7 Reasons why you need to plan your Instagram game ahead

As much as I love my job as Instagram Strategist, it often takes over my personal life and other businesses and projects. Some people -including me-  don’t like the idea of pre-planning Instagram content. It was supposed to feel ‘insta = in the moment’. But if you’re using it for your business or your personal brand, you need to plan your Instagram game. This doesn’t mean that you are no more authentic or real, it just means that you put some thoughts ahead of time and can still carefully craft a feed that’s gorgeous to the eye as well as strategically planned.

All in all, it’s about having a clear direction for your Instagram gallery without leaving room for improvisation. In this way, you can increase engagement, sell more and reach new customers.

But WHY should you plan your Instagram?

1 – Specific Promotions & Events 

plan ahead your InstagramWhile launching my little stationery business last year, I quickly realised that launching a new product on the market and managing its Instagram strategy is oh-my so time-consuming. Especially if the business is a side business and while you are doing that you also have a full-time job, a family or whatever else. Planning ahead is necessary if you want to be ready for big sale events, new product lines, global festivities and so on. For example, if you know you’ll be launching your winter line in September, it makes sense to prepare promotion content ahead of time (the same is for influencers looking for partnership whether they are hotels, clothes or others – think about what THEY need, not what YOU want).

 

2 – Feed Consistency

Taking pictures every day is AMAZING. But coming up with photo ideas can be scary. Especially if you are running a business and/or trying to launch a brand.

So scheduling a day to take all your pictures is not only good for your mental health but also to keep your feed consistent both in terms of colour and vibe.So maybe you can put up a photo studio and take the pictures of all your new products in one session. The schedule them and have them ready.

 

3 –  Partnerships

Whether you are a small brand or an (aspiring) influencer, you know you can contact a potential partner the day before your promotion. Serious and busy influencers have their 3-6 (or more) schedule planned already and businesses might have a specific need just on certain dates.

4 – The right moment

As discussed here, it is essential to post when your audience is most active in order to get the most engagement. If you are going on holiday, it might well be that your schedule is different than your normal one, but it’s not the same for your audience which will most likely have the same routine. Timeliness is a super important element especially with the new Instagram algorithm, therefore if you miss the moment, your posts are almost useless and a waste.

To find your personal best time to post on Instagram, you can easily check this on the insights tab of your Instagram account like in the picture below. Once you know your best time to post on Instagram, you can create posts ahead and connect to the platform when you are meant to post.

5 – More time for Instagram Stories and IGTV

I still like to keep my Instagram Stories quite natural and unplanned. I know there are some people and brands who plan those ahead too, but personally, I like to keep those channel as the real connection with my life especially if I’m on a business trip or on holiday.

So, if by scheduling your posts, you free up time every day, you can then use it to share more on your stories and your daily life.  Don’t forget that Instagram Stories are a fun way to engage even more with your followers and have a real-time connection with them as well as stay on top of their mind, even when you are chilling by the beach and they don’t see your regular posts in their feed.

6 – Perfect Hashtags Strategy

If you plan your Instagram posts, you will also have time to find the right hashtags for them. You won’t have to rush at the last second using always the same ones with the risk of being banned by Instagram, but along with your captions, you will also have the key tags to add. (more about finding the right hashtags in a future article).


If you don’t use a planning app, you can also save them on a spreadsheet or on your notes app divided by category, so you can easily find them at the time to post.

7 – Unplug is necessary

While the holiday season is fast approaching, you and your brain will need to unplug. I find that every time I disconnect and let my mind free to wonder, I’m invested by tons of new ideas as well as energy. But remember, your Instagram can’t simply stop. There is nothing worst for the algorithm that disappearing from the platform even for just a few days, so JUST DON’T DO IT. Instead, plan ahead and maybe use some planning app to help you (next post about this coming up soon!).

Even without apps, you can use the draft function to save some posts on your Instagram app and have them ready when necessary. Obviously, if you are on holiday and really need to disconnect, you won’t be playing the engagement tips I’ve shared with you on this post, however, posting a few posts while you are away, you will show your audience that you are still there but just taking some well-deserved time off.

