What's in My Travel Bag - The Wash Bag Edition

For a while now I've been wanting to put together a few tips on travel, packing, planning... that sort of thing. I've been traveling a lot over the past few years and when I started out I had a long check list that I would print out and go through item by item as I was packing for a trip. The way I packed for a work trip was definitely different from the way I packed for a holiday, what with all the equipment and clothes required for weeks away from home. Now I've reduced it down to a fine art, this whole packing business, and I hope you find these tips useful for whatever kind of adventure you're getting yourself into!

Starting out with my favourite bit of my suitcase, my wash bag. I tend to think of my wash bag as my mini spa, a little self care kit that will revive me after a day of running around getting sweaty and hauling several pounds worth of equipment through the bush/city/slum, or wherever... Having a little bit of time to myself to take care of my body at the end of the day has filled me up with relief and gratitude more times than I can say. Here's what keeps me going:

1. The bag itself comes from Anokhi in Jaipur. Any bag that can fit a lot of stuff is perfect for me - it doesn't need compartments, I just need to be able to pack it and squish it into a bag. It needs to be washable, but have a plastic inside so that when something leaks (and it will), that something doesn't go everywhere.

2. Refillable bottles from Muji are what I use to fill up on my own shampoos, conditioner, etc... These for shampoo, conditioner and body wash, and these for hair mask and body lotion. I'm not too keen on whatever you can buy in travel size and the idea of buying a mini bottle that gets chucked away when it's empty makes me cringe. I use this OGX shampoo and conditioner and this hair mask - the last of which is definitely a necessity if you have long, bleached hair in a dry heat and you hope to, at some point, get a brush through it.

3. For body and face... I've been trying to teach myself how to make homemade, natural beauty products and so far the only one I've had any success with is this body wash which also doubles as a face wash - it's super moisturising. I tried to make homemade shampoo and it did not go well.

4. Sun protection is a must must must at a minimum of factor 50, especially when you're pale as anything and look like you would be better suited to living underground. This is my new favourite face SPF, I used to use this one which is also good but it's more liquid so it tends to travel down my face and get into my eyes. Lately I've been using this body SPF and so far it hasn't let me down - unless I forget to re-apply.

5. For moisturiser, I love all Aesop products, so I use this one because it smells amazing. I'm not a fan of flowery smells which seem to make up most women's beauty products and often make me feel sick or give me a headache, so Aesop is perfect for me because it's all nutty and herb smells with understated floral scents. 

6. Perfume is also from Aesop and I wear it always, when I'm working and when I'm traveling for any other reason - it makes me feel so good and a little more myself no matter how flat out I am.

7. Aromatherpay is something that has only recently become such a big part of my travel routine, I use this flight therapy because I'm a terrible flyer and it cheers me up when I'm getting all anxious about having to sit still on a plane for a million hours. Also my friend gave me a few samples from her doTERRA kit, and I use them at random whenever I feel like I need to chill the F out.

8. Samples. I always load up on a bunch of samples, especially when I can charm the Aesop guys into giving me extra - which is rare because my powers to charm anyone are basically non existent. But any kind of mini facemask, oil or exfoliant samples I can get, I bring with me. The exfoliant in particular because I've been known to stick my face in some gross things to get a shot (the grossest being a two week old elephant carcass I think...), and it's nice to be able to scrub whatever is under my skin, out.

9. Face oil is my new favourite thing! I use it daily whether I'm traveling or not, and then wipe the excess on the back of my hands to give them some extra care. I love this one because while it says it's rosehip, I think it smells more like toasted seeds or something. I got given a sample at an event one time and it's taken me about a year to track down which one it was. I've had other face oils before and they all felt too heavy - this one feels like magic!

10. Body lotion for me can be just coconut oil, if I put it on at night and sleep in it so it's off by morning. Although sometimes I find coconut oil and smell a bit gross after a while, and it's definitely not going to stay solid in a warm country so you risk getting it EVERYWHERE. Plus it can be bulky and hard to find way to carry it. So sometimes I just fill up one of those Muji squeeze bottles with some of this, it's expensive but it's a massive bottle and one usually lasts me about six months. Also I'm a fan of this hand moisturiser: 

11. Makeup! I don't wear it every day, and usually half way through a trip I give up, but if I'm feeling like I need to feel a little more together I use this mascara, because it's not quite so waterproof that it won't come off in the shower without needing to use a special cleanser, but it also won't come off when you get stuck in a monsoon downpour - I've tested that. And I use this shimmery cheek stuff when I feel like putting in any kind of an effort, would you call it a highlighter? I don't know - but with just these two things I definitely feel a bit more fancy, which is nice sometimes. Oh and this lip balm, because it can de-chap any lip overnight.

