Author Archives: Laura Jacobsen

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

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

Diving Sipadan: a barracuda vortex

Diving Sipadan: Barracuda Vortex and A Fish Cave

I was aware of Sipadan, the famous dive site off northeast Malaysian Borneo, even before I started my Open Water course. Diving Sipadan is on the bucket list of just about every diver coming to Southeast Asia. A tiny volcanic pinnacle rising 600m from the seafloor, it is home to huge amounts of marine life.

Diving Sipadan wasn’t in my plans. It’s a lot more expensive than diving almost anywhere else in Southeast Asia. A complicated permit system helps keep the sites pristine, but it makes advance bookings a must. I was prepared to skip Sipadan in order to save time and money. At the time we were planning our trip to Borneo, Paul wasn’t yet a diver, and I was hesitant to spend a lot of money on an amazing experience that he couldn’t share. But a well-traveled American diver we met in the Banda Islands emphatically told me that Sipadan was not to be missed. Paul also encouraged me to go for it. And I’m glad I did!… Read more

Batu Bolong diving. Komodo, Indonesia

A Komodo Dive Liveaboard on a Budget

“I’m glad we’re not scuba divers,” I mused to Paul, flicking through the Lonely Planet Indonesia while lounging on the couch in our Seattle apartment one Sunday afternoon. “It’s so expensive, and if we were divers we would have to add so many places to our itinerary. We don’t have time for that!”

How things change! When we left home, we thought that our trip was going to be focused on mountains, jungles, and culture. Beaches were places where gap year backpackers got drunk, and there was nothing that interesting to see underwater anyway. We never would have guessed that by the time we arrived Labuanbajo, the gateway to Komodo National Park in Indonesia, we would be more excited about the diving than the dragons, I would have Advanced Open Water certification with 28 logged dives, and Paul would be ready to overcome his fear of water and do a dive course.… Read more

Banaue rice terraces

The Rice Terraces of Banaue in Photos

I am a rice terrace addict. There aren’t many other kinds of landscapes that are shaped by both nature and culture. The Ifugao people of north-central Luzon in the Philippines built some of the world’s biggest rice terraces 2000 years ago. The terraces follow the contours of the deep valleys and steep cliffs. The Ifugao rice terraces around Banaue are a UNESCO World Heritage site, feature on the Filipino currency, and are nicknamed the ‘8th Wonder of the World.’

The terraces immediately surrounding Banaue aren’t inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The agency disapproves of the amount of building and development that is taking place in the town. You need to get out of town and visit one of the smaller villages like Batad or Hungduan to be able to say you’ve seen the World Heritage site.

But the terraces around Banaue are still staggeringly beautiful. There are at least four viewpoints on the road leading north of town. We visited at several times of day to get the best effect of the changing light and shadows. When we visited in the middle of April, the terraces were at varying stages of cultivation. Some areas were bare and flooded, … Read more

Batad rice terraces

Annoyed in the Batad Rice Terraces

Anyone who makes the long trip to the Ifugao region in north Luzon should visit the Batad rice terraces. Batad, a small village off the road system east of Banaue, has some of the area’s most beautiful rice terraces carved into a natural amphitheater in a deep valley. After setting up a home base in Banaue, we headed to Batad for a couple of days of hiking in the UNESCO-designated rice terraces.

The Batad rice terraces were arguably the most spectacular ones we saw. But Batad also felt like the least friendly village in the Ifugao area and Walking ATM Syndrome was prevalent. One obnoxious would-be guide pushed me to my limits of patience. Still, we recommend a stay of at least one night in Batad to appreciate the marvelous landscape.

Highlights

• Possibly the most beautiful rice terraces we visited in the Philippines
• Trekking to the viewpoint across from the village
• Good weather and nice light in the late afternoon and early morning

Lowlights

• Annoying guide who followed us around
• Mediocre food and atmosphere at Ramon’s Native Homestay… Read more

Planning Central Asia Overland Travel

Central Asia Overland Travel: What You Should Know

We had grand plans for the beginning of our round the world trip. We would travel across Central Asia overland from Istanbul to Xinjiang in the footsteps of Marco Polo and Alexander the Great. We had dreams of visiting the ancient cities and mosques of the Silk Road and trekking in the land of the snow leopards in the high Pamirs.

This wasn’t our first trip to Central Asia. In the summer of 2013, we attended our friends’ wedding in Kazakhstan and did two treks in Kyrgyzstan. But our Central Asia overland trip threw up a few more challenges than we anticipated. In the end, we didn’t make it all the way to China, and it wasn’t quite all overland. We saw some amazing sights, met a lot of interesting people, and went to a lot of remote locations that most people will never visit. We also experienced a lot of bumps on the road. For several reasons, we cut our trip short and bailed out to Bangkok.

Travel in Central Asia has more pitfalls than in many parts of the world – and some pleasant surprises. Here are some of the things we wish we had known when we … Read more

Uzbekistan Travel is Awesome. Here’s Why

We got a lot of blank looks and horrified stares when we told our friends and family we were going to travel to Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan travel isn’t on most people’s bucket lists. People who have heard of the country might think it is dangerous because it ends with -stan! On the contrary, Uzbekistan travel is safe, straightforward, and highly rewarding.

Uzbekistan is recovering from a bad reputation among independent travelers. In the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, foreign travelers to Uzbekistan were routinely harassed by police. I had always wanted to visit the Silk Road cities of Uzbekistan. When I mentioned my dream to a group of seasoned travelers in a European hostel in the year 2000, they warned me off with horror stories of corruption, bureaucracy, and dodgy Soviet hotels. Those problems have since disappeared and Uzbekistan is a surprisingly easy travel destination. It’s also a well-kept secret. When we were in Uzbekistan, we felt smug that we were visiting this fascinating country at the perfect time. It’s an underrated gem that should be on every independent traveler’s bucket list. Here are some of the things that we think make Uzbekistan worth visiting now.… Read more

The perfect beach: Paliton Beach on Siquijor

The Picture-Perfect Beaches of Siquijor

Imagine the perfect beach: white sand, blue sea, and palm trees leaning languidly over the shore. Believe it or not, after traveling for almost a year and staying in countless beach huts, we hadn’t found that perfect beach. Maybe that’s because we had been looking for great coral and sea life, which doesn’t always come with the prettiest beaches. The Philippines is known for its beautiful beaches, so our first goal was to find white sand, turquoise water, and palm trees leaning at the perfect angle. We found it all on the sleepy island of Siquijor in the Visayas.

Our Story: The Beaches of Siquijor

We were sitting in the rain in the Banda Islands, deciding what to do next. We were itching for sun and sand, and the weather forecast in the Philippines looked beautiful. We moved up the dates of our Philippines trip to take advantage of the great weather. But how to choose a beach? The Philippines has thousands of islands, all of which look amazing. The most famous beach destinations, like Boracay, are overrun with people. To make matters more complicated, we were going to arrive in the country at the tail end of Easter week, … Read more