Category Archives: Travel Blog

Review Of Grand Sirenis Riviera Maya Resort In Mexico

The Grand Sirenis is a luxury resort in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula that I loved so much that I have actually been there on three different holidays!

Yes, it is fair to say that I am a regular. But it isn’t just the resort that I love so much, but the area as well.

I truly think that if you want to take a luxury vacation to Mexico, then you should consider checking out the Yucatan especially the area between Playa del Carmen and Tulum!

And, if you are going to this area then the Grand Sirenis is an option for a great place to stay!

Where is the Grand Sirenis Located?

The Grand Sirenis is located about halfway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum in the beautiful Mayan Riviera. The closest international airport is in Cancun which is about a 3-hour drive away.

While it isn’t necessarily close to the airport, the remoteness is what makes the location so special. The resort is right on the beach offering lots of swimming and snorkelling in the Caribbean Sea.

It takes about 30 minutes by car to get into the touristic booming city of Playa del Carmen or the smaller but equally as beautiful town of Tulum.

What is there to do near the Grand Sirenis?

Because of the Grand Sirenis’ location in the Mayan Riviera, a there is a ton of things to do and see near the resort! One of my personal Mexico highlights would be exploring Cenotes which are large natural pools in the ground.

Some are intricate cave systems and some connect with rivers, but they are all fun to swim and scuba dive in and make for an adventure!

There are also many amusement/adventure parks nearby. Xel-Ha, Xcaret, and Rio Secreto are just a few of the most popular. I personally loved exploring Xel-Ha.

I went tubing in a natural river and conquered the water-based obstacle course. Xel-Ha even hosts special events throughout the year to celebrate certain Mexican holidays and festivals such as Day of the Dead.

There are also many different ruins to check out near the Grand Sirenis. You could go see one of the wonders of the world Chichen Itza on a day trip organized right at the resort, or explore the Tulum Ruins, or even go to the Coba Ruins.

A tour of ruins is a great way to learn about the Mayan history and immerse yourself in the culture.

Going to different beaches or visiting Playa del Carmen or Tulum are also popular things to do near the Grand Sirenis.

What makes the Grand Sirenis special?

There are a couple things about the Grand Sirenis that I think sets it apart from some of the other resorts in the area.

For me, the best is the snorkelling available right at the resort. Many resorts only have a sandy beach and there are no rocks or fish to look at.

But at the Grand Sirenis, they have a sandy beach and rocky area which attracts tons of fish! Bring your snorkel or rent one and go exploring in the sea!

The other thing that is unique to the Grand Sirenis is the “Lazy River.” While there are several pools throughout the resort, the lazy river is a special feature. It is a man-made river system that winds throughout the entire resort grounds.

The supply air-filled tubes and then you jump in the river and float around the resort with a drink in hand! It makes for a very relaxing way to explore the resort and is more entertaining than just sitting poolside.

The atmosphere at this resort is also very special. There is a mix of families, couples, wedding parties, and partiers that all mix together and seems to work.

The staff keep everyone smiling with games and the bartenders love to have a good laugh. But at the same time, there are plenty of places isolated for those who want to relax or have a fine-dining experience.

What are the food and service like?

To be completely honest, I have been to resorts with better food. One of the Grand Sirenis’ strong points is not its food. They do have “a la carte” restaurants which I find are a lot better than the buffet.

While the food isn’t always amazing, there is always a ton of it and you will not find yourself going hungry during your stay there!

The staff are generally happy and helpful. Some of them don’t speak English but still will greet you with a smile and find another staff member who does speak English to help you if needed.

The biggest downside to the resort is the paper-based reservation system which makes checking in extremely slow and often incorrect.

Is the Grand Sirenis good value?

Overall I think a vacation at the Grand Sirenis is the great value. With the rooms, you get all you can eat food, a la carte restaurants for dinner, unlimited drinks and access to the beautiful resort!

While it isn’t perfect, it is for the great value that I keep returning. I know that if I need a vacation and an escape from reality that the Grand Sirenis resort will leave me feeling refreshed after a fun and relaxing holiday.

What You Should Know Before Your Trip To Iceland

It only takes one Instagram story on a trip to Reykjavik before you permanently ink this destination onto your bucket list.

The scenery is beyond amazing, and a trip to Iceland is bound to make you feel like you’ve stepped onto the stairway to heaven.

But there are a few things you should know before that dream trip to Iceland becomes a reality.

Iceland isn’t for the faint of budget

The first thing you’ll notice when you get to Iceland is that nothing is cheap. Prices on this island can range from costly to exorbitant. Expect to pay $20 for one meal at a fast food joint and about $7 for a gallon of gas.

Airport transportation can be particularly expensive, so if at all possible, avoid taxis. Keflavik Airport has a very efficient shuttle service that leaves from outside the main terminal every half hour. It makes stops at all the major hotels in Reykjavik and the BSI bus terminal at the city’s centre.

The ride costs about USD $25, but a taxi would run you around USD $100. The drive from the airport to the city centre is around 45 minutes, so a $25 shuttle fee isn’t that bad. As a bonus, they have complimentary Wi-Fi on board.

This is not something to scare you off from visiting, but you should be prepared and budget for the extra cost. Expect just about everything to be more expensive in Iceland.

There are alternatives to the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located in a lava field near Grindavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula. Is it amazing? Yes, but it’s also expensive and can get overcrowded.

If you have your heart set on going, just expect to deal with crowds. If you’re open to alternatives, though, you may enjoy the nearby Kópavogslaug in Kópavogur.

Don’t bank your trip on the Northern Lights

Unless you’re visiting Iceland in the winter, you probably won’t see the Northern Lights. A lot of people mistakenly think they can see this spectacular phenomenon any time of year, but that’s simply not the case.

But on the other hand, if you’re visiting at a time when the Northern Lights are visible, you won’t be able to miss them.

In order to see the Northern Lights, you need darkness. And because Iceland sits at a high latitude, you won’t find the necessary darkness in the months between April and August.

The lights typically reach their peak in September and March because these are periods of the equinox. If you’re visiting in the winter and want to catch a glimpse of Aurora Borealis, your best chance is between 9:30 p.m. and 1:00 a.m.

