4 Attractions For A First Time Visit To Vienna

attractions Vienna

In recent years, Europe has become an incredibly popular tourist destination because there are some great cities there and it’s very cheap to pay for accommodation and food and drink etc. Places like Prague and Budapest are great but they attract a big party crowd so if you’re looking for a romantic, relaxing getaway, you might be a little disappointed. Vienna in Austria, however, is a different story. This beautiful city, with its rich cultural heritage, attracts tourists but it hasn’t been tainted like a lot of other places. It’s a little more expensive than some of the other cities nearby but it’s worth paying the extra for it. These are just some of the amazing things that you can do while you’re there.

Top 4 Attractions in Vienna

Take A River Cruise

Vienna sits on the river Danube which goes through quite a few countries in Europe. Taking a cruise on the river is the perfect way to see the city. You’re also quite close to Budapest in Hungary and Bratislava in Slovakia and you can get to both by river. It’s worth taking a day trip there if you’ve got the time. There are also some great cruises that offer food so you can have a romantic meal on the river in the evenings.

Musical Parks

attractions Vienna

One of the things that Vienna is famous for is its musical parks. If you’re staying fairly centrally at somewhere like the Vienna Marriott Hotel you’ll have good access to most of them. The biggest one is Stadtpark but there are quite a few dotted around the city. Inside the park, you’ll find all sorts of statues and water features that play all sorts of music from traditional classical all the way up to modern. These great parks are a good way to spend a day relaxing in the sun if you got to Vienna during the summer.

Art

attractions Vienna

Vienna is possibly best known for the incredible art that you can find there. There are all sorts of galleries around the city but the 3 main ones are the Leopold Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Kunsthalle Wien. The Leopold is impressive before you even get inside, the building itself is a huge, spectacular limestone cube. Inside you’ll find the biggest collection of art by Egon Schiele, one of Austria’s best loved painters. There’s also a great cafe there where you can stop for a coffee. The Museum of Modern Art is great if you fancy something a little less traditional than the Leopold.

Go To The Beach (Almost)

If you’re missing the beach holiday vibe while you’re in Vienna, don’t worry. You can go to the beach, sort of. While there isn’t a beach there, the banks of the river Danube are the next best thing. There are some great areas where you can relax and do a bit of sunbathing on the bank. Be aware that some areas are nude sunbathing areas so make sure you don’t accidentally wander on to one of those.

Vienna is an amazing city with so much on offer, you won’t be disappointed if you visit. 

attractions Vienna
If you are looking for other travel inspirations, make sure to visit my travel section here

How to grow Instagram engagement – 5 secret tips

grow instagram engagement

How to grow Instagram engagement – We recently discussed how to grow your Instagram audience where I’ve shared tips and tricks I’ve learnt from being an active Instagram user since 2011 and becoming an influencer since 2012. Now it’s time to share with you some trick to increase Instagram engagement, since having a large following, but no engagement is a sign trick of faking it. 

Be calm, you are not the only one who want to grow Instagram engagement – everyone, from my my nephew to my butcher and florist are looking to get something back from their time investment in th popular photography social media.

There are no secret that since the Instagram algorithm was introduced, people have been getting less and less response to their posts, people have tried all sorts of things, from comment pods (will write something about in the near future) to “new post stories” and “turn on notifications” attempts. I’ve heard rumours that Instagram will be releasing a new algorithm soon, but god knows what that will be about, I’ll keep my fingers crossed it won’t be paid-advertising oriented again.

In the meantime, here are some trick that have helped me grow Instagram engagement in the last few months:

#1 Know when is the best time to post

It’s seem obvious, but in a busy life like mine, it’s hard to make time to check and post at the right moment. However, I found out in a recent test that if you do take advantage of that moment, likes and comments can be double or even more.

Posting at the right time, also means scheduling ahead. I’ve tried many services and now I have a couple of favourites (let me know in the comments below if you wish to know which ones I use). Scheduling your photos and captions allows to make sure you’re there when your audience is there too. We discussed how important is to give back to your instagram community in this post, so you already know how important is to also engage with others in order to have the same on your gallery.

#2 Know how frequently you have to post

Exactly like finding your best time to post on Instagram, you also find out how often you should post if you want to grow Instagram engagement.

The upside of the current algorithm is that your photos can appear on someone’s feed even three or four days after you published it. This means that Instagram posts have a longer life span than they used to.


grow Instagram engagement
After some experiments (secret experiment I only revealed to my clients on my one-to-one Instagram coaching), I realised that my best frequency is only when I am absolutely sure that a post is dead (i.e. it’s not getting any more likes or comments). If I do it before, it means that I’m losing engagement on that photo.

One thing is sure: never leave too much time between two posts because the alghoritm will definitely penalise you for that.

# 3 Post more Top Posts

What the hell?

Do you know what your tribe likes? Well, if you don’t, it’s not time to find out. Make a note of your most performing posts and see what they have in common. Then, post more of them.

Personally, I know my most performing pictures are those where you can catch a glimpse of me (I’m camera shy and mostly travel solo so that’s not so frequent!!!), or where I talk and share about my life-changing choices.

grow Instagram engagement

#4 Ask something

Among my experiements, I realised that whenever I ask a question to my community, I get tons more of comments and likes. It’s a little way to show that you care.

By the way, I really do care about each and every of my followers even thought it’s impossible to thank you all individually.

grow Instagram engagement

#5 Use Instagram Stories to create a relationship 

I wasn’t so happy when Instagram launched the instagram stories feature, but I have to say that it’s an easier way to stay connected to my Instagram community when I’m too busy with my life.

I’ve created a few different categories on my Instagram highlighted stories which I think of as different channels for my audience (there is one where I share all my secrets about Instagram by the way), in this way people can actually scan through my content and get to know me quickly and engage with me if they like what they see.

grow instagram engagement

But how do you bring people to see your profile? Well, telling them to do so! For example by adding a note on your caption about something new you added on your stories that day. I can see that this is working extremely well on my profile lately, especially since I’ve been sharing my tips about Instagram with you.

That’s all for today! See you on the next Instagram episode in a couple of weeks! 
SUBSCRIBE NOW IF YOU DON’T WANNA MISS A THING!

PS: Remember that my Insta-coaching one-to-one sessions are still available in June and July and I only have two spots left. Fill in this form if you wish to book now!
My Instagram Course instead will be launched in September.
Stay tuned.

 

Airbnb vs Hotels: Who’s going to win the war?

Airbnb vs hotels

I’m not a sophisticated traveller.  I’ve stayed at 5 stars hotels as well as the most basic hostels you could imagine. When I travel – which is what I’ve been doing full time since September 2015 – I like my accommodations to cover the basics:  a comfortable bed, preferably a private toiled and wi-fi.  If I can get extras, I like to have an espresso machine, a bike to rent and if I am staying longer a washing machine and a kitchenette. I consider myself a seasoned traveller and that’s why I think I can finally compile an Airbnb vs Hotels pros and cons list. I am not a football fan ( I don’t even know the rules, but I am going to use the same scoring system below). 

To write this article, I was just checking my Airbnb profile and I realised I’ve booked accomodation in 14 countries, including some beautiful properties in Malta, Matera, New York, Paris, Berlin, Melbourne, Mumbai, Dorset (when I was working with Airbnb and I stayed in a converted church!!!) or in Coggee, Sydney where the house came with a surfboard and a Nepresso machine.

Airbnb vs Hotels
Malta
Airbnb vs Hotels
Matera
Airbnb vs Hotels
Melbourne

It was in fact 10 years ago when Airbnb entered the hospitality industry creating a brand new model of sharing economy which was later replicated by Uber, Deliveroo, Boatsetter and my beloved client Spotahome. Yup, 10 years have already passed and I believe, as a full time traveller and digital nomads and having travelled far and wide that I should now share my experiences on the hospitality “battlefield”.

1 SOLO TRAVELLERS: AIRBNB 1 vs HOTELS 0 

As a solo traveller during my long trip around the world, I often opted for airbnb or hostels instead of hotels as they rarely offer you a solo discounted rate. 


Reading this survey, I recently found out that I’m not the only solo traveller and I also realised that 74% of people have chosen to use Airbnb when travelling alone to avoid extra charges. T
he survey also mentioned  that hostels appealed to 35% solo travellers because they liked the communal aspect, whereas 29% chose them solely because they were cheaper than other options. I have been to the best and worst hostels around the world, and I loved and hated them in equal measure. I believe that as you grow up, your tolerance to noise, wild sex above your head and disgusting bathrooms, lowers month by month. For me, for example, I’m done with hostels, it’s either hotels, shared accomodation or housesitting

2 THE LOCAL FEEL:  AIRBNB 1 vs HOTELS 1

When Airbnb was launched back in 2008, it was meant to be a social enterprise, a way for travellers to connect with their hosts and learn about their destination once they got there. Personally, I had various experiences: if on my first Airbnb’s stays I had lovely hosts opening the door for me and telling me everything about the area, sometimes even  while sharing a meal together, the most recent experiences have been different. As Airbnb grows and becomes more and more structured, hosts also have become more structured and organised. Some of them have several properties, cleaners and key boxes. They no longer welcome their guests but they might leave a note, the wifi password and a map of the city. So are we going back to the hotel concierge for gret info? Are we looking at blogs? Where is Airbnb USP gone? Where do we find that human interaction?


