travel

Five Tips for Travelling Light

I have found in all my travels that I have never regretted packing light. There is a certain joy in knowing you have everything you need—or perhaps less than you think you need—on arrival at your destination ready for adventure and wonder.

So here are my five tips for traveling light—for short trips, long trips, backpacking trips or trips with a furry friend.

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1. Do your research
Head to the library and get a travel guide, learn the customs, get your shots, reach out to make a local friend, plan for all sorts of weather and plan for surprise.

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2. Simplify your outfits
I stand by the belief that a monochrome wardrobe is the way to go. Throw in a few pairs of jeans and choose pieces with textiles that breathe and dry well. Figure out the balance between casual and professional. A few things I never travel without: basic white shirts, running shoes, comfy yet professional pants (even better with pockets) and—if necessary—a dress for special occasions.

3. Skip the essentials
There is a tendency to pack everything you can imagine for unexpected situations on the road. I have found that extra battery packs, Q tips, toiletries or vitamins tend to weigh me down on the trip and return home unused.

Surprisingly, in most countries (especially Asia)—you are always able to find daily necessities, toiletries, and medication that meet your needs. India has pharmacies with selections that are second to none and able to treat any kind of ailment, though I advise bringing a local friend to help you with labels that get lost in translation. Save on your travel budget, luggage space and purchase what you can on location.

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4. Pack within a pack
I have found that separating the contents of my suitcase into individual packs helps with space and organization. There’s lots of great garment cases or packing cubes out there that you can use to organize all your worldly treasures.

5. Leave space for wonder
It is a wonderful feeling knowing you have space in your luggage for gifts and souvenirs—be it the Mexican dog sculpture you find at a market in Bali, an antique sculpture in Bangladesh or simply space to store your experiences and all the wisdom of the world.

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Go somewhere, be a tourist in your own city, take off to come home again and don’t forget to travel light.

Photos of me by Alisha Weng
Written by Sophia Hsin for Lojel Travel
Subedited by Megan Jenkins
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Postcards from New York II

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A quiet moment from Washington Square Park, NYC

Hello from Taipei, Taiwan!

I have this funny feeling that I have to be in a new city before I can process and write about the previous one. It is wonderful being back in Taipei. There is much inspiration in revisiting old places and some days it feels like I never left. Although it is interesting living in the grey area between a local and a foreigner — I have never felt more clarity that I am in the right city at this time of my life.

This season will be spent working on a personal projects (hint: hedgehog book) while taking on freelance photo shoots. Between jet lag, stuffing my face with Taiwanese eats, waking up super early and navigating this familiar and unfamiliar city — I am slowly discovering a handful of local and international creatives. Excited for the next season and trying not to book a flight to Japan anytime soon.

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Sunset with Lady Liberty from Brooklyn Bridge Park
Now, back to New York City — the city of creativity, art, thunderstorms, scorching metro systems, and galleries you can spend a lifetime exploring with crowds as dense as any major Asian city.sophia_hsin_new_york_yoko_kato_long_island_city-8sophia_hsin_new_york_yoko_kato_yokocca-9Studio visits with @yokocca
I love a social media friendship turned into an afternoon of conversation with homemade jam and chiffon cake. It was a delight being able to visit Yoko’s studio tucked away across the water in the quiet of Long Island City. yoko_kato_japan_new_york_city_family_portrait-1Akari and Kaisei are the most adorable active kids. I could have spent a long time taking photos of them.della_orrey_c3_brooklyn_new_york_portraits_photography-1Portraits with Della
Della Orrey — my boo, talented musician friend and sister in Christ. It was inspiring getting to see her work at C3 Brooklyn. Getting to experience New York from a local’s perspective was also an eye opening experience though I got reprimanded a couple of times for being too much of a tourist 🙂Hanging with the talented Mark Leubbers at Le Labo in Williamsburgsophia_hsin_new_york_queens_-6Chasing light on the streets of New York. The light and shadow on fire escapes get me every. single. timesophia_hsin_new_york_ineriors_guggenheim-1Interiors from the Guggenheim. I love you Frank Lloyd.sophia_hsin_new_york_nalata_nalata_photographer-7
Shop visits with Natala Nalata
It was wonderful meeting the shop owner and fellow Canadian in the city. The ceramic exhibition from husband and wife — Momoko and Tetsuya Otani was also a pleasure to experience.sophia_hsin_new_york_matcha_shop-10ichiyos_matcha_vancouver_bc_styling_photography-1Matcha Matcha
I am really getting into matcha these days and New York had so many matcha shops to offer. My favourites — Cha Cha Matcha and Ippudo New York. Here is a set of new photos I shot for Ichiyo Matcha in Vancouver too.

