The 15 Best Things I Ate in 2014, And the Absolute Worst

The 15 Best Things I Ate in 2014, And the Absolute Worst

I know this post is um… a bit late. And some bloggers would’ve scrapped it all together. But you guys know how much I love food so I really couldn’t resist sharing.

Dear lord, in 2014 I ate well. So well that I just had to recap the greatest hits, because guys, there were many.

Whether I was in Madrid or Malaysia, or a London food market or ski-in Swiss restaurant or a Vietnamese street cart, I was chowing down on something delicious.

What I love too is that all of these meals brought back good memories, what is exactly what good food does. It’s personal. It’s emotional. It’s sentimental. It makes you smile, even in retrospect. 

Seafood Pasta // Murano, Italy

While I was disappointed by the food in Venice, on nearby Murano I had one of my favorite Italian meals of all time.

After a bit of sightseeing on the island, we moseyed into a little hole-in-the-wall to have lunch. A few spritzes later, out came a succulent seafood pasta brimming with razor clams, shrimp and mussels.

While I normally find seafood pasta ho-hum, this was anything but. Nom.

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Swiss Barley Soup // Grindelwald, Switzerland

For starters, I freaking love soup. I love everything about soup. I love that it’s homey and warm and wintery, and that you can sop it up with bread. Because carbs.

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But I especially love soup while sitting at picnic table in Switzerland, sipping a local pils and watching clouds drift lazily over the Alps. While the slopeside food in Switzerland was gourmet (Colorado, let’s step up our game please), this traditional barley soup dusted with dried wildflowers was the best thing I tried.

Swiss barley soup on the ski slope? 12 francs well spent.

 

Okonomiyaki // Brixton Village, London

As I rhapsodized rather extensively, London is a foodie wonderland. During my three weeks in the Big Smoke I ate more than I should have and frequented lots of food markets.

One of my favorite finds? This okonomiyaki at Okan in Brixton Village. Okonomiyaki is a savory pork and scallion pancake topped with fish flakes and spicy mayonnaise, and while the one I had at Okan was the first (and only) I’ve tried, I’m pretty sure it was top-of-the-line. I mean look at it. v

Bao // Netil Market, London

Seriously guys. That bao though. I can barely look at this picture without feeling sad and I wish I were kidding about that.

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I discovered this delicious creation at Bao Bar at Netil Market, where bao is the only dish on the menu.

The doughy bun was filled with slow-braised pork belly, pickles and cilantro and dusted with peanut powder, a dish that was not only delicious but visually and texturally appealing. Perfection.

Bread and Butter Pudding // East London

This bread and butter pudding was like crème brûlée on uppers: it had a toffee brown-butter flavor, a crispy crust and a luscious crème anglaise. As I wrote in my post, I was literally sighing with happiness over this bread and butter pudding, and that’s not even hyperbole. IMG_1291

Salted caramel tart // East London

Okay, okay. I know we’re all kind of over salted caramel and it’s en route to become as banal as chocolate lava cake. But this salted caramel tart was absolutely delightful: decadent, nuanced, chocolatey and topped with coarse sea salt. Plus, I had it at Pizza East, a super chic restaurant on the Eating London tour which I absolutely will return to.

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Cream Tea // Lincoln, England

At long last, last year I ventured to the North of England. Up north I tasted many English specialities for the first time: crumpets, Sunday roast and my favorite- cream tea.

Who wouldn’t love piles of buttery scones, moist lemon cakes and the best smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches ever, all washed down by a pot of tea?

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And the ambiance was bar-none- a quaint, timber-framed tea shop perched above a swan-filled river. How very English.

Smoked Mackerel with Poached Egg and Prosciutto // Brighton, England

It’s no secret that I loved Brighton- and after riding rollercoasters on the pier, I found my new favorite seafood restaurant, Riddle and Finns.

There I ordered smoked mackerel on a bed of colcannon, drenched in a sauce reminiscent of my beloved New England Clam Chowder, topped with a poached egg and crispy prosciutto. Yes.

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Bacalao // Madrid, Spain

Wow, bacalao. While as we all know, fresh cod is well, meh, salted cod is another beast altogether. (Geek moment- the history of cod is actually fascinating and I would totally recommend this biography on cod.)

Anyway, if you’re ever in Madrid head to Casa Revuelta for bacalao, a crispy, salty intensely flavorful cod creation that you should probably wash down with Mahou and enjoy with friends and/or Spanish strangers.

