I love traveling. Wait, scratch that. I love being in new places. But, getting there? Not so much. Despite the fact that I cross the ocean at least a couple times a year, I still have a long list of worries that always seem to come along for the ride. Whether it’s a fear of flying, heights, unknown places or crowds of people, we all have moments that make us feel anything but calm, cool and collected. Nevertheless, we would never be able to see the world if we continued to let out fears block the way. Here are my favorite tricks and tips that can help ease the transition out of your comfort zone.
While we’ve heard it a million times that if you fail to plan you plan to fail (hello, 11th grade math teacher’s motto), it’s the truth. Make sure you have itineraries, tickets and times printed out and/or easily accessible on your phone. I prefer to highlight key data I might need when I’m rushing through a security line, such as my flight’s confirmation code. While having the information is key, run through your plan a few times in your head to ease your worries and determine the best way to execute. Imagine yourself landing in a new city and attempting to get to your hostel. Taxi, uber, public transportation? Play it out in your mind to familiarize yourself with your procedure. I read about how Michael Phelp’s does this before a race: plan each second accordingly and then act on habit rather than spur of the moment. Worked for him, didn’t it?
Give Yourself Extra Time
Nothing is more anxiety-inducing than being rushed for time. If you’ve planned out your day (see above), then you can take into account the distance between places and how much extra time you need to have. And be honest with yourself, if you tend to linger around and walk slowly, you might need more time than someone who is a power walking champ.
Occupy Your Mind
However, being early also means you have time to mull over horrible possibilities for whatever adventure you’re heading to. Instead of replaying the plane crash in Cast Away over and over again in your mind, bring some reading material on a subject more soothing to the soul. Perhaps listen to an uplifting podcast or read a funny memoir (Tina Fey, for the win), anything that will allow the time to pass while also taking your mind away from simmering worries.
Shocker! Yoga made it onto the list. Flow through a quick vinyasa (sign up for my email list to get a free guide!) to calm your nerves and center your mind. If you’re in a public place and not willing to downward dog in crowds, find yourself a comfortable seat and slowly count your inhale and exhales. Otherwise known as pranayama, controlling the breath slows down your breathing which can speed up if you’re worried or anxious. Try breathing in for five counts, holding for two, then exhaling for eight. repeat as necessary to bring your awareness back internally and away from external concerns.
Essentials oils have been around for centuries to help various health issues without the side effects of medicine. Lavender helps reduce serum cortisol, clary sage clears the mind and rose settles your emotions. Put a drop of the oil of your favorite on your wrist before your next event and breath it in deeply. Just as a courtesy, I would avoid using oils in tight areas. Just because you want to zen, doesn’t necessarily mean your neighbor does.
Releasing your concerns in a journal allows them to leave your mind and be entered onto paper. Although this is easier said than done, often times we hold onto feelings we don’t even realize we have. By writing down even the smallest worry, we acknowledge that it exists, recognize how to overcome it, and then move on. By letting it fester inside, it only adds more and more pressure to an already stressful situation. If journaling isn’t your thing, try writing postcards to friends and family. Simply channeling your creative self can help calm you down.
Avoid the News
This one took me awhile to understand. the more bad things I read about in the news, the more likely I thought that they could happen to me. It’s important to be informed, yes, but watching the fifth news segment on the disasters of the day isn’t going to contribute to your life. In fact, I found that the more I watched the news, the more elaborate the made up scenarios in my head got. Stick to positive outlets, or uplifting fictional texts instead.
While Dublin has much to offer as far as the Irish experience, to truly get a taste of this magnificent country you need to venture outside of the city borders. While the Cliffs of Moher are a popular choice, a cloudy day could leave you seeing little more than two feet in front of you, no cliffs in sight. Not willing to risk an entire day crossing the country only to see our own breath, we opted to experience the Garden of Ireland, one of the Ireland’s six national park with unique boglands, heather fields and infamous movie locations (P.S. I Love You anyone?).
As an easy day trip, the Wicklow Mountain Tour not only takes you through the country side to the park, but also stops at a monastic site and enchanting Irish villages along the way to get a peek into the world beyond Dublin.
The tour started early to make sure we would be able to fit in all the sights. Luckily, our first stop was at Avoca Handweavers in Kilmacanogue. A quaint restaurant, tea shop and homemade craft shop surrounded by luscious gardens gave us some much-needed caffeine for the rest of the day.
We then headed off into the mountains of Wicklow. There are numerous routes to take through the mountains that will lead to valleys, sprawling wildflower fields and of course, the bridge at Dublin Bay at Sandcover where Holly and Gerry kissed in P.S. I Love You. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, the bridge is still a magnificent structure in the midst of a trickling creek and purply-green landscapes. You can also relieve some of the scenes from Braveheart and Reign of Fire in the fields of SallyGap.
Next, we trekked to Glencree Valley to see Guinness Lake (Lough Tay) and hear of folklore and myths of the area. Sure to its name, the lake looks like a dark glass a Guinness from above. I won’t spoil any surprises here, but the stories of the rolling hills and boglands only add to the enchanting nature of the park.
After we’d gotten enough of recreating our favorite films, we refueled in a traditional Irish village called Glencullen for a hearty lunch. As a vegetarian, my options were a bit limited, so I stuck to some side dishes and a Clif bar I had packed. Though, my meat-loving boyfriend gave the meal a thumbs up!