My point goes to hotels and my most recent assignment as a writer for Arrivedo for whom I create neighbourhood guides is a proof of that. Hotels now recognise the importance of giving more and above of the standard facilities.  Travellers are seeking unique travel experiences and some hotels are starting picking up on. I had the pleasure to work with Accor Hotels which totally embraced the sharing economy while launching their latest brand Jo & Joe. Hotels chains are stepping into the millennial game, designing venues and hotels to appeals to millennial traveller

3 UNIQUE EXPERIENCES:  AIRBNB 2 vs HOTELS 1 

Elizabeth Lowrey, a principal and the director of interior architecture at Elkus Manfredi Architects, said that “People who choose Airbnb are seeking an intimate, non-manufactured experience. They want to be embedded in the fabric of a community, where they can feel the uniqueness of place”. This was/is Airbnb’s USP and sometimes you still get to meet your host who will take you around and show you the best bits of his/her town. It’s rare, but when it happens, it’s magic. 

4 LOCATION: AIRBNB 3 vs HOTELS  2 

I’ll admit it. Sometimes, I’ve stayed at Airbnb s which looked and were fabolous but where far, far away from the main attractions. It’s common for hotels to be usually positioned in the most sought after areas: business, fashion or entertainement districts are normally filled with hotels rather than private properties, so depending on your preferences you can either chose to stay at a hotel or a airbnb in te various cities.

5 PRICE:   AIRBNB 3 vs HOTELS 2   

Hotels argued that the reason why some people where choosing airbnb vs hotels was the price difference, and I would say that this Schofields analysis is quite accurate. Why would I pay more to stay at a hotel where I have to wake up at a certain time to get breakfast or where wif-fi is only in the lobby, when for a lower price I can normally get a kitchen and fiber optic internet throughout my airbnb? It’s a tough question and sometimes I struggled myself, but I’ve also been extremely lucky to stay and work with some of the best hotels in the world, from Relais & Chateaux, The Leela Palaces, Il Principe di Savoia  and many others which all made me feel very at home. 

6 INNOVATION: AIRBNB 3 – HOTELS 3

“The way this (new) consumers likes to travel is not to spend time in the guest room but to have access to communal spaces,” said Tina Edmundson, global brand officer of luxury and lifestyle brands at Marriott International, which just opened Moxy New Orleans. 

What millenials and digital nomads (like me) are looking for are smart, keyless, innovative, uniquely designed and interenet-connected rooms with plenty of outlets for charging electronic devices. 

CONCLUSIONS AIRBNB vs HOTELS

AIRBNB vs HOTELS: 3- 3 It’s a draw

Of course it is because both Airbnb and hotels are changing and adapting to this very fast-moving environment.

I was an early adopter of Airbnb, in fact I think that the San Francisco-based company combined with the explosion of low-cost airlines is what made me fall in love with travelling over a decade ago and it made it more accessible to me and other people who love travelling as much as I do. I was a host on Airbnb too for a while in London and I loved to share my home with travellers from all over the world. 

As the sharing economy keeps growing around the world and travellers prefer to connect with locals and experience unique adventures on their travels, the hotel industry is taking the battle more seriously.

Times are changing…

The sharing philosophy is disrupting a solid industry as the hospitality one. I believe there is room for both (Airbnb and alike and hotels) to grow and to gain loyal customers. One thing is granted: change and adaption is necessary to stay on top of an everchanging culture and taste.

Airbnb needs to go back to its original purpose of being a point of contact between travellers and local hosts, while hotels need to go above and beyond offering beds and facilities to lure people in. Guests love comforts, but that is no longer enough. They want value for their money and certainly they are no longer willing to pay for basic services like wifi or a kettle in their room. Hotels should always offer those things that are harder to find in most airbnbs (generous breakfasts and SPA services) for free. The Airbnb vs Hotels battle is an interesting one and being a travel blogger I love to see the changes happening in the hospitality industry.

Finally, as I always say, I would never recommend something unless I’ve tried it myself – even when I write sponsored posts, they are 100% genuine and honest since my job is to give you, my beloved readers, the right information and tools to make your own decisions. So, after using Airbnb’s service now for several years, it’s a service I recommend wholeheartedly.

  • If you want to learn how to sign up and use Airbnb for the first time, click here [you get €28 off on your first booking with this link].
  • If you are a hotel, looking to get your own Arrivedo neighbourhood guide, social media strategy or professional photography, please connect with me by filling the form at the bottom of this page

What do you think? Who deserves to win the Airbnb vs Hotels battle? Let me know in the comments below!

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Myanmar itinerary and 10 places you must see

myanmar itinerary

In this (very long) article, you will find my Myanmar itinerary and how to plan your trip to this beautiful county including the 10 places you must visit in Myanmar (at the bottom of the article).

In the end, you will also find a list of practical tips for getting the visa, getting to know the locals, some curious info and more.

A bit of background and history of Myanmar

At first, while exploring Cambodia, I was in a huge moral dilemma regarding Myanmar and a potential visit to a country where freedom was something reserved only for a few lucky ones and where locals (including Aung San Suu Kyi and the Moustache Brothers) were unfairly imprisoned for criticising the government. It was a tough decision, I could have flown to  Bali straight away and chill on their wonderful beaches or I could follow my instinct to explore yet one more country on my 23-month life-changing journey. As I am writing this post, you already know what I decided to do.

Myanmar was calling and I had to go.

I consider myself an ethical traveller, someone who tries to respect other cultures while on the road and surely sustain countries which are trying to develop and open up to the outside world. This is why I had to go to Myanmar and this is also the reason why I hope you will feel like booking a plane to this incredible country once you’ve read my article.

Myanmar itinerary

Myanmar only opened up to tourism in 2012, so relatively recently and this has two implications for your itinerary: first, there are still parts of Myanmar that you cannot visit as a tourist. There are also some parts that you can only visit under the supervision of a guide. Second, infrastructure is still being built: buses can be ancient, old, broken and dangerous (probably the worst I’ve sat my ass on throughout South-East Asia), roads are in the same state as buses with pollution reaching skyrocket level in the major cities.

Books to get ready for your trip to Myanmar

As I believe you should always know a little about the place you are going to visit, I always recommend reading books about the country. Ditch your Lonely Planets, buy a book or read honest blog posts instead. Here are my suggestions:

Burma – A country at the crossroad by Benedict Rogers

Letters from Burma by  Aung San Suu Kyi

[On another note but about books… Did you know I just decided to express my love for books and reading on my Instagram more and more often? If you follow me there too, you might already know that I have recently kicked off a new community Instagram for people like me: who buy far more many books you could possibly read in a lifetime and be happy about it! Share your pictures with #tsundokutogether, I might also create a gallery here on my blog with the best pictures of your books obsession 😃 ]

My Myanmar Itinerary

Now, let’s get started! Choosing a route when visiting a country is crucial for having a great time there. So planning – especially if you have limited time – is going to be an important part of your trip to Myanmar.

I spent 3 weeks in Myanmar, travelling at a leisurely pace and only by land. There are other places I would have liked to have seen in but I didn’t manage to reach for various reasons, but I know I will be back one day to see them.

Choosing a starting and ending point:

After a lot of research, as I was leaving Cambodia I decided to travel in a big circle around Myanmar, flying in and out from Yangon. I could have finished in Mandalay like other travellers, but I would have missed some interesting spots I wanted to see, plus, there is always a hefty charge on booking a one-way ticket, that’s why I chose to travel to and from Yangon. I also believe Yangon is better connected to the other countries than Mandalay. Of course, this loop becomes harder the fewer days you have to travel within Myanmar so it is up to you to choose whether to save some dollars or maybe skip one or two of the highlights below. PS: As mentioned I travelled by land, there are also national airports where you can fly to if you are in a hurry or wish to save time between stops. Personally, I love travelling by land for two reasons: on the buses, you have the unique opportunity to sit down with locals and get a sense of their culture, language, lifestyle. Secondly, I love the slow pace (in Myanmar it can be extremely slow!) and watch the world pass by through my window seat.

How long do you need?

I’ve always been against those who rush through highlights to tick them off of an ambitious to-see list, therefore I always push people to see less but better.For example, I wouldn’t advise you to travel to Myanmar if you only had 7 days (my itinerary below needs at least two weeks) because travel around Myanmar is slow and you would really have to skip some important things. Generally speaking, 10 or (better) 14 days are going to be a great length of time in Myanmar.

STOP 1: Yangon (3 days)

Once I landed in Yangon, there was something in the air. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but it smelled like hope. A friend of mine who had been there in 2012 as soon as they opened the borders, told me that the atmosphere was sad and deep, it was like time had stopped and the people were kind of scared and afraid of the future. But when I was there, I could tell there was something different. (Some) people were open to foreigners and it was nice to see how much effort they put into making me feel welcome. 

Things to do in Yangon

Shwedagon Pagoda: Watch the gold gleam at  Shwedagon Pagoda at sunrise, one of the oldest and most sacred Buddhist sights in Myanmar and in the world. TIP: you can use your ticket to go back in the evening and seeing the Pagoda in the different light of sunset.

