Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Nomadic Matt's Travel Site: 13 Reasons Why I Fell in Love with Japan

Nomadic Matt's Travel Site: 13 Reasons Why I Fell in Love with Japan

13 Reasons Why I Fell in Love with Japan

Posted: 30 May 2012 04:54 PM PDT

Last month, I toured Japan for three weeks. As you know, I was very excited. I had high expectations for a country that I had for years dreamed about seeing. And, when you have high expectations, you can be easily disappointed. But Japan didn't disappoint — it exceeded my expectations. I loved Japan. Loved it beyond anything I expected. The food, the people, the architecture, the culture- it was bliss. Just how much did I love it? Let me count the ways:

Temples and Zen Gardens
sushi in japan
The temples of Japan are beautiful as shown by this post from Kyoto. The bells, the Zen gardens, the bamboo, and the torii gates really do instill a sense of peace and serenity. I'm going to create one of these for my future home.

temples in Kyoto
Sushi was one of the things I was most looking forward to eating while in Japan. After all, Japan is the birthplace of sushi. Even the worst sushi I had was still as good as the average sushi I have had elsewhere in the world. The sushi trains (those little conveyer belt sushi shops) even had great toro (high quality tuna)! And the best sushi? The Michelin star, drain your wallet kind? Makes you cry tears of joy because it is so good. The flavor, the soft texture, the moist rice – heaven.

I couldn't get over how amazingly polite everyone was. People went out of their way to be helpful. While getting lost looking for my Couchsurfing host, a guy walked me all the way to the address to make sure I got there. A security card who spoke no English just walked me to the ATM because he couldn't explain the directions. There was always an offer of helpfulness at the slightest indication of confusion. There was always an apologetic "sorry" and even the signs, when letting people know something was not allowed, began with "sorry." There is simply a courtesy and helpfulness that permeates the soul of Japan.

friendly locals in japan
The women who ran out of her house to talk to our tour group. The man who let everyone take 1,000 pictures of his dog. The college students to whom I gave English lessons. The owner of the noodle shop who spoke no English but wanted to have a fake game of baseball with me when I told him I was American. The old couple who owned the sushi restaurant who just smiled at me while I ate and gave me a thumbs up every time I said “oishi” (delicious in Japanese). The man who helped me place my order in Japanese and was shocked when I knew the names of fish in Japanese. Everyone was just helpful and genuinely friendly.

Boyfriend/Girlfriend “Service”
While in Osaka, my Couchsurfing host took me to the nightlife area and we did a little people watching. There on the street were young men and women dressed in bad pop star outfits chasing down rich men and women in order to be their "friend for the night." And I don't mean in a hooker way. They are simply paid for their company (and even bought stuff!). Weird, right? How come no one pays me to hang out with them? Apparently, they earn up to $1,000 USD for this per night and there’s no expectation of sex at all! This makes the list for one reason: it's fascinating. Talk about something that is culturally Japanese! I could sit there on the street with some popcorn and watch as girls and boys dressed like anime characters chased after sugar daddies and mamas who might buy them drinks or bad outfits.

Bullet Trains
fast bullet trains in japan
Bullet trains cut 9 hour journeys down to 2.5 hours. That's what more of the world needs. Spacious, clean, fast, and semi-perfect – they just need Wi-Fi and electrical outlets.

Sidewalk vending machines
sidewalk vending machine
You are never more than 10 feet from a vending machine in Japan. Everywhere you look, two or three machines line up to give you everything you need – beer, sake, water, tea — to quench your thirst. Even in tiny towns on little streets that didn’t have a soul, you would see the glow of one of these machines. Now, if only they had food vending machines!

Crazy fashion
I love the crazy and wacky outfits people wear in Japan:
crazy fashion in japan

Multipurpose train stations
sushi in japan
When is a train station not just a train station? When it's a Japanese train station. In Japan, train stations aren't just for trains, there are also malls, supermarkets, huge restaurant areas, and office buildings. Talk about using space effectively.

Asian countries always have much better hotel service than in the West but Japan takes it to another level. I left my bags out one day and they were brought to my room. Towels brought up just because they thought I might need extra. At the traditional hotels, my bed mat was set up at dinner and taken away while I had breakfast. Hotel owners wave you good-bye. Everything is done with a bow. Everyone is helpful. American hospitality is great but even we could learn a thing or ten from the Japanese.

