Visiting the DMZ and JSA

IMG_1567When visiting Seoul last October, the top place on my list to visit was the Joint Security Area (JSA) at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The Panmunjom area of the JSA is where South Korean and North Korean military forces basically stand face-to-face. This is a surreal experience and one I am glad I was able to see.

The only way to visit the JSA is through an authorized tour company. I ended up going with Koridoor Tours since it was recommended by the USO. Koridoor is also only one of a few companies that offers tours to the JSA. Koridoor offered a few DMZ tour options but I went with the only option to the visit JSA (Full-day DMZ/JSA tour).

On the day of the tour all participants were required to arrive to the Koridoor tour office early for identification verification. You have to show your passport (or military ID) for entry into the JSA. Once everyone was verified we all filled up the bus to head to the DMZ.

My tour started with a visit to the JSA. When we arrived to Camp Bonifas are passports were verified by a military escort. The tour was then directed to the JSA Visitor Center for a 20-minute briefing by another military escort. The briefing explained the history between the North and South, plus expected behavior of visitors with a lot of focus on not defecting to North Korea.

Once the briefing was over the tour moved to a military bus for the JSA visit. One thing to be aware of, you are required to leave all purses and bags on the Koridoor bus for the JSA portion of the tour. The bus ride around the JSA was relatively short (about 30 minutes). Even shorter was the time at the Panmunjom (literally around 10 to 15 minutes).

At the Panmunjom you actually are able to enter the famous blue buildings where discussions are held between South Korea and North Korea. Inside the building you are able to cross the Military Demarcation Line where you can stand in North Korea (for about 5 minutes).

The feeling at the Panmunjom is very tense. South Korean soldiers are standing guard watching the North Korean soldiers (and vice-versa). Interestingly there were very few North Koreans soldiers standing guard the day I visited. This was commented on by others on the tour who had previously been to the JSA.

After the JSA tour we were taken back to Camp Bonifas for a short break before heading out on the rest of the tour with Koridoor. Of course there is a gift shop where I bought a JSA t-shirt and North Korean currency. Funny enough, every stop of the tour had a gift shop.

Berlin Wall

Section of the Berlin Wall at the DMZ

From the JSA we then visited the Dorasan Station. Dorasan Station is the most northern train station in South Korea and is less than 1000m from the boundary of the DMZ. The station was opened in hopes of a reconciliation between both North and South Korea. There is hope the station will one day connect both countries, and connect South Korea to railways in Russia (and beyond!).

One compliant I have with this part of the tour is we had to pay an additional 1,000KRW in cash to go out on the platform. As much as that irritated me, it was fascinating to go out onto the platform because you could hear the propaganda music being played from North Korea towards the South. This was crazy to hear!

Next, we moved on to a Korean Restaurant at the DMZ for lunch. Lunch is not included in the tour and for good reason. The food at the restaurant is absolutely disgusting. The lunch I purchased at the DMZ was the worst meal I had in South Korea and literally resembled cafeteria food. Many people recommend online to bring your own food, and I wish I had listened to this suggestion.

After lunch we headed to Dora Observatory. The Dora Observatory is on the South Korean side of the DMZ. If you visit on a clear day you’ll have great views of the DMZ, South Korea, and even parts of North Korea. One thing you can kind of see from the observatory is a North Korean propaganda village, where no one actually lives. It was a little overcast on the day I visited, so you couldn’t make out much of North Korea.

The last place we visited was the DMZ Theater and the Third Infiltration Tunnel. The tunnel was discovered in 1978 and was created by North Korea to surprise attack Seoul. The tunnel was considered an act of aggression from North Korea by the UN and has since been sealed off. Interestingly this is one of four tunnels discovered so far along the DMZ. It is estimated there are up to 20 more hidden tunnels along the border.