Downtown Yangon: Not since I was in India have I seen such crumbling beauty and one of my favourite things to do was simply to wander and get lost in the streets of Yangon: Some buildings are better restored than others, some have a colonial look but most of them tell a tale of a time long gone by.

myanmar itinerary

Bogyoke Market:  If you like people watching and browsing among hundreds of stalls of things you never have seen before, this is the place to be

myanmar itinerary

Circle line train to watch local life in action. I had a very special encounter on this train – as it always happens when you embrace the local life and forget your camera and phone. I met this young student who I chatted to for the entire journey. Not sure how or why, but at some point, as we were talking about life, death and Buddhism, he passed me the book he was reading at an exact page and told me to read:

Everything comes and goes
we don’t need to push it away
and it will go away by itself.

I have no idea why or how, but those words were exactly what I needed at that precise moment of my life. If you read my Fiji post, you know what I am talking about since despite it had been 6 months, I was still in the deep hole of my heartbreak.  (The poem was from the book “A Map of the Journey by Sayādaw U Jokita )

Theingottara Park (People’s Square & Park):  Stroll around some lushly green gardens (and avoid Yangon’s dense traffic). If you get lucky, you can also meet some lovely little nuns dressed in pink strolling around the ark.

Caffeine fix & food in Yangon

Easy Cafe: Probably the best coffee in Myanmar, a bit more expensive than others, but surely worthy for a coffee fix

999 Shan Noodle Shop:  love noodles? Come here! Very cheap, but tasty noodles, probably the best in town! Make sure to go there early as it closes at 7 pm.

Coffee Circles: probably overpriced, but definitely worth a stop for a coffee and a healthy salad – they have wi-fi so you can also get some work done while sipping on your drink. 

Dream + sleep in Yangon

I spent a few nights at Little Monkey Hostel where I met some of my best friends during my travel (hello Percorra!) People who I later caught up again in other parts of the world. The hostel is nothing fancy, but the staff was friendly, it was clean and in a nice part of town.

STOP 2: Ngapali Beach (2 days)

I like to balance my city and cultural exploration with a bit of nature and possibly beach days, so while I was in Myanmar, I took a bus to Ngapali Beach where I took a few days by the ocean to think about my travel, my future and my mind.  I also took the time to fall in love with myself again.

I spent three nights in Ngapali Beach and did little exploring up and down the Ngapali main road and its adjacent beaches during that time. I really needed some rest, reading and just chilling by the ocean.

The one thing you need to know is that Ngapali is mainly a resort type of place and prices are quite high in comparison with the rest of Myanmar and south-east Asia. As I was at the end of my trip,  I visited Ngapali beach on a medium budget and I even added an extra night as I managed to share my room with another girl on my last and third night.

NOTE Ngapali beach doesn’t really open through its monsoon sea:son (typically mid-May to the end of September), and that’s no surprise because the monsoon in Myanmar means constant rain. Additionally, flights are very rare and expensive during the monsoon season. Basically, if you can, plan your trip to Ngapali beach outside the monsoon season.

Dream + sleep in Ngpali Beach

I stayed at Memento Resort during my time on Ngapali beach. It was a simple accommodation on the beach, nothing fancy, a little expensive, but as mentioned above it above average in this region so I can’t really complain.

How to get to Ngpali Beach

There is a bus from Yangon but it cuts through the mountain range making for a long and bumpy journey. The closest airport is Thandwe Airport which is located in the north and just a couple of kilometres to the hotels in the north and less than 10 kilometres from most of the hotels in the main area.

STOP 3: Bagan (3 days)

Once upon a time, Bagan was a temple hub. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, there were over 10,000 temples, pagodas and monasteries in the city. Today, there are around 2,000 of them: all jammed into a 13 by 8 kilometres area that has become the Bagan Archeological Zone. It’s pretty sure you are going to see some temples while in Bagan and that’s one of the main reasons why people come here. Despite being one of the most popular destinations in Myanmar, Began welcomed me with an incredible sense of peace and silence. I guess it was because as always, I was travelling during mid-low seasons which has several advantages (no crowds and lower prices to mention just two) and disadvantages (fewer connections, hot air balloons season was off already). Temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius by 8/9am and although I was used to hot and humid weather after so many months in the region, it was pretty tough to stay out in the central hours of the day (tip to beat the heat in Bagan below).

Things to do in Bagan

Watch the sun rising among the thousands of  Bagan pagodas and come back at sunset for a different show. While I was researching for this article, I read somewhere that today there are only 4/5 temples you can climb to see this incredible natural show while most of them were open last year while I was there. However, since these temples are incredibly old and precious, I think the government has made the right move to protect them from camera and smartphones armed tourists.

Myanmar itinerary

THE STORYTELLER’S TIPS: * For those of you who arrive on a night bus, use your first morning to see the sunrise. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to check into your accommodation before 1/2pm so make the most of your time since you are already awake. Do your research beforehand so you know where you want to go to see the sunrise and you can tell your driver right away. * Another way to get around the temples and Began is to rent an e-Bike. I stayed at Ostello Bello and they had an e-Bike sunrise tour each day for both existing guests and those who just arrived by bus.

Ananda Temple: my Burma’s gang and I took our eBikes for a further exploration one day and went to the Ananda Temple, one of the most incredible temples I’ve seen in my life. I had a shocking moment there as I realised my first tattoo resembles too well the symbol buddhas have on their forehead. And I did not know anything about buddhism when I drawn and got my tattoo 10 years ago!!

Mani Sithu Market: Local markets (like coffee shops, libraries and bookshops) are an obsession of mine when travelling in Asia or  anywhere in the world. It’s where people connect, exchange goods and chat among themselves. It’s also the place where you can feel invisible and just enjoy the full immersion in the culture without worrying about being harassed or asked to buy something. There was only my group and I when we visited, much to the delight of the locals.

myanmar itinerary

MyanmarTreasure Resort: waking up before sunrise and walking around in the scorching heat can be extremely tiring, that’s why with my gang, I decided to spend a chilled afternoon swimming and sipping cocktails at this resort.

Caffeine fix & eat in Bagan

  • 7 Sisters Restaurant
  • The Moon Be Kind to Animals (I  had wonderful veggie food!)

Dream + sleep in Bagan

Ostello Bello

Getting to Bagan

From Ngpali BeachI got a night bus to Inle Lake with JJ Express, one of the VIP buses companies. You can read more about booking buses and air transport at the bottom of this article.

STOP 4: INLE LAKE (2 days)

Tourism has definitely blossomed on Inle Lake. Maybe it was Steve McCurry’s fault or maybe it’s just what happens when a natural beauty gets discovered by the masses. Whatever reason, make sure to add this spot to your itinerary.

The local people (known as Itha, meaning children of the lake) used to live just on the lake’s resources, so tourism blossoming in the area has definitely improved their conditions.

Things to do in Inle Lake

Inle Lake at sunrise: another early rise – it seems Myanmar was the country where I woke up before sunrise the most! – to hit the lake and see the famous fishermen in action. There is a hot debate on the authenticity of this practice. But I personally have seen men using this technique in other places where they were not modelling for the tourists cameras but simply fishing.

Visit the floating gardens: along the lake and canals, there are impressive gardens which are probably as impressive as the  floating houses

Explore the local palafitte shops and step back in time: while industrialisation and globalisation are surely taking place on Inle Lake and the rest of Myanmar, it seemed to me that there was a strong desire to keep their old traditions alive. While on the lake take the time to explore the craft shops including the silversmith, the ‘cheroot’ producer where you’ll have the chance to try rolling your own flavoured cigar/cigarette or meet the lotus weaving women. Lotus weaving is rare because it’s super labour intensive and hard, however in the connecting shop you can find gorgeous scarfs and textiles (which were far beyond my backpacking budget at the time!).

Meet the Padaung ladies: I had been asked if I wanted to see the long neck ladies in Chiang Mai, Thailand and I said no. And I said no again in Myamar as I am against zoos especially human zoos. So, I went off to the local market and there they were. I’ll admit it, I was curious to see if they resembled those women pictured in a postcard which is still hanging in my bedroom at my parents’ house. They did. They were exactly as I had imagined them for over 25 years. Beautiful in their gold neck rings and far, far away from me as something I read about, but could not understand completely.  We shared a glance, a smile and a wave. It was a meaningful moment for me and I’m glad I didn’t book any tours to see them anywhere else.

Myanmar itinerary

Shwe Indein Pagoda: This is still a half hidden gem in Myanmar which I’m almost scared to share here to risk then to see it then every day on Instagram or similar. When I was there, last year,  there weren’t many people around.  This temple complex on the west bank of the lake, has fallen into ruins, pretty much like Ta Prohm temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Hopefully, it will remain as it is, unspoiled and off the mass tourist track.

Dream + sleep in Inle Lake

Ostello Bello

How to get to Inle Lake

Clearly, I’m a crazy person since I opted, once again, to take a night bus from Bagan to Inle Lake. Allegedly, it was another “VIP”JJ Express, but we stopped every few hours and we arrived in the middle of the night (this is something pretty common throughout Asia, for reasons I can’t explain).

STOP 5 MANDALAY (2 days)

Bustling alleyways, street markets everywhere, pagodas and monasteries at every corner: Mandalay is this and more. The riverside city is worth stopping at  at least for a day or two. Here are the best things to see and do in Mandalay, the second largest city in the country.