Japanese Onsens
sushi in japan
I'm not a fan of bathhouses. Sitting around naked with a bunch of people isn't my thing. I gave the Japanese onsens a try but there were just too many naked men for me. However, I did venture out when they opened first thing in the morning to have them to myself. I have to admit — sitting in a hot bath with a little waterfall near you is pretty damn relaxing. I want one in my house…when I get a house.

sushi in japan
Japanese rice wine is one of my favorite alcoholic drinks. The smooth taste, the fine finish, the fruity flavoring – mmmmm. It makes for the perfect accompaniment to Japanese food. Sake in Japan doesn’t taste better than anywhere else in the world but there is just more abundance of the good stuff. (A fact I took full advantage of!) I especially enjoyed how you could get free sake samples at stores!

High tech toilets
sushi in japan
Leave it to the Japanese to turn a simple toilet into a technological marvel. There you sit down on a warm seat, while music is playing, and (sorry for getting graphic) have a jet of water come and wash you from the front or back. It's pretty awesome.

As I watched the sunrise over Mt. Fuji towards the end of my trip, I dreaded leaving Japan. Japan exceeded all of my expectations and I only scratched the surface of the country. What wonders did I miss? What other secrets does Japan have to offer? From the Hokkaido to Okinawa, my mind darted to all the sights on my list I didn’t get to see. I already long to go back. Within a day of leaving, I had withdrawal. Like a bullet train, Japan had sped to the top of my favorite countries list.

I’ll be back soon. And when I do, this list will surely get longer.

Traveling soon? Book your travel below with my favorite companies and help support this website:
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Latest Post from Travel Wonders of the World

Latest Post from Travel Wonders of the World

Diving the Seas: Underwater Marvels around the World

Posted: 29 May 2012 07:09 PM PDT

guest post by Ricky Durrance Often it is hard to think outside of the box when it comes to travelling. For example, what do you think of when someone mentions Egypt? Pyramids and pharaohs, right? Whilst these are of course must see sights, you may be surprised to know that Egypt, along with many other countries around the world, have many hidden wonders which the vast majority of people never...

Read the full story at

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Latest Post from Travel Wonders of the World

Latest Post from Travel Wonders of the World

Photo of the Week: Historic Cardrona Hotel (New Zealand)

Posted: 28 May 2012 10:03 PM PDT

Cardrona is the midpoint of the superb scenic drive over the Crown Ranges between Wanaka and Queenstown. A ski village in winter, only a couple of buildings remain from the manic gold rush days of the 1860s including the iconic and historic Cardrona Hotel. Visitors can almost hear the dark coloured walls tell the tortured past tales of people seeking their riches. The backyard is a beautiful...

Read the full story at

Why all-inclusive holidays are popular among thrifty Brits: Travel Blog plus 1 more

Why all-inclusive holidays are popular among thrifty Brits: Travel Blog plus 1 more

Link to Travel Blog

Why all-inclusive holidays are popular among thrifty Brits

Posted: 28 May 2012 07:24 PM PDT

Many of us are guilty of putting off going on holiday, even if we really need the break, as we are worried about spending our hard-earned cash. This is where all-inclusive getaways come in. These are affordable deals that cover your flights, accommodation, food and drinks, so once you have paid up, there is no need to spend anything else if you don’t want to.

As a result, packages providing all-inclusive cheap holidays to Turkey, Cyprus, the Canaries and other well-known destinations have become popular with thrifty Brits – meaning we have no excuse not to escape the confines of our offices and busy lives every now and again!

Some of the top reasons why the nation is increasingly switching on to the benefits of all-inclusive holidays are listed below.

1. Spending is kept to a minimum

Once you’ve booked your break, you won’t need to do much saving when it comes to spending money. If you choose to stick to your hotel’s bars and restaurants, you won’t need to fork out a single penny on your meals and drinks. Of course, you might want to venture outside the complex on a couple of nights, and you will certainly be able to afford to with all the money you will have saved during the rest of your stay.