To be completely honest, I could have easily skipped this part of the tour. The DMZ Theater played the most American and South Korean propaganda video I have ever seen and heard. It actually was a tad uncomfortable watching this video (and I was not the only person who felt this way). I also ended up skipping the Third Infiltration Tunnel because it is supposed to be very claustrophobic with a steep incline. A few soldiers who were on the tour complained about the tunnel afterwards being a PTSD trigger and being difficult to walk.


Overall the Koridoor tour to the JSA and DMZ was a great experience. There were a few downsides to the tour, but the experience at the JSA is something I will always remember. Visiting the JSA and DMZ was a fascinating experience! I’m so glad I was able to visit here, especially with the current political climate.

Things to Note for visiting the JSA

  1. You need either a Military ID or Passport to go on the tour. Some Passports may be restricted from visiting the JSA.
  2. There is a dress code to the JSA (though it was not fully enforced on my tour).
  3. Currently tours are being restrictedand not visiting the Bridge of No Return and Point of Ax Murder. My tour last October missed these locations.
  4. This is a tour that can’t be booked at the last minute since all visitor information is submitted to the JSA in advance.
  5. Tours can be cancelled without much notice if there is an official meeting or ceremony being held at the JSA. Also, this means there is no refund for missing the JSA.

I moved to China!

Cultural Street

I know it has been a long time since I posted but there is really a good excuse as to why I’ve neglected my blog. Not only did I move once last year, I moved twice! First was from Miami to Washington State, then followed by my big move to China.

Preparing for moving to China was a huge challenge. The Z-Visa (Work Visa) kept adding additional requirements throughout the few month long process. Every time I turned around there was something new or additional I needed to complete. Obtaining my visa was around a four-month process with the paper work, authenticated documents, and medical exam.

On top of the documentation, the San Francisco Chinese consulate was one of the first in the United States to require a personal appearance and fingerprinting. This required me having to make a short trip to San Francisco just a few weeks before I needed to be in China.

My work ended up leaving most of the visa process to me to figure out. Now I feel like an expert on obtaining Z-visas since I literally learned the ins and outs of the entire process! I’m glad I don’t have to reapply for my visa again since now I have a Chinese residency permit!


So now you are probably wondering where and what I do in China! Currently I’m working as a professor for a university in Tianjin that partners with an American university. And no, I’m not teaching English!!! I’m teaching hospitality courses with most of my focus on beverage and wine.

Besides working, I’ve had some time to explore Tianjin and go out a bit. Besides exploring Tianjin, I luckily had some time to go on vacation during two of the semester vacations. For Golden Week in October I visited South Korea and for Chinese New Year (also known as Spring Festival) in February I visited Japan. I plan on writing about South Korea, Japan, and Tianjin soon!

Most of this last year has been working, which took up a lot of my free time. Now life should be a bit easier since I’ve created most of my classes and lectures.

Traveling (Or Moving) with a Cat! – Cat Friendly Hotels: Part 2

One thing I learned while traveling with my cat, a lot of hotels are not cat friendly. After a long day of driving, nothing would have been worse than pulling up to a hotel and finding out the property wouldn’t accept a cat (or anymore pets for the night). When traveling with a cat some planning is required.

Hotels may limit the number of pets per night or only have specific cat friendly rooms. Even though I would have liked to drive as far as I could each day, this just wasn’t plausible. In the end, I carefully planned my route and booked flexible hotel rooms a few months in advance.

Here is my follow-up post to Traveling (Or Moving) with a Cat! – Be Prepared: Part 1.

Checking out the View in Miami

Finding Cat Friendly Hotels

Personally, I felt the hardest task was finding a hotel that accepted cats. A few times I found an interesting hotel that said it was pet friendly, but then I would discover pet friendly only meant dog friendly. It was easy to come up with dates, but finding hotels was easier said than done.

