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I started out writing this post to tell you all the reasons you should honeymoon in New Zealand. Then I realised, well, New Zealand is epic and already known as one of the best honeymoon destinations in the world, but where should you actually go when you get there?

If you’re planning a New Zealand honeymoon, here are the top destinations you should be considering for your itinerary, plus some awesome adventure activities to consider, and if you’re looking to drop some serious cash, some of the best places to stay for honeymooners!

So, what are the best destinations in for a honeymoon in New Zealand?


No list of best places to go in New Zealand, let alone best honeymoon destinations, would be complete with adding Milford Sound. In fact, the whole Milford area is stunning! As a Kiwi, I can’t believe it took me until my own honeymoon to make the trip there because it’s one of the best places I’ve ever been in the world.

In addition the must-do activity of taking a cruise through Milford Sound, you can also kayak or walk in the area. The road to Milford had plenty of things to do and some of the most stunning scenery in New Zealand too, so make sure you have plenty of stops!

Where to stay: Many people try and do Milford Sound in one day from Te Anau or even Christchurch, but to really make the most of your experience I’d highly recommend an overnight stay. The Milford Sound Lodge has beautiful chalet rooms, backpacker style accommodation, and campervan parks.

Mount Cook

Snowcapped mountains and turquoise glacier lakes are what you can expect when you travel to the area around Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. Spend your time relaxing in Mount Cook Village at the foot of the mountains, or do some of the walks in the area (the Hooker Valley Track is great!) and visit the Tasman Glacier Lake. Just outside of Mount Cook Village is a designated Day Sky reserve, the only one in the southern hemisphere, so be prepared for amazing stargazing on clear nights.

Where to stay: The Hermitage Hotel is world-renowned, with beautiful views from all its windows, or opt for the Mount Cook Lodge. We stayed in the Chalets, which are triangle-roofed cabins technically part of the Mount Cook Lodge but next to The Hermitage.

Nelson & Abel Tasman

Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park located at the top of the South Island and are a welcome addition to any outdoor couples honeymoon itinerary. The Abel Tasman Coastal track is one of the Great Walks of New Zealand, with part of the walk running along the beautiful beaches. If you’re not up for a multi-day hike, consider taking a water taxi into one of the bays for the day, or getting out on the water in a kayak. You’ll feel less like you’re in the South Pacific and more like you’re in some tropical paradise.

Where to stay: Edenhouse is a 6-star property located in rural Nelson, The Resurgence, Motueka is eco-friendly accommodation with bathtub views across Kahurangi National Park, and the Split Apple Retreat is luxury spa accommodation just near Abel Tasman. Try Warwick House, The Sails, and Parautane Lodge for more budget-friendly options.

West Coast, South Island

The West Coast of the South Island sees the brunt of the weather off the Tasman Sea, but the result is a stunningly lush rainforest, in stark contrast to the much drier east of the country. There’s so much to see, from the Punakaiki Rocks to the Blue Pools in Haast Pass.

One of the best things we did during our whole honeymoon in New Zealand was the Heli Hike on the Franz Josef Glacier. The glacier is one of only 3 in the world (one of the others is Fox Glacier, just down the road) that ends at a rainforest. Given the instability of the glacier face, you have to take a helicopter ride higher up on the glacier to then be able to walk along the surface, through crevices, and sometimes, ice caves. An epic honeymoon experience!

Don’t forget to try whitebait fritters, a West Coast specialty. We’d recommend stopping by the Curly Tree Whitebait Company just before Haast!

Where to stay: Accommodation is a little more sparse and spread out in this area. The Te Waonui Forest Retreat is located in Franz Josef, but you can also consider nearby Fox Glacier or even other places along the coast like Haast and Hokitika.

Coromandel Peninsula

Just east of Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula is a great beginning to a honeymoon in New Zealand. Take a walk to Cathedral Cove, a natural rock formation, and dig yourself your own hot pool on Hot Water Beach. The rocky coastline to the west contrasts with the golden beaches to the east, and with a mixture of activities on offer and time for relaxation, it makes a great honeymoon destination.

Where to stay: The Bushland Park Lodge and Retreat is a spot of luxury in Whangamata, or try the Hahei area.


What’s more romantic than hot springs, spas, and lake views? Rotorua provides a great range of activities for all types of honeymooners. Get your adventure on at the original Luge, or river rafting down a 7-metre waterfall, the highest you can do in the world. If you want to chill out, try the Polynesian Spa on the shores of Lake Rotorua, wander around the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, and learn more about the history of New Zealand at the Buried Village.

Where to stay: There’s an abundance of accommodation in Rotorua, owing to its long history as a top tourist destination. The Novotel and Millennium Hotel are good mid-range options. The Treetops Lodge and Estate is a luxurious sanctuary, or try Peppers on the Point with beautiful views, sauna, and a fitness centre.


Visiting the Waitomo Caves on your New Zealand honeymoon is a unique experience not just in New Zealand itself, but in the world. The extensive system of caves in Waitomo are naturally illuminated by thousands of bioluminescent glowworms. This is no ordinary cave tour! In addition to seeing centuries-old stalagmites and stalactites in some of the caves, you’ll be able to see what appears to be the night sky, underground.

For an extra thrill (and because it’s New Zealand so we have to do something adventurous) take a Legendary Black Water Rafting tour, and float on an inner tube down an underground river with the glowworms shining above you. There’s the classic Black Labyrinth Tour where tubing if your main objective or the Black Abyss Tour where abseiling, zip lining, and waterfall climbing are thrown in too.

Read more about my experience on the Black Abyss Tour here!

Where to stay: Try the Waitomo Boutique Lodge, or consider Airbnb and farm stays in the area.


I’ve already mentioned Milford, but there’s so much more in the rest of the World Heritage-listed site of Fiordland that gets skipped over as people rush to Milford Sound. Consider staying in the beautiful lakefront towns of Manapouri or Te Anau to relax during your honeymoon. We spent far more time than we intended here (I may or may not have messed up our accommodation) but it was time well-spent in the end.

Visit Doubtful Sound, slightly smaller than Milford Sound but stunningly impressive. Try kayaking here to get up close and personal with the edges of the fiord, and leave your sailing adventure for Milford Sound. You might even be lucky enough to spot some dolphins!

You can take a plane or helicopter over the area as a honeymoon treat, to really appreciate the vast and dramatic scenery of this sparsely populated location.

Where to stay: There are some great off-the-beaten-track type accommodation options here, from the cabins at Freestone to a yurt in Te Anau (check Airbnb) but Fiordland Lodge is the ultimate in luxury accommodation.


New Zealand’s capital may not seem like the most romantic place for honeymooners, but as a former Wellingtonian, I think it deserves to be on the list! Experience the ultimate in New Zealand cafe culture, with more bars, cafes, and restaurants per capita than New York, walk along the waterfront and visit the national museum of New Zealand, Te Papa. Climb Mount Victoria for panoramic views, before you head over to Miramar to visit the Weta Workshop, a huge part of the New Zealand film industry and the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies, before exploring the golden sand beaches nearby.

Where to stay: QT Museum Wellington is just near Te Papa and the waterfront, and is a great base for exploring the city (try the high tea as well!).

Hawkes Bay

Known for its beaches and wineries, the Hawkes Bay region may be left off many honeymoon itineraries because it’s slightly more out of the way. However, if you’re spending more time in the North Island or you want to get a bit further off the beaten track, then it’s a great place to explore. Indulge yourself at some of the award-winning wineries and restaurants, and take a walking tour of the unique town of Napier, rebuilt in art deco style after a 1931 earthquake devastated the region.

Where to stay: Greenhill Lodge is an elegant, historic homestead in the area and a perfect place to stay and relax. The Mangapapa Hotel in Havelock North offers exquisite rooms, and The Dome in Napier offers modern luxury.


Queenstown is well-known as the adventure capital of New Zealand, and it’s a well-deserved reputation too! If you want to try bungy jumping, Queenstown has the original and the highest in New Zealand, plus swings if hanging upside isn’t your thing! Skydiving is popular as is the Shotover Jet, white water rafting, the luge, and a huge number of other adventure activities.

However, don’t think about skipping Queenstown if getting an adrenalin fix isn’t your thing. There are great things to do for couples on their honeymoon too, and beautiful places to stay. Visit some of the nearby wineries, like Amisfield, for unique dining experiences, or admire the views on a drive to Glenorchy.

Oh, and don’t forget to try a Fergburger!

Where to stay: We stayed in an apartment at Oaks Shores which had stunning 180-degree views across Lake Wakatipu, and was reasonably priced for amazing the view was! There’s also the QT Queenstown, or the luxury lodges in the area are Blanket Bay Lodge in nearby Glenorchy, Matakauri Lodge, and Kohara Lodge.


The Wairarapa region runs along the east of the lower North Island. From the rugged beaches along the coast to the splendid array of wineries surrounding colonial-styled towns, it’s a lovely area to explore as a couple on your honeymoon. Cycle between the wineries, or head down to the coast to see New Zealand’s largest seal colony sunbathing on the rocks.

Where to stay: The

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Telling someone what things to do on New Zealand’s North Island is like trying to name the best flavour of ice-cream in the world. The list is almost never-ending! What places you visit in the North Island is all going to depend on when you’re visiting, how you’re getting around, and what you like to do.

My idea of an epic North Island itinerary might be as far from yours as possible, so instead of just outlining exactly what to see in the North Island of New Zealand I’ve decided to give you an idea of the best places to visit with notes on how long you might want to spend there, things to do, and where to head from there. That way you should be able to piece together a North Island itinerary that works for you, based on how long you’re staying and how you’re getting around (plus tips on those things too!).

You might think of New Zealand as a small island nation, but in reality, the North Island is the 14th largest island in the world, bigger than both Iceland and Cuba, so don’t expect to be able to see it all in a week! My best advice would be to pick a couple of key places you want to visit and then build your itinerary around those, taking in places along the way or that are only short detours.