Once we were filled up with lunch and another pint of Guinness (obviously), we drove down to Glendalough, noted as a glorious “jewel in the crown of the Wicklow Mountains”. Along the way, we passed by a quaint village no larger than a block or two where actor Daniel Day-Lewis currently resides (any Abe Lincoln fans?). Once we arrived to the starting location, we began at the upper lake and took an easy hike down to the Glendalough monastic settlement to learn about St. Kevin, the founder of the ancient monastery.
As a cemetery enthusiast (anyone else?), I am absolutely captivated by reading old grave stones and learning about the people who inhabited this land centuries before me. Although it might just be a creepy interest of mine, the site is worth seeing even for those who aren’t as fascinated with the gravestones of others. This 10th century monastic round tower settlement in Glendalough still has the remnants of buildings along with a round tower you can peer into that was once used as a guard tower. The heavy stones and detailed inscriptions are a beautiful contrast to the lust gardens that surround the area. Luckily, our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and able to answer any questions we had.
As the ending note to our tour, it was only fitting that we all enjoyed a shot of whiskey and made our way back to Dublin.
Have you been to the Wicklow Mountains? Do you prefer to explore urban areas or venture out into the country side?
Unlike most people, Ireland was not a country that had ever topped my travel list. Sure, I’d seen the incredible pictures of its sprawling mountainous landscape and the large foamy pours of Guinness, but, I had other a lot of other items to check off first. That is, however, until I realized the due to it’s location, a flight from D.C. to Dublin wasn’t only affordable, but one might even say, cheap. Seriously. Willing to be flexible with our dates and travel times, we could cross the pond for less than $400, round trip. Sign me up! Suddenly I was a HUGE Ireland advocate. Plus, at clocking in at approximately five hours, the relatively quick flight didn’t take up too much of our precious exploration time.
Although there is so much more to see on all regions of this country, today we’re just going to focus on the top five things you must see or do when you visit the capital of the Republic of Ireland, Dublin. This dynamic city offers attractions for everyone’s interests. You could easily spend a week here seeking out the crowded, dark pubs or strolling through the open gardens.
We opted to stay in the heart of the city at Blooms Hotel. A cheeky building built above a popular nightclub. However, lucky for us, the nightclub is only open on weekends and since we were staying Tuesday through Thursday, we wouldn’t have to rock ourselves to sleep with pumping EDM. The intricate graffiti sprawled across the building looks like something in a museum. The gorgeous colors and designs make in stand out even in the Temple Bar neighborhood known for its various spectacles. Most importantly, Blooms Hotel allows for easy access to all areas of the city. While there are many attractions you’ll witness on your walks through the winding roads and cobblestone alleys, such as Jame Joyce’s House and Ha’Penny Bridge, these are the top five places you must make sure to visit.
As the university of Dublin, this bustling college is in the heart of the city. While walking on the green and through the old stone building are enjoyable, the main attraction is the old library and Book of Kells (Side note: I had to look this one up. The Book of Kells consists of four gospels of the New Testament in Latin). Given the long lines, it’s best to buy your tickets ahead of time here. While you should certainly have your camera ready when you first enter the vast library to capture the infinite rows of books, put your camera away to take time to read though the shelves available and soak in the knowledge that is stored here. It can be more powerful than when viewed through your lens.
St. Stephen’s Green
A rather long but pleasant walk from Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green is best seen around lunch time if you want to fit in like a local. Grab a sandwich at one of the shops close by *(fried fish is also a favorite) and find a spot to enjoy the fresh gardens, trickling fountains and prime people-watching. This public park is one of Dublin’s main Georgian garden squares and is right next to the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre and Iveagh House, other sites worth a peak for their notable architecture.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The tallest and largest church in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is breathtaking both inside and out. While you can attend various functions held at the church, a tour through the structure was fulfilling enough. As the heart of Dublin’s history and culture for centuries, it is recognized as being one of the most vital pilgrimage sites. Even just walking about the greens surrounding the cathedral and taking in the red tulips lining the sidewalks is enough to understand the significance this building had on Dublin as well as Ireland.
Although the storehouse is farther away from the city center, it is more than worth the trek to the outskirts of Dublin. If you’re looking for a simply brewery tour, it’s best to turn around now. The Guinness Storehouse is a giant warehouse that holds some of the most unique beer-based experiences. Ever. Be ready to be blown away by dynamic exhibits that test all of your senses. From a scent bar, to personalized video exhibits all the way to becoming a certified Guinness Pourer, there isn’t much that isn’t here. Plan to spend a few hours exploring the actual museum-like portion and another hour enjoying a cold one on the rooftop bar, Gravity Bar, with 360 degree aerial views.
Nothing compliments a visit to the Guinness Storehouse quite like more Guinness. Temple Bar is the hip and edgy neighborhood in Dublin that provides just that. It is often noted as the cultural quarter of the city, with its live street shows and active nightlife. After enjoying some local favorites at an intimate bar in the area, we spent the next few hours listening to the live shows on the street corners. More than a guy drumming buckets on the streets of NYC, these shows shut down roads and gather crowds by the 100s as everyone tries to peak at the next up and coming singer. It’s easy to make a night of it without even stepping inside a club. Better yet, after a Guinness or two or four, we were able to walk a couple block back to home base, The Blooms Hotel to get ready for the adventure to follower.
Having explored the ins and outs of Dublin, stay tuned as we head out into the Wicklow Mountains to see a whole other side of this diverse country.
