Hakone Kowakien Yunessun – Big kid fun outside Tokyo

Hakone Kowakien Yunessun – Big kid fun outside Tokyo

Imagine bathing in a pool of sake, having buckets of it flung into your face while young people scream in glee around you.

You might be tempted to think this is some sort of foam party with a bunch of university students, but it’s actually one of the many quirky things that you will experience at Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, a short trip outside of Tokyo.

The Sake pool at Hakone Kawakien Yunessun

In the sake pool at Hakone Kawakien Yunessun!

Why visit Hakone Kowakien Yunessun

If you’re unfamiliar with Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, let me paint you a picture: it’s an aquatic playground (read water slides and outdoor hot springs), including pools filled with green tea, coffee, red wine, sake, etc. Yep, you read that right.

The town of Hakone is a famous tourist spot due to its natural hot springs. The Kowakien Yunessun (which includes the aquatic centre and nearby hotel) is located on a natural hot spring just outside  of Hakone, and also has an amazing onsen, or traditional Japanese bath house that you can visit. But be warned, the onsen is not for the shy and prudish – onsens traditionally require you to be nude, albeit with a tiny white towel for a degree of modesty (what good is a tiny bit of cloth?).

Which one would you try?

Hakone and the Kowakien Yunessun make for a great day trip from Tokyo and show you a little more of the traditional side of Japanese culture than you might find in Shinjuku or other suburbs of Tokyo.

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Start your engines! Maricar in Tokyo
Ling getting ready to race in MariCar

How to get to Hakone Kowakien Yunessun

There are various options to get to Hakone from Tokyo. For more information on your transport options to Hakone, check out this guide. We were based in Shinjuku during our trip to Japan, but these instructions will work from most stations in Tokyo with just a few amendments.

Our fearless leader explaining MariCar rules

These waters slides look pretty tranquil, but we both worked up a fair amount of steam coming down!

Step 1 – Using our Japan rail pass, we took a JR fast train from Shinagawa to Odawara (free with the JR pass!) and then purchased a separate pass for the Odakyo Railway line to Hakone (a couple of hundred Yen from memory).

Step 2 – Congratulations, you’ve made it to Hakone! Finally, after stopping for a quick couple of (hundred) sushi rolls, we jumped on a bus winding its way up into the mountains to get to the Yunessun (the bus will stop right outside). All up, it’s about 2 hours of travel time, which is really just enough time to thoroughly check Facebook and post some of the previous days photos to Instagram… 🙂

Looking for more things to do in Tokyo? Read about how you can Fight a Sumo here or drive through the streets of Tokyo in a go-kart!

Your other transport options include:

Option 2 – Fast route – for those willing to take a faster, more direct route, the Romance Car option could be the one for you. From Shinjuku station, you will catch an express train with a few limited stops to Hakone Yumoto station, which takes only 85 minutes and costs 2080 yen (not covered by JR Rail Pass). Then simply transfer to the Odakyu line and get the bus (i.e. follow step 2 above).

Overlooking the valley in the Yunessun's famous hot springs

Overlooking the valley in the Yunessun’s famous hot springs


Relax in the hot springs…

Once you have had your fun in the sake, coffee, both red and green tea pools and maxxed out on the waterslides, head up the stairs to the natural hot springs which overlook the valley below. The hot springs have been visited by Japanese for centuries and when we were there, the springs themselves were practically deserted and we pretty much had them to ourselves.

The great thing about Kowakien Yunessun, is that you get to experience both the water park fun and relax in the hot springs, all in the one place. Be sure to also visit the Mori No Yu section of the main building – the traditional (read: naked) onsen which has several baths, pools and springs set in an amazing Japanese garden.

Note: Most Japanese onsens usually have a strict ‘no visible tattoos’ policy, and unfortunately this applies at Yunessun and Mori No Yu.


Hakone surprised us. It wasn’t just the way having a Japanese staff member spray a bucket of coffee water in our faces made us feel (yes, that really happened). No, it was far deeper than that. The Hakone Kawakien Yunessun has that perfect mix of fun and relaxation in both a modern and traditional setting. Enjoy!

Want more travel inspiration?

