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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

Magic in the Mountains: My 10-Day Himalayan Trek (Part II)

Magic in the Mountains: My 10-Day Himalayan Trek (Part II)

You can read about part one of my Himalayan trek here.

After three days of trekking I finally started to get the hang of hiking. Okay, fine- both sleeping in a sleeping bag and uphill hiking were still miserable, but I was acclimating. And as we ascended higher and higher into the Himalaya, it was so beautiful I could almost forget my badly blistered feet.

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At higher altitudes, we saw less villages and more nature: magenta rhododendron, thick groves of oak and deodar, hawks circling in the crisp blue sky.

On day five we passed a flock of long-haired goats. The goatherd told us that one of his goats had broken a leg and he had to slaughter it. Would we like to buy a leg?

Why, yes. We would. And I will never forget watching our mule walk by with a freshly skinned goat leg in the saddlebag, hoof up. Hygiene, schmygiene.

That night we sat down for goat stew, and I can’t remember anything so satisfying. Ever. The goat was surprisingly tender and blanketed in a rich gravy. And after five meat-free weeks, the goat stew might as well have been a medium-rare ribeye with béarnaise sauce.

We awoke early on day six to hike to the top of the Kuari Pass. I knew the hike would be trying, so I used precious iPhone battery reserves to listen to music.

The ninety minutes to the summit were a battle. I paused to catch my breath frequently, and tried to bar negative thoughts which were invading my mind at an alarming rate.

Ultimately I felt ashamed for being the slowest hiker, and I couldn’t decide if it was my body or my mind that was the problem. In retrospect I know I was being too hard on myself; I was hiking the freaking Himalayas, jeez! But at the time I was beating myself up every step of the way.

The only consolation prize was seeing a Himalayan mouse on the trail. It was round and furry like a chinchilla, but brown in color. As far as rodents go, quite cute.

Once we crested the Kuari Pass, we were rewarded with the Himalayas in all their snowy glory.

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Fun fact- did you know Himalaya means “House of Snow” in Sanskrit?

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The rest of the day was blissful. We trekked across snow and golden grass on relatively flat terrain. The views were straight out of Middle Earth, which prompted Alice and I to quote Lord of the Rings at possibly excessive length.

Maybe it was the 14,000 foot altitude, but Alice’s impression of Gollum in her Essex accent just about killed me. “Why do you cry, Sméagol?”

Gotta love hypoxia.

This was also the day when I realized my hands were absurdly swollen. Twice their normal size, lobster red, skin as tight as a drum. Seriously, they were Frankenstein-esque.

That night I had a decision to make. Would I wake up at 4 a.m. to hike to the top of the pass, or would I sleep in? While I’d liked to say I was racked with guilt over the decision, in reality it was easy: sleep in, duh.

I’m not sure if it was the high-altitude sunburn, the blisters or the exhaustion, but I had no desire to squeeze in an extra five-hour hike. But I was a bit jealous when the others came back with photos of holding yoga poses high above the clouds.

The rest of the afternoon was the perfect rainy day. The four of us spent the day just relaxing: listening to Joe read Scott Foster Wallace, debating American/English pronunciations in the tent and taking dramatic mountain portraits.

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That night the chef prepared us an adorable cake in honor of our last night- how do you even make a cake camping?

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After dinner and cake the four of us huddled up in the meal tent and played Egyptian Ratscrew, Asshole and Oh Hell while sipping ginger tea out of Little House on the Prayer tin cups. It was freezing; we were blowing on our fingers all evening just to play cards.

Despite the cold, we headed out for one last bonfire with the crew. They sang songs in Hindi and Garhwali, passing around a strange local herb. The stars above us were dazzlingly bright, but unfortunately my attempt at astrophotography failed.

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The last day of hiking was so beautiful I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:

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And then the second we descended from the mountain I saw an errant brown cow with a tie around its neck, and a group of Indian men who asked me for a picture. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself; Yep, I was back to reality.

Our trekking company, Red Chilli Adventure in no way paid or perked me for this mention. Overall we were blown away by Red Chilli’s food, service and professionalism- I couldn’t recommend them highly enough!

