Follow Heart My Backpack on Feedspot

Continue with Google
Continue with Facebook


I’ve visited Copenhagen many times over the years, but only ever in summer. So when my flight back from the Faroe Islands included a stop in Copenhagen, I wasn’t sure if I should spend time there or not. Because while I love summer in the city, I wasn’t so sure about Copenhagen in winter. I guess in my head it’s just such a summery place!

Okay, so Norwegians are probably the only people in the world who would consider Copenhagen a summer destination, but I swear all the things my family usually did in Copenhagen were totally summery. Or maybe we really appreciated that extra degree or two of warmth down “south”?

In the end I decided to give Copenhagen in February a chance because then I could take the train through Sweden back to Norway instead of getting yet another flight. I’ve been feeling quite guilty about the number of flights I have planned over the next couple of months, sorry planet.

But guys, it turns out winter in Copenhagen is actually quite magical! I mean, I should have known – this is the land of hygge after all.

And it turns out loads of Norwegians also love Copenhagen in the colder months, because I heard Norwegian everywhere. Though again, I probably should have known. I mean, when I was telling my (Norwegian) mother about my plans to visit the Faroe Islands she was just like, yes, yes, that sounds lovely, but when I then said I’d be stopping in Copenhagen for a few days she got so excited.

Like, really? Since when is Copenhagen, a city I’ve already visited many times before, more exciting than the Faroe Islands? I think it must be a Norwegian thing. And if that Norwegian thing is contagious I think I must have caught it, because I really loved my time in Copenhagen.

Things to Do in Copenhagen in Winter

I’m new to this season in Copenhagen, but for me the best Copenhagen winter activities all revolved around one thing: getting cosy. I mean, hygge much?

My plan was pretty much to spend my entire time in Copenhagen hopping from cafe to cafe, with a few shopping breaks in between.

But then I remembered that my friend Lena aka Travel Monkey, whom I met in Finland in January, lives in Copenhagen. We made some last minute lunch plans and then she sweetly showed me some of her favorite Copenhagen haunts so that this blog post wouldn’t solely consist of my multiple trips to Sephora and that same coffee shop around the corner from my hotel.

Lena is originally from Ukraine but has been living in Denmark for over five years now and it was interesting to hear from her about the ups and downs of life in Copenhagen.

We met for lunch in Nørrebro at California Kitchen, where we both briefly pretended we haven’t spent all winter in the cold north deprived of sunlight.

Seriously though, while the experience here is more Californian than Danish, I’d still recommend popping in just to see how the Danes deal with Scandinavian winters (by pretending they’re actually in San Francisco). Plus their poke bowl is delicious!

Nørrebro itself is full of trendy cafés, bars, and boutiques, as well as cheap kebab and Asian food places. The most famous street here is Jægersborggade, which has become super hip(ster?) with art galleries, local design and vintage shops, and of course more cafés and restaurants.

In fact my friend Teru whom I had been in the Faroe Islands with also said I had to visit a super trendy restaurant here called Grød, which features a menu consisting solely of porridge dishes. I mean, what’s better winter food than porridge?

After lunch Lena and I headed back across Dronning Louises Bridge to the Torvehallerne food market– two big market halls full of stands with local produce, restaurants, bakeries, bars and coffee shops. So much yum in such a small space!

The Torvehallerne are open from 10 am to 7 pm on weekdays (8 pm on Fridays), 10 am – 6 pm on Saturdays, and 11 am to 5 pm on Sundays.

There was also a flower market outside the Torvehallerne which reassured me that Copenhagen will always have some of its summer vibes!

You know how I said my mom got so excited when I said I was going to Copenhagen? She also will excitedly point out any flowers she spots outside in the winter like it’s some sort of sorcery. The Norwegian love for Copenhagen is starting to make more sense…

Seriously though, Dan put one of our plants outside for about three minutes the other day and it immediately shriveled up and died.

From the Torvehallerne we made our way to Copenhagen’s Old Town, with its cobblestone streets and even more shops and cafés.

And of course we had to stop in Cafe Paludan to peek at all the books lining the walls. Lena said a lot of people try to get sneaky Instagram photos in here and I don’t blame them!

Speaking of Instagram, apparently the area around the intersection of Knabrostæde and Magstræde is the place to get your shots, or at least you’ll see loads of people posing for photos there!

And you’ll also pretty much always see a line of people outside of La Glace, Copenhagen’s oldest pastry shop, though Lena said she’s not sure how often she sees locals lining up there so maybe these days it’s more of a tourist attraction.

But I think my favorite place of all has to be Huset.

Founded in 1970, Huset is Copenhagen’s first culture house, hosting live music performances, theater productions, indie film screenings, and other shows. Though my favorite part of Huset is their board game café, Bastard Café. If you’re in Copenhagen on a particularly cold winter’s day, this is where I’d recommend heading!

Lena also recommended a trip to the Copenhagen Botanical Garden, but I didn’t end up having time before my train to Gothenburg the next day.

But I do love visiting botanical gardens in the winter, as the greenhouses always make for a lovely tropical escape from the cold!

Now, you might notice two places missing from my Copenhagen winter itinerary: Nyhavn and Tivoli.

Nyhavn is the waterfront canal district in Copenhagen that features those famous colorful buildings right along the water. In fact I suspect this might be the only Copenhagen travel blog post ever written that doesn’t include photos of Nyhavn! But to me it will always be a more summery place to visit and not my first pick for cold, windy days.

I imagine the Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen’s amusement park and garden, would be magical in the winter as well, especially around Christmastime when you can enjoy Christmas treats and mugs of spiced wine. But I decided to skip Tivoli this time, since I’ve visited many times before and it really was a bit windy to be going on park rides.

Where to Stay in Copenhagen

I stayed at The Square, which to be honest I really only chose because it was so close to Copenhagen’s central train station. But when I arrived I was totally amazed by how lovely it was!

I loved the design – I find so many big hotels end up looking the same, but The Square really stood out to me – and the rooms were so nice. Mine had an amazing view of the city hall square.

the square in front of the city hall is under construction at the moment

I had no idea when I booked it, but funnily enough Lena actually used to work at The Square! And she confirmed that their breakfast room has one of the best views in the city.

I also really appreciated how close The Square is not only to the train station, but also to the Old Town and shopping areas.

And if you’re wondering about my trip to the Faroe Islands, I’m still going through all of my photos and video footage, but I have already posted my first vlog from the trip, which you can watch here.

The post Copenhagen in Winter – Is It Worth Visiting? appeared first on Heart My Backpack.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
I visited Saariselkä as a guest of the Northern Lights Village

I’ve traveled to Finland a lot more since moving to Norway than I had expected to. I mean, I’ve always loved Helsinki, but otherwise Finland didn’t used to feature too heavily in my travel daydreams. Well, except one place: staying at a Northern Lights cabin in Finnish Lapland.

You know, one of those places with a glass roof so you can watch the Northern Lights dancing in the sky from the comfort of your own bed.

I have been dreaming of doing this for years. I even got close to planning trips a few times, but something always fell through. But then as I was booking my flights home from Helsinki for this January it hit me – why don’t I just book a trip up to Finnish Lapland on my own?

It turns out there are a lot of options for glass-roofed accommodation in Finland, ranging from glass igloos to cabins, and big cities to ski resorts to the middle of nowhere. I ended up choosing the Northern Lights Village in Saariselkä – Inari, the far north of Finland.

