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Tuesday
Apr142015

A Springtime Trek Through Old Japan: The Kiso Road

 
There is no better way to discover the beauty of Japan than by seeing it on foot. Walk Japan, a pioneer of off-the-beaten-path walking tours of the country, offers a wide variety of excursions for every fitness level in key locations throughout Japan. Check out my photo essay, recently published on USA TODAY TRAVEL/10Best, which details a magical Walk Japan trip that took us from the modern city of Nagoya to the historic old city of Matsumoto via the ancient Kiso Road and Nakasendo Way.

 

Everyone worries about staying connected while traveling abroad—and about racking up hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in roaming charges with your local provider if you aren’t careful.

One solution many opt for is to purchase a roaming data bundle from your U.S. provider. But I found a less expensive and extremely effective solution through CellHire. The company offers super fast 4G-LTE coverage with unlimited data (and that is the key here, as you will need it to access maps, information, Skype and your favorite social networks) for $14.95 a day-$79 a week-$159 a month. They also allow five users to connect to the MIFI, so this is a no brainer for families or people traveling in groups.

The connectivity was flawless. Whether I was in a train speeding through the Japanese Alps, overnighting in a remote mountain inn, or walking through city streets, this device was a lifesaver. Very simple to use, it also boasts hours of battery life. Sweet!

Cellhire also offers a variety of other connectivity options, so check them out before your next trip abroad.

 

 

 

 Powering Up

My internet connectivity issue being solved, my next worry was how to power my phone and laptop while I was traveling on foot over hiking trails and by train from town to town.  This is when my Apelpi external battery charger came to my rescue.

In addition to packing a hefty 6400 mAh capacity via two USB ports (and robust enough to charge multiple devices throughout the day), this charger doubles as a fashion statement. Who can resist a red (or pink or green) apple doing its thing next to your phone or tablet?  Light-weight and extremely durable (it was dropped by mistake a few times and survived the abuse), this will definitely be my favorite tech accessory on my future trips.

 

 

 

 

Keeping Healthy

Sure, keeping connected on international trips is important…..but so is keeping healthy.

I had heard about the importance of wearing compression socks on lengthy international flights for people with deep vein thrombosis and other circulatory disorders, but I never considered them for myself—until I ran across the stylish RejuvaHealth line!

The company features a series of slimming, shaping and supportive stockings, leggings and socks that utilize graduated compression to relieve soreness, pain, and reduce the swelling that often occurs on long flights.

Figuring it was worth a try, I opted for a pair of Rejuva Knee High Coolmax compression socks for the flight as well as a pair of black footless compression leggings for the walking trails. I selected the 15-20 compression level, which was perfect for me.

To be honest, I didn’t expect much. But now I am convinced I will never fly again without a pair of compression socks nurturing my restricted circulation! I can’t believe what a difference they made in my comfort during that long flight, especially when I couldn’t move my legs except for under the seat for hours on end.

The leggings also made a significant difference on our trek--when we hiked more than 7 miles daily—in that I didn’t get the soreness in my calves as I expected. I’ll soon add more RejuvaHealth items to my travel wardrobe, to be sure.

 

Sunday
Feb012015

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: A Destination for All Seasons

The quaint town of Bayfield Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Superior, is the gateway to the magnificent Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, a year-round visitor destination. Enjoy a slide show highlighting the culture and natural beauty of this area by logging on to  10BEST/USATODAY Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.


Thursday
Jan082015

Hearst Castle: America's Favorite Palace

Hearst Castle is a national and historical landmark located at San Simeon, on the central coast of California. It was designed by architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947 for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Its considerable collection of art and antiques spanning thousands of years is open for public tours. The castle is a part of the California State Park System and attracts millions of visitors from around the world annually.

For more photos and commentary on Hearst Castle, please visit my 10BEST/USA TODAY article.

Thursday
Dec042014

Swimming with Whale Sharks in the Gulf of California, Baja Mexico

Just when I thought I'd fulfilled my "bucket list" requirement for 2014 with a magical trip to the Galapagos Islands, my husband Tony and I received the incredible opportunity to travel with the outfitter Baja AirVentures from San Diego to the Gulf of California for the truly once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming with docile whale sharks, the largest "fish" in the sea.

Getting there was half the fun. Gliding over the massive terrain of the Baja California Peninsula and the coastline of the Gulf of California was almost a religious experience...it was so breathtakingly beautiful. Before we knew it, our plane gently descended onto the air strip at Bahia de los Angeles to begin our adventure.

A scenic boat ride from town brought us to Las Animas Wilderness Lodge, where our expectations were again exceeded, as we really weren't expecting such comfort in such a remote location. As we pulled into the placid harbor and docked on the expansive, white sandy beach, we felt as if we were part of a “world’s most beautiful beaches” travel magazine spread. This is "glamping" at its finest (glamorous camping for those of you not familiar with this term). 

 

The meals were lovingly-prepared and tasty and we often enjoyed fresh fish caught that day as well as ceviche and other local specialties.

The staff was exceptional in all aspects, genuinely eager to please us and cater to our every need. Our pilot guides Fred and Andy, in addition to being expert aviators, astounded us with the scope of their vast knowledge of the history, wildlife and fauna of the region. Their guidance did much to enhance our appreciation of this magnificent place, and their genuine love of Las Animas shone through in all their communications with our group.

Why did we choose this trip? A recent visit to the Galapagos Islands in March of this year whetted our appetites for more such soft travel adventures. We had heard from friends that the Midriff Islands in Baja California’s Gulf of California is known as “The Galapagos of North America” so we were intrigued. A quick internet search brought us to the Baja AirVentures web site, where (after reading all the glowing reviews) we booked the “Whale Shark” tour.

And YES, it is the Galapagos of North America! Topographically, the regions are very similar, although we enjoyed a rare occurrence:  the greening of the otherwise arid desert landscape because of the heavy rains of September. As in the Galapagos, we viewed blue-footed (and even yellow-footed) booby birds, magnificent frigates, countless sea lions, Sally-Lightfoot crabs, manta rays, sea turtles, dolphins and many other species both regions share. And while giant tortoises don't roam the wetlands as in the Galapagos, the gentle, magnificent whale sharks more than make up for this omission.

 The highlight of this voyage was to experience the proximity of these rare and elusive creatures. At one point, we counted 24 gentle giants swimming around us. Unbelievable! I must mention that even though you may not feel inclined or capable of jumping in the water to swim with the whale sharks, you will be able to admire them just as easily from the excursion boat that took us out daily.

I also must add that we were a group of 8 travelers from around the country (of various ages and walks of life) who started out as strangers and departed as friends, bonded by memories of a magical travel experience.

On our final evening, several of us walked along the shore and watched the sparkles under our feet and the glowing fish in the waves, the bio-luminescence phenomenon of the ocean that I have read about but never experienced. And oh, the heavenly sky in this wilderness defies description. I’ll never forget the site of that jet black globe peppered with glowing stars and constellations, including a magnificent Milky Way the likes of which I’ve never seen and will never forget.

We may be physically back home in San Diego, but our hearts are still on the shores of Las Animas Wilderness Lodge. And I suspect they might remain there for quite a while…..

Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, please log onto my PHOTO WEBSITE for a look at this glorious region through the eyes of my camera.

 

 

 

Thursday
Nov062014

Italian Ambiance on the Southern California Coast

    The Southern California coastline is dotted with luxury resort properties ready to welcome leisure and business travelers-- such as the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point.