It’s true, my life is forever ruined as a result of being homeschooled. Due to the freedom I had to learn from practically any location during my formative years, I now suffer from a pesky wanderlust that keeps me adding more and more countries and experiences to my bucket list each year. My family’s adventures all started before my homeschooling years, truth be told. My brave parents took me on an extended journey on the Trans-Siberian Railroad when I was only a few years old, and they tell me I slept on the floor in the train bunk rooms without much complaining. Though I was too young to remember that ride, I have fun pictures to look back on like this one where we rented a van after finishing our train journey and headed to explore Germany.
Making the switch to a healthier lifestyle doesn’t have to be overwhelming. For me, it’s worked best to focus on gradually adding in more nutrient-dense foods to crowd out the unhealthy things, rather than focusing on “I can’t eat this”. Read your labels – the fewer ingredients, the better. If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, avoid it! Since a lot of you are probably traveling this weekend, I’m sharing two ideas for travel-friendly snack swaps. Continue reading “Healthy Swaps – Memorial Day Edition”→
Are you ready to travel internationally, but aren’t sure what to expect? Have you traveled in the US but are ready to expand your horizons with some overseas adventure? Thanks to my free-spirited parents, I took my first trip to Asia when I was only 1 and since then have traveled to over 25 countries on 4 continents. Fair warning: once you start going overseas it may become an addiction! Here are some tips to help you as you plan your journey!
Packing – No matter how long your trip is, pack for ONE week at most and plan to do laundry (pack travel size laundry soap and you’ll be good to go!). Bringing too many pieces of luggage (or heavy luggage) is going to make you miserable and cost you extra money, not to mention not leave you any room for bringing back gifts. Also, pack a change of clothes/underwear in your carry on bag just on the off chance your checked luggage gets lost. We also like to use packing cubes to keep our clothes organized. Continue reading “International Travel: 11 Tips For Your First Trip”→
On our recent trip to Amsterdam, we used our Marriott Rewards points to stay at Moxy Houthavens, and we instantly fell in love with this trendy new member of the Marriott family. The designers have given guests the best of both worlds when creating Moxy. I love that they encouraged artists to submit designs that illustrated stories of Amsterdam and incorporated those into their hotel artwork as part of their Blank Canvas competition. Moxy has a hip, communal atmosphere reminiscent of a hostel, but doesn’t sacrifice any of the quality you’d expect from Marriott.
Note: We are budget travelers and realize that Marriott is not a budget accommodation for most. The way we afford to stay in this chain is with our points/free nights earned from our Chase Marriott Visa card. It awards you one free night on your card anniversary each year and we earn points from all our other spending which we save up to use on additional free nights. If you would like an invite to join Marriott Rewards, I’ll be glad to send you my referral link (this would reward both of us if you sign up) if you leave a comment below.Continue reading “Love Hostels But Not Sharing Rooms? Try Moxy by Marriott”→
Nestled in the quaint town of Sweetwater, TN, you’ll find a once in a lifetime experience on America’s largest underground lake – The Lost Sea Adventure. (To see the world’s largest underground lake, add Dragon’s Breath Cave in Namibia to your bucket list). Let me preface this by saying I’m not a huge fan of caverns (“seen one, seen them all” kind of girl right here), but when I heard that Craighead Caverns had a lake you could take a boat ride on, I knew I had to see it. We made a pit stop here on the way to Chattanooga, but it’s also less than 2 hours from the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area if you’re headed to the Smoky Mountains.
My husband and I are grateful to have just completed our second trip to Iceland (Our first visit was in 2016 for our honeymoon). We initially stopped there because of the $99 WOW Air flights to get us over to Europe, but we came back because we loved it so much! If you’re planning a visit soon or just considering adding Iceland to your bucket list, read on for our best tips!
Where To Stay
Don’t book a hotel or Airbnb near the airport – the taxi cost will flatten your wallet, as we found out. Instead, opt for the Flybus that is always waiting at the airport to take you on the 45 minute drive to Reykjavik (includes free Wifi). If you buy tickets for it on the plane (WOW Air), you can save $10. There is also a bus called Airport Direct that is cheaper, but it didn’t seem to run as frequently.
