work is on the rise, and becoming a digital nomad is more enticing than ever. Thanks to the pandemic, more people have experienced the benefits of remote work than ever before. It’s now projected that in 2027, more than half of the total U.S. workforce population will turn to freelance and remote work.

However, before you decide to become a digital nomad in the next year, it’s worth understanding that switching from being a traditional employee to going full-nomad is daunting and challenging.

To help ease the transition and make the process less scary, we’ve created a checklist of sorts of things to consider before embarking on this journey.

1. Find appropriate work 

Becoming a digital nomad isn’t something that happens overnight. Before you embark on this journey of becoming one, you’ll need to find appropriate jobs that fit this lifestyle. For example, specific jobs, like those in the finance and banking sector, may not allow for remote work as easily due to legal restrictions and requirements. Jobs in publishing, social media, and even software engineering sectors might be more appropriate for remote work and could allow you to become a digital nomad more easily. 

If you’re looking for work as a digital nomad, consider applying for remote roles. Sites like LinkedIn, Upwork, and Remote.co, have specific remote job listings that could help narrow your choices. If you’re currently employed, you might want to consider asking if you could go remote in your existing company. Before you switch and go remote, consider all the differences that might come with a remote contract, too.

2. Research every location you might want to work out of

A stable internet connection is one of the most important things to consider when deciding on which country to work out of. While the Indonesian island of Bali might be beautiful, the country doesn’t necessarily have the strongest internet connection. Suppose you’re a graphic designer or video editor. In that case, a weak internet connection could lead to slower download and upload speeds, which can be really frustrating, especially if you’re chasing a deadline. 

That said, it’s crucial to research aspects like Wi-Fi connectivity and current events and be informed of other issues that might affect your productivity levels. Sites like SpeedTest can help determine your internet connection speed in a particular country. Alternatively, Reddit forums like r/digitalnomad could provide insight into a country you’re interested in. 

3. Consider your cybersecurity needs 

Unlike traditional employees, freelancers and digital nomads don’t have the luxury of a cybersecurity team to protect themselves should malicious third parties choose to target and steal information from them. When leading a nomadic lifestyle, it’s important to think about your cybersecurity needs. This is particularly important when managing money, receiving payments for your work, and paying bills overseas. You might also need secure internet access when filing for taxes and working on confidential documents.

A dedicated VPN for expats is a great way to protect your privacy, secure your internet connection, and ultimately protect your devices. A VPN, or virtual private network, runs your internet connection through an encrypted tunnel, preventing anyone from seeing your online activity. 

4. Get quality health insurance 

Before you book flight tickets, be sure to research good health insurance plans. Accidents, missed flights, and lost baggage can happen, especially when you’re traveling, so purchasing a digital nomad insurance plan that covers these instances is vital. 

For example, companies like SafetyWing and World Nomads create specific plans for digital nomads.

5. Have backup plans

Last but definitely not least, make sure to have backup plans should becoming a digital nomad not pan out for you. Regardless of whether you’re a traditional employee or a digital nomad, losing your job is a genuine risk and can happen to anyone. However, the pain of losing your job while on your digital nomad journey and away from your home base can be harder for some than others. That said, it’s worth thinking about what to do should this not work out for you. For example, always ensure that you have emergency funds in case you need to fly back home, if the country you’re in experiences some sort of unrest or if you lose your job.

Becoming a digital nomad might not always be easy. Still, the experience is rewarding, especially when you get to decide your schedule and simultaneously see different parts of the world. With these tips, we hope we’ve covered some of the vital things you’ll need to consider before you take on this exciting journey.

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What to See in the United States if it’s Not Your First Trip

The United States is one of the most visited countries among tourists, with more than 80 million travelers from around the world visiting every year. The country is chock-full of interesting attractions, natural wonders and big city life and it would take years to see them all.

Most travelers typically tend to stick to tried and true tourist attractions like Times Square in New York City, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada.

However, there are so many other tourist spots that deserve a visit as well!

When planning your second visit to the United States, make sure to add these destinations to your itinerary and check here for helpful information regarding the EVUS program.

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the most picturesque places in the United States — and perhaps even the world!

Located in the state of Arizona, this national park is visited by nearly 6 million travelers a year, with about 40% of guests coming from outside the United States.

The Grand Canyon is famous for its natural beauty, panoramic viewpoints, and cultural significance, so it’s no wonder why it rightfully earned a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The flora and fauna in the canyon changes depending on the elevation, while at the bottom there is the mythical Colorado River. During the summer, be sure to enjoy kayaking, rafting, fishing, or even water skiing on the river. Travelers who love nature and the great outdoors should be sure to add the Grand Canyon to their itinerary.

Route 66

Route 66 is rightfully considered the main road of the entire United States and the mother of all other roads. In fact, the route is even nicknamed the Mother Road thanks to a mention in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath.

The route spans a length of 3,665 km (2,450 mi) and connects Los Angeles (California) on the west coast to Chicago (Illinois) in the northeast. Along the way, travelers pass through major cities like Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, Springfield, and St. Louis across eight US states, as well as tourist attractions like the Grand Canyon and Mississippi River.

To truly get into the spirit of Route 66, be sure to rent a retro car and stop by local mom-and-pop restaurants to order a classic peach cobbler, Americana style!

The Museum Mile

Located on Fifth Avenue in New York, the Museum Mile is, like the name states, a long area where many museums are located next to each other. Those who enjoy culture and museum hopping should definitely block off a day or two to explore the places along the Museum Mile!

The museums here are based on a variety of different topics and interests, including the Museum of the National Academy, El Museo del Barrio (on Latino culture), National Museum of Design, Museum of African Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (20th century art), and many others.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is considered one of the most beautiful and diverse nature reserves in the United States. It’s the third most-visited national park in the United States, just behind Great Smoky Mountains and Zion National Park.

Yellowstone is striking in its size (it covers more than 2.2 million acres!) and is located on the territory of the three states: Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Here, guests are treated to jaw-dropping landscapes, huge mountains, caves, waterfalls, and rivers.

As a bonus, there are nine museums located around the territory of the national park, like the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, the Idaho Potato Museum, and the Museum of the National Park Ranger.

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier, in the state of Alaska, is an incredible natural attraction that gives travelers the unique opportunity to walk inside an ice cave! Walking through the labyrinths of the glacier, visitors can see a unique phenomenon where refracting light breaks through the ice and scatters around, creating an incredibly beautiful scene.

Every year the glacier melts and shrinks, which means visiting this place can be a truly rare opportunity to see the glacier before it disappears completely.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is the most famous freshwater lake in the United States, having formed between 2 and 3 million years ago. It is located about 320 kilometers northeast of San Francisco and is a very popular holiday getaway for many locals and second-time visitors.

The location has a very developed infrastructure, including intercity transportation, hotels, cabins, restaurants, gas stations, and much more.

Lake Tahoe receives tourists all year round. During the summer, travelers can swim in the lake, chill out on the beaches, or go hiking, and in the winter, the area is frequented by skiers and snowboarders looking to slide down the Olympic-worthy slopes.

Mount Rushmore

Although most people have some familiarity of Mount Rushmore, only a few have visited on their first trip to the United States — making it a perfect destination for returning visitors!

The mountain is notable for the fact that it is carved with portraits of four of the most famous US presidents: Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. The carved portraits are striking in their size, with the average height of each bas-relief coming in at around 18.6 meters (60 feet).

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