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Hakone Kowakien Yunessun – Big kid fun outside Tokyo

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How to travel light for two weeks in a carry-on [Packing tips and Cabin Zero backpack review]

How to travel light for two weeks in a carry-on [Packing tips and Cabin Zero backpack review]

I hate wandering through beautiful European streets, Asia’s packed markets or the concrete jungles of America while dragging around overloaded suitcases.

So on a recent trip to Japan we attempted to go for two weeks in just a carry-on with what we now believe is the BEST travel backpack. And it WORKED.

Magical sunsets Raja Ampat

How to pack for a trip (and how most people actually do)

When space is limited and comfort is at a premium, a strategy is a must. No emotion here, just cold hard prioritisation. This is what I found helpful.

Break down what you need into categories:

      • Underwear and socks
      • Daily outfits (preferably using jeans/pants/skirt as a base with rotating shirts, etc)
      • Sleeping gear (where possible save space, sleep in the nude, though not recommended for hostel dorm stays)
      • Swimming gear
      • Coats and cold-weather gear (wear these on the plane where possible)
      • Toiletries
      • Shoes (as few as you need for the activities you need to do)

Rule number 1 – Folding is out, rolling is in.

Rolling your clothes reduces the overall footprint of the stack of clothes and when every millimetre counts, this can really pay dividends. This works particularly well for t-shirts, shorts, dresses but not so much for thick denim jeans, continue to lay these ones flat.

Rule number 2 –   Using all available space

You would probably be surprised by how much extra you can fit inside you’re the little nooks and crannies when packing a bag. A tip we always use is to stuff socks, belts, etc into shoes within your bag. Also look to use the space in between your rolls – there will generally be decent space both above and below where the rolls will meet for you to stuff smaller items.

Rule number 3 – Bundle like items together

Taking shirts for example, they are all generally the same size, mostly the same shape, etc. So it makes sense to lay them out together, roll them up and pack them as one rather than rolling a mixture of jeans, skirts, shirts, and jackets. This will also make it easier when you need to get straight to something as you will know exactly where in which roll to find them.

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Paradise in Raja Ampat
Arborek Village, Raja Ampat

Choosing the right backpack for travel

How do you choose the best backpack for travel? Here are a few thoughts on the issue:

    • Durability – If you’re going half way around the world, then you’ll want to make sure that the bag you trust with your belongings is tough enough to take the hits on the road. Ideally, I look for large zippers, strong handles and straps (look at the stitching for this), and materials that won’t mark too easily.
    • Style – Because we are the millennial generation, ok?
    • Space – Must be able to fit enough stuff but still be able to get through most airline carry-on size checks (more on this below)
    • Wearability – Personally, I prefer to carry my bags on my back as it leaves my hand free and I hate, HATE carrying suitcases up or down staircases. Padded, adjustable shoulder straps are a must and I like travel backpacks that allow for some air to get to the small of your back as well.

When we got our hands on two of Cabin Zero’s most stylish travel bags, we decided to put them to test. We compared the Urban 42L and the Classic 44L styles during two weeks, 5 hotels, 4 flights, numerous trains and a bus trip through Japan. 


I used the Urban and Kim-Ling took the Classic for our trip. First up, they are beautiful but in very different ways.

See our quick-look comparison between the Urban and Classic below!

The Urban 42L

For me, the Urban was the perfect mix of stylish, harwearing, waterproof (it was absolutely fine in the rain) and really easy to carry around with both a small side handle, slign shoulder strap AND traditional back straps. I was able to fit all of my clothers for 2 weeks in Japan in the Urban, AS WELL AS my laptop bag with laptop and GoPros x 2. I can’t rate it highly enough and you wouldn’t look out of place strolling down the coolest avenues of the world, including Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Broadway in New York or Shinjuku in Tokyo.

Raja Ampat sunsets

The Classic 44L

For Kim-ling, she LOVED the Classic. Not only because it was super lightweight, but because it came in a range of bright colours, including her favourite – purple. We wore it all around Tokyo, on and off trains, etc and it worked perfectly. Easy to wear, nicely distributing the weight across the shoulders and with a really useful front pocket to store some of the essentials. The beauty of the Classic is that it is has many useful pockets and the interior compartment setup is a little better suited to travel in our opinion.