Rent a car

Renting a car is the best way to see all the beauty Iceland has to offer, so you should definitely plan for this. But you should know that Iceland is filled with rugged terrain and weather that’s often punishing.

Most of the roads in Iceland are unpaved, pothole littered and completely jagged. They’re absolutely beautiful to the eye, but they are very rough on your vehicle.

All this is to say that you need to get all the insurance coverage the rental company offers. They’ll ask about the type of driving you’ll do, and you can bet you’ll be off-roading and driving up mountains.

If nothing else, the extra insurance will give you peace of mind as your car is jostled around on Iceland’s primitive roads. You definitely don’t want to be stuck footing the bill for repairs on a new vehicle.

You’ll also need to keep in mind that Iceland’s Ring Road runs about 1,332 kilometres. Bringing the necessary equipment such as a map, a reliable GPS, an extra tank of gas, a flashlight, and snacks are all essentials to help you prepare for the unknown road on your trip around Iceland by car!

The weather changes dramatically

They say if you don’t like the weather in Florida, wait a few minutes and it’ll change. Well, Iceland’s weather can be even more unpredictable and dramatic.

Always dress in layers and always expect rain. Weather changes can be even more dramatic in the mountains, and there’s also more of a chance you’ll encounter ice. Make sure your rental car is equipped with spikes on its tires to get you through these touchy conditions.

Low-grade hurricanes are also very common in Iceland, especially in the winter months. These can have a quick and drastic impact on driving conditions. In a winter hurricane, you may encounter what Icelanders call the “white wall.”

As the name implies, it’s a wall of white snow that takes visibility down to zero. Take the weather conditions seriously and follow vedur.is or road.is to get driving condition alerts as they happen.

If you have Iceland on your bucket list, you’re in for a big adventure. The sights are amazing, and the experience is completely unforgettable.

But just like with any vacation, you should do your homework before embarking on your trip. This way, you can be prepared for the worst and in a good place to experience the best.

Why I Chose To Visit Tromsø For My Northern Lights Bucket List Tour

In the novel, The Drifters, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author James A. Michener, the second chapter is about the flaxen-haired Britta Bjørndahl, an 18-year-old girl from Tromsø, Norway.

After finishing school, she finds a job in an office at the docks, but eventually becomes curious about the world beyond Tromsø, and goes to vacation in Torremolinos, Spain for fifteen days.

The novel follows six young characters from diverse backgrounds and various countries as their paths meet and they travel together through parts of Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Mozambique.

When I read it a few years ago, I was as enchanted with Britta’s tales of her childhood in Tromsø, as the fictional narrator of the book, George Fairbanks.

An extract from the book reads:

Britta Bjørndahl was born more than two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle on the island of Tromsø. During World War II her father had been a notable patriot.

For three perilous years, he had resisted the German occupation, hiding out along the fjords and in the mountains to send wireless signals to London or flashlight codes to British ships as they hovered off the Norwegian coast.

At the end of the war four nations decorated him, and in the summer of 1957, the entire crew of a British destroyer flew to Tromsø to relive with him the excitement of those gallant days.

As a huge WWII history buff, I was especially fascinated with the description of the sinking of the great German battleship, Tirpitz, that would “sneak into Tromsø harbor… and hide from Allied airplanes until it was time to rush out and destroy all Allied ships.”

With the sinking of the Tirpitz in the fjords near Tromsø, Hitler lost the last influential ship of his surface battle fleet and this marked the end of Germany’s naval war in northern waters.

After the war, a Norwegian-German salvage operation recovered the remains of the great battleship, but you can see the wreck of the ‘Tirpitz’, in the waters of Tromsø Fjord, Norway, as it was in 1945 in the photo below.

By Daventry B J (Flt Lt), Royal Air Force official photographer. This is photograph CL 2830 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums, Public Domain.

When I was planning my Northern Lights bucket list tour, this is why I chose to do it from Tromsø, Norway. My fascination with the fictional young Britta’s stories, and the fact that Tromsø lies within the Northern Lights Oval made me decide that Tromsø was the place to go.

One of the places in Tromsø that I was keen to visit was the Tromsø War Museum (Tromsø Forsvarsmuseum) where the cannons of a Nazi coastal artillery battery and a restored command bunker lie.

According to the Lonely Planet, “the Tromsø War Museum also tells of the giant German battleship Tirpitz, sunk near the town on 12 November 1944, and the Nazi army’s retreat from Leningrad, when many of its 120,000 troops were evacuated by ship from Tromsø.”

The Tromsø War Museum is open on Sundays in May and September, and every day except Mondays and Tuesdays from June through August.

But on the three days that we were to visit Tromsø, the Museum was closed. Unwilling to give up on my chance to see it, I wrote to the Tromsø tourism board and they gave me the contact of the museum’s caretaker, Leif.

So I emailed Leif and asked him if I could visit the museum as I wanted to write about it. He offered to give me a private tour. Unfortunately, when I emailed him before we left, I didn’t hear back from him, so we had to skip our tour of the Tromsø War Museum.

Our Tromsø Hotel, The Clarion Collection Hotel With

It was a long, tiring journey from Pune, India, to Tromsø in Norway, in early September 2018. When we touched down in Oslo, the temperature was in the high 20s and we wondered where the Arctic chill had gone.

Our first view of Tromsø from the air

We reached Tromsø on a rainy evening, jet-lagged and exhausted, and checked into our charming Tromsø hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With, which was right on the waterfront.

Our Tromsø  hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With

The weather was a bracing 8 to 12 degrees C, so despite our exhaustion, we decided to explore the waterfront and get our bearings in this new country.

Near our hotel on the waterfront with the Polar Cathedral in the background

Thanks to the lovely weather, we managed to spend a lot of time outdoors, watching the boats come in and seagulls beg for scraps in the Storgata square.

A hungry seagull inspects the menu at a food truck in the square

The Clarion Collection Hotel With was a fantastic choice for us. It was slightly more expensive than some of the other hotels I had considered, but it more than made up for it in terms of location and food.

The beautiful waterfront near our hotel

The best part was that we spent absolutely nothing on our meals. Norway is an expensive place, and if we’d had to pay for our meals, it would have cost us a pretty penny.

