Category Archives: Inspiration

How I saw snow monkeys in Japan and ice caves in Iceland without taking a day off work

Last weekend I hiked across a glacier to visit several amazing ice caves in Iceland, and the weekend before I photographed the amazing snow monkeys in Japan. I did this without taking a single day off work.

Hello snow monkey!
Hello snow monkey!

Because I post a lot of photos and adventures online, people often ask me, “are you still working these days?”. The answer is yes, I have a full time job, but I just make more effort than most people to fit things in around my work schedule – and I am fortunate to travel quite a bit with work. So I thought I would post this to encourage people to make more effort to fit in adventures when you travel for work (or indeed when you are at home!). There’s no rocket science to this, it’s just making the effort to fit things in, and perhaps being a bit creative about how you organize your travel to optimize your time.

Snow monkeys in Japan

I was scheduled for a 3 day meeting with our company’s Japanese team in Tokyo. They suggested we could start the meeting on Wednesday, which would mean I could fly from Denver on Monday morning and arrive Tuesday evening in time for the meeting – you lose a day going out there – and then fly back either Friday night or Saturday. That would use up a week of work time, with two days of travel and three days of meetings. I suggested to them that instead I would fly out on Saturday morning and we should meet from Monday to Wednesday, then I could fly back on Sunday night, which would get me four days to explore in Japan. I am still fitting my five working days into that 9 day stretch, just organizing things a little differently to get my four days in Japan.

Relaxed snow monkeys!
Relaxed snow monkeys!

I will post more details on my snow monkey trip shortly, but in summary it was an amazing trip and I got lots of fantastic pictures. I did it as a two day trip from Tokyo – a morning traveling up there, an afternoon with the monkeys, a great evening at a traditional Japanese “Ryokan” hotel, and another morning with the monkeys before traveling back. I also fitted in some exploring in Tokyo, including a visit to the fish market, some great food, my first visit to a Japanese Onsen (public baths) with my friend Edson, which was a really interesting experience, and some time wondering around the historic district of Asakusa. Not bad for a full week at work!

Ice caves in Iceland

After my Japanese meeting had been set and I had booked travel, it turned out that I needed to be in England the following week for a management meeting. I looked at what it would take to change my tickets to fly from Tokyo straight on to London, and it was ridiculously expensive. So I decided to leave my original tickets as they were, return to Denver on Sunday lunchtime local time and then fly straight out to London that afternoon.

View from Sapphire Cave
View from Sapphire Cave

I had been intrigued by the IcelandAir stopover deal, which lets you fly from Denver (and various other US cities) to London (and various other European cities), and do a free stopover in either direction. On top of that, they had the cheapest fare of any airline from Denver to London on the dates that I wanted to go, and that seems to be consistently the case. Paula and I had just been to Iceland over New Year and we had a fantastic time, but the ice cave tour that we booked was canceled because of flooding, and also we didn’t see the Northern Lights, partly as we had lots of cloudy weather. So I was quite tempted to revisit, because we had liked it so much, and in particular to try to catch up on either or both of those things that we missed.

I was a little in two minds because of the craziness of my travel schedule, and wondered whether I should just take the British Airways direct flight, rather than flying Tokyo to Denver to Reykjavik to London. But you only live once, so I decided to go for it.

Or as Tim Ferriss said recently:

Time is a non-renewable resource, while money can be recouped. Think hard, work smart, and play often. Assume this life is your only chance at bat, so schedule the fun stuff.

I’m a big fan of Tim and this is very much my philosophy too.

So I went ahead and booked the IcelandAir flight. I arrived in Denver from Tokyo at 12:21pm, then flew out to Reykjavik at 4:15pm. Paula came to the airport to meet me for lunch and swap a couple of items in my baggage! I arrived at London Gatwick at 11:23 Monday morning, and made it to Cambridge in time for some mid afternoon meetings, and my main meetings started the next day. Two colleagues who were attending the same meetings also flew out from Denver Sunday afternoon, but took the direct BA flight.

We had meetings in London all day Thursday. My colleagues flew back to Denver on Friday, a full day of travel. Instead, I caught an IcelandAir flight out of London Heathrow at 8:30pm on Thursday night, getting into Reykjavik at 11:30pm. My flight on to Denver was at 5pm on Sunday, so I got more or less three whole days in Iceland, again without having to take a day off work, as otherwise I would have just been flying home on the Friday.

I booked an ice cave tour for the Saturday with Local Guide of VatnaJokull, who I recommend highly. It was a really incredible experience, see my picture story about it here.

Me in Waterfall Cave
Me in Waterfall Cave


As I said above, there is no great rocket science to this, but a surprisingly large number of people don’t take the opportunity to fit in something cool and interesting when they are on a business trip. As this story illustrates, you don’t necessarily even need to take any days off work to do some really cool things.

This particular example was an extreme case, where I was in Japan one week and Europe the next. But the same principles apply regardless of where you are traveling. I definitely recommend that anyone flying between the US and Europe should consider the IcelandAir stopover deal – Iceland is such a cool place, and I see this becoming a frequent destination for me, as I travel regularly between Denver and the UK.

