Ashley Abroad is a travel and lifestyle blog about adventure, language learning and solo female travel authored by twenty-something Ashley. This blog is also an online portfolio for my writing and photography, as well as a great tool to meet other travelers, writers, and like-minded people.
I know packing cubesmay seem unnecessary, but I promise you — they're not. They organize your clothes, and dramatically speed up packing and unpacking. I'm obsessed with packing cubes, and try to foist them on every traveler I meet.
I only recently bought a hanging toiletry kit, and now I'm kicking myself for not buying one sooner. They organize your toiletries so well, and are a huge upgrade from the plastic bag I used in my early twenties. Plus, this one has a hook so you can hang it in the shower! It also packs flat, making it easy to store. Okay, okay, I'll stop.
This power strip will make you lots of friends if you're staying in a hostel. It has SO many ports: three USBs, one USB-c, and two regular outlets. It also has a really long extension cord, which comes in handy.
I recently bought a cheap travel adapter, which started smoking after I plugged it into the wall. Learn from my mistake and invest in a high-quality adapter. I recommend buying a universal one, so you can use it in any country.
When I'm traveling in tropical regions, I more or less live in flip flops. But flip flops are essential no matter where you are – hostel showers can be sketchy anywhere.
I've worn Reef flip flops since I was 14 and swear by them – they mold to your feet and are so comfy.
The Wet Brush
No joke, the Wet Brush has changed my life. At first I was skeptical – a brush that magically keeps tangles out of your hair? Yeah right. But seriously, the Wet Brush makes brushing my hair post-shower a task that takes 30 seconds, not ten minutes.
I use GoToob refillable containers to store my face wash, shampoo, and conditioner. They're three ounces, so you can pop them in your carry-on. Plus, they're so much more eco-friendly than buying travel-size toiletries.
What are some of your favorite travel accessories?
This post was not sponsored by any of these companies – I just really love their products. Also, this post contains affiliate links. If you click through on affiliate link, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for keeping Ashley Abroad afloat!
Welcome to American Expats, a series that shows you what expat life is like in cities around the world. Today Kate will be sharing about the ups and downs of living in Stockholm. Stockholm seems like a gorgeous, livable city so I loved hearing her take on living there as an expat.
Kate is Canadian, and lives in Stockholm with her partner. Work-wise, she wears many hats, working as a freelance writer, graphic designer, Etsy shop owner, and blogger.
On moving to Stockholm: My partner and I moved to Stockholm in September 2017. He is in the middle of completing his PhD at the University of Leeds and as part of his fellowship, he is required to do his research out of the Ericsson headquarters here in Stockholm.
On making friends: Making friends has been difficult in Stockholm. Swedes are generally polite but reserved, so it can take a while before you feel like you've really been accepted into their friend group.
Thankfully, there are a few expat groups and clubs for expats living in Stockholm (Girl Gone International, for one) that organize regular meet-ups and events. I've also been quite lucky that my yoga studio attracts a lot of expats, so I've met quite a few people there.
On learning Swedish: I took a few Swedish lessons when we first arrived so I could better understand some of the simple things: street signs, grocery store labels, numbers.
At first, I naively thought the Swedish language would be simple, but it's not. The grammar was much more complicated than I was used to. I’m slowly picking up bits here and there (thanks to commercials and jingles), but as everyone speak English I don’t get to practice as much as I would like.
On getting around: The best way to get around Stockholm is by public transportation. The network of buses, trains, trams and boats is extensive – you can seriously get anywhere in the city with the same ticket! Once you’re in town, it is very easy and enjoyable to walk from place to place.
On the cost of living in Stockholm: Compared to other places I’ve lived, the cost of living in Stockholm is on the higher end. Food and other consumables are more expensive than in both Canada and the UK. Also, going out can be a bit of a shock as pint can easily go for 75 SEK ($8.30).
On Stockholm housing: On average, renting in Stockholm is quite expensive – at least compared to other places I've lived. When you first arrive you'll have to rent via the sublet or second-hand market, as there is something like a 12-year wait list for first-hand rentals in certain parts of the city. The second-hand rental market is unregulated, so you can expect to pay a lot more than if you have a first-hand rental.