I absolutely loved the Norwegian brown cheese (brunost)

However, at the Clarion Collection Hotel With, not only was breakfast covered, but there were free waffles in the afternoon and coffee available anytime.

Delicious waffles for lunch

To our delight – and this is the best part – we found that dinner was also on the house and it was always a delicious buffet with a fish or chicken main course. I felt like we’d died and gone to heaven!

Delicious dinners on the house

In the afternoons, we had to make our own waffles in the waffle iron, but the hotel provided the dough and toppings.

The waffle iron

While we were waiting for the waffle iron to heat up, an American lady came up and stood by me. She asked me if I knew how to make waffles.

Only half-joking, I said I watch MasterChef. She found that quite funny and proceeded to tell us how they saw the Northern Lights a lot in Alaska, where she lived.

This poor guy greeted us when we arrived

Arun and I enjoyed the three autumn nights we spent at our beautiful and comfortable hotel on the waterfront.

Arun Vs Polar Bear

The staff was pleasant and friendly and the hotel was very close to the Storgata (the main street) and within easy access of everything you could possibly need.

Exploring the Storgata (main street)

It was the perfect base for our Northern Lights Chase near Tromsø and our Fjord Sailing excursion, too.

The Fangstmonument (Arctic Hunter) – statue of a whaler in a boat

Other than those two tours from Tromsø, we didn’t venture too far from the hotel, except to visit a supermarket nearby and the Polar Museum, which I’ll cover in another post.

The Norwegians sure do love their breads

If I ever go to Tromsø again (and I hope I do), the Clarion Collection Hotel With is where I’ll stay. The perfect location plus free food! What more could we ask for in our Tromsø accommodation?

Also, read:

Watch a lot more photos from our Tromso tour in the video below.

 

3 Sustainable Travel Tips To Make The World A Better Place

In my eyes, travel is one of the most important things we can do to better ourselves.

Not only do you see amazing monuments and meet colourful people, you learn different ways of overcoming issues and grow as an individual.

As a traveller, I’ve always tried to support the local community I was visiting, However, it wasn’t until I ventured to Asia did I fully see the importance of sustainable travel.

Phi Phi Island, Thailand

From supporting local companies that give back to the community to just making a positive impact with everyone you meet, sustainable travel is fulfilling and much easier than a lot of travellers think.

Here are 3 ways to travel more sustainably so you can change people and the environment and yourself for the better.

  1. Book a tour with a sustainable travel company

I get it. Travel can be expensive and a sustainable tour only costs more.

But when you meet your local hiking guide or scuba diving instructor, I personally love to know they are paid a decent wage for guiding me for a day or two.

For example, during my time in northern Vietnam, I booked an overnight tour through the cascading rice terraces around SaPa. When I travelled through SaPa, only two trekking companies were known to give back to the locals in the area – SaPa O’Chau and SaPa Sisters.

SaPa Trek, Vietnam

I eventually settled on SaPa O’Chau and even though their guided trek was a little more expensive I was assured the extra money goes straight to the guides and owners of the homestay.

As soon as I met my guide Xuan (pronounced ‘swan’) I was so glad I knew she was getting paid well. It made me feel like a better traveller.

Hiking in SaPa, Vietnam

Xuan doubled as my homestay owner, and not only did her family cook for our small group of four hikers, a comfortable bed for a good night’s rest was provided.

If I contributed to many companies in the area that possibly pay their employees an unfair wage for guiding a trek all day, I would’ve felt terrible. Let alone interacting with her wonderful family.

Sustainable travel is incredibly important to the locals who depend on the industry to survive. However, travelling responsibly comes in many other forms.

  1. Book a tour guide with a company that cares for the environment

Travel is amazing because it’s able to bring so many people together from different cultures and walks of life.

Learning about not only the local area but your fellow travellers as well. Protecting our environment so others can enjoy the beauty we sometimes take for granted.

Once again, Asia opened my eyes to the importance of education and action when it comes to the environment.

Growing up in Australia I always had a profound respect for the oceans and the marine life within it. When I travelled through Asia it became obvious the same environmental concerns were not present.

Education is such an important aspect of environmental protection. I saw many locals toss empty water bottles into rivers as if it were the bin.

For the most part, it’s not knowing that the plastic bottles take so long to decompose. That’s why I love supporting companies who not only educate why preservation is important but also initiate beach and ocean clean-up days.

In 2018 I visited Thailand to learn how to scuba dive, it was every bit as amazing as I hoped.

Maya Bay, Phi Phi Island, Thailand

While some beaches are incredibly beautiful, with clear waters and golden sands, if you explore a little further it’s not hard to see one where all the rubbish piles up.

From hundreds of flip flops and water bottles to Styrofoam and toothbrushes. It can be hard to stomach.

After diving, my love for the water only grew and I put a decent amount of effort into researching companies that care for the ocean. I found Princess Divers on Phi Phi Island.

With great guides and stunning underwater scenery to work with, I loved diving with them. However, it was their love for protecting the water that made them my sole recommendation for diving on Phi Phi Island.

Not only do they organize a regular clean-up of the beaches in the area, but the education they provide about the ocean is also second to none.

From identifying unique marine life and how to respect their environment to choosing products, like sunscreen, that don’t negatively affect the ocean and marine life within it.

  1. Make a positive impact with everyone you encounter

Travelling sustainably and ethical comes in many forms. Just engaging with a local or another traveller can be an easy way to enrich travel experiences.

Hanoi is one city where a simple conversation can help a local more than you might think. Every weekend, the small park around Thap Rua closes the busy streets and families flock to play games and talk.

Hanoi at night, Vietnam

Many young kids and university students will spark conversations with tourists to practise their English. It’s even part of some university courses to practise their English with travellers.

Not only does engaging with locals help them, but it also makes travel more fulfilling for you as you learn more about local ways of life.

Fulfilling travel doesn’t need to expensive and engaging with the locals is an amazing way to get more from your time on the road without spending a dime!

Travel is my favourite thing to do. Full stop.