Do you now agree why is necessary to plan your Instagram game ahead?

Need more tips about how to plan your Instagram? Do you know that I will be hosting my first Instagram Workshop in Italy in September? Stay tuned and check the details here. 

Subscribe now if you don’t want to miss the next Instagram episodes and wish to receive my Instagram content calendar FOR FREE in my July’s Love Letter!


by @the_stortyeller 
Sabrina Andrea Sachs is an Instagram Strategist – among other things – and in the past three years, I’ve helped dozens of brands and people build and grow their Instagram presence. With my 85k (total) followers and over 6 years of Instagram experience, I will be hosting my first Instagram workshop in Italy in September 2018 while my Instagram course will launch the following month. 

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Slovenia: Europe’s best hidden cycling destination

Slovenia best European cycling destination

Why is Slovenia Europe’s best-hidden cycling destination? Well,I didn’t expect it. In fact, I had no expectations at all. I like to explore places without having preconceptions and ideas in mind. But, let me tell you, I’m in love with Slovenia now. While you’ve probably heard of Bled Lake and the capital with the impossible name to spell and pronounce, you are probably in the unknown with the rest of the country as I was a week ago. Keep reading to find out

I just got back from my cycling ambassador experience around Slovenia and I’m ready to share with you some tips and tricks about this little country as well as a great cycling itinerary for my fellow bikers.

Slovenia Europe's best hidden cycling destination

DAY 1 – Welcome to Slovenia! Europe’s best-hidden cycling destination!

 Get to know the capital

WHEN WHAT
morning Arrivals to Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana
late morning Explore the city by foot and stop for lunch / late breakfast at Pritličje. One of the best cafes in town (also ideal for digital nomads)
16:00-19:00 Cycling around Ljubljana with the Moustache Tour guides
Dinner Ljubljana Castle
Notes I will publish a dedicated article about Ljubljana since there is loads to see and explore there and I don’t want this article to be too long!
Slovenia Europe's best hidden cycling destination

DAY 2 – Dolenjska Region – Explore Novo Mesto, the hometown of Tour of Slovenia Race  

WHEN
10:00 – 11:00 Arrive in Otočec 
11:00 – 11:30 Cycling: Otočec – Novo Mesto (7km)
13:30 – 15:00 Lunch at Don Bobi and tour of the city
15:00 – 17:30 Cycle Novo Mesto – Kostanjevica na Krki (26.5km) 
17:30 – 19:00 Explore the Venice of Slovenia and then relax by SUP-ping down the river along the village
19:30 Dinner
Overnight at Balnea Hotel, Novo Mesto
Notes & more info: https://www.visitdolenjska.eu/en/
https://www.facebook.com/VisitDolenjska

https://instagram.com/visitdolenjska/

Slovenia Europe's best hidden cycling destination

DAY 3 – Štajerska Region – North-East of Slovenia 

WHEN WHAT
8:00 Depart from Novo Mesto
10:30 Arrive in Maribor
11:00-15:00 Tour of the town and lunch at the Hotel Maribor
15:00 – 19:00 Afternoon at Pohorje Bike Park
20:00 – 22:00 Dinner at Gostilna pri treh ribnikih
Overnight at Ramšak Chateau Vineyard Glamping Resort*
Notes + Info https://maribor-pohorje.si/best-choice.aspx

https://www.facebook.com/VisitMaribor/

https://www.instagram.com/visitmaribor/

* I will soon publish a dedicated article about the gorgeous Ramšac Chateau – Stay tuned

Slovenia Europe's best hidden cycling destination

DAY 4 – Primorska Region – Mediterranean Slovenia – The coast 

WHEN WHAT
7:30 Transfer from Maribor to Piran
10:00 Arrive in Piran and tour of the city
12:00 -12.30 Cycle from Piran to Portoroz (3.3km)
12:30 – 15:00 Lunch at Oštarija Portorož
15:00 Visit to Fonda Fish Farm
19:00 Dinner at Hisa Torkla
Overnight at Stara šola Korte Guesthouse
Notes + Info http://www.portoroz.si/en/

https://www.instagram.com/portorozpiran/

Slovenia Europe's best hidden cycling destination

DAY 5 – Kranjska Gora Region – IMMERSE IN GREEN   

A must-try experience for any cycling visitor is the route between Mojstrana and Rateče, which runs along a well-maintained asphalt cycle path past several interesting abandoned railway stations, well worth taking a closer look at.