How much you pay will depend on what area of the city you live in, how big your flat is, and whether or not it includes amenities. I've read that in 2017 the average cost to rent in Stockholm was more than 12,500 SEK ($1,400 USD) per month, which is significantly higher than in other parts of the country.
On green space: One of the things I love most about living in Stockholm is the access to nature. It’s a very green city with so many parks and nature reserves to explore. Swedes are also really passionate about healthy living so no matter the time of year you can find people out hiking, biking, exploring and just enjoying the city. With bike sharing and so many places to rent equipment (kayaks, skis, etc.) it’s really easy to stay active and have fun in this city!
On Swedish food: Swedish food is pretty tasty! I love all the smoked salmon (lox). I also really enjoy Swedish meatballs. With a little sauerkraut and lingonberry jam, they are the perfect fast, tasty, and cheap meal!
On coffee culture: Coffee culture – or fika – is huge in Stockholm! It’s a ritual each day to take a break and enjoy a fika (coffee with some sort of sweet treat, like a cinnamon bun) with friends and colleagues.
On the pace of life: The Swedish pace of life is laid-back, but very efficient. Nothing ever feels rushed but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like time is wasted. Lagom [a Swedish word meaning ‘balance' or ‘moderation'] is very much the cultural norm here.
On personal safety: Whether home alone or walking late at night, I never feel like I have to worry. Unless I’ve been reading one of the Wallander books (a Scandinoire crime series), then I’m a little more on edge and cautious haha.
On the winters: People seem to have this impression that Sweden is freezing, but it actually isn’t that bad. It does snow and it does get cold, but compared to parts of Canada and the US, it’s quite mild.
One thing that surprised me about my trip to Azerbaijan? The food. It turns out Azerbaijani food is amazing. It's healthy, varied, and fresh, with lots of sour notes and pickled components.
Overall, Azerbaijani cuisine is most similar to Turkish food. You'll also see influences from other neighboring countries: lots of pomegranates (commonly used in Persian cooking), as well as dill (predominant in Russian food).
How meals work in Azerbaijan
A meal in Azerbaijan usually begins with some light snacks to open the meal: bread, yogurt, cheese, cucumber and tomato, pickles, and fresh herbs. It's a bit like mezze in Turkish food.
Then you move onto richer main courses: soups, meats, and most commonly, plov, a rice pilaf dish (more on that later).
So if you ever find yourself in Azerbaijan, here are the Azerbaijani foods you have to try:
Tea and jam
The first thing you will likely try in Azerbaijan is tea and jam. Like Turks, Azeris drink their tea black and from a small glass. But like Russians, they enjoy it with jam.
Coffee drinkers – brace yourself for lots and lots of instant coffee while you're in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is solidly a nation of tea-drinkers.
Azerbaijani dolma is not the most photogenic dish in the world but it is. so. good. It's minced lamb mixed with rice and seasoned with mint, fennel, and cinnamon, stuffed in grape leaves. I've tried a lot of dolma in my life (I love Lebanese food), but Azerbaijani dolma was the best I've ever had.
Did you know UNESCO has recognized Azerbaijan's dolma as an example of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity? That's how good it is.
Dushbara is a traditional dumpling soup. The dumplings are tiny and stuffed with minced lamb and herbs. They're delicious, but the best part is the addictively rich broth, which is made with mutton bones.
While traveling Azerbaijan, you'll see a lot of plov, basmati rice with a crispy rice shell. It's often accompanied by fried mutton, dried fruits, nuts, and greens.
Fun fact – there are more than 40 different types of plov in Azerbaijan. I guess I'll have to go back to try more of them.
If you try one plov in Azerbaijan, make it parcha-dosheme plov. This one was made with mutton and prunes and it was so sour and rich and tasty. Yum.
Dovga is a yogurt soup made with rice, as well as herbs and spices such as coriander and dill. It can be served warm or cold. As I visited in June, it was always served cold, and it was a creamy, tart, and refreshing snack.