There are a few pet friendly hotel search engines. I actually used these as jumping off points for further research. Here are a few search sites I utilized:

The best discovery during my research was finding chains that are entirely pet friendly and accept cats. This helped with finding hotels easier and planning out my travels. The hotels ranged from budget to luxury, and even extended stay properties. The following is a list of cat friendly companies:

  • Candlewood Suites
  • Drury Hotels
  • Kimpton Hotels
  • La Quinta Inns and Suites
  • Loews Hotels
  • Staybridge Suites

Before and After You Book

Before I even started making reservations, I called all the hotels I was interested in to double check cats were accepted. Some websites would say pet friendly but ended up only accepting dogs. It’s best to double check by calling hotels directly.

Another step I took was reading reviews. I always check reviews before traveling, but I especially looked closely at reviews regarding pet experiences. A few review sites actually changed my mind on hotels. There was one hotel I had originally planned on staying in Oregon. After reading numerous reviews online I decided against making a reservation. Some of the reviews noted problems at check-in with pets or the hotel no longer had a pet room available. Checking out other pet experiences is a huge help in finalizing plans.

Once I had reservations, I called each property again to add my cat to the reservation. This is extremely important and if you forget, you could be denied a room when checking in. When you do call make sure to ask for the name of the person you spoke to and add this to your travel records (you may need this info when checking in!).

Even with calling, I did encounter a problem when checking in at the La Quinta Ft. Lauderdale. After I booked the hotel I called and confirmed twice about having a cat. Both employees on the phone noted there was no problem bringing a cat to the property and this information was not needed by La Quinta. Looking back, I realized I made a huge mistake by not writing down the name of either desk agent I talked with.

When I checked in, the employee at the front desk made a big deal about having a cat and only one room left for pets. The front desk agent told us this had to be on our reservation and we were lucky the hotel property even had a room that could accept a cat. This was obviously different from what I had previously been told on the phone. At this point, I will say I was irritated since I called the hotel twice about a cat and let the employee know this. Once I had mentioned I had called twice about adding my cat to the reservation, her tone suddenly changed and she backtracked on having only one room left. The outcome of this situation could have been different and I definitely realized the importance of noting the name of employees.

Hotel Policies and Pet Fees

When staying at a hotel with your cat, it is important to know all the pet related policies and pet fees. This can help make your travels a bit more relaxing when you have all the information upfront.

Proof of Vaccinations: Some hotels may require you to show proof of recent vaccinations or the health certificate at check-in. As I discussed in Part 1, make sure to visit your vet before traveling.

Pets in the Lobby: This is a policy that varies from hotel to hotel. Some hotels require pets to be leashed or in a carrier. One hotel I stayed at would not let pets walk through the lobby. Make sure to know where you may be required to enter the building with your pet.

Pets Left Unattended in Hotel Rooms: Most hotels require someone to be in the room at all times. Some hotels may not have this policy or may have a policy stating the pet can be left alone for under an hour.

The Dreaded Suitcase

Pet Fees: When it comes to pet fees, most chains do not have a standard policy. First check the website and next call to confirm. This helps with avoiding anything unexpected. Some hotels have refundable fees, while others are non-refundable. Even in the same chain, I found different pet deposits and cleanings fees.

Some hotels charged $25 a night, while others in the same chain charged $75 a night. Other hotels charged non-refundable cleaning fees of $100. Then I came across one hotel that charged nightly fees and a cleaning fee.  It’s really important to know the fees ahead of time so you can plan accordingly.

La Quinta was one chain that I encountered that did not charge a pet fee at any of the properties I stayed at. Supposedly there are handful of La Quinta properties that do charge a fee, which is why I recommend calling hotels before booking.

In the Hotel Room

If you let your cat out in the room, make sure to know where your cat can hide (under the bed, behind furniture, A/C units). I personally did not let my cat out in the room. A few hotels had some mystery openings under the beds and the bedframes could not be moved. I just wasn’t taking a chance with my cat becoming stuck.

Instead of letting my cat roam the room, I used a Play Pen for my cat. This made cleanup easier and she seemed content hiding in her own space. I discussed the Play Pen in more detail in Part 1.

