Airplane cabins aren’t always known for being roomy, comfy, or luxurious, but the newest crop of first class suites are stunning travelers with their size and opulence. New Yorkers who get by in tiny 100 square foot apartments and Londoners who would pay $145,000 for a shoe box next to Harrod’s may consider moving in when they see how gorgeous and extravagantly large the new cabins seem by comparison. Here’s a roundup of the best and biggest first class cabins that money (or airline miles) can buy.

First class flight on Etihad Airways
Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Travelarz

Etihad Airways: The Residence

In December 2014, Etihad Airways introduced The Residence on its Airbus A380 planes. The three room suite is a whopping 125 square feet and can be occupied by up to two people traveling together. It includes a living room, a private bathroom, and a bedroom with a bed large enough to share. Etihad hasn’t skimped on the amenities either: It comes with a 32-inch television, a cabinet for chilled drinks, and Christian Lacroix pajamas. The leather on the seats is made by Poltrona Frau, which also makes leather seats for Ferrari and Maserati.

The suite also comes with exceptional service. It includes a luxury chauffeur for transportation to and from the airport, and a Savoy Academy-trained personal butler to meet you and the airport and anticipate your every need. The Residence is available on A380 planes between London and Abu Dhabi, and soon to New York and Sydney, Australia as well. A ticket in The Residence can cost about $20,000 one way. If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to travel like an oil magnate or a Russian oligarch, this is the way to go.

First class flight on a 747
Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Altair78

Singapore Airlines: Suite Class

The Singapore Airlines Suites may only feature one room rather than three, but it’s certainly not much of a step down. Running about $18,000 each way, the Suites were introduced in 2007 and are available only on the Airbus A380. Flights are offered from Singapore to 14 destinations, including New York, London, and Hong Kong, so there’s plenty of opportunity to experience the best of Singapore Airlines.

The cabins are the work of luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste, and feature a 35-inch wide bed and a 78-inch long bed with cabin doors that can be shut completely. When your partner is in the adjacent cabin, the wall removes so that a double bed can be folded down for some in-flight pillow talk. Each Suite also features a 23-inch LCD screen, Bose headphones, a Ferragamo amenity kit, and Givenchy sleepwear. To complete the perfect in-flight experience, the Book the Cook service allows passengers to order their meals before the flight and choose between Michelin-starred chefs Georges Blanc and Carlo Cracco, among others.

Emirates Airways Business Class lounge
Photo: Wikimedia Commons via Altair78

Emirates Airlines: First Class Suites

At around $13,000 one way, the Emirates First Class suites are a bargain compared to the options above, and their most famous feature will seem like a dream come true: an in-flight shower. In a huge improvement on showering over a toilet in your London apartment, each Suites passenger gets 30 minutes in the spa suite with five minutes of hot water conveniently monitored by a light timer. There are two shower spas for the 14 privates suites on each Airbus A380 flight, and the bathrooms also features heated floors and designer towels and toiletries. Imagine being able to freshen up at the end of a long flight, enjoy a shave or a steam, and arrive at your final destination feeling impossibly calm and collected. Now that’s luxurious.

Of course, the cabins in First Class Suites are lovely as well. The seats, which are tablet-operated, fold down to 79-inch beds, and there’s an on-board bar where passengers can mingle with business class passengers over a drink. The cabins also have remote-controlled sliding doors and 23 inch LCD screens for entertainment. Emirates offers chauffeur service to and from the airports in over 70 cities, and flights on the A380 available to over 35 destinations. Maybe it’s time to let go of your lease and take to the skies for luxury and comfort next year.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on Jnuary 18th.

Published in Travel Inspiration

If you’ve ever felt the jolt of panic that comes with realizing that your plane is boarding in a few minutes and you’re still utterly lost in the airport, you’re not alone. But that panic may soon be alleviated at Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport, where lost travelers may be greeted by a helpful robot who can accompany them to their gates.

The robot in the “Spencer” project completed his trial run at Schiphol during the week of November 30, reports Phys.org. A lot of people are banking on his success: The impetus for the project came from Dutch airline KLM, which found that it was losing money because its passengers were routinely getting lost in Schiphol and missing their flights as a result. The project is funded by the European Commission and has included input from researchers and business leaders across five countries.