Now if you’re wondering why you should trust me to tell you about the things to do in the North Island of New Zealand, then you should know that it’s where I’m originally from, and where I spent many years travelling before I moved abroad, plus I just went back on a long trip to show my husband around. I’m giving you the highlights of the North Island from a local, from the most popular places to visit, to a few more off the beaten track destinations. So let’s go!


Most visitors to New Zealand fly into Auckland Airport, so we’ll start the journey there. Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand, reaching up to 1.4 million people if you count all its outlying areas. Despite this, Auckland doesn’t have the big city feel that you might expect because it’s slowly expanded to encompass all of these different areas. It’s actually bigger in area than Madrid despite the population there being double!

In Auckland, you’ll find everything from laid-back beach areas to upmarket boutiques and hip bars. How long you spend there will depend on what you like to do, and how far you’ve travelled. Travelling from Europe and having to adjust to a complete flip of day and night meant we stayed for a few more days than you might need!

Top Things to Do in Auckland

There’s a lot of things to do in Auckland, including shopping and visiting the many bars and restaurants, but here are my favourites:

SkyTower – The Skywalk and Skyjump

The Auckland Sky Tower is the tallest man-made structure in New Zealand, and has 360 panoramic views of the Auckland region as a result. In true-kiwi style, we wouldn’t just have an observation deck, instead, we’ve devised two adrenalin activities that will have you either walking around the Sky Tower or jumping off it!

We did the Skywalk, a walk around a 192-metre high 1-metre wide platform, and I can highly recommend it. Personally, I preferred it because it was a longer challenge, getting used to walking with nothing to hold on to, and doing different things as we went around, like leaning over the side! I left the jumping off for later in the holiday… It was amazing how our confidence changed from the beginning to the end, plus our guide was awesome in pointing out all the things to do and see in Auckland along the way.

Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island is just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, but it feels like a world away. Strewn with wineries and restaurants that are a foodies dream, it’s a great place to go if you want a taste of New Zealand wine and won’t have a chance to do it anywhere else!

Mt Eden

This is one of my favourite places to visit in Auckland, just because it’s so different to anywhere else I’ve been. Mt Eden is a dormant volcano that sits high above sea level and is now a 50-metre deep crater after erupting 28,000 years ago. The view from the top is epic!

West Coast beaches

The black sand beaches on the West Coast of Auckland still retain a sense of remoteness and wild beauty. Piha is well-known as one of New Zealand’s most popular surf beaches, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Head over to climb Lion Rock and visit the local cafe.

Auckland War Memorial Museum

The Auckland War Memorial Museum in the Auckland Domain holds collections on New Zealand, natural history, overseas exhibitions and military history. It’s a great rainy day activity or even a spot that deserves a look as one of the most iconic buildings in Auckland.

Rangitoto Island

Auckland is built on volcanos, but Rangitoto Island is the youngest, having only emerged from the sea 600 years ago. It held small populations at one time, but it is now a scenic reserve with limited places to stay. However, it makes a great day trip from Auckland, to climb the summit or explore the reserve.

Where to stay

If you’re only staying in Auckland for a night or two then staying in the city centre will give you easy access to most of the things to do there. You’ll be able to walk down to the Viaduct for a drink or take the ferry over to Devonport to explore an older part of Auckland that retains its colonial style. However, if you’re there for a few more days I’d recommend staying a bit further out and experiencing a different side of Auckland.

Like many Kiwi’s who live outside of Auckland, I hadn’t spent a lot of quality time there in the past, only coming up for concerts or to see a friend, but staying out of the city centre gave me a different perspective of Auckland. Try the Mission Bay/St Heliers Bay area or the North Shore if you want a beach and relaxed vibe, Ponsonby if you’re after bohemian and hipster, or you can try Newmarket and Parnell but they’re a bit more expensive usually. Check Booking.com for prices and options.

Bay of Islands

Drive time from Auckland: 3 hours 15 minutes

The Bay of Islands is aptly named, with more than 140 islands surrounded by turquoise waters and beautiful bays. It’s located north of Auckland and you could fit it into your North Island itinerary if you want somewhere to go to relax when you first arrive or before you leave.

Things to do in the Bay of Islands

Sail around the islands, visit the first British settlement at Russell and if you have the time, take a trip to Cape Reinga, at the top of the North Island, including a drive down 90-mile beach and surfing down sand dunes.

Where to stay

Paihia and Russell are common places to stay in the Bay of Islands, depending on what you’re after. Paihia is more accessible, but Russell provides a more quaint experience, however, you need to drive further around to it or time the ferries if you plan to be out exploring a lot.


Drive time from Auckland: 2 hours 20 minutes to Hahei

The Coromandel is one of the most beautiful areas of New Zealand and often missed off a North Island itinerary because it’s a little out of the way.

Things to do in the Coromandel

Unfortunately, the most popular places in the Coromandel have become VERY popular. You won’t need to look far to find them, including walking to Cathedral Cove and digging in the sand at low tide Hot Water beach to make your own temporary hot pool. I’m not saying don’t do them, just be prepared to be doing it with lots of other too! Other things you could do in the Coromandel are drive around the peninsula to find some of the lesser visited beaches, or get out on the water in a kayak or on a boat trip.

Where to stay

The eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula generally has more sandy and picturesque beaches, but the western side is more rocky and rugged. If you’re staying a couple of days it’s easy to drive around to the sites. Whitianga, Coromandel, and Hahei are popular in the north of the peninsula, or Whangamata and Waihi in the south.

Mount Maunganui/Tauranga

Driving time from Auckland: 2 hours 50 minutes
Driving time from Hahei: 2 hours 30 minutes

I wouldn’t go out of your way to visit the Mount Maunganui/Tauranga area, but if you’re driving down from the Coromandel or if you want some beach time after Auckland then it’s a great spot.

Things to do in Mount Maunganui/Tauranga

You can walk up Mount Maunganui (aka the Mount to locals) for views along the coast, go surfing, or enjoy a day at the beach. Realistically, it can be used as a base to explore the nearby area, including waterfalls, Hobbiton, or the lower Coromandel Peninsula.

Where to stay

There’s a lot of reasonable accommodation in both Tauranga and Mt Maunganui, so check out Booking.com to see what suits you.


Driving time from Auckland: 2 hours 30 minutes

This is where we went after Auckland, and if you want to see glowworms on your trip to New Zealand (and you should) then this is a must-add place to your North Island itinerary!

Things to do in Waitomo Black Water Rafting

The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company have been operating in the Ruakuri Cave at Waitomo for 30 years, and their tours really are legendary! We did the Black Abyss caving tour that included abseiling, zip lining in a dark cave, tubing along a river under glowworms and climbing up waterfalls.

Read More: Into the Abyss: Black Water Rafting at the Waitomo Caves

They also offer their traditional black water rafting experience and an accessible cave adventure in Ruakuri Cave that includes viewing stunning cave formations and glowworms.

Otorohonga Kiwi House

Actually a 15-minute drive from Waitomo, but the Otorohonga Kiwi House is well worth the trip! This is the best place to see Kiwis in the North Island. They have two types, and if you time your visit to coincide with their feeding time then you’ll get to see them up close! The park also has several other native birds and Tuatara, and it was the perfect place to experience some of the wildlife of New Zealand.

Where to stay

Waitomo itself is quite small but has a few accommodation options or consider B&B’s or an Airbnb in the countryside around it.


Driving time from Auckland: 2 hours 10 minutes
Driving time from Tauranga: 1 hour
Driving time from Waitomo: 1 hour 20 minutes

Things to do in Matamata

Ok, so this is basically on here for one reason and one reason only… Hobbiton! Back in 1998, Peter Jackson spotted the Alexander family farm on an aerial search for Lord of the Rings film locations. He managed to convince the Alexander family to allow him to transform it into Hobbiton for the Lord of the Rings films, but after filming ended it was reverted back to how it’s original state. It was rebuilt again for The Hobbit films, and this time it stayed. So we get to go and visit!

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As a traveller, I’m always up for experimenting with new ideas and testing out new things. It’s no secret that I have big love for Edinburgh’s Festivals, and who wouldn’t when Edinburgh is one of the biggest festival cities in the world?! Edinburgh holds TWELVE major annual festivals throughout the year, not to mention all the little independent side festivals too. Except I’d never tried out the Edinburgh International Science Festival, and now that I live in Edinburgh I really have no excuse!

READ MORE: Unexpected Experiences at the Edinburgh International Science Festival

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the first of it’s kind in the world. Last year was the 70th anniversary of Edinburgh Festivals as a whole, and what has become over 3000 events, with over 4.5 million attendees and 25,000 performers coming from over 70 countries around the world. It all began in 1947 when the Edinburgh International Festival was established to bring people together in Scotland’s capital city, in the post World War II era.

Kicking off the year of festivals is the Edinburgh International Science Festival, from the 29th of March to the 15th of April 2018. Last year I conducted my own experiment, and tested out yet another of Edinburgh’s festivals with great success, so you can bet that this year I’ll be attending again!

READ MORE: Why Edinburgh’s Festivals Have To Be On Your Bucketlist

What is the Edinburgh International Science Festival?

The goal of the Edinburgh International Science Festival is to encourage people of all ages and interests to discover the world around them. It’s actually the world’s first public celebration of science and technology, and it’s still one of Europe’s biggest, so as an expat and blogger in Edinburgh, it has plenty to interest me.

The events for the Edinburgh International Science Festival are spread across the city, from Edinburgh’s usual science venues like the National Museum of Scotland, and Dynamic Earth to the beautiful Botanic Gardens and even on a bus that will be parked around the city at different venues.

What’s on at the Edinburgh Science Festival and why you should go To discover something new

People come from all around the world to enjoy Edinburgh’s festivals. But ask most people about them and they’re likely to tell you about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, and Hogmanay at New Year. Except there are actually five festivals in August in Edinburgh, and while the Hogmanay fireworks on Edinburgh Castle are often broadcast around the world on New Year’s Eve, I would love to encourage people to visit Edinburgh at other times of the year, when they might run into one of the other awesome festivals on offer. Except many never take the opportunity to go to the Edinburgh International Science Festival. But why not?