Have you ever been to Dublin? Which coast is your favorite in Ireland? Dublin or the Cliffs of Moher?
It’s something about the steamy hot weather and longer days that have me yearning for a vacation more than usual. Being cooped up inside a windowless room ten months out of the year doesn’t help. As a teacher in my other life, I often restrict my big travel plans for the months of July and August…falling right into the trap of airlines jacking up flights prices for when kids are out of school. Tricky tricky. However, this doesn’t guarantee that you can’t have a magnificent vacation on a budget. It’s easy to see the world no matter what your wallet says if you narrow down your priorities and are willing to make some compromises. Here are the top ten places to book if you’re looking to stretch your dollar.
Yosemite National Park, California
Although we opted to travel to Yosemite National Park in the spring, it’s just as easy to curb your spending in the summer time. If you book far enough in advance (like a year, seriously) campsites are inexpensive and a functional choice for you stay. As with most national parks, it’s best to grocery shop ahead of time and bring all your meals and snacks with you. Without going out for meals or stopping in shopping boutiques (cause you’re in a forest…) it’s easy to stop any extra spending. We realized that after five days in a park, we had spent zero dollars. Pay the housing and food bill up front and you’re good to go, the trails don’t take credit cards.
Since most people head south for beachy vacays, Maine tends to fall off the radar unless you’re in the 80+ age group. Turns out, Portland is one of the most diverse places to visit with a multitude of activities to suit everyone’s preferences, all at a low cost to you. Whether it’s biking around the city to view the lighthouses or enjoying a crab roll and blueberry pie, it’s easy to keep an eye on your cash flow while not missing out on everything the city has to offer.
Acadia National Park, Maine
If you’re in Maine, it’s essential to drive up north to Acadia National Park. Similar to Yosemite, you can cut costs drastically by camping nearby. Beyond the entrance fee into the region, you can hike, swim, and climb to your heart’s content without spending a dime.
Recently added as an option for travelers, Havana is perfect for those interested in the history of the country and its dynamic culture…or even just the cigar industry. Flights here are extra cheap, less than a $100 out of Miami or Fort Lauderdale, which allows you more cash to spend on your actual experiences. Because Cuba is trying to build up their tourist economy, they have a myriad of options to fit varying price points, from AirBnB’s to hostels and five star hotels, pick and choose what’s right for you.
Again, as everyone heads down south, opt to travel up north where you can still soak up in the nice weather but at a much lower cost. Toronto is a bustling city with so much more to offer beyond Niagara Falls (although you should make sure you stop there, too!) With one of the best currency exchange rates now, it’s almost like you’re saving money when you cross the border.
History buffs will go crazy for a week in Williamsburg, VA. Accessible by car for anywhere on the east coast, you can save big avoiding airports. from Colonial Williamsburg to Busch Gardens, there are numerous activities to keep an entire family occupied for the summer.
Charleston, South Carolina
Despite being the biggest city in South Carolina, Charleston still maintains the small town feel. With a lower cost of living than most major metropolitan areas, it’s an easy choice if you want to soak up the urban atmosphere but still have access to a beach. Many of the highlights of Charleston, such as a carriage tour through the cobbled streets or a visit into one of the many historical mansions, nothing will cost you more than a few dollars. better year, the city is entirely walkable so no unexpectedly high uber fares to weight down your travels.
Adirondacks, New York
Originally from New York, I have a soft spot for the Adirondacks. Whether you’re looking for lakes or mountains, upstate has it all. Opt to rent out a cabin in the woods with a group of friends to cut down on costs as well as having the ability to cook meals at home in a kitchen. Swimming and hiking are free!
Although Madrid is known for a higher cost of living, parts of the city close up shop for August as a universal vacation month. Which, in turn, means the places that remain open lower prices to encourage people to still visit. If you’re willing to miss out of smaller family-owned businesses that shut down for these thirty days, you can still absorb Madrid’s diverse culture and delicious sangria without going broke.
Like Madrid, Paris also claims August to be a vacation for most city dwellers. We stumbled upon this happenstance when we scored $400 round trip tickets into Paris that we couldn’t pass up. although many of the small businesses temporarily close down, you can still meander the quaint neighborhoods, visit the Louvre and Eiffel Tower, etc. in the City of Lights.
Where do you plan to travel this summer? How do you cut down on costs?
Having been a Latin scholar, or at least according to my high school language teacher, I have always been fascinated with the ancient artifacts and notorious monuments within the city of Athens. Coming from the U.S. with a history that fits into a textbook, Athens holds a wealth of stories and legends in its cobbled walkways, momentous structures and godly towers that have seen centuries upon centuries of civilizations. Although we were only stopping in Athens for a single day on our way to the Greek Isles, we made sure we didn’t miss out on the magnificent landmarks this metropolitan had to offer.
From most points in the city you can see the Acropolis of Athens, an ancient citadel on top of a rocky mountain that holds significant remains of numerous Greek architecture and artifacts. However, despite being able to see our target end point, we continually got lost in the crooked alley ways and had to ask for help multiple times. Luckily, many locals noticed our disorientation and directed us onto the correct route. Since we had arrived later in the day, we didn’t make it to the site until after 5pm, which worked in our favor since the crowds had thinned out tremendously. As the most sought after attraction, I would aim to arrive early, circa 8am, or later in the early evening to get the most out of your visit. Make sure you wear comfortable, grippy shoes as it’s quite the hike to get to the top and the stairways can be slick. The cost to enter the site is only about 20 euros and can be used to see other ruins in the area.
