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Trusted Travel Questions and Answers

Trusted Travel Questions and Answers is my monthly chance to answer reader questions about travel and destinations. It can be hard to find trusted advice on travel from people who have actually been there. Every week I get a number of questions from readers asking for specific advice. This is my way of answering them but also sharing with others who might be looking for the same information. 8 Days in Sri Lanka Daniel (sorry but you didn’t actually leave your name!) is heading to Sri Lanka for 8 Days and asked the following: I am planning a trip for 8 Days in Sri Lanka. Going straight from the airport to Sigiriya, then Kandy the next day and after that driving to Kitulgala. From there I would like to go to a beach but I am trying to find the shortest most direct way to a beach and I am Read full article…

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Dragash Kosovo Backcountry HDR Photo Trip

Recently I took a mixed group of diplomats, aid workers and tourists on a hiking trip to Kosovo‘s most remote region, Dragash. Not only is the area the focus of my upcoming first guidebook (The Mountains of Dragash, Kosovo: Hiking and Nature Tourism Guide) but is now the area where I’m working for the United Nations to develop a rural tourism strategy for the Municipality. How to Take Stunning Travel Photos With your Iphone The trip and guidebook are secondary to my true secret, how I use the Iphone to take amazing photos. OK, OK, I think they are amazing anyway. While I’m also guilty of lugging around a proper camera, many of my most beautiful shots come from my easy to pocket Iphone. I use a photographic technique (is it a technique if it is an app?) called High Dynamic Range (HDR) which takes photos at varying light levels Read full article…

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Experience Tokyo's Creative Youth Culture in Yoyogi Park

It is hard not to drool cliches when writing about Japan these days, especially when talking about the eclectic youth culture located in Harajuku, Tokyo. Just about every guidebook (this site included 10 Free Things to Do in Tokyo) recommends “people gawking” along the Jingu Bridge where you can usually catch Japan’s insanely strange youth fashion. You’ll find everything from Lolita to goth, french maids with a sweet spot for fake blood, to cross dressing little bow peeps. At times the Jingu Bridge area just next to Harajuku station feels a bit contrived, teenagers dressed up waiting to have their picture taken by photographers, hoping to land in a fashion magazine. Don’t get me wrong, it is fun to gawk, and if you are headed to Meiji Shrine you have to pass over the bridge anyway (this is another must see in Tokyo). But if you are looking for a Read full article…

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A Night with a Sri Lankan Gangster

Some names and circumstances have been changed to protect my ass. Not too many things get your heart beating like downing a half a bottle of Black Label whiskey and being hugged by a killer… In the bathroom I called my friend who worked for the Sri Lankan government. It was 3 am and yet somehow he answered. “Where are you?” “Have you ever heard of (name to remain anonymous)?” “Of course I have. Where are you?” “I’m in his suite at the (fancy hotel to remain anonymous).” “What? Get the fuck out of there! I’m coming to get you.” Whiskey does strange things to people, and after downing a half a bottle the world seemed like a gentle, gummy bear filled place. A night out, or rather in, with a group of gangsters sounded like a great idea. I hung up on my friend with assurances I was OK Read full article…

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Drinking in the Back Alleys of Shinjuku Golden Gai

Just about every visitor to Japan searches for that stereotypical traditional atmosphere where they can sit and breath in the “real” Japan. The truth is that this “real” Japan is fading fast, and has been relegated to the shadows and corners of mainstream Japan. One place that still pulses with the traditional back alley street culture can be founded tucked into a corner of Shinjuku Tokyo’s red light district, Kabuki-cho. Drinking in Golden Gai Golden Gai is a small city block east of Shinjuku station made up of over 200 shacks, formerly brothels. The area consists of just 6 narrow alleys with even smaller passageways connecting everything. This atmospheric drinking area is renowned for the artists, actors and directors that frequent each nomiya (bar). Each small bar is big enough to fit a counter, stools and between six and fifteen patrons. The seedy image of Kabukicho, with its strip clubs, Read full article…

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Guide to UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan

In Japan, UNESCO World Heritage Sites are extremely popular and there is even a weekly travel show dedicated to showcasing sites from all over the world. The United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) aims (among an incredibly long list of other duties) to designate and help to protect cultural or natural sites that show “outstanding universal value.” “Sekai isan” or World Heritage Sites, are so popular that Japanese tour companies do a steady business developing mass tours all around the world as well as within Japan itself. While many people of heard about World Heritage Sites, I was shocked to discover while researching for this article that despite the large sums of money invested to win World Heritage status, and then the vasts amounts of sums needed to protect and maintain those sites (with of course some funds made available from UNESCO) that there is very little interest Read full article…

Camping and Hiking in Kosovo's Backcountry: Brod to Lake Shutman

Working for the United Nations and as a Travel Blogger/writer has its moments…sometimes they intersect in an amazing experience or opportunity that just leaves me wondering how I ever became so lucky. If anyone ever tells you a dream job does not exist, share this link with them and then get working on making it come true. In the run up to my new guide book release (The Mountains of Dragash, Kosovo: Hiking and Nature Tourism Guide) I led a group of 30 people into the Dragash back-country for a weekend of hiking, camping, and getting back to nature (ie getting very wet on the hike in and out). The trip was part of a larger effort to develop a nature tourism strategy for the isolated Municipality of Dragash, and to create a series of value chains to help locals benefit from increased tourism. The project is sponsored by the Read full article…

Off Track on the Northern Albanian Komani Lake

It’s hard to know what is on and off the beaten path these days. Most travelers get their information from the Internet (yes, including you right now) in a way that was never possible before with regular guidebooks. But with the proliferation of information is there still a beaten path? Or are we all beating down the grass as we wander freely here and there depending on the whims of a Google search? Whatever the answer is, for most people Albania as a country is off the beaten path and is just starting to open up to tourism. Travel to the northern mountain regions, where the fastest way to travel is by lake ferry, or by foot, and you can be pretty sure you are off the beaten path. I heard about the Komani Lake Ferry in Kosovo and decided to give it a try. It is by Read full article…

My Karate Kid Moment: Bar Fight in Japan

Three to one. Three soldiers, to me. An ex-girlfriend on my arm, scared. How did I get myself into this situation? More importantly, how did I get myself out of it? When we are kids we all have dreams of being the karate kid. No, not being lanky and whiny (I didn’t have to dream about that part), but being the guy who fights the bullies in the bar…and wins of course. In the summer of 2002 I had my own karate kid moment in Tokyo, Japan. I know, a very cool setting for the story. Yes, it seems I jumped straight to Part 2 rather than training on the beach in California with a small Japanese guy who can act really really well. Despite not being in Okinawa, I still managed to find a group of US Soldiers. Note, I really respect all US military personnel and thank you Read full article…

The Statues of Mt Takao

Recently I wrote about a beautiful hike up Mount Takao in Tokyo. Two of the amazing features of the hike are the Buddhist temple and Shinto shrines along the way. In fact one of the wonderful things about Japan in general is the large number of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines that dot the country along with the hundreds of thousands of statues that live along road sides, in little houses, and in just about every nook and cranny you can think of. The hike up to Mt. Takao is filled with religious and everyday statues. The forest is packed with them, either reminding you of Buddhist precepts, celebrating a piece of nature like a waterfall or a large tree, or just being cute and adding to the neighborhood character. A lot of people have written to me since my last post asking for more pictures of the hike. As Read full article…

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