I mostly decided to head to Saariselkä because I wanted to be as far north as possible to have the best chances of seeing the Northern Lights, but I also loved that the Northern Lights Village really looked like it was in the middle of nowhere, and that they offered lots of non-Northern Lights activities as well. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned chasing the aurora over the years is that it is not at all reliable, so you shouldn’t plan a whole vacation solely around the chance of seeing it.

And guys, I think I made the perfect choice.

My Northern Lights cabin was so cosy – I still daydream about going back there – the area around Saariselkä is beautiful and also super interesting, and I had so much fun during my days there that there was a lot less pressure to see the Northern Lights at night.

I put together a little film of my stay in Saariselkä, including some of my favorite winter activities there:

Staying in a NORTHERN LIGHTS CABIN in Finland - YouTube

Now let’s talk about this cabin.

I could not get over how pretty it was!

There’s a button you can push to heat up the glass to melt any snow on it, so you’ll always get a clear view of the sky.

The first night I arrived the sky was totally clear, and while frustratingly the aurora was too low on the horizon to really see, lying in bed under the stars (so many stars!) made for the most magical night.

you can just barely see the aurora behind the trees there ^

But like a said earlier, a big factor in my choosing the Northern Lights Village was that I’d have plenty of fun activities to occupy me during the daytime as well. They offer loads of winter activities like snowmobiling, husky sledding, snowshoeing, and hanging out with reindeer.

I was really surprised that my favorite activity of all ended up being the snowshoeing!

Snowshoeing might not be as flashy as dashing through the snow on a snowmobile or reindeer pulled sleigh, but I think that’s actually why I liked it so much. I didn’t need any fancy equipment (or animals), just a pair of snowshoes and the woods.

I went with a wilderness guide from the Northern Lights Village and her friend who works at the nearby ski resort, and we had such a peaceful afternoon walking through the woods and chatting about life in Lapland. We stopped at a kota for some hot juice and cookies, and I loved how totally quiet it was up there.

And of course I couldn’t spend time in Lapland without hanging with some reindeer! The Northern Lights Village offer a few options for visiting their reindeer, including a four-hour reindeer safari, where you can learn all about the reindeer living here. But since my schedule was pretty tight, I instead opted for their “Reindeer Express” – a 25 minute sleigh ride through the woods.

Now, I’m always really wary of any activities involving animals (which is a big reason why I’ve never tried husky sledding – though everyone tells me that I shouldn’t worry because the huskies love it), but after talking to the Sami people in Inari, it seemed like taking a sleigh slowly through the woods doesn’t bother the reindeer too much. At least that’s what they told me!

And I do want to believe that, because the sleigh ride was so nice and peaceful, and a lovely way to see more of the surrounding landscape.

Another one of my favorite experiences at the Northern Lights Village was having dinner in their ice restaurant.

I had visited an ice hotel before in Kiruna, and was so amazed by the intricacies of the ice carvings there. But at the same time, I wasn’t sure I would ever actually want to spend the night inside an ice hotel. But having a nice hot meal sounded much more appealing to me!

The restaurant itself was so beautiful, and the the seats were covered in reindeer skins so I actually felt quite warm, even though the restaurant is kept at around -5°C. Then again, maybe the restaurant felt warm because outside it was in the -20s!

The ice restaurant offers a bunch of different menu options, but I chose a 3-course meal of salmon soup, reindeer with mashed potatoes, lingon berries, and pickles, and a dessert of Cream-braised Finnish cheese with cloudberries.

Now, I don’t know if this was because I was so enchanted by my frozen surroundings, but this was hands down the best meal I had in Finland. You can see all the dishes I ate in my video at the start of this post.

While the aurora was too far north to see much of on my first night in Saariselkä, my second night promised much more Northern Lights activity.

I took the Aurora Hunting by Heated Sleigh tour, where a group of us rode in a little wooden sleigh pulled by a snowmobile out to a dark viewpoint. The sleigh had glass windows but they were too frosty to see anything through, but it was a very comfortable way to get out away from any light pollution for the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

Unfortunately it was snowing heavily the entire time we were there, so we just stayed inside the kota by the fire enjoying some hot drinks and snacks.

But our guide said that we might have a chance to see the lights during the night if the clouds moved at all, so he recommended drinking lots of water so that we would have to get up many times during the night!

I’m a deep sleeper so instead set my alarm for every two hours in the night, and sure enough around 3 am I woke up to see the Northern Lights glowing above me.

The sky was still very cloudy, but the clouds were moving quite quickly, offering a lot of glimpses of the aurora behind them. I actually found it a bit frustrating though, because clearly there was a spectacular show going on, but I could only catch short peeks!

I also tried to take a few photos, but apparently my photography skills aren’t so on point when I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, whoops.

My next and final day in Saariselkä was the snowiest of all, to the point where I even asked my Northern Lights tour guide if it was worth going out. But he just smiled and told me I wouldn’t want to miss this trip.

Confident much? Well, it turned out he was right, because even though I didn’t get even the tiniest glimpse of any aurora that night, this was probably my favorite excursion.

I was the only person on the Aurora Camp by the Border excursion (probably due to the weather), which meant I could sit up front chatting with the guide on the drive up to the Russian border. He grew up in a Sami family living right in Saariselkä, so had all the insider scoop on the area.

So I took the opportunity to ask him about something that had been on my mind since I arrived: that button that melts the snow off the glass roof. I couldn’t stop wondering what sort of toll the hotel was taking on the environment. I mean, surely these individual, half glass cabins must use a lot of energy, right?

But I was surprised to hear that actually they are designed to be eco-friendly, and the cabins are even produced in a local factory.

Besides chatting with my guide, I also loved looking out the window on our drive up to the Russian border. I’ve been dying to visit Murmansk, so it was exciting to drive right by the turn off to the city, and to hear all about it from my guide, and then we drove right up to one of the old border crossings. Driving on the old road to the border (which is now a dead end) really felt like we were headed into the middle of nowhere.

This particular border is now closed, and the facilities were turned into a retirement home for locals! So bizarre.

After a half hour of waiting for the skies to clear we drove down to Lake Inari to try our chances there, but it was still snowing.

About the Northern Lights Village

You can check prices and availability for the Northern Lights Village here.

Both a breakfast and dinner buffet is included in the price of the stay. I really enjoyed the food selection, which featured some local specialties as well, and the restaurant area was always an inviting place to hang out when coming back from a day out in the snow.

The best time to visit the Northern Lights cabins

The Northern Lights Village is open from the end of August to the end of April – basically the entire time when it’s still dark enough to see the Northern Lights.

I asked a lot of the staff when they thought was the best time to visit, and I got a lot of different answers! Some people said to come in the early autumn, when the weather tends to be good and, at least in the past few years, there has been a high amount of aurora activity. I also heard that watching the aurora over Lake Inari is spectacular when it’s not frozen, as the lights reflect off the water.

Some said they love the area around Christmas as it’s so festive (plus, Santa lives in Finland), whereas others said that they’d rather avoid Christmastime as it’s so crowded. Apparently the hotel can also get quite crowded around the Chinese New Year.

Someone said that I had chosen the best time to visit – the end of January – because the days are starting to get a bit longer but it’s one of the quietest times at the hotel (in fact I was the only guest on several of my activities and excursions).