12. The rest is just toothbrush, toothpaste, nail clippers (because there's nothing worse than not being able to cut your nails!!!), hair elastics (these for topnots, these for everything else), and tampons or pads if you prefer along with a little bag you may have to keep them in if where you're staying doesn't have an easy way to dispose of them - yup, this happens.

And then here's a fun fact, I don't pack deodorant because I don't need it! I have a genetic variant called ABCC11 which means I don't produce whatever body odour bacteria like to feed on - which means I never produce that particular smell. It also means I don't really produce much ear wax. Bodies are weird.

Photos and styling by Tania

What's in My Travel Bag

Havana - From the Road, a Cuba Travel Diary and Guide.

Here it is! The first of my Cuba posts! I ran into a little trouble with editing my photos so that’s why it’s so late, but I took loads of notes while I was there so I have lots of useful info to share. 

 

What to eat, see and do...


 

Of course because it’s me this is going to be a really heavy photo post, but I’ll put all the information up top for easy access. Also I’m going to write an overall road trip guide on how we got from one end of the country to the other in two weeks without killing ourselves! That’s coming up in a few weeks.

But first, Havana!

We arrived in Havana late at night and our Airbnb had arranged a taxi for us – so we drove in a beat-up soviet car from the airport into town and went straight to bed. The air was warm and close and I said to Adam as we were driving along, “you know how sometimes you land somewhere and you just know you’re going to fall in love with it?”…

The next morning we got up early, had breakfast on the roof and took in the view over the city. The sky was so blue and it was already so muggy, but the heat felt amazing and the strong coffee jolted us out of our jetlag. Everyone told us that we had to change our pounds at the airport and that trying to do it anywhere else in town would take hours. We got to the money exchange at about 8:30 and waited for about half an hour to change our money – much better than the two hour queue at the airport! But I guess it depends what time you can arrive, if you can get there 15 minutes before it opens that’s for the best, otherwise the queue can get massive. 

The same goes for the internet place. In Cuba you have to buy internet for 2CUC (Cuban tourist money), and you can only buy it in one our tickets. The queue for that got pretty long but between money and the internet, Adam and I took a divide and conquer approach.

We spent our first day in Havana just strolling – as we usually do in a new place. We got lost, found ourselves again, ended up down some amazing streets and took things pretty easy. Sure we got harassed a little by people wanting to sell us stuff or take us on tours, but Havana feels very safe overall. 

We had lunch at La Bodeguita del Medio and our first Cuban mojitos! And they are absolutely the best. And way too easy to drink! I’m such a light weight, that we had to head home for a nap afterwards. We hadn’t heard of La Bodeguita del Medio before we arrived in the city, we only found it because of the crowds of tourists taking photos of the front. Adam was really put off but I wanted to take a look, and apparently it’s a pretty iconic Havana bar! And as it turns out, people want to take pictures but not really go in – so it turned out to be quite calm inside, full of history and music.

After our siesta we headed out for ice cream at Copelia – Havana’s famous ice cream parlour! Big mistake. I’m sure it’s beautiful inside but queueing for hours in the sun for just average ice cream just didn’t seem worth it to me. So we decided not to bother - but if you really want ice cream there's a Copelia truck next door selling cones.

Instead we ended up at the FOCSA bar at the top of the tallest building in Havana. The 360 view of the city is incredible, and the history of the building is pretty interesting too – so definitely bring your guidebook. And for dinner we went to El Chanchullero de Tapas because it was advertised as a “Hemingway did not drink here” bar – kind of a fun alternative to most restaurants all trying to say Hemingway was a regular. The mojitos were huge and delicious (of course) and while Cuba isn’t exactly a foodie paradise especially if you’re vegetarian, the food was pretty good!