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Indian feast // Delhi, India

On my first night out in Delhi, my travel buddy and I beelined to Bukhara. Bukhara is one of Delhi’s fanciest restaurants, the kind of place the Clinton’s go when they’re in India.

While normally a raging tourist trap is the total opposite of my scene, I’m so glad I headed TripAdvisor in this case. At Bukhara McCall and I gorged ourselves on the best Indian of our lives: juicy, charred lamb skewers, vats of creamy dahl and buttery piles of naan. And at the end of our trip, we went to Bukhara’s sister restaurant in Agra for a near identical meal. In both cases, we struggled to walk after.

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Paneer butter masala // All Over India

During my six-week stint India, paneer butter masala was one dish that I ordered again and again and again.

I took the following picture at a roadside restaurant but it wasn’t the only place I had it- I became borderline addicted to the rich, buttery joy that is paneer butter masala. Accompanied by nan slathered in ghee, obviously.

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Duck Soup // Bangkok, Thailand

While abroad, I’ve been known to find one amazing Singaporean hawker center/Vietnamese street stall/rundown Italian café, and return daily. The following duck soup stall in Bangkok was no exception.

Truly, this duck soup may be the best dish on this list. While I procured it at a humble street stall across the street from Lub d Silom, it would’ve been at home in any self-respecting Michelin restaurant.

Slippery rice noodles, braised duck thigh, a smattering of herbs, the umami broth of dreams… can you blame me for having it every day? bangkok_noodles

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Pandan Noodle Dessert ??? // Penang, Malaysia

One of the things that delighted me most about Malaysian food was that it was all new. As I had never been to a Malaysian restaurant at home or abroad, Malaysia was my personal food discovery paradise.

While normally I research food very carefully, I have no idea what the following dish is. It seemed like pandan noodles topped with palm sugar and grated coconut and should probably be in every trendy restaurant ever.

If you know what this is- speak up- and please, send along a recipe! IMG_0036

Curry Laksa // Kuala Lumpur

Is this dish not just gorgeous? And not only gorgeous, but tasty. I could truly tuck into curry laksa every damn day.

Curry laksa was one of my favorite dishes in the two weeks I spent in Malaysia: a creamy, flavorful broth filled with deep-fried tofu, cockles and al dente egg noodles, all topped with chili paste. YUM. Two_Week_Malaysia_Itinerary_Curry_laksa

Bánh cuốn // Hanoi, Vietnam

I ate a lot of delicious street food while in Northern Vietnam in June: miến lươn (eel vermicelli soup), bún bò nam bộ (vermicelli with grilled beef), Hanoi-style phở, nem rán (fried spring rolls) and more.

But the best meal I had was bánh cuốn with bacon, mint and chili that I groggily procured one hungover morning. 10502303_10202458931095076_5349817400597072481_n

The meatiness of the grilled bacon, the acidity of the lime vinegar, the fragrant crunch of the herbs… oh god. Take me back.

Though overall I definitely prefer southern Vietnamese to northern, and Saigon rather than Hanoi style phở, this Northern Vietnamese dish was hangover gold.

And to add insult to gastronomic injury- this dish cost 35,000 dong, or less than $2.00. That’s sales tax.

Worst meal of 2014: Nutella crepe (with black hair) and rotten eggs // Rishikesh, India

Hey, you can’t win ‘em all. My worst meal of 2014 was by far this brunch from hell in India.

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The meal started with such earnest intentions- my travel buddy and I were going to enjoy a leisurely brunch on our one day off from yoga school. The waiter first dropped off the Nutella crepe, which I tucked into happily. It tasted… off, so I opened it to discover several long, black hairs.

Normally I brush off hair in food- it could be mine after all, right? But in this instance there was no way- it was too long and black.

So I turned to my eggs, which again, tasted off. I called over the waiter and asked, “Sir, are these eggs bad?”

“Yes, they are.”

“Um, what? Why would you serve me rotten eggs?”

He shrugged. “Because the man who was supposed to bring the eggs this morning never came. It is not my fault.”

So I paid the bill and left. Which in retrospect, why on earth did I pay? The result of this terrible brunch was, shocker- debilitating food poisoning. My travel buddy threw up in a bush and I went home to vomit violently for my entire day off. Good times.

 

A little late, but what was your best meal of 2014? Or more fun- your worst?