If for you cycling is synonymous with great exertion, adventure and adrenaline-pumping excitement, you may be the right person to tackle the ascent of the Vršič mountain pass, one of Europe’s most challenging road cycling routes.

You can also choose Bike park. The park offers three different trails – Downhill, Airline and Lunapark – whose names say it all about the styles of riding you can choose from. Featuring a 350-metre vertical drop, several kilometres of trails with varied surfaces, and all kinds of fun obstacles such as bridges, jumps and teeter-totters, the park has something for everyone who can ride a bike.

WHEN WHAT
8:00 Transfer to Kranjska Gora
10:00 Arrive in Kranjska Gora and pick one of the many cycling routes in the region
17:00 Chill by Jasna Lake with a book
Overnight at Hit Alpinea Kranjska Gora (Ramada Hotel&Suites)
Notes + Info https://www.kranjska-gora.si/en

https://www.instagram.com/kranjskagora/

https://www.facebook.com/KranjskaGora

Slovenia Europe's best hidden cycling destination

DAY 6 – HIKING or MOUNTAIN BIKING in KRVAVEC 

Timing Activity
9:00 Depart from Kranjska Gora to Krvavec Mountain Resort / Bike Park
10:00 – 13:00 Enjoy and go cycling cray at Krvavec Bike Park
13:00-14:30 Lunch up at Hotel Krvavec
Notes + Info http://www.tourism-cerklje.si/en

https://www.facebook.com/TICcerkljeNaGorenjskem

Slovenia Europe's best hidden cycling destination

photo credits: Nace Production

Slovenia: Europe’s best-hidden cycling destination

This is probably the first of a series of articles I’m going to write about Slovenia (if I’ll ever find the time LOL). There is so much to see and explore in such a small country and Slovenia is Europe’s best-hidden cycling destination. You can find out more in the links above and by checking the official Tourist Board website which is incredibly well-researched and written. Make sure to drop me a line via the contact form if you have any specific questions or enquiries – I’d be happy to help you plan your trip to Slovenia!

*

I was invited by the Official Tourist Board of Slovenia as the Italian/British Cycling Ambassador 2018 – all opinions above are mine. A special thank you go to Slovenia TO team, Vesna for planning everything incredibly well, Marusa for making sure everyone was happy in such a pressure-filled week, the filming crew and especially Lea, Sašo and Nace for their ability to make me feel comfortable in front of the camera. 

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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.

by @the_stortyeller 
Sabrina Andrea Sachs is an Instagram Strategist – among other things – and in the past three years, I’ve helped dozens of brands and people build and grow their Instagram presence. With my 85k (total) followers and over 6 years of Instagram experience, I will be hosting my first Instagram workshop in Italy in September 2018 while my Instagram course will launch the following month. 

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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).

by @the_stortyeller 
Sabrina Andrea Sachs is an Instagram Strategist – among other things – and in the past three years, I’ve helped dozens of brands and people build and grow their Instagram presence. With my 85k (total) followers and over 6 years of Instagram experience, I will be hosting my first Instagram workshop in Italy in September 2018 while my Instagram course will launch the following month. 

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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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Relais & Chateaus – Borgo San Felice, a Medieval village in the heart of Chianti

Relais & Chateaux Borgo San Felice

Relais & Chateaux Borgo San Felice is an oasis of peace, nature and beauty on the Tuscan hills. Borgo San Felice is the only Relais & Chateaux 5-star hotel in the Chianti Classico area. Only an hour drive from Florence, this is the perfect base to explore the surrounding area as well as those green rolling hills you must have seen in postcards and movies for years.