But then someone else said they’d prefer to come a bit later in the winter, when the weather is better and the days are a bit longer – I guess it would depend on whether you want more time to see the Northern Lights or more time to enjoy the outdoors in the daylight.

So basically it sounds like you could have an amazing time regardless of when you visit. But personally I was really happy to have visited in January because I loved how quiet it was, plus I do (weirdly) enjoy the really cold days of winter when the trees are extra frosty.

What to pack for Finnish Lapland

If you’re wondering what to pack for a trip to Inari, I’ve written my packing list for winter in Finland here.

You can also take a look at my guide to packing for winter in Norway, as the climate is the same.

And don’t worry if you don’t have a super heavy duty parka or boots – the Northern Lights Village provides a warm snowsuit, mittens and winter boots for you to wear on all of your activities with them. They’ll make sure that you don’t freeze!

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Hold onto your seats, I’m about to make a big statement: I think winter in Finnish Lapland might be prettier than winter in Norway.

Or maybe it’s just a Lapland winter thing? So maybe Northern Norway is equally beautiful. Or even more so? What I do know is I used to think I lived in the prettiest winter wonderland in the world, but after visiting Ruka-Kuusamo I’m not so sure.

I mean, those trees!

Are trees as good as mountains? I always say that I could never leave Norway for Finland because I’d miss the mountains too much, but these trees could be a game changer.

Let’s just say maybe it’s time for Norway to sneakily delete Finland’s number off my phone and forbid me from seeing her again, because I’m feeling awfully tempted to pack my things and enroll in a Finnish language course. Then again Norway probably knows that if I can barely manage Norwegian there’s no way I’ll be able to move to Finland and learn Finnish.

I started off my time in Kuusamo at Isokenkäisten Klubi, the coziest little guesthouse nestled right in the middle of those snow-covered trees that I was about to become so obsessed with, and just two kilometers from the Russian border.

Isokenkäisten Klubi is run by two sisters, and was built by their parents. Their father has now passed away, but the love he put into building the place was so evident that I left feeling like I had gotten to know him, if just a tiny bit. Which is to say, if bland chain hotels are your thing, don’t stay here.

But if you want a cosy getaway where you can eat traditional Finnish food (some of it grown on site!), experience Finnish sauna, and even organize some outdoor adventure activities, then Isokenkäisten Klubi could not be more perfect.

I then headed to Ruka to stay at the Ski-Inn Apartments, right on the ski resort. I shared an apartment with three blogger friends, Lottie, Van, and Megan (you might now Van and Megan from the Nordics travel group we run together on Facebook!).

This was actually my first time skiing this year, and while I’ve sort of gotten tired of skiing in Norway (I know, I know, I’ll go ahead and turn in my Norwegian passport now…), Ruka made me fall in love with it all over again!

I loved that the mountain has so many blue/beginner runs (they are hard to come by in Norway!) and the views from the top were just insane.

Like, I came to Ruka skeptical that Finland even had hills steep enough to ski down, and I left proclaiming it the most beautiful place I’ve ever skied.

I wish I had managed to take photos from the chairlift because the views were so incredible, but I was too busy holding on for my life – no matter how many times I’ve safely made it up a chairlift, I still feel like I’m constantly fighting the urge to throw myself off the chair into the snow below.

Does that happen to anyone else? No?

Luckily Ruka Ski Resort also has activities that don’t involve soaring through the sky. Like tubing!

And ice climbing! That’s me at the top there:

Lol if only (it’s actually Fabienne). But even if I just made it a few meters up before going all wobbly and begging to come down, it was still really fun to climb such a spectacular looking wall!

The next day we headed to a magical place called Santa’s Cottage, where we all got to learn how to be Finnish for a day! At least I think that was the point of the excursion, as the program is called “Day As a Finn” – you can book it here.

So how do you become Finnish for a day?

Step 1: Make some buns with cinnamon and cardamom.

Step 2: Eat a lunch of reindeer casserole.

Step 3: Play outside in the snow.

Step 4: Eat the buns you baked earlier.

Step 5: Go to the sauna and hit your friends on the back with juniper branches.

Step 6: Run out of the sauna and throw yourself in the snow.

Step 7: Repeat steps 5 & 6.

Step 8: Relax in a jacuzzi.

And that’s it!

There was only one thing missing to complete my time in Finnish lapland: reindeer.

So before catching our flight back to Helsinki, we all headed to Polosaari Reindeer and Fishing Farm to get our dose of reindeer hilarity. I mean, you know how I feel about reindeer.

Here we learned more about reindeer herding while having a cosy lunch by the fire (I’m not going to say what we were eating).

And here’s a video of my time in Ruka-Kuusamo!


I visited Ruka-Kuusamo in collaboration with Ruka-Kuusamo tourism as part of NBE Finland.

The post Ruka & Kuusamo: Winter in Lapland at Its Best appeared first on Heart My Backpack.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Good morning from a very snowy Rauland! It had been snowing heavily every day since I came home from Finland on Saturday, but today the sun came out and it is gorgeous. It’s supposed to be sunny for the next few days now, so I’ll definitely try to get out and take some photos, but until then here’s a photo from my kitchen window, where I’m sitting writing this:

I’m incredibly grateful to get to travel so much for my job, but I’m even more grateful to be able to live in such a beautiful country. Sometimes I come home and just think, why do I ever leave this place?

In fact I’d say moving to Norway has made me feel more settled than I ever have before, to the point where I feel just as excited returning home from a trip as I did leaving for it. And that’s not the only thing that’s changed since moving to Norway.

I developed a chocolate addiction

Guys, it’s bad. Norwegian chocolate is just so tasty that whenever I’m home I struggle to go even a few days without it. But there are studies that claim chocolate is good for your health, right? That’s a thing? ??

I became comfortable with long silences

I’ve always been more of a listener than a talker, but living in Norway has exaggerated that. I think it’s a mixture of not being proficient enough in the language to always jump into conversations when I want to and the fact that Norwegians also seem to be totally okay with long silences.

I started saying “mmm” much more

I made fun of the Norwegian “mmm” in this post about Norwegian people, but sure enough, after long enough living in Norway I’ve started doing it too!

I ditched my vitamins for fish oil

Okay to be honest, I was never good at taking daily vitamins. But now I no longer feel guilty about it, because I start off each morning with a spoonful of fish oil! As does I think just about every other person living in Norway.

VLOGMAS 2016 Day 16 | Fish Oil and Sunsets - YouTube

I stopped worrying about health insurance

Who needs health insurance when you’re taking fish oil?

Lol just kidding. But seriously though, if I were self-employed in the US I would likely be spending a small fortune on health insurance, so I am very, very appreciative of the health care provided in Norway.

I started investing in expensive face cream

After moving somewhere with more days below zero than above (I doubt that’s even an exaggeration – thanks, mountains), I now understand why people would pay so much for face cream. A good moisturizer is so necessary here!

International travel is beginning to take a back burner

While I still have a lot of international trips planned for this year, I’m finding myself more excited for my travels around the Nordics, and most excited for my travels around Norway.

And as I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I can reduce my carbon footprint and travel in a more sustainable way, I’m realizing how lucky I am to have so many beautiful places to explore close to home.