Magic in the Mountains: My 10-Day Himalayan Trek (Part 1)

Magic in the Mountains: My 10-Day Himalayan Trek (Part 1)

Let’s just get the tough stuff out of the way: my ten-day Himalayan trek in Northern India was hard. While I didn’t get altitude sickness, I did suffer from blood blisters and sunstroke. And obviously, there was the whole not showering for 10 days thing and hiking EIGHT HOURS UPHILL under the blazing sun.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not that outdoorsy. My cardiovascular health leaves something to be desired and as a Michigander I’m naturally adverse to hills.

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So yeah. The trek was character-building. But it also got me in the shape of my life and was full of some of the most beautiful moments (and views) of my travels.

Plus, how often do you get to spend 10 technology-free days with good friends in the Himalayas?

And thankfully this was no bare-bones camping trip. This was glamping. We had two guides, a cook, five porters and a team of mules to carry our bags. Not only did we enjoy multi-course meals each night, the crew set up our tents before we got to the campsite.

We even had a TOILET TENT. Who knew those existed?

Also, because this was India, our ten-day trek cost us $440 each- an absolute steal.

I set off from Rishikesh with my three trekking buddies (McCall, Alice, an English girl from Yoga Teacher Training and Joe, McCall’s friend) to reach the starting point of the trek. Meaning we endured the dreaded Party All Night song for ten hours in a minibus on tiny mountain roads. Also Alice puked about 10 minutes into the trip so not only did we have to listen to moronic Hindi music on repeat, the bus smelled strongly of vomit.

The first night, and I kid you not, we camped in a field of marijuana. And we took selfies with a few ornery water buffalo.

After our first night camping, the real work began: hiking. And despite a rigorous month of Yoga Teacher Training, hiking uphill made my heart beat faster than a chipmunk’s.

The highlight of the day? (Besides the rest stops?) Passing through a lovely little mountain village.

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The village was quaint in a ramshackle Himalayan way: awash in turquoise and blue and smelling of sun-warmed cilantro. As we passed the villagers said, “Namaste” and tipped their heads to bow.  The streets were strewn with red rose petals, and golden wheat and fields of potatoes grew outside the slate walls.

And being India, there were lots of cows.

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We stopped at a middle school for a lunch of yak-cheese sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs. The kids seemed excited to see foreigners, smiling and waving. They lined up in uniform to greet us, the girls with floppy white bows in their hair. I noticed their features were almost Nepalese and many of them had beautiful yellow-green eyes.

When we finally trudged into camp that afternoon the tents were already up, and water buffalos, donkeys and cows grazing.

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As I gazed out of the tent I had a “I’m-so-lucky-what-on-earth-did-I-do-in-a-past-life” kind of moment. It was surreal. I felt so much joy and gratitude to be in the mountains.

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Soon after we settled in dozens of kids approached, and we ended up spending the rest of the afternoon entertaining them. I felt like I was babysitting again as McCall, Alice and I played jacks with the girls, while Joe played cricket with the boys.

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At one point we sat in a circle with the kids and sang Sanskrit hymns. Oh yoga school, what have you done to me?

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At four we convened in the tent for a chai break. Over the course of the trek I grew to love tea time, as we sipped our chai over cards, cookies and jokes. There’s no quality time quite like camping.

That night we fell asleep among craggy rocks and little white flowers, listening to the jingling of the cow bells and the snort of water buffalo.

Okay fine, that made sleeping in the tent sound way more idyllic than it actually was. More like I slept fitfully during a violent, tent-shaking rain storm. Also I decided that I hate sleeping bags as they make me feel like I’m going simultaneously sweat and freeze to death.

The second day of hiking was a bit less blissful, as blood blisters began forming on my feet. Also McCall got severe food poisoning and we had to wait out a storm in a shepherd’s hut. A.k.a. we spent two hours wet, freezing and crouching in animal excrement.

But our campsite that night made up for any of the day’s woes. We slept in a fairy glen full of enormous white flowers and tiny streams.  IMG_8188

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(Confession- when I was drying my boots by the fire I partially melted off the back of them. I would.)