Mention science and I’m taken back to my school days and boring book work, or to reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything (actually quite enjoyable and I’d recommend it!) but that’s about as far as science and I go. Or so I thought. Take a closer look at the Edinburgh International Science Festival events…

Unexpected events on offer

I have fond memories of going to science museums as a child, discovering new things and playing with the experiments, so I had wondered if the Edinburgh Science Festival was just a thing for families. There are plenty of awesome events for children and young people at all sorts of locations and for all sorts of interests. It would make a great outing for any family looking for something to do in Edinburgh over Easter Weekend this year, or for a visiting family looking for child-friendly activities. But I kind of expected that.

What I didn’t expect was awesome events for adults at the Edinburgh Science Festival too. There’s a series of events under the “GastroFest” section, where science meets food. Do I actually need to say more? I love trying different foods when I travel and finding out more about where they come from or how they’re made. At the Edinburgh Science Festival you can find out how cheese is made at the returning “Cheeseology” evening (tastings included), discover how beer changed the world, or learn about baking in space. Did I mention you get samples at all of these science-based events?

People often come to Edinburgh’s Festivals to experience the theatre, and the Science Festival is no exception. Theatre events include a look into how technology is shaping our world, and in the technology-heavy world that we live in today, I love these kind of events for making us think and question important issues about ethics and technology without even realising it.

As a blogger, I’m interested in technology by default, even if I don’t realise it. As such, I’m looking forward to a discussion on Youtube and the role of science in bringing all this content to our screens.

Even if you think you have no interest in science, I defy you to find even one thing in the Edinburgh International Science Festival program that doesn’t intrigue you!

READ MORE: Unexpected Experiences at the Edinburgh International Science Festival

An Edinburgh with better weather, but less busy

If you’ve ever been to Edinburgh in August then you know that the streets can become a bit of a crush. With five of the twelve major festivals running that month and the warmest weather of the year, it’s no surprise that Edinburgh is popular in the summer. However, springtime in Edinburgh is a great time to visit too. The weather is usually more settled and mild, and you don’t have the summer crowds yet.

Part of the reason I was so happy to be living back in Edinburgh because of all the great things there are to do around the city. Sure there’s the normal essential things  and some hidden gems that you shouldn’t miss on an Edinburgh trip, but it’s always worth checking out what additional events and festivals are happening about the city whenever you visit. I’m excited about the diverse range of events on offer at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, and I can’t wait to test it out again!

READ MORE: Unexpected Experiences at the Edinburgh International Science Festival

Sonja x

Have you ever been to a science festival? Would you travel to see one? 

The post Putting the Edinburgh International Science Festival to the Test appeared first on Migrating Miss.

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Let’s travel to Iceland in winter! What a brilliant idea! Except…

If Iceland is anything, it’s extreme, and winter is when Iceland is probably at it’s MOST extreme. If you’re not prepared for it then you might not be able to enjoy your trip as much as you might have. And who goes to Iceland and says they didn’t like it?! Just mention Iceland and someone will tell you it’s their dream destination. And yes, it’s bucket-list worthy, but Iceland in winter is no lighthearted affair!

I’ve been to Iceland in winter twice, and the conditions on both my trips were very different. That’s the thing about Iceland, it’s well known as one of the most beautiful places on earth, but it’s also one of the most inherently changeable. It’s a relatively small island in the North Atlantic Ocean after all!

Iceland deserves its fame and all the accolades it receives, and you might be thinking, “not another travel blogger writing about Iceland” but if I didn’t genuinely wish I had known all of this before I went, I wouldn’t be wasting my time writing it! Knowing these tips for winter in Iceland will make your trip all the better, and you’ll get to avoid the stress that we experienced!

Driving in Iceland in winter is no cake walk

I’m making this number one because, in my opinion, it’s the most important consideration in deciding to travel to Iceland during the winter months. Let’s be clear. Driving in Iceland in winter is downright scary, especially if you’re not used to the conditions, but honestly, even if you are. Extreme, remember? That means snow and ice on the road, direct drops into the frozen water on either side, insanely strong winds buffeting your car around along with a whole lot of loose snow so you can’t even SEE the road… need I go on?

Only you will know what sort of conditions you’re happy driving in. We hired a small hatchback assuming the roads would be clear because my first trip to Iceland in October it was. Except for this time, it was a few weeks further into winter and the roads were actual ice. This and the strong winds meant that journeys took us much longer than we expected, we saw less than we wanted, and we were stressed out by it all.

If you’re not happy driving in these conditions then don’t, there are many Iceland winter tours that will allow you to experience Iceland without putting yourself at risk. That’s how it can really influence your trip. Because if it’s your dream to drive the Ring Road then winter may not be the right time to go unless you’re confident in driving in this kind of weather, or you choose the very beginning or very end of winter (Sept/Oct and March/April). Our road trip was amazing and we don’t regret it but do wish we had booked a 4×4 and allowed more time to reach different locations; you don’t drive fast on ice!

Make sure you check the road conditions before you set out each day, so you know what to expect!

Daylight hours are slim

One of the pros and cons of Iceland in winter is the light. During the winter months in Iceland daylight is somewhat of a rarity. For example, it’s only light in November from 10 am – 4 pm and in December it drops to as little as 5 daylight hours. On the one hand, this means more time to potentially see the Northern Lights, YAY! On the other, it means you can’t fit as much into your day as you could if you visited Iceland in summer. You’ll need to plan carefully because the lack of daylight in combination with the longer travel times due to road conditions means you won’t be able to see as much each day.

However, you can also take advantage of the low light if you’re into photography. There are no worries about glare like in summer, the sunrise and sunset times can provide some magical moments for your memories and your photos. Visit somewhere such as the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon at sunrise and you’ll understand how light can be a pro!

An Iceland itinerary is crucial

There’s so much to do in such a relatively small country that planning an Iceland itinerary is really important, otherwise you’ll be wasting crucial time when you’re on there. In winter some attractions are closed, on roads that are closed, or just plain harder to get to in general. Your gut reaction will be to try and do everything, mine certainly was, but be realistic. Allow yourself time to reach each place safely. Make sure you are able to get the photo you want rather than the one you have to rush. We learnt to make the most of a few places rather than rush around many, and it really paid off in the short time we had there.

We often book flights before we plan what we want to see, but if you’re travelling in winter for one week or less you’ll soon see that an Iceland winter itinerary that includes the whole Ring Road, the Golden Circle, and Snæfellsnes Peninsula is unrealistic. Plan to see just one or two of these, and maybe just to Jökulsárlón on the Ring Road!

If you’re lucky, you’ll see the Northern Lights

Although Iceland is well-known as a Northern Lights destination, there is absolutely no guarantee you’ll see them. The longer you’re in Iceland the better your chances, and many people only visit for a few nights and expect to see them. Unfortunately, I’ve heard of people visiting Iceland in winter multiple times and still never seeing them! The first time I went to Iceland I saw a very faint cloud that showed up as the Aurora in my friends camera, but to the naked eye didn’t look like much. This time around we were lucky to be treated to an amazing display of Aurora in Snæfellsnes!

Treat the Northern Lights as a bonus to your Iceland trip, rather than a requirement. Of course, do your best to put yourself in a situation to see them. Although they can be viewed in Reykjavik if they’re strong, it’s better to journey outside the city where there’s less light pollution. This might mean joining a Northern Lights Tour if you don’t have a vehicle or looking up some likely locations in advance.

Everything has an app or website now and the same can almost be said for the Northern lights! There are several sites that can be used to get warnings about where and when the lights may appear that night. When I was there they were accurate one night but I never saw them the other times it said they were about. We used the Iceland Metrological Office Aurora Forecast.

Iceland in winter is a photographers dream, but be prepared

If you’ve been dreaming of Iceland then you’ve likely looked at a LOT of photos of dramatic landscapes. While many of them will show Iceland in summer and you’ll need to search for or reimagine them as covered in snow, it’s certainly true that Iceland is an amazing place to take photos. And you’re probably imagining yourself in some of the same scenarios you’ve seen others in and seen photos you want to take yourself.

But like many things about travelling Iceland in winter, you should undergo a little preparation to avoid disappointment! There’s nothing wrong with taking pictures on your phone if you have one with a fairly up to date camera, and it will yield you some great results because ultimately Iceland is stunning and amazingly picturesque.

If you plan on taking a camera that’s a little more complex, like a DSLR for example, then it is well worth spending a bit of time in advance preparing. Shooting in the snow creates a whole new set of problems and takes time to get right. The key thing is that it doesn’t necessarily matter what you shoot with, but you need to know how to use it.

A tripod is a godsend and we honestly don’t know how we would have managed without one, especially as we were experimenting with some long exposure shots and it’s crucial if you want to try your hand at capturing the Northern Lights. If you are lucky enough to see them they can literally be in the sky for minutes. In that time you need to know how to set your camera to make sure you can capture them because unless they’re really extreme a phone will struggle. We looked into the best camera settings for capturing the Northern Lights before we left and had them saved in advance to increase our chances of getting a good shot. It’s lucky we did!

Basically, you should try a wide-open aperture, a high ISO and a long shutter speed with your camera on a tripod. Use a remote or set a 2-second timer to reduce the chances of bumping it. You might need to adjust your focus to manual to focus on the stars first. From there you can make adjustments, but it can be hard when they’re moving all the time and long exposures take what feels like forever!

It really is hard to come out from behind the viewfinder as you try to get the perfect shot, but remember to look up and enjoy this stunning natural phenomenon.

Keeping your gear safe and dry can be a little tricky so make sure you can get your camera covered quickly and keep that lens clean in adverse weather.

It’s cold

Obviously…but how cold is Iceland really?

