Category: International Travel (Page 1 of 5)

The Perfect 5 Day Netherlands Itinerary for Nature Lovers

For anyone used to roadtripping in the US, the Netherlands will make for a very relaxing place to explore. Getting from one end of the country to the other on their very nice highways won’t take long at all, and this country has so much to offer the nature-lover. If you’re wondering what the perfect Netherlands itinerary is for us outdoor folks, this is where it’s at. Tulips, beaches, farmland, Van Gogh, deserts and mountains, this is the dream Netherlands roadtrip.

DAY ONE: TULIPS AND THE SEA

I loved spending time in Lisse; it is the perfect small-town Netherlands experience, If you are looking for a refreshing break from crowds, staying here outside of tulip season is extremely nice. On the other hand, if you are in the Netherlands for tulip season, Lisse is the perfect place to be. It is situated right in the middle agricultural fields, some of which are devoted to the Netherlands’ favorite flowers.

netherlands itinerary

Downtown Lisse (c) ABR 2017

After spending the day relaxing among downtown Lisse’s restaurants and shops, or marveling at a colorful sea of flowers, the beach is just a short drive away in Noordwijk. We took a nice stroll through the sand, and when we got tired, we retreated to one of the beach-side restaurants for mussels and wine.

netherlands itinerary

Noordwijk beach-ish area (c) ABR 2017

Small town Lisse and the beach are a great way to spend your first day in the Netherlands, whether or not there are tulips. Having a restful day before a roadtrip really kicks off is always a good thing, especially if you just stepped off a 10+ hr plane ride.

DAY TWO: SOUTHERN NETHERLANDS

On the way down from Lisse to the southern tip of the Netherlands, stop by the Dunes of Loon National Park. I have already talked about this beautiful little arid spot in my post about the Netherlands national parks, but this is a wonderful place to stroll through a bright forest of tall trees, which gives way to a sudden island of sand dunes. It is a quiet little spot that locals and visitors enjoy alike.

netherlands itinerary

Dune of Loon National Park! (c) ABR 2017

The Netherlands isn’t known for its mountains… mostly, because it doesn’t have any. Vaalserberg, the highpoint of the country, is a bit of a surprise then, because while it is more of a hill than a true mountain, it can actually make for a nice uphill climb (or drive if you prefer). There are plenty of trails crisscrossing the Netherlands side of this mountain. They are easily accessible from the road that weaves its way up to the top. Vaalserberg is also where the Netherlands meets both Germany and Belgium. So, even if you aren’t a big fan of hiking or highpoints, this is a neat place to get a glimpse of three different countries at once and frolic in some very verdant forests.

netherlands itinerary

(c) ABR 2017

Finally, finish your day off in Eindhoven. The village has a very nice downtown area with tons of restaurant choices to enjoy. Once the sun goes down, go check out the little Van Gogh trail nearby. This beautiful section of a longer bike trail passes through some beautiful fields. It has grown famous for its glowing Starry Night depiction. Eindhoven a great place to end a busy day and watch the stars, both real and artistic.

netherlands itinerary

Van Gogh trail (c) ABR 2017

DAY THREE: AMSTERDAM (OR ROTTERDAM)

Even for us nature lovers, I would be remiss to have a Netherlands itinerary that left out the major cities. Amsterdam is the capital of the country and is (in my opinion) erroneously known for pot smoking and prostitution. I didn’t see any more of either than I would anywhere else, because I stayed out of the red light district. It is totally up to you if you want to confront this stuff.

netherlands itinerary

Amsterdam (c) ABR 2017

The capital is a beautiful city with tons of canals, great food, and lots of different things to do. There are a ton of museums to enjoy, as well as the tulip market and the Ann Frank House (get reservations ahead of time if you want to do this one).

If you aren’t one for crowds, we had Rotterdam suggested to us as an alternative. So you might consider spending the day there if you want to experience the Netherlands urban landscape without the bustle of Amsterdam.

DAY FOUR: THE VILLAGE OF GEITHOORN

I’ve heard of Geithoorn being referred to as the Venice of the Netherlands, and the little town with no roads. There are a few caveats that I’d like to add to this, because I think it is good to go with the right expectations. The idea of a little Venice is a good fit, for one section of the town, and there are definitely roads. You will need one to get there. Pedestrians might even have to dodge a few cars while you walk around. You should also know that this village has become very popular with big, organized tour groups. I would suggest getting there early to avoid some of the crowds.

netherlands itinerary

Giethoorn (c) ABR 2017

Even though I absolutely loved the town (it looks like it belongs in a fairy tale!), the best part about visiting Giethoorn was taking a boat through the nearby wetlands. It was nice to get some isolation and I think being on the water is so relaxing under those conditions. Taking a boat out on the water and through Giethoorn would be a great outing for anyone. When you are done boating around there are some very original shops in the town and delicious food as well.

DAY FIVE: BIKES AND ART IN DE HOGE

I have covered my love for and experience with De Hoge in detail in my National Parks of the Netherlands post. I think anyone who loves nature should make this park a priority. This is the perfect place to go bike riding. There are two amazing museums here as well. It is a full day of activities at De Hoge and a great place to end your Netherlands roadtrip.

netherlands itinerary

netherlands itinerary

Four Tips for Auckland Day Trips

So dear reader, you’re telling me that you’re having a grand old time in Auckland, New Zealand, but you’d like to venture outside of the city a little bit.