Making sure you leave a positive impact on every place you visit not only helps you evolve into a more satisfied traveller, but the effect of choosing ethically-minded companies and even just interacting with locals can also create such a profound change to people and the environment.

This is why travel is such an important thing for all of us to do.

Yoga In Thailand: The 5 Best Yoga Destinations In Thailand

Looking for the five best yoga destinations in Thailand? This Thailand yoga blog has all you need to know about yoga in Thailand.

When in Thailand, look around, and you can find hundreds raving at the full moon party and basking in the glory of the Sun on a white sandy beach.

But, the delirious charm of this land makes the visitors oblivious to the quiet places, yoga and spiritual spots, alluring temples, and the natural parks with wildlife.

Your search for finding the best destinations for yoga and spirituality in Thailand ends right here.

  1. Chiang Mai

Regarded as the “Rose of the North” in the land of Thailand, Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand. Its sweeping beauty, mountains, waterfalls, and enveloping calmness has stolen many hearts.

Due to the flourishing nature and the peaceful vibes of this town, practising yoga and reconnecting with the self is undoubtedly the best experience here.

Offering something for everyone, lip-smacking food, incredible scenery, and thriving community of health and wellness, Chiang Mai is without a doubt the perfect place in Thailand for yoga retreats and yoga training.

The numerous yoga studios in the old charming city of Chiang Mai emphasizes on laidback lifestyle and simple living, Chiang Mai is where you can truly live a yogic experience.

So, browse the popular Thailand yoga retreats and classes in jaw-dropping Chiang Mai and wholeheartedly embrace your yoga journey.

  1. Bangkok

The busy capital city of Thailand, Bangkok isn’t the first place you think of when undertaking yoga practices. It’s natural to think that way because Bangkok is a place bustling with sounds and chaos.

However, amongst the wildness, this capital city offers charming yoga studios with excellent facilities and that too, quite budgeted. In Bangkok, you can find yoga schools dedicated to imparting quality yoga practices through their team of qualified yoga teachers.

In addition to the yoga studios, Bangkok also has numerous healing therapy centres and massage parlours that are just perfect to unwind from the hectic day.

Additionally, Bangkok is recommended for yoga practices as it is the place of golden shining temples and historical spots like Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Arun, Wat Pho, and many others.

The fascinating sculptures, lush-green landscapes, inspiring inscriptions, and the magnificent beauty of these places stir the eyes and soul in unimaginable ways.

  1. Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan is an island blessed with impressive cliffs, calm turquoise sea, and swaying palms. It is a leisure home by nature. Staying on Koh Phangan Island surrounded by nature and the warm temperature, help you feel at ease.

Vibrant yoga spaces and leisure homes like Tea Temple and the Sanctuary at Haad Tien make for peaceful places to get along with the other yogis for workshops, talks, sessions, and therapies, where new bonds of friendship and life are explored with a different perception.

These are also opportunities to spend time in self-reflection and self-introspection in the ambient corners of these sweet spots. Koh Phangan is one of the best places in Thailand where the yoga energy is all-flowing.

You can find numerous Thailand yoga centres with highly experienced teachers and some from the traditional Indian background to satiate your love for the Eastern yoga practices in Phangan.

At the various health and yoga retreats in Koh Phangan, you can experience intriguing yoga sessions, healing therapies, and spiritual talks that allow you to relax, rejuvenate, and reconnect with your body and soul.

  1. Koh Samui

Whether you are relaxing on a silken sandy beach, dozing in a hammock, adventuring in thick jungles, overlooking a calm cobalt sea or experiencing wellness in a luxurious spa, Koh Samui has it covered.

There is no better way to restore your health to the maximum than with yoga in Thailand, and Koh Samui is the perfect island overflowing with health, wellness, and yoga.

You can meet the best of practitioners at spa centres, yoga studios, leisure homes offering yoga, chakra-balancing techniques, herbal treatments, etc., to ease away the aches of a monotonous life and cultivate a deep sense of serenity.

The delightful yoga destination of Absolute Sanctuary in beautiful Koh Samui is famous for its yoga program and an extensive collection of delicacies ranging from simple Thai dishes to exotic regional curries.

  1. Hua Hin

Come to Hua-Hin– the destination where the city meets the sea. Hua Hin boasts of lively ambience, international cuisine, and excellent accommodation attracting many visitors from across the globe.

There are plenty of five-star boutiques and yoga centres with daily classes on meditation and asana where yoga nomads can learn yoga as well and spend time with oneself. Shakti Yoga Center in Hua Hin offers to its clients a unique experience combining the traditional and modern yoga approach for the modern yogis.

The health retreats of Hua Hin are a great way to enjoy seafood prepared by indigenous chefs and unwind in a relaxing atmosphere. You can take this break to detox your body and soul with healthy dishes and enjoy a healing experience of Reiki and massages.

These five destinations should always be on any visiting yogi’s agenda when planning to explore yoga retreats in Thailand.

How To Travel Lavishly In Europe On A Budget

Do you want to travel like royalty through Europe, but on a pauper’s budget? It’s easier than you think with a little research and planning.

First, make sure you have all the technology essentials you need if you plan on renting a car, from converters to your go-to must-haves for road trips.

For Americans, the dollar is relatively weak in most European countries, so everything is going to feel like it costs more. One of the most significant money sucks in Europe is buying items you forgot at home.

When shopping for tech, remember to check out the voltage requirements for each country you’ll visit. There are some fantastic voltage converters that work in most European countries.

These cost a little more than a converter for just one country, but if you’ll be travelling across Europe it’s worth it—and helps save room in your suitcase.

Technically, there’s some wiggle room in voltage conversion. As long as the conversion is within ten volts, you and your equipment will be safe.

Don’t forget that there are often two kinds of converters: Those that simply convert the technology so that it can plug into a foreign outlet, and those that actually convert the voltage. You need the latter if you want to keep your tech safe.

Here are a few ways on how to travel Europe on a budget.

  1. Take the train

At first blush, taking a train certainly doesn’t seem more lavish than flying. However, the trains are the best way to really immerse yourself in an authentic culture.

You’ll get to take in sweeping views of rural parts of the country as well as get a front row seat in the heart of metros.