Relais & Chateaux Borgo San Felice

Relais & Chateaux Borgo San Felice

Surrounded by 147 hectares of vineyards, lovely squares and narrow paths, Relais & Chateaux Borgo San Felice was founded in the 8th century and its beauty has remained intact since. In 1991 it was renewed completely and turned into a 5-star hotel, but the medieval village buildings haven’t been spoiled.

Relais & Chateaux Borgo San Felice features 33 rooms and 21stunning suites like these ones:

Relais & Chateaux Borgo San Felice

FOOD AT RELAIS & CHATEAUX BORGO SAN FELICE

There are several food options at Borgo San Felice. You can opt for a gourmet dinner at the restaurant Poggio Rosso or go for the traditional flavours of Tuscany at the Osteria Del Grigio. If you are feeling hungry during the day or after a swim, there is a pool bar and if you wish to try the wonderful wines at BSF you should head to the Winehouse.

Poggio Rosso: find out more here

Osteria del Grigio: find out more here

EXPLORE THE BEST OF CHIANTI CLASSICO 

Agricola San Felice, the Borgo San Felice’s Winery, produces 14 different wines and visiting its cellar is a great way to get familiar with wine production and ageing.
Leonardo Bellaccini, the enologist, in collaboration with several universities, established the “San Felice method” which is a perfect combination of old traditions with state of the art scientific innovation. Today, Relais & Chateaux Borgo San Felice also produces DOP extra-virgin olive oil on top of acclaimed wines like Campogiovanni, Brunello di Montalcino and Poggio Rosso as well as a selection of grappa and vin santo.

Relais & Chateaux Borgo San Felice

SUSTAINABILITY & RESPECT FOR NATURE AT RELAIS & CHATEAUX BORGO SAN FELICE

At Relais & Chateaux Borgo San Felice, they fight soil erosion with the right terracing combined with a constant attention and analysis of the local flora and fauna. A great example of this approach is Vitiarium, where hundreds of species have been protected and cultivated for the past 30 years to prevent them to disappear.

Relais & Chateaux Borgo San Felice

UMANA MENTE by ALLIANZ GROUP AT BORGO SAN FELICE

What’s the best way to pass on traditions from the elderly generations to the new one? What’s the only way to share invaluable skills about agriculture and nature? Well, the answer at Borgo San Felice is Umana Mente, an Allianz Group’s foundation that connects the elderly with young people with disabilities in a common project that is a vast vegetable garden.

Relais & Chateaux Borgo San Felice

ABOUT RELAIS & CHÂTEAUX

Relais & Châteaux is an exclusive collection of 540 of the finest luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants in 60 countries. Established in France in 1954, the mission of the Association is to divulge its unique art of living in the world by selecting exceptional structures with a unrivalled tradition and heritage.

Relais & Châteaux is also a family of hoteliers and Grands Chefs from all over the world who share their passion and personal commitment to give their Guests moments of exceptional harmony. Choosing Relais & Châteaux is choosing an unforgettable celebration of the senses. The signature of Relais & Châteaux reflects this ambition:

“EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD, UNIQUE IN THE WORLD”

Notes: I was a guest of Relais & Chateaux “The Art of Living” press trip – all views are my own. As always.

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Going home after a long time…

going home after long trip

I am going home after a long time

As you are reading this, I’m finally boarding the plane that will take me home to Italy. If I planned everything really well and there haven’t been any delays, in this exact moment, I should be taking off from Bangkok and toward Myanmar, India, UAE, Germany and eventually, home. I am finally sitting on board that same plane that I’ve already cancelled and postponed 3 times. It’s bittersweet, I’m still shit at saying goodbyes to old friends, new road friends and places, despite the millions I’ve already said in the last few months. But it is time.

I’ve finally accomplished all the things I wanted to do during this long solo journey and this chapter of my life is now completed. In the best way possible in fact. I could not ask for more since the main goal has been achieved. That is becoming a calmer, wiser, slower, finest, better version of myself. The world and its beautiful people have shaped that little, scared, lonely “girl” that was desperately crying at the airport in Istanbul in September 2015. That  girl does not exist anymore and she has been replaced by a stronger, fulfilled, empowered woman who loves herself and the world around. I can travel alone. I can travel alone for twenty months (and counting). And not only I can, I LOVE travelling solo! In fact travelling solo is THE BEST and nothing compares to it.