Much of the team’s time has been devoted to programming the robot so that it’s able to navigate the busy airport environment without bumping into people, luggage carts, walls, suitcases, and the like. Researchers at Örebro University in Sweden believe they’ve met this challenge by programming the robot to map its surroundings and make real-time adjustments to its own trajectory.

With the trial run complete, the team will continue to make adjustments over the next several months in anticipation of the robot’s official premier in March 2016.

Airport assistant robot

Encounters of the Robotic Kind

Spencer will travel throughout the airport on his own, so that travelers who spot him can approach him directly for help. The robot has been given a human-like shape, complete with “eyes” and a “face,” in order to make it more approachable. In order to accommodate international travelers, it’s capable of communicating in several languages.

The robot also boasts an information screen on its “chest,” and travelers may pose their questions and get directions through the screen. But Spencer’s willingness to help doesn’t stop there. He’ll also accompany hopelessly lost travelers through the airport to their gate. The robot has even been given the ability to look around and confirm that the passengers it’s leading are keeping up.

In the future, the robot’s creators anticipate that it will be able to check in with passengers who have missed their flights in order to provide them with up-to-date information regarding when they’ll finally be able to get off the ground. It’s also quite likely that, should this project prove successful, it may inspire the utilization of robots at airports throughout the world.

airport runways

A Robot Revolution?

Spencer isn’t the first robot to break onto the travel scene.

Royal Caribbean International’s Anthem of the Seas cruise line includes robot bartenders who mix and serve cocktails ordered via tablet (with the occasional dance routine thrown in).

Aloft Hotels (a Starwood brand) has employed robot butlers interact with hotel guests via touchscreen and are capable of connecting with the concierge, calling elevators, and delivering room service and toiletries. See them for yourself at the Aloft Cupertino in Cupertino, CA.

Robot butlers are also being utilized at the Crowne Plaza San Jose-Silicon Valley. Dubbed “Dash,” each robot is equipped to deliver amenities to guests’ rooms without any human supervision. The goal is to free up human employees’ time so they can spend more energy on face-to-face interactions with guests. Similar robots are expected to arrive in other hotels over the course of the next few years.

In what is perhaps the most robot-happy move to date, the Henn-na Hotel in Nagasaki, Japan is staffed almost exclusively by robots. The robots take the form of everything from dinosaurs, to fantastical creatures, to geometric shapes, to human mannequins. They help guests check in, lead them to their rooms, and should theoretically be equipped to take care of your every need (unless you need to speak to a real person).

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on January 22nd.

Published in Travel Technology

Commercially available drones are opening up a new world of travel pictures and videos on social media. Spectacular views that would otherwise require a plane or helicopter ride can be achieved by travelers with just a few pieces of gear. Drone users should be sure to check local regulations before unleashing their cameras, though. The travel possibilities for great footage are endless, so we’ve narrowed down five of the best aerial views in the world. They’re definitely better with a drone camera, but there are plenty of options for lower-tech viewing as well.

Temples of Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan

  Myanmar

On the banks of the Irrawaddy River and in the shadow of the Rakhine Yoma mountain range, 2,230 Buddhist temples rise out of the mist. This is Bagan, one of the most magically beautiful sites in the world. Built in the 11th through 13th centuries, only half of the original temples have survived the combination of earthquakes, erosion, and the Mongol invasion. The stunning temples feature frescoes and carvings, but only a few dozen are actively maintained. The natural setting and sheer number of temples mean that the site is best viewed from the air. The classic Balloons over Bagan runs hot air balloon flights at dawn, starting at $320 per person. Plan ahead, though, because trips book up months in advance.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls)

  Zambia/Zimbabwe

The Zambezi River defines border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and creates one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls. The river is 1.25 miles wide when it goes over the falls, and it drops 354 feet, almost twice the height of Niagara Falls. The rising mist can be seen from 12 miles away, and inspired the local Kololo name Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders.” (Scottish explorer David Livingston named the falls for Queen Victoria when he discovered them in 1855). The mist can obscure the view during the summer rainy season, so wait until November when the falls are dryer to plan a trip. Get drone’s eye view of the river and the falls yourself with a helicopter tour from Zambezi Helicopters.