The next day it was really cloudy so we decided it would be perfect to take a city tour in a classic convertible – everyone does it, but there’s a reason for that. It’s a lot of fun! We just showed up to the square close to the capital building and picked our favourite car – you get accosted by loads of drivers but they respect each other and so they don’t all pile on at once. We looked for a driver that spoke English and had a great time seeing parts of the city we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

As the sun was setting we headed to the boxing arena on the other side of town – where some of Cuba’s Olympian boxers train and where kids spend their time afterschool. Boxing and baseball are two of Cuba’s most popular sports and kids are constantly getting involved in one or the other. The Rafael Trejo Boxing Gym isn’t exactly advertised as a tourist spot (I don't think it's even on Trip Advisor) and it’s in a rundown part of town, but they are very welcoming and of course eagerly look for donations to help train the kids. Also it’s kind of amazing for photos, I’m going to do a separate post on that!

That night and the night after we went to La Lluvia de Oro for more mojitos and live music! It was absolutely incredible. Everything about Cuba is just as you would hope in that it’s truly authentic, but the singing and dancing that went on at La Lluvia de Oro was so much of what I hoped Havana would be and I just couldn’t get enough. We stayed there for hours and had dinner, which was ok, and the waiters were kind of grumpy – but when you’ve had a few mojitos is not really a big deal. But overall it was very atmospheric and felt a bit like a dream.

The next day was our last in Havana and was also the hottest day of our whole trip. We walked around and explored the city again in the morning, but after a while it just became too hot to do much else. We cooled off in the airconditioning and got to planning our road trip in detail, had a fairly good lunch at 5Esqiotas Trattoria and spent some more time exploring. 

On one of his solo walks around the city Adam discovered a really tall building that seemed mostly deserted apart from a woodworking shop in the lobby of what turned out to be an abandoned bank. Adam speaks no Spanish but somehow he managed to ask one of the guys if it was possible to get onto the roof – which showed another amazing view over Havana, and also the inside of what was once obviously a beautiful building now in crumbling. I think we climbed 15 flights of stairs at sunset, sometimes jumping over holes in the floor and sometimes fumbling in the pitch dark – but when we arrived at the top the experience was one of my favourite from Havana.

That night we went to watch more live music at one of the more touristy “organised” nights out – I wouldn’t recommend it and we left halfway through. There is more than enough live music on around Havana in clubs and bars, we didn’t need to pay for a show and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone.

This has been such a brief rundown of our time in Havana, there is so much more to experience and do, places to eat and sights to see but this has just been our highlight reel. I’ll include more Havana travel tips in my road trip guide

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Adventure Travel: The Practice Trip and Where to Get Started

One of the most common questions I get asked here on Nishaantishu, and sometimes outside of the internet too, is how to get started on traveling when you’ve never done it before. There are lots of steps to take in terms of saving, visas, logistics, etc… but where do you go? Where do you even begin to look?

I was talking to my friend the other day who has just landed an awesome new job, but she has a few months before she starts and wanted to do some traveling – and she will be traveling on her own for the first time with some, but not loads, of experience.

Now, when I say traveling I mean going somewhere far afield, on a budget. Going to a faraway country and staying in a hotel to sit by the pool, or on a resort, or hop from hotel to hotel – that’s lovely, but I would call that more a holiday. Travel to me makes me think of having a real adventure, the kind you have to work for, of getting a bit lost, getting your hand dirty, and being a bit less comfortable than you would be if you had access to room service. I usually like to combine adventure travel with a holiday at the end, for me that’s the best option - a few days to decompress before I have to go home.

However, when it comes to picking a destination for your first real adventure travel (solo or not), I have a formula. Combine a culture that is fairly different to your own, with a country that is very friendly and safe, if English is commonly spoken that’s would be helpful too, easy transport, and easy access to police, hospitals, and your embassy.

The idea is to get you out of your comfort zone, but not make you feel unsafe. Challenge yourself by having to communicate with people who are friendly but may not immediately understand you, but don’t put yourself in a situation where you may be taken advantage of if someone realises you’re a bit vulnerable. For example, navigating the Tokyo underground system? Yes! Climbing into a matato in Nairobi when you’re unsure of your destination? No!

What will be challenging to you will depend on where you’re coming from, but I’ve put together a list of first time traveler trips I think would be a good option to kick-start your adventures - some are for long adventures and some are shorter ones. Of course trouble can strike wherever you are, so it’s always important to be extra careful and for goodness sake get travel insurance! The more your get your confidence up, the more you can travel into countries that are a bit more challenging.

Where to start...