As you make your way up the mountain, the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus is one of the first sites you’ll see. This major theater in Athens is dedicated to Dionysus (hence the name), who was the god of plays and wine. As many as 17,000 people could fit into the theater and due to its slope-like structure, the acoustics made for excellent performances. It’s even suggested as the birth place of Greek tragedies. Cut into the southern cliff of Acropolis, it’s believed to be the first stone theater ever built.
Further up the mountain you’ll reach the propylaea, a monumental gateway into the area of Greek architecture which serves as the entrance point into the Acropolis of Athens. This was built under the direction of Pericles, an Athenian leader, at the conclusion of the Persian War.
At the top of Acropolis you’ll be able to freely wander around in identified areas to the Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, which is one of the finest displays of sculpted female figures serving as an architectural support.
Of course, you’ll also witness the remains of the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Its construction began in 447 B.C. It’s a breath-taking site, after having witnessed this building in numerous texts and articles. To actually be able to experience the magnitude of these remains is a wondrous moment.
Not only can you witness these sites, but the view of Athens is astounding. The tan and brown colored homes stretch out as far as you can see, one side seemingly going on forever, the other side reaching out towards the turquoise sea. From atop of Acropolis you’ll see Mount Lycabettus, a limestone hill towards the center of Athens.
After meandering through the site, we made our way down to Plaka located on the northern and eastern slopes of Acropolis. Filled with what they refer to as ‘labyrinthine streets’ and ‘neoclassical architecture’, it’s easy to lose yourself within the ‘Neighborhood of the Gods’. Shops and restaurants are around every corner and make for a delightful evening. As the Greeks do, we didn’t sit down to eat dinner until after 8pm when the streets came to life with young and old people alike making their way to nighttime festivities. After delicious Greek salads and fresh seafood (a must in Athens), we headed back to our hotel to prepare for our early ferry the following morning.
As we made our way up to our room at the Electra Hotel, a hotel worker overheard us talking about the view of Acropolis and asked if we’d like to see if from the roof of our hotel. We showed us up a hidden flight of stairs that led right onto the roof of the hotel. If you look beyond the air conditioners and pipes, you’ll see Acropolis of Athens in the distance. The perfect way to end our adventurous day.
Athens offers so much in terms of historical artifacts and rich cultural traditions. A day isn’t nearly enough to see all that this magnificent city has to offer, but a visit to the Acropolis of Athens and Plaka are sure to wet your taste buds to come back and visit again.
Have you ever been to Greece? Anyone else study Latin?!
Up until I graduated from college, I had always been a traveler-dreamer, rather than a traveler-doer. I imagined magnificent trips across the globe when in reality I had yet to even cross an ocean. Overwhelmed with school work and relationships and figuring out the rest of my life (easy stuff, ya know), I eagerly waited for a time when I could escape to the paradises on the postcards I had pinned up around my dorm room. When I got my first actual job in the glorious city of Washington D.C., I made a promise to myself to save up any extra money I had in order to see all the places I’d written down on my bucket list. Which, at this point, would take me a couple lifetimes.
At my new job, I quickly became friends with a coworker across the hall who shared in my vision of picturesque adventures. After scrolling through Pinterest oogling over pictures of tropical getaways and serene coastlines during our break, we landed on an image of a Greek isle lined with bright blue buildings and surrounded by turquoise water. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. We knew we had to see this magical place in person. A simply google search led us to Groupon deal through a travel agent and in a matter of 30 minutes, we had an entire trip booked to the other side of the world. Go big or go home, right? And at this point, I’d had enough of the latter.
So at 22, I got my first passport and packed my bags for a 12 hour flight to country I’d only ever seen in my Latin textbooks. (Fun fact: I took five years of a language that’s no longer spoken. Great SAT score, though). After spending a few days in Athens, we hopped aboard a high speed ferry off into the Greek Islands. Next stop: Santorini.
It was apparent as soon as we stepped off the ferry that we had entered the land of honeymooners. for good reason, too. The tropical beach, romantic cobbled streets and exotic views were perfect for lovebirds. Or, well, two best friends looking for a change of scenery. Whether you’re coupled up or in the need of an escape from real life, Santorini has it all. I knew we’d made the right choice when we were generously welcomed into the hotel by a lovely young woman dressed in all white. She appeared to float through the airy lobby and whimsical patio rather than walk . As she gave us a tour of the premise, she had an accent I couldn’t quite place. I cautiously asked her where she was from using the little Greek I knew. She laughed and said that she was originally from Pittsburgh and, after a series of unfortunate events in her life, she decided to move far away to a place that brought her the serenity she so needed. After a week in this glorious utopia, she might not be the only one moving here.
Sunrise in Fira
I always make it a point to see the sunrise in every location I visit. There is something so peaceful about starting your day with the first light before you’re filling up every moment with another must-see. Our hotel sat on the top of Fira so we were able to see the sun reach over the eastern coast of the island. I should also note that we could still hear the music from the clubs in the town center at 6am. These people aren’t playing around. So while the bar goers were stumbling home, we were enjoying a breakfast spread filled with fresh fruits and pastries. To each their own.