Do you have time to drive to NZ’s south island? It could be an 8-12 hour trip depending on where you go. No?

Well, luckily for you, I have some wonderful day-tripping options for you to choose from. Keep on reading, you intrepid traveler.

Things I recommend for day-trip travel:

  • A vehicle, preferably a car (if you’re looking for a place to rent a car, I recommend GO rentals)
  • A good sense of direction OR access to GPS navigation
  • PocWifi – so you can use wi-fi at any time, at a relatively affordable price
  • Cash, just in case
  • Snacks??? I mean, it’s up to you, I just very snacky when I roadtrip.

I’ve given you some one-way travel times from Auckland to all of the listed destinations below, but take these with a grain of salt. Traffic, road work, your own driving speed, etc. will all flex these times.

Hobbiton

Travel time from Auckland: About 2 hours

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan or even if you aren’t, Hobbiton is beautiful venture in the countryside to the movie set where scenes from the Shire were filmed for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.

During the tour, you’re able to walk through the actual set and take photos, while a guide tells you all sorts of movie trivia (a delight for any nerdy heart). If you’re lucky, the weather will be sunny and light up the green hills of the Shire, making you feel like you might ACTUALLY be a little hobbit. (Shoot for summer or maybe late spring.)

I recommend that you book your ticket online in advance, because the time slots can sell out and you can only visit the set if you’re on a tour. Also, since you book a time and they ask you to check in 15 minutes before your tour, you should give yourself enough time to get there. Even if you arrive early, they have a gift shop and a cafe where you can kill time.

Rotorua

Travel time from Auckland: About 3 hours

Rotorua is an excellent place to visit for nature and culture fans.

Whakarewarewa Forest

The Whakarewarewa Forest is only about 5 minutes from downtown Rotorua and is a great place to stroll, hike, bike and even ride on horseback. For travelers from the U.S., the huge trees that the forest is famous for might look a little familiar, and that’s because they’re actually California Redwoods!

Geothermal Activity

Rotorua is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone resulting in a ton of geothermal activity! We visited Hells Gate – both a geothermal park and spa. When you visit and find yourself encompassed by the warm steam and surrounded by volcanic rock, you’ll understand how it got its name. I recommend choosing the tour and spa package, so you can take a self-guided tour through the sulphur and mud pools that make the naturally-heated spa pools possible.

Lake Taupo

Speaking of Taupo, if you have a little more time in Rotorua, Lake Taupo is just about an hour’s drive away. It also has a lot to offer! Apart from a HUGE natural lake that you can take boat and kayak tours on, there’s also Huka Falls, known for its beautiful icy blue water. Huka Falls has a few different hike trails of its own – including the Spa Walk, which actually leads you to a natural hot spring.

Maori Villages

If you’re interested in learning more about Maori culture, there are a couple different Maori villages that you can visit in Rotorua. If you’re not sure which one you’d like to visit, ask the locals. Some of them are actual living Maori villages and others are a bit more… tourist-y. We had planned to visit the living village, but after freezing our buns off on a brisk Lake Taupo boat tour, we opted to warm ourselves up at a local pub.

Waitomo

Travel time from Auckland: About 2-and-a-half hours

One of the big attractions in Waitomo is their cave system. You can visit Ruakuri, Aranui or their Glowworm Caves – all of them offering a different experience. Feeling particularly adventurous? Try black water rafting or tubing through the caves (we were a little too chicken to try this – plus, it was already pretty chilly OUT of the water)!

However, if you’re finding yourself short on time like we were, I would make the Glowworm Caves your Waitomo stop. When you’re in the sitting in the darkness of the cave, only illuminated by the soft blue lights of the thousands of glowworms – you forget you’re in a cave. It’s almost like looking up at a bunch of little stars. It’s truly beautiful, and honestly, my words do do it justice. You can’t take photos in the cave because the glowworms are very sensitive to lights and sound, so it’s really something you have to see for yourself.

Tauranga

Travel time from Auckland: About 2-and-a-half hours

Tauranga is for lovers – beach lovers, that is. The Mt. Maunganui Main Beach has been voted New Zealand’s best, and I can totally see why. The long stretch of beach is a great place to stroll, relax on the soft sand and swim.

If you want to get a hike in, the beach is also conveniently located at the base of Mt. Mauao. If I recall, there were a couple main hiker trails – one that loops a bit more gently up the mountain and one that’s a shorter, but steeper climb up to the summit. We took the steeper climb, which was QUITE the haul, but we were rewarded with gorgeous views along the way and at the top.

If you can believe it, I cut this day trip round-up short for you, dear reader. There’s just SO much to do and see in New Zealand. That’s why I’m definitely going back in the near future and why I’m creating these helpful guides for travelers. If you’re looking for a place to start in Auckland, check out my budget traveler’s guide.