Bungle Bungle Range, Australia

Bungle Bungle Range

  Australia

Located in Purnululu National Park in the western Australia, the Bungle Bungle Range is made of up of huge sandstone mounds that rise up to 820 feet out of the desert. Layers of silica, algae, and other sediments produce a multi-colored striped effect on the beehive-shaped structures, and the colors can vary with the seasons or the weather. The climate and geology make the 350 million year old range completely unique in size, shape, and appearance. The aerial view is fantastic, but make sure to research drone regulations before flying. For those of us without the equipment, helicopter flights leave from nearby cities and start at $269 from HeliSpirit.

Hallstatt, Austria

Hallstatt

  Austria

Hallstatt is often called the “Pearl of Austria,” and it truly deserves the name. It sits nestled between the snow-capped eastern Alps and the glassy and mirror-like Hallstätter See, contrasting the striking natural setting with quaint local architecture. Located in the Salzkammergut region, this tiny city of less than 1,000 people has been producing salt since the 2nd millennium BC and is home to some of the world’s oldest salt mines. To add to the old world charm, cars are not allowed in the city during daylight hours between May and October. In the absence of a drone camera, taking the ferry across the lake provides the best view of the scene.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Ha Long Bay

  Vietnam

Ha Long Bay sits east of Hanoi in the Gulf of Tonkin, and is famous for the towering limestone islands that dot the coastline. The archipelago contains over 1,600 islands, carved by the constant erosion of the sea into caves, arches, and towers. Most of the islands uninhabited, and the mist and fog that rise from the bay contribute to its mysterious quality. The name, which means descending dragon, comes from a local legend that holds that the islands were created when Mother Dragon sent her children to protect Vietnam from invasion. The pearls that dropped from their mouths became the islands, and prevented the invaders from entering. Boat cruises are a popular way to see the islands, but the relatively new seaplane flights can provide a drone-worthy view, and start at $275 per person.

See More Halong Bay Photos     Halong Bay Photo Gallery

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on October 29th.

Published in Travel Technology

There’s nothing under the sun that captures the imagination quite like outer space. With the discovery of water on Mars, the meteoric rise of Matt Damon’s new film, “The Martian”, and the impending release of the new Stars Wars flick, the universe has been, well, everywhere lately.

Back here on the earth, the closest most of us mere mortals will come to outer space is a visit to one of America’s NASA-run Space Centers: the Johnson Space Center, located in Houston, TX, and the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, FL. We wondered, which Space Center location's vacation price is down-to-earth and which one is other-worldly expensive?

To find out, we analyzed our 2015 data for average flight prices to each center's nearest airport from the 30 most popular airports in the U.S. and daily car rental prices, in addition to the average prices for hotel stays in Houston and Cape Canaveral. We also looked at the average ticket prices and, just for fun, how much it would cost to eat lunch with an astronaut, a program offered at both locations.

Here’s what we found it would cost, on average, a family of four for a 3-day, 2-night trip:

Which space center is cheap to visit infographic

In other words, a family of four can save an average of $600 by choosing Space Center Houston over Cape Canaveral, most of which is saved through airfare and Space Center admission prices. Here's how that breaks down, per person:

Cape Canaveral Houston
Avg. RT Airfare $387 Melbourne Intl Airport (MLB) $294 George Bush Intercontinental (IAH)
Avg. Nightly Hotel $144 $116
Daily Admission $50 Adult/ $40 Child $21 Adult/ $16 Child
Lunch with Astronaut $30 Adult/ $16 Child $50 Adult/ $30 Child
Car Rental From $26/ day From $27/ day

While this may appear like pretty steep price tag for a short vacation, both centers offer numerous discount opportunities and are generally all-inclusive. For example, Kennedy Space Center admission includes all exhibits and shows, IMAX space films, the Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour and free next-day admission to the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame when a general admission ticket is purchased. Multi-day packages that can reduce the overall price are also available.