And if I didn’t think sleeping in a sleeping bag could get any worse, I was wrong. Because that night I tried sleeping naked as I heard it would help me stay warmer. Uh, no. During the night I periodically awoke shaking from cold and slick with sweat, my nose transformed into an actual icicle.

The third day was the hardest of the entire trek. Despite my SPF 50, I developed a high-altitude sunburn on my hairline and nose. During our eight-hour, mostly uphill hike, motivational mantras buzzed through my head, “Hike at your own pace”, “clear the chittah”, “stronger and stronger.” None of them worked very well.

And finally, out of desperation, I prayed to God to carry me the rest of the way because I was so blistered, sunburnt and exhausted I wasn’t sure if I would make it. I blame sunstroke.

Moments later three children spotted us, shouted for “candy” and followed us all the way up the mountain. As they got closer they started singing songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, which in their adorable accent sounded like “Tinkle Tinkle Little Staa”.

I joined them in song, racking my brain for childhood ditties like “Baa Baa Black Sheep” as well as the Gayatri mantra, Wakatrunda and Om Asato Ma Sadgamaya.

So what I’m trying to say here is that God sent three adorable Himalayan children to help me get up the mountain. Or something like that.

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As I crawled to camp, I knew I had just begun my Himalayan journey. But already I was proud of myself for pushing myself further than I ever thought I could go.

Have you ever done a trek in a foreign country? What was your experience like?

Our trekking company, Red Chilli Adventure in no way paid or perked me for this mention. Overall we were blown away by Red Chilli’s food, service and professionalism- I couldn’t recommend them highly enough!

What to Pack for a Yoga Teacher Training in India

What to Pack for a Yoga Teacher Training in India

When I was packing for my Yoga Teacher Training in India, I failed to find a single packing list on the great wide web. And unsurprisingly, once I got to India I realized that I had packed poorly: I brought one pair of athletic shorts, one maxi skirt and absolutely no snacks. I also didn’t consider that the near-vegan diet would leave me in dire need of iron pills.

So please allow me to humbly remedy the internets and share what you should pack for a teacher training in India.

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As an aside, you will inevitably buy hippie pants in India, regardless if you do yoga. Accept it.

Your Own Mat + Yoga Towel

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The shoddy mat I used for a month

When you’re doing four sweaty hours of yoga a day, you might as well do it on a clean, cushy yoga mat. My yoga school provided thin, ratty mats so I purchased my own. If I could do it over again, I’d bring my own mat as well as a yoga towel to prevent slipping.

(Personally I love the Jade Harmony with a YogaRat towel.)

Iron Supplements

Despite eating a vegetarian diet rich in spinach and lentils, I still wasn’t getting enough protein or iron at Yoga Teacher Training. A daily dose of iron would have been a godsend, though I imagine a multivitamin would have done nicely as well.

Protein Bars, Almonds and Peanut Butter

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Love you mom and dad! 

During Yoga Teacher Training, I woke up at 6 a.m. every day but breakfast wasn’t until 10:30 a.m. I don’t know about y’all, but I struggle with waiting so long to eat. Pack non-perishable snacks like Lara Bars, almonds or peanut butter that are high in protein and calories and will give you a boost.

A little parental shoutout- during my training my parents sent a box full of Lara Bars, almonds and other essentials all the way from the states. I seriously don’t know how I would’ve gotten through teacher training or my 10-day Himalayan hike without those Lara Bars!

Pepto Bismal and Imodium

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The eggs and crêpe that launched 24 hours of misery

Ever heard of Delhi Belly? Well it’s a thing. Chances are you will get food poisoning in India and it’s better to come prepared. I took Pepto Bismal when I had an upset stomach and Imodium when I had diarrhea- let’s just say both were essential.

Shorts and Sleeveless Athletic Tops

This is very Captain Obvious of me, but India is hot, especially during the rainy season. Pack shorts rather than full-length yoga pants, as well as lots of breathable athletic tops. (Even thinking about doing vinyasa in 110 degree heat wearing full-length Zellas gives me heatstroke.)

I personally love Gap’s athletic line because it’s attractive, sleek and often on sale.

