Blogger Spotlight: Meet Silvia from Heart My Backpack

Blogger Spotlight: Meet Silvia from Heart My Backpack

Hey guys! I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday. Today I want to introduce you to Silvia from Heart My Backpack. She’s a recent addition to my Bloglovin’ but easily a new favorite. Her posts are always varied and unexpected (no trite top 10 lists here), and her effortless humor and truly off-the-beaten-path travel tales keep me wanting more.

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Name: Silvia

Age: 26

Occupation: Freelance travel writer

Hometown: Worcester, MA USA

Residence: I’m usually somewhere in Asia, the Middle East, or Europe!

Website: heartmybackpack.com

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Country count: 63

Favorite city: My top five are Munich, Bangkok, Tokyo, Tehran, and Dushanbe.

Favorite museum: Don’t tell the grown-ups, but I sort of hate museums.

Favorite blog(s): I read tons of travel blogs, but I also really love Norwegian fashion blogs, particularly Ulrikke Lund, Cath in the City, and Nette Nestea. Their photos are always so beautiful, plus reading them helps me brush up on my Norwegian! (Language nerd tip: I’ve found reading foreign blogs to be super helpful when studying a language, because they’re usually written in a very colloquial way). [Editor’s note- couldn’t agree more!]

Favorite hostel: Sakura Guest House in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Favorite hotel: Bø Hotel in Telemark, Norway. My grandparents built it so I’m totally biased!

Favorite piece of street art (with a photo!): This is no secret, but Malaysia’s Georgetown has some seriously amazing street art. IMG_5618

Your parents are from Norway, right? How has having two nationalities (and two passports!) changed your travels? And are you fluent in Norwegian?

Yes! Well, my mother is from Norway and my dad is from Kentucky. I do speak Norwegian, but I’m pretty sure it sounds a little special, ha. Having two passports has been incredibly helpful for traveling, especially as many Asian visas are a lot more expensive for U.S. citizens than Norwegians. My Norwegian passport also allowed me to visit Iran independently this past spring. I simply got a visa on arrival at the airport, whereas Americans are only granted visas when traveling as part of an official tour. I may also have used my two passports to get around recent visa run crackdowns in Thailand…

So you started out blogging at theroamingcoconuts.com. Why did you make the jump to having your own personal blog? What are the differences in running your own blog vs. running one with someone else?

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I started blogging with my friend Danielle when we set out on a 5-month trip across Asia a year and a half ago. It was a lot of fun writing posts together, though we also had to make many compromises. At the end of the trip we decided to go our separate ways (I wanted to head to the Middle East while she was dreaming of Africa), so I decided to start Heart My Backpack. At first I was really embarrassed to have my own blog because I’m a fairly introverted and private person, but I quickly got over that and grew to love the freedom of blogging on my own!

I read you backpacked solo through Iran- that’s incredible. Can you tell us a little more insight on that?

It’s funny that my posts about Iran get the most attention on my blog, because while that trip was definitely life-changing, it was also one of my trips that I’ve put this least amount of planning into. Some of the travelers I met in Central Asia had passed through Iran, and all of them raved about the country, particularly how welcoming the locals were. Based on those stories, I decided to only organize my first two nights of Couchsurfing in Iran and let my hosts help me plan the rest of my two weeks when I arrived. It worked out perfectly!

Through Couchsurfing I met an Iranian student for lunch, and she decided to take time off work to go to Isfahan, Iran’s “culture capital,” with me. After our trip Mina took me back to her family’s home in Tehran to celebrate the Persian New Year, and then we somehow managed to convince her parents to let us visit her (secret) boyfriend near the Iraqi border in Kurdistan. It was amazing to get to travel with a local like that, in particular because Mina had never had the opportunity to travel to these places either, so we were discovering the country together. I could go on and on about Iran (and have on my blog) but what stood out most to me was how unbelievably welcoming everyone was there.

You’ve been to some seriously off-the-grid destinations: Oman, Georgia, rural China. What offbeat travel destination do we all need to visit in 2015?

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Central Asia! Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in particular totally blew me away, and I cannot understand how they aren’t flooded with tourists. Maybe because “stan” is in their names? They’re ideal backpacker destinations: super cheap with dramatic landscapes, welcoming locals, and a plethora of opportunities for unique cultural experiences like drinking fermented mare’s milk in a yurt, as well as outdoor adventures like hiking, horse treks, mountaineering, and skiing.

I want your hair- it’s always so perfect! How do you keep it so well-groomed on the road? And how do you stay so blonde?

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Haha wow, after such a compliment I almost don’t want to admit that I’m a total slob about my hair. I guess I’m lucky that it’s fine and straight, because at least it looks pretty tame most of the time, though I would LOVE to have thick, dark curls instead. I like to keep my hair long while traveling, because when it’s dirty and barely brushed I tell myself it looks “hippie-chic,” whereas my hair always needs a bit of styling when it’s short. And I’m naturally blonde, so the more I’m in the sun the lighter it gets. Though I have to say, my blonde hair and height (I’m 5’9) have made me feel like quite the freak during my past four years in Asia!

You’ve written before about how you weren’t huge on Vietnam. I found this interesting because you’re a self-proclaimed foodie, just like me! What were your feelings on Vietnam?

Honestly, I think my problems with Vietnam mostly came down to a matter of poor timing. When I got to Hanoi, I had just spent four months traveling through Western China and the Stans, so returning to the backpacker trail was a bit of a shock. I had forgotten what it was like to be in a country whose economy depends so much on tourism, and how much that can affect the dynamic between locals and tourists. Seeing so many young backpackers drunkenly confronting locals and sunbathers buying coconuts from old Vietnamese women while only wearing a thong and nipple pasties was just all a bit much for me at the time! But the food was amazing, and I would love to return one day and explore less touristed areas of the country.

And speaking of food, where are some of your favorite food destinations?

These ones are obvious, but India, Japan, and Thailand! I also really loved the food I ate in Western China, and the Balkans have amazing seafood and vegetables, as well as seriously delicious, dirt cheap wine!

Your blog is so funny. How do you infuse your posts with a sense of humor?

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I think people just never take my blog seriously. Like that time I tried to post a super helpful guide to photography and everyone commented saying my tips were “hilarious.” Rude! Haha no, I guess I also can’t manage to take my blog very seriously; everything seems to come out a little tongue-in-cheek.

You’ve worked as an English teacher before. Which countries and how did you like it?

I taught English in Japan for two years. I wrote a post about it here, but long story short, I pretty much hated it.

And the quintessential question. Besides English teaching, how do you afford a life of travel?

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Actually in my case there isn’t really a “besides English teaching.” I saved around $44,000 in Japan and, two and half years later, I’m still living off of those savings. I’ve written more about how here. I have started making some money writing travel articles, but over the next year I’ll definitely need to come up with a more serious income strategy.