Meanwhile, Space Center Houston offers a CityPASS if you plan to visit other Houston attractions, which allows visitors to save 50 percent on admission to Space Center Houston and four more top Houston attractions: 1) Downtown Aquarium, 2) Houston Museum of Natural Science, 3) Houston Zoo or Museum of Fine Arts, and 4) Houston Children’s Museum or Kemah Boardwalk All-Day Ride Pass. You’ll skip most ticket lines, too.

So while Space Center Houston is inarguably the less expensive of America's two NASA centers, both locations offer multiple opportunities to let your imagination (and inner-astronaut) be free from gravitational pulls for a few days.

Blast off about your Space Center story in the comments below!

Methodology: Hipmunk analyzed 2015 data for average airfare prices to MLB and IAH from the 30 most popular U.S. airports, as well as average nightly hotel prices in both Houston and Cape Canaveral. Car rental prices were the lowest recent price posted on Hipmunk.com departing and returning to MLB and IAH, respectively. All other data was found on each Space Center's website. As always, airfare, hotel, and car rental prices frequently change and Hipmunk does not guarantee that the prices listed in this story reflect what is currently available.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on November 11th.

Published in United States

One of the best things about foreign travel is the knowledge that invariably comes with it. It provides the opportunity for each of us to learn more about the world and its' many diverse cultures, as well as a little bit about ourselves. Another bonus is the chance to see which technology, trends, and practices are popular in the local region.

Think back and I'm sure you can recall a few things that made you go "Why don't they sell these back home?" or "Damn, why aren't we doing this at home?" even "Look at that, how awesome!" Most often those thoughts and semi-rhetorical questions are soon enough forgotten. But for me, at least in the case of Japan, not a day goes by that I don't miss all the great things about that country.

Japan is full of innovative ideas, futuristic technology, impressive customs, and other things that make you say WOW. Don't believe me? Take a look below and feel free to add your suggestions after the post.

Those Fancy Japanese Toilets

Let's get the obvious one out of the way first. Many people already know that these crappers are in a league all of their own. I wrote an entire article about fancy Japanese toilets and other bathroom innovations. Their toilets have features most Westerners have never dreamed of, including background noise to cover any sounds that the user may make, a warm cleansing spray, self-warming seat, built-in water-saving sink, and other impressive features. Be sure to read that post for more intriguing info.

Japanese toilets are top-notch toilets and the best Japanese innovation ever!

  Photo Gallery: Japanese Toilets 101

Underground Bicycle Garages

These things are pretty neat, Mayu showed me how to use one. Basically you just hop off your bike and roll it onto this platform. Insert your card and the machine will automatically stow your bike in a huge underground cylinder. This keeps it safe from both thieves and natural disasters while also reducing the amount of clutter at street level. To retrieve it simply re-insert your card into the attached machine and it will spit your bike back out in around ten seconds.

In areas without the Eco Cycle storage it is not uncommon to see hundreds of bicycles crammed together as part of a makeshift bicycle lot (a trend which I hope has died out since my last trip to Japan).

I don't have any personal photos, unfortunately, but I did find this  

Underground bicycle garages in Tokyo, Japan

Automated Vehicle Garages

An enlarged version of the bicycle garages, these things are amazing! They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are pretty wild to watch in action. Some are drive-thrus that slide the vehicle off to the side. Others in the basement of high-rise buildings feature a circular pad so that the vehicle can be rotated 180° and driven out in the opposite direction it was driven it.

Automatic underground car parking garage in Tokyo, Japan
Ramps down to these underground garages can be seen all over the big cities

Other models are individual lifts that hoist one vehicle up into the air so that a second can be driven in underneath it. Walk past people's homes in the evening and it is not uncommon to see two vehicles stacked atop each other.

Astonishing Array Of Vending Machines

In the big metropolises of Japan you are never more than two blocks from a vending machine. They are usually found in pairs but sometimes also in long banks of a dozen or more. They sell all the traditional items you would expect such as refreshing beverages (soda, water, tea, milk, juice, beer...essentially everything liquid) and cigarettes (requires scan of a Japanese ID to dispense product) to other more unconventional items including ramen, electronics, umbrellas, even underwear and ties.