Blogger Spotlight: Meet Julie from The Red Headed Traveler

Blogger Spotlight: Meet Julie from The Red Headed Traveler

So today we’re hearing from Julie of The Red Headed Traveler, a long-time commenter and fellow food-obsessed wanderer. She nerds out about literary destinations just like yours truly (she’s been to Neruda’s houses in Chile too!) and loves to cook- I especially want to try her Potato Pizza recipe. Because yum.

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Name: Julie Tulba

Age: 29

Occupation: Librarian

Hometown: Philadelphia

Residence: Pittsburgh

Website: www.theredheadedtraveler.com

How long you’re been blogging: 4.5 years

 

Country count: 19

Favorite city: Paris

Favorite museum: Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Madrid)

Favorite blog(s): Tasting Page (food porn and recipes at their best), The Wanderblogger (tales of expat life in London and travel throughout Europe), and Trailing Rachel (I literally just discovered this blog but like the fact that she’s a full time worker like me who has similar interests, i.e. food and travel).

Favorite hostel: I haven’t stayed in hostels in a while but I loved the Hostel Oasis in Granada, Nicaragua and Milhouse Hostel in Buenos Aires.

Favorite hotel: Either the Aston Mahana on Maui (It wasn’t anything fancy but all rooms were oceanfront and literally right on the beach, you could hear the waves crashing each night) or the Westin Palace in Madrid (I’m a sucker for historical properties, especially when they’re super luxurious.)

Favorite piece street art (with a photo!): It’s located in one of Pittsburgh’s residential neighborhoods, fittingly, close to an Indian restaurant.

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It’s fun to be interviewing a fellow Spanish major! Where did you learn Spanish? Do you use your Spanish a lot when traveling?

I didn’t start learning Spanish until my freshman year of high school. But unlike many other Americans I absolutely loved the idea of learning another language and perhaps with the exception of history (well, I minored in that), I truly didn’t want to study anything else in college. Sadly, I don’t use my Spanish as much as I would like when I’m traveling; this is probably due to the fact that until my trip to Peru last year, I hadn’t been to a Spanish speaking country in over five years which was terrible! I also live in Pittsburgh which is probably the only major American city that DOESN’T have a sizable Spanish speaking population. Needless to say I get incredibly jealous when I travel to other American cities and there’s signage in both English and Spanish. That, and cities that have more than Tex-Mex fare (I pine for the day a pupeseria opens here).

In addition to Europe, it seems like you’ve traveled a ton in Latin America. What draws you to that part of the world?

While I’ve certainly traveled to and lived in countries where I didn’t speak the language (South Korea for starters), there’s no better feeling than going to a country that doesn’t speak your native language yet you speak theirs. So language definitely plays a major role as to why I’ve always loved traveling there. But Mexico was the first country I ever visited (when I was 16 I was an exchange student there for the summer) so needless to say the country and its people always have a special place in my heart and I always love going back. I also love history, bright colors, and good food, and in my opinion every single country in Latin America in some facet has all of those things. Latin America is probably one of the most culturally rich and fascinating places you could ever visit-a true myriad of senses.

Considering I’ve just started a 9-5 I think it’s incredible that for the past four years you’ve been blogging while working a full-time job AND writing a book! How do you juggle it all?

It’s tough and now more than four years into blogging, the “burnt out” feeling definitely has started to pop up more frequently. I post somewhat fanatically (about four-five times a week) but recently decided for my own sake it was worth taking a step back. Since I started regularly blogging, I always try to have at least two or three posts in my repository at all times; it helps knowing that if I’m not up for writing/trying to think of new content, I at least have posts already done. It also lessens the pressure of “having to write,” and instead makes me enjoy the writing part more.

Having a repository of stored posts also helped out a ton when I was working on my book. I wouldn’t say my blog was relegated to the back corner during this time as I still posted regularly, but all of my creative energies were definitely going into my book’s writing and editing.

I’ve gotten good with time management where my blog is concerned. Ask me about my exercise regimen and other non-blog activities and you’ll see that it’s still a major work in progress! But it doesn’t matter how old you are, time management is tough for sure.

You wrote in one of your posts that being a part-time travel blogger is more laborious than being a full-time one. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

For 40 hours a week, I work in a job that has nothing to do with blogging, social media, or even writing. So everything I post on my blog is written during my own personal time, which some weeks doesn’t feel like too much when you add up all of “life’s activities.” It’s a personal commitment of mine to keep my blog for sure (as in I’m neither obligated nor required to), but in a sense it still feels like a second full time job with all the work I put into it (and I’m sure other part-time travel bloggers definitely feel the same). There are definitely days where I would like to say to the blog “to heck with it all” if work was stressful or I have a lot going on in my personal life but those feelings are short-lived. I know I would be more disappointed in myself if I did just “abandon” my blog prematurely!

