A Road Trip Through the Japanese Alps

Neither of us had visited Japan before when we decided to take a small detour to the Land of the Rising Sun. Our road trip through the Japanese Alps, visiting tiny traditional villages and soaking in beautiful natural hot springs, turned out to be a highlight of our trip to Japan.

The Japanese Alps – the region a bit northeast of Kyoto – offers majestic scenery, delicious food, and (for the most part) an opportunity to explore a fascinating region without hordes of tourists everywhere you turn. We loved the freedom that renting a car in this region offered, and would highly recommend it. Before we get into the details, we’ll be up front: this adventure was not cheap for us. Especially compared with traveling throughout Southeast Asia for four months during low season. But if you can afford to splurge a bit, we highly recommend this little Japanese jaunt.

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What to know about Vietnam before you visit

Four things we loved (and didn’t) after two months of travel

Over two months, Daniela and I fell in love with Vietnam and its people. It’s a phenomenal, complicated place, filled with spectacular scenery, a rich and complex history, and no shortage of unique places to visit. I’d never spent that much time in a single country (apart from the US, of course), and that gave us plenty of opportunities to reflect on what made it such a fantastic place for us. Here are eight things anyone considering traveling to Vietnam should know before you visit this wonderful country.

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A peaceful week in Ba Be National Park

Home of Vietnam’s largest lake and blissfully remote from any major cities, it was a wonderful break from our weeks of chaotic travel.

After taking motorcycles across much of Vietnam’s northern border, Daniela and I were a bit desperate for quiet. We kept repeating the mantra: once we get to Ba Be, we can pause. On this trip we have struggled to turn our brains off. We still keep up with domestic news and politics. We respond to emails. We still do many of the things that at times overwhelmed our lives in the States. But for this week, at least, we saw a glimpse of life (mostly) away from the grid in one of the most remote places in Vietnam.

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Reflections: Six Weeks into Our Life Sabbatical

It’s been about six weeks since we left the comfortable confines of DC for the exciting, exotic, and unpredictable world of our life sabbatical. In that time, we’ve traveled through much of northern Vietnam—including Hanoi, Sapa, and the Ha Giang Loop—and are now heading through the southern part of the country. We’ve eaten strange foods, most of which we’d eat again. We’ve met a number of people doing similar things (most from Europe and Australia). And Daniela and I have learned a good deal about each other and how we travel.

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Three Days Trekking in Sapa

What we enjoyed most (and least) on our three-day, two-night trek in Sapa

After a week in bustling Hanoi, we decided to leave the exhaust fumes, heat, and intensity of Vietnam’s capital for the relative idyllic comforts of Sapa—a popular vacation destination for the French during their colonial rule—and home to some of the most amazing scenery Vietnam has to offer. While we found the town of Sapa a bit underwhelming, three days trekking through the surrounding countryside was a phenomenal experience with some of the most breathtaking scenery either of us had ever encountered.

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How does it feel a week after stepping off the proverbial cliff?

It’s now been a week since we stepped off the plane and into the drizzling mist and humidity of our first stop: Hanoi, Vietnam. We’ve spent a week eating, drinking, and wandering our way through Hanoi’s top sites and fascinating nooks and crannies. But the question remains: how do we feel about the fact that we’ve upended our lives to travel on a life sabbatical for the foreseeable future?

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Why we decided to quit our jobs and travel the world

Earlier this year, after months of weighing the pros and cons, Daniela and I looked at each other and agreed: we were really doing this. We were going to quit our jobs, pack up our things, rent out our home, and travel to Asia with little more than two backpacks and a cocktail of fear, anticipation, and excitement.

But why, you may ask? And that’s a question we’ve asked ourselves many times. After all, we’re both in great, satisfying jobs with successful career paths ahead of us. Why take the risk given the unknown that awaits us? It came down to a few key reasons, and the more we have time to reflect on our decision, the more we’re sure it’s the right one for us.

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