Trains also whisk you from the city centre to city centre, often with no need of a costly cab ride to get to your accommodations once you arrive. You can avoid the time spent at airports, the stress, and the ghost taxis at airports when you travel by train.

Sometimes travelling by train is even a little more expensive, but the costs quickly even out when you consider the money saved with taxis. By design, airports simply can’t be in a city centre.

  1. Eat like a local

Research how what, and when locals eat to maximize your food budget. Many Europeans pick up fresh ingredients every day to whip up delectable meals.

In many countries, you can grab a quick bite in the morning from a local bakery for less than two dollars. Locals know how to actually live where you’ll be travelling, and this means avoiding overspending on the food budget.

For example, a croissant from a local patisserie in Paris and a black coffee is mouthwatering and cheap. However, if you spring for a full English breakfast in England, you’ll be out quite a few pounds (and be the only one doing it).

  1. Rent a room or apartment with a kitchen and avoid hotels

Hotels ultimately all feel the same around the world, and few in Europe are going to have kitchens.

If you really want to experience the culture, check out room and house shares. This gives you access to a kitchen for cooking and often better locations for a fraction of the price.

Depending on how you’d like to travel, you could opt for a homestay with the resident and get insider tips on how to really experience the neighbourhood.

  1. Walk as much as you can

How is walking luxurious? In Europe, it is because this is how you’re going to discover all those little gems that aren’t mentioned in guidebooks.

From a bookstore you’ll fall in love with to the best little shops tucked away down alleys, walking in European cities is an absolute must. It will feel like a simple coincidence that you’re also saving oodles on taxis and Ubers.

  1. Rent a bike

If you want to cover a little more distance while getting around Europe on a budget, you’ll feel right at home renting a bike.

Many shops in Europe offer these services, and many hotels do as well (while renting someone’s home can often come with the use of a bike).

  1. Understand the tipping culture

Tipping is sometimes expected in most European countries, but the average is often much less than the American standard.

Research who to tip and how much in each country to make sure you’re sticking with regional tradition. After all, nobody is going to refuse a whopper of a tip.

  1. Travel in the offseason

The offseason in Western Europe is what you’d imagine it is in the US. Cold weather months mean cheaper airplane tickets, excepting major holidays and festivals.

Yes, you’ll need to bundle up but you’ll also experience certain events, festivals, and experiences that you’d miss in warmer months. It’s a trade-off, but you’ll save quite a bit doing it.

  1. Keep your luggage to a minimum

One of the easiest ways to inconvenience yourself and pay more for flights and taxis is by overpacking. Try to ditch at least one suitcase you plan to take and know exactly what the fees are for your particular airline.

A European getaway is a wish list item for many. Of course, there’s also always backpacking Europe and staying in hostels, but that’s a romantic endeavour that’s often more challenging than you think.

You can start exploring Europe on a budget and feel like a prince or princess without committing yourself to solely hoofing it everywhere.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this travel guide to Europe on a budget. Do leave a comment below if you did.

Tromsø Excursions: Norwegian Fjord Sailing With Pukka Travels

“Ahoy Matey,” I called out as I took the steering on The Golden Eagle, the yacht we boarded in central Tromsø, just a short walk from our Tromsø hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With.

Ahoy Matey! All hands on deck

I would have added a more piratey “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum,” if I wasn’t so busy watching the horizon, hoping I wouldn’t ram us into another boat. Luckily for us all, my stint as skipper was brief and I was relieved when Tobias took the wheel again.

Hard a port and look sharp

We were on our fjord sailing excursion from Tromsø, and I was enjoying the splendid view and the breeze hitting my face as I kept warm in my thermo suit.

Enjoying the breeze in my warm thermo suit

When I was planning our trip to Norway, researching what to do in and around Tromsø in September, I realised that it was the perfect time for a Norwegian fjord sailing excursion.

Norway in the autumn

The weather was great (between 8 and 16 degrees C), the days are not too short, and the fall colours are lovely. Sailing the fjords of Norway was one of the Tromsø excursions on my bucket list, so it was a no-brainer.

Fall colours on shore

I booked our fjord excursion in Tromsø with a tour operator called Pukka Travels, that sails in the fjords 364 days a year.

Our Skipper, Tobias

The night before our fjord sailing trip, we were out till 3 am, chasing the Northern Lights with GuideGunnar and managed to get only a few hours of sleep.

After a quick breakfast at 8 am, we met the three crew members, Tobias, Nick and Jonas (I kid you not!), near their lovely little yacht parked in the Tromsø harbour alongside the Scandic Ishavshotel.

Jonas and Arun catch the breeze

Luckily for us, early September is the lean season in Norway, so we were the only people on the excursion and got their full attention.

Tobias gave us a rundown of all the safety measures to be followed and what to do in the unlikely event that the boat sank. He offered us the thermo suits because the wind chill was brutal, despite the pleasant weather. I gladly took one.

As we set sail along the harbour, Jonas told us about the mountain peaks up ahead and about the stone-age settlements that were found there.

The mountains with the stone age settlements

They also pointed out some prehistoric stone carvings on the distant shore as we sailed through the fjord.

The site of the prehistoric stone carvings

Tobias informed us that we needed to catch some fish so they could make fish soup for lunch, or else we’d have to settle for a vegetarian soup. I don’t like to fish, but Arun was game, so Tobias gave him a quick lesson with the fishing rod.

Arun gets a fishing lesson

Arun managed to get a couple of nibbles, but they got away.

Trying to catch our lunch
Hoping for a bite

Tobias caught a little fish which he let go since they’re not supposed to catch small fry. He finally managed to snag a decent-sized one for our lunch and proceeded to gut it in a bucket.

Tobias guts the fish he caught for lunch

While the crew cooked our meal, Arun and I sat at the bow of our fjord sailing boat, taking photos and enjoying the journey.

Splendid views of the fjord
Me mate at the bow

Soon our lunch was ready, and the crew called us down into the dining room where they served us a piping hot fish soup, accompanied with some bread.

Lunch is served

The fish soup was delicious and very filling, and we downed it with the bread pretty quickly. After the soup, they offered us a choice of a number of teas or coffee.