Vending machines in Japan sell everything from drinks to cigarettes, electronics, toys and even panties -- both new and used. Yes, seriously.

Automatically Opening Taxi Doors

This one is essentially self-explanatory, I don't know what more I can write about them. They are controlled by a button up front and swing open really fast. Oh and they are twice as great when its raining out.

Japanese taxis have automatically opening doors

Touchscreen Menus At Upscale Restaurants


These reduce the number of (and stress on) restaurant employees. Expect to see more in the future.

Pachinko Parlors That Nearly Induce Seizures

Anyone who has ever walked past one of these has undoubtedly heard the noise and flashing lights blaring out. They are basically like arcade halls combined with casinos, some being multiple levels and taking up entire blocks. I never played myself but did wander through a couple of them.

Japanese citizens love these things and have been know to spend hours playing in these giant parlors, like the stereotypical American Grandma glued to the Las Vegas slots. Not very popular among foreigners though due to the constant flashing lights and never-ending din of bells, chimes, tings, tongs, pings, and general noise of hundreds of people gambling.


Japanese crack

Love Hotels

Love hotels are plush yet discreet hotels that rent rooms either by the hour, a several-hour "short stay" period, or for the entire night. Each room has different themes with the fanciest being compared to a brief stay in paradise. These swanky rooms would undoubtedly fit right in with some of the classy hotels of Las Vegas or Dubai.

When I say the theme varies greatly between rooms, I cannot stress that enough. One could be Egyptian theme, the next dungeon-themed, another a retro-hippie love-nest, etc. I highly recommend you check out a love hotel, especially if you've met a cute little Asian girl at the club that night.


Impressive, huh? Love hotels are common in neighborhoods with lots of clubs and an active nightlife.

Other Unique Types Of Japanese Lodging  

White-Gloved Helpers...Everywhere

A variety of businesses have staff that are ready and waiting to help you at a moment's notice. For lack of an official term (that I know of) I jokingly refer to these people at the white glove crew. Whether standing next to the trash cans in McDonald's waiting to take your tray from you and dispose of it themselves or inside the elevator, eager to take you to whichever floor has what you need, these people always have a smile on their face and white cloth gloves on their hands.

The railway attendants are dressed similarly and also sport the white gloves. However, they don't always have a smile on their face -- especially not during rush hour.

Drunk Female Attendants At Clubs

It's not what you may think. Big clubs in Japan frequently stay open until sunrise. Many even have an employee on hand who's sole job is to care for the ladies that have had way too much to drink; other employees that are walking around the club will bring these women down to him. Not only does this prevent them from getting taken advantage of or robbed, but it also leaves their boyfriend free to keep partying (guilty, I'll admit it).

This employee is even armed with rubber bands and miniature black trash bags for -- you guessed it -- tying up their hair and puking. This "drunk person attendant" is located near the entrance, making it easy to retrieve your drunk person on the way home. Hope you saved money for a cab because they will not be fit to walk!

Now that is a level of service that is hard to match. Unfortunately I never thought to get a photo.

Clubbing In Tokyo  

All The Paper Currency Is Perfectly Crisp

Now this isn't so much a Japanese innovation, but rather a testament to their level of perfection. Every bank note is impeccably crisp, whether receiving it from an ATM or as change from the local corner store. No bills are ever raggedy, torn, of limp, as other countries currency often is. I suspect that the banks simply rotate out worn bills at an increased rate. Whatever it is the fact remains that this simple little thing is surprisingly easy to get used to.


Image coutesy of Japan Scene

100¥ Stores

Based on the American dollar stores, Japan revamped these into stores that offer products that are not utter crap -- even fresh food -- and people are not shopping at them because they are poor.


These stores take the embarrassment out of bargain shopping

Designated Smoking Areas Cubes

Although you can smoke inside restaurants, clubs, and a variety of other places in Japan -- basically everywhere except grocery and clothing stores -- many cities have restrictions on outdoor smoking. For example outside railway stations and airports there are sporadic smoking areas. Some are merely painted rectangles on the ground but others are actually fully enclosed cubicles with high-powered ventilation to combat the smoke, as pictured below.