Eyedrops

The air pollution in India is bad so your eyes may suffer from dryness- mine certainly did. I found even reading in bed irritated my eyes quite considerably! So pack eyedrops and you’ll be good to go.

Face Wipes

Again, the air pollution in India is really bad, so I used face wipes throughout the day to clear my face of grime and sweat. Trust me, you’ll be so happy to have them.

A Multi-subject Notebook and Pens

In India I took seven classes a day: hatha, mantra, anatomy, yoga philosophy, therapy, vinyasa and meditation. While I used a single moleskine for all of them, it would’ve been smarter to use a notebook section per class in order to easily go back and review.

Maxi skirts and dresses

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My India travel uniform. Plus I got the skirt at Primark for only £10!

In India, women often expose their midriffs but never expose their legs. So ladies, bring a few maxi skirts and dresses for exploring the streets- they’re cute, comfortable and colorful, and you won’t get unwanted attention. (Okay, you still will. But it’s not as bad.)

For more info on what to wear in India (and India travel in general!) check out Hippie in Heels- I especially loved her Do’s and Don’ts of How to Dress in India.

Miscellaneous:

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When the power was out (which was 10+ times a day) we would hang the headlamp from the showerhead in order to shower. #OnlyInIndia

Other essentials include a headlamp (above), doorstop (to use at night for safety),  hair ties and flip flops. I also used this antitheft crossbody bag while in India and it served me well.

Have you done a Yoga Teacher Training in India? What did you forget to bring?

Note- this list contains Amazon affiliate links and I will earn a small profit if you purchase through them. Thanks for keeping Ashley Abroad afloat!

Things That Scare Me + This Month’s Sponsors!

Things That Scare Me + This Month’s Sponsors!

So I’ve realized that I’m stuck in a rut. While I’ve been diligently job-hunting, blogging and working out at home, I haven’t done anything truly exciting in a really, really long time. While I consider myself an adventurous and try (almost) anything kind of person, when I’m in Michigan I get kind of… boring. And while I won’t be here forever, I still need to maximize my time in the Mitten and spice things up.

Which is where my new blog series, Things That Scare Me, comes in.

Things That Scare Me is an effort to start pushing myself out of my comfort zone- i.e. I’m going to start trying things I find scary!

Here are few “scary” activities I’ve brainstormed:

a. Sign up for voice lessons

b. Try speed-dating

c. Buy a stranger a meal

Do you guys have any ideas? I’m really excited about this so let me know if you have any (relatively scary) suggestions!

 

This Month’s Sponsors

And onto this month’s sponsors! I was so thrilled that so many readers responded well to my sponsorship program. I’m now offering paid ads so if you’re interesting exposing your blog to 65,000+ monthly page views and lots of incredible, travel-passionate readers stop by my sponsorship page!

(Note if you’re having trouble seeing the Passionfruit ad prices just shoot me an email- ashley {at} ashleyabroad {dot} com and I’ll send them over. I’ve heard using Internet Explorer helps!)

 The Blonde Travelista

Blonde Travelista

Best of the Blog: Why Don’t Americans Travel? // Australian Differences and Slang // San Diego Safari Park

Introduce yourself! Twitter // Pinterest // Instagram

Caroline Made This

Caroline Made This

Best of the Blog: What to Expect // The Dressing Room Mirror // How I Organize for an International Trip

Introduce yourself! Facebook // Twitter

Curiosity Travels

Curiosity Travels

Best of the Blog: Finally Being Honest: The Story About How I Really Feel About Korea // This Is The In Between // Lessons I’ve Learned About Life and Travel in 2013

Introduce yourself! Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

Melanie Fontaine

Melanie Fontaine

Best of the Blog: Hiking in Borrowdale at the Northern Lakes, Lake District // Snapshots From Sichuan Province, China // Goodbye Norway: One Last Visit To Fløyen

Introduce yourself! Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

Mind Body Travel Mind Body and Travel

Best of the Blog: Top 5 Things to do in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico // Hiking Trails in Breath-taking Zion National Park // My First Impressions of Chengdu