And on a less serious note- how did you think of your Taylor Swift Halloween costume? Because that is possibly the best Halloween costume idea ever.

Please Ashley, as if I’m going to admit to all your readers that I’m secretly a huge Taylor Swift fan.

So let’s hear it! Anything else you want to know about Silvia?

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Want to be featured in my monthly blogger spotlight? Get in touch and we’ll talk!

The World Traveler Giveaway! JBL Speaker, olloclip iPhone Camera & More

The World Traveler Giveaway! JBL Speaker, olloclip iPhone Camera & More

This giveaway only runs until Tuesday, Dec. 23, so get entering to win all these awesome travel goodies!
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So, I’m kind of a travel accessory nut. I’m one of those people who can’t travel without her eye mask or Kindle, and I routinely devour those “10 Travel Essentials for Every Travel Addict” lists that float around the interwebs.

Which is why I’m super excited about my World Traveler Giveaway, which features lots of portable, useful and fun travel products that will make both your travels (and life!) so much easier.

Also I intentionally made this giveaway unisex- so guys, definitely enter too!

In my humble opinion, this list of products would serve as excellent holiday wishlist inspiration, or great gifts for friends and family. (In fact I already bought my brother the JBL Flip 2 speaker for Christmas. Thank God he doesn’t read this blog.)

Now onto the goodies…

JBL Flip 2 Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

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This JBL speaker may be compact, but it packs some serious sound. I discovered this speaker through a travel buddy and was shocked that such loud music was playing from such a small speaker.

This speaker has tons of cool features: Bluetooth, a built-in bass port, built-in microphones, SoundClear® echo noise cancellation technologies and a rechargeable battery. And take it from me- it’s awesome to have a speaker on the road, whether to play in the hostel dorm or for your own private workout sesh.

olloclip 4-in-1 Quick Connect iPhone Lens

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iPhoneography is getting bigger and bigger, and the olloclip allows you to be seriously creative with your iPhone.

When I travel I often ditch my dSLR and simply use my iPhone, which is easier because a. it’s less obvious I’m taking a photo and b. it’s so much lighter. And with the olloclip have you have tons of versatility: you can shoot wideangle, fish eye and two types of macro. Personally, I adore the fish eye effect.

For some of my olloclip shots see my Instagram, or check out the olloclip account for their absolutely amazing shots.

Sanuk Travel-Ready Footwear unnamed

In my mind, every traveler needs a pair of comfortable, attractive walking shoes that don’t make you look like an obvious tourist (cough, cough, white tennis shoes.) Which is where Sanuk comes in.

Sanuk makes amazingly comfortable travel shoes- I’m a huge fan of my Katlash pair. And while Sanuk makes travel-friendly shoes for both men and women in all kinds of colors, I’d recommend black for long-term travel as black holds up best against stains.

Belkin SurgePlus USB Swivel Charger

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I SO WISH I would’ve had this charger on my world trip last year.

First of all, it has TWO USB PORTS, and I cannot stress the importance of this enough. This means you can simultaneously charge your smart phone and Kindle, two smart phones, a smart phone and iPad, etc.

belkin-be-BST300bg-5-1 Additionally the charger swivels up to 360 degrees to fit in tight spaces and avoid blocking other outlets, and includes surge protection- something seriously useful when you’re traveling in countries with shoddy electrical work.

 

And one final bonus the swivel charger is covered by a $75,000 Connected Equipment Warranty. This means Belkin will repair or replace any equipment damaged by a surge, spike or lightning strike while properly connected to the surge protector, up to $75,000.

 

Belkin AIR PROTECT™ Grip Extreme Protective Case for iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s

After my iPhone 4 broke in Asia, I vowed to use a better case for my brand-new iPhone 5S- so I went with Belkin. As a self-admitted klutz I’ve dropped my poor phone countless times, but my Belkin case has kept it unsmashed for the past year. Which is why I couldn’t recommend Belkin phone cases more- if they can withstand my abuse, they can withstand anyone’s. belkin-be-F8W416-1

The AIR PROTECT case has a couple of unique features- it has a shockproof polycarbonate framework to keep your phone protected, as well as easy access to all charging ports, making it perfect for the serious traveler.

Belkin RockStar Multi Headphone Splitter

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I brought a headphone splitter on my world trip and it was awesome for long bus rides with travel buddies, as we easily watch the same movie or listen to the same music. The RockStar allows you to connect up to five headphones, and while you will most likely not need that many ports, it’s still handy to have multiple.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: International readers, feel free to enter- I will ship these goodies wherever you are! But you may have to pay duty depending on your country of residence.

Disclaimer- Olloclip, Sanuk and Belkin provided me with products for review. All opinions obviously are my own.

 

Life Out West: Month 1

Life Out West: Month 1

While on my RTW trip I loved posting monthly updates as they’re so much fun to both write and look back on. So I figured why not recap my new life out west too?

So Dec. 1 marks one full month in Colorado. And honestly, life is lovely. I’m relishing this long-awaited stability, making friends and let’s be honest- enjoying the hell out of my first salary.

Highs

Exploring my new city.

Denver has the best restaurants, coffee shops and bars. So far I’ve especially loved Forest Room 5, an outdoorsy cabin bar with fire pits, Williams & Graham, a speakeasy hidden behind a bookshelf with a killer cocktail list and Ace, a ping pong bar serving up Asian fusion cuisine.

But my favorite spot may be Union Station, a train station-turned coffee shop/restaurant/gathering spot. If you’re ever in Denver, Union Station is a must-do.

Union Station Denver

Awesome eats. 

From biweekly Vietnamese feasts on Federal to late-night tacos al pastor, I’ve been loving the local eats. My favorite spot so far is Linger, a one-time mortuary that is now one of Denver’s trendiest restaurants.

And thank God the Vietnamese is good here otherwise I may have been forced to return to my nomadic ways and move to Saigon. #Halfjoking

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The best Friendsgiving ever.

While my 2014 Thanksgiving was far from typical (no turkey, stuffing, gravy or cranberry sauce!) it certainly was wonderful. I spent the day with close family friends, my roommate/best friend Alyssa and slew of new faces in an expertly restored 1898 Denver home.

Friendsgiving

Starting another website.

As usual, I’m kind of terrible at keeping my own secrets but yes- I have started a new website that I’m very excited about! (Which I started because I’m not busy enough with a full-time job, two-hour commute, travel blog and busy social life, apparently.)

Once the site’s a bit more developed I’ll make the big announcement but until then I’ll be working hard on my new project!

Feeling content, finally.

The worry I felt while traveling about finding a job, settling down, making friends, etc. has completely vanished. Back then I assumed I would suffer from “the grass is always greener” syndrome once I did finally settle down, and miss travel fervently- but no, in most ways I’m just a lot happier now.