Next week I will be heading down South to tropical Kenting for a creative retreat. I look forward to spending time by the ocean, getting my feet in some white sand and unwind from the last season of work and travel.

Till next time x

Postcards from Virginia: A Holiday With my Irish Family

washington_dc_ Shenandoah_National_Park-3The wonderful view from Shenandoah Park, Washington, DC

Hello from Virginia.

I have been spending the last week in our cottage in the mountains with my Irish family, whom I met in China a few years ago and it’s been a jolly time. I feel fortunate to see to new places surrounded by family, and am learning lots about British culture and Irish tradition.

A few curious things I have learned about the Irish:

• Tea and biscuits are to be had at least three times a day
• The Irish find humour in everything
• Peanut butter is deemed a North American evil. The smell — just as rotten as veggie mite
• To be Irish you must have a love for potatoes and butter
• Every kind of fabric in the house goes under the iron. Towels, jeans, socks, sheets, ties, you name it

madison_county_usa_1Mornings around the breakfast table. Toast with butter and jam are staples.

Virginia is a peaceful county, it is a land filled with blue skies, sweet corn, and rolling hills dotted with animals. It is a nice change of pace from my previous week in New York. It is one of the first places in North America where I can hear summer cicadas that remind me of Asia — an unfamiliar yet peaceful place.

washington_dc_ Shenandoah_National_Park-4washington_dc_ Shenandoah_National_Park-10My Irish family. All three generations

We will spend the next few days visiting historical places, civil war monuments and local towns that hold much Southern charm. Most of the time it feels like I am taking a crash course in American history and but I am gaining an insight into a culture that is different than what I have learned from Hollywood films. It is an educational and eye opening experience.

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Chatham Manor in Fredericksburg. This place has the loveliest gardenscharlottesville_virginia_usa.jpgA little corner from Charlottesville, Virginia. A beautiful little town despite the recent riot

With all the negative news that comes from the media these days, I find myself especially thankful to be here. I am reminded that even though the world is not always a peaceful place, there is much good and beauty to be captured and look forward to.

Till next time.

En Route II

The end of August brings to the day a slight chill in the air, a change of pace and the quiet announcement of fall just around the corner.

I love these moments before making a big trip — days of madness where you scramble to make last minute errands, work on that last minute project and pack your worldly belongings in a travel friendly box.

There are those precious mornings where you wake to the quiet of the day and sit to watch your city wake up with the light glinting off windows, take in the hum of traffic and cries of the birds heading south.

With each trip I make and home I move I feel a shift in the idea of home. Home — really is a place to sit on your sofa and contemplate a city, a place to make food for people in your life, a shelf to store your books, and a place to shut out the world and leave and to return again.

I am excited for the next season of adventure that awaits.

new_york_city_the_met_museum_sophiahsin.jpgYesterday morning at The Met in New York City. The moment — the light, the music, the colour — was perfect.

Postcards from Taipei + A Playlist for Asia

taipei_danshui_fishermans_wharf_sophia_hsin-5.jpgSunset at Fisherman’s Wharf in Tamshui, Taipei

It is so weird being back in Canada after a month in Asia.

While I feel that my soul will forever be stuck somewhere in the Pacific Ocean between North America and Asia, I am glad for photos and stories to linger over these trips and memories.

When I think of Taipei, I think of the scorching tropics, the smell of pineapples, scooter exhaust and a city vibrant with the best selection of night markets, alleyways and temples that take you back in time.

Here you will find the perfect mix of western influence and Chinese tradition with traces of Japan. But the best thing about Taipei is always the hospitality of people who are ready to make a tourist feel like local.