I started watching sports on TV

And I’m not just talking about the Premier League games Dan makes me watch. Since moving to Norway I’ve found myself watching a whole lot of sports that take place on skis, plus any other sport Norway might be excelling at (I’m looking at you, fencing and chess).

I fell in love with slow TV

Shortly after moving to Norway I wrote a blog post poking fun at Norwegian TV shows, especially the Norwegian obsession with slow TV. Who wants to watch 8 hours of a log burning in a fireplace?

I do. I suddenly get what all the excitement is over!

I fell in love with no TV

While I did fall for slow TV, I can’t say the same for the rest of Norwegian televesion – though I did just get some great recommendations from people on this post!

Since moving to Norway I’ve actually watched less television than ever before in my life, and I’m considering that a good thing. I would just much rather spend time outside these days.

I started eating tacos at least once a week

Of all the foods I thought I’d be adding to my diet when moving to Norway, I hadn’t anticipated tacos playing such a prominent role. But what Norwegian can ignore Taco Friday?

Waffles also make a regular appearance on my plate

Sometimes I do feel a bit like a Norwegian cliché with the amount of times I’m pulling out my waffle iron these days. When in Norway, right?

I get my haircut way less often

Okay this one is random, but haircuts are so expensive in Norway that I now only cut my hair once or twice a year – or sometimes I’ll just ask a friend to give me a trim.

I get weirdly excited about seeing the Norwegian flag abroad

In Krakow Catriona and I passed a building with a Norwegian flag and you would have thought I had just spotted my favorite celebrity, the way way I was jumping and pointing.

I hear Norwegian all the time on my travels

We are everywhere.

I now worry less about my job and more about life

All of my friends who are bloggers work so hard and have such impressive motivation to take the blogging world by storm. And then there’s me.

It’s weird, because growing up I was a total overachiever, but it seems like something in me has really mellowed out – and I’m blaming Norway. I’m surrounded by people here who care a lot more about enjoying life than excelling in their jobs, and I think it’s rubbed off on me. In a good way!

I’m less anxious about the future of my career

Every time I bring up the work life balance in Norway I feel like I need to add that one of the big reasons it’s so easy to be relaxed about work here is that wages are really high, regardless of what your job is. So basically, as long as I’m employed I should be financially secure in Norway.

So while no one really knows what the future of blogging will look like, or even if people will continue to be able to make good incomes from it in the future, I’m not too worried because I know I could always go back to blogging as a hobby and making money working in a shop or something. I don’t need a big fancy career in Norway to secure my future.

I spend more time outside

The last two places I lived before moving to Norway were Thailand and southern Japan, both of which got unbearably hot in the summer. So it definitely makes sense that I’m happier to spend time outside here.

But I’ll even find myself taking long walks on freezing cold days, or even rainy days, which is sort of crazy when I stop to think about. I guess Norway has simply given me a huge appreciation for being outside!

I have a greater appreciation for fresh vegetables

Speaking of things I appreciate – living in Norway has made me so, so appreciative of fresh vegetables! The vegetable selection here in the winter isn’t great, for obvious reasons, so now whenever I travel south and can enjoy tomatoes that actually taste like tomatoes I’m so happy!

My heart rate halved

Okay, maybe not actually. But I do feel so calm these days, as well as way more patient than I used to be (confession: I used to have zero patience). I almost feel like Norway has prematurely turned me into an old woman. Though I will be turning 30 this year!

I feel super uncomfortable talking about myself

Lol says the blogger. Okay, clearly I have no issues writing about myself, but talking about myself with people is a whole other story.

Part of blogging involves networking with people in the industry, but at the last few travel events I attended I noticed I’m getting worse and worse at talking about myself in any sort of promotional way. It just makes me cringe. I used to love interviews, and really any chance to talk about the things I was passionate about, but now I’d rather just keep quiet. And when I think of the difference between Americans and Norwegians, I suspect I have living in Norway to blame.

I’m less shy

I wonder if I’m actually less shy, or if Norway is just the first place I’ve lived where it seems like the majority of people are even more shy than I am. But I’ve found that even on my travels abroad these days I’m finding it much easier to speak up in groups, so maybe spending so much time around awkward Norwegians has given me the confidence boost I always needed?

I spend all my money on cashmere

I originally wrote that as a joke, but now that I think about it, it might not be? I own at least ten of these sweaters – they make for an incredibly warm base layer under my thicker wool sweaters and oh my goodness, they are so soft. I may have a problem…

And in case you missed it, here’s a video my friend Vanessa and I recorded last week all about life in Norway:

LIFE IN NORWAY: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly - YouTube

The post 23 Ways My Life Changed When I Moved to Norway appeared first on Heart My Backpack.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

It’s funny sitting down to write this post, because after spending a couple of weeks in Helsinki last year I kept saying how jealous I am of Finland’s ultra hip yet somehow also totally laidback capital city. I mean, I like Oslo just fine, but I secretly (maybe not so secretly) wish that Helsinki were my capital instead. And now I’ve gone and fallen in love with yet another Finnish city: Turku!

Maybe I’m a little too obsessed with Finland, or maybe Finns just really know how to build cities.

Turku lies on the southwest coast of Finland, so before visiting I mostly knew of Turku as that city people often visit on the ferry from Stockholm and Åland. But I soon learned that having been founded in the 13th century, Turku is Finland’s oldest city, and it was actually the Finnish capital up until Finland was taken over by Russia in the early 1800s.

And you can totally feel Turku’s rich history when walking around the city.

While the Great Fire of Turku in 1827 destroyed most of the city, you can still see remnants of Turku’s medieval past when walking around town, and the buildings erected after the fire are also so beautiful. Turku is just a really, really pretty city!

I was a little wary of visiting Turku in winter, because I always thought of it as more of a summer destination, but actually I found it really lovely in January. The River Aura was frozen over – apparently when it’s cold enough people can even ice skate on the river – and on my last day the city got a light dusting of snow which made the colorful buildings even more picturesque.

And here’s a little video I made of my experience in Turku:

A Weekend in TURKU, Finland - YouTube

Things to Do in Turku

I spent three days in Turku on a trip organized by Visit Turku, and they really did such a great job of showing me the best parts of the city. Or at least I enjoyed all the places I went and things I did in Turku – but who knows, maybe they were still hiding some secrets from me? I can definitely imagine Turku being the sort of city where you discover more and more hidden gems each time you visit.

But if you’re new to the city, these were my top experiences there:

Walking along the River Aura

Okay, this is pretty much my favorite thing to do in every place I visit – I just love getting to know new places on foot, and Turku was no exception. I found the city very walkable, and if you stick close the the river you’ll see a lot of the main spots like the Turku Cathedral, the Old Great Square, and the City Library.

Learn to make Karelian pastries with locals

If you visit Finland you will likely see Karelian pastries everywhere – they seem to be a favorite snack of locals – so it was so fun to get a chance to make them with a mother a daughter in their cosy home in the center of Turku!

You can book an afternoon of baking with Johanna and her mom here, or if baking isn’t your thing the website has a bunch of other experiences you can have with locals in Turku.

sorry for the blurry phone photo – my hands were too covered in flour to get out my camera!

Visit Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova Museum of History and Contemporary Art

I’m not the biggest museum fan, but I learned so much about Turku’s history by visiting the archeological site here. They also have contemporary art exhibitions (which I didn’t have time to check out), and if you visit on the weekend you can have brunch at the adjacent M Kitchen & Cafe.