You recently wrote and self-published a book of fictional short stories! That’s awesome. How long did it take you to write and what’s the response been like? And did Candace Rardon do the illustration for the cover?

I started writing them in the late summer of 2013 and by early winter 2014, I was finished, although for a couple of them I did make major revisions. Learning to write dialogue was also tough, that is if you want it to seem natural and have fluidity to it. Then there was the never-ending editing process! The response has been overwhelmingly positive which means the world to me, especially several responses that have come from people who told me they were never really “short story” fans. Many also were just surprised that I undertook such a venture. Yes, she did the cover art too and as many people know, she is simply amazing! And also one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet (well, this is a cyber-context but I’m sure she’s even sweeter in real life!).

So you’ve said “I’m not a backpacker and will never be.” That’s rare in the travel blogging world! Would you care to elaborate?

When I travel I like to travel comfortably, and no, that definitely doesn’t mean five star hotels and champagne and caviar at every meal. (For the record I also shop at Ross and TJ Maxx and drive a tiny hatchback, so I’m not a big spender by any means!) But if there’s a particular restaurant I want to dine at on a trip, I will. Working full-time allows me to not have to always limit myself when I travel and that’s key to me. I still obviously exercise moderation but I’m neither pinching pennies nor racking up huge credit card debt when I’m on the road. I know many travelers believe that travel is more about the experience and less about the secondary things (eating, accommodations) but to me those things ARE part of the overall experience. One of the hotels I stayed at on my trip to Peru was built on top of Inca ruins (there was even a small gallery of artifacts recovered) and used to be a former Spanish convent. Paying somewhat more on my hotel room definitely offered an extremely unique and memorable experience.

I’m also a chronic over packer which doesn’t exactly mesh in the backpacking world (I know, bad…) and after a nightmare stay at a Costa Rican lodge on Chira Island during my semester abroad there (our rooms were infested with mutant grasshoppers), I decided that I would only stay at places where the walls WERE connected to the ceiling!

So you mentioned on your blog that you’re married. What’s your experience been like traveling alone vs. traveling with a romantic partner?

So tough (well, partially kidding here)!, But especially when your romantic partner’s idea of the perfect trip is the exact opposite of yours! Traveling alone is obviously ideal in the sense that whatever you want to do and wherever you want to go, you’re the one calling all the shots. Traveling with your significant other definitely means compromise, especially if you have different tastes in stuff or your partner isn’t as adventurous as you are. We’ve been traveling together since 2007 and while there are some destinations I’m dying to see, they’re much lower on my husband’s radar (well, some are probably not even on his radar), everything I’ve wanted to do in the destinations we have visited, I’ve done. And thankfully I have carte blanche where restaurant selection is concerned-it pays to be an advanced (and somewhat anal) planner!

You love to cook. (Me too!) And I read that you love to recreate recipes you try abroad in your own kitchen. What are some of your favorite international recipes you’ve cooked at home?

Shakshuka from Tunisia (a great vegetarian dish of poached eggs in a spicy tomato sauce)

Mango Ice Cream from Puerto Rico (ice cream maker NOT needed)

Chicken Makhani from India

And just for fun- I love to make croque monsieur at home too! What’s your recipe?

I actually haven’t made a croque monsieur (I sure have feasted on them though), however, I have done its counterpart, the croque madame. Here’s my recipe.

Social: Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

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

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

Goals for 2015 (And How I Did in 2014)

Goals for 2015 (And How I Did in 2014)

Hey guys! As you may have read 2014 was quite a year. And honestly I’ve never been happier.

From 17 to 23 my goals were the same: write for a living, speak multiple languages fluently, travel the world and get in shape. And crazy enough I was able to accomplish all of them!

But my goals are different now. Now that I’m settled I’m finally able to do so many things I had been craving: create a comfortable, beautiful space, date, brew beer, have a wardrobe of more than black tank tops (ha) and most importantly, build a network of good friends.