Okay no, I don’t get to rappel down cliffs or make my own schedule or lounge on Indonesian beaches- but I do have other things worth noting- a solid group of friends, a bed, a steady job. So far, normalcy feels pretty blissful.

My new gig.

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I’m really enjoying my new job- especially my coworkers and workplace. It’s so relaxed sometimes it feels like college! And because I work in digital advertising my blogging background is super useful- bonus!

Downs.

Lack of time.

God knows how anyone with a full-time jobs does anything but lounge in a flannel and watch Scandal after work. I’m usually too tired to cook, let alone work out, see friends or manage my blog. I should probably fix this.

Blogging less.

While I used to stick to a fairly rigid blogging schedule, now I’m struggling to reach the same quota. What I’ve found works best is writing posts on Sunday and then editing and promoting throughout the week. Nevertheless, some days it feels like I have two jobs.

Self-doubt, as always.

While I haven’t suffered too much from this, I have been undergoing a slight identity crisis. For so long I identified as both an expat and traveler- after all, my blog is named Ashley ABROAD. Which begs the question(s): Who am I really? What do I really want to do with my life? I’m happy here, so what does that mean? And how long will it last?

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Things I’m loving:

Blogs not related to travel. While I love my fellow travel blogs, I’ve had fun expanding on my reading: Zoe London, Vivianna Does Makeup, The Nectar Collective and Un-fancy are all new (and awesome) additions to my Bloglovin’.

NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencils. Who knew I was such a product junkie? I already have Damned, Mysterious Red, Train Bleu and Walkyrie. I know I should stop but I want more.

The Serial podcast. I’m addicted to this murder mystery podcast. Seriously worth downloading.

SkinnyTaste recipes. Along with dry shampoo, SkinnyTaste recipes are the working girl’s best friend. Here’s one of my favorites so far, Turkey Meatball Spinach Tortellini Soup. Easy, healthy, delicious.

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Up next? I just bought a $600 Epic Pass so I’ll be skiing a ton this winter. I will also be going to Florida with my family for Christmas, and have an international trip in the pipeline- so stay tuned! As always thank you for reading, and I sincerely hope you are having an amazing holiday season wherever you are.

The last thing I’d want for this blog to become is boring so if you have anything you’d like for me to write about please comment below!

The Girl I Was on Koh Tao

The Girl I Was on Koh Tao

Without a doubt, Koh Tao is one of my favorite places in Southeast Asia.

Last fall I spent three weeks there and this spring I returned for two and a half. On both visits I only intended to stay a week, but well, Koh Tao is tough to quit.

Koh Tao is heaven for young people. A palm tree-fringed paradise where hour-long massages cost $6, where you can scuba-dive and fight muay thai and motorbike at your leisure, where partying is practically an art-form.

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My memories of Koh Tao are equally distant and fond, so hazy it’s as if they belong to someone else.

Even though I was there only six months ago, I was a different girl. Back then I flitted around the world, unsure of myself or what I wanted to do. I was rootless. I vacillated between seeking adventure and food and travel and craving community and career growth and lasting friendship.

Similar to an addiction, travel evolved from a love to an escape to an obsession to a lifestyle. After nine years of obsessive travel, I traveled because it was all I knew how to do. I was equally scared for the future and determined to savor the present. When the dreaded question “What will I do when I get home?” arose, I cast it from my mind.

I lived simply and cheaply, my only shoes a pair of black flip flops, my hair usually wet and plaited to the side. I was a girl who felt wildly indulgent paying $40 a night for an air-conditioned bungalow, who considered staying out until two an early night. I worried a lot. I partied a lot. I had metric tons of free time but carried a deep guilt for not feeling constantly happy. After all, who was I to feel lonely in paradise? How dare I?

I was a girl I recognize but can’t remember being.

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But I do remember some things about my time on Koh Tao. I remember the bathwater sea, the banana pancake truck parked in front of Ban’s, the bright long tail boats bobbing in the surf. I remember drinking frothy pineapple juice as the tourmaline sea glittered. I remember swaying in a hammock listening to Manu Chao, sniffling and feverish from too many nights out.

And needless to say, I miss that lifestyle at times. I miss blissing out under Tiger Balm massages while listening to the soft pulsing of the sea. I miss sipping lukewarm Changs on the beach at night, watching the fire dancers spin, the flames bright as stars.

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But mostly, I feel time has given me clarity. I forgive the girl I was back then for being anxious and guilty once in a while, because of course I had rough days on the road. Of course I felt insecure about my future and longed for deeper friendships. One can only live untethered for so long without yearning for security.

In retrospect I see that I was far too hard on myself.

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I doubt I will ever go back to Koh Tao- actually, I don’t want to. For me, it’s so intertwined with youth, both the uncertainty and the frivolity of it. I want the island to remain fixed in my mind just as it was when I was 23. Because I will never again be the girl I was on Koh Tao, for better or worse.

Koh Tao- what a special little piece of paradise.

Blogger Spotlight: Meet Nat & Robson from Love and Road

Blogger Spotlight: Meet Nat & Robson from Love and Road

Hey guys! So for this month’s Blogger Spotlight we have Nat and Robson from Love and Road, a Brazilian expat couple who blog in both English and Portuguese- a task I can’t even imagine tackling. Nat and Robson love partying, Ireland and street art, so naturally I had lots of questions for them! Not to mention interviewing them seriously made me want to just get to Brazil already, a place I’ve been trying to visit for years.

Name(s): Natalie Deduck and Robson Cadore

Age(s): Nat 31 & Rob 34 years old

Occupation(s): Full-time travellers and bloggers, a former journalist and a former sales manager in a shipping company.

Hometown(s): Itajaí, Brazil

Residence: Southeast Asia for the next 5 months.

Website: loveandroad.com

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How long you’re been blogging: 4 months

Country count: 29

Favorite city: Barcelona (it wasn’t an easy decision, but we need to be near the sea and in a place with cool parties!)

Favorite museum: Le Centre Pompidou, Paris. Not only the expositions, the building itself is amazing. [Editor’s note- One of my favorites too!]

Favorite blog (s): That’s a big list :-) Rob follows The Professional Hobo and Hecktic Travels, I’m always reading post from Hippie in Heels, Just One Way Ticket and of course, yours. We follow you since we started planning our Love and Road Project back in 2013!

Favorite hostel: We don’t stay too much in hostels, we prefer to share houses and apartment with local people (cheaper and a more genuine experience).

Favorite hotel: I’m in love with Family Cave Hotel in Cappadocia. We just came from there and it was a great place to stay. Family-run, it’s a small hotel with beautifully decorated rooms. We even had a hammam in our bathroom. For budget travellers that was a spoil!

Favorite piece of street art:

Street art,lisbon Our pick is the one we spotted in Lisbon, near the Santa Apolónia Station.. This huge wall is amazing and we really liked how the artist played with the textures.

We are really into street art, we even have a gallery for it on our blog called Street Art from Around the World, have a look for some amazing work.

