Just Back From: Oahu

We just returned from an idyllic few days spent on the North Shore of Oahu, the third year in a row that we've made this trip. While I always love traveling somewhere new, returning to the same place again and again has lots of benefits as well. You know what to expect, what to pack and have a good idea of what you want to do, so there's less planning and more time to just relax.

This time we brought our 3 month old baby - his first flight and first vacation (!) - which made returning to a place we know all the more appealing. We fell into an easy routine of early mornings watching the sunrise, lazy days on the beach and afternoons spent reading (or napping) during tropical rainstorms. We indulged in fresh ahi and yummy pad thai from food trucks and slept better than we have in months. 

{For all the scoop on what to eat and where to wander, check out my newly-updated North Shore travel guide}

If you are planning a trip to Hawaii, I highly recommend checking out Oahu for a local feel of the islands.  

Go Now: Portugal in the Off Season

There’s a reason it feels like everyone you know traveled to Portugal in 2017. The country has been exploding as a popular destination over the past few years, and shows no signs of slowing down. With the allure of delicious food, gorgeous beaches and charming towns, U.S. travel to Portugal increased 22 percent in 2016. And while June - September is peak tourist season in Portugal, here are 5 reasons why you should consider visiting in the off-season. That means now!

Constantly popping up on travel lists from Travel & Leisure naming it destination of the year for 2017 and the New York Times including in their 52 Places to Travel last year, there is no shortage of arguments for why you should book a flight asap. And while summer is the peak tourist season in Portugal, here are 5 reasons why you should consider visiting in the next few months:

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Weather - Portugal’s weather is consistently mild. With highs in the summer reaching into the 80s (Fahrenheit), the winter low rarely gets below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, with daily averages in the low 60s. These mild temperatures make for especially pleasant sightseeing. Layer with a scarf and light jacket and you’ll you’ll be sufficiently prepared for your days of exploring (but also be prepared for rain, just in case!)

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No crowds - One of the best perks of traveling anywhere in the off-season is enjoying a city without fighting the crowds. The convenience of this alone is a huge selling point for me. Restaurant reservations (or just walking in) are much easier to come by. The more touristy spots, such as museums or the Tower of Belem or the Palace of Pena in Sintra, are so much more enjoyable when you aren’t stuck waiting in long lines. There is even a noticeable difference, allowing for a more pleasant experience, when you are just wandering the streets without fighting crowds.

Money - In that it goes further. Always a main consideration when planning a vacation, budget is super important and Portugal tops of my list of awesome and affordable destinations! There are plenty of flight specials and hotel deals to be found this time of year. We flew on TAP Portugal which offers a flight direct flights from the U.S. as well as the free stopover option that played a role in driving tourism to Iceland. We also found very reasonable pricing for Airbnbs. As a bonus, now is a particularly good time to visit Europe with the dollar strong against the Euro.

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That winter light - Hear me out on this one. Yes, days are shorter this time of year and while some could argue that gives you less time to sightsee, there is something about the light in the winter that is magical. Crisper and sharper, the scenic vistas of Lisbon will be all the more breathtaking in the glowy winter light.

Authentic Portugal - Last but not least, traveling at less popular time for other tourists opens you up to experiences you may likely not be exposed to other times of the year. Sleepy beach towns, quiet restaurants and nearly empty hotels create space for connections with locals that busier seasons wouldn’t allow. One of the most powerful experiences of travel is connecting with people living in a different place and in a different culture than you. It expands your horizons and forces you to get outside of your comfort zone. In seasons when the hospitality industry is focused on catering to tourists they don’t have the time to have a meaningful conversation with you, but in the off-season they aren’t as worried about serving everyone staying at the hotel or working through a mile-long wait list. Space naturally opens up for authentic connections, which has the chance to leave a lasting impression on you as a traveler.

Japan

Japan is a destination that sticks with you.

After traveling there last fall, I came back completely enamored with a beautiful country and culture. I had the same questions about the language barrier and communication, but in the end any of those challenges were out weighed by the beautiful culture and connections I made with the people. It was extremely rewarding and eye opening to spend time in a place so drastically different than home.

It was a popular destination in 2016 and shows no sign of slowing down in the lead up to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. I've already had several friends travel there in the past few months, so I thought it would be helpful to gather my thoughts -- and recommendations -- in one place to share why this is such a special and unique destination. 

Specific recommendations for Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima can be found in my Travel Notes.  

1. The Food. This should already be obvious to you. Travel to Japan for the freshest sushi you'll ever have, but stay for the many varieties of ramen, udon noodles, gyoza, tempura, rice, Kobe beef and tonkatsu. Go out of your comfort zone and try something new - seafood you've never heard of, many pickled vegetables options, and have fish for breakfast. Don't forget the fabulous pizza and croissants that Japanese chefs have mastered. Be sure to slurp your noodles (a sign to the chef that you are enjoying your meal) and finish everything that is served to you (out of respect for the chef). 

2. The language barrier isn't that scary. Even with limited communication abilities, everyone I met was extremely helpful and friendly. My biggest tip is to rent a pocket wifi (which you can pick up on arrival at the airport) to carry with you everywhere you go. Having access to Google Maps won't make you immune from getting lost, but will dramatically improve your changes of successfully navigating your way and boost your confidence.

3. Train travel. To me, traveling by train is infinitely more enjoyable than getting on an airplane. In Japan, the trains run on time, are convenient and a great way to see the country. Get yourself a Japan Rail Pass before you leave home (they are only available for purchase out of the country) to make your train experience affordable and flexible. Don't miss a ride on the Shinkansen, Japan's bullet train that travels at 150-200 mph. I only got in a car once on our trip from the airport to the hotel on arrival, and honestly we could have easily taken the train and saved ourselves a lot of yen. 

4. Mix of tradition and modernity. Japan does old and new like nowhere else. Simultaneously honoring the rich culture of the past, the country is hurtling into the modern area faster than practically anyone else. It is utterly fascinating. Tokyo is the largest metropolitan city in the world, while Kyoto is home to some of the deepest history. Just check out a modern toilet in Tokyo if you have any doubts. 

5. Respect. There is a sense of decorum and respect that permeates the culture. Whether politely queing up for the train, dressing well on a daily basis, or properly disposing of their trash (seriously the cleanest place ever), the Japanese set the bar on respect. The surgical masks people wear shouldn't alarm you. They are considerately worn to shield germs from others. Even the school children are impressively well behaved. 

6. Stay in a Ryokan. One of the most unique and memorable experiences I've ever had while traveling. Arrive open minded and be ready to try (and eat) anything. Bathing in a traditional onsen is an opportunity not to be missed. 

7. Shopping. From traditional hand made ceramics to electronic super stores, there is literally something for everyone here. I wish I had spent some more time exploring some of the small shops, especially in Tokyo, but that is what a return trip is for!

8. Clean & Safe. Even as one of the largest cities in the world, Tokyo is one of the cleanest places I've ever been. This extends across all cities in Japan (that I visited), including all public areas. The bathroom one of the Kyoto subway stations is seriously the nicest public restroom I've seen. While you should always be vigilant and careful when you travel, I felt safe all day every day. From early morning pre-dawn runs to late night subway rides. One of my favorite customs are the warm hand towels you receive before every meal. That is a small touch that I really appreciate and enjoyed. 

And there you have it! I could easily go on and on about the vending machine situation (kind of amazing) or how to approach the Tsukiji Fish Market, so feel free to reach out with any specific questions. And go book that flight!