But contrary to what I had imagined, my settled, 9-5 life isn’t all work and no play. I’m having the time of my life. Here are all the things I hope to accomplish this year: Montana_Ranch_Portrait

1. Advance my career.

I’m really enjoying my new job. In November I set the company record for the most accounts signed in the first month – hopefully I can keep up that momentum! A promotion wouldn’t hurt either…

2. Grow Ashley Abroad.

I always knew I loved to blog, but it wasn’t until recently I knew how much. It takes true dedication to open your laptop after staring at a screen all day, but I love writing, photography and connecting with awesome people on the internet too much to let it go.

My blogging goals for 2014 are to blog twice a week and receive 100K page views a month. I think it’s doable but I can kiss my Sundays goodbye.

3. Ski. A lot.

I won’t lie- my skiing skills are rusty. And plus, I grew up skiing in Michigan- Colorado is a whole ‘nother ball game. So this year I want to become a more proficient all-mountain skier and master moguls and deep powder.

4. More music into my life.

This is shameful, but I’ve been to like four concerts in my entire life. (Hey, I was counting my pennies for travel as a teenager- shows were not my priority.)

In 2015 I want music to have a much, much bigger focus in my life. I plan on attending concerts in Denver regularly and hitting up Red Rocks this summer.

I also, and this is slightly embarrassing to admit this to the internets, have been harmonizing a lot recently with musician friends. In 2014 I want to become a better singer. Yep, I just wrote that.

5. Languages

Want to know something funny? I speak French better now than I did in Paris. Thanks to a Senegalese friend at work I speak a good hour of French every day, something that was hard to come by when I lived in France.

So in 2015 I want to keep up my Spanish and improve my French. I’ve also been toying with the idea with learning Italian or German because I’m debatably insane.

6. Save 15K by the end of 2015.

I already have 6K in the bank so a 9K savings goal actually is pretty reasonable. That being said I have a lot of pay for, namely furniture and new ski boots ($600).

I’m also thinking about putting my savings in a Roth IRA but need to go to Fidelity and have everything explained to me because I know nothing.

7. Get new mystery website up and running.

I can’t wait to announce this but I have plans to launch a website very soon. It’s going to a super helpful resource, database and forum- to be announced soon!

How I did in 2014:

Career.

In 2014 I want to make big strides in my career. Right now I’m weighing my options: diplomacy, marketing and hotel management are all on the table.

Check! In 2014 I dropped the digital nomad lifestyle and got a job at sovrn where my blogging background is super useful and I love my coworkers. Plus, I get to live in Colorado and ski a lot. Wins all around.

Health.

In 2014 I want to keep doing yoga and try out some new workouts like Crossfit, Art of Strength and running a 5K Color run!

Check! In 2014 I got in the shape of my life by doing a Yoga Teacher Training in India and trekking the Himalayas. I also managed to try Crossfit (not my thing) and run a 5K (not really my thing either). And I’d love to do a Color Run in 2015!

Spirituality.

In 2014 I want to make time for one big spiritual trip: the Camino de Santiago, studying yoga at an ashram and Burning Man all come to mind.

Check! Studying yoga for a month in India was extremely spiritual- I learned a ton about myself as well as yoga, meditation and Hinduism. The experience was grueling but turned me into a much more positive person- I couldn’t be happier I did it.

Friends and Family.

I’m so lucky to have such wonderful, supportive friends and family so in 2014 I want to make an effort to spend more time with them.

Check! I spent so much time with friends and family in 2014 and it was the best. I visited friends all over Europe, traveled with one of my best friends through India for six weeks and traveled with two friends in Southeast Asia. Once I returned to the states I spent four months with family and friends in Michigan and caught up with lots of my Chicago friends. I’ve made lots of friends in Colorado and my college best friend moved out west to live with me- I’m so fortunate to have such great people in my life.

Let’s talk! So what are your goals for the new year? Comment below, I’d love some inspiration!

2014 – A Traveler’s Review

2014 – A Traveler’s Review

I won’t lie- my annual end of the year wrap-up (see 2012 and 2013 here) is one of my favorite posts of the year.

And like 2013, 2014 was a big ‘un. In 2014 I took a four-month, round-the-world trip in which I bopped all over Europe, did a Yoga Teacher Training in India, trekked the Himalayas for ten days and returned to Southeast Asia for diving, partying and street food. After my trip I spent the summer in Michigan and settled down in Denver in October.

While I’m thrilled to finally be stationary I’m grateful that I got to travel as much as I did in 2014- I visited no less than 11 countries, 19 cities and six states, and slept in 47 beds, one tent, one floor and three couches.