So you two are both from Brazil. What is it like for you blogging in a second language? I find that so impressive!

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It’s hard work! First I write all the posts in English and then I do a Portuguese version of them. I struggle a lot with vocabulary, grammar and expressions. I know our content doesn’t have a flawless English, but the idea is to tell our story to as many people as possible, and through English is the best way do it. Portuguese is spoken in just a few countries and we are always thinking big, that’s why we are blogging in two languages.

And it’s not only the blog posts that are we write in two languages, Facebook posts, Tweets and Instagram too. It’s an everyday challenge and the worst is because of writing English and travelling to countries with complete different languages, my Portuguese is getting worse everyday. :-(

Nat, you call yourself a “worldwide party animal.” Where are your favorite places to party? Or does nowhere compare to Brazil?

Our Fast marriage__ in Kazantip Festival Ukraine (btw was our honeymoon)

I love Barcelona! We spent a few days there last summer and the parties were amazing. On our blog post 5 Tips to Enjoy Barcelona like a Local, we give some precious advice for those who want to party in a Catalan style. (Day & night ;-))

I’m a big fan of electronic music, what makes Berlin is one of my favorites cities for clubbing. Germany’s capital is one of the best places to have fun while listening to good beats. Brazil is on the top of my list too. Big clubs in front of the beach (like Ibiza superclubs), carnival and good music make my country a dream destination for any party animal.

Also one summer music festival per year is a must for me! This summer we danced our socks off at Sonus Festival, in Croatia.

I saw you guys were recently in Portugal. What was it like traveling Portugal as Brazilians? Any language barriers or cultural quirks you came across?

It was great fun! In Brazil we are all the time making jokes about Portuguese people, the accent they have and some super funny expressions. Turned out after two weeks travelling through the country I was already speaking quite alike to them.

Because Portuguese culture, language and food are similar to ours I thought it would not be so interesting to travel around the country. Our plan was to stay one week just to visit a friend. But once we were there we had so much fun that we postponed our plans. One week trip became 20 days and eight travel articles. We first explored Lisbon and then head to the north of the country for a train trip and wine tasting in Porto.

How did you two end up living in Dublin for two years? What did you think of Ireland? I’m a huge fan!

Ireland is my second home! Rob hates the weather, but he agrees with me when I say that we had two amazing years living there. Dublin was our first experience abroad, there we learnt how travel makes you a better and stronger person. It was there that our travel addiction started.

We decided to move to Ireland in 2006 after a weekend trip to Argentina. Me and Rob were together just for a couple of months but we realized that travel would be a great tool to keep us happy and together. We wanted an English-speaking country to study and live, USA was out of our plans, Australia and New Zealand too far, England would bankrupt us, so Ireland sounded like a possible option.

When we arrived there I couldn’t be more happy and sure about the choice we made. Beautiful country, amazing people, great Guinness and tons of fun. If they have sunshine everyday it would be paradise!

 

You two have only been blogging for a short time but have already built up a considerable following. Any tips and tricks for us?

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Love and Road is online since July and from the beginning we look to it as a serious business, trying to take it to professional level and be proud of the work we are doing. I love Facebook, and I’m using it for more than 7 years, so when we launched our Love and Road profile I was posting stuff 3-4 times a day, asking friends to like the page and share it. In two months we reached 1K followers in an organic way. (Rob was notified by Facebook to slow down, he was messaging all his friends everyday, spammer!)

Twitter is our second biggest social network and it brings good traffic to our blog. We post everything related to travel, nice articles from other bloggers, pics, curiosities… The followers are coming, not as fast I would like, but in consistent way. Twitter really surprised me, I started our Instagram account one month before the Twitter and the percentage of growth is not so high, even putting lots of effort in great and interesting pictures.

My new challenge is Pinterest. We have a couple of boards out there but I still can not make the magic happen. I definitely have to learn more about social media apps and online tools. Everyday I spend about 2/3 hours managing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest accounts. That’s lots of work!

Robson, Nat describes you as a great cook. What are your favorite things to make?

[Rob] I really enjoy preparing a tuna teriyaki and an Asian noodle soup recipe. Both dishes are not complicated at all and they are absolutely delicious. Actually I enjoy being in the kitchen all the time, but always need a glass of wine or a really cold beer beside me.

If you want the recipe just email us, it will be my pleasure share some tricks that will make you look like a master chef while preparing a simple but good food!

What do you think the rest of the world could learn could learn from Brazil?

There are a couple of things that make me proud of being Brazilian:

– We are really creative and talented people. Handicrafts, music, dance, painting and design, we can do them all with an impressive quality and beauty. Our cultural mix made us a colorful country, full of differences and brilliant people.

– Brazilians are happy by nature, we celebrate everything (good and bad). We never give up and we believe that the sun, the beach and God will help us through all the problems. Not sure if you heard but it’s said that God is Brazilian. :-) (Argentineans hate this quote.)

Can you tell us more about the tiny Brazilian town Jaguaruna you guys blogged about? It looks so beautiful!

Here is Rob again! Jaguaruna is far from all the main attractions, however for me is a special and unique place. It reminds my childhood, my summer surf holidays, sandboarding on the dunes, homemade food and lots of fun.

Love and road BIO The beach is located in the south of Brazil (Florianópolis is the biggest and most known city around), has amazing waves for surf and a really laid back atmosphere. During winter time most of the houses are closed and the city belongs only to the fishermen, seagulls and surfers. It’s the best spot in Brazil for Town-in surfing!!!

Pretty far from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Jaguaruna is a great example what our country is far from the spotlight.

Just for fun- do you have Irish accents when you speak English? If so I’m super jealous.

Not anymore, and that makes us sad!

The best moment was in 2009 when we went for winter holidays in the French Alps. Skiing wasn’t an option for me so I went to the information center to find out what kind of activities were happening in the mountains. The girl from the desk looked at me and asked, “You sound Irish, but you don’t look Irish. Where are you from?” At that moment I felt proud of myself. A year and a half in Ireland and I got the leprechaun accent! Super!!!!

 

Thanks you two for the interview! Here’s where to show the love:

What about you guys! Any questions for Nat and Robson?

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Want to be featured in my monthly blogger spotlight? Get in touch and we’ll talk!

Hanging Out in Bangkok During the Coup

Hanging Out in Bangkok During the Coup

Yes, you read that correctly. Coup. On May 22, 2014, the Thai military took control of the government and enforced curfew and martial law, banned political gatherings, censored the media and detained and arrested politicians.

As fate would have it, I had a flight to Bangkok booked for May 23.

So on my last night in Delhi, I weighed my options:

Cons- Coup. Potential imprisonment. Border crossings could be tricky.

Pros- Thailand. Already spent $200 on ticket. Nowhere else to go. THAILAND.

And as I half-joked to my parents, I’d rather be a political prisoner than spend one more day in India.