Indoor smoking area at an establishment that had recently banned smoking

(Almost) No Homeless People In Tokyo

Given the fact that Tokyo is the most populated metropolis in the world (36.9 million people, over 10 million more than #2, Mexico City) I initially expected there to be a lot of homeless people as well. After all, I was born in NYC. I'm familiar with homeless people.

There is nothing more depressing than walking around a big city only to pass underneath a bridge and realize you are walking through someone's home. And damn, now I've got to keep smelling this God-awful smell until getting out from underneath this bridge and several paces away.

In my many months of wandering around Tokyo at all hours of the day and night, I only recall seeing a single homeless person. I'm not saying that they do not exist, just saying that thanks to the strong principles of the Japanese culture, homelessness is not near the problem there that it is in many other countries.

There is plenty more that makes Japan a fantastic country to visit, but you'll just have to experience it yourself and see what you find!

  What are your thoughts? Have any additions to this list?

Published in Japan

If you want to be a happy crapper, use a Japanese toilet

There is nothing more gratifying than a top notch toilet. And when it comes to fancy toilets it is fairly common knowledge that Japan leads the pack. Their toilets have features most Westerners have never dreamed of, including background noise to cover any sounds that the user may make, a warm cleansing spray, self-warming seat, built-in water-saving sink, and other innovative features. Their proper name are bidets, although many locals refer to them as washlets.

At first glance these washlets can be a little much for foreigners to take in. For example, in America if you sit on a warm toilet seat it means some other warm posterier just vacated that spot mere seconds before. Not the most appealing sensation, to say the least. I've even moved one stall over, just for a cold seat! (Like that one was any more sanitary.) Yet warm toilet seats are preferred in Japan, especially during the colder months. For many Westerners this definitely takes some getting used to, but they will grow on you if you spend long enough there. Trust me ;).

Of course the surprises do not stop there. Another aspect is that every model is slightly different, so there can be a bit of a learning curve. Luckily most of the important bidet functions have icons.

Bidet Control Panels

Yes...Hands-Free Cleansing!

What, the toilets have control panels? How complicated can they be? As you can see below, some are fairly self-explanatory while others can be a bit tricky. The control panel is most often built into what Westerners would view as an armrest on the right-hand side. However some bidets, particularly in private households, have more customized models which often feature a remote control panel built into the nearby wall instead.

Japanese bidet instructions were sometimes a bit confusing...or just downright hilarious. Thankfully this one came with an English translation.
Thankfully this one came with the translation

What, the toilets have control panels? How complicated can they be? As you can see below, some are fairly self-explanatory while others can be a bit tricky. The control panel is most often built into what Westerners would view as an armrest on the right-hand side. However some bidets, particularly in private households, have more customized models which often feature a remote control panel built into the nearby wall instead.

A collage of Japanese toilet control panels

These control panels are what transforms the mere toilet into a sophisticated bidet, which is the technical term of a fixture intended for cleaning the genitalia. Using the appropriate buttons a warm sanitizing spray will gently clean all your important areas, one for the males and another for the ladies. Many inside flats and private residences include the ability to adjust the temperature of this cleansing spray. Some even feature a strategically positioned blow dryer to be used afterwards! Have no fear if not, all it takes is a single square of paper to dry off and you're set.

The amazing Japanese toilet paper roll holder

The Toilet Paper Holder

These things are awesome! They have a lightweight flap that overhangs the toilet paper roll and has a downward curve along its front side that features perforated teeth. Thanks to gravity and a slight upwards tug this handy little device tears off individual t.p. square for you.

But the fancy features don't stop there. Rather than have a cylindrical mount that runs through the toilet paper tube and requires 5+ seconds to reload, Japanese toilet paper holders feature one-inch plastic prongs that flip out on either side to hold the roll in place and can be changed in literally one second. (Some Westerners will recognize these as being very similar to the paper towel holders which some people have in their kitchen.)

To remove an empty roll you simply flip up the overhanging flap and lift the old tube straight up. New rolls are loaded from the bottom, it's pure genius! It is simple yet effective innovations like that which make visiting Japan an unforgettable experience. Ask anyone who has ever visited.