Happy travels to you!

xoxo,
Katie

Bloggers’ Favorite Spots in Japan

If you are thinking about traveling to Japan, you probably know about some of the most famous places in the country, like Tokyo and Kyoto. You might still be wondering about the specifics of what to do in Japan or just looking for more travel inspiration. Either way, we’ve gathered a list of six travel bloggers’ favorite spots in Japan. From urban delights, to spectacular cultural locations and beautiful nature, these highlights are sure to inspire you and enhance any itinerary that you might be planning for this exceptional country. If you’d like more tips for traveling to Japan, be sure to check out our guide!

Fushimi Inari Shrine

what to do in japan

(c) G. Isabelle

by G. Isabelle of Dominican Abroad

For two weeks, I traveled throughout Japan from Nikko to Osaka. I enjoyed and came across gorgeous architecture, traditional Japanese rituals, delicious food, cozy streets, lush mountains, and bucolic countryside views. But what captivated me the most was my experience at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. One quiet night, on my e-bike, I peddled through zigzag streets of Kyoto until finally reaching this shrine. I was immediately awestruck by its quaint ambiance and beauty at first sight. I was one of only three people there. Unlike most other shrines, Fushimi Inari is open 24 hours, which many travelers are unaware of. It was the first shrine I was able to fully take in and enjoy peacefully and without the pressure of crowds and camera flashes. The deep orange-red hues of the torii gates temple contrasted beautifully against the night’s darkness. It was one of my most memorable experiences of Japanese spirituality, beauty, and culture and I strongly recommend it.

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Kamikochi National Park

what to do in Japan

(c) Sarah Carter

by Sarah Carter of ASocialNomad

Kamikochi National Park is a free to access National Park in the Japanese Alps.  It is quite simply a gorgeous valley surrounded by mountains.  The day hiking here is easy, with short walks and a combination circular trail that crisscrosses the river running through the park.  There are stunning views throughout the park and trails are a combination of boardwalks, paving and reinforced track.  Kamikochi NP has toilet facilities, café’s, a souvenir shop and a very helpful information centre.  You won’t find any trash facilities in the park, so pack it in and pack it out!

The park is most easily accessed from Matsumoto via a combo train and bus ticket, which you can buy from Matsumoto train station.   A combined return transport ticket will cost around USD$38, the views are spectacular on the bus.

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Little Edo

What to do in Japan

(c) Noel Cabacungan

by Noel Cabacungan of Ten Thousand Strangers

Little Edo is a small district of Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture.  It is one of the many areas in Japan that has preserved most of its architecture which dates back from the old Edo Period (1603-1868). Kawagoe is just a 30-minute train ride from Central Tokyo and if you happen to be in the capital, a short day trip to this district should definitely be on your itinerary.

Some of the must-see attractions in Little Edo includes the old clay-walled warehouses popularly known as the Kurazukuri no Machinami (Warehouse District), the centuries-old Toki no Kane (Bell of Time Tower) which still functions to tell the time at several intervals throughout the day, the numerous temples around, and  the popular candy street where you can buy traditional Japanese candies and snacks.

If you’re really in for the experience, wear your traditional Japanese costumes and ride one of the jinrikishas (pulled rickshaws) which will tour you around Little Edo for only ¥6,000 for an hour.

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Osaka

(c) Patrick Muntzinger

by Patrick Muntzinger of German Backpacker

Competing with famous tourist destinations such as Tokyo and neighboring Kyoto, Osaka is often overlooked by travelers. However, I had a wonderful time exploring this city and there’s much to do and to see. Make sure to visit the famous castle, which offers you some culture, history and a great view on the city. Plan a stop at the world-famous Aquarium if you’re interested in marine wildlife. Make sure to visit the popular and hip neighborhood of Dotonbori – the touristic center of the city. This place is especially great in the evening, with millions of lights, LED screens and people – the Time Square of Japan! For the best view on the skyline, get on top of the Umeda Sky Building. This place with its unique architecture and its breathtaking panorama is another highlight of Osaka. Enjoy your visit!

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Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

(c) the Travel Sisters

by Matilda of the Travel Sisters

One of my favorite places in Japan is the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. Shinjuku Gyoen actually consists of three different types of gardens: Japanese traditional, French formal and English landscape garden. Tokyo can be hectic so this large and peaceful park is a great place to spend a few hours exploring the garden or enjoying a picnic. Home to a large number of cherry trees, it is also one of the most popular spots in Tokyo for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) during in the spring. Even during the busy cherry blossom season, the park is not as crowded as most places in Tokyo making it a relaxing oasis in the middle of the city.

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Takayama

Autumn scenery, Hida-Furukawa (c) Ingrid Truemper

 By Ingrid Truemper of Second-Half Travels

Nestled in the heart of the Japanese Alps, Takayama preserves Japan’s traditional culture in its photogenic historic architecture, legendary handicrafts, and intricately decorated temples and shrines. Wander the narrow streets of Takayama’s picturesque merchants’ quarter, lined with wooden houses dating from the Edo Period. Don’t miss the colorful morning markets, which sell local snacks and crafts in addition to fruits, vegetables, and flowers. The Takayama Festival, held in spring and autumn, is ranked one of Japan’s best. If you can’t make the festival, be sure to check out the gorgeous floats at the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall.