I choose happiness

If you want to check out more of Japan, be sure to check out things to do before your trip to Japan or how to fight a sumo.

The key question that we had when they first arrived was: Will the CabinZero fit in carry on? My first impression was no, it just looked like a pretty big backpack and I have to admit, I had my doubts.

But the answer is yes, yes it will! We’ve done some digging, and from our own experience and that of other bloggers and travellers, the Classic 44L will fit into carry on with even the most obnoxious of airlines (you know who I’m talking about). We personally used it on ANA, Qantas and Jetstar without any problems whatsoever.

What is it like to travel for two weeks in a carry on?

To be honest, I loved it. I had just what I needed and literally nothing more. It made getting around Tokyo subway stations that much easier and quicker, particularly when running for trains (this happened often) or getting lost for an hour (only once).

It’s also great to have the peace of mind that IF you happen to misplace your Cabin Zero bag, they all have their unique Okoban identifier code that makes it easier to track down (provided you create an account and register your bag).


For us and our style of travel, these bags just worked so well and allowed us to travel through Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa for two weeks living out of just a carry on bag. The Urban is now my go to travel bag for anything longer than a few days, while Kim-Ling has used the Classic for everything from weekend trips to longer holidays.

If you’re looking for a versatile, roomy and stylish travel bag, we highly recommend the CabinZero Urban or Classic. Enjoy!

What are your best travel packing tips? Could you travel for up to two weeks with just a carry on?

Please leave a comment below!

A huge thanks to the guys at Cabin Zero for providing us with the Urban and Classic bags for our review. All views remain our own, of course. 

This post contains some affiliate links. Booking via these links won’t cost you any extra, but will help us continue to bring you the best in travel content, so thank you in advance!

Tokyo: The day I fought a Sumo

Tokyo: The day I fought a Sumo

I’ve been fascinated by sumo for years now.

Their strength, flexibility, the many traditions that go along with it. And how gents that large can move so fast, I will never quite understand.

So when I had the chance to wrestle a real sumo while visiting Tokyo, Japan, it’s safe to say that I was excited. REALLY excited. This is the story of how it went down.

Pre-fight preparation

In prep for our Japan vacation, I was pretty keen to try and do some quintessentially Japanese experiences, like dress up as Mario characters and drive go-karts through the streets of Tokyo, go to a cooking school, or soak in a traditional onsen (hot bath house).

So it was with some glee that we stumbled across the Asakusa Sumo Experience which offers just such a cool experience – the opportunity to wrestle a sumo and find out all about their training and lifestyles. This was just too good to pass up and I had to do it!

The event is held in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighbourhood, one of the nicest areas that we had the pleasure of exploring. Right across the road from the train station you will find the restaurant where the sumo experience is held on the second floor, where you will meet the other participants and Japanese hosts. No equipment or training necessary, they provide everything you need.

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Sumo training tours in Tokyo

Fight day


Training for sumo wrestling

Once we had entered and swapped our shoes for slippers, we managed to score front row seats to a carpeted wrestling area and a long table full of other guests stretched out behind us. Our host discussed many interesting details of sumo training and life while we awaited the arrival of the sumos, such as:

  1. The first formal sumo tournament was conducted 400 years ago, but sumo matches have occurred for well over 1000 years
  2. Sumo generally start serious training from the age of 15
  3. Sumo will normally train for 5 hours per day
  4. Sumo tournaments are held in every odd-numbered month, but the main ones in Tokyo are in January, May and September
  5. A grand champion, or Yokozuna, can earn up to US$5 million per year!

With the introductions complete, out walked the two sumo who would be our guides for the experience. They. Were. Huge. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise, being sumo wrestlers and all, but up close and personal these boys are absolute man-mountains.

Japanese sumo wrestlers

Over the next half hour, our two sumo guides explained to us some of the traditions and rituals of sumo tournaments, some of the basic techniques that sumo are taught, and what not to do (my game plan went out the window here). They also showed us a mini sumo match, pitting themselves against each other in what was a pretty even match. When they hit each other it was like two planets colliding and the sound up close was something to remember.

Finally, it was out turn. Our hosts called for volunteers (both male and females are encouraged to give it a go) and I strategically waited for a few other challengers to come forward before putting my hand up. All the better for me to test my game strategy, I told myself.