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Huashan 1914 Creative Park: One of my favourite places with ongoing exhibitions of Asian designers and creatives, music festivals and coffee shops to sit in and watch Taipei go by.

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Taipei Main Station. Taken in 2014

So if you ever find yourself in Taipei, be prepared to let go of your western politeness, go all out with the best food, island scooter adventures and a warm experience of Asia you will not too soon forget.

A playlist for your trip: 

1. Crowd Lu – 100 Ways of Living (盧廣仲 – 100種生活)
If you are on the hunt for Taiwanese musicians this guy is such a good place to start. I love his humble lyrics like buying breakfast with homies (soy milk and salty donuts all day every day), wise words from his grandmother to the pursuit of his musical journey. He also works often with my favourite photographer Hideaki Hamada.

2. Nujabes – Aruarian Dance
Trust me. So. good.

3. Ryuichi Sakamoto – Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence
I found out about Mr. Sakamoto during my college years and my ears have been in love since. A pianist and slightly moodier composer (much like Studio Ghibli for adults), you will find yourself moved with his soft and deep pieces like Energy Flow and Rain.

4. Deserts Chang – Bao Bei (張懸 – 寶貝)
This lady is an inspo with her soft vocals, rich cadenzas and creating music for deeply sentimental people.

5. Shanghai Restoration Project – Jade Buddha Temple w/ Di Johnston
I found out about Dave Liang during my years living in China. It has been a treat following this Asian American producer turn Chinese folk songs into modern tunes. Shanghai Restoration Project brings me back to Shanghainese streets, steamed dumplings and music theatres with women clad in silk gowns and jade bracelets.

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Taipei has a pace that is surprisingly laid back for a popular Asian city. I love watching the locals stop for photos of flowers, trees, boats and anything that catches their fancy.
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Exploring old alley ways around Gongguan. Many of these apartments used to be air raid hidings from the Taiwan/Japan War in the 1900s.
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Monster shaved ice at Roji, Taipei – Are they not cute? I died a sweet death

If there was a time I grew up not knowing whether I was Taiwanese or Canadian, I am grateful for this city where I learn about my heritage every time I visit. Taipei will forever be my home away from home and hold a special place in my heart.

I leave you with a favourite quote from Ansel Adams:

You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.

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Till next time.

Postcards from Bangladesh

bangladesh_travel_photography-14.jpgHeading towards adventure.

The are 196 countries in the world.

I am really happy to say that I have visited a handful of them and am enjoying the process of checking each one off my list.

While it feels like a waiting game some days at home when I am editing through the deep recesses of my hard drive. I hope I never stop in wonder to marvel and be expectant at these opportunities and amazing things I get to see.

bangladesh_travel_photography-3.jpgLight at dusk and sights of traffic in Jessore, taken before crossing the street to hop into my van. This is one of my favourites from Bangladesh.

Without further ado, here are postcards from Bangladesh. Taken in dusty streets with tropical humidity, surrounded by the sound of prayer call, taken beside women clad in colour saris and rickshaw drivers who distractedly wave you down in this beautiful and mysterious country that has captured my heart in more ways than photos.

bangladesh_travel_photography-6.jpgSmiling boy wearing his prayer hat. Taken in a shrimp processing factory in Chila. bangladesh_travel_photography-10.jpgVisiting a local village by the Pushar river in Khulna. I love how the green in her dress matches the tree.
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Made our driver stop for shots on our way to the airoport. A snapshot of the green and lush river country Bangladesh is known for.village_life_bangaldesh_dhaka.png
The cutest boy from the village and a baby goat with the most spindly legs. I have found a new love for goats after visiting India and Bangladesh.
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Local school children on their way home from school. I found him saluting our gang of security guards that tail us wherever we go and asked him to pose for this shot.
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Bangladesh you were a marvellous journey. I leave with fresh eyes and a new perspective on different cultures and countries. I hope I will never lose the ability to find rich beauty in little places and in the humanity of people I have met here.

Till next time.