Perissa Black Beach
A sprawling black sand beach overlooking white cliffs dipping into the clear water is the perfect way to spend an early afternoon. As you might expect, the sand gets HOT, so thick towels (or a cabana) are a must.
While most people opt to explore the island on mopeds, we signed up for a tour through the southern region of the island since we weren’t entirely trusting of our driving skills on the narrow, curvy roads. This was the best way for us to not only witness some the best photo ops (..in the world), but learn a more about how the island came to be.
Even if you’re not on a tour, Santo Winery is the perfect place to truly get a taste for the Greek culture. While the informative tour is helpful in learning the wine process, such as that as the grape grow they’re weaved into little baskets called koulara with the grapes on the inside for protection, the real appeal of Santo Winery is the view. Its tasting area overlooks the caldera and is the perfect place to sample local wines with paired cheeses and crackers.
Akrotiri Archaeological Site
Santorini’s unique shape is due to its volcanic history. The Akrotiri Archaeological Site is a Minoan Bronze Age settlement on the volcanic Greek island of Santorini. The area was destroyed by the Theran eruption around 1627 BC and buried in volcanic ash. The ash allowed for the remains of structures, objects and artwork to be well-preserved until its discovery in 1967. This incredible walk through history is the purest way to revisit the island as it was centuries ago. This site is believed to be the premise of Plato’s Atlantis…as well as the location of one of the first working toilets! Seriously. The things I remember on these tours.
The Red Beach
Encassed with towering cliffs, the red beach is, in fact, bright red. The site is best seen from above where you can take marvelous pictures of the unusual colored contrast of red and blue, spotted with yellow umbrellas.
Dinner Overlooking the Caldera in Fira
Since Fira was built on the mountainside, almost every restaurant on the western edge is guaranteed to have a view. Make reservations earlier in the day for an hour before sunset. You’ll have prime seating to watch the sun sink below the ocean. Look for any place the promises fresh salmon and Greek salads with extra olives. Trust me on this one.
Gelato in Fira
As soon as the “most famous sunset in the world” has ended, the streets of Fire are illuminated in a soft glow. The night is far from over. Stroll in and out of the local shops and take some time to sample the gelato.
Watch the Mules up the Stairs
If you’ve seen Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (and if you haven’t, stop right here and come back when you’ve finished watching it), you’re familiar with Lena riding up on the mules back. Find a spot along the balcony to watch the sailboats dock in the lower harbor and the mules trek their supplies up the staircases on the edge of the mountainside.
Many of the hotels are also part-spa (honeymooners galore, remember?). So we couldn’t stay in one and pass up the opportunity for a massage in paradise. Besides, after all the exploring you’re doing, a little R&R at Aressana Hotel and Spa was just wanted we needed.
Oia Art Galleries
A quick bus ride from Fira will lead you to the northern most city on the island, Oia (pronounced ee-uh, don’t make yourself look foolish). Filled with small shops and galleries, wander into the art museums and take the time to speak with the owners. You’ll learn far more about the life here than by merely observing.
Sunset in Oia
While we knew the sunrise was a big deal in Fira, the sunrise is the Superbowl of events in Oia. A superbowl that happens every sunny day, that is! Luckily, we decided to grab an early dinner at a small family-owned restaurant overlooking the caldera with little more than two other guests around. As soon as we ordered baklava to conclude our meal, we noticed the streets below us seemed a bit more crowded. And then a couple more people came. And then, before we knew it, the entire road was packed shoulder to shoulder with tourists armed with various cameras. As we sat comfortably at our prime-view table, we soaked in the people watching and sipped wine as we watched another breathtaking sunset…not entirely sure how we would go back to the city we came from.
Have you been to the Greek isle before? Which island do you want to visit?
When we initially booked our Scandinavian excursion, Oslo was merely a city to pass through on our way from point A to point B. We were spending a quick half day there before moving on to Bergen, our intended destination. However, as soon as we walked out of the train station that opened up into the center of this metropolitan, I knew we were very, very wrong.
While the city center is reminiscent of New York City’s little sister with towering buildings, floods of taxis and city buses, along with bright, vibrant billboards, walking just a block or two takes you back to the northern European styling we’re so used to seeing. Unique architecture, quaint parks and a beautiful main road that opens up to the Royal Palace make Oslo a cosmopolitan all its own.
Although known for costing a pretty penny, it is definitely possible to explore Norway without draining your savings account. To get the most bang for your buck, consider purchasing the Oslo Pass that gives you free entry to over 30 museums, as well as free public transportation.
Conveniently, Oslo’s buses travel all over the city. If you’re lucky like us, you’ll get on the bus the wrong way and get to see the entire city before actually arriving at your destination. Yay. But really, the maps are easy to follow as long as you read the direction of the bus ahead of time. Our first stop, after our unanticipated hour tour, was to Bygdøy Peninsula.
This peninsular is home to five of the national museums, a royal estate, along with beaches, forests and parks. Basically, it’s your one-stop-shop if you’ve only got a day in the city.
We thoroughly researched the museums before our arrival to make sure our time was well spent. We started at the Viking Ship Museum which was filled with, you guessed it, viking ships (along with tools and supplies from that era). The ships are extremely well preserved and you can get up close to their construction and read stories about their assumed travels.