Takayama also makes a great base for exploring the Japanese Alps. The Unesco World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go, famous for its unique thatched-roof houses, is a popular day trip from Takayama. Better yet, spend the night at a traditional inn to experience the tranquility after the crowds of day-trippers depart. Hida-Furukawa is a charming village 20 minutes by train from Takayama. It’s strikingly similar in layout and architecture to Takayama, but much less touristy. Stroll the peaceful streets of its lovely canal district, where beautifully preserved white-walled storehouses overlook waterways teeming with colorful carp.

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Japan Travel

japan travel

View of Auckland from One Tree Hill

Budget Traveler’s Guide to Auckland

View of Auckland from One Tree Hill

Auckland has a lot to offer – and many of its great attractions cost little to no money to see. This humble guide will help you explore the city without breaking the bank.

First things first, though. If you weren’t thinking about renting a car in New Zealand, I urge you to reconsider. There are so many places to explore and driving will give you the most freedom. If you haven’t driven on the left side of the road before from the right side of a car, I promise you, it’s not as daunting as it sounds. Just drive carefully (and more slowly, if you must) and follow ALL road signs/rules. Roundabouts and one-way bridges are kind of a doozy, but you’ll figure it out – you’re smart people.

If you’re looking for an affordable and reliable rental place, I can’t recommend GO rentals at the Auckland Airport enough (I swear, I’m not a plant, I just had a really good experience). They’re conveniently located just about five minutes from the international departure terminal, they have long hours from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. to accommodate almost any pick-up or drop-off time and they have a shuttle to get you to and from the airport terminals. Plus, they’re just NICE. And if you’re driving in an unfamiliar country, you don’t want a crap car. Don’t forget to ask them about their GO Play discount card- it comes with a map of attractions around NZ that you can get discounted prices on.

Once you’ve gotten all settled, here are my recommendations of places to go:

Cornwall Park/One Tree Hill Domain

In the heart of Auckland, Cornwall Park has it all – you can drive through it, jog or walk. You can marvel at all the precious sheep just wandering around without a care in the world (don’t try and approach them though, they are not a fan).

Basically, the most adorable sheep.

Basically, the most adorable sheep.

And if you make it to the top of One Tree Hill, you can see some great city views, as well as the obelisk put in place to honor the Maori people

This One Tree Hill is NOT the American TV drama series – so if you were hoping to see Chad Michael Murray, I’m sorry to disappoint you. But not really, because this One Tree Hill and surrounding Cornwall park is SO much cooler (sorry, Chad).

Mission Bay

If you’re a beach person (like I am), then you’ll definitely want to take a trip to Mission Bay. Like most beaches, it will get crowded as the day goes on and the temperature rises, so if you want peace and quiet, I would go in the morning.

Here you can stroll along and enjoy the beach views, go for a swim and have a fish-and-chips picnic on the sand or the park grass. Once you’re done having fun in the sun (maybe, depending on the time of year – we went at the end of spring/vert beginning of summer, so weather was cloudier and cooler), you can head into the City Centre. It’s only about a 15-minute drive, depending on traffic.

Central Business District/City Centre

I like checking out the downtown areas of each city I visit, so for me, visiting the City Centre was worth that alone. But it’s also a good place to go for food and shopping – both luxury, local and tourist gift shops are all located here. It’s also close to the University of Auckland if you’re curious about that, and it’s an easy way to hop on a boat tour or ferry and get to Viaduct Harbour.

Viaduct Harbour

The harbour is right smack dab in the middle of the City Centre. With a bunch of bars/restaurants to choose from right on the waterfront, it’s an excellent place to wind down your day. Ferries seem to come in and out of here, if you’re interested in a ferry trip. Plus, there’s a park down way for kids and apparently a summer movie series shown here, as well. It’s also home to the New Zealand Maritime Museum – free entry for Auckland residents and about $10-$20 for visitors.

Botanical Gardens

Let it be known that I love gardens – so naturally, we ended up going to THREE botanical gardens here in Auckland.

The Auckland Botanic Gardens is just under 15 minutes away from the Auckland Airport and admission is completely free. The crazy thing is not only how beautiful the gardens are, but they span over 150 acres of land. If you go, prepare to get a little lost inside – which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Eden Garden is a much smaller, but equally gorgeous botanical garden located on the side of Mt. Eden and just a stone’s throw away from the City Centre (about a 7-minute drive). For only $6-$10 (children 12 and under get free admission), you can wander around these stunning blooms to your heart’s content. You may see some goofy-looking chickens also mucking about. And if you’re feeling ambitious, one of the trails in the garden leads you further up the mountain to a great city view.

If I had to pick a favorite, I think it would be the Domain Wintergardens. I had never seen or been in Victorian-style greenhouse gardens before, and honestly, I couldn’t get enough. The flowers inside are ridiculously pretty and enhanced by the pool/fountains set in the middle of the two greenhouses, surrounded by statues. It almost made me want to pop on a corset and bustle and sit down for high tea – ALMOST. Wintergardens also is free to see, just outside of the City Centre and across from the  Auckland War Memorial Museum.

So really, this barely scratches the surface of things to see in Auckland, but it’s a quick round-up of some of my favorites! And I know traveling isn’t cheap, so I hope this guide helps you jump-start your planning and save some dough, so you can treat yo’self in other ways. New Zealand is worth it!