Despite a few rough moments, 2014 was the best year of my life so I wanted to look back on all my shenanigans and adventures. And yes, there were many.

January

January was frigid. I spent January cooped up inside my parents’ house in Michigan blogging and freelancing, venturing out only for yoga class. Which ultimately was fine- I needed to save up for my world-trip!

One lowlight was getting my hand stuck to a door (briefly) when it was 20 below. Oh, Michigan.

February

In February I lost my well-paying job with Answers.com. In the end this was a blessing in disguise as I decided to leave my laptop at home and just travel again, free from stressful deadlines.

Best friend Alyssa in tow, I spent a few sunny days in NYC and then jetted off to Europe. We couchsurfed with a house full of Spaniards in London and rented a canalside house with Edna and company for Ventian carnivale. Both adventures involved lots of red wine and little sleep, as you might imagine.

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March

I kicked off March in a pretty grandiose way; skiing in Switzerland. Ever since I was a wee tot in a ski harness I’ve dreamed of skiing the Alps, so I was thrilled to check it off the bucket list. And plus, I got to stay for free at a close family friend’s Swiss chalet- bonus!

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Before leaving Switzerland I squeezed in paragliding in Interlaken and tobogganing in Grindelwald and Gstaad. (Which by the way is ridiculously fun- can we please bring all-mountain tobogganing to America?)

But truthfully my solo travel in Switzerland was my least favorite part of my European adventures- I was bored, lonely and paying way too much for everything.

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After Switzerland I flew to London. My three weeks in London were a dream. My days went as such: wake up and have at least three cups of instant coffee with my lovely host, Amanda, wander out for eggs and soldiers, meet up with my little brother in Regent’s Park, explore food market in trendy neighborhood and/or enjoy picnic with pinot noir and pâté. Ad infinitum. (Well, I wish.)

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During my time in the U.K. I also popped up to the north of England for a week to visit friends, had Sunday roast in York and road-tripped to Wales, where I drunkenly attempted to swim in the glacially cold Welsh Sea- fail.

Next I Ryanair’d it south for a press trip in Madrid. Amanda, Julika, Jessica and I bunked up in an adorable rental apartment, ate Spanish ham, partied at Kapital and basically all became best friends. The four of us still talk daily and are now plotting our next “Sisterhood of the Traveling… Blogs” adventure.

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April

April was split between Paris and India. Could two destinations be any more different?

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In Paris I revisited all of my favorite people and haunts. It was lovely; I enjoyed balmy spring weather, charcuterie-laden picnics, reading seshes in the Place des Vosges and cider on the Seine. And the Parisian guy-friend I was staying with made me speak French the entire time which was great for my French skills!

From Paris I departed for Delhi to meet up with my good friend McCall. After a six-hour, backroads taxi ride we arrived in Rishikesh, our hair caked with dust, grime and god knows what else. (Driving in Northern India? Not fun at all.)

In Rishikesh we began our monthlong Yoga Teacher Training. As I’ve written, the training was tough; I abstained from just about everything and was surrounded by cow shit, flies and dahl, all of which wore on me quite quickly. But we spent the training with a wonderful group of international students and I got in the shape of my life, so overall it was such a worthwhile experience.

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May 

In May I graduated from Yoga School barefoot and bindi’d (no seriously) and the next day embarked on a ten-day Himalayan trek.

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Hiking the Indian Himalaya was one of the travel highlights of my life. From singing Sanskrit songs with cute village kids to waking up to the Himalayas in all their snowy glory, the experience was as special as it was physically and mentally grueling.

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After the Himalayas McCall, Joe and I enjoyed a well-deserved luxury weekend in Delhi and a trip to the Taj Majal at sunrise.

After one last delicious Indian meal Joe and I flew to Bangkok in the middle of a coup and rounded out the month on my favorite Thai island- Koh Tao.

June

I spent the first ten days of June on Koh Tao, despite my best intentions to leave much sooner. What can I say? I heart that little island.

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But at least I got a few things done. I completed my Advanced Open Water, braved night-diving and saw my first muay thai fight. I also met an incredible crew of people and enjoyed the legendary Koh Tao nightlife.

Before leaving the island I met up with my friend Dylan (whom I met through friends in the north of England, incidentally) and together we endured a 24-hour slow-boat and bus journey to Malaysia. Within hours of arriving I was head over heels for Penang: a city of street art, colonial mansions and sumptuous street food.