The thing about winter in Iceland is that it’s not colder than many other popular winter destinations, and it’s actually even warmer than some! I was colder in Berlin in winter than I ever was in Iceland, and in wintertime, it’s warmer on average than the Eastern US. You can expect the temperature to be around 0 to 4 degrees Celsius, although of course at higher altitude it can be much cooler!

The weather is extreme and unpredictable

Although it isn’t as cold as you might think in winter, that doesn’t mean the weather in Iceland isn’t extremely unpredictable. We faced everything from beautiful blue skies to complete whiteouts (while we were driving of course!) and crazy winds like nothing I’ve ever seen. The car rental company actually specifically told us to watch our doors when we open them because the winds can basically rip them off and then the car’s a write-off.

Expect that the weather will be changeable and you might need to adjust your plans a bit as you go along.

Iceland is still expensive in winter

The rumors you’ll hear when you talk about Iceland are true. It is a very expensive country. Unlike many places that have a cheaper offseason (offseason travel in Europe is my favourite!). The peak season may be from June to August, and accommodation and flights may become slightly more affordable, but overall Iceland is not the cheapest location for a holiday. Getting around Iceland can be expensive, because you’ll either need to take a tour or hire a car to get the most out of your experience and they’re not the cheapest, and even if you opt for lower end accommodation it’ll still be more expensive than many other European destinations, and you still need your own sleeping bag!

That’s not to say you can’t travel Iceland on a budget, it’s just that what that budget is, is relative! The biggest area where you can tighten the purse strings is your food and alcohol budget. A pint of lager can cost £9-10 and a main meal £20 at minimum (that’s burger and chips in town). Instead, buy food at supermarkets, take packed lunches, or try food from petrol stations. The burgers are surprisingly good. Also, don’t forget to grab some duty-free alcohol on your way in, because it’s the cheapest you’re ever going to see it, even if you take advantage of happy hours.

The trick to Iceland is to accept the cost of things and prepare yourself each day to buy as little as possible while out. Make use of bars that have happy hours and, if you’re staying at a hotel check the price of their menu, it may be the only thing for miles around to eat!

And it’s still busy in winter too

I haven’t experienced Iceland in summer, so I genuinely can’t tell you what it’s like, but as someone who has travelled a lot, I wouldn’t call Iceland quiet in the winter season. Every attraction we went to still had plenty of other people around, other than when we went to Jokulsarlon really early, but then within half an hour there were plenty more people around. There are still tour bus loads of other visitors to contend with, and we didn’t go to the Blue Lagoon because it was booked it.

It was so different from my visit in 2013 when my two Icelandic friends drove me around the Golden Circle and across to Jökulsárlón, and we were the ONLY people at almost every place we stopped. Including the lagoon! So much so that when the petrol light came on and our cards wouldn’t work at the self-pump station we genuinely worried about running out of petrol and no one passing us!

Iceland in winter looks different to what you might expect

Iceland winter travel is very different to the other seasons and different to what you might be expecting. Many of the images used to showcase Iceland are summer images, with lush greens and epic vistas. The winter turns Iceland into a different looking country altogether, and even though I did some research on Iceland in winter I didn’t expect it to look like it did, with SO much snow everywhere.

Many of the pictures I’ve seen advertising or talking about winter in Iceland..

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The best day trips from Madrid will give you a taste of Spain, showing you it’s beauty, history, and charm. As the capital city of Spain, Madrid definitely isn’t lacking in sights to see and things to do. From the museums, to the extensive shopping on Gran Via, to the alternative neighbourhoods full of independent restaurants and cafes, there’s something for everyone. But if you have the time to step outside of this metropolis, you could spend many more days exploring the satellite towns surrounding it.

On my first visit, I knew I couldn’t leave without taking at least one day trip from Madrid. I researched the absolute best Madrid day trips, asking my local friends and Google. In the end, I discovered the three best places to visit near Madrid, each with their own unique history and things to see.

So here are my recommendations for three great day trips from Madrid!

Day trip to Toledo from Madrid

Toledo has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986, and it’s now one of the most visited places in Spain. If you want to take the best day trip from Madrid then Toledo rates at the top of all of the must-see lists. Toledo’s history stretches back to the Roman occupation, and traces of Roman and Muslim history can be found throughout the town. Toledo was the capital of Spain after the reconquest, in 1085CE until the mid-1500s when it changed to Madrid.

Toledo has a number of historical religious buildings, and you can purchase a bracelet for €8 to visit six of the religious buildings in Toledo, excluding the Cathedral. But in my opinion, your day in Toledo is best spent wandering the medieval streets.

It is claimed that Marzipan (the almond sweets made into shapes and baked in the oven, not the soft Marzipan put on cakes) was invented in Toledo by nuns around 1150. It’s available in stores around Toledo, but you can also buy Marzipan directly from Convents, where it is still made by the nuns who live there. You just have to know which doorbells to ring! I went to Monasterio de San Clemente and Monasterio de Mochas Comemdadoras de Santiago and bought something from both, and I have to say the treats are delicious!

How to get to Toledo from Madrid

The train from Madrid Atocha station to Toledo takes half an hour and costs approximately €22 euros return. From the Toledo train station, you need to take the bus from just outside the station gates to the right (number 5, 61, or 62) until the last stop. The bus costs €1.40. The bus from Madrid to Toledo is much cheaper at around €10 from the Plaza Eliptica Station. You will also need to take another bus to get into town.

 Day trip to Ávila from Madrid

A day trip to Ávila from Madrid is a step back in time. Ávila is known for its city walls, and although the original foundations of the walls date back to the Roman time, the current construction above ground is from the Middle Ages. However, many of the same materials used originally were used in rebuilding the walls. The walls span 2.5km and have 9 entrances and defensive gates, with 88 different watchtowers.

Ávila was first a military outpost, which then turned into a city. At one time it was bustling and densely populated, but an epidemic of cholera in the 1700s reduced the population, filled by the industrial revolution. Tourism is now the principal industry of Ávila, like many of the villages surrounding Madrid, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Cathedral in Ávila is built into the city wall. It was built across a wide space of time, reflected in the Romanic style up to the windows, and the Gothic style further above. The two towers that were planned never materialised, and only one can be seen.

Ávila was the birthplace of Santa Teresa in 1515. She was a prominent author and theologist during the counter-reformation. You can visit the place of her birth and baptism, see where she played as a child, and if you really want to (I didn’t) see a relic of her finger!

Also like Toledo, Ávila is famous for a particular kind of food, this time “Yemas” which are a small, round sweet made from egg yolks, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Although they can be found across Spain, Yemas de Santa Teresa, or Yemas de Ávila, are the number one souvenir from here and something you should definitely pick up on a day trip to Avila.

How to get to Avila from Madrid

The train from Madrid Atocha station to Ávila is a similar price to Toledo, at approximately €23 euros return. It’s an easy day trip by train from Madrid! The bus from Madrid to Ávila is around €16 euros return.

Day trip to Segovia from Madrid

Segovia is another UNESCO World Heritage Site (do you sense a theme?) that has several unique landmarks and makes a fantastic day trip from Madrid. The most impressive landmark is the Roman Viaduct. It was built by the Romans around 1 Century AD (yes, that old) and although it hasn’t been used fully since 1908 it still works today! The aqueduct is built entirely from stone, with no concrete or anything holding it together.

During the Middle Ages Segovia was known for its wool and tapestry production, with wool made here being sent all over Europe. The city was one of the King’s favourites, and he used to live in the castle called the Alcazar. This is now another of the main attractions in Segovia, with its unique architecture actually being the base for the castle at Disneyland in LA.

As far as food goes, Segovia is especially famous for it’s roasted suckling pig. There is even a statue of a pig in the Cathedral! Be sure to visit one of the restaurants in Segovia offering this special kind of pork that is so tender it can be sliced with a plate.

How to get to Segovia from Madrid

You can take an AVE high-speed train from Madrid to Segovia in half an hour and it costs around €20 return, making it one of the cheaper options for a day trip from Madrid. Although there is a bus from Madrid to Segovia, it’s not much cheaper and it’ll take much longer than the train.

Should you take a tour for a day trip near Madrid, or go on your own?

It won’t take you long to realise there are plenty of tours from Madrid offering to take you on day trips Toledo, Avila, and Segovia, among others.

I visited Toledo on my own by taking the train from Madrid, and Avila and Segovia as part of a tour with City Discovery, where you can search for tours and unique experiences all over the world.

For day trips from Madrid to Toledo, I would recommend a visit on your own. There is so much to see in Toledo and it really depends on what your preference is. Going on your own allows you to explore the city at your own pace and see what you’d like to. Plus if you want to capture the sunset then you have the freedom to do so!

For day trips from Madrid to Segovia, on your own would also be possible, but I really enjoyed the Segovia and Ávila tour I took as we were able to visit Avila on the way and see two places in one day. That’s not something that’s easy to achieve on your own! We spent the majority of our time in Segovia and had plenty of time to taste the local delicacy of pork for lunch and explore the rest of the town. If I had to choose, I would go to Segovia over Ávila, because I thought there was much more to see and do, but having the chance to see both on one day trip was the best option overall.

Read More: 5 Ways to Get Around Madrid

There’s plenty of things to see in Madrid, but if you have time to spare then taking a day trip from Madrid will allow you to see some smaller Spanish towns that have their own unique culture and stunning landmarks.

Have you taken any great day trips from Madrid, or been to these places before?

Sonja x

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P.S. My tour to Segovia and Ávila was provided as a collaboration with City Discovery. As always though, all opinions are my own, and you can never expect anything less! 

The post The Best Day Trips From Madrid appeared first on Migrating Miss.

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“Conditions are never perfect. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you…. If it’s important to you and you want to do it ‘eventually,’ just do it and correct course along the way.”

Tim Ferriss

Do you set New Year’s Resolutions about travel? Or make bucket lists of places to see before a certain age? Do you take stock on birthdays to see what you’ve accomplished and think about where to next? And the most important question… do you make the travel ambitions you have, actually happen?