With Much Aroha (Love),
Katie

Nightborn’s Essential International Travel Checklist

My latest trip to New Zealand really challenged me to use all my travel-planning skills and know-how that I’ve acquired through my own (sometimes haphazard) experiences and advice from more-seasoned travelers. I thought I’d do you a favor, dear readers, and compile a checklist for you here to help tick off the boxes when you’re planning your next great adventure.

1) Save yourself a lot of trouble and look up any specific travel requirements for the country(ies) that you’ll be visiting.

  • Agriculture/Souvenirs- Many countries are very strict about what you can bring in and what you can bring back.
  • Visas – Do you need to apply for a visa to travel here? No joke – some countries require a visa just to pass customs and enter the country to collect your baggage for a connecting flight.
  • International Driver’s License – Pretty self-explanatory. Check if you’ll need one to drive in your destination.
  • Passport – DON’T FORGET IT. Also, make sure you’ve given yourself enough time, in case it needs to be renewed.

2) Put some thought into where you’re going to stay.

This is really at the traveler’s discretion and depends on what you have planned for your trip.

  • Affordability – Hostels are often the cheapest, and are a good choice if you don’t plan to spend much time in your room and don’t mind communal spaces.
  • Experience – I really can’t recommend AirBnB enough. You can find some really neat spaces for a excellent prices if you do your research ahead of time. If it’s your first time AirBnBing (or really, every time), you should check the reviews that people have left about the location and its host(s) and make sure that you review the amenities included, house rules/guest requirements and refund/date change policy.
  • Location – It’s a given that if your accommodation is in a city center/downtown, it’s going to be pricier. I find that being 10-15 minutes out puts you close enough to most attractions, without paying the same prices. But once again, it’s traveler’s choice – just think about how much walking/driving/using public transportation you want to do.

Speaking of which…

3) Know how you’re going to get around.

Planning ahead will help you get to places safely, on time and also use the most affordable mode of transportation. Is there:

  • Reliable public transportation – Do they have buses, train, light rail, etc. and are they safe/clean/easy to use? Remember that with public transportation you’ll either need to carry a good amount of cash with you or purchase a transportation pass.
  • Rental cars – When renting, consider more than just getting the cheapest car. Is it automatic or manual? Does it have USB/other outlets to charge your devices if you really need to? How old/reliable is it? The last thing you want to do is be driving in a strange place and break down.
  • Planes – I know people don’t always want to hop on another airplane after they’ve taken that big international flight, but sometimes domestic flights are cheaper than driving, and they’ll definitely save you the time.
  • UBER/Lyft/Taxis – Useful option when it’s not feasible or unneeded to to use the other options above. Just always use your discretion and be safe – know where you’re leaving from and where you need to go.
  • Good old-fashioned walking – If areas are walkable, always an enjoyable way to see your destination. Wear those comfy shoes and be prepared for weather.

4) Know your mobile device options before you leave.

Traveling to another country no longer means being completely cut off from communications (which can be both a great and terrible thing). Here are a few things to consider:

  • What your carrier already offers –  Do you have free/unlimited texting? How much do calls cost? Do you have data usage without an extra charge for roaming?
  • Purchasing an international data plan – find out if you can and if it’s worth it.
  • Mobile hotspot – if you already use your phone as a hotspot, this is a good and secure substitute for wifi, plus you won’t need to rely on another device for internet. Check the rates out with your carrier.
  • PocWifi – It’s a basically what it sounds like – a pocket wifi device you can carry with you for internet access. We were able to rent one at the Auckland airport for a pretty affordable rate, with unlimited data usage. Like any wifi device, connection got fiddly at some points (especially in high mountain areas or on the outskirts of town) but we were always able to connect and it was life-saver when it came to connecting to the internet to use our phones to navigate.

5) Annnnd most importantly, be flexible!

Weather, flight changes/delays/etc., and other unforeseen challenges will pop up when traveling. And yes, it is a bummer when your day doesn’t go as planned, but you’ve come all this way, so try to make the most of it. It’s not a bad idea to do research some ideas for what to do on these off-days, and, you can always ask locals for their advice.

Travel well,
Katie

Nature in the Netherlands: Three National Parks That You Have to See

When you think of Netherlands’ nature, what do you envision?

Netherlands Nature

Tulips, windmills, canals, and rolling fields of agriculture? I did not imagine National Parks and wild spaces. But if you have followed this blog for any amount of time, you will know that I almost always try to visit national parks in the countries that I travel to. The Netherlands was no exception.

netherlands nature

Loonse en Drunense Duinen (c) ABR 2017

There are 20 national parks throughout Holland, and I would be surprised if you didn’t enjoy visiting any one of them, but here are my three favorites.

netherlands national parks

De Hoge Veluwe

netherlands nature

Biking in the park (c) ABR 2017

 

If you only have time to visit one national park in the Netherlands, this one should be it, because it exemplifies Netherlands’ nature. It has just about everything you could want to do in a day. De Hoge Veluwe has it all, from hiking and biking, to art and natural history museums! We went early on a cold, foggy morning. After paying for our tickets, we picked up some free bikes at the entrance. For there we went to De Hoge Veluwe art museum, which has the second largest collection of Van Gogh in the country. I found this to be a relaxing place to enjoy the art, because this museum lacked the crowds of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum.

