Clownfish in the Togean Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Fantastic Fish and Where to Find Them

When we departed for our 15-month trip around the world, we didn’t even pack swimsuits. But a few months in, after our first look at the coral reefs of Indonesia, we were enchanted by the underwater world. Soon, we were seeking out unique underwater adventures and planning our itinerary around them. By the end of our trip, we had chalked up over 50 dives between us, countless hours of snorkeling, and some truly weird and wonderful fish encounters. Everyone who plans a trip to Southeast Asia should have a sea life encounter, but it takes some planning and know-how to pick the best spots. Here is a list of our favorite places to see marine life in Southeast Asia.

Manta Rays: Nusa Penida, Indonesia

Mantas at Nusa Penida

What: Manta rays swoop in circles around a cleaning station in a rocky bay, lining up to get nibbled by small fish. It’s a hypnotic spectacle. After a few seconds with the mantas, they became our favorite marine animal.

Where: Nusa Penida, an island off the southeast coast of Bali, Indonesia.

When: Any time of the year.

What are the chances? Excellent but not guaranteed. We were lucky and saw over 10 mantas. Our guide … Read more

Crater Lake Sunset

Oregon’s Volcanoes, or Why You Should Travel Close to Home

Washington has so many great hikes that we never did any hiking in Oregon until last summer. The Cascade and Olympic ranges in Washington are wonderlands of flower-filled meadows, glaciated peaks, and scrubbed granite lake basins. So why should we spoiled Washington hikers visit Oregon? Volcanoes!

Yes, Washington has a chain of snowy volcanoes from Baker to Adams. But they are mainly the domain of mountaineers. The volcanoes of the Three Sisters Wilderness near Bend in central Oregon are less glaciated and more accessible to regular hikers like us. With trailheads at around 5000 feet, you can get to higher elevations more easily than any volcano in Washington. Crater Lake National Park, south of the Three Sisters Wilderness, is a natural wonder with no peer in Washington: the country’s deepest lake filling the base of what was once a massive volcano.

I first found out about the volcanic wilderness of central Oregon on a flight from Seattle to Santa Barbara. I looked out the window and saw that the expanse of forest was broken up by a cluster of jagged cones with snowy slopes. The gnarly knot of peaks and ridges, punctuated by forest-ringed lakes, intrigued me. Later, I found … Read more

Nuptse

Trekking the Everest Region Independently on a Budget

Just over a year ago, Paul and I were finishing up our amazing three-week trek to Everest Base Camp and Gokyo in the Nepal Himalayas. We are seasoned trekkers and we are hard to impress. Combined, we have spent months hiking in Nepal, India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bolivia, the Sierras, Alaska, and Washington State. We hiked the Annapurna Circuit in 2007. One of the highlights of our recent trip was our 19-day trek to Everest Base Camp and Gokyo. We can absolutely say that Nepal tops the list for scenic beauty and overall fantastic trekking.

The Nepal Himalayas also offer incredible reward for effort. The Everest region has a well-developed network of lodges and outfitters supplying you with food, lodging and gear. With minimal planning, cost, and red tape, you can have the trek of a lifetime.

Still, there are some things to consider before you sling on a backpack and set off into the hills. We met a lot of travelers who were confused about how to go on their Everest trek of a lifetime. Some people thought that they couldn’t afford to trek to Everest Base Camp, or that they had to take an expensive guided tour. Others liked … Read more

Sunset at Tapto Lakes

Back in the North Cascades: Whatcom Pass and Copper Ridge Backpack

Come Home, Get Back on the Trail

I am always traveling. That is what restless, intelligent, and curious people do. When I tell people ‘I have spent the last year and a half traveling’ I feel a little disingenuous. Why? Because, when I am at home I am always looking for a new adventure. I always want to hit the road when I am not working. In essence, I feel like we are always traveling.

We are eternally thankful that when we left London we decided to live in Washington State. It really is one of the most gorgeous places on Earth and curiously under-traveled. This is a shame. There is so much to do here. So, we will be your gateway. We will continue blogging about our travels at home and, hopefully, persuade a few more to check out this magnificent corner of the world.

First up, our lovely 5-day backpack to Whatcom Pass, Tapto Lakes, and Copper Ridge in the North Cascades National Park in late August. I won’t bore you with the tiny details. There are plenty of excellent trail guides to the region. But, I will try my damnedest to inspire you to go!

Our Story:

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Bahia Tomini in the Togean Islands

The Last Stop: Malenge and Bolilanga

The Last Post

This is the last post recording our travels on our 2015 – 2016 Asian odyssey. I can be thankful that I can type these last lines staring out of our Seattle apartment on a clear sunny day with views of the magnificent Mount Rainier. But, with the maelstrom of a miserable election campaign washing over us I pine for those quieter and simpler times.

But, hey, winter’s coming and you are looking for a beautiful tropical place to sit back, get some rays, and unwind. Well, I have two wonderful places for you to contemplate. Jeez, even looking at these photos is chilling my ass the f#*@k out!

May I introduce the fantastic and mostly unspoiled islands of Malenge and Bolilanga in the Sulawesi region of Indonesia. If you are looking for stunning coral, astonishing marine life, soft white sand, tasty but simple food, and zero connectivity then this is the place for you. The islands are a pain in the ass to get to (for now). But, that’s why they are unspoiled.