As noted above, make sure you or someone you are traveling with is in the room at all times. Almost all hotels have a policy stating someone must be in the room when a pet is present. This of course makes it difficult for meals. Often times I had to pack up my cat and find a drive through, or one person would go grab take out. One hotel we could order delivery pizza, which made dinner simple. Check to see if the front desk can recommend any delivery services.

Hiding your Pet

I don’t recommend trying to hide your cat when checking into a hotel. Not only is that on the unethical side, you could get caught and kicked out. Who wants to try and find a new hotel room late in the evening?

Where I stayed

During my drive and move from Miami to Seattle, I stayed at 7 cat friendly hotels. I did end up switching plans twice when I made great time. Luckily two of the properties I selected had 6 PM cancellation on the same day as check-in. I ended up changing hotels and driving quite a bit further both times.

Here are all the hotels I stayed at, plus the 2 properties I was able to cancel last minute:

  • Candlewood Smyrna – As of May 2017, the pet fee is waived for Platinum Elite members of IHG
  • Best Western Gainesville
  • Best Western Ogden
  • Best Western Valdosta
  • Holiday Inn Express St. Louis Riverport
  • La Quinta Cheyenne
  • La Quinta Ft. Lauderdale
  • La Quinta Kansas City (near the airport)
  • La Quinta Kennewick


Have you traveled with your cat before? What are your cat friendly hotel travel tips?

Traveling (Or Moving) with a Cat! – Be Prepared: Part 1

Traveling with a cat can be a stressful situation, especially if your cat has a personality! This past May I drove across the United States with my cat from Miami to Seattle. Before driving I read a ton of different websites dedicated to traveling with a cat, and of course I came across a variety of opinions on the subject.

Welcome Signs

Since I just traveled and moved with my cat, I wanted to share my experience. Here are some important steps and items you should bring when traveling with a cat.

Learn about Paperwork & Regulations

One of the first and most important steps when traveling with an animal is learning about paperwork and regulations.

Traveling across the United States requires the Certificate of Veterinary Inspection. The certificate is legally required when crossing state lines. You should have this certificate on hand at all times when traveling with your pet. If you get pulled over for any reason, you could be asked for the certificate. From my research the two states most likely to request and check the certificate are Arizona and California.

Some vets refer to the Certificate of Veterinary Inspection as a health certificate. Whether it is driving or flying, you should have this certificate. The certificate is only valid for 30 days after signed by a vet. Most airlines require the certificate to be completed within a certain timeframe before flying.

Regulations can also impact your travel. This was not something that personally affected me this trip, but if you are traveling to certain states (like Hawaii) or outside of the United States you should look into potential regulations. For example, Hawaii does require a quarantine for all animals entering the state (though there are exceptions for service animals).

Visit your Vet

Just like with humans, it is important to make sure everything is okay with you cat! I took my cat to the vet about a week before moving for a check-up and for a health certificate.

If you are planning on traveling or moving, here is a checklist of items to obtain for your cat:

  • Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (health certificate)
  • Prescription refills
  • Vaccinations – Update any vaccinations that are due
  • Microchip – If you haven’t already microchipped your pet, a microchip is an excellent investment. If you cat becomes lost, a shelter can scan your cat for a microchip. The scan should pull up all your contact information connected to the microchip. Make sure to keep the information on the microchip up-to-date, including the yearly subscription. My cat’s microchip is connected to HomeAgain. I always make sure I have her microchip information on hand, which I’ve saved to a note on my phone and contacts for easy access.
  • Medical Records – This is helpful to have if you need to visit a new vet or if a hotel asks for the information. Your vet should provide you copies of all medical records.
  • Motion Sickness – This wasn’t something I was personally worried about since my cat does not get sick. If this is something you are concerned about or you cat has a tendency to get motion sickness, talk to your vet about any motion sickness prevention.
  • Practice Riding in the Car & Cat Carrier

Luckily my cat was used to my Jeep from vet trips and when I drove her to Ft. Lauderdale for her cat hotel. It is important to make sure your cat is used to the feeling of being in a car. This is also the perfect time to find out if your cat will have any issues of motion sickness. Additionally, make sure your cat is comfortable in a cat carrier, especially if you don’t use one much.