Introduce yourself! Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

One Trip at a Time

One Trip At a Time

Best of the Blog: London in One Day: The Itinerary // A Drizzly Day at Dover Castle // Design and Structure of the Commonwealth War Cemeteries

Introduce yourself! Bloglovin’ // Pinterest

 Progression of Happiness

Photos

Best of the Blog: BHow to Travel More in University // Tips for Long Distance Best Friends // New York City’s Top Ten Attractions

Introduce yourself! Twitter // Instagram // Pinterest

A Texan in Spain Photos1

Best of the Blog: Albarracín: The Most Beautiful Village in Spain // 5 Ways to Speak Spanish Like a Spaniard // How to Drink Coffee in Spain

Introduce yourself! Twitter // Instagram // Google+

Taking Tea in Turkey Taking Tea in Turkey

Best of the Blog: Let’s Talk Tea // A Celebration of Love // Türk kahvesi, for the present and future

Two Feet One World

Two Feet One World

Best of the Blog: Exploring the Secret Tube Station // How I Survived Oktoberfest // ANZAC Day at Gallipoli

Introduce yourself! Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

Okay shoot! What are some good ideas for the Things That Scare Me series?

French Eating Habits I’m Taking Home With Me

French Eating Habits I’m Taking Home With Me

One of my favorite things about the French is that they tend to be well-rounded: The French dress fashionably, travel, read a ton, keep abreast of politics and quite famously, eat well.

Collectively I’ve spent about a year and a half living with French families so I’d like to think I know a thing or two about French home-cooking. But returning to Paris this year reminded me of so many French eating habits I have yet to work into my daily life.

While there are many French food customs I’ll never get on board with- like oeufs en gelée (blergh) and small, sweet breakfasts, there are others, like a salad with every meal and good wine that I’m more than behind.

*Note- not every French person or family does these things, these are just food customs I’ve observed personally.

A Salad with every meal

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Salad is truly an art form in France. In fact I never liked salad until I lived there.

When I lived in France, I made a simple green salad every day to accompany the main dish at dinner. I loved how it wasn’t a question- at dinner you always have baguette, and you always have salad.

You start with fresh, butter lettuce that you wash and dry with a salad spinner three times. It’s usually from the farmer’s market and speckled with dirt so it’s important to wash thoroughly!

Then you always, always, always make the vinaigrette from scratch. (I’ve never even seen bottled dressing in France!) Here’s my recipe.

And voilà, you have a delicious salade verte!

Yogurt after every meal

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After dinner in France we would bring out an assortment of yogurts: mousse au chocolat, lemon and strawberry, among other flavors. In my opinion, yogurt is the perfect low-key, weekday dessert, and boasts plenty of health benefits as well.

Sadly, this is one French food tradition I sadly won’t be replicating in America as American yogurt is sugary, processed and terrible for you. You might as well just eat half a candy bar.

Also, if you’re ever in France, the above yogurt, Fjord, is the yogurt of dreams: thick, tangy, creamy, addictive. As in like worth smuggling through US customs.

Apéro dinatoire

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Interestingly enough, there’s actually no viable English translation for apéro dinatoire! Cocktail party with snacks? Drinks and finger food?

Essentially an apéritif dinatoîre is when you invite guests over to drink and snack on an assortment of hors d’oeuvres. You don’t “officially” serve a meal so it’s not a dinner party; it’s more of a casual, often weekday gathering that lasts late into the night.

(Fun fact- did you know no one says hors d’oeuvres in France? It’s an antiquated word.)

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Gougères, or cheese puffs, I made for an apéritif dinatoîre last year. They’re surprisingly super hard to make- this was my third batch!

Sparkling water

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Sparkling water always makes me feel kind of fancy. Plus, if you’re trying to cut out pop, it’s a healthy carbonated alternative.

Always using a tablecloth

Another thing that makes me feel a little more put-together? A tablecloth. The French never sit down to eat without one.

Epic, five-course dinner parties on the regular

Oh god. French dinner parties are so much work yet so worth it. Here’s the drill:

1. Decorate your house beautifully, with a fresh tablecloth, flowers, chic stemware and your best china. Your best china isn’t just for holidays- it’s also for impressing your guests. And turn on some music!