Steaming hot fish soup
Accompanied by bread

We chose the coffee and sat around the table exchanging travel stories and enjoying a few laughs. Nick happened to be an expat from Australia who moved to Norway with his wife, so we found his experiences quite unique and interesting.

Jonas and Nick

Our Tromsø fjord excursion lasted around 3 hours and, although we didn’t spot any wildlife (it was too early in the year for whale-watching), we had a very enjoyable time, thanks to the amiable and funny crew of The Golden Eagle.

A fine crew they were, too

Also, read:

Watch the video of our Norwegian fjord sailing excursion with Pukka Travels and contact them to book your Arctic sail safari in Tromsø.

https://youtu.be/X5Yk0sSdOOs

 

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Chasing the Northern Lights From Tromsø With GuideGunnar

“How do you sleep during the Midnight Sun?” I asked GuideGunnar.

“I close my eyes,” he said, tongue-in-cheek, eliciting a laugh from us as we waited for the Northern Lights to appear at Rekvikeidet, a chilly, open plateau near Tromvik.

Arun and I shivered in the icy winds, looking to the heavens for a glimpse of the elusive Lady Aurora until I decided to stop torturing myself and put on one of the thermo suits that GuideGunnar had offered us. Arun took one too, and we both felt much more comfortable.

It was after 10 pm on the 5th of September 2018, and the long days and short nights of autumn meant we had to leave an hour later than usual on our Tromsø Aurora chase.

The Northern Lights Tromsø tour left from Guides Central, which turned out to be just behind our Tromsø hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With.

We were expected to report at 7.45 pm, so we left just a few minutes before that and climbed up the stairs of the two-storey building to where GuideGunnar was waiting.

Guide Gunnar sits near a photograph of himself as a young man

He welcomed us and told us that one other couple would be accompanying us, so there’d be just four of us tourists on his small Northern Lights group tour from Tromsø.

The young Chinese couple who came in turned out to be from Hong Kong. They didn’t speak much, except to giggle and whisper to each other during the tour.

I was very curious to learn more, so I paid close attention when GuideGunnar told us what to expect on our Northern Lights Tromsø bus tour.

GuideGunnar’s Aurora Tour bus

He explained that depending on the weather and if the clouds came in, we may have to drive for hours, and even cross the border into Finland, if necessary.

He also told us a bit about the history of Tromsø, which played a big role in World War II (more on that in another blog) and was generous in sharing his in-depth, local knowledge.

We told him about our upcoming trip to Lyngen North, and he said he knew Ola, and that his grandfather would probably be able to tell us more about the war since the Germans had built the Spåkenes kystfort in the area.

Because it was still early and quite bright, Gunnar took us first to a spot where some wild reindeer had been spotted, and we could see them grazing from afar.

Reindeer graze in a far away field

When I asked him which supermarket was the best place to pick up provisions, he recommended the Eide Handel in Eidkjosen, where you can get the best quality produce. He even took a detour to Eidkjosen so we could pick up some stuff.

Eide Handel, the premium supermarket in Eidkjosen

Since we didn’t want to be lugging big bags around on our Northern Lights chase from Tromsø, we didn’t pick up any provisions. Instead, Arun picked up some premium tobacco called Snus. Gunnar found this very funny, considering that the supermarket had some of the best produce available.

Our next stop was a scenic spot called Henrikvika by Kaldfjord, where we stopped to take photos of the beautiful bay at twilight.

View of the fjord at Henrikvika by Kaldfjord

After that, we made a stop at the fishing village of Ersfjordbotn, and enjoyed the sunset while Gunnar chatted with a fisherman.

Sunset at Ersfjordbotn

Next, we drove to the top of a hill at Grøtfjord, where we waited by the side of the road wearing the luminous, reflective wristbands that Gunnar had given us for night safety.

Brilliant sunset at Grøtfjord

We spent quite a while here, watching for the Aurora borealis and enjoying the fabulous view of the bay and the long sunset until Gunnar decided that it wasn’t happening and decided to take us to another location.

This involved a drive on some roads that seemed a bit unfinished, to an open and windy plateau where we would have the best chance of spotting the lights.

Our Aurora Chase Route with GuideGunnar

Here, GuideGunnar provided us with tripods, helped us set up the cameras and gave us an impromptu lesson in Northern Lights photography. He set the camera to manual, increased the exposure time and set the ISO to 800, telling us to change it as needed.

Since I had no experience with night photography, his guidance proved invaluable as darkness fell and the first wispy threads of the Aurora made their appearance on the horizon.

My first attempts at photographing the Northern Lights

The Aurora borealis, when it is weak (GuideGunnar rated that night’s Aurora activity as 2/10) looks like translucent clouds with little to no colour to the naked eye. It’s only when photographed through the DSLR that the greens and purples appear.

Once I got comfortable with adjusting the camera settings to capture more light, I got much better photos.

The Northern Lights in early September near Tromsø

I even tried my hand at some Milky Way photography when the Aurora took a break. It didn’t turn out too bad, even if I say so myself. 🙂

My attempts at photographing the Milky Way

GuideGunnar set up a campfire for us and served us a delicious snack called Skattøra Lefse – Arctic Norway’s traditional and locally made pastry with cream and sweet goat cheese.

Campfire under the Northern Lights. What more could one ask for! © GuideGunnar2018

Since I’d taken a liking to the Norwegian brown cheese or Brunost, I enjoyed it thoroughly. He also served some hot blackcurrant jus, which was very welcome on that chilly night.

As we sat around the campfire in our thermo suits, Arun and I lay back in the grass and watched satellites drift slowly across the sky. With no light pollution, we could see them clearly. It was a rare sight for city folks like us.

GuideGunnar’s photo of our Aurora Chase. © GuideGunnar2018

Gunnar decided that we should wait till 1 am to see if the lights returned. Arun and I were still jet-lagged and exhausted by this time, and we had a Fjord sailing excursion planned the next morning, so we rested in the bus till it was time to go back.

According to GuideGunnar’s Aurora blog, we covered 120 kilometres and spent 6.5 hours on our Northern Lights chase from Tromsø. It was our first excursion in Norway and a very enjoyable one.

