Five Special Places I've Visited

Happy Friday! I'm linking up with Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Mar at Mar On The Run, and Cynthia at You Signed Up For What? for today's Friday Five. Thanks to these ladies for hosting this link up!

This week's topic is five trips to take or you've taken, so I thought it would be fun to look back at some of my vacations. 

1. Farthest I've traveled: New Zealand
My husband and I went to New Zealand for our honeymoon in 2002. We stopped in Tahiti on the way there, which broke up the flight time nicely. But on the way back we were traveling for two days straight! Because we had five different flights, we brought only carry-on bags to reduce the chance of lost luggage. Even though we both swam (in Tahiti) and went skiing (in New Zealand), we were able to pack lightly by washing clothes during the trip in what the locals called the wishy-washy in New Zealand. It was nice to travel light, but it meant that while all the other women were wearing cute strappy dresses in Tahiti, I was in khakis and a t-shirt. It was worth it, though, because New Zealand was awesome! We explored the entire South Island in a car we rented and had an amazing time. It's a magical, beautiful place. Having said that, I'm not sure I'd ever travel that far again!
In warm Tahiti

Skiing in New Zealand
In New Zealand

2. Special place in my heart: Alaska
Alaska reminded us a lot of New Zealand with the seas, mountains, and fjords. I loved the vastness and wildness of Alaska. Like we usually do, we rented a car and explored on our own. One night we stayed at a cabin on a private island, where we were instructed to bring flashlights if walking around at night to avoid accidentally bumping into porcupines. I was super excited to encounter porcupines, but unfortunately we didn't meet any. We did see lots of other wild animals--bears, moose, mountain goats, and bald eagles-in other parts of Alaska though. While staying on the island, we hiked on a trail to the top of a small mountain, picking and eating wild blueberries along the way. At the top, we soaked in the vast views of mountains and water and felt like we were the only people in the whole world. It was an amazing experience, my favorite vacation aside from New Zealand.
The rocky beach of the island where we stayed

Me hiking in Denali National Park. It's a trail-less park, meaning that--if there
aren't bears around (and there were in places)--you could hike wherever you wanted.

The road through Denali National Park with Mt. McKinley looming.
We were lucky that "the mountain was out" as the locals say and
got such a great picture.

3. Living like the rich and famous: Hawaii
Years ago we stopped staying in hotels and instead rent houses and cabins. It's usually cheaper to stay in rentals, we can be all alone--we are not the type of people who want to vacation with family and friends let alone be close to lots of strangers--and there's a charm and uniqueness that you can't get in hotels. On the Big Island of Hawaii, we stayed in two awesome homes, both of which were less expensive than hotels!

The first house was in Kona on the west side of the island. It was a large, three-story house that sat literally on the edge of the ocean, with the waves breaking right onto the house. It had three decks at each level to enjoy the ocean views. The water was so clear that we could look down and see all the different fish. And it was close enough to walk into the city.
View of our rental house

On one of the decks
Fisheye view of the ocean from the deck

For the second part of our vacation we drove to the east side of the island and stayed in the Puna district. We rented a house that was featured in Dwell Magazine. It was a really cool, modern house in a garden-like setting...and it only had three walls. The entire back of the house was just a screen since it never got cold there. When we got there and read the notes from the homeowners, we learned that they are nudists and highly suggested you be a nudist in their home! For example, they had scarves to wrap around you before sitting on some of their good furniture. The two showers in the house were open to the outdoors, so like it or not (I did not like it), I became a nudist by showering outside! It was a cool house, and very private, but I was a bit uncomfortable with the house being so open.
Front of the house in the Puna district
View from the yard showing the part of the house with just a screen net and no walls
View into the house from the deck
Inside the house

4. Oddest place we've stayed: miners' ghost town in South Dakota
For part of our vacation in South Dakota, we rented the Kiddville Ranch, a privately owned miners' ghost town on about five acres near Crazy Horse Memorial. Yes, we rented the whole ghost town! The owners left lots of information about the history of the town, and not all of it was pretty. I was a little scared staying there, but nothing weird happened.

View of the ghost town. We stayed in the white former boarding house in the center.
In front of one of the abandoned structures.
More old structures
5. Most foreign-feeling place: Japan
In a previous position at my organization, I did marketing communications for an international conference series and had to travel to attend the conferences. One of the conferences was in Osaka, Japan. I was there for one week for work, then my friend who lived in San Francisco flew over and spent a week with me traveling around. I need to write a separate post just on Japan because it was an incredible experience that really took me out of my comfort zone. Almost everywhere we traveled--except for Tokyo--we were the only non-Asian people. For the first time in my life, I was a minority. It made me very lonely, and I was very homesick, especially since I'd never been away from home and my husband for that long before. I was also a minority in that I was much larger than the Japanese and not only felt like a giant, but was acknowledged as one by the locals. For example, when I was looking at shoes in a flea market, the two women working there snickered behind their hands and then pointed me toward the mens' shoe section. Like I said, I need to do a separate post about it!
In Kyoto
Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me. I love talking about travel so look forward to reading the Friday Five posts!

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