Things to do in Mandalay

U Pein Bridge at Sunset: with its whopping 1.2 kilometers in length, is estimated to be the longest teakwood bridge in the world. It was built in 1850 and is utilized by both locals and tourists alike. It’s great to walk along its length and then stop to have a chat while the sun sets on the horizon. I had one of the best conversations of my life while sitting on the ancient bridge.

Day Trip to Mingun: Once an unknown city, today Mingun has become very popular among travellers, which means that as soon as you arrive, you’ll be bombarded by vendors trying to sell you all sorts of things. The three main things you will want to include are: the Mingun Bell and the Hsinbyume Pagoda. The Mingun Pagoda is essentially a giant pile of bricks. Visitors make the short journey up the stairs to find it housing only one small Buddha relic, and the side stairs were closed as of June 2017. That being said, it is a nice relic to photograph as it stands some 492-feet tall. The Mingun Bell is one of the heaviest bells in the entire world, and it is believed to weigh some 200,000 pounds. Be sure to get into the bell to get a feel for its size. When I was there, there was a guy playing his guitar to a bunch of kids whom were singing along and laughing at some funny songs.

myanmar itinerary

The last sight is the Hsinbyume Pagoda or, as I called it, the wedding cake. This pagoda is a shimmering white structure that visitors can enter and explore. It was built in 1816 and is painted white. The pagoda went under restoration in 1874 after an earthquake shook its structure, but King Mindon did an amazing job restoring the pagoda back to its original state. Today, it is one of the most notable attractions in all of Myanmar.

Myanmar itinerary

Sunset at Mandalay Hill

There is no better way to end your trip to Mandalay than witnessing a sunset up to the Mandalay Hill. You can either walk the mile-long journey or pay a taxi or truck at the bottom of the hill to take you up the hill. If I don’t remember wrong it should cost around 7,000 kyat or so. At the top of Mandalay Hill is Su Taung Pyae Pagoda shimmering with glass-covered and vibrantly colored tiles. From here, you can see the entire Mandalay city and the many pagodas around the area. This is also a great place to connect with the locals and especially the monks. They will come up to you to chat about your home country and to practice their English. It’s a great exchange opportunity: to know more about being a Buddhist monk in Myanmar and to share a bit of your world with the people hosting you.

Caffeine fix & food in Mandalay

Mandalay is filled with cheap, street side restaurants which often lack any sort of signs that indicate the name of the restaurant or what it is they are serving. However, the food is likely to be delicious and very cheap (with 2,000 kyat you can get a full meal). While in Mandalay, make sure to try  some traditional dishes like the bean paste salad, Shan noodles, and tea leaf salad. Special mention goes to Mingalabar Restaurant.

How to get to Mandalay: 

You guessed right. I boarded yet another bus from Inle Lake and for the initial hour, I wish I didn’t. My assigned seat was broken and as it was sliding ahead, my legs got stuck and I could not move. It was the first and last time, I really struggle to endure the journey. In fact, I didn’t. I asked to be moved and a very friendly family let me take one of their reserved seat for the rest of the (8/10 hour journey).

Dream + sleep Mandalay

Ostello Bello was again my choice in Mandalay

 

STOP 6: Yangon (2 days)

I spent another couple of days in Yangon, wandering the streets, taking (thousands) of pictures and working from my hostel and various cafes before taking off to Bali, my next and last stop of my incredible trip.

This is my itinerary and I feel I’ve seen enough for my first time there. I think most countries should be visited at least twice in a lifetime and I hope to go back to Myanmar one day, maybe when new parts of the country will open up to foreigners.

OTHER INTERESTING INFO & FACTS TO PLAN YOUR MYANMAR ITINERARY:

Phone, Internet & Wifi

Not too long ago, mobile phones were basically inexistent and SIM cards could cost $2,000. Basically no now had a phone and the internet did not exist. There was no roaming and no wifi. My friend who visited in 2012 told me that arriving in Myanmar meant disconnecting from the world and in fact I did not hear from him for a month while he was there.

When I landed in Yangon’s airport last year, I must admit I was still a bit worried since being a digital nomad means you gotta always be connected and I had important deadlines to meet and work to do. Throughout my trip I bought a local SIM card in each country I went and I made no exception in Myanmar, where I bought a Ooreedo SIM card with 14GB for 22500Ks(back then). Note: Outside the big cities, you will be either without network or a weak 3G sign will appear every now and then.

Money & ATMs

You can withdraw cash from various ATMs and pay with credit card at several places. Even if we consider this the norm, think that only 6 years ago there were no ATMs and credit cards did not exist, so make sure to appreciate this little advantage.

The Locals

When people ask me about Myanmar, I immediately think about the people of Myanmar.The stories I tell are all about that or the other episode with the locals. In a country where travellers are still like pink flamingos in a big city, you are likely to be photographed, stopped for a chat and more often than not helped with directions or recommendations.

Some of my most memorable in Myanmar are those spent with the children. I remember that time at the Shwedagon Pagoda where an entire family decided to keep me company while I was exploring the stupas, or that time at one of the bus stops where two very little kids where serving alongside their dad, I still remember the day when Aung sat next to me watching sunrise on one of the temple. His smile is for me the smile of Myanmar.

While backpacking through Asia – or anywhere in the world where there is a language barrier – it is easy to end up in groups of other travellers and spend days, weeks, even months  together. Being in a group makes it harder to connect with the local community and that’s why I always like to save time for myself alone.

THE STORYTELLER’S TIP: if you are an open and chatty person,you won’t have any troubles connecting with the locals, always remember that what might be normal in your country can be offensive, weird in another (learn the traditions before going!) . Also, be aware that not all Burmese people speak English, so you might have to speak slowly and repeat several times what you want to say. Also keep a translation app handy at all times. Technology, used wisely, is a great thing.

Food and STREET FOOD in Myanmar:

I ate street food and meals sat on tiny stall for most of my trip. Most of the time, I’m unable to contain my curiosity for local foods as I always want to try new things and flavours. I never had a problem with food except that one time in Chiang Mai… But then again, I’ve believe that my stomach has developed resistance to anything after so many months in India and Asia.

Cost of travel in Myanmar

  • Bad news – Myanmar is a lot more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia because it’s a country that is still being built which means that the infrastructure, as well as accommodations and services, are still a step behind in comparison to its neighbouring countries.
  • Accommodation costs: A dorm bed will set you back around $20-$30 a night. You can get a basic private room with en-suite from around $35 for a single bed.  Popular ‘package tourist’ destinations like Ngapali beach can cost as much as $100 a night for a 2-star hotel (though there are a couple of hostels there too). On the plus side, you usually get a free breakfast (filter coffee and toast) with your accommodation.
    As you might have noticed I stayed at Ostello Bello in most of my stops. It’s a clean, friendly chain that offers good standard dorms and lots of activities and the social scene – I met lots of my now friends at the various Ostello Bello I stayed at.
  • Food costs – street food is most affordable – around $1-$2 for a plate of something basic. Local restaurants costs around $2-$4 a meal. Anything remotely westerns (air-conditioning or featuring something like pizza) and you’re into the $7-$12 bracket.
  • Drinks – bottled water is well priced, under 50 cents a litre. Beer is also cheap at a couple of dollars per bottle.

Time Zone
Myanmar has that weirdest half-hour difference to its time zone so it’s 6 and a half hours ahead of GMT.

Power sockets 

The plug sockets of Myanmar should be the gold standard – you’ll find most sockets have multiple adaptors for European and North American 2-pin plugs as well as my very own British three-pin. I travel with the Apple World Travel adaptor pack, which makes life even easier.

Suitcase or Backpack? 
You’ll be better travel with a backpack than a suitcase – I actually think this wherever you are travelling too since crowded public transports, stairs, delays and all things in between can slow you down a lot. And if you need tips for packing you bag, read this

  

Final comments: 

Like most of my friends who visited Cuba, I feel like telling you what they keep telling me: Go Now. Or using Bernard Shaw’s words  “I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad” and this means the big chains, the westernisation of Asia, the 7/11 and McDonalds of the world. Myanmar still feels authentic and genuine, but as I’ve already seen in many other parts of the world, it won’t be long before it changes and adapt to much to the tourists needs and wishes.

So, don’t delay and get to see it before tourism, technology and international chains change the true face of this incredible country!

Top 10 Things to do in Myanmar:

1 – Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

2 – Get lost in the streets of downtown Yangon

3 – Circle line train in Yangon

4- Ngpali Beach

5 – Inle lake

6 –  sunrise in Bagan

7- U Pein Bridge at sunset

8- visit Mingun

9 – Mandalay Hill

10- talk to the locals

And that’s it – my extra-long article with a Myanmar itinerary and 10 top things to do is over. I think I should have wrote an ebook instead or at least split in a few articles. But hey, here it is and I hope you’ll find it helpful.

Have you been to Myanmar? Any extra tips you want to share – let me know in the comments below and share or pin  add links social.

 

Note: there are affiliate links in this Myanmar itinerary post. If you book through them, I get a tiny % of your purchase which I invest to maintain this blog – there is no catch or added cost for you whatsoever.