Lady Aurora dances above while GuideGunnar takes a photo

GuideGunnar was the perfect tour guide and his photography tips served me well when we stayed at Lyngen North. He also happens to be a local TV star of the Chasing the Northern lights TV series.

Tips for your Northern Lights Chase in Tromsø with GuideGunnar:

  1. The best time to see the Northern Lights is from early September to early April. North of the Arctic Circle, the sun does not rise above the horizon during the middle of winter (from around mid-November to mid-January). This is called the Polar Night.
  2. The Northern Lights are visible when darkness falls so you can see them from mid-August. The tour guides begin their Aurora chases from the beginning of September. However, when I tried to book an Aurora chase for my dates (5th and 6th September), GuideGunnar was one of the few tour operators in Tromsø willing to take small groups on a tour before the 15th. That’s dedication!
  3. You can download the My Aurora Forecast app to see how likely you are to see the Aurora borealis and find out about solar wind activity (which is what causes the Northern Lights). However, no one can guarantee that you’ll see them. It takes a combination of good weather and solar wind activity to have a good chance of seeing them. Oh, and a good Aurora guide and a healthy dose of luck, too!
  4. The Northern Lights are most likely to shine often and strongest between 8 pm and 2 am, but it’s also possible to see them before and after this period.
  5. The nights can get pretty cold, even in early September, and when you’re chasing the Northern Lights outside Tromsø, the wind chill can get quite uncomfortable. Wear 2 to 3 layers of clothing when you go on a chase and if you’re freezing, don’t try to be brave and ride it out. Put on a thermo suit and stay warm, even if it looks a bit ridiculous.
  6. GuideGunnar will show you a movie or two about the Northern Lights while he’s driving you in his bus. Soak it all in, including the fascinating science behind them and the strange beliefs and superstitions that people had about the lights in days gone by.
  7. For Northern Lights photography, you’ll need a DSLR or mirrorless camera. A mobile phone won’t cut it, no matter how good it is, as you need long exposures (some of mine were 30 seconds long). Guide Gunnar will provide the tripod so you don’t need to carry one. Follow his guidance on taking Aurora photos as he’s an expert on it.
GuideGunnar shared this Aurora borealis photo taken on another day. © GuideGunnar2018

Read all about GuideGunnar’s Aurora Chase tours and watch his movie here. For a 5% discount on his tour, like his Facebook page and book directly on his Facebook app.

However, for the best discount on GuideGunnar’s chases, you can book more than one chase, since you can’t be sure when you’ll see the Northern Lights. Here are the discounts he offers.

Northern Lights ChaseSavers:

  • Book 2 Chase dates and save NOK 500
  • Book 3 Chase dates and save NOK 1000

Some of the photographs in this post were provided by GuideGunnar and are indicated as such.

Also, read:

Watch the highlights from our Northern Lights guided tour from Tromsø (and some fabulous Aurora borealis photos from GuideGunnar) in the video below.

https://youtu.be/x2zSW8K9FNY

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Lyngen North: Northern Lights, Fjords and Fogbows

The Northern lights danced above our heads, cascading across the clear autumn sky in an explosion of green and purple.

The Northern Lights on our last night in Norway

As they raced in an arc across the heavens, the lights waxed and waned, and I gave up trying to use a tripod in my effort to catch something of them before they completely vanished.

It was the most spectacular display we saw

The amazing performance lasted about 30 minutes before it faded to a few lights glimmering on the horizon. It was our third and last night at Lyngen North and the most spectacular one by far.

We had journeyed to Norway from India in early September 2018  – a bit too early to see the Northern Lights, some would say – and we’d travelled around 200 kilometres north from Tromsø to enjoy the Aurora borealis from the unique vantage point of a glass igloo.

The route from Tromso to Lyngen North

Ola Berg, whose family has lived for three generations at Lyngen North, picked us up from Tromsø in his Tesla Model X, and drove us to Spåkenesveien in Rotsund, where he settled us into our glass igloo at the shore of the Lyngenfjord.

Driving from Tromso to Lyngen North in Ola’s Tesla

Contrary to my expectations (early September isn’t the optimum season for Northern Lights), we saw the lights on 4 out of our 6 nights in Norway, despite the long days and short nights of autumn.

At Lyngen North, finally

On our first night at Lyngen North, the sky was clear and we saw them dance above our heads from our little wooden bench on the shore of the Lyngen fjord.

The Northern Lights on the first night at Lyngen North

We were thrilled when we saw a shooting star streak past the lights and I managed to catch it on camera.

A meteor streaks across the sky as the lights dance nearby

The second morning, we awoke to a thick fog that enveloped our glass igloo in its wet embrace, leaving droplets of condensation inside my camera lens and concealing the peaks of the Lyngen Alps across the fjord.

On our second morning, a thick fog came down over the fjord

The Northern Lights still shone from behind the fog that night, giving it a spooky and eerie glow that would not look out of place in a Stephen King movie.

The Northern Lights gave the fog a spooky glow

On the third morning, too, we woke to a thin fog that dispersed quickly as the day progressed, but not without leaving us a magical fogbow that left us marvelling at Mother Nature’s generosity.

The fogbow was a marvellous surprise

Sometimes called a white rainbow, a fogbow is similar to a rainbow. However, as its name suggests, it appears as a bow in fog rather than rain.

Mother Nature was definitely generous with her bounty that day

Because of the very small size of water droplets that cause fog, the fogbow has only very weak colours, with a red outer edge and bluish inner edge.

The Glass Igloo Experience at Lyngen North

A year back, when I was planning my bucket-list trip to see the Northern Lights, I decided to go via Tromsø (for reasons I explain here).

While researching other interesting places to visit in Norway, I spotted Lyngen North and its glass igloos, on Booking.com’s list of options for accommodation in Norway.

Lyngen North has two glass igloos

I’d read about something similar at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland, but the glass igloos there cost three times as much as the ones at Lyngen North. At both resorts, they tend to get sold out pretty quickly.

The glass igloos at Lyngen North are self-contained studio apartments outfitted with a kitchen with stovetop,  refrigerator and electric kettle.

These igloos are the real deal

They also have heated floors, private bathrooms with tinted glasses for privacy, free high-speed WiFi and private parking. The bed is ultra comfortable and has a slightly oversized mattress.

