Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Best Western Premier Hotel Kukdo {Seoul} : A Hotel Review

When I got word I was returning to Korea for work (I got notice about a week and a half prior to leaving) and realized I'd be staying at the hotel I've stayed at a couple times previously, I was anxious to stay again and review it on the blog.  This hotel is really close to my office in Seoul and in my previous trips I've always enjoyed staying here; the rooms have great views and the location is convenient and while it's been on my Hotels page for a while as a recommendation, I've never actually done a review on it.  So without further ado, here it is.

With that, I'm adding another hotel review to the Hotel Review Guide collection today which you can find on my travel guides page.

When I stayed: September 2014  |  Price Range: Around $110 per night

Address: 164 Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul, 100-849 Korea  |   Website: Hotel Kukdo

Check in - I've never had any issues at check in here, it's usually quick and easy without any hassle.  One thing to note is that check in is actually on the second floor, so you just jump on the escalator or the elevators to head upstairs to the check in desk.

Room - The rooms here are always nice, both aesthetically and for comfort.  They are good size rooms with lots of space for luggage.  I like the modern, sleek design of them and the beds are always comfortable.  The views also can't be beat with views out over all of Seoul.

Bathroom -  The bathrooms are simple but functional here with lots of counter space.

Design -  I like the modern design of this hotel, with lots of wood and a neutral color palette. The design is comforting yet sleek and modern, which adds a nice touch.

Sunrise from my room window.

Overall Impressions - I've liked this hotel every time I've stayed there and this past time was no different.  One of the things I love most about it are the views from the rooms (like in the sunrise view in the above photo).  There are little window boxes in each room and my favorite thing is to sit and watch the sunrise as you look out over all of Seoul.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Travel Tips : Traveling for Work

I started doing work travel very early in my career and whether it was hopping from island to island in Hawaii for projects or making the trek to Korea often, I learned very early on that work travel is an entirely different experience than traveling for fun.  This last trip to Korea made me think about all the work trips I've made there and all the things I've learned and would love to tell my younger 22-year-old self all those years ago.  I've had some interesting experiences traveling with colleagues over the years and it's definitely something that I've learned a lot from, so here today are my tips for anyone heading out on their first trips for work or that might do some travel for work in the future.  It's important to be aware and remember different things when traveling for work, so here are my tips!

1.  Do research about the location before hand.
It's really important to know a general lay of the land for the place you're traveling to, particularly if you're headed abroad.  This is important if you're going alone and need to grab a taxi when you land, or if you're out with colleagues and decide you want to go back to your hotel before them, you need to know where you're going.  Do some research on your location, where you'll be, where your work is there so that you're prepared.

2.  Know when to say no.
I've had some work trips throughout the years when colleagues wanted to do things I didn't want to do when out and about.  It's really important when traveling for work to be able to say no to things that you aren't comfortable with.  Know what your limits are and stick to them.  There is nothing wrong with going back to your hotel instead of out with colleagues when traveling, just be honest and know your limits.

3.  Be polite, but don't let yourself be pushed.
Especially when traveling to other cultures, it's important to be polite but also to stand up for yourself and not let anyone push you into anything you don't feel comfortable with.  If you don't want that next glass of Soju (they drink a lot in Korea, more than I'm often used to), then just say no nicely.  Be nice, but don't let anyone push you into anything.

4.  Be professional always.
Being professional is always the key on work trips.  This begins with how you dress on the airplane, how your luggage looks, the information you bring to meetings, how prepared you are and so forth.  Being professional in how you act and look will leave a great impression no matter where you are in the world.

5.  Be willing to try new things.
Traveling for work is different than traveling for fun in lots of ways, but one of the major differences is that you aren't choosing what you do and eat and where you stay.  Be open minded, whether that means a new food that your colleagues order for you or a hotel you might not necessarily pick to stay at.  They are all new experiences, just treat them as that and be open minded.  I've found some amazing things about Korea from my work trips because colleagues of mine have introduced me to them, things I never would have tried on my own, so be willing to try new things!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Travel {Photography} Tips : Pre-Shot Checklist

In a short break from Korea posts (which will resume next week), we're back today with Nick's monthly photography trips!

Most of you are aware by now that the majority of the photos on these pages are by my husband Nick who has a wonderful eye for creating gorgeous images.  And in this monthly series, Nick is back guest posting today, offering tips and tricks he's picked up over the years through our travels.  From some of his favorite lenses to travel with to how he gets the shots he does and so much more, welcome to the next installment of Travel (Photography) Tips!

Many of the images taken while I'm traveling are what I would consider more editorial in nature and come from walking around and snapping images “off the cuff.” I keep my camera in my hand so that when I see something interesting, I compose and shoot.  The other portion of my images are more what I would call my “setup” images which I would define as more fine art style photographs.  For these images I take a lot more time composing and making sure everything is ready to go. Many times I will be shooting from a tripod, switching lenses and adding filters to get the effect I’m looking for. I tend to take fewer of these images when traveling, but the ones I do take tend to be my favorite images when I look back on the trip.  Because I take a bit more time on these images, I thought it might be a good idea to share how I setup these images and share my “pre-shot checklist” with you. 

Disclaimer: This is how I think and how I approach the scene. Everyone is different and my methodology might not be as effective for you as it is for me. My hope is that you pick up a tidbit that might make your images better.