2. Wait for your guests to arrive- they’re always a little late. Once they arrive greet them with a kiss and serve them hors d’oeuvres and cocktails (kind of like an apéro dinatoire but with a lot less food).

And don’t forget to thank them for their gift, usually a bottle of wine or flowers. In France it’s rude to show up empty-handed.

3. Sit down to the table for the first course (entrée in French. Yep, it’s backwards from English!)

4. Serve the main course. It is imperative for everyone to rave about the food- in France people talk a lot about food. Points for serving more exotic dishes like tagine or goulash.

5. Serve the cheese course. Ideally you will have at least 3-4 room-temperature cheeses on a plate- here’s my guide on how to serve a good cheese course.

5. Serve dessert. Also, this isn’t a throwaway course- it’s a lot of work. Ideas: financier with a berry coulis, omelette norwegienne, a poached pear in a salted butter caramel sauce.

6. Serve coffee.

7. Chat about politics/sex/family life until as late as three a.m., serving up plenty of wine.

 8. Wake up mildly hungover and wash about 8,000 dishes. Each of those courses had a fresh plate, remember?

Buying good wine

Once I grow up (ha) I vow to never buy Yellowtail again- good wine is worth paying extra for, in my book. Unfortunately, good wine in the states is pricey, but in France you can pick up a decent bottle from 3-5 euros!

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Also, someday I will have a badass wine cellar like my host dad in France with a gravel floor and a million wine bottles. #seriously

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Farmers markets

Ah, I love a good farmers market, especially in France. Most French farmers markets are open two-three days a week, and serve up all the good stuff: charcuterie, seafood, cheese and fresh produce. French_Eating_Habits_Farmers_Market

More picnics

Um I think if I mention one more picnic on my blog you are all going to kill me, but really- I never have them in the states. Picnics=the best.

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A cheese course before dessert

Because… cheese.

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Eating healthy on the weekdays and indulging on weekends

This is one healthful custom I’ve observed in France. The French often eat simple foods during the week, and on the weekends indulge in pastries for breakfast, barbecues for dinner and sinful desserts. It’s the perfect mix of abstinence and indulgence.

Omelets for dinner

I’ve actually never seen anyone in France eat an omelet for breakfast! But we did often eat them for dinner with chives and other fines herbes on top. Yum!

More cheese and butter in my life

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And especially more goat’s cheese.
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My actual favorite food in the world. Also it kills me that this cost literally two euros.

Which French eating habits would you like to adopt?

Protein-Packed Salade Niçoise with Seared Ahi Tuna

Protein-Packed Salade Niçoise with Seared Ahi Tuna

Though summer’s (sadly) coming to a close, I’m still eating lots of lighter meals. (Hey, it’s still 95 degrees in Michigan!) And one of my favorite summer salads is Salade Niçoise.

I learned this recipe in France years ago, and love it because I usually have all of the ingredients on hand: eggs, canned tuna, lettuce, green beans and tomatoes. Also, it’s incredibly filling while being high in protein and low in calories.

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One habit I picked up in France is to always make my own vinaigrette- it takes seconds and tastes so much better. And while I usually use high-quality, olive oil-packed canned tuna for Salade Niçoise, I figured why not amp it up with a few sashimi-quality tuna steaks?

What’s great about Salade Niçoise is that you can really customize it- sometimes I add radishes, new potatoes, cucumbers or white anchovies packed in vinegar. (Also known as boquerones.)

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Salade Niçoise

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1/2 head of butter lettuce
2 tuna steaks (sashimi-grade ahi tuna)
3 tbsp vinaigrette (preferably homemade- here’s my recipe for homemade vinaigrette!)
10 oz green beans
2 tomatoes
4 eggs
1/2 c Nicoise olives (with pits intact)

Directions

1. Heat a large pot of salted water over high heat with a lid.

While you are waiting for the water to boil, make the shallot vinaigrette in a large salad bowl.

2. Wash and dry the lettuce. Place the lettuce in the bowl over the dressing but do not mix. (Once the salad is dressed it should be eaten immediately after as the lettuce will become soggy.)