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After Penang we dropped by the snoozeworthy Cameron Highlands, and spent almost a week in Malaysia’s capital city. In KL I enjoyed a pretty blissful schedule: wake up, go find amazing street food, see a site, then head to the hostel rooftop for beer, hookah and karaoke. Rinse and repeat.

After KL I traveled solo to Melaka. There I connected with a Chinese-Malay girl on Instagram who ended up showing me around Melaka for the next couple of days. As always, I enjoyed travel so much more with a local as my host.

And after Melaka? I booked it to my favorite country in Asia, Vietnam. All I did in Vietnam was eat crazy quantities of Vietnamese food (obviously) and live it up on the Halong Bay party cruise, where I met another incredible group of people.

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And at the end of June I flew back home dirty, sunburnt, broke and exhausted, but with a huge smile on my face. (Well once I got over jet lag, of course.)

July

Despite my best intentions to relax after four months of travel, I bounced around the states quite a bit in July. I spent the fourth in Chicago and road-tripped to Hilton Head for a week of drinking games and beach time.

I returned to Michigan in time to turn 24, celebrating with loved ones and a huge strawberry cake at my cottage.

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I also threw the worst house party in the history of time, which my friends and I still refer to as “The Comedy of Errors.”

August

In August I spent a lot of time with my family up at my cottage but headed to San Francisco to look for an apartment. While San Francisco apartment hunting turned out to be a bust, I got to spend a blissful Labor Day weekend at my friend’s ranch in Montana.

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September

In September I buckled down on finding a job. I also ran a 5K with my dad, cut off a significant amount of my hair and learned to brew beer.

While I tried to carve out a solid routine at home, in September I started to get restless and sick of living at home. And honestly began fearing I’d end up spending the winter unemployed and hating my life.

October

In October I thankfully landed a job with sovrn, a kick-ass digital advertising company, so I bought some work clothes and relocated to Denver. Working a 9-5 was certainly an adjustment. I learned a few things; commuting sucks, paychecks are great and ping pong at the office is the best.

By the time Halloween rolled around I was so tired from work that I fell asleep at 9 p.m. Womp, womp.

November 

In November I got into the swing of a 9-5 and really started to love life in Colorado. I quickly made a close-knit group of friends and signed on 22 accounts at work in my first month, the company record! And things got even better when my best friend Alyssa moved to Colorado to be my roomie.

I also enjoyed a super-fun Friendsgiving at my friends’ beautiful Victorian home. While I missed my family and grandfather’s 25-pound turkey, I was still counting my blessings to already have close friends to spend Thanksgiving with.

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December Boulder

In December I continued to work hard at sovrn but slipped up on the blogging front- I only posted four times in December! I also continued to have a busy social life and even squeezed in a skiing trip to Winter Park with one of my best friends from high school.

At the end of December I flew to Florida to spend the holidays with my family. I took my 15-year old sister to Universal Studios to see Harry Potter World, where I proceeded to nerd out and photograph everything. (Seriously though guys- Hogsmeade was amazing.)

In Florida I also clocked an ample amount of beach time and slept in numerous times- glorious.

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Thank you all for coming along for the ride in 2014. I’m so looking forward to seeing what the new year brings us so here’s to a 2015 filled with health, friends, family and adventure.

Your turn! Tell me the highlights/lowlights of your year!

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If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it! Also, I’d love to keep you updated on my adventures in Colorado and beyond, so feel free to subscribe to Ashley Abroad by email in the sidebar or connect with me on TwitterFacebook or Bloglovin.

Where To Go in 2015

Where To Go in 2015

This holiday season I’m partnering with the team at Expedia to share my insights on where to go in 2015. This list is both a reflection of my favorite places as well as a dream destination list, and hopefully travel inspiration for all of you guys too!

While chances are I won’t embark on a multi-month backpacking trip next year, I still have a few international escapes in the works. (I’m particularly interested in Iceland but we shall see what plays out- I’m open to anything!)

The Faroe Islands // Solar Eclipse

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For whatever reason, I love cold, remote, sparsely populated islands; think the Aran Islands or the Isle of Skye. So naturally, I would love to visit the Faroe Islands for their natural beauty and blend of Scandinavian and Celtic heritage. As a language geek I would also love to learn more about Faroese, the island’s dialect. And who knows, maybe meet a Viking or two.

2015 is the perfect time to visit the Faroe Islands as there will be a total solar eclipse on March 20, 2015. Astronomy geeks, take note!