The buffet features a lot of local dishes, including some delicious desserts, and costs 20 euros.

Take a tasting tour through the Old Market Hall

I love Finnish market halls, and I think the one in Turku might be my favorite. They’re a great place to sample local products, and this one also has several little cafes and restaurants as well that make for a cosy spot to take a break on a cold winter’s day.

my mouth is watering just looking at this photo – these were so delicious!

Sauna + Ice Swimming

Experiencing sauna and winter swimming is a must for pretty much any visit to Finland (you should at least try it once!), and sure enough when I looked at my schedule for Turku I found a trip to the sauna at Saaronniemi, on the nearby Ruissalo Island.

I loved that this sauna had a view of lake and trees, which made sweating in a hot room much more enjoyable (I think I’m in the minority that finds the sauna part harder than the ice swimming!).

Get drinks at Brewery-Restaurant Koulu

When I think of the reasons I’m jealous of Turku the brewery/restaurant at Koulu tops the list. I so wish I had a place like this to hang out!

The brewery is in a converted school house, built in 1889, and they’ve kept elements of the school theme both in the decor and the names of their beer. What I loved most here was that the pub spreads out into several of the old school rooms, so even on the weekends it won’t get too crowded, and apparently there’s a good mixture of both young and old people visiting.

Have dinner at Kaskis

Kaskis is featured in the Michelin Guide and Nordic White Guide, which to be honest is something that might actually put me off because I hate very formal restaurants, so I was so pleased to find the atmosphere in Kaskis really laidback.

It’s in small space under an apartment building (so if you want to visit on the weekend you’ll need to book far in advance!) and they’ve managed to find the perfect balance between a comfortable atmosphere while also showing that they really, really care about their food.

And oh my goodness, that food! I think my meal at Kaskis was the best I had while in Finland, which is saying a lot as I visited many lovely restaurants while there.

You can see more of Kaskis in the video at the top of this post.

Have meals at Smör and Nooa

My second favorite meal in Turku was the lunch I had at Smör, another restaurant in downtown Turku with a lovely laidback atmosphere and again, really, really delicious food.

I also really enjoyed my dinner at Nooa, which is right on the river. In fact several of the people I was traveling with said it was their favorite meal of the trip! I’d especially love to return here in the summer to enjoy nighttime on the river.

Go for a hike in Kurjenrahka National Park

Turku has the advantage of being close to some of Finland’s most beautiful scenery on the archipelago, which I spent two days exploring after leaving the city. But if you want a quick nature escape, head to Kurjenrahka National Park! I did a 6 kilometer hike around the lake here (it’s totally flat, so quite easy) and the views were beautiful.

Where to Stay in Turku

I stayed at the Radisson Blu Marina Palace Hotel, which is right on the river and has the prettiest views of the city. The hotel itself is beautiful, the breakfast buffet has a huge selection of Finnish specialties, and there’s even a sauna you can visit in the afternoon to feel like a real Finn.

I visited Turku in collaboration with Visit Turku as part of NBE Finland.

The post I’m Jealous of Finland And The Reason Is Turku appeared first on Heart My Backpack.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

I just returned from Finnish Lapland yesterday, and while I was super sad to live Finland, it was lovely being greeted by a winter wonderland here in Rauland! Apparently it pretty much snowed nonstop over the two weeks I was gone. And now it looks so beautiful!

I have so much to share from my travels through Finland, but first I have something else to share – a new video about life in Norway.

I was in Finland with a bunch of other travel bloggers, including one of my favorite Norway-based bloggers Vanessa from Snow in Tromso. She’s originally from Germany but has been living in Norway for over three years now, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to sit down with her and talk a little bit about life and travel in Norway.

We ended up making two videos, one about all aspects of life in Norway (the good, the bad, and the ugly!), which you can find on my YouTube channel, and another video with all of our insider tips for travel in Norway, which you can find over on Vanessa’s YouTube channel.

This was my first time filming chatty sit down videos, so let me know if you’d like to see more videos like this from me, or if you think I should just stick to videos of my travels instead. And if you do enjoy them, don’t forget to subscribe to my channel, as I’m often too shy to share my videos on my blog.


The post Life in Norway: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly (VIDEO) appeared first on Heart My Backpack.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

A few weeks ago I got a message from a reader who said that she’s just embarked on a three-month backpacking trip, and she’s having some trouble fitting in with the other backpackers at her hostel.

You see, instead of hitting one of the main tourist trails, she had opted for a less popular route, where everyone she met seemed to have already been to all the farthest corners of the world and have all the tales to tell. In other words, (in their words), they were real travelers.

This reader was actually me from the past, asking my future self for advice.

Okay not really, but she totally could have been! Because this is exactly the same thing I experienced on my first big backpacking trip through Central Asia.

Central Asia has become really popular with travelers in the past couple of years (and deservedly so!), but when I was there it was the sort place only the most experienced and intrepid travelers would dare to go. At least I think that’s how a lot of visitors to the region must have imagined it, because my friends and I sure seemed to annoy a lot of fellow backpackers with our giant backpacks full of sundresses and nail polish.

Central Asia was a place for real travelers, and it was very clear we did not belong.

That’s an exaggeration. For the most part all the people I’ve met on my travels have been super open-minded, and in fact I met several of my close friends in hostels. But it seems like there will always be that one judgy person who has to call me out for what I am: a tourist. Ouch!

I remember arriving with my friends in Khorog after hitchhiking with whom we guessed must have been the Tajik mafia, and excitedly telling the Polish guy at our hostel about it.

He translated the story to his Russian friend and they had a good laugh, after which he turned back to us to say, “The stories you tell, they’re such ordinary experiences. They’re not real adventures. Maybe if you keep traveling for long enough you’ll learn that.”

But the thing is, I haven’t. And when I hear people going on about travelers vs tourists, I’m utterly lost. Like, I’m definitely a tourist, but I’m also traveling, right? Or am I??

So to the woman asking how long until she too will be a real traveler, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you’re anything like me it may never happen.

I don’t travel with hand luggage only

I’m in a bunch of travel groups on Facebook because I love hearing other people’s stories and advice from around the world, but ugh can Facebook please come up with a filter so I don’t have to see any more photos of people leaving on a big trip, full of comments underneath telling the person they have way too much luggage and when they’re an experienced traveler they’ll learn to travel only with hand luggage.

80 countries later, I’m still checking luggage for all my longer trips. In fact, I’m considering checking luggage for a two-week trip to Japan and Russia this spring. How am I supposed to fit all my wool in a carry on? And I’d really enjoy my time so much more if I could bring along my favorite (over 100 ml) bottle of dry shampoo.

I sometimes even travel with a suitcase

Yes, backpacks are super convenient and let you traverse deserts, cobbled streets, and rivers with ease, but they’re also really hard to keep organized and hurt my shoulders! So if I’m headed to a destination with smooth surfaces, sorry travelers, I’m going to bring a suitcase instead.

I choose hotels over hostel dorms

I used to be so adamant that hostels were superior to hotels in every way, but then I started thinking more and more about how nice it would be to have my own bathroom, maybe even a bathtub, and some privacy?! To be honest, I just really love a bit of hotel luxury now and again.

I wear makeup when I travel

While all that time in the sun makes a lot of people tanned and gorgeous, it just makes my skin pink and my eyelashes so blonde they disappear. So I’m going to hold onto that tube of mascara and my tinted moisturizer.