Creating a Routine

This is a difficult issue on a road trip, but try to make a routine for your cat. This is especially important when it comes to feeding! After getting to a hotel I would immediately set up the play pen area to include her bedding, litter box, dry food, wet food, and water. Whenever we were in a hotel she had access to both types of food and water at all times.

Each morning I would immediately feed her after getting up. Mainly this was replenishing her wet food in the morning. I also added a spoonful of water to her wet food. This helped her stay hydrated throughout the day.

Typically, I removed the food from her play pen about an hour before packing up the room. I really tried to avoid her eating right before I put her in the cat carrier. This way she had enough time to allow food and water to settle before leaving, especially in case of potential motion sickness and bathroom accidents. 

St. Louis

Length of Time for Packing

Not necessarily something you may think of, but you should take into account the time for packing each morning. Not only are you packing your own items up, you are also having to pack your cat’s supplies up and attempt to put your cat in a carrier! I gave myself an extra 45 minutes for packing and cleaning everything up each morning. Adding extra time to your schedule will be helpful when trying to leave early.

Invest in a Safe Cat Carrier

I wasn’t thrilled with the first carrier I had purchased when I adopted my cat years ago. After a ton of research, I ended up investing in a higher quality carrier. I purchased the Sleepypod Air Carrier. This carrier meets all airline and TSA requirements, though I doubt I plan on flying with my cat anytime soon!

My favorite feature is the ability to secure a seatbelt around the carrier. Humans wear seatbelts, pets should also be protected! In case of an accident, the restraint actually will keep the carrier in the seat. This also is the only pet carrier brand I could find that crash tests their products.

Collar with Identification Tag

My cat actually wears a collar all the time with identification. For travel it is especially important to have a collar with an identification tag. If you cat isn’t used to a collar, you may want to start practicing. This is just an extra step to help properly identify your cat in case something happens during your trip. I recommend a breakaway collar (the collar should breakaway if it becomes stuck on something). The tag should at least have your pet’s name on it and your mobile number. If your vet provides a rabies tag, also include this as well.

Cat Collar

Harness and Leash

I have to fully admit I was not able to use a harness, but I really wanted to use one. This would have been a huge help on the road. I tried and tried to get a harness on my cat, but I had no luck! If you are lucky and can get a harness on your cat, use it! I was not able to remove my cat from her carrier during the ride since I ultimately could not get a harness or leash on her. If I had a harness, I feel my cat’s experience would have been much better.

Cats can be slippery and can manage to get themselves out of collars and harnesses. Make sure to purchase a harness that fits your cat properly, which your cat will be comfortable in but also can’t escape from. The best tip is to practice using the harness and leash on your cat, this way your cat will be used to the restraint and you’ll have an idea how your cat will react.

Flea Treatment

Knock on wood, my cat has never had fleas since I adopted her. I don’t give her flea treatments often but I have always given my cat a treatment before being boarded. You just never know what other animals may be around.  This time I gave her a treatment before traveling. Basically, I use the treatment as a preventative measure. You truly never know who stayed in a hotel room previously or what you may encounter on the road.

Bring Water from Home

Water probably isn’t something you think about right away but is probably one of the top things you should bring. Bring water bottles of your own home water or purchase bottled water. Your cat is used to the water from home, keep the routine the same by using the same type of water. I actually purchased bottled water and started mixing this into her water bowl before moving. This way my cat became used to the taste of bottled water, which made it easier in the long run.

Water around the United States can taste different, plus it may not be pleasant in some areas. Heck, the tap water in the hotel in Tennessee we stayed at was absolutely horrid when brushing teeth. Your cat may not drink the tap water if it smells or has an odd taste. Bringing water from home or purchasing bottled water, will make everyone’s life easier!