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5 alternative ways to see the most popular tourist attractions

Why follow the masses to see this, that and the other when exploring the sights of your latest destination? I’ve found that the are always alternative ways to see the most popular tourist attractions and that the perfect view is the one you discover by surprise when you’re least expecting to be blown away. You’re not paying out all this money to holiday with thousands of strangers. Those Insta snaps of the Eiffel Tower or Colosseum will look just as great from a distance, and there won’t be any crowds driving you insane.

Sydney Opera House

Think Australia and sunny beaches might come to mind. Surfer dudes and strong accents are prevalent in the land Down Under, but they’re not the biggest attraction for sightseers. The Sydney Opera House, however, does pull in millions of people every year. Eight million, actually. The performing arts venue, which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, has one of the most-recognised architectural designs ever made. It’s no wonder, then, that everyone wants to see it.

Getting away from the crowds for a good vantage point is easy enough with this one. Mrs Macquarie’s Chair across Port Jackson offers an unrivalled view of the landmark, with the added bonus of Harbour Bridge alongside it. The bench, which in itself is an attraction worth seeing, is easy to reach by bus or train across Sydney. Getting a great vantage point won’t be a hassle.

The Colosseum

Sightseers flock to the Colosseum on a daily basis. The structure was built between 72-80 AD and is now home to over 2000 years of Italian history, much to the delight of every daytripper and holidaymaker out there. This crumbled monument is a wonder to behold, but not from up close. For those looking to get a great shot away from the crowds milling around outside, there are some incredible bars and restaurant in the area. La Terrazza is only three blocks from the landmark and provides panoramic views without the hustle and bustle down by the Colosseum. A bit of distance puts the monument into perspective.

Golden Gate Bridge

how to see popular attractions

An essential landmark for any American adventure is the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s known around the world as a symbol of San Francisco, although it wasn’t originally planned to be the striking attraction that it’s now become. Finding somewhere to admire it without being hassled by traffic is tricky, especially if you want to see the bridge in all its glory. Head to Marin Headlands Vista Point. It’s up on Hawk Hill and is ideal for checking out the landmark while immersing yourself in nature.

Eiffel Tower

how to see popular attractions

You can’t appreciate the beauty of the Eiffel Tower when you’re standing under it or on top of it. No-one wants to spend money on a holiday only to realise the main attraction is a let-down. This Parisian landmark is best observed on a cruise along the Seine. The unobstructed views of Gustav Eiffel’s legendary monument are worth it. Plus, the iron tower appears more majestic from the waterfront anyway.

The benefit of a cruise along the Seine is that you have an hour of sightseeing on your hands. That’s a lot of attractions that you can tick off your list very quickly. Seine river cruises pass by landmarks like the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and the Grand Palais, not all of which you might have made time to see. There’s nowhere better to see the sights of France.

St. Peter’s Basilica

how to see popular attractions
I know I’m biased when it comes to Italy. The country was my home for years, and that dedication to your past never leaves you. I had to bring up Lazio on this list, because it’s where you’ll find some of the most astounding architecture in the world. Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country in the world (70% of the world to be precise), with Tuscany alone home to more UNESCO sites than places like South Africa and Australia. The region is filled with attractions like St. Peter’s Basilica and Castle St. Angelo which are engraved with history and stunning to look at from afar. A walk along the Tevere river provides great views of these landmarks that can’t be beaten, day or night.

 

Where in the world are you going to go next? Never be put off travelling somewhere because it’s a tourist hotspot. There are always alternative ways to see the most popular attractions. Know of any good sightseeing spots not included here? Let me know in the comments below.

 

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How to grow your Instagram followers – 10 top tips by @the_storyteller

how to increase your followers

Due to large demand (=thousands of messages I receive every month) about how to grow your Instagram followers, I’ve decided to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learnt from my 7-year using the app to the latest tricks that I’ve been testing in the last few months, despite the (f**king) algorithm.

Let me first say, that the focus shouldn’t be having a large account, but I do get why many people aim to that, however, if you only want to gain thousands of followers, please google “buy Instagram followers” and stop reading this.

This post is mainly written for small brands and people who wish to expand their exposure AKA followers on Instagram and be part of the game. Nowadays with 800 million monthly active users, Instagram is booming like never before. From personal brands to bigger businesses, it’s becoming a priority for everyone to leverage the power of Instagram. Why? Simple, people are switching off their Facebook accounts and spending more time on its sister app.

But let’s do a bit of rewind first…

When I joined Instagram back in 2010 upon my then flatmate suggestion, I was super excited to have found an app to share my (shitty) pictures. I had a fotoblog since I was 14/15 years old but that was long deceased, so Instagram represented the digital union of my two passions: photography and writing. Back then, there were very few people on the app and the ones who downloaded where, like me, amateur photographers. If you can’t imagine it now, I can understand but just think about a mix of Unsplash and Flickr without the madness around adv, influencers and money.

It was only in 2012 after Facebook bought Instagram that things started to change. Suddenly, it was about all marketing and money. The little photo app was suddenly flooded with selfies, blurred photos and horrendous close-ups of food (and I’m not saying I’m Henry Cartier-Besson or Sebastio Salgado) but I wasn’t posting 547594388  random pictures of my daily life, I was trying to express my love for photography along with my storytelling and bits of my London life.

Fast forward to October 2013 when on Halloween’s morning I woke up to 10K more followers on my account. I remember thinking that my account had been hacked and that the devil took it over. I was wrong, after briefly checking my emails, I realised I was on the famous -and mysterious – suggested user list. In the next few days, I gained around 50K followers. To my surprise, this happened again a few months later and I gained even more Ks.

grow your instagram audience

## Was this amazing? 

I would be lying if I said no. It was great, I suddenly felt recognised for my work and passion (in the meantime I had attended several photography courses, including one at the Central St. Martins’ School of Arts in London and my photography improved dramatically). But did I really deserve it? Well, for the “SUP rules” absolutely yes. At that time, the SUL was mainly focused on the #communityfirst philosophy, recognising users who committed to creating opportunities for fellow instagramers to meet and share tips and the common love for photography. At that time, I had already started my global collection of coffee-shops and I was also organising events in London and abroad for fellow brunch- and Instagram lovers. On top of this, I also had an additional account featuring the best London houses pics. So yeah, I was giving back to the community and building one around myself. This was what was necessary to make it on the popular list. And I did it. Twice.

how to grow your instagram followers

## But then, I went travelling…

Back in September 2015, I left my London life and job to travel the world and after the first three months in India, landing in Australia where data is so expensive and wifi not so easy to find in the remote parts I’ve travelled to, I was over the addiction. It was a matter of months for the decline to hit me. I started losing thousands of followers every month and here’s when the new algorithm came to play.

## the fucking algorithm…

Following the Facebook acquisition, Instagram became a marketing platform vs a photography app where the chronological order was killed and shots became more and more similar. I had a couple of years of love-hate relationship with Instagram. I kept posting occasionally on it, but without engaging much and not replying to comments left on my feed. I was exploring the world, getting lost in faraway lands and the time that Instagram required to grow and keep the audience was something I wasn’t willing to take away from living in the moment and my travels.

## My strategy today

It was only around Christmas last year that I’ve decided to give one more (last) try to Instagram, which gave me so much in terms of new gigs, exposure, travel opportunities and so I’ve decided to try something new and set up to hit the stars again. At that time, in fact, my blog wasn’t as popular as it is today, I didn’t have a writing portfolio to vouch for me, so my Instagram audience was (and still is) a big magnet for small and big brands. It was through that I got to work with brands like Airbnb, Daniel Wellington, Royal Caribbean, Shinola and many others.

Here’s how I did and my top tips to grow your Instagram audience

1 WHO ARE YOU? CREATE A NICHE

At the beginning of my instalife, I wasted so much time building a generic community based on friendships and taste, but I later realised that I was just wasting my efforts. Since implementing my new strategy, I’ve focused more on the style and galleries which are more related to me (i.e. travel, coffee, minimalism, interiors, digital nomadism, stationery) but also to people who can inspire me to get better at this game.

How to create your niche? In order to create a niche and to beat the algorithm, I’ve turned the notification on of my favourite accounts, so I am sure I never miss their posts. Plus, I’ve also created a list of accounts I want to stay connected with which I (try to) check regularly and engage with.

 

# 2 ENGAGE WITH YOUR COMMUNITY

Instagram’s algorithm works a bit like karma: it basically gives you back as much as you are willing to give in. It decides who they will show your photo to (yes, I read about the latest chronological news but they aren’t going back to fully pure chronological, they are still playing the algorithm game and I can’t really see them dropping it aanytime soon (read never!). So, I was talking about instakarma: if you take the time to find similar accounts to yours, follow them and leave them good comments on a regular basis, sooner or later they too will take the time to return the favour (if they like your work, of course). Start by liking 5-10 pictures of a profile you admire and leave MEANINGFUL comments to their gallery. Something that sticks out, not the generic “great pic”, “wonderful” or some hideous emoji which might seem created by some random BOT. If you truly like someone’s gallery, let them know you do! I also feature the new profiles I find quite regularly and I have a highlighted story on my profile too (see under Inspired By) To give you an actual example, if you come by and never interact with my account, I’ll hardly notice you. But if you leave me comments on a daily basis, this is how I can see you and potentially (if you take good pictures!!!) have me to follow you back. And it’s not about ego, it’s more that it’s hard to keep track of everything, likes are superficial and too fast when you have a large following, but I ALWAYS read the comments left below my pictures. And by the way, this is exactly how I’m finding profiles to follow and to add to my community. 