Next, we rode the bus further down the peninsula to The Fram Museum, which displays the ins and out of Norwegian polar exploration. The Fram is the strongest wooden ship ever built and still holds the records for sailing farthest north and farthest south, as noted on the museum website. The short introductory film is well worth your time before exploring the museum. The exhibits hold nothing back and go so far as to offer a polar simulator to give you a taste of the arctic, brrr.
Lastly, we went to our favorite museum of the day. Although the Kon-Tiki Museum is often passed over for larger museums, we found this to be the most fascinating. The Kon-Tiki was a lightweight raft constructed of balsa logs built by writer and explorer Thor Heyerdahl and crew in 1947 to sail across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. The museum is set up like a movie come to life, providing you with a trail to follow to read about the events that occurred in a timeline style. Along with the raft itself, the museum also exhibits many artifacts and crew interviews to go along with the information.
Now museum’d out, we took the bus back to the main land and stopped at Vigeland Sculpture Park within Frogner Park. The beautiful landscaped area is perfect for an afternoon stroll or an evening picnic. Sculptures by Gustav Vigeland are located throughout the park and create an interesting, almost eerie, presence.
For our final stop, we made our way down the open markets on the street leading up to the Royal Palace as the sun set. A bustling city that offers so much variety in such a rich urban environment is one not to be miss.
Have you ever been to Oslo? Do you like to go to museums when you travel? Or do you skip them?
I first stumbled across AirBnB (<– click here for more info!) when I was weighing my options for hospitality on a past trip to Europe. In between hotels, hostels and farm stays (it's a thing, really), it can be a bit tricky to determine which place is the most conducive for your trip. However, ever since my first AirBnB visit in a cabin tucked away in Bar Harbor, Maine, I've been hooked. After having stayed in dozens of AirBnB's along the way, I've realized these opportunities offer so much more than a place to take your shoes off. It has allowed me to stay in a condo over looking Millennium Park in Chicago, make a studio apartment on Las Ramblas in Barcelona feel like home, and even sleep in a trailer-turned-bedroom underneath a volcano in Iceland (seriously). Places that were formerly off limits are now accessible to those looking for a better way to immerse themselves in their new surroundings. More than a roof over your head, the ability to interact with locals is priceless. I've spent evenings enjoying dried fish, a local delicacy, with my AirBnB host trading stories about our native cultures. While traveling to new places will always be exciting, it's interacting with the people that allow you to truly understand a different way of life. So how do you know who's worth a visit? It's still a scary thought, randomly showing up to someone's basement apartment to hole up for the night. Nevertheless, there are ways to make sure you're safe while not abandoning your adventurous soul.
The first thing to look for when scoping out places on AirBnB are the reviews noted by stars on each location. I aim to look for at least 10-15 reviews depending on the place (smaller, less touristy areas will logistically just have less visitors). While a large number of reviews are a good sign, it’s just as vital to take the time to read through a range of scores as well as the host’s reply to any criticism. Some of the one star reviews can be passed off as a fluke (no shampoo in the shower doesn’t totally merit one star for me), but keep an eye out for difficulty with checking in and checking out, surprising fees, and environmental issues. Is there a club downstairs that means little sleep? Make sure that’s something you’re willing to deal with. This is also a good time to scan the details to ensure there’s WiFi and parking available if needed. These are biggies that can’t be fixed once you arrive!
Message the Host
If you’ve found the rental that meets your requirements, message the host to let them know of your interest before booking. AirBnB’s policy enforces an open communication line so you can get to know your host, vice versa, before your stay. Make use of this time to inquire about house rules, number of guests, cell service, and ability to reach them. Also ask about the security of the room for rent. If it’s a shared home, does the door have it’s own lock? Is it a key pad, or an actual key? Knowing this ahead of time will save you the headache when you arrive. It’s important to note that while AirBnB does ‘verify’ their hosts as well as users, it means little more than connecting your account with another account or your ID. This mostly ensures that this person is ‘real’ but doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve passed a background check.
How many rooms do they have for rent? Is this their actual home, or do they own multiple rooms they’re renting out? While it doesn’t make it safe or unsafe either way, it can change the experience. Double check that if it appears that a bunch of rooms for rent have a single host, double check that they actually all exist and are not a scam but following the process above.
The concerns with AirBnB are on level with those of any hotel. Except with AirBnB, you at least have a direct line of communication if an issue were to arise as well as specific and target reviews to prepare for your experience (unlike a hotel where it’s for the whole building and the staff as a unit). Still, that doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind. Always check your nearby surroundings and let others know where you’ll be staying.
If you’re interested in checking it out, click here to get $20 off your first visit! (Full disclosure it’ll help contribute to my next AirBnB stay as well!)
Have you ever rented through AirBnB? What’s the most unique place you’ve stayed in?
The southern coast of Iceland is known for its unpredictable weather, icy mountain caps and steep cliffs. Which, while offering panoramic views in every direction, was taxing on the travelers passing through, to say the least.
It had been less than a week and our hiking boots had already been thoroughly broken in, covered in ash and dust. Although it was a bittersweet goodbye, we were looking forward to a calmer few days in the north coast, a reprieve from the the challenges we had endured. If you’re just diving in, click here to check out the first half of our trip around Ring Road in Iceland!
After climbing back over the mountain from Seyoisfjorour, we made our way to Dettifoss, and its baby sister, Selfoss, two of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe. The falls themselves were a magnificent sight to see, but the desolate rock fields leading up to them were even more intriguing. Looking something like District 13 in the Hunger Games, the deserted land offered the solitude one could only find on the moon. At one point, I wasn’t even sure if we were on planet earth anymore.