I am ready to go home also because I’ve managed to achieve my second, accidental goal. After so much struggle and hustle, doubts and failures, today and for the past few months, I am standing tall on the tiny successes of my location independent lifestyle and since it’s been exactly 12 months that I’ve been able to travel only with the income made on the road, I can finally call myself a real digital nomad and for thsis I stick a little invisible DN badge on my chest. YAY!! I made it. I freaking made it.

The journey has been incredible and so powerful and so amazing and especially humbling. The places and people I’ve met made me the person I am today. And I gotta be honest with you, I’m having a massive crush on me right now 😍. Like my first real self love in 32 years, mate.

As I have learnt so much about myself, I realised that I was more scared of the known than the unknown. I realised that the fear that normally entangles people to stay in normal lives was what boosted and fuelled my trip. Where others remain stuck in the intricated world of doubts, fears, insecurities, I took advantage of them and decided to shape new opportunities just for myself.

And I forgave myself. I realised that all the things I did, I said, I wanted were necessary. Every single little thing. Finally, I looked up to the mirror, deep into my big brown eyes  and while hugging my naked self, I said the words: “you are forgiven”. Because in life, sometimes, you can prepare yourself, but you cannot predict what life throws at you and you can’t blame yourself for wanting more, for having bigger dreams, expectations, love for life, for loving the unexpected more than the expected, for loving freedom more than boredom. You can just be you. And I can just be me.

And I am finally ready to go home 

In the past 20 months, I have had some of the most incredible experiences of my life, I have slept in the middle of  deserts, I climbed on top of mountains, volcanos and rocks, I’ve swum with turtles, dolphins, sea lions and clown fish, I have seen countless sunrises and sunsets, I have slept in 543875426043 hostels, campgrounds, luxury hotels and in my tiny tent on the side of many Aussie roads. I have been blessed by incredible people, my time was wasted by a couple of assholes too (hello, f***ing German mechanic in Cairns!!).

I’m scared but also excited for everything that lies in front of me during this Italian summer that I’ve been dreaming for a while. I am mentally getting ready to be overwhelmed with emotions, smells and tastes. I am already physically ready to welcome all those familiar hugs, kisses and strokes I’ve been missing for so long.

649 days.

20 months.

13 countries.

4 continents.

25 flights.

15 trains.

43 buses.

6 cars.

35 scooters.

3 bicycles.

1 camel.

Everything is exactly as it is meant to be

During all this time, I have planned little, the few plans I had were normally cancelled, postponed or changed. My return couldn’t have been any different. During my journey around the world, I always tried to get off the beaten track, often missing the must-see, must-dos, must-bes. Some days I was plain lazy, others too busy with work, others too sad to leave my bed, some days I was filled with such an intense joy that I thought my heart would explode. On this trip, I learnt what pure happiness means. I was blessed by it when I was staring at the Taj Mahal while the sun rose on the horizon and my incredible friend, Prabu took the beautiful photo that symbolises my trip.

I was overwhelmed with true joy when surfing for the first time in Sydney, but also when I was lying naked and alone on a beach in Western Australia or when I hiked the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand, danced the traditional dances in Fiji and Samoa, when I first tried Muay Thai in Chiang Mai, when I relaxed tubing in Laos, or while seeing my business blossom naturally and effortlessly after so many stops and failures. I was happy surfing again in Canggu, hugging a dear friend on top of the rice fields in Ubud, or while talking about love and commitment with a long-lasting stable couple or when I realised that perfect love does not exist and we are human with another favourite couple I am lucky to call my friends. And I was happy to discover that life is all this. It’s made of little, brief moments when everything is exactly as it’s meant to be and nothing, absolutely nothing, could be any better.

Because everything is already perfect. It is as it is meant to be.

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Am I ready to go home?