The amazing Japanese toilet paper roll holder

  HoliDaze Tip   These one-of-a-kind toilet paper holders can be purchased individually at department stores throughout Japan. They make amazing gifts for friends back home because they are 1) useful on a daily basis; 2) unquestionably unique; and 3) great conversation starters.

The amazing Japanese toilet paper roll holder

Bathroom Noises

We've all been there, whether a culprit or the audience. Admit it. After all, sounds have a tendency to be audible to those in the adjoining room thanks to thin walls and doors without insulation. But many of these Japanese bidets combat this by featuring a type of audio masking that is designed to cover any sounds generated by the user. Some are triggered by a button or hand-operated motion sensor, others simply by exerting pressure on the toilet seat, but they all sound exactly the same: like flushing water.

Otohime, the Sound Princess, muffles any noises you make while on the toilet
Motion activated "Sound Princess" muffles any noises you make while on the toilet (found in a public restroom)

After making a comment about this to Mayu I learned that apparently this feature is referred to as Otohime, the Sound Princess. Custom models even have the ability to play bowel-relaxing music instead of the flushing water sound, to help you "loosen up" -- if you so desire. When it comes to Japanese toilets the only limitation is your imagination!

Flushing

This varies greatly between models. Often it is a button without an icon. Other times it is a push-button built into the basin itself. Sometimes it is even a traditional Western-style one-directional knob -- although the vast majority of the time the knob rotates both directions, one for small flushes (小) and another for larger passes (大).

Toilet Slippers

At the entrance of every residence there is a front landing that is used for removing shoes, as well as any outwear or umbrellas. However inside each bathroom there is a separate set of toilet slippers that never leaves the confines of that space. Bathroom visitors slip them on as they enter the room and remove them on their way out. These keep everyone's feet and socks clean.

The Bathroom Sink

When traveling around Japan you will notice that many of the washlets in flats and private residences have the sink built into the wash basin. The logic behind this is fairly simple: after each flush the washbin has to refill with water to prepare for the next flush, so why not first use that water to wash your hands. Besides the obvious water-saving factor, another upside is that you are filling up the washbin with water which has a slight soapy residue to it. This helps to keep the toilet clean.

The water runs for about twenty seconds, a perfect length of time for washing your hands. Plus there is no need for hot or cold knobs as the water is already the perfect temperature.

Toilets with built-in sinks found in apartments and restaurants throughout Tokyo

Back when I had a home (in my pre-nomad days) I tried so hard to have one of those fancy Japanese toilets installed. I don't care about the bidet functions but I really do like the built-in sinks. Of course that has not been an easy task. They just don't sell them in the States. The only current option is to buy a bidet toilet seat and swap out the seats on your Western toilet.

However not all Japanese toilets have this built-in sink. Many look like the one below and feature a separate, traditional sink. These are common in public, high traffic areas such as airports, restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs.


Hotel room toilet

 

Can't Forget The Squat Toilets!

No article on Japanese toilets would be complete without mentioning squat toilets. Although these are not a Japanese invention, they can be found throughout Japan. As such it is best to familiarize yourself with them.

The first experience can be a little strange but some people argue that this method is actually healthier and more efficient. To read more on that debate, I was recently surprised to find that Wikipedia even has a page on Human Defecation Postures.

 

  Have you seen any interesting Japanese bathrooms? Did I leave anything out?

Published in Japan

Instagram is a handy tool for travelers wishing to document their journey. Long gone are the days of buying disposable cameras or dropping off film at the developer. However the ease of this app can often be taken for granted. After all let's be honest: We've all seen some crappy IG photos.

Don't be that guy.

When you do decide to share something on Instagram, make sure it is truly worthy of being shared. This infographic from dealchecker.co.uk demonstrates how you can capture the peripheral wonders of the cultures you are engrossed within to make the perfect holiday photo album, and churn your followers’ complexions green with envy. Taking the constant accessibility and features Instagram has to offer into consideration, these tips have been compiled into a foolproof list to make the most of the instrument in your pocket.

A dealchecker graphic – How to take amazing travel photos

Graphic produced by dealchecker.co.uk

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Published in Travel Photography

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