I’m super pale

As that guy at the hostel once turned to tell me, “and how long have you been traveling for? Three days? Have you even gone outside yet – you’re so pale.”

I skip pretty much all the museums

I’ve tried to become a cultured adult, but something in me just shuts down in museums.

I like to go shopping while traveling

And instead of soaking in the culture at a museum, I always seem to head to the shopping district to check out the local fashion. Did I mention that I travel with checked luggage?

I go hiking in dresses

Okay, I’m also in awe of those women who manage to hike up mountains in long, flowing dresses (teach me your ways!), but I’d also way rather hike in a dress and leggings than like, anything else. Hiking pants aren’t as comfortable!

I take jumping photos


I’ve never bungee jumped

Or skydived, or done pretty much any other adventurous activity. Honestly I think I might be too scared of heights to ever be a real traveler…

I don’t have any airport lounge access

I know, I’m such a n00b.

I’d rather stay in and chat with my hosts than see the sites

I’ve missed many a bucket list experience because I’ve ended up staying at my guest house all day chatting with the owners, much to the horror of my fellow travelers.

What, you haven’t even hiked Ak-Suu Gorge yet?

Nope, I just spent the afternoon snacking on kurd balls with my new friend Askar.

Yes, I spent the majority of my time in Tehran sat inside the same cafe.

Sometimes I stay in and order pizza

Who needs to experience Ukrainian nightlife when you could be ordering room service and watching Netflix?

Or raiding the local supermarket…

I’m not into maps

I feel like travelers are all really into maps and have amazing ones decorating all the walls of their homes, but… I don’t really get it? I mean, I get it in theory, but I just can’t make myself that excited about a map. I like looking at them on my phone though!

I don’t have a travel tattoo

I love you, travel, but I’m not willing to make that kind of commitment.

I post filtered Instagram photos of myself on my travels

I’ve never been to Chile

Or a whole lot of other must-see places in the world.

I travel with my laptop

Actually I’ve heard mixed opinions on this one.

Some people tell me that real travelers don’t bring any electronics with them, while others say that only tourists can afford to leave their laptops at home.

Make up your mind, guys!

I don’t scuba dive

How can you even call yourself a traveler if you don’t want to explore under the sea?

I’ve heard it all before. But 1. even snorkeling totally freaks me out and 2. I guess I don’t have that much wanderlust after all.

Do you make the cut?

The post 19 Ways I’m Not a Real Traveler appeared first on Heart My Backpack.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

It’s no secret that Norway is my favorite country to travel around, so I’m always trying to think of any Norway travel tips I can share to make your trips to Norway even better. A lot of the articles I write about travel here are inspired by questions people have asked me about planning their Norway holidays, as I get a lot of the same questions over and over.

But I also see so many people making the same mistakes while planning their trips here, so I thought today I could address some of the things you should avoid doing while traveling in Norway.

Budgeting too little (or too much?)

Okay, most people have heard by now that Norway is an expensive country, but the prices can still come as a shock when you get here.

It seems that the two things people most often under budget for are food and gas.

You might find that you end up visiting more supermarkets than restaurants in Norway, so it could be a good idea to look for accommodation with a kitchen – and then you can make some of these super Norwegian, super budget meals! Booking.com has lots of cabins and apartments that usually come with a kitchen, and Airbnb also usually has a lot of lovely and affordable options (if you’re new to Airbnb you can get a discount off your first stay through my sign up link).

And if you’re renting a car in Norway (which I think you should, if you can) remember that on top of the rental price you’ll also be paying a lot for gas. You can check the current gas prices in Norway here. Edit: A reader pointed at that you should be aware that gas prices change many times throughout the week, and the cheapest time to fill up is Sundays.

Though on the flip side, I think a lot of people put off visiting Norway because they think it will be way more expensive than it actually has to be.

In fact, if you’re on a really tight budget I know people who have traveled Norway on next to nothing by hitchhiking, Couchsurfing, and only buying the cheapest food at supermarkets. So you really don’t need to be too put off by the high prices – traveling Norway on a budget is definitely possible!

Underestimating distances in Norway

Norway is a tiny country of just 5 million people, so it can be easy to think that all the distances in Norway will also be tiny. Oh how I wish that were the case, but actually Norway is pretty huge! It extends over 1,000 miles, and is the longest country in all of Europe.

Even looking at a map can be deceptive, as small distance can end up taking surprisingly long to cover when you’re navigating winding mountain roads and catching ferries across fjords. So if you’re planning to spend a few days in Oslo, then hop over to Bergen for a bit, and then drive up to Tromsø to catch the Northern Lights, you might want to consult Google Maps first.

Not accounting for winter road closures

I still make this mistake all the time. I’ll plan a road trip along the prettiest routes and then realize later that, oh wait, May is still winter in Norway and that scenic mountain road will be closed.

Some roads in Norway are closed for winter as late as May or even June and as early as October. I don’t know a site in English with the road information, but you should be able to see which roads are closed at the moment on the map here.

Not booking trains in advance

If you’re planning on taking trains in Norway, please, please book them as far in advance as you can! You can usually book tickets up to three months in advance, and should take advantage of that. Trains here can be really expensive, but if you book your tickets in advance you can buy the Minipris tickets, which usually cost around 200 – 300 NOK for the entire route.

This might still seem expensive if you’re only covering a short distance, but if you can get a Minipris ticket for a long route you could end up paying something like 300 NOK for a 19 hour train journey (the standard price would be about 1500 kroner).

And if you’re traveling to two places on the same day, you can usually still book the journeys on the same Minipris ticket. So if I plan on taking the train to Oslo in the morning, spending 5 hours in Oslo, and then getting the train to the airport, I’ll just change the times when booking the ticket (click on “show details” on the search results) so that I have 4 hours in Oslo.

Relying on buses to get around

You can usually find public buses even in really remote areas of Norway, but often those buses will only run once or twice a day. So if you’re planning on using buses to get around, be sure to check the schedules beforehand to make sure that you won’t spend all day waiting at a bus stop.

Again, this is a reason why I really recommend renting a car if you’ll be traveling in rural areas.

Buying food at convenience stores or gas stations

You might have heard horror stories of people spending $10 for a bottle of water and a chocolate bar in Norway, and it’s true, that’s probably how much they will cost you at a convenience store or gas station in Norway.

But I promise you can find those same exact snacks at a supermarket for a fraction of the price! And as for that bottle of water, Norwegian tap water tastes like elvish elixir, so bring a reusable bottle with you and fill up at the tap instead.

You can find more about how to eat cheaply in Norway in my guide to eating on a budget in Norway.

Forgetting about the daylight issues up north

So most people are aware that you can’t see the Northern Lights in the summer, as the sun never sets up north, but sometimes people forget that the opposite applies to the winter – the sun will never rise.

It won’t be pitch black all day – it sort of looks like just after sunset for most of the day – but you will have limited hours of light (and no sunlight) in the north in the winter, which you’ll want to keep in mind when planning your activities.

Visiting Oslo to see the fjords

This can be really confusing because Oslo technically is on a fjord, but it’s not the sort of fjord you’re visiting Norway to see. If you want to see those stunning mountain drops, head to the west coast instead!