If the answer is yes, then good for you, don’t stop pursuing your travel dreams! If the answer is no, we need to talk.

There’s something standing between you and travel, and that something is you.

Now I am well aware that to travel is a privilege, and I am by no means seeking to belittle anyone who genuinely cannot travel because of unchangeable personal circumstances. I’m talking about those of you who want to travel but it just never seems to happen. You can’t save the money or find the time or are possibly even a little afraid of making that leap, even if you won’t admit it. Is that you?

If some magic fairy gave me money for every time someone told me how lucky I am to travel or how brave then let’s just say I would be… well probably putting all that money into MORE travel. But the thing is, it’s really not about having luck or being brave. It’s a choice. And if you have made a goal to travel more then you need to follow that through and actually MAKE IT HAPPEN.

Sounds easy, but how do you actually do it? Well, here’s ten ways to make travel happen for you this year.

1. Begin with small adventures

One of the biggest barriers people have to travel is in their mind. They think travel must be a grand, or long, or luxurious adventure. They picture themselves on the beach in the Maldives, or eating in every expensive cafe in Paris, or travelling the entire world in a year. Great goals. But maybe not a realistic place to start.

Travel comes in many forms. At a base level it’s exploring new places and learning new things, which you can actually do on your own doorstep. I think we are the worst at exploring our own cities and countries. So you want to have more travel adventures this year? Start by checking out what’s in your local area and slowly expand it. Make a list of all the adventures you can have within a day from your home and set about planning them.

2. Start a travel fund

Sorry, there is no magical way to have money for travel appear in your bank account. Except for the lottery and if someone can figure out how to guarantee that please email me stat! Instead, if you make small sacrifices every day then soon they will start to add up. Think about your purchases, what you REALLY need and what is just a personal preference or something you can do without for now. Remember you’ll be paid back later in a much richer way that has nothing to do with money.

3. Travel and flight deals for the win

Travel planning can all look rather overwhelming and expensive if you don’t know where to start, but it doesn’t have to be. You can check out my Travel Resources page for places to start looking for travel deals. Personally I love using Skyscanner and keeping an eye on Secret Flying. They post on Facebook about amazing deals all the time and I swear I could book a flight a day!

I rarely ever search for flights or travel by going directly to an airline, instead I find deals elsewhere and check the airline to confirm. Travel with carry on luggage only instead of paying a fortune in luggage fees. With more local travel compare buses and trains and look at different routes or options. Don’t search hotels directly, use somewhere like Booking.com to look for deals first. It can be more effort but if you really want to travel you’ll realise that effort will yield the results you need to make it affordable.

4. Loyalty programs and points

Now this isn’t something I’ve ever done, mostly because I jump around too many countries to settle on something and a lot of the deals seem to be based in the United States. But if you start searching and you’re prepared to put in a bit of work then the benefits of travel reward programs can really pay off. Plus, it can be like another travel fund and be more motivation to get going!

5. Realise that you can work and travel

Travel doesn’t mean you need to have loads of time off, or 6 months to a year (or more!) off work to see what you want to. When I say that you can work and travel I’m not just talking about the digital nomad craze that’s taking over the world right now, but about all sorts of jobs that let you work and travel the world. You just have to realise that what you’re doing now at home, you can probably do somewhere else. Or you can find something new to do overseas!

It doesn’t even have to be for long, but living abroad for any time gives you the opportunity to explore another place for deeply and to explore the places nearby too!  Plus saving to move abroad can be faster or easier than for long-term travel. I know it sounds like a scary prospect, but once you’ve done it I swear it will be one of the best things you’ve ever done.

6. Save money and travel cheaper by housesitting

If you are travelling long-term, then seriously consider housesitting. Actually, you can even housesit in your own city to save money on rent! Generally housesitting goes along with looking after pets like cats or dogs, but not always. My parents have been housesitting for six months in the UK and it has saved them so much money in accommodation, one of the biggest costs of travelling, and so it means they can travel for much longer.

7. Change the way you travel

You may sense a theme in this list of realising that there is more than one way to travel. Well, it’s because it’s one of the biggest things you can do to get on the road. If you always travel in one way, for example taking a week-long holiday to a beach somewhere, then it’s time to mix things up.

Travel more often by thinking about weekend getaways to places within driving distance, or short flights. Instead of taking a week in one place, split it into 4 days in one and 3 in another close by (I’m obsessed with seeing more than one place when I travel). Map out a road trip you can do in just a few days, or lump your holidays together and take a whole month to travel Europe, or up the west coast of the United States, or South East Asia, or whatever! You can balance the rest of the year with those local and weekend only trips. You get the idea…

8. Realise that it’s now or never

We all know that we only have a finite amount of time here, and yet we don’t act like it very often. The thing is, we can have all these hopes and dreams for the future and then something happens and it just doesn’t work out. Not everything can happen right away, but a sooner rather than later attitude is the key here. Sooner means actual plans, and so more possibility of it really happening.

Honestly, the keyword is action. If you want to travel more, you have to act. Personally, I’m extremely good at acting when it comes to travel, and yet in other aspects of my life, not so great. If you’re the opposite, it’s time to change!

Plus, the majority of the times that I have felt most alive have been on the road. Literally. There’s something about travelling that puts you in the moment and reminds you how amazing this life really is.

9. Realise that travel isn’t this big scary thing out to get you

I know it’s easy to say just travel and it’ll be fine when I’ve been doing it for years. To someone who has never really travelled a lot before it can be a daunting prospect! There are so many resources out there now about solo travel and making friends when you travel, or places to find people to travel with, so you don’t have to do it alone. Like the first point, start small and build up to you. Join Facebook groups and chat with other people who are travel first timers too. Or email me and let me know your concerns!

10. Just book it!

The hardest thing is pressing the “book” button, once you’ve done that you’ll find a way to make it work and it will all fall into place. Just step out of your comfort zone for literally a second, and you’re on your way! Then later on the travel bug will bite and you’ll be wishing you could book everything under the sun….

So there you have it, ways to get yourself on the road this year. If you have ideas about travel but you don’t know how to make them happen, get in touch. I’m always up for talking about travel.

Is 2018 your year to travel? Say YES!

Sonja x

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P.S. This post contains affiliate links at no cost to you!

The post 10 Ways to Stop Making Excuses and Travel This Year appeared first on Migrating Miss.

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Have you been wondering, “is Lisbon worth visiting?”…

Well seriously, just stop, because the answer is YES. I always thought Lisbon sounded like a cool place to go but I never ranked it super high on my must-do list. Then for some reason, it was EVERYWHERE. I swear every second travel blogger I met was moving to Lisbon, and it was on all the lists of the best places to visit in Europe.

I was living in Spain for a year, and I knew I wanted to try and travel to Lisbon while I was there. Just before I left I finally had the chance to visit Lisbon and find out for myself why it’s a top European destination. So now I want to help you if you’re preparing for a trip to Portugal!

Why visit Lisbon? Well, I’ve been told Portugal is great for solo travel, and spending a weekend in Lisbon with family or friends is a must. I learned a thing or two about what to do in Lisbon, what not to miss, and some awesome stuff about the city and Portugal as a whole while I was there. Instead of the usual what to visit in Lisbon, top things to see, or what to do, I’ve compiled this list of what you need to know before you go!

Lisbon is the second oldest capital city in Europe

After Athens, Lisbon is the capital city that has been around for the longest. It was first ruled by the Romans, Germans, and Arabs before 1147 when Portuguese crusaders finally conquered it. However, it’s been an economic, political and cultural center for so long that it never really got officially confirmed as Portugal’s capital city. It’s by default and convention that it’s become so!

Portuguese is the official language

Portugal may be next to Spain but it does have it’s own language, and although you might find that Spanish is a common second language that doesn’t mean people want to speak it all the time. In fact, you’ll find that a lot of people, and especially young people, speak English more than Spanish. So when you’re in Lisbon don’t just assume Spanish is the default second language!

Fado is the traditional style of music

“Fado” means destiny, or fate in Portuguese. It’s a traditional form of music that is known for its soulful and often melancholy tone, and it often has a connection to the sea. Instruments like guitars and mandolins form the basis of the art, with one singer performing the poetic lyrics. Fado has been in Lisbon since around the early 19th century in the port districts.

Alfama is one of those districts, and on a walk through here in the evening Fado music is inescapable. There are many places offering meal and performance deals, but the best are those where you don’t need to pay for an expensive meal to see the show. This area has become much more popular in recent years, but if you’re wondering where to go in Lisbon I’d still recommend it!

There are many places offering meal and performance deals, but the best are those where you don’t need to pay for an expensive meal to see the show. This area has become much more popular in recent years, but if you’re wondering where to go in Lisbon I’d still recommend it! So add fado to your must see in Lisbon list!

Lisbon is one of the best budget cities in Europe

Lisbon provides excellent quality food, great accommodation, and nightlife for a fraction of the cost of some of Europe’s other capital cities. It makes a great European budget holiday destination, especially because beer is as cheap as €2 in many places! But you can also enjoy more luxury drinks and meals at a lower cost, making this a place for budget and luxury travellers.

Read More: 7 Things to Do in Porto That Don’t Involve Port Wine

There are a lot of hills in Lisbon

Lisbon is built on seven hills. That means a lot of work for your calf muscles, but also some beautiful views to make up for it! Living in Wellington, New Zealand, for most of my early adult life means I’m no stranger to hills, but Lisbon surprised even me. In downtown Lisbon along the Avenida da Liberdade it’s all flat, but venture slightly in any direction and you’re met with steeply sloping hills. Luckily the number 28 tram or a tuk-tuk will help with those!

Take a ride on the 28 line tram

Wondering what Lisbon is known for? Lisbon is famous for its number 28 yellow tram and is one major reason why people visit! There’s actually a number of them that run all over the city. It costs just about €2.85 per person and services run from around 6 am until 9 pm. You can purchase a ticket from the driver or a machine onboard. The tram goes between Alfama in the east and Praça do Martim Moniz in the west.