Photos from Bangladesh: A Campaign with World Vision Canada

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An afternoon on the streets of Dhaka

I remember my first day waking up in Dhaka. The world’s most densely populated city with 14 million people—a city filled with blaring horns, faded concrete walls, the smell of dust, curry and the sound of prayer call five times a day.

I had partnered with World Vision Canada on their No Child For Sale campaign where we would visit area development projects in the slums of Bangladesh, visit communities deep in the country, dive into gathering resources on child labour issues involved in the supply chain and how it leads back to consumers in Canada.

I remember visiting countless night schools, interviewing five year olds that worked as waste pickers on garbage mountains and meeting children with stories that seemed too brutal to exist. Along the way, I was also cared for by staff that treated me like family and meet people that were working as hard as they possibly could to improve those situations.

When I tell people that I have travelled to Bangladesh most people reply with “Why would you go there? It’s so chaotic and dirty.” or “You must feel super grateful now when you see the way people live there.” Both are true and both are perceptions that scratch the bare surface of what is real and what it was like being there.

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Mukta and Bhabna both worked as waste pickers at a very young age to help their families. Through attending the learning centre that World Vision partners with, they were able to learn skills and pass exams to enter the local school system. Mukta wants to be teacher and Bhabna wants to be a doctor. Both of them love being able to attend school.

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Children from the village and visiting boys that work at machinery shops in Jessore.

Creatively, this trip really made me realize the beauty of photography and how it gives me the ability to document stories and be a voice for people that need to be heard. Along the way, I also realized that it was less about me fulfilling my creative vision but about being a person that cared more than taking a great photo and walking away.

I remember being anxious about how gruesome the environment was and doubting my ability to pull off the project. This trip really stretched that idea and my hope for these photos is to share snapshots of beauty I found in this country and translate what it was like meeting the Bangladeshi people in real life.

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Babu and Sabir, two brothers we met in Chila while visiting a group of porter boys. During our visit, Babu never let go of Sabir’s hand and piggy-backed his younger brother from the bus station all the way to our shoot location.

To think that you can love someone you’ve met for 10 minutes and care for a nation of kids on the other side of the world is impossible. But I want to to share that the Bangladeshi people I met there were people just like you and me. They are warm, they are welcoming, they are funny. They love, they get frustrated over daily life and they love ice cream. They don’t view their living situations the way we do but work at it every day with much dignity and love for those around them.

bangladesh_no_child_for_sale_world_vision-8Tanya lost her mother to a remarriage nine years when her father was blinded during a terrible incident. Since then, Tanya works night shifts from at the shrimp factory to support her handicapped father and younger sister. Tanya lead our team in a terrific Bollywood dance during our visit and says she dreams of being a dancer one day.

I guess what I am trying to point out is that these trips have given me a capacity for compassion and a boldness to talk about issues that seem better kept in the dark. The decision to go on this trip was to challenge myself and take on a project I believed in; knowing that I had to be prepared to be honest about my experience and have the courage to speak out. Now that I know about these things, it seems quite foolish to stay silent.

world_vision_no_child_for_sale_sophiahsin-1.jpgbangladesh_no_child_for_sale_world_vision-9Visiting girls at the shrimp processing depot. These girls spend long hours picking shrimp heads in this tiny dark space.bangladesh_world_vision_nochildforsale_bangladesh_no_child_for_sale_world_vision-17Children we met at the villages in Khulna. These boys spend long hours in the water collecting shrimp larva that they sell to shrimp farms which is later exported. Everyday, these children face the dangers of water snakes, floods and malnutrition while making less than a dollar a day.

There is a deep imbalance about the way we live in developed worlds and the way people live in countries like Bangladesh. After putting a face to these stories and knowing these people that can use our support, I believe that we should all do our part in creating change.

A simple decision can really make a great impact in a child’s life. There are children working in terrible situations and getting paid half of what they deserve because they are young and in situations that make them very vulnerable. By refusing to support brands who are not transparent about their manufacturing process, you might be giving a child a chance to go to school, to make their own decision in marriage and a chance to have a better life.

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To learn more about the campaign I worked on, visit www.nochildforsale.ca and learn more on how you can take part in creating change.