Silom

So off I flew to the Thai capital. And I’m glad I did. While I felt lukewarm about Bangkok the first time around, on my second visit I came to adore it.

And really, the coup didn’t change much. Yes, there was that pesky 10 p.m. curfew and the local TV channels were completely blocked. But mostly, it was Bangkok as usual: temples and Thai food, shopping malls and duck soup.

(I have to admit, I did break the curfew as one night my travel buddy and I sneaked out at 11 p.m. for a massage. Gasp!)

After six weeks in rural India, Bangkok might as well have been Boston. It was so modern.

I spent my entire first day lapping up modernity at Siam Paragon, Bangkok’s swankiest shopping mall. I nearly died of bliss as I sipped a vanilla latte, scrolled through my phone and savored the long-forgotten feel of air-conditioning on my face.

I also stopped at H&M and the beauty country to stock up on Southeast Asia essentials: MAC Studio Fix and Bobbi Brown bronzer. And in the spirit of the girliest, most self-induldgent day ever, then I got a mani pedi. And they had OPI which never happens.

So after I got that out of my system, I went hunting for two of my favorite things in Southeast Asia: food and wet markets.

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Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market

Khlong Lat Mayom is a floating market on the outskirts of Bangkok, with colorful wooden boats, delicious food and bright umbrellas. And it was a locals-only affair- my travel buddy Joe and I were the only tourists there!

Another perk? The vendors gave out free samples. Don’t mind if I do.

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Joe and I noticed all the locals were eating fried carp- or rather, some sort of crispy bottom feeder. So we hurried over to get ours too.

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Well, it wasn’t very good so we tried again. Our second lunch (ahem), was a spicy seafood salad. Delicious.

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By the end of the morning I decided that out of all the markets I’ve visited in Bangkok, Khlong Lat Mayom is by far my favorite.

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Chatuchak Weekend Market

On Sunday we headed to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, or JJ’s, to score a few bargains and see what all the fuss was about. Chatuchak is enormous; I found the sprawl a bit overwhelming but most enjoyed stalls 2-4, where trendy Thai designers hawk their wares (Thanks Alex in Wanderland for pointing me in the right direction!)

While I came armed with plenty of baht and the intent to more or less buy a new wardrobe, I only walked away with a pair of feather earrings. In the end it was too sticky to try on clothes, and at nearly 5′ 8” tall, I’m not exactly Thai-sized anyway.

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I really wish I had bought one of these.

But no matter, I still enjoyed spending an afternoon at Chatuchak, and relished the opportunity to have some bánh cuốn. Hey, I love Thai food, but sometimes I just need me some Vietnamese.

Vietnamese food chatuchak

Taking the Ferry to the Lots of Temples

As I learned on my last visit in Thailand, the Chao Phraya River Express Ferry is the best way to squeeze in lots of sites while enjoying a breeze.

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Our first stop was Wat Pho, the beautiful, gold-coated reclining Buddha…

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then the surrounding temples, which were also stunning…

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and to finish, the stately Grand Palace.

(Note- make sure you dress respectfully for all these temples! Ladies, think shawls and long skirts.)

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But soon we were sweltering in the Bangkok sun so we retreated back to the hostel.

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A huge reason I liked Bangkok more the second time was due to the upgrade in accommodation. While last time I bunked up in a cockroach-infested hostel on Khao San Road, this time I stayed at Lub d.

Lub d has two locations: Siam Square and Silom. We chose Silom, a ritzy district where the sois are filled with cheap and tasty eats.

My friend had never stayed in a hostel so I figured Lub d was a gentle segue into the backpacker scene. And Lub d was everything I had bargained for; clean, beautifully designed and staffed with incredibly sweet and helpful employees.

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And across the street from Lub d Silom is a stall serving one of the meals of my life. There’s only one menu item- duck soup- and it will blow your mind. Have you ever see anything so beautiful?

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bangkok_street_food

Coup or no coup, I loved Bangkok. And I honestly think I’d fly back just for that soup- though I’ll pass on the government overthrow next time.

Would you have flown to Thailand in the middle of a military coup? Am I crazy?

Lub d generously hosted our stay for two nights. As always, all opinions are completely my own.

(Note- buy MAC makeup before you get to Bangkok because it was crazy marked up.) 

. . . . . . . . . . .

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The Craziest Things That Happened in India

The Craziest Things That Happened in India

India was, for lack of a better word, the most hard-core trip of my life. At various points in my six weeks I was struggling to breathe from the stench of cow shit, vomiting from (many) bouts of food poisoning, violently shivering in a wind-whipped tent, nearly passing out from sunstroke in the Himalayas and doing vinyasa in 110-degree heat.

 Travel writers wax poetic on how India is a Technicolor, multi-sensory travel experience- and yes, it is that. But for me, India was much a spiritual overhaul as it was a descent into chaos.

For better or worse, shit went down.

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A human-powered ferris wheel. No biggie.

Here are the craziest things that happened to me in India:

I left my wallet on the plane in Delhi.

This one is kind of embarrassing. I’ve only been to, oh, 38 countries, and boarded countless international flights. But after passing customs in Delhi, I realized I was sans wallet.

After two hours of frantic waiting, an airport employee returned the wallet to me with all the credit cards intact, my confirmation number written in blue pen on the leather (a funny story to tell when I pull it out nowadays).

I will forever be grateful to the kind employees of Indira Gandhi International Airport.

I was attacked by monkeys on an early morning run.

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Per our Indian wellness pledge, McCall and I woke up at 6 a.m. every day to run. One morning, we passed a trash heap and a pack of macaques leapt out and corralled McCall. Hissing and baring their teeth, McCall kicked at them and yelled, “HEY!”

Seconds later, she shouted “RUN!” and we started sprinting back towards the yoga school.

Later, when I regaled the tale to my uncle, instead of being shocked that I was attacked by monkeys, he said, “Wait. You went running at 6 a.m.?” Ha.

And just in case you’re ever attacked; leading primatologists suggest you “Form an “O” with your mouth, lean toward them with your body and head, and raise your eyebrows.

Also, apparently monkeys are more afraid of men than women. That’s not even fair.

I saw a corpse floating in the Ganges

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We were standing at the edge of the Ganges in Rishikesh when I saw a white shape floating quickly down the river. As it came closer, I saw it was a blue-tinged, water-logged corpse.

While my yoga school classmates claimed it was a cow, sorry guys, it wasn’t- it was a human corpse with a head full of black hair.

A week after the corpse incident, my classmates wanted to take a dip in the Ganges, which up until that point I was all for. But considering the corpse we had just seen, I opted out. Everyone called me a square.

 I went white-water rafting with an infant.

Every day at yoga school, I would watch as white-water rafters drifted down the Ganges in bright blue rafts. “I want to do that,” I sighed.