The classic 1930s trams are still in use today because the tight curves and steep hills are unsuitable for modern trams.  We rode from Alfama all the way to end in Estrela, which actually wasn’t the best idea because it stopped and we had to get off and wait to get on again to go back. I would recommend stopping in the Bairro Alto if you’re heading west!

Lisbon is full of tuk-tuks

Lisbon is also full of tuk-tuks ready to take you up those seven hills! They have only made an appearance in big numbers in the last few years, but tuk-tuks are now a popular way for tourists to navigate the narrow streets and not have to walk up the hills.

These vehicles were originally made in Italy post-WWII as a cheap way to increase transportation but caught on much more in crowded cities in Asia and Africa. Now they’re back on the streets of Europe, and although taxi drivers and locals may not be so happy about them, they do seem to suit the geography of Lisbon and look like they’ve been a part of the city for as long as the trams have.

The age of discovery began in Portugal

Dozens of exploratory voyages around the world began from Lisbon, so it feels right that travellers the world over should want to visit here and see where it all began. A monument to the explorers of the world, many of them Portuguese, has been built on the bank of the Tagus river. It’s a bit out of the city centre but I’d put it on your list of where to go in Lisbon!

The buildings are something else

And by something else I mean all painted all sorts of colours or covered in unique tiles. While tiles in art are common the world over, in Lisbon they became part of the architecture of the buildings themselves. They first became popular in the 1500s, before their popularity waned but was revived again in the 1950s. On a stroll around Lisbon today it’s impossible the miss he beautifully tiled buildings, and the huge amount of street art that’s all over the city. A must-do in Lisbon is to simply walk around, and look up! (Just be careful of the trams and other people when you do it!)

Codfish cakes are everywhere

Actually, cod is everywhere, in almost every form. I was reminded of Forest Gump when I saw some of the menus in Lisbon; fried cod, grilled cod, salted cod, codfish cakes… you get the idea! Codfish cakes are particularly popular though. On the main street in central Lisbon, we went to Casa Portuguesa do Pastel de Bacalhau where the traditional codfish cake is stuffed with delicious cheese and served with a side of white port wine. You can watch them making the cakes in the traditional way through a glass window. And the verdict? I love fish cakes, so I thought they were awesome!

So are custard tarts

If you’re wondering what not to miss in Lisbon or even Portugal, then this is it. Pasteis de nata are famous the world over for being from Portugal. When I first tried them in Macau, a former Portuguese colony, I wasn’t really sold on them. A visit to Portugal meant I needed to give them another go, and I made an about-face on them this time! Some are more like custard and some are more eggy, for lack of a better description. Everyone has their preference so try more than one!

In fact, the bakeries all over Lisbon are amazing

Depending on where you looked you could find some great deals for food in Lisbon, but I did think in some ways it was more expensive than Spain. Or maybe I’m just too used to my free Spanish tapas in Almería! Thankfully, Lisbon has awesome bakeries where you can purchase both savoury and sweet food at a fraction of the restaurant cost.

You can get fire cooked chorizo at your table

While we’re on the topic of food, I have to take a moment to mention the delicious sausages they light on fire. Chorizo is the most common type, but I’ve also seen black pudding type sausages done in this way. They have special dishes made just to put cooking alcohol in the bottom and light it on fire at your table.

The Bairro Alto is the place to go out

The quiet cobblestones streets look deceiving by day, but at nighttime, they come alive. It’s the place to go out for a drink and a dance, with many bars spilling into the streets.

Lisbon has a LOT of sunshine

Around 3000 hours a year to be exact, and it’s the sunniest capital in Europe, getting more than even Madrid, Rome and Athens. You don’t really need to worry about when to travel to Lisbon because we visited in winter and it was sunny and not as cold as you would think for a city on the Atlantic Ocean. Although temperatures reach over 30 in the summer, the proximity of the Atlantic means cooler breezes make it more bearable.

Porto may be famous for Port, but the drink of choice in Lisbon is ginjinha

Ginginja, a red cherry liqueur, is all over Lisbon and surrounding places like Sintra. Look for a hole in the wall bars and kiosks that sell shots, sometimes in chocolate cups!

Read More: Exploring the Port Wine Cellars & Port Tastings in Porto Eat dinner late in Lisbon

Of course, you can eat at any time you like, but the usual time to eat is Lisbon is later. Bars and restaurants won’t be too busy until 9 or even 10 pm. The food in Lisbon is a delight, ranging from Michelin star restaurants to local eateries.

Take a day trip to Sintra

Easily reached by public transport or car, Sintra has plenty to keep you occupied on a day trip. It’ll take you 40 minutes on the train and almost the same to drive to this magical town in the hills, but you’ll feel like you’ve come much further. It’s difficult to say how long to spend in Lisbon, but I’d add in an extra day at least so you can visit Sintra, or keep it in mind as somewhere to go after Lisbon.

Throughout the woods in Sintra, there are many mansions and palaces where Lisbon’s elite would come to escape the heat in the summer. The crowning glory above them all is Palacio de Pena, built by a German prince who married into the Portuguese royal family. It’s extensive gardens and colourful architecture make it a must visit place in Sintra. Just don’t go on one of the two days a year it’s closed, Christmas Day and New Years Day, like I did…

The Tower of Belém looks like a fairytale castle on the sea

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the nearby Jerónimos Monastery. It was originally built on an outcropping of rocks but has as the shoreline next to it has changed over time it is now very close to the riverbank and at low tide, it looks completely connected. Once involved in defending the city against foreign ships, it’s now one of the most popular things to see in Lisbon.

Cork products are everywhere

Portugal produces 50% of the worlds cork, so you’ll see it everywhere. I was so confused at first until I found this out! There are postcards, bags, shoes, basically everything you can think of made with cork, so if you ever dreamed of a cork handbag, now’s the time to get it.

There’s a whole shop that just sells tinned fish

Lisbon hasn’t been overtaken by large department stores and is still home to a number of specialty and unique shops. Conserveira de Lisboa sells only tinned fish. The cash register is the same one that was used in the 1930s and there are around 70 varieties of tinned fish in the store at any time, depending on the season. The shop works with a biologist to maintain sustainable fishing practices, so that Portugal’s love affair with tinned fish, and their shop, can continue to prosper.

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The next installment in the Expat Interview Series! I’ve reached out to expats in different countries to hear why people might choose to move abroad, and how they do it. If you want to know more about moving to a particular country this is the place. If you’re interested in taking part or want to see a certain place featured let me know!

Thailand is more popular as an expat destination than ever, with people moving there at the rate of knots, I figured it was time to feature an interview with an expat in Thailand! Anna of Hammock Stories fell in love with Thailand a long time ago, but finally made the move to Thailand a year ago! She shares her story and advice below. 

Tell us about yourself

Hi! It’s Anna here! A 30-something Finnish girl living in Thailand, on Koh Phangan. I’ve been coming here since I was 9 (not every year, though) and my whole family loves this country. My Mum is retired and spends usually 4 months/year here as well. So I got my Thailand infatuation from mother’s milk, I guess.

I have lived overseas before, in 2 different countries: in London when I was 24 years or so and miss the city terribly. It was always an option that I might move there at some point. But thanks to Brexit, this is not on the table anymore. I have also lived in Australia on 2 different occasions, and miss Down Under heaps. My initial plan was to stay there and get sponsored, after finishing my working holiday visa some 7 years ago. A short vacation in my home country changed all that. Yeah, it was a guy. You guessed it right. At that time, it was not an easy choice to stay in Finland because I really loved Australia and had planned on staying there. The whole outdoorsy lifestyle just seemed right.

Anyway, at least I finally managed to do some work in my own field, when I decided to stay in Scandinavia. I have a Master’s degree in Social Politics and started working as a social worker. But… a few years and I started feeling unhappy in the relationship, was missing overseas and traveling. I came to Thailand for a holiday and made the decision that I need to break up with my boyfriend. He was devastated and angry. Luckily, that’s all behind us now and he is one of my best friends.

I knew I’d need to spend some 6 months in Finland before I could return to Thailand. And since one needs to make a living, I enrolled in a TEFL course and started making assignments online already in Finland. I also booked a yoga teacher training because this was something I had been thinking for a long time. The idea was not to become a full-time teacher, but rather improve my own practice and perhaps later in life, teach a bit, if it was to be my dharma (calling).

So, in November 2016 I was back on Koh Phangan, my home away from home. I finished my TEFL course and yoga teacher training. After that, I just chilled and had a proper, long holiday. Until I felt I really needed to start working. I took a Social Studies teaching position in Rayong for 6 months. You can read more about it here. It was a very interesting experience but I’m happy it’s done. I’m back here, on the island that I love. There are not many opportunities for teachers here, so I will probably start teaching online and I have my blog also. Furthermore, I have done some translations and odd jobs online. I have a lot of plans for my blog and I’m really excited about it, but I’ve been developing it slowly. The idea is to start monetizing it soon, though.

What’s the cost of living in Thailand, and how do you make a living?

On this island, many farangs are entrepreneurs. Typically people have restaurants, cafes or perhaps they run a hostel. Competition is fierce and the turnover rate is quite high. There are digital nomads as well, but it is not a major hub, like Chiang Mai. Food and living are fairly inexpensive, so I’m pretty sure we will see more and more digital nomads here. A cheap Thai meal costs around 50-100THB. (At the moment, 100 baht is around 3 USD or 2.6 euros.) A cappuccino is 60-100THB. A modest bungalow is around 8000THB/month, a new one around 15 000b. High and peak season are more expensive and if you will only stay for a month, you are more than likely going to have to pay a higher price.

You need to rent a scooter to get around or buy a cheap one which you can always sell later. Minimum taxi fare is 100b. Bicycle works for certain areas but some parts are really hilly. Local beer and whiskey are not that expensive, but if you drink cocktails the whole night, it will set back your budget.