Loving Japan? If you want more, read the things to do before your trip and what to eat in Japan.

Wrestling a sumo in Tokyo, Japan

When my time came, I suited up in a mock sumo costume and faced off with a real sumo. We completed the initial rituals, I threw in some cocky smack talk to calm my nerves (it didn’t work) and we were off.

Now I should say here, I’m not a small person. I mean, I lift a few weights, like to think that I am reasonably strong and could at least make some kind of an impact, right? Wrong. I didn’t hold back in the opening hit…. and it didn’t matter at all. He didn’t budge. Not even a shudder. This was going to be a long match.

Wrestling a sumo in Tokyo, Japan

We tussled for a little bit and I made some embarrassing noises as I tried to lift his belt up to see if I could unbalance him at all. He obviously didn’t move one bit, and at one point, my feet lifted off of the floor and my sumo opponent, in complete control by this stage, twirled me around like I was a ballerina.

Having thoroughly ruined any chance of me thinking that I could out-compete a sumo, he casually gave me an opening and allowed me to push him out of the ring. Which, mind you, still took a bit of effort!

Wrestling a sumo in Asakusa Tokyo



Chankonabe in Tokyo, Japan

After our mini-tournaments, all participants got served a generous bento box with tonkatsu, rice, etc and we also got to try the sumo meal of choice – chanko-nabe. It’s a delicious, thick soupy dish of vegetables, tofu and balls of chicken and pork, which is very filling.

Chankonabe in Tokyo, Japan

We also got to interact with the sumos, taking pictures with them, asking questions about their careers and learning more about the training regimes of sumos and they were happy to oblige us as many questions as we wanted on any topics.


This was one of most fun experiences that we had in Tokyo. It’s not often that you get the chance, as an Australian, to wrestle a sumo, have lunch with them and find out about this fascinating aspect of Japanese society. Although sadly my dreams of world sumo domination now appear shaky, I’m super glad that I took the opportunity to do this, as it really is a one of a kind experience.

Would you get in the ring with a Japanese sumo? Or would you rather check them out in a tournament? Let us know in the comments below!

Thanks to Beauty of Japan for providing us with this experience. If you want to test your strength, skill and, let’s be honest, pride, you can book your Sumo Experience through them here.

A weekend in the Finnish Lapland

A weekend in the Finnish Lapland

The Finnish Lapland is like a playground for adults who never quite grew up.

Amongst the winter wonderland you can chase the northern lights, take a husky safari through the countryside and stay in a glass igloo in the middle of nowhere. So being kids at heart, that’s exactly what we did….

One of the first European adventures we took outside of Spain was to travel to Finland. Although it wasn’t a destination I had really considered before moving to Spain, Kim-Ling was obsessed with seeing the northern lights (aka the aurora borealis) and had booked cheap flights through Skyscanner for a brief weekend away. And that is how we found ourselves flying from Madrid with Finnair to Ivalo airport in Lapland in the north of Finland.

The hunt for the Northern Lights

Northern Lights above a cottage by Chris via Flickr CC by 4.0

One of the main reasons you would want to visit Finland is to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights. For our bucket list, it’s right up there with standing under the Eiffel Tower, hiking Machu Picchu or walking along the Great Wall of China – one of those magical experiences that can’t be easily replicated.

For the uninitiated, the Northern Lights are caused by the mixing of gas particles from the Earth and the Sun, which results in them lighting up in different colours across the night sky. And they are spectacular!

Where can you see the Northern Lights?

The lights occur over the north and south poles of the earth and the Finnish Lapland is known the world over as one of the best places to see this natural wonder in its full glory. But the lights can be difficult to find and to get a great showing is similar to a NASA space launch – everything must be just right. The best way to view the aurora borealis is far away from any artificial lights, such as towns, streetlamps, etc. Think of a deserted, desolate forest in the middle of nowhere at night with a cloudless sky and that is the PERFECT place to watch for the lights. Which is why we decided to stay in secluded glass igloos in Kakslauttanen

Activities to do in Kakslauttanen

While we were waiting for those perfect conditions, we kept ourselves busy with a host of other cool things to do. The two big things on our list were to ride a husky dogsled and immerse ourselves in Finland’s sauna culture.