Travel Through Europe

Iceland

Hawaii

Costa Rica (on the more adventurous side)

New Zealand

American Road Trip

Canadian Road Trip

Hong Kong

Japan

Australia

The Caribbean

Once you have your destination you are free to start saving and planning the logistics: where you're going to stay, places to visit, how you're going to get around - that's the fun part. But if time is on your side, feel free to show up and plan as you go along! That's always fun too. 

I've been to all of these destinations apart from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Costa Rica, so if you have any questions feel free to ask in a comment and I will reply in the comments section.

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Five Reasons To Travel

I was brought up to understand travel was a part of life. You didn’t stay in one place, you looked for work overseas, you moved around a lot… that’s what my parents did, that’s what I was going to do! But when I left home at 18 to go to university in a different country, I cried for days. Just because you want travel as a part of your life, doesn’t make it easy to set off on your own.

Traveling to a different country for uni isn’t exactly traveling though, it’s exciting and challenging, but its work. My first experience with real adventure travel was when I dropped out of uni in my first year to travel around Spain and Morocco. It was going against the wishes of my family and financially it was a bit stupid, but I needed to do it to learn how to grow up. And part of what I learned was: the thing with growing up is that it never stops, and travel never stops allowing you to grow and develop in ways that will continue to surprise you!

Having said that, we all know travel changes people. We’ve heard a million times how seeing other cultures and ways of life challenge your own perceptions of the way you think the world works. But I noticed a few big changes in myself since I ran away from uni (obviously I went back otherwise I wouldn’t have my job today), and how those changes have helped me throughout the rest of my life – in further travel, but also in building a career, knowing marriage was right for me, all that big life decision stuff…

1. You learn to be brave – once you book a ticket, this one happens by default. At the end of the day you have a choice to stay where you’re comfortable or launch yourself into the unknown. For most of us it’s a simple as planning a trip, saving up, and getting on that plane. Once you take this first step, everything afterwards doesn’t seem so difficult. You get braver with the countries you visit, braver with interacting with people and making friends, and braver with looking out for yourself.

2. You develop instincts you never knew you needed – this one is especially important when traveling alone. Over the years I’ve learned to grow eyes in the back of my head, and trust that gut feeling that tells me something isn’t quite right. I think its human nature to develop heightened instincts when you’re in unfamiliar surroundings, but the more you put yourself in unfamiliar situations the more developed these instincts become. And being able to listen to your instincts in life is one of the best skills you can have.

3. It makes you more practical – travel is a beautiful experience, but it’s not all selfies on the beach at sunset. You need to make a plan, a schedule, bookings in advance, or you need to be able to think on your feet if you just decide to see where the wind takes you. You can’t blow all your money on a resort if you’re on a backpacking holiday, and a lot of the time you’re going to have to make ‘either-or’ decisions. This one is all about prioritising, making decisions and keeping one foot on the ground (preferably in the sand) while you’re off having fun.

4. It forces you to choose – once you launch yourself into a trip, there’s no staying still. The closest I came to staying still on my travels was when I lived at a hostel for five weeks because I was having too much fun to leave. Most of the time when you’re on the road, you can’t go back to sleep and think “I’ll deal with it next week”. You have to choose where you’re going, with who, how far your budget can take you, when you’re going home, IF you’re going home, and how you’re going to support  yourself.

5. You learn to trust yourself - I suppose this one is all of these points combined. Travel teaches you self-reliance and also it gives you faith in yourself that you are someone to be relied on! As you go along you learn to decide on what’s best for you, what you want out of your experience, and how to get it – if you can trust yourself to make these decisions while adventuring around the world, they’re kind of awesome skills to have when you come back home and apply them to the rest of your life.

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My Favourite Places to Visit in Lancashire

It has to be said that Lancashire must be my favourite county in England. It's so green and beautiful, rolling hills and plenty of seaside for dog walking. It just feels so moody and full of history everywhere you look - it makes me want to pull out my copy of Jane Eyre and cuddle up with a cup of tea by the fire (ok I know that's Yorkshire, but you get my point).

I lived there for two years after finishing uni and I loved (almost) every minute of it. I've posted about visiting my mum in Lancashire in several posts previously, but I don't think I've ever done a summary of my favourite places to spend time. So here it is, some of my top choices for things to see, do and eat in and around Lancashire:

Wolfhouse Gallery in Silverdale :: we usually go here to stop and have some cake before taking Molly for a long walk on the beach. They do amazing hot chocolate and though it seems to have changed hands over the years, the food is still delicious. The beach can be a little tricky to navigate with the tides and the occasional patch of quick sand, but you can keep to the shore and stay pretty safe. Molly loves it!