What are the visa rules like in Thailand?

The Thai government has recently introduced a freelance visa which costs 40 000THB/year. This is hardly an option for a digital nomad who would only spend a couple months here. Most of the location independent people are on a tourist visa but, officially, you are NOT allowed to work. Nobody is policing this but the military government can be unpredictable so you shouldn’t shout it out if you are working online.

Never overstay

Recently they’ve been sending people to jail for overstaying whatever visa they’ve been on, even if the overstay is just for one day. When you get out of jail, you are banned from entering the Kingdom anywhere from 1 to numerous years. You definitely don’t want that! So always check the dates in your passport and don’t overstay!

At the moment, I’m on education visa which means I’m studying Thai. When this finishes, I’m getting the freelance visa. You can also get a business visa if you own a company but that get’s fairly complicated and you need to have a lawyer to make sure the process is done correctly.

What’s the social scene and nightlife like?

Koh Phangan is fairly small and outside high season it can get even emptyish. Many people pack their bags and go back to Europe or the States and come back in November or December again. During the high season you will make many new friends, but outside of that, you might be thinking that where is everybody.

Party time!

When talking about Koh Phangan, the post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the world famous Full Moon Party. Every month, revellers from around the world come here and stay usually 4 days or so around the full moon period. During this time there is (obviously) much more noise, lots of young crowd doing drinking games and music blasting. Unfortunately, also accidents are very typical and you can hear the sirens frequently. Don’t drink too much, don’t take drugs and definitely don’t drive your scooter if you are under the influence. Motorbike accidents leading to casualties are not uncommon here.

FMP (Full Moon Party) is not my cup of tea but go see it for yourself and then decide what you think of it. Leave your valuables home, look after your friends and have fun. In general, there are numerous parties on the island, to gather for different tastes, from live jams to reggae and electronic music of all sorts. Some are free, some cost 200-300baht.

What else is there to experience when living on Koh Phangan? Yogis say oooommmmm

Koh Phangan is also a new age hippie/yoga mecca. The concentration is in Sri Thanu, on the west coast. There are so many yoga schools, reiki, healings, workshops, meditation courses etc. to choose from. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants serve delicious and healthy meals, though the prices (approx. 200b) do feel quite high compared to Thai food.

On the east coast, in the Tri-Bay area (Haad Yuan, Haad Thian and Whynam) you have the very famous yoga and detox centre called the Sanctuary. This area has a few other yoga places as well and workshops alike. Furthermore, it has got an old-school hippie vibe that many fall in love with and, consequently, keep on returning to this secluded part of the island. Some of the downsides are heftier prices and a not-so-reliable internet connection (plus lack of places with wifi), so perhaps it’s not the best place if you work online a lot.

What’s an important tip you would want to give people travelling to or living in Thailand? Respect your host country

Luckily, travel bloggers are usually pretty conscious people, but every month we see folks walking and driving around in bikinis, small shorts or hot pants. NOT okay. Thai people won’t say anything to you but this is unheard of in their culture. I probably don’t even need to mention that being nude at the beach is a big no-no. Unless you are keen on spending some time in Thai prison of course.

Another piece of advice, never ever disrespect the Thai monarchy, temples or flag. This will get you locked up and deported faster than you can say thank you and goodbye. On top of that, Thais love spreading the mugshots of the perps on social media. Actually, I just saw one the other day: 2 guys showing their bums in the same picture with a Buddhist temple. Well done, lads!

All in all

Many people fall in love with Thailand and want to stay here. After all, prices are right, the weather is good, food is delicious and Thais are friendly. Unfortunately, it is not very easy making friends with Thais so you are more likely to spend time with other farangs (foreigner in Thai), and sometimes this has left me wondering if I’ll ever be totally accepted into the society, or if am I just an (ATM) tourist to the locals.

You can find out more about what it’s like to move to Thailand on Anna’s blog, Hammock Stories, and follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest

The post Expat Interview: Living in Koh Phangan, Thailand appeared first on Migrating Miss.

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Have you ever made a mistake that turned out to be awesome?

Here’s my story of one of the best mistakes I’ve made while travelling…

There’s this thing in New Zealand called black water rafting, which is essentially tubing down an underground river inside a cave. Growing up in the North Island means I’ve been aware of black water rafting at the Waitomo Caves for a long time. It’s something I always thought I MIGHT do one day… if I could get over my fear of the not being able to see what was in the pitch black water with me!

While we were planning our New Zealand honeymoon we wanted to pack in as much as possible, including a trip to Waitomo Caves. And since we were going to be there, how could we pass up one of the best adventure activities you can possibly do in the North Island? New Zealand is, after all, a well-known adrenalin-inducing country!

So there we just a couple of days into our NZ trip, still getting used to the complete reversal in both temperature and timezone from the UK, when I realised that instead of signing us up for the slightly nerve-wracking but more chilled out black water rafting tour, I’d signed up us for the hardcore abseiling-into-a-cave, zip-lining-in-the-dark, climbing-up-waterfalls-adventure. Oops.

…It’s not that I wasn’t up for challenging myself, I was just a bit nervous about what all those add-ons to black water rafting would entail. It is in the dark in a cave afterall!

The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company are the original black water rafting operator in the Waitomo Caves area (they just celebrated their 30th-anniversary last year!) so I trusted them to give us an awesome caving experience. However, things have moved on quite a bit from when they first started with a simple tubing tour, and they now have different options for every level of adventurer.

With regards to the tubing, there’s still the original black water rafting, the Black Labyrinth Tour, where your main adventure is floating in an inner tube down an underground river, but there’s also the Black Abyss Tour, a more comprehensive and challenging experience with several add-ons to the original.

And those add-ons were making me nervous! But *spoiler-alert* I needn’t have worried. The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company call their adventures “The most fun you can have in the dark”, and I can now categorically agree!

But let me start at the beginning…

What are the Waitomo Caves?

Waitomo is a small village in the east of the North Island of New Zealand, 2.5 hours south of Auckland and 2 hours northeast of Taupo. The surrounding area is full of limestone, formed 30 million years ago when Waitomo was under the ocean, and limestone formed like this means limestone caves! The Waitomo caves were first explored in the 1880s, by local Māori chief Tane Tinorau and a surveyor, who floated within them on a raft of flax and opened them to tourists shortly after. It’s kind of crazy to think that over 100 years later we’re floating through them too!

Why are they special?

Aside from the amazing stalagmites and stalactites, one of the most coolest features of the caves is the extensive amount of glowworms who live within them, covering many areas of the cave roof and walls. Yes, glowworms are actually real! But what are they?

Basically, they are a type of insect that will eventually have wings, but when they are glowing they’re in the larvae stage. From a distance in the cave you can mostly just see the pinprick blue bioluminescent glow, but if you look closely or with a torch you’ll see they look a bit like a long, very thin worm with many threads hanging around them. They use their light to entice other insects into the threads for food before they turn into flies. The glowworm stage is the longest though, at around 9 months.

Before I toured the Ruakuri Cave in Waitomo I had no idea that these particular glowworms are found exclusively in New Zealand. I guess I just took it for granted as I was growing up!

All you really need to know is glowworms are really cool, and they look awesome when you see them inside a pitch black cave!

So what is the Black Abyss Tour really like?

Right, that’s the essential info about the Waitomo Caves and Glowworms, so what is taking a Black Abyss tour actually like?

We met our guides, Rob and Alistair, who loaded us up with full wetsuits, special boots, and helmets with headlamps. The butterflies in my stomach were getting just a little flighty! After a short drive, we arrived at one of the entrances to the Ruakuri Cave. Unlike the beautiful spiral walkway into one end of the cave that we had taken earlier in the day on a walking tour, this one was out of site and just a tiny hole we would be expected to abseil (repel for you North American folk) solo 35 metres down to begin our tour. Gulp.

Luckily, they have a practice area next to the entrance to help you get the hang of what to do with the rope and special abseiling metal thing (I have no idea what it’s called!). Alistair made us feel confident and safe in our ability to use the equipment. We started to get to know our group, and they were pretty awesome. Two other couples were on honeymoons as well! Just when I was starting to relax a bit they declared we were all ready to go down into the cave and the nerves kicked in again! Our group of 8 waited on a wooden platform that jutted out over the hole called “the throat” so we could each descend one-by-one. Hmmm…

You start by abseiling freely, then squeezing through “the throat”, a space where the cave entrance gets a little close for comfort, and finally being able to kick off the wall and feel like a ninja for the last part. It was actually far easier than I thought and after our practices on the slope next to the entrance I felt like I knew what I was doing. Although I somehow ended up backwards with my face smushed against a cave wall and it took a bit for me to get myself sorted. Graceful as ever! Before I knew it I was standing at the bottom of the cave, peering up at my first lot of glowworms for the day. And there would be many, many more to come!

After everyone had descended we walked for a short while through the cave, curious about what was next. Well, we saw the beginning of the zipline, and then a whole lot of darkness beyond. Each person was attached one by one and sent flying off into the darkness, literally. Everyone turned their headlamps out and as I sped through the damp cave air all I could see around me was glowworms, like stars in a dark night sky. It was surreal and over way too soon!

We paused on a ledge with our legs dangling down into the darkness below for a break with hot chocolate and Anzac biscuits (oatmeal cookies, but the Kiwi version). The sound of water could be heard nearby, and anticipation was running high. After successfully completing our first two challenges, it was as though we were all itching to continue the adventure. Nerves had been replaced by excitement. It was time to jump in the water. In the dark. Who cares, let me at it!

It seemed like a long way down, but after our guide jumped in we all took the leap of faith off the ledge, inner tubes at the ready! We floated along for a while, paused to slide face first down a waterslide and then continued on to a cavern where the entire cave roof was COVERED in glowworms.