Husky sledding in Lapland

Through a husky tour organised from our hotel, we were picked up and driven to the husky kennels to get all the necessary equipment and clothing. Fully kitted out, we very soon found ourselves getting a crash course on how to command a team of huskies (who I am kidding, they commanded us), steer the sled (you really can’t) and what to do if anything goes wrong (don’t let anything go wrong!). Easy!

Firstly, it must be said that these huskies are amazing creatures. True working dogs, they are tough, hardworking and want, no NEED, to run 10kms+ a day otherwise they start to go loony. The setup of a husky safari is sophisticated and coordinated: it can be as small as 4-6 dogs on a typical safari or up to 40 or more on endurance, or arctic expeditions. In the front are 2 smart and disciplined dogs who act as leaders, at the rear are 2 other dogs previously identified for their power and strength and the safari includes a balance of younger and more experienced dogs, as a teaching method. And the two in the middle? Well, they are known to be the dumb force. They aren’t quite smart enough to lead, nor are they strong enough to be the driving force, so they are there for the extra muscle.

When we walk towards them, they are already harnessed and the sled is tied to a pole, which rocks as the dogs collectively pull against it with their insatiable desire to begin the journey. Amid yelping, barking and in-fighting, we take our positions on the sled and nervously await being set free into the wilderness. Our guide thoroughly checks everything and then as he pulls the cord holding the sled, we launch onto the track at a million miles an hour. What a rush!

After the initial hang-on-for-dear-life beginning, the dogs settle into their groove and follow the track without any guidance from Kim-Ling or myself. Apart from the sound of the sled sliding across the pure white snow, the dogs are quiet, focused and really seem to be at their happiest. Kim-Ling and I were able to just sit back and enjoy the magical countryside, swept in gleaming snow, with the rising sun streaming through the trees. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful this place was, so peaceful and perfect. It was breathtaking (it was -20C after all).

After the safari had made its way back to the kennels and secured the sleds once again, we were able to meet the dogs, sip a delicious cup of warm, steaming cider, take photos and get up close and personal with some husky puppies. Being the crazy dog lady she is, I think this could have been Kim-Ling’s highlight. Overall, it was so fun that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone visiting the Lapland, as it’s money well spent in our books.

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Finnish Saunas

The other thing we made sure to do was get some time in a Finnish sauna. Finns are obsessed with saunas and seeing as though Kakslauttanen had their very own on site, we decided to hop over and give it a try. Now there are a few customs one should know when having a Finnish sauna. Firstly, Finns go bare naked in the sauna (but this is not necessarily expected of foreigners). Secondly, they advised us to alternate the hot saunas with running out and diving into the snow – just for the thrill of it!

Northern Lights revisited

So let me paint the picture. I say goodbye to Kim-Ling and we each head off to our respective male and female saunas after the sledding finished. The sauna is going well, I’m working up a decent amount of heat and so I decide to try a naked dash into the snow. Tiptoeing out of the sauna in the buff and onto the stairs leading down to the snow, it’s pretty slippery and I begin to imagine how the scene could unfold: “30 something year-old Australian man dies of hypothermia after slipping and being knocked unconscious while attempting to roll around in the snow ‘el naturel’ (funnily enough, Kim-Ling also had a similar fear). Putting these concerns to the side, I make a dash down into the snow and take a diving leap onto – a hard, rocky embankment. Clearly this was not how it was meant to go….

I subsequently got my technique organised and enjoyed the hot/cold sensations of the sauna/ice combination. It was so refreshing, I went back for another two rounds!

Northern Lights by Timo Newton-Syms via Flickr CC by SA 2.0

Suffice to say, in between our many adventures of dog sledding and saunas, we made every effort we could to get the best views possible of the Northern Lights. Kim-Ling became a full-time meteorologist, providing up-to-the-minute weather forecasts and atmospherics (there’s actually websites and apps you can download to give you fairly accurate forecasts and provide alerts for when the aurora borealis will be best for viewing). Our weekend had some cloud cover which obscured most of the sky except for brief interludes here and there.

As we were walking back from the lodge and dinner in the Kakslauttanen snow, I looked up at the sky and remarked to Kim-Ling how weird the smoke looked. It was at that moment, that Kim-Ling pushed me aside and started running after it. It was the Northern Lights! Or at least a mildly obscured, faint and barely recognisable cousin… It still counts.