Of course not. I thought I would by now, but the thing is that no one ever feels completely ready when the moment to board that last plane comes. Surely no one who has the bad habit of setting super high expectations for themselves. And I’m guilty of that, of course. Nobody feels as changed as they had planned to be when they firstly left home. Personally, I don’t know if I have truly changed or if my current conditions and mindset make me act as a different person to whom I was before. What I do know now, and I know it really well, is what freedom tastes like. And it tastes like sea water and honey, watermelon and chilli. And it tastes like Life.

During my journey, I also learnt the meaning of losing everything. Of feeling lost and really alone. Of not knowing who you are or what do you belong to. But the most important lesson of the entire trip was that Another Life is Possible. If you really lose everything, if you don’t have anything else to lose, then you gotta start all over and build something new, something amazing just for yourself. And believe that you can

I am scared. 

I know I’ve lived as much as I could. Not by ticking off things off of a list, I’ve only been to 13 countries in 20 months, but by embracing the people and the world around me. By letting it go under my skin, day by day, person by person.
I am not going home only after 20 months of travel around the world, I am going home exactly after 10 years of living abroad and away from my family and friends.

It’s freaking scary. It’s overwhelming and is frightening and exciting. As I walk down into the tunnel to the plane, there are thousands of emotion exploding inside me. While I was packing Frank (my big backpack), one more time, I had tears in my eyes. Today, I learnt to welcome all these emotions as I know they are all part of the journey, they are all part of life. And I also know that soon enough I will be going back to the other home I’ve created for myself. The one up there in the sky. Or on the road. Because I feel home everywhere. The world is my home. Because my home is everywhere and anywhere I have been. But also where I haven’t been yet.

They say home is where the heart is

But my heart is wild and free

So am I homeless or just heartless

Did I start this, did it start me

They say fear is for the brave

For cowards never stare it in the eye

So am I fearless to be fearful

Does it take courage to learn how to cry

So many winding roads

So many miles to go

(Passenger)

I am always gonna be fine

But as I went through security, as I got another exit stamp on my passport, as I am sitting on this plane, I feel stronger. Stronger than ever. Because the road taught me that I will be fine. I will be fine always and everywhere. Nothing can break me because nothing was fixed to start with. The truth is that not only I found myself. But I found that little, permanent home, just inside myself. The perfect place to rest after a long day, the cosy home I made for me only. In a world where nothing is permanent, constant, I learnt that I AM my own constant element in the equation of life.

Only me on both side of the equal sign. And it’s more than enough.

going home after a long time

Embrace Life as it comes

It’s impossible to know what might happen next. Or why. What this situation will bring to you. Or which way you will take when faced with a big decision. Why some things will be destroyed. What makes some other blossom, die or change. How people get sick, change or leave. How people can love you, make promises, break them, break your heart. Live without you. Forget you. It’s impossible to explain why children die while the sun still rises every morning. It is impossible to understand. But it is unavoidable.

It took me 5 years, 1 month and 2 days to become the person I dreamed to become. To fully transform the little girl I once was into the woman I imagined I could be. I aspired to be. I ought to be. It took so much out of me. It broke me into a million little pieces, but they say that sometimes you need to smash a crumbling house in order to build a stronger one. And so I did.

Set fire to your boats

I set fire to the boats of my safe life, I scratched my title and experiences, I chose freedom while fear, hustles and struggles were burning all around me. And I fell. Oh gosh, I fell so deep. I burnt myself too.

I felt more alone than ever. It was like I was the only person remained in the universe. But that was ok too. Because alone was what I needed. What I wanted and because by learning to be alone I became much stronger, so much wider, so much better.

I no longer beg for attention, for love. I no longer need love to fix me. The waves crashing on the beach, the birds singing, the clouds moving above my head, a familiar tune in the background, a smile of a stranger, my own smile. All of this are enough. They are more than enough, they are everything.

They are everything.

My life, my wonderful life, like all lives, so impermanent, so imperfect, so fragile, yet so powerful, so mesmerising, so scary. So remarkable. So mine.

going home after long time

Live life to the fullest.