Indian Himalaya // World-class Trekking

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Okay, okay- I’ve probably rhapsodized about the Indian Himalaya enough. Cheap, stunning and undiscovered- need I say more? 

Imagine trekking among pink rhododendron trees, herds of water buffalo and soaring, white-tipped mountains- and for cheap. My life-changing ten-day trek cost only $450 dollars for porters, food and transportation, which you can read about here (Part 1 and Part 2). Worth every rupee!

Mongolia // Horseback Riding

I’ve wanted to venture to Mongolia ever since delving into National Geographic books from the 1970’s as a child, but after reading Young Adventuress’ blog posts I want to explore Mongolia on horseback. I love roughing it in the wilderness for weeks at a time, so I know windswept rural Mongolia would be right up my alley.

Perth, Australia // Perth International Arts Festival

Have you guys heard of the Royal de Luxe? It’s often called “The World’s Largest Puppet Show” . I’ve been trying to track it down for years, and just found out it’s coming to Perth in February, 2015, for the Perth International Arts Festival!

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Of course, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Perth- pristine beaches, incredible coffee, hip local microbreweries like Little Creatures. But the dreamy Royal de Luxe would make a visit to Perth that much sweeter. 1024px-Beach_sunset_Perth

Penang, Malaysia // Street Art & Hawker Centers

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Penang is quite possibly my favorite city in Southeast Asia. Penang oozes history; from Straits Chinese mansions to British colonial buildings to Thai temples. When I was there in June, I couldn’t get enough of the tasty Malay food at hawker centers and the bright bursts of street art all over the city. Highly, highly recommended.

Biarritz, France // Surfing

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For a week every July, ritzy Biarritz hosts the Biarritz Surf Festival. Surfers from all over the world compete in longboard contests, paddle board racing and Tahitian pirogue in Biarritz’ beautiful bay.

If you’re in France in July anyway, swing by Paris for the weekend of July 14 for both Bastille Day and the Firemen’s Ball- the latter especially is a must-do!

Central Highlands, Vietnam // Motorcycling

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When I tell people about my travels, they invariably ask me, “What was your favorite country?” And I always respond, “Well, I really love France and Vietnam.”

I really couldn’t recommend Vietnam more highly, and my 600-kilometer motorcycle trip was among my favorite travel experiences ever.

If you head to Vietnam in 2015, start in sleek and motorbike-bamboozled Saigon, dip down to the lush Mekong Delta, then journey up to the Central Highlands, Hoi An and Hue. Finish off your trip with a stay in Hanoi with obligatory trips to Sapa and Halong Bay. And if you do the whole trip on a motorcycle, bonus points.

Amsterdam, Netherlands // Nuit Blanche

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I’m a sucker for Flemish architecture, so naturally, I found Amsterdam stunning. But if I were planning a visit in 2015, I wouldn’t miss Nuit Blanche.

Nuit Blanche is an all-night festivity that takes place the first Saturday of November, during which Amsterdam’s museums are open all night, and revelers enjoy everything from candlelit symphonies and canalside mansion parties.

Austria // Christmas Markets

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Thought Paris’ Christmas markets disappointed me, I absolutely adore Christmas Markets of the Teutonic variety. Sipping piping glühwein while staring up at Christmas lights and just enjoying a spirit of conviviality and dare I say, hygge? Yes, please.

I’d love to visit the Vienna Christmas market, and plus, I’ve always wanted to ski the Tyrolean Alps. Hence why Austria would be an excellent choice for winter 2015.

Denver, Colorado // Great American Beer Festival (or Skiing!)

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You didn’t think I would make this list without including a shout out to my new city, did you?

As I’ve learned in the past few months, Denver has tons to offer: proximity to beautiful mountainstrendy bars and friendly, outdoorsy people.

Oh, and for all my single ladies? Let’s just say Denver is nicknamed “Menver” for a reason.

ANYWAY. There are other reasons besides rugged mountain men to visit Denver too. One is the Great American Beer Festival, held in early October. Though nearly impossible to score a ticket, the Great American Beer Festival is an expo in which the best of American beer is on tap. Yes.

And if you can’t make it in October, the summer concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheater are supposed to be insane too. I’ll certainly be going this summer!

Where do you want to go in 2015? Spill in the comments!

All images not my own are property of Wikimedia Commons.

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 [CLOSED]

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

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to the winner, Edna of Expat Edna!
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Sahara desert, Morocco

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!

Fes, Morocco-001

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?

Capadocia, Turkey

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!