EXTRA TIP #1: 

Photos that get the most likes in the first 15 minutes are most likely to show on top of the feed and on the popular page. So, if this is how it works, you want your followers to engage with your new photo as soon as possible and you can trick the algorithm by doing the same to their accounts who will be happy to return the favour (sometimes). If you manage to get at the top of the feed of many accounts, you also manage to create quick engagement so that your photo is shown to many more accounts than usual. This is what happened with this picture for example: 

EXTRA TIP #2: Direct Messages are great and it’s obviously a great way to create a personal relationship with someone you admire, but bare in mind that checking DMs takes time and most people I know don’t open their request messages (a message received by someone I don’t follow) for months. WHY? Most of the requests I receive are spam or trying to sell me something, so I normally check them quickly every now and then. So, stop the DMs and start with the comments to be noticed!

Oh! and it’s not called social media for nothing, so reciprocate: if people leave you comments, reply to them! (sorry! I am guilty of this, sometimes real life takes over!!! )

3. FIGURE OUT WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE LIKES

Once you have done step 1 and 2 it’s time to look back a bit. Do a little research. If you have turned to business profile you already have some stats available there otherwise you can use other tools and software (let me know in the comments below if you are interested in this and I might write a specific blog post about the apps and software I use). Otherwise, you can simply go back through your photos and see which ones got the most likes and comments — and of course, the least. What hashtag and tags people click on your stories? Don’t be as stupid as I was a few years back when I totally ignored people’s feedback to my content. They wanted me to go back to storytelling, but I wasn’t keen to share stories of my life, they asked me for more London but I stubbornly kept sharing pics of my travels. I’m not saying you must do exactly as your followers ask – I should be posting naked selfies if I did – but do carefully listen to those aficionados who are genuinely giving you precious feedback.

4. CREATE A THEME FOR YOUR PHOTOS

So if you followed #1, #2 and #3, people will naturally start to notice your username popping up on their notifications and may check out your account. Now you need to give them a gallery to fall in love with!One of my most recent “strategic” actions, upon an insta-friend suggestion and help @maride_ was to create a theme for my photos. I always admired people who were able to create a consistent chromatic gallery, but every time I tried, there was a bright orange/red or b&w picture I wanted to post that would mess my gallery. Since, last month, I’ve decided to be more selective with the pictures I post to keep the chromatic feed I choose. 

 how to grow your instagram followers

On top of this, use the limited space of your bio to describe who you are and what you stand for: it doesn’t need to be wordy, but it’s essential to give an idea of who you are here which is the first thing people normally check. With the latest update, you are also able to add hashtags and other accounts you manage to your bio, so use it well to show your entire portfolio/brands.

5. CREATE A HASHTAG AND ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO USE IT, TOO.

This is a great way to build a community around your account. In the past, I had launched two hashtags which became quite popular: #makeitremarkable and #livemoredomorebemore but back then I didn’t know how to use them and in fact I wanted to keep them for myself only. I was in fact, annoyed when people did use them (SORRY!) I only understood the real power of creating hashtags when after abandoning my coffeeshops account I checked #cafesaroundtheworld and it now has almost 8000 pictures. It was organic, natural and fabulous, but I did not jump on the winning horse, I instead changed handle and hashtag as part of my new strategy and focus on digital nomads (follow @digital_cafes and tag your work-friendly spots with #digital_cafes).

I know I need to do this more and more often, but I’ve seen other accounts creating a viral ripple effect with the use of this technique. My favourite is @disasterofathirtysomething, an adorable and witty girl who created the hilarious and brilliant #thepeakandpitcollective, where people share the ups and downs of their lives like Sarah does on a daily basis. 

6. SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT YOU!!

For the first two or three years, I was so shy to let people know about my photography, that my closest friends and family did not know I had an Instagram account. I remember the shocked face of some of my closest friends when I told them I managed @the_storyteller. I also recall a very funny episode when at a London meet up I met a girl who was raving about how much she loved my account, without knowing I was right in front of her. I might be weird, but I’ve always wanted to keep my social life separated from my real life (blog post about this coming up soon!!), so much that I don’t use my real name on any social media, I didn’t show my face for years on any of my pictures and I struggle so much with the current trend of being in every single photo. Anyhow, I learnt that people want to get to know you, they want to connect with you (or your brand) so it’s necessary to give parts of you every now and then. And so, a couple of years ago, I decided to link my blog, Twitter and Facebook and tell people I was on Instagram. Well, this resulted on thousands of new followers who did not know I had an instagram account before.

7. CALL TO TAKE ACTION

People are incredibly lazy. I’ve seen people scrolling Instagram for 30 minutes without double-tapping once!!! It’s crazy if you ask me. What’s the point of staring at a screen without reading the caption or interacting with people? Do you remember that the pictures you see are (mainly) taken by actual people who put a tiny effort to create something. But also: what’s the point of following someone if you have no intention of interacting with them. Are you just another stalker? I know we are the voyeur generations, but how crazy is this? I have people – now blocked – who kept stalking me on my stories but would never interact with me via comments or likes (in fact a few of these people are actual friends from real life). So, nope, stop stalking me if you are not willing to give something back.

8. GEOTAG YOUR PHOTOS

Posting a photo of that cool restaurant or city you recently visited? Geotag it! This allows people who are researching for a specific place through the search bar can actually end up on your photos. Obviously, London and  New York already have millions of photos geotagged, so try to be more specific by tagging a neighbourhood or even a street or a shop/restaurant.

9 USE HASHTAGS, BUT NOT TOO MANY

Hashtags are a great way to get your photo seen by people who aren’t following you. But unlikely 7 years ago when I first started using the app when we were all aiming to get featured by the giant hubs, today is all about finding the right niche hashtags that fit with your gallery and style. 

How do you find the right hashtags for your account?

It’s been a few weeks now that I regularly take the time to “analyse” a profile or two that I like. I normally check out the kind of hashtags they use and then see how and who are using them. When you find good hashtags then check out the number of posts that hashtag has and what the top 9 grid looks like. I’ve recently read an article that suggests to use a mix of small (<10K pictures tagged), medium (between 10k and 100K pictures) and large (above 100K) to your pictures. I also read that using the whole available capacity of hashtags (30) can also get you into the shadowban (if you don’t know what this is, leave me a comment below and I’d be happy to explain it to you). 

I personally don’t like to see the hashtags directly posted on the caption, so I normally add them as a separate comment. I use an app to preview my feed which also allows me to save set of captions divided by theme/category. You can also do the same on your notes app on your phone. 

Some niche hashtags in travel are:

#vacationwolf , #traveltagged,  #lovefortravel

I’m also entering the Instagram digital nomads community, so I often use the followings hashtags:

Some popular lifestyle/architecture hashtags I like and use are: #seeksimplicity#flashesofdelight#thatsdarling#livethelittlethings,  #morningslikethese, most recently I fell in love with @theshopkeepers and I regularly check their #sharingaworldofshops.

10 THE POWER OF INSTAGRAM STORIES

Since we are a consuming-focused society, people are switching more and more to Instagram stories. They are totally passive, easy to consume and very much like television you can spend hours checking them. However, they are a great way to reach current and new followers. Most people use it to show some sort of behind the scenes, to make tutorial videos and so on, I personally use it to interact with my community on a more personal level. I still find it hard to be consistent with them now and that’s why I created for myself and my clients a sort of editorial calendar for the stories too. Also, an extra point you can achieve with the stories similar to the photos is to get featured on the Explore tab which will obviously boost your account. So these new users, if they like what they see, they might even give you a follow! This is another great reason to try to have an active Instagram story up at all times and maybe carefully features a few as highlights

 

Remember to use location and hashtags as you could be featured there too and exactly like with posts people search a lot by geotag and #s. (Do you know how to geotag a picture or add #s? if not, please let me know in the comments and I’ll write a specific post about it!)

WRAPPING UP – HOW TO GROW YOUR INSTAGRAM FOLLOWERS

Well, I’ve been playing this “new game” for about two months now and I’ve realised that’s working. SLOOOOOWLY, but it’s working so, as long as I have the time to do it, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing as best as I can. That’s all for now folks! As requested by you, I’ll be sharing another article about how to work on Instagram very soon. Stay tuned.

And you? Do you have any other interesting strategies on how to grow your Instagram followers? Are you experiencing the opposite? Leave me a comment below or drop an email if you’d like to have a private free evaluation of your account (limited to the first 5 emails I receive).

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Bath: the perfect weekend getaway from London

When Trivago asked me to spend some time in Bath researching for the best hotels in town and write an article Bath: the perfect weekend getaway from London, it was a matter of seconds and I immediately said yes! and jumped on the first plane.

I had already been to Bath on a day trip when I was hired to photograph and write about the Bristol International Balloons Festival a few years ago, but a day in Bath wasn’t enough to see everything that the city has to offer. This time, I spent over a week in Bath, exploring the city and the surroundings and you can read everything for the perfect weekend away here and if you are looking for the perfect hotel, here are my suggestions on Trivago.

TOP 5 MUST DOs IN BATH

1 BATH ABBEY

Climb the 212 steps to the top where you can get incredible views of the entire city and beyond.