Exit your comfort zone. Feel uncomfortable, feel scared. Do something on your own. Miss your friends. Feel lonely. Eat the food you’re not used to. Pack your backpack, sweat. Sleep on bunk beds. Sleep in the middle of the desert. Don’t sleep and party all night. Rise early. And feel strong, feel connected. Lose yourself. Lose everything. Just let it be. Breath. Look at a beautiful sunset on the other side of the world. And feel at home wherever you are. Feel that you are exactly where you need to be in this moment. Live in the present, forget the past, don’t stress about the future. They do not exist. Be. Here. Now.

Make it remarkable. 

So yes, after these last 20 months exploring the world, exploring myself, loving the world, loving myself, I am ready to go home. I am ready to go home after a long time.

 

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“Mystery” Revealed: How I afford to Travel

money

The question I get asked the most is:

Why ?

Why I left my job to go travelling?

It is usually accompanied by wide-open eyes and incredulous disbelief.

I actually never seriously thought about the answer up to when I really had to think about it for an interview I was giving. It was the right time to stop the automated answering-machine of the “I needed a change / I wanted to see the world”.

It was time to be honest with others and mostly myself and I finally put it out there and you can read the latest version here.

The second thing I get asked more frequently is How? Or better:

How do you afford to travel?

This question is  also normally accompanied with wide-open eyes and huge curiousity, suspicion, envy and/or a good degree of hope.

Well, let me tell you now once and forever. I’ve answered this question many, many times individually, but I’ve limited free time now so I don’t want to do it anymore. I will be replying to all the future messages with a link to this post and as I’ve been working on it for weeks I believe I’ve created something really honest, comprehensive and clear. So, I’m pretty sure the below -with some percentage variations- will be valid throughout 2016. Unless, something major will change in my income flow (like I win the lottery! Hurrah!), in which case I will promptly update this post. 🙂

I hope I’ll be able to answer all your questions and curiosity, but if, after reading through, you still have doubts or need advice, please feel free to leave me a comment below and I’ll try to answer and help you the best way possible.

Like my very good friend and inspiring travel blogger Gloria said in an Huffington Post article that went viral last year: “People think there’s this magic formula out there. This one-size-fits-all-encompassing route that gives everyone an equal chance of seeing the world.”

There is not such a formula!

You are alone and you need to find your own formula and make it work for you and only you know which one is it. I won’t tell you what to do, not will I say that my path is the one you need to follow. This is my experience and it can work for you or cannot.

So, let’s set things straight right away.

 [This is a long, honest post, so if you wish to read the juice, short answer, you can jump to a few paragraphs below to the first numbered  list]

I am not a millionaire and my family isn’t either. In fact, my family probably sits in the lower end of the Italian middle-class AND I’ve been independent since I was 14.

Yup, at that age I got my first job, waitressing in restaurants, cafes and pubs. That year I received one of the “worst news ever” for a girl that age: I suddenly had to wear spectacles and, as I was competing at regional and national level in gymnast tournaments, I surely did not want to do that: I had to buy contact lenses and my  parents would never approve such an superfluous  expense.  week after the diagnosis, I got my first job. I was 14 and I never took a break up to last May (2015), when I left my 8-year corporate job.

I’m 31 years old now.

That means that I’ve worked 16 years straight in my life.

NON – STOP.

You probably already know where this is going, but let’s do some melancholic and nostalgic fast-rewind first that will help you to have a clearer picture of how I afford to travel.
At the age of 17, bored of my low-paid waitressing job, I decided to spend a summer entertaining German and French  kids in a resort in Sicily, Italy. The same year, as I had to pay for my driving license, my income wasn’t enough so I managed to get a leafleting job in the afternoon in the freezing winters in northern Italy, and another one at a bakery on Sundays where I had to start at 6am, get changed in the car around 12pm to go to my other restaurant job for another 8-10 hour shift.

Later on, when I was at uni, I had four jobs at the same time AND attended lessons.