While continuing to drive through the volcanic lands, we headed up to the Krafla Volcanic Region where we would find Hverir, a geothermal area at the foothill of Namafjall.
If you can survive the strong smell of sulfur hanging in the air, you’ll be able to to witness a contrast of colors only few have seen in nature.
Spending the past week in temperatures hovering near freezing, we were looking forward to a group of natural hot springs that an AirBnB host had told us about on our way to Akureyri. While Iceland is often symbolized by its Blue Lagoon, the hot springs exist all through the country, although some are far too hot for people to go in or even near. Beyond the toursity appeal of the Blue Lagoon, the Myvatn area offers hot springs for the locals, or the few visitors who make it outside of Reykjavik.
A good soak rejuvenated us to venture onto the second largest city on the island, Akureyri, a colorful urban area at the base of Eyjafjörður Fjord. At the center of the city sits the 1940s Akureyri Church that overlooks the main streets. Graffiti decorated the pathways in a tasteful and clever way, adding to the city rather than detracting from its beauty.
Instead of staying within Akureyri, we found a once in a lifetime farmstay in a van a couple miles outside of town.
The Icelandic farm sat on the edge of a lake pillowed between mountains, the perfect vantage point for the midnight setting sun.
We spent the evening enjoying a home-cooked meal by the owner and gossiping with her 14 year old daughter, who dreamed of one day moving to L.A. After trading our stories, we cozied up in our camper van with the sunlight still hanging in the sky.
The never-ending daylight meant another early wake up as we prepared for our longest drive yet. Our kind host left us some freshly baked bread to take on the road. A much calmer drive than before, we headed to Snafellsness, a peninsula often overlooked on others’ trips around Ring Road. We stayed at another farmstay and took recommendation on where to explore.
We started at Dritvik and Djupalonssandur, another black sand beach where you can see the bright orange remnants of shipwrecks from hundreds of years ago. Not to waste the day, we quickly made our way to Vatnshellir Cave for a caving tour below the earth’s surface.
With a full day behind us, we savored another night on a new farm and set up a time to ride the farmer’s horses in the morning. Despite the chill in the air, we were eager and ready at 8am to ride off through the volcanic fields, observing lava tubes and glacier cuts through the mountains around us while on horseback.
After learning more about life on the peninsula from our horse riding guide, we were fascinated to learn that most people on the peninsula move back to the city during the winter. Only a farmer or two stay around to feed the horses, whose thick fur keeps them warm no matter what the weather.
As we packed up our things from our last stay around the island, we made our final list of sights to see on our way back to the capital. After a quick detour to Kirkjufell Mountain, the most photographed mountain in Iceland, we headed to Mount Esja for our closing hike.
Mount Esja overlooks Reykjavik and felt like the most fitting final stop on our adventure. The mountain appears to glow a lime green from the mix of wild flowers growing around the base.
A steep climb leads up to fresh spring water where you can fill your bottle straight from the creek, along with an extraordinary view of the city we had only left 11 days ago.
Heavy-hearted, we leisurely made our way back to Reykjavik, already planning our return to this unparalleled island.
For even more Iceland fun, follow us along as we tried out best to film through the wind, ice, fog and magic.
Stay tuned for a recap of what to do in Reykjavik! While I highly recommend traveling Ring Road to truly immerse yourself in the Icelandic way of life, a weekend in the capital will give you a taste of why Iceland has become loved by so many. I mean, Beyonce was here, wasn’t she?
The people in airports fascinate me. I often wish that travelers were required to wear a label when flying sharing where they came from and where they were going. Not in a creepy, stalker-ish way (although I get that’s where I’m headed), but more so because I believe you can learn the most about a person by seeing the places they value. Are the going home? Or faraway from it? There’s so many details that can be learned by merely scanning one’s boarding pass. It was during a conversation like this with the woman sitting next to me on a plane back from California when we got to talking about the greatest places we’d ever been. Without a moment of hesitation, she said that Iceland not only changed how she traveled, it changed how she lived. That sounds like a bit much, I thought to myself, but it didn’t stop me from doing a little research when I got home.
It quickly became apparent that the land where lava meets glaciers was drawing the appeal of millions. I, too, was not immune to its magical pull. Two months later, my best friend and I planned and booked 12 days driving around Ring Road for the middle of July (which allowed for optimal daylight hours and least chance of blizzards). Now that it’s been some time since our trip came to a close, I finally feel ready enough to pull out my journals and photographs to revisit the most enchanting country I’ve seen. Given the extent of this trip, I’ve split it up into three parts. Part one will follow us along Ring Road on the southern coast, part two is Ring Road leading up the northern side, and lastly, a separate post for all the gems to be found in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.
So go grab your hiking boots and sheep’s wool, it’s time to explore this land of beautiful contradictions. Welcome to the the place where fire meets ice.
After landing at Keflavik, the Reykjavik airport, we headed over to Sixt to pick up our rental car. A small hatchback we would use to travel around the highway circling Iceland. Given that we were traveling in the middle of the summer and planned to stick to main roads, four wheel drive wasn’t necessary. However, we did opt for the WiFi router and GPS (life saver!). Although it’s difficult to get lost when going in one direction, the street signs are less than stellar, especially if you’re not keeping up with your Icelandic. It was reassuring to have a safety net in case we got lost. Lastly, we stocked up on groceries since towns were sparse along the way. This is what they created trail mix for.