Northern Lights planetarium for two

As of now, the property doesn‘t feature a restaurant, but the owners were in the process of laying down the foundations for one when we were there, and Ola hopes to have it running by December 2018.

The kitchen cabinets have crockery, cutlery, coffee cups, wine glasses, salt, pepper, sugar and a few spices. But, for now, you have to carry provisions and cook your own food. Ola stopped at a REMA 1000 supermarket on the way to let us pick up groceries.

The REMA 1000 is the most economical supermarket in Norway

Since I don’t have much faith in my cooking skills, we mostly picked up canned food, and stuff we could use to rustle up a quick meal.

If you stay in the glass igloos in the summer (for the Midnight Sun experience) you might have trouble sleeping at night because of sunlight streaming in from the top.

We went in early autumn and the short night (most of which we spent staying up to watch the lights) made it difficult to get a sound sleep since the sun rose pretty early.

via GIPHY

The glass igloos also act as greenhouses, trapping heat inside, which makes the afternoons quite warm. Since igloos are, for the most part, designed to keep the wind out, very little wind enters the room even if you keep the door open, which we did most of the day.

But there’s an air-conditioner to keep you cool during the warm afternoons and who wants to spend all day inside anyway, when you can sit by the shore and enjoy the breeze and the spectacular views of the Lyngenfjord and the Lyngen Alps.

Why stay indoors all day when you can enjoy this view

Since the temperature was a very bracing 10-12 degrees C in the day, we were quite comfortable sitting outside. The nights, however, got much colder and I needed 3 layers to stay warm when I was out watching the Northern Lights.

The property also features a hot bath under the stars that you can climb into when it gets too cold. We chose not to use it because of the potential for chlorine allergies.

Enjoy a hot bath under the stars

Activities at Lyngen North

Lyngen North is located in a remote peninsula of Norway. If you’re lucky, you may get to see moose or elk, foxes and rabbits in the nearby woods and fields.

Birdwatchers will find quite a few species to spot, from noisy seagulls squawking in the distance to ducks and many more species of birds that we couldn’t identify.

Depending on the time of year you visit, there are quite a few outdoor adventure activities you can enjoy, including snowshoeing, skiing, fishing, and visiting the Reisa national park nearby.

The owners offer boats on hire to go boating and fishing on the fjord. Not being well-versed in the art of boating, we chose to opt-out of these activities.

You can hire these boats for a fishing trip

Instead, being the history buff I am, I wanted to visit the ruins of an old German fort near the property. The Spåkenes kystfort (Spåkenes coastal fort) is a ruined coastal fortress built by the Germans during World War II, and it has quite a fascinating history.

The Spåkenes kystfort is on the Storbakken hill, the highest point of Spåkenes and consists of four bunker complexes, each of which included a gun, ammunition bunker, trench, and infantry bunker.

The ruins of an old German fort – Via Mainostoimisto Seven-1, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The work to build the bunkers began in 1941. After the Germans left, one of the bunkers suffered extensive damage in an explosion.

Unfortunately, the Storbakken hill was rather steep for me and I couldn’t climb it thanks to an old injury, so we weren’t able to see the fort with our own eyes. Arun, being half-German, was not impressed with German fort ruins and didn’t care to climb and explore it on his own.

It’s worth taking a walk along the coastal road

However, the view from the coastal road leading from Lyngen North to the fort and beyond was so amazing, we took a long walk along it, admiring the homes along the cliffs and imagining what it would be like to live in one of them.

An RV with a spectacular view

If you’re a Liverpool fan, you’ll find a kindred soul in one of Ola’s neighbours who seems to be quite vocal about his devotion to the football team.

Liverpool fans will find a kindred soul in Ola’s neighbour

Tips for your trip to Lyngen North:

  • Lyngen North is located at the peninsula Spåkenes in Northern Norway, 3 hours north along the E6 from Tromsø Airport. You can take a bus or rental car to Lyngen North. Check their website for transportation options.
  • If you don’t want to drive or can’t drive yourself to Lyngen North (we didn’t) contact Ola directly and ask if he can pick you up. Of course, you must pay for the pickup and drop, but Ola’s a very thoughtful and accommodating young man and he’ll do what he can to help you. As a bonus, you get to ride in his Tesla. 🙂
  • If like us, you don’t speak or understand Norwegian, you might find it hard to read the labels on groceries in the supermarket, as some of them are not translated into English. Ask for help from the person at the counter. When we couldn’t locate the butter, we asked the lady at the checkout counter and she helped us find it. Norwegians speak English so communicating is not a problem at all.
  • The sale of alcohol is restricted in Norway and it’s only available in certain stores. Ask a local for help to find a store that sells it. Ola took us via the AMFI Pyramiden on the mainland side of Tromsø city where we bought some wine and a bottle of Jagermeister.

    Picking up wine at the AMFI Pyramiden

  • To identify the mountain peaks in the Lyngen Alps and some on the way, Arun used the PeakLens app on Google Play. It helps you precisely identify mountain peaks and hills in real-time and works online and offline with pre-downloaded maps.
    The PeakLens app gave us the (unpronounceable) names of these mountains in the Lyngen Alps

     

    No prizes for guessing why this peak is called the Sleeping Soldier

  • To know how likely you are to see the Northern Lights, you can download the My Aurora Forecast app. It tells you exactly how likely you are to see the Aurora borealis and offers information about solar wind activity and high-resolution sun imagery. However, your chance of seeing the lights depends largely on a combination of solar activity, good weather, and a healthy helping of luck.
  • If you want to stay in the glass igloo at Lyngen North, you’ll have to book months in advance, as they have only two and they tend to sell out very quickly. Contact Ola if you’re not sure about availability.
  • Finally, do spend at least 2 to 3 nights (if not more) at Lyngen North. No photos can capture the magnificent views of the fjord and Lyngen Alps, and Lyngen North is truly one of the best places to stay in Norway to see the Northern Lights.
It’s hard to say goodbye to Lyngen North

Also, read:

I hope you enjoyed this Lyngen North review. Watch the video below for some of my favourite moments from our trip.