2 ROMAN BATHS

Get a clear idea of how the ancient Romans treated themselves before the modern SPAs.

3 THE CIRCUS AND THE ROYAL CRESCENT

I never get enough of architecture – one of my (many) childhood dreams was to become an architect – so this full and half-circle of limestone houses is not just a pleasant surprise to the eye, but also the perfect setting for a (thousands)  Instagram shots.

4 THE FOODIE BUGLE

If you live in London or Bath, this is the place to go if you are in need of super cute and vintage homeware. It also serves tea, coffee and cakes.

5 SOCIETY CAFE

Not one, but two venues of this coffee institution that serves single origins beans along with great snacks and cakes.

 

* * *

Read more about Bath: the perfect weekend getaway from London here and book your hotel here

Thank you to Visit Bath for your help, passes and hospitality.

Note: This is a sponsored post by Trivago – all views are my own. 

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Malta for Digital Nomads: The European Chiang Mai?

At landing, Malta feels a lot like Italy. People at the public transport counter at the airport barely speak English, the bus runs every hour, it was 10 minutes late and fully packed with people with luggage. Not a great start.

But once you catch a glimpse of the limestone houses and the narrow streets through the bus’ windows, everything will be forgotten. Malta is love at first sight.

As you know, I am now enjoying the life of my dreams (AKA digital nomad lifestyle = work + travel anywhere in the world), but since I got back from my long trip and settling back in Italy after 10 years of living abroad, I much more enjoy shorter trips and I’m hoping to find a base somewhere one day. Since last summer I’ve taken loads of short-ish trips all around Italy and  Europe and I’m amazed by the number of things I didn’t see despite having spent the first thirty years of my life in Europe.

NOTE TO SELF & THE READERS: I still have loads to see and I’m super excited about my future trips (more to come in the next few months, make sure to follow my instastories where I constantly share insights about my itineraries!)

So when CoCoHub Malta invited me to stay at their newly opened co-living space in the heart of Malta, I was super excited. I had never been to one, I’ve tried and experienced many co-working spaces all around Asia, but I had always been a bit afraid of staying in a co-living for the lack of privacy and the usual hostel-feeling.

But CoCoHub was a pleasant surprise, keep reading to find out more about CoCoHub.

Top things to see & do in Malta

Valletta

The Renzo Piano-designed City Gate, Parliament Building and Opera House have dramatically changed the cityscape of Malta along with Valletta’s status as European Capital of Culture for 2018. The city is reborn, with new museums, new hotels and bars and restaurants. Malta’s capital and the largest settlement on the island, Valletta is a great city, despite maybe not being the most beautiful Maltese one (in my humble opinion). It has a neat grid street system, so even if you try, it’ll be extremely hard to get lost. The centre is pedestrianised, but it is hilly – it reminded me a lot of Lisbon – so wear comfy shoes and opt for a backpack rather than a trolley.

Valletta was built on a 1km by 600m peninsula by the  Knights of St John after they withstood the Great Siege repelling a huge Turkish army in 1565 (this is a super fascinating story which deserves a separate article, or just pick up any books about the Knights of St John). Its founders declared that it should be ‘a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen‘, and in fact to today, it retains its 16th-century elegance. Valletta is packed with interesting sights and that’s why when Unesco named Valletta a World Heritage Site, it described it as ‘one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world’.

Start on the bridge across Valletta’s ditch, which opens into Renzo Piano’s City Gate (1) built atop the ruins of Valletta’s Opera House.  Beyond it, you can wander around the spaces created by the Italian architect’s new Parliament Building (2), a huge sandstone block that has been machine-sculpted in the old Maltese style.

Walk down Strait Street (3), once known as “the Gut”, a notorious hang-out for off-duty sailors and the red district. The street still has the faded bar signs from its former life and today it hosts nightly clubs and hole-in-the-wall bars.

From City Gate (1), Republic Street runs straight to Fort St Elmo (4) at the peninsula’s tip. It’s a very busy street, filled with a permanent crowd of tourists and locals alike, take a side street and explore in peace.

I’ve seen incredible churches and Italy has probably the highest percentage in the world of gorgeous frescos and statues, but the magnificent St John’s  Co-Cathedral (6) left me truly speechless. It was packed with people, I will never understand why they still allow groups of 30-50 people in spaces such churches and museums. Rant over. The floor is made of polychrome marble and the ceiling is the work of the Italian artist and Knight of St John, Mattia Preti. Its other great treasures include two paintings by Caravaggio, who fled to Malta after committing murder in Rome. He spent several years on the island, becoming a Knight of St John (though he soon ran into trouble here too and ended up fleeing back to Italy)

Upper Barrakka Gardens (13), which offer wonderful views over the piercing-blue Grand Harbour, the Three Cities and Fort St Angelo (14),

The Three Cities

Malta for digital nomads

Despite their picturesque narrow streets and stunning views, the ‘Three Cities’, Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, are surprisingly off the tourist radar and the perfect Maltese towns to absorb some local atmosphere. Vittoriosa and Senglea occupy two narrow peninsulas connected by a pedestrian bridge while Cospicua merges into Vittoriosa and lies just south of it.

Marsaskala

Marsaskala (also spelt Marsascala), gathered around the head of a long, narrow bay, was originally a Sicilian fishing community: the name means ‘Sicilian Harbour‘. Today it is an increasingly popular residential area and a seaside resort among the Maltese. It a great place for a wonder or some fish-based meals by the harbour with its tiny colourful boats dancing on the water.

Mdina

The mysterious golden-stone walled citadel of Mdina perched on a hilltop was fortified from as long ago as 1000 BC when the  Phoenicians built a protective wall and called their settlement Malet, meaning ‘place of shelter’. Later, the Romans built a large town here and called it Melita. It was only given its present name when the Arabs arrived in the 9th century – medina in Arabic means ‘walled city’. The Arabs dug a deep moat around the wall which has recently been landscaped as a lush garden.

While in Mdina, explore the hidden roads and avoid the tourist crowds who mainly stick to the main street, wander around the Città Notabile as it was called in medieval times because it was the favourite residence of the Maltese aristocracy. When the Knights of St John arrived in Malta and made the Grand Harbour and Valletta their centre of activity, Mdina sank into the background. as a holiday destination for the nobility.

Former Malta’s capital, Mdina, was my favourite city during my stay in Malta. The beautiful honey-washed and colourful doors and balconies filled my Instagramming eyes (and camera roll).

Malta for digital nomads

If you, like me are a Game of Thrones fan obsessed, you might be glad to know that several locations around Malta have served as GOT’s backdrops like the picture below. Do you remember what happened in this square in the popular TV HBO series?

Here’s the scene (spoiler alert!)

And what about Ned and Catelyn Stark farewell? The Vilhena Gate in Mdina is where the Stark see each other for the last time (sob!) and served as the entrance to King’s Landing on many other episodes.

While in Mdina, eat at Coogi’s: amazing courtyard, incredible and tasty food and super friendly staff. I choose spaghetti alle vongole and a mini bottle of white wine. Definitely the best meal in Malta.

Rabat

Malta for digital nomads

Once you leave the walls of Mdina behind, the street leads you to Rabat. It’s a short and gentle walk which takes you to the equally cute town minus the walls. It’s filled with even more gallerias (Maltese balconies) and there are far less tourists around than Mdina. This is Instagram heaven for real! I even found several vintage cars on my way so some #soloparking shots are guaranteed there and I had one of the best of my Maltese days.

More Game of Thrones in Rabat as you walk to Saint Dominic’s Priory or the Red Keep courtyard is where Ned Stark signs his death when confesses to Cersei Lannister that he knows the truth about his children (don’t watch the clip – spoiler alert!)

Malta for digital nomads

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die” she whispered.

Marsaxlokk

The ancient fishing village of Marsaxlokk (meaning southeasterly harbour) feels like an unchanged slice of real Maltese life, despite the arrival of hundreds of tourists every Sunday for its weekly fish market.

A very photogenic fleet of brightly coloured luzzu (fishing boats) and fishermen sat by the waterside mending nets, make the subject for perfect Instagram shots.

Marsaxlokk is the perfect base for those looking for a relaxed place (if you can overcome the Sunday hoards).

WHERE TO STAY IN MALTA AS A DIGITAL NOMAD:

CoCoHub Malta


Nestled in the cute village of Birgu, also known by its title Città Vittoriosa, CoCoHub Malta is a great option for those who like peace and tranquillity, without feeling totally disconnected (Valletta is only 30 minutes bus ride away). Vittoriosa is an old fortified city on the south side of the Grand Harbour and it occupies a promontory of land with Fort Saint Angelo at its head and the city of Cospicua at its base.

Why choose CoCoHub:

If you are looking for a great, lively, fun space to live and -as they put it – #getshitdone, this is the place for you. The vibe is great and you can meet loads of people in a matter of seconds.
CoCoHub is managed by three brilliant, young and entrepreneurial guys with lots of digital experience. They chose the perfect location and managed to create something great in a 400 years old building in just a few months. Choose CoCoHub if you are looking for:

  • community vibe
  • good location (away from busy Valletta but not too quiet )
  • reliable and fast wifi
  • arty feeling and settings
  • fun and interesting events
  • young environment

The only downside I could find during my week-long stay was a lack of an actual cleaning schedule or a professional cleaner (especially in the kitchen and bathrooms). But sorting that out, CoCoHub has the potential to be the number one reference for digital nomads in Malta.