So one day, to my delight, we headed down to the Ganges to white-water raft.

Soon into our rafting trip two Indian families boarded the raft, the men in blue jeans and loafers, the women in saris. And to our dismay, one woman was holding her ten-month old daughter.

The child was terrified, sobbing hysterically as huge waves rained down upon us. “Pani, pani!” said the mom, pointing to the water.

Also, as an aside, most Indians can’t swim.

Anyway, maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I don’t understand the logic in bringing a baby white-water rafting.

I nearly died in the Himalayas.

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Okay, okay. Maybe I’m being dramatic. But I could’ve at least broken a leg.

One morning we were hiking down a snowy hill, and I fell and slipped. After sliding down about 15 feet, heading for the edge of the mountain, I managed to grab hold of a rhododendron bush.

And thank god, as there wasn’t much past it.

I was circled by men at night in Delhi.

In India men have a curious habit of forming a circle around you, as if they were corralling you. It’s rather terrifying.

After dinner in Delhi, my friends (one girl, one guy) and I stopped at the India Gate. We were just walking around the park and stopped to do a few yoga poses. Within seconds, a group of about 15-20 men formed a circle around us. My guy friend grabbed us both by the arms and pushed his way out of the crowd.

My guy friend was genuinely shocked. “Is this what you girls go through all the time?”

(Note- my female friend I had would never have gone to a park at night alone, and only went because we had a guy with us. Unfortunately, we still live in world where two women alone in a park at night in India is a very bad idea.)

I had a guru.

How could I talk about India without mentioning my guru and meditation teacher, Swami Ji?

Swami Ji, who referred to me as “sluggish baby”, is one of the funniest and good-hearted people I’ve ever met in my life.

A lover of selfies, Swami Ji would have us pose as a class while he took a selfie with his 13.1 megapixel smartphone.

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He liked to meditate anywhere and everywhere. I can still picture his voice perfectly; whenever we asked a question, he would reply, “Yessssssss… baby…”

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He introduced us to many forms of meditation, including moon meditation, in which we laid on our backs, stared at the moon and then closed our eyes and tried to remember the moon. And laughing meditation, in which we laughed hysterically for an hour straight. IMG_7987

Thank you, India. It was real. And crazy.

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So what about you? What’s the “craziest” country you’ve ever been to?

As a note, this post is just a summary of my anecdotal experiences. It in no way speaks for all of India, just what happened to me.

Things That Scare Me + This Month’s Sponsors!

Things That Scare Me + This Month’s Sponsors!

Hey guys! So as you may have seen on Instagram, I am now officially a Denver resident and a full-time employee with benefits and a desk. I know, I can’t believe it either.

So as promised, I’m starting a new series: The Things That Scare Me. Here are several of my more recent challenges:

Running a 5K

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Ever since returning to the states, I’ve been running a ton. (Well for me. And by a ton I mean 20-30 minutes a day, ha.)

So in September I ran a 5K with my dad. Honestly, I wasn’t really a fan- for me running is all about solitude, and the race felt crowded. But I definitely still want to do a Tough Mudder and Color Run.

Rock-climbing

Um, so this one’s a doozy. I dropped a guy while rock-climbing on a second-date.

I’m not even kidding,

When he called down that he was descending I grabbed the wrong end of the rope and he plummeted twenty feet to the ground like a log. In shock, all I could do was stare at my bloody, chafed hands.

Worst. Second. Date. Ever.

(And he was just fine, in case you were wondering.)

Visiting an (Extremely Frightening) Haunted House

When people say I’m brave I laugh a bit because really I’m a scaredy cat. Case in point? Haunted houses terrify me. Last month I went to one of the scariest haunted houses in the United States: Erebus. It was awful- four stories of heart-pumping, grab-your-nearest-friend terror.

I have now vowed I’m never visiting a haunted attraction ever again.

Cutting my Hair Really Short

After decades of long locks, I finally have a short haircut! It’s nice because it dries quickly but not so nice because I actually have to style it. (The closest thing I came to styling my hair used to be braiding it before bed.)

And of course… Moving to a New City!

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Per my birthday goals, I’ve FINALLY settled down. And it’s nice. But you know you’re a true nomad when sleeping in the same bed every night seems radical and crazy.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Onto this month’s (amazing) sponsors! Pop over and say hello to them!

Shing from the Culture Map

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Best of the Blog: Łódź: The Black Sheep of Poland. Or so it seems…. // 14 Most Colorful Towns and Cities in Europe // What Can You Expect to See on Iceland’s Golden Circle Tour?

 Introduce yourself! Facebook // Instagram // Twitter

Have you read my interview with Shing yet? It’s a goodie.

 

Michelle from Near Native

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Julie from The Red Headed Traveler

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Introduce yourself! Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

A few more notes…

The company where I’m working, sovrn, is awesome so far- we have ping pong, beer on Fridays and a young, fun 80-person staff. I’m learning a ton about digital advertising and the mountain views from the office make me smile every time I walk to work. All in all, good stuff.

Also shameless plug- if any of you bloggers need advertising let me know and I can be your account manager!

And Denver? I’m in love. It’s young, hipster and full of trendy coffee shops and bars, with world-class sunrises and sunsets. I’m counting down the days to ski season.

One downside is that I live in Denver but work in Boulder, and the commute is atrocious- 75 minutes each way of gridlock traffic. Also I’m a terrible driver and after six years of not having a car I can barely park.

And about the blog: although I’ve been posting less, I’ve been really happy with my content. My recent posts were highly personal and hard to write; I was especially proud What I Learned from Giving up Meat, Alcohol and Complaining in India and my Himalayan trek posts, Part 1 and Part 2.

Up next I’ll be covering my six weeks in Southeast Asia: Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. I’m excited.

But I’m curious: what kind of posts would you guys be interested in seeing now that I’m not traveling? Life out west? Skiing? Travel recaps? Let me know in the comments!

Everything You Need To Know About Trekking the Indian Himalaya

Everything You Need To Know About Trekking the Indian Himalaya

It’s no secret that I had a spectacular time trekking the Indian Himalaya. (Read Part I and Part II of my experience here.)

But often when travelers decide to hike the Himalayas, they head to Nepal. I get it- Nepal is home to the tallest mountains in the world: Everest, K2, Annapurna. But most of us aren’t looking for a one-in-three chance of death (Annapurna) or a ten-week trek (Everest); we just want to enjoy nature and see big mountains.

Which is why I whole-heartedly recommend the Indian Himalaya; it’s uncrowded, cheap and absolutely beautiful. And why hike in Nepal, which is becoming increasingly touristy, crowded and expensive, when you can have the Indian Himalaya all to yourself?

And I mean all to yourself. We came across eight other hikers in our entire eight-day trek.

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We chose to hike the absolutely beautiful Kuari Pass Trek in the Garhwal Mountains. Our trek started and ended in Rishikesh, and lasted 10 days total: two days in transit, and eight days of hiking.