After booking a break, the thing I look forward to the most (aside from not having to work for a week or two, of course!) is the local food. All-inclusive deals mean I can eat and drink to my heart’s content, without watching my finances. This will be especially important for those of you who have kids, as you’ll want to enjoy family meals and treat youngsters to ice-creams.

All-inclusive packages often cover the use of the complex’s facilities, such as the spa, kids’ club, whirlpool and games room, so there will be plenty to keep you occupied. Should the sun get a bit too much for you, this gives you the freedom to enjoy a spa session, before wandering over for a game of pool.

2. Once booked, everything is sorted

Once your all-inclusive holiday is booked, all you need to do is look forward to your break. Well, you might have to treat yourself to some new clothes and decide what to pack, but the hard work is done. There is no need to worry about getting from the airport to your hotel or making sure you arrive at the hotel in time for check-in – your travel agent will have arranged everything for you. You can even throw in car hire and travel insurance if you want.

I can be a bit of a worrier when it comes to getting to and from places, so knowing I have my transport sorted for when I arrive, quite often very late at night, takes a massive weight off my mind. If I didn’t choose a package deal, I’d have to arrange everything separately – the flights, hotel, insurance, car hire. It would be really annoying to find a hotel I loved, only to discover there were no flights available for when there was space.

3. Your finances will be protected

Should your airline go into administration or your hotel has to close, you will be relieved to hear that all-inclusive package holidays are covered under the ATOL protection scheme. This means while you’ll be left disappointed, you won’t be left out of pocket. It’s not quite as clear cut if you book the different parts of your holiday separately, which is why I always go for package deals.

Why all-inclusive holidays are popular among thrifty Brits from - Travel Directory

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Posted: 28 May 2012 05:14 AM PDT

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Nomadic Matt's Travel Site: Flying at 35000 Feet with Heather Poole

Nomadic Matt's Travel Site: Flying at 35000 Feet with Heather Poole

Flying at 35000 Feet with Heather Poole

Posted: 28 May 2012 03:53 PM PDT

Heather PooleI first met Heather Poole at the first travel blog conference. We got along very well and I had been reading her blog for awhile. She writes about life as a flight attendant. Recently, she published a book, Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet, about life as a flight attendant. I, ironically, picked it up at an airport and read it on a plane. She found time her time at 35,000 feet to talk about her job and book.

Nomadic Matt: You're a flight attendant. What's that like?
Heather Poole: Even though the job has changed a lot over the years, it can still be a lot of fun. But patience is a must, more so than ever before. Flight attendants are the face of the airline and passengers have a tendency to take things out on us, even if what happened is not our fault. Besides being friendly and outgoing, we also have to be able to adapt to change easily. This is why we always have back up plans A, B and C, because there's always something bound to go wrong in the airline industry. Mechanicals. Delays. Cancellations. They happen. Even on Christmas Eve. If there are kids at home this can be one of the most difficult aspects of the job. Flight attendants also are very independent. It's not uncommon to meet a coworker for the first on a trip and then not see them again for a few months, maybe even years. The best part about the job is when we step off the airplane, we always leave the stress of the flight behind. Every flight is a new flight, which means every day is a new adventure.

How often do flight attendants work? Do they fly a lot of the same routes over and over again?

Our schedules average around 85 hours a month. But don't let the number fool you. That's flying time only. Most flight attendants work way more than that. Keep in mind that number is flying time only. Time on the ground doesn't count towards our pay and therefore isn’t included in our monthly schedules This is why we want to spend as much time as possible in the air, not hopping from city to city with lots of time between flights on the ground. Airline seniority determines the kind of trip a flight attendant can hold. This explains why most international long haul flights are staffed with senior crews. Once we have enough seniority to hold a good trip, it's the only trip we're going to work until we're senior enough to hold an even better one. Schedules are set up with a day or two off between each trip, but many of us will "trip trade" with other flight attendants to work a few trips in a row in order to maximize our time off on the ground.

Any hint on the airline you work for?
One of the big ones.

What did your co-workers think of you writing this book?
I don't know that most of them even know I've written a book. And if they do know, they probably just assume I'm still writing it. I've been talking about writing this book for years.

