(CNN) — Ryan Carlson was in the middle of a backpacking trip in New Zealand when he got the email: North Korea was opening its borders to American tourists.

It was September 2005. Carlson, 25, worked in finance as an independent futures trader in Chicago, a job that afforded him a lot of flexibility for travel.

The email, from Beijing-based company Koryo Tours, confirmed trips for US residents would be offered again for the next four weekends only.

Carlson abandoned his New Zealand adventure, flew back to Chicago, organized his visa, then hopped on a plane to Beijing to meet the Koryo Tours group.

Meanwhile, 30-year-old Shauna Cheng was flicking through an English-language magazine published in Beijing when she happened upon an advert for Koryo Tours’ North Korea journeys.

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area, Cheng had temporarily moved to China for work, keen to experience life in Beijing and learn Mandarin along the way.

A trip to North Korea seemed like an unusual and intriguing travel opportunity.

“Why not?” Cheng thought, and booked a place on the trip.

A plane to Pyongyang

Ryan-and-Shauna-Chance-Encounters (12)

Cheng and Carlson visited North Korea on an organized tour in 2005. They returned in 2008, when they took this photo.

Courtesy Ryan Carlson and Shauna Cheng Carlson

On October 8, 2005, the American tourists gathered in Beijing, made their introductions and boarded a plane to Pyongyang, buzzing with energy and anticipation.

“There was a lot of excitement. We’re taking off on this adventure. We don’t know what it’s going to be and it’s nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Carlson recalls.

Cheng and Carlson sat next to each other on the bus from Pyongyang airport to the hotel.

“Ryan seemed like a nice guy with good energy,” recalls Cheng.

The two chatted a bit about Singapore — Cheng’s parents were from there and Carlson had recently visited — but most of the conversation was about what might await them in North Korea.

“I’m not like some smooth operator,” says Carlson. “It was just kind of sharing that excitement together — and it wasn’t just between us, it was just the whole entire group was really happy.”

Cheng and Carlson were the two youngest among the American travelers.

“Everyone had a unique story,” says Carlson of the group, among whom he recalls a Soviet dissident who was interested in seeing another communist country.

The focus of the trip was watching the Arirang Mass Games, described by Koryo Tours on its website as a spectacle of “100,000 dancers, gymnasts and musicians working in perfect synchronization.”

Carlson calls the event “absolutely breathtaking.”

For Cheng, the highlight was seeing the north side of the border at Panmunjom, which divides North and South Korea.

“It was so interesting how the spaces between buildings had South Korean soldiers standing in between and also I could see the American military advisers in the building watching us through their binoculars,” she recalls.

Tourism in North Korea is strictly controlled by the government


  • JAMM AQUINO / [email protected]

    Passengers waited for their bags in the Hawaiian Airlines baggage claim area, June 15, at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. July 8 — two weeks from now — should represent a major milestone in the fight against COVID-19 in Hawaii when all counties are expected to ease limits on travel and indoor and outdoor gatherings once the islands are expected to see a statewide average of a 60% full vaccination rate.



July 8 — two weeks from now — should represent a major milestone in the fight against COVID-19 in Hawaii when all counties are expected to ease limits on travel and indoor and outdoor gatherings once the islands are expected to see a statewide average of a 60% full vaccination rate.

And then all current gathering limits are expected to be lifted in a couple of months, once Hawaii sees a 70% fully vaccinated rate statewide, Gov. David Ige and three county mayors announced today.

Hawaii is expected to reach a statewide vaccination rate of 60% on July 4, which is expected to trigger far less restrictive travel and gathering levels on July 8. They include:

>> Fully vaccinated U.S. travelers flying domestically — including island residents returning home — will be allowed to bypass Hawaii’s quarantine and pre-travel restrictions, as long as they upload their vaccination records to the state’s Safe Travels website and arrive with a hard copy of their vaccinations records. All current travel restrictions will remain in place until July 8, Ige said today.

>> The number of people allowed to attend social gatherings will increase from the current level of 10 people indoors to 25; The size of outdoor gatherings will increase from 25 people outdoors to 75.

>> Restaurants will be allowed to increase their seating capacities to 75% of the maximum allowed capacity, as long as they seat no more than 25 customers indoors and 75 outdoors.

>> Masks will continue to be required indoors until Hawaii reaches a 70% vaccination rate and all restrictions are expected to be lifted, Ige said.

Once the state reaches the target of a 70% fully vaccinated rate, Ige said “The Safe Travels program will end and we will invite everyone to be able to travel to our islands.”

With new COVID-19 cases prevalent among patients who have yet to be vaccinated, the mayors and Ige recommended that everyone direct family and friends to get their questions answered through legitimate sources and not through social media.

“We will get back to normal when we are all vaccinated,” Ige said. “….Please get vaccinated.”

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

(CNN) — American student Nicole Erickson was about to embark on an epic round the world trip. Ahead of her lay two years of adventure that could change her life forever.

But fate had different ideas. The life-changing event happened before she’d even departed: she encountered a total stranger on a ship, and something unexpectedly clicked.

It was the summer of 1999 and 24-year-old Erickson, having just finished a two-year Fulbright scholarship in Germany, was in no hurry to head home.

“I wanted to travel around the world,” she tells CNN Travel today. “So, I took all my savings and packed the backpack and bought a ticket.”

While planning her journey and counting down the days to departure, she took the opportunity for a smaller trip — a week’s sailing vacation organized by the Fulbright Alumni Association on board a tall ship in the Baltic Sea.

Which is how, in September that year, she found herself boarding the wooden schooner Albatros in the Baltic port of Kiel, the only American among a group of around 25 mostly German former Fulbright scholars.

Among the group was Jürgen Guldner, a 29-year-old engineer who’d spent his Fulbright year at the University of California at Berkeley.

“In California I sailed a lot there, on all sort of ships,” recalls Guldner. “So, I thought that was a very interesting nice little adventure to go on a sailing trip on the Baltic Sea.”

Guldner knew a few friends from his time in the United States who were also on board. In fact, a lot of the travelers knew one another.

Realizing she was the odd one out, Erickson immediately introduced herself to everyone, including Guldner. She shook his hand and grinned at him.

“I liked her smile,” Guldner recalls now. He was also impressed, and intrigued by, Nicole’s extroverted, friendly nature — introducing herself to everyone right away seemed very American.

The ship weighed anchor and left the orange roofs of Kiel behind. The travelers got the rundown of the ship, and a reminder from the handful of crew present that they’d all be embracing the spirit of the adventure and helping with the ship’s upkeep.

For now though, the group could relax and gain their sea legs. There was luminous sunshine that first day and Guldner set himself up on deck.

He had just begun reading the book he’d brought with him — “Sophie’s World” by Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder — when Erickson, wandering the deck, stopped to chat to him. Coincidentally, she’d brought the same novel for the trip.

It was the perfect ice breaker and they soon moved away from talking about books to his time in the United States and hers in Germany — and what they were doing next. Erickson spoke excitedly about her round-the-world trip.

It wasn’t love at first sight, says Erickson. But something clicked for them both, and they realized how well they got on.

“Neither of us ever finished the book,” says Guldner, laughing.

Life on board