Swaledale Woolens in Muker :: Adam swears by these woolen jumpers, and the drive to Muker is exceptionally beautiful. It's the tiniest town you can imagine, but it's good for a walk through and a stop at the tea shop where they do a mean welsh rarebit.

The Tan Hill Inn :: also near Swaledale, and it just happens to be Great Britain's highest Inn - latitude wise I mean. It's a pretty cool pub to visit and it's always full of people walking through the hills from one end of the North Yorkshire Dales to the other. Sometimes they even have a sheep or two walking around, taking a keen interest in your chips. 

Beacon Fell :: is also one of our favourite walks. It's in a remote country park and a favourite spot for everyone to flock to when it's not raining. It's very dog friendly and next to Silverdale it's probably Molly's second favorite walk. Ours too!

The Inn at Whitewell :: is a beautiful place to go for lunch or dinner, or just a drink. It has some stunning views and is very old country house atmospheric. You can sit by the fire with dogs at your feet and drink a pint or two while reading the paper. It can get quite busy, but it's good for an early or late lunch - I've always wanted to stay there but I haven't yet. It's all very P G Wodehouse. 

Honeywells :: if you're looking for the best roast chicken you've ever had in your life, buy one of Honeywell's organic chickens to roast at home. You will not regret it.

The Three Fishes :: another delicious restaurant selling lots of local specialties using nothing but locally grown produce. Everything from their cheese to their veggies is from Lancashire. 

There is of course a lot more to Lancashire and the neighbourig counties than this (such as the Lake District), but when I go and visit my mum for a long weekend we usually do two or three things on this list as they've become our firm favourites over the years. 

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Travels in Iceland :: A Short Trip Guide

When we arrived back in London, Adam and I both agreed that we did Iceland really really well. We had a lot of help for sure with our own personal tour guide, but with the limited amount of time we had we sure packed a lot in.

Blue Lagoon :: a bit pricey, but totally worth it. We had a great time bobbing around in the water and trying to take photos while not dropping the camera! It can get really crowded so going early is a good plan. Also towels do not necessarily come with a ticket, you have to pay extra. And it's a really good last day activity as it's close to the airport, so you can have a pre-flight soak!

Airbnb :: always airbnb it! There are so many cities in the world Adam and I would never have been able to afford to visit if we had attempted to stay in a hotel. I often get asked how I can afford to travel so much, and that's a post for another time, but saving money on accommodation has a lot to do with it. Here's the wishlist I put together for Reykjavik. 

Music :: there are some really good bands coming out of Iceland these days. I already mentioned Ásgeir but while were in Reykjavik we managed to catch CeaseTone  a the Loft who were just awesome. We found out they were playing by looking in the paper but you can also check out.

Snacks :: food in Iceland is super expensive. We grabbed coffees in the morning and had dinner out (sometimes just a hot dog) but that's about it - the rest I bought in my backpack from the UK before I left in the form of granola bars, those mini brioche buns from tesco and hobnobs. Note to self :: next time pack healthier snacks.

Drive yourself :: I think if Adam and I hadn't rented a car, much of Iceland would have been off limits to us. Those tours are really expensive and for the price of around one ticket we managed to rent a car, and a 4x4 no less so that we felt really safe driving in the snow. Also, the satnav came with tours already on is so if we hadn't had my friend as a tour guide, we could have driven ourselves easily.

Ion Hotel :: we really enjoyed our stay here, and it was really worth the price tag. The food, the rooms, the bar - all of this made it worth it. But also, if we hadn't stayed there then we never would have seen the northern lights.

South Coast :: it's worth going to see the lava fields, the ocean and the little fishing villages all along the south coast. It's a good first day activity because it's quiet and relaxing, and also gives you an idea of how sparsely populated Iceland can be in parts!

Solehestar Horse Riding :: if you feel like going on a horse trek then these guys seemed pretty great. They came to pick us up from where we were staying and dropped us off, the horses seemed well loved and cared for - not over-ridden or over-worked like a lot of tour horses. While we're on the topic, if ever you're overseas I urge you to consider the welfare of the animals working in tourism. Just have a look over a horse or an elephant or whatever before you accept a ride, take a peek under their equipment, make sure they aren't over burdened - here's a good page to read over if you want to learn more.