Our first day was spent exploring the Golden Circle. This charming park is filled with rushing waterfalls, volcanic craters, steaming geysers and awe-inspring outlooks along the way. The route is easy to follow and we were able to see mostly everything in one day.
We spent the night at the Bus Hostel in Reykjavik and were up early to join a day tour to explore the glaciers. This hostel was more than just a bed to sleep in. We enjoyed the free breakfast in the morning and the ability to chat with others in the common area (and use the speedy Wifi!). It was the perfect spot to get suggestions from others who had been in the country for several days ahead of us.
This was our only pre-booked adventure, as we were determined to have the freedom to travel wherever the road took us. Yet, I couldn’t suggest this group enough. Although the high winds prevented us from walking across much of the glacier, a common weather disruption here, we were able to make up for it with other sites.
History buffs will be enamored with the Sólheimasandur plane crash that occurred on Saturday Nov 24, 1973 when a United States Navy airplane was forced to land on Sólheimasandur’s black sand beach in the south of Iceland due to severe icing. All of the crew members survived, and many of the Icelanders would visit the plane to use its leftover fuel.
Since we were in the land of waterfalls after all, the guide took us behind the sheets of water to view the world from another perspective.
Sometimes the smallest waterfalls were the most moving to stumbling upon, a hidden secret you weren’t exactly looking for.
In between waterfalls, we encountered grass huts built into the sides of mountains. The folklore of trolls and elves is alive and well in Iceland. So much so, Icelanders reroute their highways to respect the land of the trolls.
Lastly, we visited Reynisdrangar Ocean Cliffs and the Black Sand Beach. Known for its high wind, you could full let your body fall against the strong gusts and feel your weight being supported. While difficult to breath, the thin air only added to the dark contrasts of the black sand against the icy water. Straight out of Game of Thrones, the area looked more like a movie set than an actual landmark.
We stayed overnight in a small AirBnB in Hvolsvöllur and prepared our snacks for the next day. It was important for us to always check the weather for impending storms and make sure we dressed accordingly. Our next night would be in Hofn, a small fishing town in the southeast. We woke up early to beat the rain and headed off to Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park (say that three times fast..or actually just try and say it once) and Skaftafell to hike to Kristínartindar Mountain and the Svartifoss waterfall, which tumbles over black basalt columns. A popular walk, we felt as though we were on the edge of the earth. Each turn led to a view across mountain tops and the glaciers sliding in between until we reached the diamond shaped rock of the basalt falls, signaling it was time to turn back.
Since we still had time left in the day, we drove past Hofn in search of another hike before doubling back for dinner. We began to notice a series of cars pulling off the road towards large sand dunes. Curiosity got the best as off as we followed their lead. After climbing over the mountains of sand, we were rewarded with one of the the most unique scenes of the north.
A large lagoon reaching towards the edge of a glacier lay on the other side of the sandy mounds. Ice chunks had fallen off the glacier and turned an electric blue when they hit the water, creating a pool of neon ice cubes.
When we’d had our fill of nature’s miracle, we trekked to our hostel in Hofn after a meal of skyr and langoustine, Icelandic lobster. We mingled with the locals and conversed with a geographer from Europe who was staying up near the glaciers to create topographic maps.
Our bed for the night overlooked a inlet of water with the mountains in the distance we would be driving to the next morning.
We enjoyed a communal breakfast in our hostel the next morning as we planned our trip up the eastern fjords. Little did we know that some of the most dangerous moments lay ahead of us as we penciled our route. One small turn off the main highway led us to a dirt road a mere inch away from the edge of a disastrously high cliff. I never realized how much I took guard rails for granted, or double yellow lines tbh. As we held our breath for the entirety of the drive, we were finally able to relax having reached our hike of the day, Hengifoss.
We lucked out that the Icelanders we spoke to were more than eager to offer suggestions for their favorite trails left off of google searches. This is how we came across Hengifoss, a strenuous trail tilted at a 45 degree angle with a rushing river below. Yet compared to what we just came from, this would be a breeze. Hiking through the bright green moss to reach a towering single stream of falls was worth the fire and ice to get there.
Although we believed we had had enough heart attacks for one day, our journey had one more in store. We found a quaint hostel in Seyoisfjorour, a small town that is typically only reached by boat from the east. Thus, the only way to get there from inland was to drive up a steep mountain with so many switchbacks that made you began to question your car’s breaks after each turn. To add to the fun, a thick cloud laid on top the mountain for a darling zero visibility.
Finally, we arrived on the other side, our hands still shaking from the day’s unintentional adventures. We made a modest dinner in the abandoned hospital-turned-hostel and recapped our snafus with the older gentleman who had just come off a boat from Norway for a fishing trip. After briefly considering leaving our car behind to sail away, we shook off our fear and got back in the saddle…er driver’s seat. After a restless sleep, knowing we would have to go back across the mountain a second time to make our way to Akureyri, we prepared for the second part of a trip filled with a little more than we bargained for.
Stay tuned to learn how you can go spelunking underneath the glaciers and horseback riding through volcanic ash as we continue around Ring Road. Check out part two here! SPOILER ALERT: we survived.
P.S. I lucked out to have a best friend who is an incredible photographer. I suggest you make sure you have one as well so you can catch these sights from unique perspectives. Check out more of her talents here.