Things to consider when planning your Indian Himalaya trek:

What do you want to see?

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Hankering for ancient monasteries? Head to Ladakh, a Tibetan Buddhist region. Verdant forests? Think Sikkim. Stunning mountain vistas? The Garhwal Mountains, especially around Nanda Devi. (This was my trek!)

Independent hiking or with a trekking company?

Personally, I didn’t even consider independent trekking as I’m not an experienced enough hiker. But on my trek we met four hikers who were hiking independently so it can be done.

Picking a trekking company:

When in doubt, check TripAdvisor. Our trekking company, Red Chilli Adventure, came highly recommended on TripAdvisor, ranked #1 in Rishikesh and with a Certificate of Excellence.

I absolutely adored Red Chilli- there wasn’t a kink in the whole operation. We had charming guides, delicious food and smooth logistics. Really I couldn’t recommend them highly enough. Plus, the value for your money is incredible.

One thing to note is some trekking operators prefer to take on a certain number of clients; for example, Red Chilli has a minimum of four hikers and a maximum of ten. If you have a smaller or larger group, you will pay an additional fee.

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How much will your trek will cost?

We had a group of four, and each of us paid $440 USD. Costs became incrementally cheaper with more trekkers:

Group of 2 pax INR 34000 per person
Group of 3 pax INR 28500 per person
Group of 4-5 pax INR 25000 per person
Group of 6-7 pax INR 22500 per person
Group of 8-10pax INR 20000 per person

Note: we paid 50% of the total in advance as a deposit, and there was a 3.09% government service tax.

And don’t forget to factor in tips for your guides and porters! We tipped our guides $75 each, and our porters $40 each.

What does the trek include?

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Our trek included transportation to and from Rishikesh, one night in a hotel, tents, three meals a day and all permits and entrance fees. This also included a staff of two guides, five porters, one cook and a team of mules.

Our trek didn’t include sleeping bags, but they could be rented for 100 rupees ($1.50 USD) a day. (Pro tip- bring a silk liner if you’re planning on renting!)

Difficulty of the trek:

If you’re an avid and experienced hiker, then a difficult hike may be right up your alley. Our trek was moderate which was the perfect difficulty level for me; challenging but bearable.

 Time of year:

As a rule, the best times to hike the Himalayas are spring (March-May) and fall (September to November). The summer months are monsoon season and the winter months are quite cold, so spring and fall are optimal.

We did our trek in May and the weather was sunny most days.

How long your trek will last:

If you’re short on time, a five-day trek might be perfect. Our trek lasted ten days total: two days of transit, eight days of trekking. For me this was the perfect length; any longer and I think I would’ve lost it.

What to pack for a Himalayan trek:

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Tools:

Day-pack- I absolutely adore this backpack, and it was essential for carting around my snacks, Camelbak and extra layers on the trail.

Sleeping bag- I love, love, love my Marmot Angel Fire and am so glad I brought it. (I also slept in it for the entire month of Yoga Teacher Training!) But if you’re renting a sleeping bag from the trekking company, pack a silk sleeping bag liner- they’re also great for grimy hostels.

Power bars – While Red Chilli supplied us with snacks on the trail, sometimes I was glad to have a Luna Bar or two.

Camelbak – for quick hydration. This went straight in the daypack and was an absolute lifesaver.

iPhone and headphones – great for taking photos and listening to music. To save battery life, I turned off a bunch of my phone’s functions with this list.

Solar charger – Not essential, but great if you’re on a longer trek and need to charge your phone. Note- pre-charge it in an outlet before the trek- the solar function didn’t seem to work very well.

Face wipes – to clear away sweat and grime after a long day.

Headlamp – Essential for midnight or pre-dawn bathroom runs.

Pain killers - I packed Advil for headaches and back pain.

Sunscreen with SPF 50 – Essential when you’re hiking at high-altitude. And don’t forget your your ears and the tops of your hands- that’s where we got burnt the worst! Consider bringing aloe vera too if you burn easily.

Small scissors, Neosporin, band-aids – a godsend to those of us who blister!

Kindle - great for lazy post-trekking afternoons. Bonus points if the light is built-in.

Cards

Hair ties

Plastic bags – for dirty or wet clothes.

Clothes:

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Note- pack warm, with lots of layers. Ski socks are especially great for cold nights!

My usual outfit: a tank top or t-shirt and Hot Chillys thermal top, with a fleece and rain coat in my bag. For bottoms I wore either athletic shorts or Hot Chillys thermal leggings layered with Zella leggings on top. For my shoes I wore hiking boots and socks, with a dorky wool hat and sunglasses to finish off the look.

Warm jacket

Fleece

Rain coat

Hiking boots and socks

Ski socks for sleep

Flip flops – to change into post trekking. SO nice!

Wool hat

Sunglasses with UV protection

Hot Chillys thermal top and bottom - I’m a lifelong fan of Hot Chillys, so silky and warm or cool depending on what you need!

Leggings and/or hiking pants

Tons of tank tops or undershirts

Gloves

Pijamas – in my case, a big t-shirt and athletic shorts

Rain cover for both day-pack and backpack

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Would you ever trek the Indian Himalaya?

Red Chilli Adventure did not pay or perk me in any way for this mention- I really just loved them this much! And the Amazon links in this post grant me a small commission at no extra cost to you- thanks for helping keep Ashley Abroad afloat.

Blogger Spotlight: Meet Shing from The Culture Map

Blogger Spotlight: Meet Shing from The Culture Map

Hey guys! So I’m really excited to share with you my first blogger interview with none other than Shing from The Culture Map! I’ve been following along with Shing’s travels for years and she’s awesome because a. she’s super fashionable and has great taste in everything and b. she’s a specialist in arctic adventures: think Scandinavia and Svalbard.

In this interview I quiz Shing on everything about her I’m dying to know: her life in London, childhood in Yorkshire and her love for street art and Scandinavian design. Without further ado!

 

Name: Shing Lin Yoong

Occupation: Product developer for a specialist tour company

Hometown: Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

Residence: London

Website: www.theculturemap.com

Kew Garden, London

Country count: 32

Favorite city: London or Berlin

Favorite museum: The Tate Modern.

Favorite blog (s): The Skint Foodie and That Emily Chappell. Neither of them are prolific bloggers but what they lack in frequency they make up for in detail. Both have exceptional stories and distinct voices.

Favorite hostel: Gosh, telling you the ones to avoid would be easier!

Favorite hotel: The Igloo Hotel!

Favorite piece street art:

There’s a city in Poland called Łódź that’s totally redesigning the way it looks through street art. Lifeless communist blocks have been brought to life by huge wall murals. They are bigger than huge, they are massive. It’s an awesome initiative. The one below is by Polish street artist, Sainer, who is also one half of Etam Cru.

lodz, Poland, street art

So I read you grew up in Yorkshire. How does Yorkshire compare to London?