Snorkeling in the Togean Islands

Looking Into the Abyss: Getting Over a Fear of Water

A contrarian’s guide to snorkeling and diving when you are scared of the deep

Just over a year ago, I refused to jump into the deep end of my local swimming pool despite the presence of three lifeguards. Just six months ago, I was deeply apprehensive about swimming over a coral drop off despite wearing a life vest. So, how did I fall in love with the ocean and end up scuba diving in the notorious currents of Komodo?

I am here to tell you that if I can learn to swim, snorkel and dive, then anyone can. Like many things in life, motivation and persistence are required. Oh, and it helps to be on a tropical beach with crystal-clear water and a fabulous coral reef.

Read on to find out how I went from being scared of deep water to plunging into the depths, and why you can and should too.

Why didn’t I learn to swim?

I have plenty of reasons (read: excuses) why I steadfastly avoided learning to swim. My school didn’t have a swimming pool or dedicated swimming program. When my dad took my brother and sister swimming on Saturdays, I played soccer. At college, swimming … Read more

Boat at the jetty at Poya Lisa resort

Poya Lisa: Cats, Coral and Birdwatching in the Togean Islands

Poya Lisa is a must-stay destination in the Togeans. The resort is on a tiny island in a small bay off Batudaka island in the southwest part of the archipelago. As is the case throughout the Togean Islands, the term “resort” doesn’t denote a five-star luxury experience. Rather, it’s a set of basic beach bungalows in a magnificent setting. Like all the resorts in the region, accommodation is full board, dining is at communal tables, the hosts arrange great snorkeling trips, and there is a pleasant stretch of soft white sand. Divers can arrange submersible activities with Bomba Divers just across the water.

To get there from Una Una, we took the thrice weekly public boat to Wakai, then transferred to the convenient express boat, the Hercules, which runs a daily shuttle Ampana-Wakai-Ampana. The captain will make the short detour to Poya Lisa on request.

Snorkeling at Sunset

Clear Togean seas.
Sunset snorkel trip.

We dived straight into the action soon after we arrived. The house reef is nothing special but the resort runs free late afternoon boat trips out to nearby reefs. We jumped into an outrigger, grabbed a life vest for Buxton, and headed out to Stefan Reef. The reef was … Read more

Diving Una Una

Diving Una Una: Ending a year of travel in style

How do you wrap up an amazing 14-month tour across Asia? Visit a new country? Stay at a plush resort? Do a thirty day monastic retreat? Climb Everest? Or, revisit one of your favorite spots? We opted for the latter and headed off to the gorgeous Togean Islands in east Indonesia for a couple of weeks of snorkeling, diving, chilling, and wildlife watching. We fondly recalled our first trip to the Togean Islands in September 2015 as the moment when we really found our travel groove. Even better, there is so much to do there we didn’t have to repeat anything from the first trip.

Our return to the Togean Islands confirmed our new-found love of the ocean. And it reminded of us of the stark choices humanity has to make if we wish to protect the oceans for the enjoyment of future generations.

Our Story

Jetty. Una Una
The jetty at Sanctum Una Una.

As ever in Indonesia, there were some transportation issues prior to arriving at these remote islands. We had booked flights from Bali to the port town of Gorontalo in North Sulawesi. Alas, we found out the day before the flight that the Tuna Tomini ferry was in dry … Read more

Announcing Photo Atlas for Android

We are pleased to announce that Photo Atlas, the first Design Think Travel app, is available on the Google Play Store.

With Photo Atlas, you can explore the world in Flickr photos. Get inspired for future trips, scout locations for a photo shoot, or just browse billions of amazing images from around the world. You can save photos in collections to refer to for trip planning.

Why Photo Atlas?

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I love to go to beautiful places and take photos. My second favorite thing to do is to find out about more beautiful places to take photos. I developed the Photo Atlas app to make it easy to visually research destinations.

The app displays geotagged Flickr photos on a map. You can search for places and zoom in to find more photos for a destination. You can also filter photos by keyword. By default, the app displays photos that rank high in in Flickr’s interestingness rating. You can also sort photos by date taken or date posted.

You can save photos you like by adding them to collections. Collections help with planning trips, making bucket lists, and finding great shots to … Read more

Khan Tengri from South Inylchek Glacier Base Camp

South Inylchek Glacier Trek

In Up To Our Necks: South Inylchek Glacier Trek, August 2013

A good travel story is worth telling even if the events took place nearly three years ago. We also noticed that there wasn’t too much information out there about this trek from the perspective of non-expeditionist backpackers. We hope you enjoy the crazy tales and awesome photos.

What better way to prepare for a friend’s wedding in South Kazakhstan than going on the demented Inylchek Glacier trek into the heart of the Tien Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan? Yes, it sounds rather ridiculous to us now too in hindsight! But, that is precisely what we did.

We super excited when our friends, Eric from Seattle and Assela from Kazakhstan, told us they were to be wed in the bride’s hometown of Kulan, 400km west of Almaty. The wedding and related activities would take up four days but we weren’t going to fly all the way there and not check out more of the area. We had always wanted to do an extended Central Asia trip and this was a perfect opportunity to test the waters.

We looked at the map and figured we could visit the Tien Shan mountains across … Read more