netherlands van gogh

Van Gogh in the park (c) ABR 2017

In the middle of De Hoge Veluwe is another museum where you can go underground, and learn about the history and ecology of the park. The museum is also right next to a little cafeteria that has really delicious food. Once we had our fill of museums, we spent a few hours pedaling around. The trails here are very nice and paved, and there was a whole suite of different landscape types that we got to enjoy while exploring.

netherlands nature

(c) ABR 2017

When we were exhausted from biking and exploring all day, we stopped by a food truck for some ice cream, and when we finally got back to our car we were shocked to see that all the bikes were out for the day and the parking lot was full. Due to this, if you visit on the weekend, be sure to get in early so you don’t have any issue parking and getting a bike.

 

netherlands nature

(c) ABR 2017

De Loonse en Drunense Duiden

netherlands nature

(c) ABR 2017

This little park is a great place to take a relaxing walk through a flatland forest, but the center of the park is where the real surprise is. We took a stroll through the trees and found ourselves in the middle of little sea of sand dunes. Even when I didn’t know a thing about the Netherlands, I never would have associated anything desert-ish with the country. The dunes here are even more special, due to the beautiful forest that surrounds the sand. In the shadow of the trees, small green plants and flowers carpet the sides of the dunes.

 

Weerribben-Wieden

netherlands nature

Boating through the park (c) ABR 2017

If you are planning on visiting the “little Venice” of the Netherlands, Giethoorn, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to make some time to stop by Weerribben. The best way to see the park is to rent a boat in Giethoorn. Just be sure to get a map from your rental company, and give yourself enough time to see the park.

netherlands nature

Bird’s eye view! (c) ABR 2017

Despite being in the middle of a developed European country, Weerribben has the magic that made me feel like I was on an adventure in the wild. There is beautiful, calming water and a seemingly endless expanse of green in all directions. Cows graze along the shore, and people tend verdant fields. And there is a little tower that we climbed up to get a bird’s eye view of all this. Finally, we ended our beautiful journey by coming back to Giethoorn and floating through the village.

netherlands nature

(c) ABR 2017

So, if you are planning a trip to Holland, be sure to break up your cultural experience with a little bit of Netherlands’ nature in some of the country’s beautiful national parks.

 

A Short Guide to Food in Japan

Eating while in other countries can be daunting for some people, so I put together a quick guide to food in Japan with picky eaters in mind. Learn about the most common traditional foods that you will find, as well as more familiar foods.

Traditional Japanese Foods

Here are some of the most common kinds of traditional Japanese foods that you will run into while visiting.

Tempura udon (c) ABR 2017

We ate udon EVERY DAY in Japan, and I learned to crave this salty dish after hiking. It is the best way to re-hydrate and get some energy after being outside. Udon comes with a few different things, but most common is shrimp, thin cuts of meat, and various kinds of veggies.

Ramen from the 5th Station on Mt Fuji (c) ABR 2017

Ramen is a thinner noodle than udon, and is common as well, as is soba, which is made from buckwheat! That colorful object in the picture above is naruto, which is made from cured fish.

Poke (c) ABR 2017

As a sushi lover, eating poke and sushi is #1 on my list of things to eat in Japan. However, you should be aware that the laws in Japan concerning raw fish are a bit different than in the US. In order to keep the fish as fresh as possible, most Japanese restaurants do not flash freeze their fish, while in the US fish must be flash frozen first if it will be eaten raw.

Katsu (c) ABR 2017

Katsu is breaded meat, most often pork, although that is steak up above. It is served with rice, and miso soup, and often sauce as well, because it can be a little dry otherwise.

(c) ABR 2017

While many restaurants have similar menus, if you keep your eyes peeled, you will find an endless array of foods in different places around the country.

Foreign Foods

For those picky eaters among you, or people looking for a little reminder of home, the cities have a nice array of foreign foods.

Italian pasta (c) ABR 2017

Italian food is really common, because Japan has a love for noodles!

Dumplings (c) ABR 2017

Japanese takes on Chinese dishes are also pretty easy to come by in the city.

Naan and curry (c) ABR 2017

Indian food was also something that we ran into more than once. They always made the naans HUGE.

Denny’s breakfast in Tokyo (c) ABR 2017

Of course, American food makes its appearance! Our style of breakfast is not the norm in Japan, so it was nice to eat some as a treat once in a while. Their style of scrambled eggs was a little runny, but I had to love the little breakfast salad. XD

Steak (c) ABR 2017

More American classics, which the Japanese chefs plated in a nice, minimalistic style (while maintaining the homey, American look).

Lunch from DisneySea (c) ABR 2017

DisneySea has food choices from around the world (including Latin America as seen above), but all have a Japanese spin that makes them pretty interesting to try.

Desserts

Japan does desserts VERY well, so I will provide the following pictures without comment. Enjoy and do your best to not run out for a sugar fix.