1. Take a moment to look. 
When I’m shooting a setup shot I commit to taking my time. I put my bag down (if it’s safe) and I look around the scene. What is interesting? What is my favorite part about the scene? Don’t be afraid to take your time taking in the scene to really understand what you like and what you want to shoot.

2. Walk around with the camera.
After I’ve decided what I like about the scene I then need to figure out how I’m going to showcase it. To do this I like to walk around with my camera. I walk around to a couple of different spots and see what the scene looks like to the camera. Maybe the subject is a little cramped and part of it is cut off therefore I need to go wider. I can either walk farther back or put on a different lens, both will have a different effect to the image. I do this until I find the spot I want to shoot from. 

3. Set up the camera.
Figure out what the scene requires. Do you need a tripod, any filters?  Take a moment to think about this. Maybe your scene has a lot of reflections and a polarizer might help cut down on the glare. Look at the settings on the camera. Make sure the Aperture, ISO, and Shutterspeed all make sense. Maybe you cranked the ISO to shoot in a dark church earlier in the day and now you are outside. Get your camera set up as close to the shot as you think. 

Taken at the Taj Mahal - Agra, India
4. Scene Check.
I like to take a last look at the scene before shooting. Look around the edges of the scene and make sure there isn’t anything ugly or distracting you didn’t notice before. Believe me, there are times when I’m taking photos and I forget to do this. I’m really excited about a shot and get it on the computer at home and suddenly am shocked about that trash can that magically appeared in corner of photo. When I was taking photos my mind was focused on the beautiful sunset, church or whatever and ignored that garbage can or telephone pole sticking out of the corner.  I like to use the back of the LCD screen to do a scene check because the LCD screen is a lot bigger then the viewfinder and I can zoom in and out and pan around to get really good look around. 

5. Fire away and then do it again.
Now that I’ve set up of the camera, I can take a picture. After I take the picture I like to make some adjustments to the camera. See what it looks like when the Aperture is big or small. What if I adjusted a little to the left or right?  How does that effect the scene?  Keep shooting until your happy, then once you're done pick up and move to another spot. Hopefully you get a great shot, though sometimes you don’t. The keepers are hardly ever from my first spot. Don’t be afraid to work the scene and keep shooting. 

Taken at the Oberoi Udaivilas in Udaipur, India
As I said at the beginning of this post, this is how I approach a  photo when I want to take my time and really flush out a great image. It doesn’t mean photos taken off the cuff are bad, they just are different. I tend to get better images when I take my time and go through the checklist in my head. Sometimes this process goes quickly, other times it takes longer. It all depends on day and scene.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Travel Tips : Getting Around Seoul

Seoul is a huge metropolis with millions of people that call the city home, as well as added US military population and tourists, which make the city very crowded.  Seoul can also seem incredibly overwhelming to people visiting, with a sprawling land area and divided into more than 20 districts in the city itself, it's massive.  Because of its sheer size, it can be daunting how to figure out how to get around the city, to be able to see the areas you want to see and make your experience easier in this South Korean city.

These following options for transport are definitely not the only options but they are the easiest for me when I'm in Seoul and the options I am most familiar with.  Once you figure out a few options and some tips for each one, it makes it much easier to explore the lovely city of Seoul!

If you know where you're headed and your destination is close by (within a mile or so), I would recommend walking.  It's the best way to get a sense of the area, to take in the unique shops and restaurants along your route and to get a feel for the local culture.  It's also one of the best ways to blend in and it's one of my favorite ways to just spend a few hours, just wandering and taking in the sights.  

Tips for Walking in Seoul
-Watch out for motorbikes as they drive on the sidewalks and often won't stop for pedestrians.
-Wait for the pedestrian lights at crosswalks, don't jay walk.
-Pay for the international data on your cell phone when traveling to Seoul so that you can use Google Maps on your phone while out and about, you'll need it!

The subway in Seoul is a great system and connects the whole city.  I've used it on multiple trips and it's always really useful and efficient.  And with the intense traffic in many areas of Seoul, the subway will also save you a great amount of time from one place to another.  I took it from Dongdaemun to Gangnam this past trip (which would probably take 45 minutes by car) and was there in 20 minutes on the subway.  The trains are clean and modern and the stations are as well.  The nice thing as well is that the ticket machines in the Seoul subways have options in English which makes it super easy to use.

Tips for using the Subway in Seoul
-Print off or buy an English subway map before you go.  The ones in the stations are only in Korean.
-Don't block the escalators.  If you're standing still on the escalators, stay to the right and don't block the path.  People will be walking past you if they are in a hurry.
-Don't sit in the handicap seats on the train.  These are strictly reserved for older people or people with dissabilities.

If it's too far to walk and you're not sure enough of where you're headed to take the subway, taxis in Seoul can be a good option.  But remember, you'll sit in traffic in a taxi so be sure you have enough time.  Also keep in mind most taxi drivers there won't speak any English so be prepared for that and have a sense of where you're headed beforehand.

Tips for taking Taxis in Seoul
-Before you leave, ask your hotel for a location card.  Most hotels there have small postcards that show the hotel address and location in Korean, so when your driver doesn't speak English, you can hand them the card.
-Learn how to say hello (Annyeong-haseyo) and thank you (gamsamnida) to be polite.
-Keep an eye on your route so that if you're headed in the wrong way you can ask them to stop.