After a pause for photos, we came to one of the best parts of the trip. Our guide described it as “sort of resembling the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory boat ride down the dark river, in the original, ya know?” We all sat in our tubes, formed a train by putting the legs of the person behind us under our arms, leaned back so we were looking at the cave roof and held on tight. Well, I’m going to just go ahead and say this is one of the most epic things I’ve ever done, and I’d do the whole tour again just to feel how I did in that moment, speeding along the river with thousands and thousands of glowworms lit up above us.

I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the trip, and if I got a dollar for every time someone said “this is so cool!!” then I’d have, well, a lot of dollars! We ditched the inner tubes and made our way along more of the Ruakuri Cave river, sometimes swimming, sometimes walking along parts aptly named “the drunken stumble”, sometimes (many times) falling over.

All too soon our last challenge was approaching. To get out of the cave we had to climb TWO waterfalls. Now I don’t know about you but the idea of climbing a waterfall sounds just a little bit crazy to me. You can’t see the waterfalls before it’s your turn and the thundering of the water echoing in the tiny enclosure is too loud to hear anything, so our guides directed us by guiding our hands and feet and pointing.

This was the part I was seriously concerned about when I was reading about the tour the night before, but once again, it was an exciting adventure rather than something to be worried about. The hand and footholds were plentiful enough that I climbed that waterfall relatively easily, but still amazed at myself at the same time. As I climbed the second one and spotted a patch of light I tried to savour the moment, because would you believe it, I wasn’t ready to go leave the cave just yet!

We emerged into the bright sunlight, hours after having entered the cave on our Black Abyss Tour, and I can honestly say I felt like a different person than when it began. It’s not the scariest thing in the world, but it does go against my nature to wander around in a cave in the dark, not caring what was around me and throwing myself into all sorts of unreal situations without a second thought by the end of it. I felt like I could do anything. And that’s what I loved about this experience.

Why is black water rafting one of the best adventure activities to do in New Zealand?

Do I need to tell you any more than I have?!

Black water rafting is a completely different experience from anything else you’ll do in New Zealand. While there are several different places to go white water rafting, bungy jumping or skydiving, and they might involve a higher amount of adrenalin, there’s only one place you can do this. It’s a personal challenge, facing fears you might not even know you have, growing in confidence and feeling like an absolute ninja by the end of it.

Honestly, it’s a once in a lifetime experience, unless you come back again of course!

What if black water rafting’s not for you?

I realise that as much as I can say how amazing and awesome doing the Black Abyss Tour was, it won’t be for everyone. If you have mobility issues or you simply won’t be able to handle some of the activities then, of course, it’s not for you. But if you’re wavering because you’re just a bit nervous or unsure then I seriously urge you to consider it. You don’t need to be super-fit, just mobile and prepared to exert yourself a little, trust me, the rewards are worth it.

There is the option of the Black Labyrinth, the original black water rafting experience where you only have to jump off one or two waterfalls with your tube and mostly float along. You’ll still get to see the amazing glowworms and still have a great experience. These tours are a bit larger than the 8-person max for the Black Abyss and obviously a little less challenging.

Another Waitomo Cave tour is also through the Ruakuri Cave, but along a walkway instead. This is the only wheelchair accessible cave experience in the southern hemisphere and a great option for anyone who wants to see the stalagmites, stalactites, and glowworms, without the black water tubing part! The entrance to this tour is an amazing manmade spiral down before you wander through much of what is an original path from when tours began.

You can check out all the tour options here at The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company

At the end of the day, we collapsed into bed exhausted, happy, and thankful my past self somehow knew we would love the Black Abyss tour. Or at least that I’d made the mistake of booking it…

Disclaimer: The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company hosted me for this tour, but as always, all opinions are honest and my own!

If you liked it, pin it!

The post Into the Abyss: Black Water Rafting at the Waitomo Caves appeared first on Migrating Miss.

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Welcome to the Expat Interview Series! I’ve reached out to expats in different countries to hear why people might choose to move abroad, and how they do it. If you want to know more about moving to a particular country this is the place. Check out the archive of Expat Interviews for more!

I love reading stories about families who have broken from the norm and are finding alternative ways to live thier family life around the world! Dawn from 5 Lost Together has lived abroad with children in multiple destinations, and agreed to share their unique experience of living in Malaysia with me! 

Tell me about yourself

I am a Canadian mum of 3 kids that has been dragging my kids around the world since they were born. In fact, my youngest child was born in Malaysia while we were living there and he identifies as Malaysian! We are currently living in Melbourne, Australia on our second overseas placement.

When I was 14, my Dad was laid off from his job and instead of jumping right back into the rat race, we went sailing to the Bahamas for two years. This is where my wanderlust developed and where I realized that there were alternative ways to live your life.

What made you decide to move to Malaysia?

In our 20s we had done a lot of traveling, including a 6-month RTW trip. The idea of living overseas was always appealing and seemed a natural extension of our love of travel. When a work opportunity came up for my husband in Ipoh, Malaysia, we jumped at it. We loved Asia and the opportunity to spend more time there, travel and enjoy the low cost of living there.

While my husband was in Malaysia signing the contract, we unexpectantly found out we were pregnant with our third child. That definitely threw a wrench into the plan and we debating pulling out of the arrangement. In the end, we figured people have children all over the world and why should that stop us from this move.

Tell me about the cost of living in Malaysia

While we have always been backpacker, independent travellers, we moved to Malaysia on an expat package. Suddenly we got to fly business class, have our housing taken care of and employ household help. We lived in a wealthy golf course community, the kids went to a private, international school and we suddenly had friends from all over the world.

Since Malaysia is one of the more developed countries in Asia, the cost of living is higher then neighboring countries like Thailand and Indonesia. However, you can still live very well on a lot less then in a western country.

We paid 4000 MYR/month ($1000 USD) in rent for a 3-bedroom townhouse in a gated golf course community in Ipoh, although I am sure you can pay much less. Due to high import costs, buying a vehicle in Malaysia is quite expensive. We bought a very old mini-van for 30,000 MYR. Fortunately, petrol prices are very low (2 MYR/L).

If you purchased local foods from the market, they were much cheaper then you would encounter at home. However, if you purchased western foods from the supermarket, they were much more expensive. I remember being really excited to find products like Goldfish crackers, but of course, you paid a premium. Eating at the local hawker food courts was incredibly cheap (3-9 MYR/dish) and restaurants were very reasonable.

Some things that were more expensive were beer, liquor, and pork products since Malaysia is a Muslim country. A case of beer would set us back 150+ MYR. To buy pork products, we would have to go into a separate enclosed area of the grocery store, pay for it and then carry it out (putting it in the trolley was a big no-no).

It is very common to employ domestic help when living in Malaysia and while this was awkward in the beginning, it was a really nice treat. For 15 MYR/hour, we had a lovely Indonesian woman that came to our house each day and helped with the cleaning, laundry and childcare. She ended up becoming a part of our family while we were there and it is one of the relationships I value the most from our time in Malaysia.

How do you make a living abroad?

My husband is an engineer and works for a US-based company and he transferred to their Malaysian office. So fortunately, that was all sorted out before we left Canada.

There were definitely lots of differences in work culture for him to get used to. Simple things like wearing a uniform (he is an office employee) to having to work Saturdays were expected. Others like managing foreign workers, using a more direct communication style and being called “Sir” by local workers, took longer to adapt to.

Do you need a visa to live in Malaysia?

Yes, we needed a visa to work in Malaysia, but were lucky in that the company sorted all of that our for us.

What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?

Since there wasn’t a lot of expats in Ipoh, you were instantly adopted into the small expat group there. This actually made it really easy to get to know people and you could share common experiences and challenges living in Malaysia. Since I was pregnant with two young kids, it was great to connect with other expat families. However, one of my regrets about our time in Malaysia was that we didn’t make strong connections with local people. I wish we had made more of an effort to get to know Malaysians.

What’s the best thing about living in Malaysia?

The two best things about living in Malaysia was the low-cost of living and the opportunity to travel in Asia. It was amazing to be able to get to Thailand on a long weekend or fly to Bali for a week. We also loved experiencing the three cultures of Malaysia. We got to experience new celebrations like Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and Diwali.

What’s the hardest thing about living in Malaysia?

I think the heat and humidity was one of the hardest things about living in Malaysia. While we definitely appreciated the tropical weather, I found that it was often too hot to be outside. We did adapt to the humidity, but I would have preferred a flat 25 degrees.

How is your new home different from your old one?

There are so many differences between living in Canada and living in Asia and although sometimes the differences can be frustrating, it is also what draws us to expat life. Some of the differences in our housing was not having hot water in the kitchen, which meant boiling water for dishes and was hard to get used to. We continually had geckos and cockroaches in the house and monkeys in our backyard.

The concept of saving face is integral to life in Asia. Asking for assistance in a store would be excruciatingly frustrating as I was ushered on a wild goose chase because no one would tell me they didn’t know where X was.

If we had just one day in Ipoh what should we not miss?

Ipoh is known for its food and you definitely want to sample some of the hawker fare. Bean Sprout Chicken with the plumpest bean sprouts is a specialty. You also should try curry mee and of course Ipoh famous white coffee. Ipoh is also well known for its heritage buildings and increasingly for its street art. You don’t want to miss the cave temples in and around Ipoh, set in the limestone cliffs.

Can you share your best local/insider tip about where you live?

Avoid the huge malls on the weekends! This is where every one goes to stay cool and they are incredibly busy.

If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to live in Malaysia what would it be?

Embrace the differences! Sometimes it can be frustrating to jump through four hoops to pick up a package and it can be frustrating to drive on the busy roads where anything goes. But if you step outside of your comfort zone and are open to new experiences, you will get the most out of living in Malaysia.

Dawn Nicholson loves traveling and blogging about her adventures traveling and living overseas with her three kids (ages 5, 7 and 9 years old) at 5 Lost Together. Dawn and family are currently living in Melbourne, Australia on their second expat placement.

You can follow her adventures and musings on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The post Expat Interview: Living as an Expat Family in Malaysia appeared first on Migrating Miss.

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