Banana and strawberry crepe with lots of whipped cream (c) ABR 2017

Tea time and cream puffs in Kyoto (c) ABR 2017

Cheese cake (c) ABR 2017

I don’t know what this was, but it was delish (c) ABR 2017

A treat for hiking a mountain (c) ABR 2017

Of course, CUTE desserts too! (c) ABR 2017

If you’d like to know more about where we’ve been in Japan and how to DIY your own exploration of this beautiful country, check out Nightborn Travel’s Guide to Japan.

Little Notes on Culture and History in the Netherlands

Dutch people are known for being forward, and practical. Only 39% of the country claims to be religious, which is one of the lowest in Europe, and they were one of the first European nations to legalize gay marriage, weed, and prostitution.

So, what is the deal with Amsterdam?

(c) ABR 2017

I’ve read plenty of blog posts that claim that Amsterdam is a chalk full of stoners and clouds of weed smoke, but that was not my experience. The central part of the city was the only place that I smelled the pungent plants, and we had more encounters with run of the mill drunk people, rather than stoners. In any case, it is the tourists that frequent the cafés that provide weed most, rather than the locals. So, yes, while weed and prostitution are legal in the city, it is really the bikes, canals, and brick buildings that characterize Amsterdam.

If you want to learn more about cool things to do in Amsterdam, be sure to read No Man Before’s Undiscovered Amsterdam.

How is driving in the Netherlands?

(c) Wikimedia Commons

Overall, very similar to the United States. There is one major difference that I noticed while traversing the roads of this lovely European country, however, and that is in regards to the left or fast lane. In the Netherlands this is a passing lane in the true sense, particularly in the case of highways. If you sit in the fast lane without need, aka going too slow, you may get a ticket and you will definitely get tailgated. This is rude in the US (and illegal in some states), but you really can’t get away with in the Netherlands. Be polite and get over when you are done passing.

The Van Gogh Trail (c) ABR 2017

The other thing that you should be aware of is the fact that many Dutch drivers will change lanes with only a very small amount of room between vehicles. So, be ready to be cut-off and just get used to it. So many people do it that I don’t think you should even bother to consider it rude, but definitely drive defensively. Leave enough room between you and the people in front of you, just in case someone decides to pop into your lane suddenly.

Why do Dutch people love windmills so much!?

A tiny windmill (c) ABR 2017

Back in the day windmills helped the Netherlands become a world power by assisting them in ship building, and by allowing them to produce goods that were used around the world (in particular, paper). Windmills became so common throughout the Dutch countryside that people used the position of the sails to communicate with one another. In fact, this form of communication was utilized for warnings about Nazi movements in WWII. Newer forms of power eventually led to the disappearance of many windmills, but as we all know, wind power is making a come back as a renewable form of energy. Thus, they are a new symbol of hope for the Netherlands and the world.

What is Tulip Mania?

(c) Pexels

There are three souvenir staples in Holland- windmills, clogs, and tulips. Of the three, I think tulips will most likely color any trip you take to the Netherlands the most. Some of you lucky fiends will get to visit during Tulip season and see these flowers in their glory, but even if you are like me and miss it, there will be no lack of tulip bulbs and wooden baubles in the shape of the flowers. So, what is the deal with tulips and the Netherlands? Well, these beautiful flowers have an interesting history in Holland, as they created what some consider to be the first economic bubble that we have recorded accounts of. Basically, when these flowers were introduced to the Netherlands during the “Dutch Golden Age,” they became extremely popular and even more expensive. This funny “bubble” of worth and expense popped when the price and market for the flowers collapsed in 1637. Luckily, unlike the economic bubble that most of us have lived through, Tulip Mania had little to no effect on the overall well-being of the Netherlands at that time. Despite the popping of the Tulip bubble, the Netherlands is still in love with this beautiful flower, and this gives us the opportunity to see the country’s beautiful countryside carpeted with brilliant colors the likes of which only seem possible in fantasy worlds like Oz.

5 Things I’ve Learned from Getting Stuck at Airports

I’ve gotten stuck waiting at a LOT of airports, so naturally I’ve picked up a few things that have made it a little easier for me when faced with traveling inconveniences.

1) Travel delays are less of an ‘if’ and more of a ‘when’, so try to plan accordingly.

These days, it feels like a delay at some airport is almost inevitable, if even for a short amount of time. Unfortunately, sometimes even the slightest delay can throw everything off schedule. I know it’s not always possible, but for big events (usually weddings), it’s a good idea to give yourself a couple days leeway before the occasion to account for any hiccups.

For example, I was traveling from the U.S. to Manila for a cousin’s wedding. All of my connecting flights went smoothly, until the very last one at the Narita Airpot. I was supposed to board at six, which turned to seven, eight and nine and when we finally boarded the plane, they herded us back off because by the time we would arrive in the early a.m., there would be no crew to welcome us. Oh, and the next available flight? Not until 1 p.m. the next day.  I lost nearly an entire day, making me extremely glad the wedding was later in the week.

2) Travel as light as you can…

Good advice for when:
a) Your gate suddenly changes after your last flight delay made you late, and you have to haul your butt across three airport concourses to make it to you connection in time.
b) You’re traveling solo and need to drag your bags everywhere with you. There’s nothing like trying to cram yourself into an airport bathroom with a bunch of luggage.
c) Your connecting flight, for whatever reason, doesn’t transfer your bags with you and you have to go through the whole rigmarole of baggage claim and check-in AGAIN.