Washington State

Using a Play Pen (or Crate)

A lot of blogs talk about letting your cat roam the hotel room or just closing them in the bathroom for the night. Personally, I think this is a wrong way to go for most cats. Cats explore and like to hide when they become upset (or sometimes dart out an open door). The best way to make your cat comfortable is to create their own space in a hotel room.

I purchased a Pet Pen from Amazon (36-inch) about a year before moving. I knew I would be moving at some point in time and wanted my cat to become accustomed to the pen. I set up the play pen in my apartment for about 6 months with a blanket inside. After the first week, she went in the play pen on and off. When the time came to drive across country, she was used to the play pen and had no problem being in it.

Pet Gear Pet Pen

I felt using the Pet Pen made a huge difference while traveling. Once I was in each hotel room I immediately set the pen up with her blanket, food, and litter box. After the pen was setup I placed her in it each evening and closed it. This way she had her own space and everything was contained. I did end up placing a towel over the top of the play pen after the first night. She seemed a bit restless but once the towel was on the top she calmed down tremendously. I knew she was safe and wouldn’t get stuck somewhere in the room.

My worst fear was having my cat become stuck behind furniture and not being able to get her out easily. Most hotels rooms I stayed in did not have a bed with a solid base. A lot had furniture with gaps on the bottom, which she could have gotten stuck under. I have even read stores online of cats becoming stuck in air conditioning units. I flat out did not want to take a chance.

Pet Pen Setup

Travel Litter Boxes

I ended up using both a disposable litter box and a plastic litter box with a lid. My cat is used to a lidded litter box and was confused the first time when I tried to use the disposable box. The disposable box does not come with a lid and she flung litter everywhere. To stop this potential problem, I went and purchased a plastic litter box with a lid that I could use with the disposable box. I was able to place the disposable box into the lidded box, which kept my cat’s play pen clean and made easier cleanup for me!

Each day I just bagged up the disposable litter box and used litter into a garbage bag. I could then easily take the used box to the garbage. The plastic litter box barely needed any cleaning since the disposable box was really the only part being used. This made cleanup a breeze!

Also, you can always make a makeshift litter box out of storage plastic bin and lid. This might be the best route if you plan on being on the road for an extended period of time. This way you don’t have to dump the cat litter every night and can cover the bin with a plastic lid.

Depending on your cat, liners may also be another option to create easier cleanup in litter boxes. Make sure to bring litter your cat likes, a litter box scooper, and some garbage bags.

Find a Cat-Friendly Hotel

I’ll dive into this in Traveling (Or Moving) with a Cat! – Part 2. This step actually requires some research and planning.

Supplies List

  • Your cat’s regular food (wet and dry) – Also bring some extra
  • Food and water dishes – I ended up using plastic bowls for the food, which I was able to throw away after each use. This made it easier for cleanup and my cat was not bothered by the plastic bowl (some cats may have an issue). I did though you the same water dish my cat was used to from home.
  • Water – Tap water from home or bottled water
  • Favorite toys
  • Kitty treats – Great way to bribe your cat sometimes
  • Cat carrier
  • Wee-Wee Pads – Used at the bottom of the cat carrier in case of any potential accidents
  • Roll of paper towels – To clean up any messes
  • Bedding
  • Play pen or crate for the hotel room
  • Litter
  • Litter box
  • Litter scooper
  • Garbage bags – Actually rather helpful when dumping the disposable litter boxes in hotel rooms

Maya the Cat

Even though I describe my cat as a goober, she truthfully was a good cat traveler! I’m thankful the traveling experience went really smoothly and that she remained calm most of the time. She never got sick once during the trip or had an accident. The only issue I had was non-stop meowing while driving through the entire State of Kentucky!

Have you traveled with a cat? What was your experience like?


Want to read more? Check out Part 2 of Traveling with a Cat!