They are chronically different. The people, mentality, economy, landscape, culture – the similarities are few and far between. For example, Yorkshire people are much friendlier, it’s normal for strangers to smile and greet each other, but do that in London and you’ve just committed a deadly sin. It’s very funny. Yorkshire has an abundance of nature too, incredible landscapes that inspired some of England’s most well-loved writers. The Brontë sisters were born in Yorkshire and Sylvia Plath was put to rest there. Of course London has a huge literary legacy too but there is something romantic and Gothic about the Yorkshire Moors that London can’t touch.

Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire

However, London has many things that Yorkshire could only dream of having. The options are endless here. If you want to see live music from the world’s best musicians then you can any day of the week, and all the major museums have free entry. But whilst you can discover many free and interesting things to do and see, the cost of living is exceptionally higher. To rent out a one bedroom flat you could rent a 4-bedroomed house in Yorkshire with a large garden for cheaper!

 

What is your favorite café/park/neighborhood in London?

There’s a superb tapas in Soho called Barrafina, it’s small and doesn’t take reservations so there’s often a queue but worth it. Their motto is ‘great ingredients cooked simply’ and that’s exactly what they give you. When I need a fix of fresh air I go to Greenwich Park, as well as the nature it easily offers one of the best views of London’s skyline. When I have guests I always take them to Hackney, which stretches from East to North-East of the city and comprises of Shoreditch, Hoxton, Dalston and Islington. [Ashley here- I loved Hackney! :)] It feels and looks more creative and diverse than anywhere else in London. There’s also a lot of street art, and pocket-friendly eateries offering scrumptious food. I recommend trying one of the Middle Eastern or Vietnamese joints.

 

You recently traveled to Russia. What led you there and what was your overall impression?

The history, mystique, architecture and all those grumpy Russian writers were begging me to visit. I very much felt like I needed to more than I wanted to.

Summer, Pushkin, Petersburg

However, it’s not an easy country to travel to, especially not in light of recent conflicts with Ukraine so my impressions are limited to areas in and around St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Quite a few people said I shouldn’t go, not just based on the aforementioned but other humanitarian issues too. I’ve got quite a few friends and family who are gay and believe, as well as other hetrosexual friends, that I should boycott a country that is openly homophobic. And whilst I do support this view, I also believe travelling and interacting with different countries is probably the best thing we can do to shrink social differences and bridge necessary gaps. Saying this, if I were gay, lesbian or transgender then I doubt I would want to go to Russia. I want to feel safe and I want to be able to express myself wherever I go. That’s not asking for much.

Then there is the matter of racism that I had read about. However, neither I nor my travel buddy who is Indian felt on any occasion unwelcomed, on the contrary, one of the biggest surprises we experienced was how helpful and kind the people are. To look at, Russians can appear rather stoic and severe but that changes when you interact with them.

My overall impressions of Russia were far more positive than we expect going by media portrayals. It’s a shame, Russia has such a vast and incredible history, culture and beauty, but the restrictive and narrow-minded ideology of its government casts a shadow over the positive reasons for going.

Tell us a little bit more about your love for Scandinavia.

It’s a love that keeps growing! There’s a significant stress on equality in terms of gender, distributed wealth and race. Norway is ranked number 1 on the Human Development Index report which measures worldwide life expectancy, literacy, education, standards of living, and quality of life. And Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland are all ranked within the top 25. Although Iceland isn’t technically Scandinavia it’s commonly associated as being part of Scandinavia because it was under Norwegian and later Danish rule until becoming independent in 1944, so it still shares many of the same intellectual qualities.

Skogafoss

Importantly, all these countries are very forward thinking when it comes to sustaining the planet. They are pioneers of eco-living. Most eateries take pride in using local and seasonal food, reward systems are put in place to encourage recycling, Copenhagen is continually named the greenest city in the world (as well as the happiness), and Iceland is the only country in the world that can claim to obtain nearly 100% of its electricity and heat from renewable sources. If that’s not something to aspire towards in a time where the planet is being brutalized by man then I don’t know what is! Because of all this you won’t find cleaner air anywhere else in the world. It’s the small things like drinking the purest water and breathing in the crispiest, freshest air that add to the overall enjoyment of being in this part of the world.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

And then finally… the nature and wildlife. The whole of Scandinavia is a melting pot of natural beauty but it’s the Arctic that really makes me feel what it’s like to be in awe of the universe. Being up there does something to you. The higher you go the starker and more powerful the landscape becomes, but at the same time it’s also incredibly fragile and hostile. The days can be extremely dark when the sun doesn’t go past the horizon. But every cloud has a silver lining if you get to see the Northern Lights during a really strong display, not just a few wishy-washy lines of white and pale green…

There are fewer animals, fewer plants, and fewer people. Go further up to Svalbard, the last stop before the North Pole, and you might see Polar bears, walruses, Arctic foxes, and ringed seals. Going to the Arctic and Scandinavia made me care much more about the planet. So in a way, this part of the world changed me for the better and I’m very thankful for that.

 

You always look gorgeous in your photos. What is your beauty routine on the road?

Likewise Ashley! I don’t think I have one, but I do like to keep things simple and natural. So plenty of water and fresh fruit and veg! Less is usually more in all facets, especially when it comes to packing. I’d rather re-wear my clothes than pack an unnecessary amount. I’m definitely not a glam traveler, or at least that’s not my aim! For example, I usually wear dresses, not because I’m trying to be fashionable but because I can’t be bothered thinking about what top I need to team up with what pair of jeans!

 

How do you afford your travels?

If I’m not travelling for work then I’m budget travelling. I save a lot of money on accommodation by selecting hostels and reasonably priced AirBnB apartments and I nearly always try and eat locally, use public transport and research free things to do in a place beforehand.

 

What do you splurge on when you’re traveling?

Food. Food. And Food.

dessert-finland

What is one thing you won’t do when traveling?

It’s really important for us to be mindful of where our money is going when we travel, before purchasing something I try and ask ‘who is profiting from this?’ So one thing I avoid is McDonalds and other global, fast-food chains. Keeping it local is key.

 

How long have you been blogging? Advice for travel bloggers?

I set up The Culture Map just over two years ago now. However, I did set up another travel blog in 2009 but only updated it once every 4 or 5 months so needless to say it never left the ground. Quite the opposite, the poor thing is dead and buried now. Consistency is therefore my advice to travel bloggers. This is still something I have to remind myself all the time. Also, travelling to offbeat destinations and finding a niche will help make your blog become more identifiable and memorable.

 

And just for fun- which country has the best-looking men?

Oh that’s easy. Denmark. Oh, wait… then there’s Sweden too… ;-)

 

Thanks so much Shing for your thoughtful answers! And if you guys want to connect with Shing (or ask her any more questions!) here’s where to find her:

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