3) … But, bring back-up essentials in your carry-on.

This has come through for me AT LEAST twice. I mentioned my sweet stay at the Narita Airport up above – after spending more than 12 hours at the same airport gate, I’m SO glad I had clothes to change into and toiletries to refresh myself. The second time, having learned from Narita, I was flying to Manila again with maybe two or three days worth of extra clothing in my backpack. It served me well after my having to switch flights – I arrived fine, but my baggage took three days to find me, having flown on my ORIGINAL connecting flight.

Things to Keep Handy:
– Extra clothing (especially undies)
– Toothbrush/toothpaste (just remember to keep that tube small enough size for TSA approval)
– Face wipes (good for make-up removal/other face gunk and generally TSA-approved)
– Small stick of deodorant
– Portable phone charger/power bank (in case you’re faced with full or broken outlets)

4) Learn about the airport beforehand, especially if you have multiple connections.

It’s just a great idea to know the layout of the airport(s) you’re traveling to you’re not surprised by what you’ll find when you arrive. If you have the time, then you’ll know where you want to eat, shop and relax. If you don’t have time, then you can move around with ease and book it to your next destination. It also helps to know some other miscellaneous details like if the airport has wi-fi (and is it free?), what currency the airport will accept if you’re traveling to another country (Narita actually accepted USD, which was pretty convenient) and if they have places to stay inside the airport should you need a rest (Narita actually had hotel rooms available – but when I was delayed we were asked to remain by the gate – booooooo).

5) Don’t panic.

If delays happen, if you get stuck in an airport like I did, try your very best not to freak out, take a deep breath and then figure out your next steps.

When I ended up chillin’ like a villain in Narita I:
a) Used the wi-fi to use my messaging apps to see of my family members was online so I could get in contact with them and let them know what’s up and not to worry.
b) Didn’t get mad or berate the staff for a weather delay they couldn’t control, but stuck around, listened to what updates they had and did what they asked of us.
c) Made the best of it. I got to try consommé-flavored Pringles (which I didn’t even know existed) and learned how to make a curry MRE (which actually tasted pretty dang good), I talked to an extremely nice missionary couple that ended up watching out for me while I got some nap time in (still using my carry-on as pillow so I would know if anybody was trying to mess with it) and explored the Narita Airport while purchasing enough green tea Kit-Kats to keep me happy.

1621905_10151874411601196_393278566_n

Mmmmm. Soup.

Really, my hope for every flight and for you is that you don’t get stuck with your buns warming an uncomfortable airport gate seat for hours. However, if you do, remember my advice and perhaps it’ll make things a bit more bearable.

Bisous,
Katie

People First Tourism: Prioritizing Local People Creates Responsible, Authentic Travel Experiences

Nightborn Travel has provided information about ecotourism in the past, but today we have an exciting announcement! We are launching our new partnership with People-First Tourism – we’ll tell you a little more about their travel philosophy and look at why the experiences they offer are both unique and responsible.

What is People First Tourism?

(c) People First Tourism

People-First Tourism is a company with the goal of connecting local tourism entrepreneurs with the greater tourism market. They help supply authentic, sustainable experiences to travelers, while bringing better opportunities to local people around the world by giving control of tourism to the people that live in different destinations.

What is their philosophy and why should I support it?

(c) People First Tourism

People-First Tourism has an amazing manifesto that shows why traveling with them is a great idea if you are interested in being responsible and sustainable, but it also might inform your personal travel philosophy.

“All people have knowledge and experiences that they want to share with others.” This is at the heart of an authentic experience in any destination, learning the story that local people want to share with the rest of the world. Giving residents the ability to run their own tourism businesses, rather than massive, international companies, assists local people in telling their stories.

(c) People First Tourism

“Communities are complex with constantly evolving factions that use their various capitals to compete, complement, and collaborate with each other.” There are people in every community that are more able than others to benefit from industries like tourism. People-First Tourism helps extend this opportunity to more people in the community.

“Immersive experiences into other ways of living bring perspective on what is important in life and fosters tolerance towards others.” We live in an increasingly connected world, but one that is still plagued by misunderstanding and sometimes hatred. Having authentic experiences that are beneficial for hosts and guests can help us build a better, more understanding world.

(c) People First Tourism

“Visitors are guests in their destination communities.” This means that we travelers should appreciate the hospitality of the people welcoming us into their community, without taking advantage.

“Travel writers must act as ambassadors for host communities.” Whether we’re travel bloggers, visitors, journalists, etc., it is our responsibility to help share the stories that local people in the places that we visit want to tell. In this way, we can help share the lessons we learn with the rest of the world, and encourage more people to help support small businesses around the world.

What experiences do they offer?

(c) People First Tourism

Right now People-First Tourism is offering experiences with hosts in North Carolina, Costa Rica, Portugal, and Guatemala. They include things like exploring natural sites, and learning more about local art and culture.

These host experiences would be great additions to any trip that you might be planning to take to these destinations. The complete People-First Tourism Manifesto is on their blog page.

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