In fact a lot of people fly into Oslo and then immediately get a train or another flight across the country to Bergen, spending most of their time exploring Norway’s super scenic west coast.

Trying to spot the Northern Lights in southern Norway

I’ve written about this before, but I’ll mention it again: if you want to have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights, head north of the Arctic Circle. Yes, a lot of destinations in southern Norway will advertise photos of the Northern Lights, but seeing them in the south really isn’t the norm.

Bonus: Not booking accommodation far enough in advance (especially during high season!)

Someone mentioned this in the comments and it’s so true – accommodation in Norway can book out really quickly, especially if you’re visiting during the high season.

If you’re headed to the fjords in the summer or northern Norway in the winter, then you should really try to book your accommodation at least six months in advance, if not earlier. This way you’ll have the best chance to get the cheapest/nicest hotels.

And if you book on Booking.com, you can often cancel for free if you change your plans later on.

I’ve written up accommodation guides to some of the areas I know best in Norway, including my top choices ranging from budget to luxury accommodation, all of which you can find here.

Have you been to Norway yet? Do you have any advice to add?

If you are looking for travel advice for Norway, or just want to share stories with other Scandinavia enthusiasts, I also admin a Facebook group dedicated just to Scandinavia and the Nordics. This is the perfect place to ask your travel questions and connect with other people interested in the area. Click here to join the group!

The post 9 Mistakes People Make on Their Trips to Norway appeared first on Heart My Backpack.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

I know a lot of people secretly look forward to the end of the holidays, but I’m not one of them. I always feel so sad waking up on December 26th, and I don’t think I’ve ever managed to take down Christmas decorations without shedding a quick tear or two.

But this year was totally different – and not just because Dan managed to quickly take down our Christmas tree while I was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. Instead of curling up under the duvet the day after Christmas, I headed to Krakow with my friend Catriona!

This was Catriona’s first time in Krakow (and Poland!) and my second, and we only had two full days together in the city, so we squeezed in as many sites as we possible could. Or rather, we squeezed in as much aimless exploring as we could, as that’s more our style.

Luckily for us Krakow is the perfect city just to wander through, and it’s kind of hard to walk anywhere without stumbling on a pretty view, cute cafe, or something delicious to eat.

The Christmas markets in Krakow were still up, and we both quickly decided that Krakow’s Christmas Market in the Old Town was the best either of us has been to. Though maybe that was partly because Christmas was technically over, so the market wasn’t super crowded?

Regardless, it was lovely, and I particularly liked how many of the stalls were selling local delicacies. So much yum in such a small space.

From the main square we walked up to Wawel Castle, which has some pretty views out over the city.

And then we stopped for lunch at NapNap Cafe, which was very delicious and had such a cozy atmosphere – I’d definitely recommend stopping in there if you’re looking for a nice place for lunch in Krakow (you can see what we ate in the video down below).

Then we wandered out of the Old Town towards Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter, which has lots of beautiful buildings, quirky cafés and bars, and street art.

And then we headed back to the Old Town for dinner at Gospoda Koko, which has traditional Polish meals. This was probably my favorite place I’ve eaten in Krakow, as the food was delicious and the atmosphere was really laidback. We got the set menu, which included a few choices of a soup, main, and salad.

The next day we sort of did the same thing all over again, pretty much sticking to Kazimierz and the Old Town. Though we did venture across the river to visit Schindler’s Factory, which has been turned into a museum documenting Krakow under Nazi-occupation.

We didn’t have tickets, so we had to stand out in the snow for quite a while to get into Schindler’s Factory, so it would have been smart to book in advance.

And before going to the museum we had a really delicious breakfast at Zielonym Do Gory, which again I’d highly recommend if you’re in the area!

Krakow vlog

I also made a video of our time in Krakow, if you’d like to see more of what Catriona and I got up to in the city:

Krakow, Poland in Two Days - YouTube

Accommodation in Krakow

We stayed at this Airbnb at the edge of Kazimierz, which was really lovely and a convenient base for visiting both the Old Town and Schindler’s Factory. You can get a discount off your first stay if you sign up for Airbnb here.

And last time I was in Krakow I stayed at Globtroter Guest House, which is the nicest little hotel right in the center of the Old Town. The staff here were really helpful, and I loved the old style decor.

The post The Best Cure for Those Post-Holiday Blues appeared first on Heart My Backpack.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
While most of my blog audience isn’t interested in the business side of blogging, personally I love reading and talking about blogging, so I’ve started a blog series that I’ll be keeping separate from my regular content. You won’t see these posts featured on my home page or shared on my blog’s Facebook page, but instead you can find them under “Blogging” in my navigation menu, or you can subscribe to my separate blogging newsletter for updates. This post contains affiliate links.

2017 was definitely a huge year of learning for me when it came to blogging. In fact when looking back at the blogging lessons I learned last year, I really struggled to narrow down the list to 17!

This was the year that I became a full-time blogger, which meant truly starting to treat my blog more like a business than hobby. It was a scary transition, but – and I’m a bit hesitant to write this because I don’t want to jinx anything – every aspect about the move to full-time blogging went so much better than I had expected.

Enough of my rambling though. Here are the top lessons I learned about travel blogging full-time in 2017:

It’s okay to make money from something you love

If I could sum up all of my year of blogging into one lesson, this would be it.

I was super hesitant to make blogging my full-time job, partly because I really enjoyed the social aspects of working in a shop in Norway, but probably mostly because blogging was like, my favorite hobby ever and I didn’t want to ruin it. And to be honest, I was also sort of scared of how others would react to my making a full-time income from this blog.

Except most people didn’t care, or even necessarily notice. Because while I’ll fret over every little detail of this blog, most readers only really care about the words and the pictures over here.

In fact, I’d say about 95% of the criticism you’ll ever get over monetizing your blog will come from other bloggers. We’ll notice if someone publishes a guide full of affiliate links, goes on a sponsored trip, or signs up to an ad network. But non-bloggers? Not really.

So this year I tried to be easier on myself and look at my blog from a reader’s perspective. As long as I continue to share helpful or entertaining things on my blog, and like, not lie about anything, it’s okay if I’m also making money, especially when that means that I’ll have more time to dedicate to making this blog better!

I know, I know, it’s such a ridiculous lesson to have to learn.

Blogging can be really lonely at times

While I now spend a lot of time traveling, I also spend a fair amount of time in my study at home. Alone. I do really miss working with other people, and if my friends didn’t spend so much of their spare time hanging out at my place I think I might go a little crazy during the weeks that I spend working at home.

But I’ve tried to be very aware of this, and make sure that I stay in touch with my online blogging friends and make an effort to see my Norwegian friends at home as much as I can.

Having a community of bloggers I trust is key

Connecting with other bloggers has not only helped with the bouts of loneliness that can creep up when I’m working at home, but it’s also made me such a better blogger.

I have a few blogger friends that I always turn to when I need a second opinion or advice about work, or if I’m feeling stuck and need some motivation. And I also have found so much support and inspiration in The Blogger Course‘s private Facebook group.

I’m part of a few other blogging Facebook groups, but they’re all much bigger and I feel shy posting in them, whereas the Blogger Course Facebook group still has a small, intimate feel to it and the members are all really open, so I never feel like I’ll be judged or attacked for anything I say in the group.

If you want to join, The Blogger Course is on sale until January 14th –  find more details and the current price here.