Hotels and the private room hostels we looked into were too pricey for our budget, but thankfully we found this Airbnb that was close to everything downtown and we had a great stay on both visits. Feel free to use my link to get $40 off your first Airbnb stay!
Generally we like to venture off the beaten path on our trips, but were advised against renting a car here as the driving can be so treacherous (not to mention expensive to rent), so we opted for the 3 guided tours below instead and loved all of them.
If you have more than one day in Iceland, try to book your whale-watching tour on your first day so if your tour gets cancelled due to bad weather (very common – happened to us) or if you don’t see any whales, you’ll still get another chance to go before you leave
South Shore Adventure including Skogafoss and Vik’s black sand beach (Reynisfjara) – Arctic Adventures
Getting to walk behind the waterfalls was a highlight for me, as was the black sand beach. Just watch out for the sneaker waves and don’t turn your back to the ocean.
You will get to see Þingvellir National Park – This is where you get to walk between 2 continents. We had a lot of fun riding in the Super Jeep on the glacier, exploring the caves and listening to our guide, Thor 😀
What To Wear
The local saying goes “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.” We saw how true this was as we encountered hurricane force winds (not exaggerating – it knocked some in our tour down on the ground), rain, sleet, snow, and then bright sunny days all within 5-10 minutes of each other.
Pack your warmest coat and be sure to bring thick socks, gloves, a hat, and thermals (It was colder here in May than it was when we came in October). Cold weather in the US is nothing compared to the cold and wind in Iceland – we came vastly unprepared the first time!! I’d recommend a rain-resistant coat with a thick hood rather than trying to lug an umbrella with you everywhere. Waterproof boots are also really helpful to have. As you can see in the video, the weather is no joke!
What To Eat And Drink
Iceland has no shortage of good restaurants, but your jaw will drop when you look at the price of food and drinks (about $20 for a sub sandwich) so just be prepared and budget accordingly. I recommend shopping at Bonus (the local grocery store) and saving some money by preparing your own meals if you’re at a hostel or Airbnb. Be sure to try the Skyr (yogurt). It’s creamy, high in protein and deliciously fat-free!
Food We Enjoyed in Reykjavik:
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – Hot dog stand where Bill Clinton ate. Their hot dogs are lamb based and have crunchy fried onions on them. Yummy!
Glo – Lots of healthy options here – vegan friendly and they even had kombucha!
Sægreifinn – The BEST Lobster Soup. Perfect way to warm up after being out in the windy and cold harbor.
Joe and the Juice – originated in Copehagen, but they have wonderful cold pressed juices and their panini sandwiches are tasty too.
What To See/Do in Reykjavik
Local Pool – This is not your average swimming pool. Be sure to visit one while you’re there. Each city has at least one (Reyjavik had 3 or 4, but we chose this one) They are about half the cost of the Blue Lagoon and have awesome geothermal pools and saunas to enjoy. Also a great way to mingle with locals and have a more authentic experience – we saw no tourists here (YAY!) You can also rent towels and swimsuits there if you don’t have your own. Note: You will have to shower completely naked before they allow you in the pool – the strict hygiene is needed due to the low chlorine content of the water. They don’t allow pictures inside, but you can see how cool it is on their website.
Sun VoyagerSculpture – It’s beautiful and on clear days you’ll have a great view of Mount Esja in the background
Street Art – it’s all over downtown, and so creative. Be sure to take a Star Wars selfie in the quirky Cafe Babalu!
Blue Lagoon – Yes, it’s very touristy and locals mostly avoid it, but it was well worth it. Be sure to make reservations in advance, as they book up quickly. You probably won’t be able to get a same day reservation. If you’re looking for something different, try their in-water massages. It was so nice to float during a massage! Note: this is not in Reykjavik, so you’ll have to take the bus to get there (it’s closer to the airport)
Hallgrímskirkja Church – make sure to go inside and also climb to the top if you dare!
Embrace The Culture
Icelandic people are very friendly, and most speak English as they’re required to learn it in school. Still, it goes a long way if you make an effort to learn some of their basic words and phrases though, like “Takk” (Thanks)
The water smells like rotten eggs (sulfur content). You’ll get used to it. It smells bad but actually tastes really good if you can believe that, so no need to buy bottled water.