3. Once the water boils, add the green beans. Boil until soft, about 10 minutes.

(Note- the French boil green beans much longer than most Americans- around 30 minutes. I think 10-15 minutes is perfect.)

4. Carefully add the eggs to the boiling water once the green beans have been boiling for a few minutes. (Washed thoroughly of course!)

5. When the beans are finished, strain them and allow to cool for a few minutes. Rinse the eggs under cold water and peel, then quarter and season them with salt and pepper.

6. Brush the tuna steaks with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat up a sauté pan over high heat and add a few tablespoons of vegetable or canola oil. (Don’t use olive oil as it has a low smoke point.) Sear on each side for about 90 seconds. The center of the steak should be raw, like sushi.

7. Wash, dry and quarter the tomatoes. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper and add to the salad bowl.

8. Add the green beans, tuna, olives and hard-boiled eggs to the salad. Mix thoroughly with tongs and serve immediately.

What are your favorite summer salads?

Eating the Delicious East End

Eating the Delicious East End

Over my three weeks in London, I finally settled upon my dream neighborhood- the East End. The East End is everything you’d want as a twenty-something; it’s packed with street art, cute cafés, lively bars and some of London’s trendiest restaurants.

The East End also has hundreds of years of history. For centuries it was synonymous with poverty and over-crowding, and Huguenot refugees, Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jews and Bangladeshi immigrants have all called it home.

So when Eating London invited me on a food tour of the East End I was totally on board- as both a foodie and history buff how could I pass up the chance?

And if I haven’t already convinced you that London’s a foodie town, prepare yourself, dear reader.

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St. John Bread & Wine // Bacon Sandwich

Our first stop? St. John Bread and Wine. Featured on my favorite travel show ever, No Reservations, St. John is known for its nose-to-tail dining approach, which as an offal lover, I’m all for.

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This bacon sandwich was near perfect: thick, cut-with-a-spoon-tender slices of bacon slathered with a secret ketchup sauce and held together by grilled white bread. And what’s neat is that both the bread and bacon are baked and cured in house.

And while normally I prefer American-style bacon over English, this was the bacon sandwich to rule them all.

The English Restaurant // Bread and Butter Pudding

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What’s that you say? Who eats bread and butter pudding at 10 a.m.?

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Well at the English Restaurant, you can! Between the creme brûlée crust and the luscious crème anglaise sauce, I was literally sighing with happiness over my bread and butter pudding. And plus, the English Restaurant had the most cozily English atmosphere- I could’ve nursed a pint there all afternoon.

Androuet // Cheese Platter

To my delight our third stop was Androuet, a little French cheese shop! We tasted two of my favorite English cheeses, cheddar and stilton. And from the first mouthful of perfectly ripe cheese I was in fromage-ophile heaven.

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The young French owner explained that Androuet was started in Paris in 1909. I also learned that the owner and I are cheese twins; both of our favorite cheeses is Sainte-Maure de Touraine, an unpasteurized, full-fat aged goat’s cheese with a piece of straw through the middle.

 

Poppies // Fish and Chips

British readers, please skip this paragraph. But to my palate fish and chips is overkill- why pair fried with fried?

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But the fish at Poppies was light as fried cod can be, and was especially delicious when doused in vinegar. I also loved the throwback American diner interior and kind of wanted to play Elvis on the jukebox.

Pride of Spitalfields // Ale

Next it was time for drinks, so we headed to Pride of Spitalfields for an ale tasting.

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While I love beer, my inner hipster hates that I can’t get myself to love ale- it’s just too lukewarm and still! And although I sadly hadn’t been converted into an ale-drinker by the end of the visit, I’d definitely return to Pride of Spitalfields for its cozy, red-plush interior and dozens of beers on tap.

Aladin // Indian Curry

Would a tour of the East End be complete without stopping by Brick Lane? Probably not.

Brick Lane, also known as Curry Mile, is home to a large Bangladeshi community that immigrated to London in the 1970’s and 80’s.

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The chef served up three curries for our visit, and all were scrumptious- I especially loved the lamb curry. But by this point I was so stuffed even the tastiest curry could hardly entice me.