Layers and leggings :: if you're traveling to Iceland in the winter do not underestimate the amount of layers you need to wear. I wore about two pairs of fleece lined leggings every day and I'm really glad I packed so much. It was that cold. 

Saegreifinn Restaurant :: this place comes with some mixed reviews but I really loved it. It's not super comfortable and it's a bit dark, but the lobster soup is really delicious and the fish is to die for. If you don't mind stuffing your face with fresh fish whilst perched on a barrel, I highly recommend this place. Get there early though because it fills up quick!

The Landscape :: I just thought I should mention that a lot of my photos are very selectively taken, like all photos are, but there are quite a few factories around Iceland that kind of make you do a double take. They really rely on the thermal springs for all sorts of power and heating solutions, so next to areas that have a lot of hot springs you will also likely find a hydro plant. There is one right next to the blue lagoon, there was one next to our hotel. There are a lot of pristine landscapes, but there is a lot of industrial elements too - I just wanted to mention because it was a surprise to me when I got to Iceland. I wouldn't say it detracted from the beauty of it all, it's just part of the country.

And finally, if you're ever looking for a tour guide in Iceland, let me know. I know a girl who is pretty great :)

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Travels in Japan :: What to do in Tokyo and Kyoto

To scroll through all my other posts on Japan, click here!

Somehow, time got away from me and I am super late on posting my recommendations of things to do in Tokyo and Kyoto. Here is a list of the experiences we had in Japan last year, things we did and loved and would suggest to anyone who is planning a visit:


My Tokyo Top 10

1 :: First let's talk accommodation! I would go for an airbnb flat in Shimokitazawa, which is a super fun and accessable neighborhood with lots of boutiques, restaurants, and a very trendy vibe. Also good coffee which is not so easy to find in Japan. If you want to stay right in the middle of the action, go for an airbnb in Shibuya, we really loved this one. 

2 :: There are so many good places to eat in Japan! I definitely recommend Ippudo for ramen, and hooray! because they've just opened one in London! But really it's hard to find bad ramen in Japan. Don't be afraid to walk into some local shop where you order by machine and take a seat at the bar to be served. Adam and I were nearly put off by one place because we didn't know how to work the machine, but everyone in Japan is so friendly that in a second there was someone there to help. Also, try to find somewhere that serves okonomiyaki. It's a kind of eggy pancake thing with noodles - oh man, it's good.

3 :: The Tokyo Sky Tree! Adam always wants to see a birds-eye-view of a city, and Tokyo was so amazing to see from above. We had to queue for a while and it was pretty full of school children on field trips, but it was worth it.

4 :: Ueno! This is where we ate the best tempura of our lives! Around here you have a little market that's full of cheap stuff you probably wouldn't want to buy, but it's nice to have a wander and then some lunch. And then you can walk over to the park close by which has some beautiful temples and the Tokyo Zoo! It was closed when we got there on a Monday which was sad because we didn't get to see the panda, but not so sad because zoos can be a little depressing.

5 :: The Golden Gai! Shinjuku is a fun area to walk around, but buried in there are a few tiny streets full of tiny bars. It's a fun night out and a good way to chat to some people from Tokyo. English isn't as widely spoken as in other countries we've visited, but I really loved that! 

6 :: Meiji Jingu - a really lovely shrine and a nice place to experience some quiet in the middle of Tokyo. Also, it's really close to Harajuku! Which, if you haven't heard of it, is a great place to see everything cute about Japan and visit the bunny cafe - one of my favourite things about our time in Tokyo.

7 :: Asakusa temple. It's pretty busy and touristy, but it's one of the oldest temples in Japan so it's a must see for those of us who love visiting temples and churches. Also, there's a little shopping street down the road and it's where I tried my first mochi - which was good but maybe not something you would want to eat loads of.

8 :: Shibuya is a good place to visit on your first day in Tokyo. It's got the famous Tokyo crossing and is a bit overwhelming with crowds but is a good way to immerse yourself in all things Japan. It's quite touristy, but full of interesting things to see.

9 :: Tokyo public transport. I know this is a funny thing to add, but we had such a good time trying to figure out what on earth was going on with the transport system as we navigated the city. It was so complicated, but once we got the hang of it there was such a sense of satisfaction. And it was a great way to immerse ourselves in Tokyo life! And if you want another way to immerse yourself into some Japanese culture, check out a Tokyo Giants game! I'm not a baseball fan but I had lots of fun.