Don’t expect to see the Northern Lights. We didn’t see them either time we went, and we were told they can be quite difficult to spot unless you’re there in December or January. Don’t have high expectations, that way if you DO see them, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Don’t call them ponies! They are horses (though tiny), and the locals will be offended if you call them ponies.
No real need to exchange money here. You can use your credit card everywhere.
Be ready for extremes. In May, they only have 1 hour of darkness, and in Winter, it gets dark quite early.
If you’re there on Saturday or Sunday, visit the flea market! We really enjoyed interacting and bargaining there.
So what do you think, is an Icelandic adventure in your future? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, let me know if you have any questions and I’ll be glad to answer any that I can.
Have you heard about WOW’s $99 fares to Europe but wondered how they could be that cheap? I was a skeptic before we first flew with WOW about 2 years ago and was frankly a little nervous to fly with them, wondering if we’d be crammed in the plane like sardines and if they were safe. After now having 6 flights with WOW under my belt, I can confidently say they are a great option if you go about your booking and packing in the right way. We’ve also wondered if they require a modeling portfolio to work for them, because every flight attendant we’ve had has been tall and gorgeous!
Stopover in Iceland/Connection through Iceland – Because they are based out of Iceland, taking advantage of WOW’s stopover option has proven to be the cheapest way to get to Europe during most months that we are booking travel. If you have a little extra time, it can definitely be cost effective (and fun to explore Iceland). They also recently added a bunch of new routes as you can see on the map below – I’m particularly excited about their addition of Tel Aviv!
Healthy Food – Like many other European airlines, there are no complimentary drinks or snacks. Plan ahead and bring your own from home or from the airport so you won’t be hungry. The good news is, if you DO purchase snacks/drinks on board, they have a really nice variety of healthy food.
Discounts on excursions/buses – If you’re spending time in Reykjavik, be sure to book your Flybus/excursion tickets while on the plane to save money. We saved $10 by booking the bus ticket on the plane. Since the airport is located 45 minutes from the city, 99% of those visiting will end up taking this or another bus to get to all the tourist spots.
USB charging for each seat – To me, this is all I really need on a flight so I can watch downloaded movies on my own device, so I really appreciate that they offer this.
Comfort and Safety – Since I’m 5’9″ and my husband is 6’0″, leg room is crucial so we don’t go completely insane in the air. WOW offers extra leg room seats at an additional cost, but we found their standard seats to be just fine (on par with the economy section of all other airlines). As far as safety, their crew is probably the most conscientious of any airline I’ve been on of making sure everyone is buckled in and safe, and our flights with them have all been smooth and without delays. Their Airbus321 is what we’ve had on our journeys, with the 3 and 3 seat configuration, and they’ve all been well-kept up and comfortable.
Lack of gate agents – One of their money saving strategies seems to be to cut back on the number of check in/customer service agents they have at each airport (except in Iceland, where they have plenty). In one airport, we waited in line for an hour just to pay for our bags. Seems they have some inefficiencies to work out in that area. Moral of the story: Pre-pay for your bags online so you can skip the lines and just do the self check in and tag them/drop them off yourself.
Limited availability – At certain airports their ticket counters don’t open until fairly close to the flight, so you may have to wait a while before you can head through security, whereas with bigger airlines there always seem to be agents available to help you at any time of day.
In Flight Entertainment – No WiFi or seat back screens to watch movies, but they do rent out iPads for $25 on certain flights, so you can watch movies that way if you’re desperate.
Baggage Costs – The cost of checked bags is high, and they will make you check larger hand luggage, so you probably won’t end up saving money if you don’t pack light. I was able to carry on my backpack and purse (pictured at the top) at no extra charge, but my husband’s larger backpack had to be checked (for an extra charge).
For me, they offer far more benefits than downsides, so I’ll be continuing to fly with them as often as possible and trying to convince them to use Doge as their official marketing partner (perfect fit, right?!) Have you flown with them or will you consider trying them in the future? I’d love to hear what you think!