Tandir bread, the bread you'll see on almost every table on Azerbaijan, is amazing. It's usually baked in a clay oven (hence the name, which comes from tandoor) and tastes like a mix of focaccia and naan. It's chewy and airy, leavened but also dense. I loved dipping it in sour yogurt sauce.
Where to try Azerbaijani cuisine:
If you're in Baku, go to Sehril Tendir, an excellent restaurant in the Old City with traditional Azerbaijani food and a tandoor oven.
If you're going to Lahic (also spelled Lahıc), a popular mountain town, I highly recommend staying at Lahıc Guesthouse. They serve the most wonderful, home-cooked meals, which are included in the room rate.
To quote Carrie Bradshaw, I'm what you might call a bonafide city girl. From the time I left home at 18, I've lived in as many cities as possible: Chicago, Buenos Aires, Paris, Denver, Boulder, and Kampala, Uganda.
Excitingly, I just moved to a new city — Ann Arbor, Michigan! In celebration of that, I wanted to highlight my favorite cities from my travels. It was hard to cull down the list, but all seven of these are special; in my humble opinion, they all have that that ‘je-ne-sais-quoi' appeal.
Here are my favorite cities, in no particular order…
If I could live anywhere in the world, it would probably be Edinburgh.
It has everything you might want: gorgeous architecture, proximity to the ocean, and colorful neighborhoods. But more than that, it speaks to my soul.
Edinburgh is a city made for bookworms; the birthplace of Harry Potter, and the fount of so many authors and poets. When I was there in May, I spent a full day writing in a café, as being in Edinburgh just seemed to call for it.
A few tips – If you're in Edinburgh, walk down Victoria Street, the pastel-colored street that inspired Diagon Alley (see above). I would also recommend hiking Arthur's Seat, the extinct volcano located within the city limits that provides a substantial workout as well as sweeping views of the city.
Cape Town is a new favorite. I visited twice in 2017, and from the first moment I saw it, I was a goner. It has everything: mountains, ocean, great restaurants, and culture. If that weren't enough, it also has perfect weather, vineyards, and an affordable cost of living. It's basically the perfect city, and certainly the most visually stunning one I've ever seen. Plus, if you lived there it would be so easy to travel to Mozambique, Namibia, and so many other incredible places in Africa… sigh.
San Francisco is my dream city, and has been since I was a child. I first laid eyes upon it when I was 9. I remember that trip vividly: staying at a quirky Kimpton hotel, the chilly night air, the Savage Garden CD I bought (lol).
But what I remember most is thinking, I absolutely have to live here someday. As a kid from the Midwest, I loved the hills, the ocean breeze, the availability of seafood, Chinatown… everything.
Honestly, I still haven't given up on that dream — I hope to be in San Francisco… eventually.
This one's not surprising, is it? I can never get enough of Paris.
After living there for a year, and three college summers, I still return every chance I get. In fact, I was there twice last summer, just for a few days, just to soak up the atmosphere.There are few things I love more than strolling around the Marais, stopping for steak frites and snapping pictures of street art.
Also, after all these years, I still think French is the most beautiful language in the world. I don't think I'll ever get over the sound of it — so walking Paris is such a pleasure.
No matter how many times I visit, I never tire of London. I love its excellent pubs, parks, and restaurants (how I wish we had pubs in America). I love how it's a metropolis brimming with diversity, and yet it still feels English: from the the London stock bricks to the bright red phone booths. There's just a sense of English propriety about the city, and I love that.
Penang is how I pictured Southeast Asia before visiting: humid air, Chinese lanterns, decaying colonial buildings, slowly spinning ceiling fans. Honestly, I didn't do much while I was there — I visited a few Peranakan mansions (so spectacular), but mostly just walked around. And of course, stopped at hawker centres for some of the best meals of my life — how I miss you, curry laksa.
Hong Kong has an energy that feels intoxicating. The heavy humidity, the people hurrying down the sidewalk, the narrow streets, the high-rises… it's like the New York of the East. I also fell in love with (you guessed it) – the food. If you visit, try the beef brisket noodles and thank me later.