Did your airline know and were there any restrictions placed on you?
I didn't ask for their permission to write the book, and I certainly didn't call anyone up at headquarters to make an announcement about it either. Flight attendants learn to lay low very early on in their careers. But I've been blogging about flying for a long time. I'm fairly certain they know who I am. Just keep in mind my book is not an airline expose. It's about what it's like to be a flight attendant. It doesn't really matter who we work for, the job is pretty much the same wherever you go. Plus half of the book takes place on the ground because it's not just a job, it's a lifestyle. That's what I set out to write about. Plus, there are so many misconceptions about flight attendants I decided to set the record straight.

What is one really juicy story you left out?
One story that got deleted was about a celebrity who claimed to have magical powers after a passenger fell unconscious. To this day, we still don't know if it was his magical powers or the husband who kept nudging his wife in the arm in an effort to make her come to and see the celebrity he was excitedly talking about that made her gain consciousness again.

With so many changes to the airline industry over the years, would you recommend someone become a flight attendant?
It's a great job for someone who hates the idea of working a 9 to 5 job. But it's not easy in the beginning. Our living conditions are pretty extreme. This is why so many flight attendants either last a lifetime or just a few weeks.

Has the job got worse over the last few years because of all the problems in the airline industry?
Of course it's gotten worse, just like lots of other jobs in America. Most people don't know that flight attendants start out making between $14,000-18,000 the first year. With cut backs they'll be making less! So not only do we make less, we're working much longer hours followed by shorter layovers. Think 8-10 hours at an airport hotel on domestic routes. Mix in a delay and there's barely enough time to eat, sleep, AND shower. That said, I'm still flying and I don't feel like quitting – yet. Once I can no longer manipulate my schedule the way I want/need to is the day I might have to say buh-bye. I dread that day.

In the book, you talk about how New York City is your "base" but I know you don't live in NYC. How can a flight attendant be based somewhere they don't live?
Instead of driving to work, we take a plane to work. It's called commuting, and it's getting harder and harder to do these days. I once saw two flight attendants come to blows over the one and only jump seat on the last flight out. Between trips we stay at a "crash pad." Instead of paying for a room, we pay for a bed. Sometimes we'll even share the bed (not at the same time!). Commuters mean business. We're in and out as quickly as possible. The name of the game is to get as many flying hours in as we can in a short amount of time so we can fly back home and enjoy a stretch of days off before we have to do it again.

Are a lot of people getting into the profession these days?
In 2010 Delta announced an opening for 1,000 flight attendants. Over 100,000 people applied. These days it's much harder to find work with an airline now that being a flight attendant is considered a career, not just a job. Turnover isn't as high as it once was and competition has gotten fierce.

In your book, you talk a lot about the difficulty in dating as a flight attendant. As someone on the move a lot, I can relate to that. Do lots of flight attendants have problems dating? Do they all end up with pilots?
It's hard enough dealing with an unusual job without finding a partner who can deal with it. This is why so many relationships end up crashing and burning after someone in the relationship becomes a flight attendant. Because it's either quit or break up. Then of course once you find someone it takes twice as long to realize that person might not be right for you due to the fact that we're not on the ground as often as regular people. And then there are those who want to date flight attendants just because it's easier to juggle multiple partners when one of them isn't home half the time. As for pilots, we tend to either love them or hate them, maybe a little too much! To be fair I'm pretty sure the same thing can be said for the way the feel about us.

If you could tell people three things on how to behave on a flight, what would they be?
Be nice. Be nice. Be nice. We're all in the same boat – er, plane – together. Wait until we're safe and sound on the ground if you must freak out.

Any tips for getting an upgrade from coach?
Do people still think there's a chance of that happening? Don't get me wrong, miracles do happen, but not often. Flights are full and frequent fliers know exactly where their name is on the list these days.

What's the secret to at least getting an extra meal or free drink?
Very rarely do we have extra meals on board. In first and business class we're usually catered right on the money. In coach we barely have enough to serve half a plane full of passengers who are willing to purchase food. As for free drinks, flight attendants have been known to comp drinks to passengers who help out by doing nice things like switching seats so a family can sit together.

You can find out more about Heather Poole on Twitter as well as read her column on Gadling. You can click here and get her book from Amazon.

Traveling soon? Book your travel below with my favorite companies and help support this website:
Cheap Flights from Vayama | Travel insurance from World Nomads | Accommodation from HW | Guidebooks | G Adventure Tours

©Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.