Gozo

If you’re like me, you may not have realised that the island nation of Malta is actually an archipelago, made of two other islands on top of Malta. Gozo and Comino, only a short ferry ride away are in fact two beautiful additional destinations which are well worth a visit. Comino is inhabited but home to stunning Blue Lagoon, while Gozo offers the perfect middle ground between busy Valletta and super quiet Comino.

How to reach Gozo

Board the #222 bus from Valletta to the Cirkewwa ferry terminal at the very northern point of Malta. The bus is slow and it took about an hour and a half despite being only a few kilometres away, but embrace the journey and look outside to breath more of Maltese life. The ferries run about every hour during low season and more frequently during summer months. It was just a quick 25-minute journey before arriving at the town of Mgarr in Gozo. Oh! Remember that you will board the boat “for free” since you only pay on the way back from Gozo!
Click here for the ferry schedule.

Victoria 

The capital city of Gozo is Victoria, and in the heart of the city is the Citadel, which has been the centre of activity since the Neolithic ages (that’s 10,200 BC – 2,000BC!), but it was first fortified during the Bronze Age (1500 BC). Right at the centre of the Citadel, lies St. George’s Basilica, which was built between 1672 and 1678, with (you guessed it) limestone blocks. Once I was inside, my jaw dropped: the interior is filled with colourful frescos, stained glass windows and all its 11 chapels are uniquely beautiful.
When in Victoria, make sure to stop for a pint or two at the Jubilee Cafe, a pub-like institution in the main square.

Ggantija Temples

These megalithic temples with its 6m high walls and 40m are the largest as well as Malta’s oldest temples (3600BC).  At the visitor centre, you can see several of the famous “fat ladies”.

Marsalforn

This is Gozo’s main holiday resort with a promenade, its restaurant facing the seas and low-rise hotels and apartments.

Calypso Caves

The caves aren’t impressive, but the view overlooking Rambla Bay is.

The Azure Window (The Dothraki Wedding)

Daenerys Targaryen is now one of the series’ favourite characters and I hope she’ll be the one to claim the Iron Throne, but at the beginning of Game of Thrones series, she was a fragile bride to Khal Drogo.

It is sad that the arch has now sunk into the ocean, but the sight is still well worth a visit even if just for imaging the Dothraki wedding.

Where to stay in Gozo for digital nomads 

When looking for a place to stay, as a DN, the first thing i Check is the wifi connection and most of the time I ask the property to do run a quick speed check for me and send me the results. But in Gozo, I found the perfect accommodation for digital nomads: Calido Hogar. Managed by Mark and Karen, this is the perfect place if you wish to chill, work and maybe jump in the pool. When I’ll go back to Malta I’ll definitely stay there again. You can get €28 off booking through this link.

IS MALTA THE PERFECT DESTINATION FOR DIGITAL NOMADS?

It’s a tough question, but I guess I gathered enough info through CoCoHub and other fellow digital nomads to give you a reasonable answer.

AFFORDABLE, QUALITY HOUSING

Renting an apartment in Malta is not that expensive when compared to other European cities, so if you wish or need to be based in Europe, Malta could be a great option.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTS

The bus system is reliable and cheap, even if slow. A one-way ticket valid for 2 hours is €1.50 whilst a week-long pass will set you back €21 or you can get a Tallinja card for even cheaper fares. Otherwise, you can get anywhere in 20 minutes by car/motorbike and you can easily rent one from a shop in the main cities.

TIP: If you have a smartphone, use the Google Maps app to find bus routes and schedules around the islands. Bus times can be off by 15 minutes or so, but Google Maps is the best way to get around in Malta!

ENDLESS SUMMER (or so)

Malta has been voted as the country with the best climate in the world, so there isn’t much to add to this point. The weather is warm all year round, although you might want to skip the months between December and February, as it tends to get quite chilly inside since houses are not equipped with heating.

VISA 

European citizens can enter freely, while others visiting from other continents shouldn’t have too much trouble getting at least a 3-month tourist visa.

ENGLISH MAKES IT EASIER

English is one of the island’s official languages, together with Maltese and Italian. If you speak it, this makes things easier. Additionally, since tourism is one of the biggest economies in Malta, people here treat travellers very well.

INTERNET AND WIFI

Being home to several IT and online gambling companies, Malta has invested heavily in technology during the past few years, so you can easily find a good internet connection and, of course, mobile networks. There are several public wi-fi hotspots and most cafes are provided with free wifi.
TIP:  there are lots of work opportunities related to IT here in Malta, especially in gaming companies which have relocated here for the favourable tax system. These companies look very favourably on employment of foreigners, so if you are just at the start of your digital nomad adventure, you can find some extra cash working part-time while connecting with other expats.

MALTESE FOOD

Maltese traditional cuisine is an interesting mix of Italian, Arabic/Spanish and Greek traditions. The most common local dish is the rabbit stew and pastizzi, while lots of Italian products are also brought over from nearby Sicily, and you can find them in the supermarkets.

Make sure to sample the traditional cheese of Gozo, Ġbejniet and don’t miss the goat cheese stuffed ravioli and of course, the Maltese bread, the ftira.

GOOD CONNECTIONS TO OTHER DESTINATIONS

Malta is an island, so the easiest way to get there is by plane. There are also catamaran services to nearby Sicily. It is quite cheap to travel via air to and from Malta, especially in summer when Ryanair services a number of routes throughout Europe.

VALUE FOR MONEY

When you consider everything, Malta is one of the cheapest places you can choose. It is probably more expensive than places in Asia, but it is much cheaper than living in other European countries.

CONCLUSIONS

No matter what part of Malta you choose to settle in, you’ll likely find everything you’re looking for as a digital nomad. Local and international food, restaurants and bars, events and outdoor activities.

Malta also has some of the best weather in the world, blazing fast wi-fi and it’s the perfect place for digital nomads, yet somehow, Malta isn’t Chiang Mai or Bali. There aren’t the same amount of DN  events, workshops or communities, but this isn’t necessarily a minus point! I believe Malta could be a great place to spend part of the year.

Useful Websites & Resources for Digital Nomads in Malta

This is only a short overview about Malta for Digital Nomads, obviously, there is much more to see and say. If you have any questions, the comments section is waiting for you. I would also like to hear feedback from some other digital nomads who have been to Malta in the past or are thinking of coming here soon.

***

NOTE: I was a guest at CoCohub Malta where I was hired as a social media strategist and influencer during my stay – all opinions are my own. 

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Leave the dreams to the dreamers….

planner 2018

Leave the dreams to the dreamers….

They said.

I don’t normally promote my own business ventures and don’t usually celebrate my successes here (or nowhere else). But this time, I will make an exception. Firstly, because success should always be celebrated, and secondly because this little, cute, project deserves a special place since it’s been a dream of mine for over a decade.

deluxe planner

And today is here. Today is real.

My first baby is born. 

original planner

~ Don’t ever let somebody tell you “You can’t do something”. You got a dream, you gotta protect it. When people can’t do something themselves, they’re gonna tell you that you can’t do it. You want something, go get it.

CREATE IT.

Period.

Another Life is Possible – The eBook

change your life

“Choose a life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers… Choose DIY and wondering who the f**k you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit crushing game shows, stucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away in the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself, choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that?”
― Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting

*

I’m sure you’ve seen the movie or read the book and if you haven’t you should.

Why?

Because life isn’t only what you think you should be doing.
Life is also what you want to do.

Society pushes us to think that we have to:

Go to school, go to uni, get a job, make money, get married, buy a house, or two, retire. 

Die.

But what if in YOUR limited time
you could do something truly REMARKABLE?

The truth is that

You can

because

Another Life is Possible 

After months of researching and learning (the hard way) from my personal 25-month experience around the globe, I am ready to share what I’ve learnt about creating a lifestyle that matches your values, dreams and passions.

This book (like me) doesn’t have all the answer, nor it contains all the options that are currently available,
but it’s a great starting point if:

  • You don’t know what you want to do in life and you are lost in a sea of ideas, doubts and options. Or the complete lack of them
  • You already have a job, but it takes up all your energy and you are left with nothing to give to your family, friends, beloved ones or side projects
  • You want to travel the world but don’t have the money / time / courage or whatever else it takes.

I’m here to tell you that….

TODAY YOU CAN

With the right information and the right attitude, you can actually tailor your life instead of coping with something you are not totally into.

This book won’t encourage you to leave your safe job and hit a deserted island, it’s not even a guide to becoming a digital nomad. There are so many other options to actually have a remarkable life and I’ll share them with you on my ebook.

This guide is your manual to create a life that is perfect for you rather than finding a job that pays the bills.

I am not a guru nor I want to become one. This book is the result of thousands of conversations I had with friends and people I’ve met around the world, but it’s mainly the output of my personal research and it’s exactly the book I searched for everywhere three years ago when I made the decision to change my life.

🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 SAVE THE DATE 🔥🔥🔥🔥

Another Life is Possible – the eBook

is out on 

December 1st 

 

Get your copy with 10% discount by signing up to the event on my facebook page here

 

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