Getting to Finland and booking hotels

Just a few quick tips to make the most out of your trip to the Lapland.

  1. Hotels: Book well ahead, as the peak season (December to March) get’s very crowded, very quickly. Kim-Ling booked Kakslauttanen (affiliate link) almost a year in advance, and there were only a few left at that time!
  2. Transport: Ideally look for a hotel with transfers, etc as I would recommend you not attempt to drive on your own. There is a bus company, Matkahuolto, which can also take you around the Lapland if needed.
  3. Activities: There is no need to book ahead for husky sledding or even the night Northern Lights safaris, particularly during peak seasons. However, check with your accommodation/tour provider beforehand for weather updates and indications on if a tour is booking up.
  4. Gear: No need to buy any advanced gear or single-handedly drive up North Face’s profits for your trip – we got along just fine without mountaineering jackets, etc. Almost all activities outside (e.g. Husky, etc) will provide specific clothing for the purpose anyway. Dress as you would for any snow trip.
  5. Flights: Finnair or Norwegian Airlines fly into Ivalo airport, which is close to Kakslauttanen igloo village and the activities that we described. Rovaniemi airport is another option to stay in the area.

Have you visited Finland or have you seen the Northern Lights somewhere else around the world? Drop us a comment below!

Prynt case review – Augmented reality comes to travel

Prynt case review – Augmented reality comes to travel

This post is part of our Travel Tech series, where we review the coolest tech gadgets and apps for travelling the world.

We all have those moments when we are travelling that seem surreal, unique and memorable. So memorable, in fact, that we often want to share these moments and experiences with family and friends. And while a simple picture can say a thousand words, the augmented reality photos from the Prynt case can say a whole lot more.

What is the Prynt case

The Prynt case is an attachment for your phone (currently iPhone SE, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, and Samsung Galaxy S5) that allows you to print polaroid-style photos. Not only that, but when you view these photos using the Prynt mobile app, they come alive to play an embedded video or GIF that you have selected. Simply put, you can encode a video within a physical photo for your friends to watch later!

Why the Prynt case is good for travel lovers

Once you work out what you are doing with it, the Prynt case has all sorts of uses. You can take a happy snap and send it to your family as a postcard, or send it with a letter (remember those things made out of paper?). A little more creative way of using it, it to take a snap and leave it somewhere around the world for your friends to find! How cool is that!! The photos even double as stickers, so it’s perfect for the travel scrapbook, something Ling was very excited about.

How it works

To use the Prynt case, you need to download the Prynt app. Then, simply plug your phone into the case, open up the Prynt app on the iPhone and press the shutter button on the case. It will begin to record a 3-6 second video of what you are looking at and digitally embed that video into the photo.

To print a photo, the process is equally as simple. Firstly, load up the case with printer paper. With the iPhone plugged in and the Prynt iPhone app running, you select the photo you want, press the print button and the case does the rest! It’s super easy!

The details

Hopefully by now you love this thing as much as we do. But there are some things that you should know. For instance, the case will only work with the iPhone 5 and 6 models and the Samsung Galaxy S5. That should cover most travellers but if you buy a cheap phone overseas, don’t expect it to work. You also cannot adjust the size of the photo paper; the Prynt ZINK® Photos are two by three inches (or 5 by 7.62 centimeters).

While the app is pretty intuitive and easy to use, it doesn’t allow you to select the image from the video that you would like to embed. So if you want the image from the end of the video, then you’re out of luck. So when you are using the app, remember that the start of the video will be the image that gets printed. The other tip is that you don’t have to have the case connected to capture the photo/recording! This came in handy when we were doing some more active adventures, and didn’t want to risk bringing the case along and damaging it.

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Well as far as travel tech goes, this has to be an amazing step forward. We’ve certainly never seen anything like this before! We’ve used it a few times, capturing some fun activities on the snow, days sightseeing and even to send heartwarming photos with messages to loved ones overseas.

Thanks to the Prynt team for supplying us with this case to review. All opinions are our own, and we really like this tech!

Have you used the Prynt case before? How would you use it for travel? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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