My mapwheel story

Today I backed a Kickstarter project called Mapwheel, I think it’s a really cool idea. Check out their video, but basically they let you design a custom “toposcope” or map wheel showing the direction and distance of places of interest from the location where you live (or any other location you choose). You can choose various materials (wood or metal) and customize the design in various ways.

I’ve been working on my design today, and it’s been a surprisingly fun and interesting thing to do. Here’s my current design, which could still change before I order:

Map wheel

One part of the process that I found interesting was being surprised in quite a number of cases about which direction it actually was to certain places from here! Especially for places on other continents, the usual map projections that you see can be quite misleading in terms of what is the shortest path direction to somewhere across the globe. There could be a fun party game for map geeks based on this idea, I think! And then a second interesting thing is just filtering down the options to decide which places you want to include, which makes you think about places that are important to you. You are constrained in that you can’t have two places whose direction is too close together, or their names would overlap.

This forces you into some tough choices, especially if like me you live a long way from your original home, as once you choose a place, other places within hundreds of miles will probably be too close to include. I thought it would be interesting to share the thought process of how I arrived at my choices so far. I encourage you to sign up for a map wheel and share your choices too!

I could only choose one place from the UK, which is where I’m originally from. That really had to be Cropston, which is not where I was born, but we moved there when I was three years old and my Mum still lives there now, so that has been “home” all my life. It’s a small village in Leicestershire, in the middle of  England. If I could add more places in England, the next ones up would probably be Oxford, where I went to University, and Cambridge, which has been the headquarters of multiple companies that I’ve worked for so I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years.

I tried various other places that I really like in Europe including Paris, Venice and Ravello, but they were all too close in direction to Cropston, so I couldn’t fit them in. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Horsens in Denmark, where my Mum was born, was just far enough away in terms of direction that it would fit in.

Paula is originally from Santos in Brazil, so that was another must have. Just as with Cropston though, this blocked several other favorite places that would have been contenders in Brazil like Rio de JaneiroFoz do Iguaçu, and Trancoso.

Moving back closer to home, I thought I should have a few visible landmarks on the map wheel – I plan to put it on our rooftop deck. The Ice House and Coors Field are two prominent buildings nearby – you can see them both in the lightning picture that I published recently. Union Station is across the street from us, though not directly visible from the deck, but I thought that needed to be included as a major local landmark. I put in a few of our favorite places that we like to take visitors in Colorado – Rocky Mountain National Park, Mount Evans, and Red Rocks. Also Denver Airport went in as we go there so often!

We go the opera in Santa Fe every summer and love it there, so had to fit that in, and we also love Telluride in southwestern Colorado, where we have a fractional  ownership in a property and spend 4-6 weeks a year. Another of our favorite vacation places is Tulum in Mexico, so that went in. I put in Key West – I have visited a few times and think it’s a really cool place, and Paula lived there for a year. I was really upset that I couldn’t get New Orleans in – it’s one of my favorite cities – but it was too close to the direction of Santos (and Key West) so sadly I had to leave it out. I threw in New York as that’s another place we love to visit, for the opera and its many other attractions. And also to have some larger places on the list!

At this point I started working on filling in areas where I had gaps. I found that I could fit in Opera Colorado in Denver, where we have season tickets (and found it was due south of us, which I didn’t know!). And that made me think of adding Central City in Colorado, which is another place where we like to go to the opera – it’s an old mining town with a beautiful little historic opera house. In case you haven’t worked it out by now, we like opera!

I thought about a few more distant places of geographical interest. I wondered about Cape Horn, but decided to go for Tierra Del Fuego, which is a place we would like to visit, and it just sounds cool :). And then added the Cape of Good Hope too, which we have both visited in the past. Just randomly I tried Mount Everest, and was surprised that it showed up in an empty space very close to due north, so that went in too. I still had some gaps in the northwest quadrant, so added Rock Springs in Wyoming where Paula’s sister lives, and I tried a few places in Asia that didn’t fit, before going for Bangkok, which I visited back in 2000, and I found it to be a really cool and interesting place that I would like to revisit sometime. Plus our daughter in law is from Thailand. We also added in Monte Vista, Colorado, where our daughter has just moved to.

I still had a little space just east of due north, so decided to add in Mount Rushmore, which was the main thing I could think of in that direction which was somewhat interesting. And then I had a gap to the east so threw in Kansas City, which is the first reasonable size city you hit driving east from Denver, so is good to show how far apart things are out here!

Oh, and lastly we sneaked in Santiago, to fill in the space just east of due south – in honor of a good family friend from Chile.

A few places that I tried to fit in but couldn’t:

  • New Orleans, as mentioned above – blocked by Santos and Key West
  • Paris, another of my favorite cities – blocked by Cropston
  • Barcelona, another favorite European City – blocked by Coors Field
  • My company Ubisense’s Denver office – blocked by Santos
  • Casablanca, site of one of my favorite movies – blocked by Coors Field
  • Sydney – blocked by Mount Evans
  • San Diego – blocked by Red Rocks
  • Hawaii – blocked by Union Station
  • Grand Canyon – blocked by Red Rocks

So anyway, that is probably way more detail than you were interested in, but like I said I found it a fun and interesting exercise to work through the process of choosing our places! Let me know if you think I should change anything! And if you get a map wheel of your own, I’d be interested to see which places you choose!