10 :: All you can eat shabu shabu!! I can't recommend this enough. Oh my goodness. Shabu shabu is the most delicious food you will ever eat, I think it may even win out as my favourite food ever. Even above macaroni and cheese! I know, I know, a bold statement. But if you're ever in Shibuya, go here.


My Kyoto Top 10

1 :: As far as airbnbs go in Japan, the earlier you book the better. We booked really late and ended up staying at this airbnb in Kyoto. It was lovely! And a great way to experience how many people in Kyoto live and sleep, but it would have been nicer to be a little closer to a train station, if not the center. 

2 :: Kinkaku-ji or the golden temple. This was the only point at which I got frustrated with crowds in Japan. There were SO many tourists here that we didn't stay for very long. However, it was still worth it because the golden temple was amazing.

3 :: Once you're done at Kinkaku-ji, hop on over to Arashiyama, the bamboo forest. Again, it's going to be touristy, but it's so peaceful you won't even notice. It's easy to do the temple and the bamboo forest in one day but the earlier you get there the better.

4 :: Gion is a great place for an early evening stroll. It's fun to see if you can spot a geisha, although it's really difficult so don't be disappointed if you don't. It's a beautiful old part of the city and a wonderful place to take photos. 

5 :: Nishiki Market is a great place to try out Kyoto's street food!  Adam ate a grilled cuttlefish skewer, but he's a lot braver than I am. It's a good place to get lost for a few hours, but if you're looking for a restaurant to eat at, do your research first! We just chose one at random at it was not good. 

6 :: Kyoto Gyoen National Park holds my favourite memory of our trip to Japan. We had just arrived in Kyoto and walked to the Park from the train station. Adam fell asleep on a bench while I sat and watched a yoga class near by, it was one of those "at peace with the world" moments.

7 :: Fushimi Inari Shrine and a hike - possibly one of the most famous spots in Kyoto. It really is as beautiful as you would imagine it to be - but there is a long walk you can do all around the grounds of the shrine. It's up-hill for a lot of the way, but it's very much worth it.

8 :: Kurama Onsen and a hike - this is home to one of Kyoto's famous hot springs. You take a train to get there, and the train itself has a leaf viewing car. So if you get to the station early enough you can grab one of those leaf viewing seats and enjoy the ride out of the city looking at all the beautiful trees. At the station you can get a map of the town where the spa is and the surrounding nature walks. I suggest getting off a stop early and doing the hike from the station to the spa. There's nothing better than a long soak after some exercise! It's not too expensive, but you do have to be completely naked in the pools - no swimming costumes allowed! So if you have a problem with public nudity, this may not be for you. But having said that, I do have a problem with public nudity but I just made myself get over it. I'm a big believer in not letting your fears hold you back.

9 :: Pontocho at night. This is one of my favourite streets in Kyoto. It's full of restaurants and bars and it's just so very old world Japan. Finding a place to eat is hard though, and it's very much a local spot although it seems touristy. Adam and I had to search for a while to find a restaurant with an English menu, and even then we saw others ordering delicious looking dishes that just didn't seem to be on our menu. But we persevered and thankfully Adam isn't afraid to look like an idiot when it comes to pointing, asking questions, trying to make conversation where no one speaks the same language, and just giving things a go.

10 :: Shinbashi Dori is a beautiful little street to walk down. It's not far away from Pontocho and Gion, you can do all of that in one night if you like, but it's lovely to just wander around this part of town and get lost in the old world-ness of it all. When I imagined the old culture of Japan, Shinhabshi Dori is what I thought it would look like. 


Just a few last points about Japan...

:: Be patient with yourself, you will get lost. Many people don't speak much English and the transport system is so complicated in many cities - but if you embrace the adventure of it then you'll have nothing but fun trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

:: Bullet trains! Expensive but pretty much as awesome as you've heard.

:: Coffee: it's not good. Starbucks is your friend. Maybe we were unlucky with our local coffee choices but we only found one place in Shimokitazawa that was good, and unfortunately I can't remember what it was called.

:: Pack snacks! It means you don't have to spend so much money on eating out. But that's just a good travelers tip in general.

:: Mobile wifi!! Most airbnbs offer it but make sure you get it otherwise it's going to make traveling around a lot more difficult!

:: You can do a day trip to Osaka from Kyoto, and we did, but it was so crowded and such a crazy city that I didn't add it into my list of must-do's because I don't think it's a must.

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