Bloggers make the best travel buddies

An unexpected perk of blogging full-time has been getting to plan trips with lots of other bloggers! I’m not super into organized press trips, but I have loved putting together my own little press trips with other bloggers.

I mean, we all have flexible schedules, love to travel, are happy to stop for loads of photos, and the more media kits the better when it comes to pitching to destinations.

SEO is like a magic potion for your blog

If there’s one thing that made this a successful year for my blog it was finally concentrating on SEO.

It’s kind of crazy how much of a difference using Keysearch when planning my articles has made. This time last year I was getting about 400 referrals a day from Google, and now I’m getting at least 3,000 a day. Like, what?

And since more search traffic tends to mean more affiliate sales, this has meant that the bulk of my income is now passive, which is so, so nice.

You can get 20% off a Keysearch subscription with the code KSDISC – click here to sign up.

Heatmaps are super helpful

My second favorite blogging tool of 2017 would definitely have to have been Crazy Egg.

I’ve known about this tool for ages, and even ran Crazy Egg heatmaps of my blog way back in 2014, but in 2017 I got so into them. Basically you put some script on your blog and Crazy Egg records heatmaps, confetti maps, and scrollmaps of specific pages, so you can see exactly what people are doing on your website. It’s so helpful!

I probably ran Crazy Egg on 50 different pages last year – I ran it on my homepage when I redesigned my site, my about page, my destinations page, posts that suddenly were getting lots of traffic, posts with lots of affiliate links, and pretty much any other page that came to mind.

You do have to pay for a subscription if you want to use it for longer than the 30 day trial period (I pay $108/year), but you can learn so much in 30 days, and there are lots of other tools that do the same thing that offer free trials as well.

You don’t actually have to spend loads on email marketing services

Ughh this was a bit of a painful lesson to learn. I was spending a small fortune each month to send out my newsletter to subscribers through MailChimp, until I finally got fed up and looked for a cheaper alternative.

MailerLite is much, much cheaper than MailChimp, and I actually like it way more! I find it easier to use, and their customer support is amazing – I’ve always had my questions answered via chat in less than a minute. The annoying thing is that it was actually super easy to switch my list over from MailChimp, which had been a big reason I had been putting off switching in the first place.

I believe MailChimip does have some advanced features that MailerLite doesn’t, but for my (and probably most bloggers’) purposes MailerLite is perfect.

I’m just trying not to think about how much money I could have saved if I had switched to MailerLite earlier. I guess I’ll just add it to my list of things I wish I had done for my blog sooner.

I also wish I had known that I could have gotten $20 off my subscription by using someone’s sign up link

Hotel reviews aren’t always worth it

In 2015 when Dan and I traveled overland from China to the Balkans for five months, over half of the places we stayed were sponsored.

In 2017 I traveled for about two weeks each month, to almost twenty countries, and I think I had maybe four comped hotel stays?

I might just be becoming a lazier blogger, but I think I’ve realized that pitching hotels isn’t really worth my time or effort. I’d prefer to pay for my own accommodation and make money in other ways.

Though that said, I’ll be working with a hotel in Finland in a couple of weeks that I cannot wait to write about – I think it might be the coolest place I’ve ever stayed. So there are always exceptions!

Press trips aren’t always worth it, even if they’re paid

One of the big reasons I quit my job to blog full-time was that I was getting so many offers for trips but couldn’t go on any of them because I was working. Except then I only ended up accepting three press trip offers in 2017.

It turns out I’m a bit of a picky traveler? I ended up turning down several paid trips in 2017 that just sounded really boring, and of the three I did accept one was unpaid but ended up being one of my favorite trips of the year.

I can pay for my own travel and still make money

And that brings me to this revelation – working as a travel blogger doesn’t have to mean always organizing sponsored trips!

Somehow in my head I had thought being a professional travel blogger would have to mean that all of my travels were collaborations. But I tend to prefer traveling independently and don’t really want to give that up. Yes, some of the collaborations I’ve done with destinations and brands have been amazing and paid really well, but I don’t want to be doing them all the time.

So in 2017 I began to put more effort in my passive income streams, so that I could take more independent trips without losing any money.

There’s no one way to be a successful blogger

I used to assume the most well-known travel bloggers were the most successful, and I figured that if I wanted to earn a living from blogging I’d have to try to be like them.

But in reality there are so many different ways to earn money blogging, and what works best for someone else won’t necessarily work best for me. I know bloggers with tiny social media accounts who are making way more money than bloggers with huge social followings, and I know bloggers who are sent on sponsored trips every month but barely make any money from their blogs.

And the same goes for methods of monetizing your blog.

Just because you don’t like the way one blogger uses affiliate marketing, doesn’t mean you can’t make money through affiliates on your blog in a way you are comfortable with. You don’t have to write a sponsored post in the same way others do, and if you want to put ads on your blog but don’t like how many ads are on other blogs, talk to the ad network and see if you can come to an agreement.

Blogging full-time is a lot less work

When blogging was primarily a hobby for me, I could spend hours completing simple tasks. But that was sort of the point – I wanted to be spending lots of time on it, because it was a fun escape.

But now that blogging is my job, I’ve found that I work way more efficiently and actually often spend less time on my blog than I used to.

It’s okay to take time off

Before this past year, I never went longer than a couple of days without looking at my blog. But in May I took a couple of weeks away from my blog and, shocker, everything was fine. In fact I returned to with such renewed energy that I took a few more breaks throughout the year.

Saying I’m a blogger will always feel a bit embarrassing

Is it always going to feel super weird saying I’m a travel blogger when someone asks what I do for a living?

I think the main reason it feels so awkward is that 90% of the time my answer is followed by “and you can earn enough money to live off of with that?” and that really is an uncomfortable question. Like, do they want me to tell them how much money I make each month?

Or maybe I should just refer them to this blog post.

I secretly really love making videos, even though they’re a pain and I’m really bad at it

One of my biggest goals for 2017 was to start making videos, mostly because I kept hearing that bloggers have to get on YouTube.

I ended up making twelve videos of my travels in 2017, and while I’m not sure how much they helped my business, I really fell in love with the format!

I love having the videos as memories of my trips, and I’ve found that now when I return home I’m most excited not to start writing articles or editing my photos, but to begin putting together my videos.

Two Weeks in Morocco - YouTube

Video is a great way to connect with locals from the places I visit

I always say that one of my favorite parts of travel blogging is connecting with locals from the places I visit, especially when I’m writing about less visited destinations.

But last year I found that making videos of my trips can be an even better way to show locals how much I loved the places they come from, especially where few people speak English.

My video of my trip to Morocco was viewed almost a million times on Facebook after Moroccans started sharing it, and after I published my videos from the Comoros I got so many messages from locals inviting me to return.

The Comoros - East Africa's Island Paradise - YouTube

I’m really excited/nervous/impatient to see what 2018 brings

I’m so curious about the future of blogging. I feel like this industry changes so quickly, which partly scares me because I like the way it is now, but also excites me because it’s so crazy to think that I could be making money blogging in totally different ways in just a year or two.

Phew, this ended up being a much longer post than I had anticipated.

I would love to hear your thoughts on blogging, and any lessons you came away from 2017 with!

The post 17 Things I Learned About Professional Travel Blogging in 2017 appeared first on Heart My Backpack.

Read Full Article
Visit website

Read for later

Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.
Start your free year
Free Preview