(But don’t worry, I made room. You think I’d let a lamb curry go to waste?)

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Street art by Stik on Brick Lane

Beigel Bake // Salt Beef Sandwich

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There was quite a line outside Beigel Bake, and from my first bite of this salt beef sandwich I could see why. The fatty, melt-in-your mouth meat paired with the yeasty bagel and dab of sharp yellow mustard made for a perfect fatty-acidic taste combination.

Pizza East // Salted Caramel Tart and Tea

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And the grand finale? Dessert at Pizza East! I fell in love with Pizza East for two reasons- first, the uber-chic, warehouse interior which oddly enough we weren’t allowed to photograph. And secondly, this salted caramel tart was possibly the best thing I had all day- decadent, chocolaty and topped with coarse sea salt.

My only regret- I wish I would’ve had room for pizza as the pies coming from the kitchen looked to die for!

Final remarks on the tour

As you may have guessed, I absolutely loved the Eating London food tour. I loved that the tour guide, Nicole, provided so many interesting facts about the East End’s history and culture- I was jotting down facts on my iPhone during the tour. And as I’ve mentioned, the food was bar-none.

And my favorite eat of the day? It’s a two-way tie between the bread and butter pudding and the salted caramel tart.

. . . . . . . . . . .

After lunch I burned off a fraction of the calories I had just consumed by combing the East End for street art. Sigh… I love London.

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Have you ever eaten in the East End?

A big thanks to Eating London for providing a food tour in exchange for a review. They in no way insisted that I write a favorable review, and all opinions are (as always) my own. If you’d like to join the Eating London food tour, here are a few tips: don’t eat breakfast, bring a camera, show up on time and DEFINITELY wear loose-fitting pants and comfortable shoes.

Celebrating a Blogiversary – Ashley Abroad Turns Two!

Celebrating a Blogiversary – Ashley Abroad Turns Two!

Hey guys! So today I’m excited because my blog jut turned two. (And yes, I do refer to it as if it were my child.) Who would’ve guessed I’d still be blogging after all this time? I certainly wouldn’t have!

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Anyway, a lot’s changed since last year’s blogiversary and in short, I’m really proud.

I’ve worked with a lot of great companies in the last year, from Best Western to Skywings Paragliding, and even hosted my first giveaway and started offering sponsorship. And recently a journalist from Forbes.com interviewed me which made the parents happy.

My traffic’s never been higher, and my page views have more than quadrupled in the past year- in one year this site’s gone from 6,000 uniques and 15,000 page views to 13,000 uniques and 64,000 page views!

(For the record I still have troubling believe this.) Ashley_Abroad_Traffic Honestly though I’m happiest that I’ve managed to connect with such a great group of readers, regular commenters and real-life friends- you guys are really the best. Your support, particularly on more emotional posts, means the world to me.

I started this blog with four main goals: to improve writing and photography, make friends, earn a living and secure freelancing jobs. Four for four, I guess!

And just for the sake of strolling down memory lane, here’s are some of my favorite posts from the last 12 months.

Most useful: How to DIY A Budget Yoga Retreat in Bali, How to Start a Successful Travel Blog, How to Plan an Inexpensive but Awesome Trip Abroad

Most confession-y: Back Home, But What Next?, Why Working As a Digital Nomad is Not For Me, And Then Everything Changed in Vietnam, Why I Honestly Came to Bali

Best photos: Carnevale in Venice, In Awe of the Temples of Angkor, Magnificent Macau

Most adventurous: Canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam, Paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland, Climbing Mount Batur, Bali’s Most Active Volcano Best Food Porn:

My Top Eats in Singapore, Authentic Thai, A Very Tasty Guide to Vietnamese Food

My personal favorites: Tiny Paradise: A Week on Gili Trawangan, What I Miss About Bali, A DIY Trip Down to the Mekong Delta, Practicing Gratitude Wherever You Go, What I Miss (and Don’t Miss) About Living in France

And even though I’m ready to be a bit more settled, I’m still really excited to see where this blog takes me. Thank you guys for coming all for the ride.

Always,

Ashley

So now I’d love to hear from you! What would you like to see more/less of on Ashley Abroad?