Yes, I was tired. Actually I was exhausted most of the time. I wasn’t great at uni and I often fell asleep in class or missed  lessons because I was too tired to drag my poor body and mind out of bed, or I had to take extra shifts but I was saving money.

So, what happened after?

Well, after my shining 8-year career in the hospitality industry – while I saw and experienced very little of what people my age where doing – it was time to move on and hope for a new, more-rewarding, less tiring job and I happened to find a (paid) internship in London.

Most people would say that I was lucky (but I don’t believe in luck, so call me that if you wish, but I know I worked my a** to be at the right place at the right moment. So, Mrs Luck has very little to do with this story (or my life in general; but this is another article I’m writing at the moment).

The internship which was meant to last only two and half months, ended up lasting 6 months (insert here: I worked 12 hours, went the extra mile on every single project, took on more projects than expected and beaten the competition) and again, as money were not enough as an intern, I got an evening job in a pub too. Bear in mind that at that time I didn’t finish uni yet. I was still writing my thesis while working two jobs and trying to enjoy London too!

After I graduated, I got hired on a permanent basis by the company where I was interning and there you go, I was on the corporate ladder in no time.

From here, I don’t want to bother you with the details of all my achievements, frustrations, fights, tears, FOMOs, promotions, loneliness and injustice I went through to get where I was last year. Let’s just say I spent 8 years working extremely hard  in corporate, less-corporate, non-corporate companies in London and Milan to arrive where I wanted to be by the age of 30.

Throughout my first 30 years on this planet I also made a lot of sacrifices – not going out drinking, clubbing, dining or spending money on stupid things (even though I have done that a few times!) while consciously keeping my greater goal in mind.

When I did entered the forth decade of my life and I had to change the number 2 with the number 3 in front of my age, I was, in fact, proud, satisfied and accomplished in all my career goals and it was time to do something new. It was time to open that mental drawer where I secretly herded all my sheepish dreams and take them out and see what would happen.unknown.gif

Saving is my lucky pot at the end of the rainbow, a pot I’ve built for myself through the years and where nobody ever chipped anything on my behalf. Nope, my parents never gave me any financial support, if we exclude the time I had to change tires of my car and I had not enough savings.

earned  every cent that now represents the fuel I’m currently and slowly burning to explore this wonderful planet of ours.

What else am I doing?

I’ve decided to be completely honest with you as I think there is already so much bulls*** online about bloggers who show off their full-time blogging career when daddy is actually paying all their expensive stays and first-class flights around the world. Or where in fact bloggers and instagrammers are sent off to wonderful locations (Yes, I’ve done it too!), but for free, so they are not actually earning a living, they are simply having a great holiday in a fantastic place and the price tag for that is a blog post or a few insta-pictures. Well, a little advice here: don’t get fooled by those who say you can make a living out of blogging. They can’t. You can’t. I can’t. 99.9999999999999999999999999999999999999% can’t live J U S T off of blogging (and I’m including Instagram here). I saw and know too many people who left their solid job to pursue a career as blogger or Instagramer and the majority of them failed miserably. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m saying it’s truly hard and uber competitive. For a million users who are dreaming to travel the world on press trips and a suitcase pack filled with sponsored gears, there is one or two who actually do. For a 10000 who receive gifts and props there are a handful who (ask to) get paid. And no, I don’t get paid to *just* travel and sit by a pool drinking cocktails after a Swedish message at a spa. I wish! 🙂

unknown.gifKeeping this truth in mind, I knew that once I left my safe job, I had to re-invent myself and possibly create a new me.

So, let’s fast-forward to last Summer when I actually left my prestigious job to pursue my passions and my desire to travel.

What did I do exactly? I decided to become a portfolio worker, or a creative freelancer or a jack of all trades, call it what you like: I’m somebody who’s left behind the idea of sitting in an office for 40 years, but is realistic about her needs and will work hard to make ends meet.

Wrapping up the answer now, mystery is finally solved! Here is how I afford to travel. It doesn’t mean it is how you can afford to travel, it doesn’t mean you need to copy and paste the below to your life.

As I said above, you need to find your own magic formula!

Here is how I diversified my income  (as you can read in more details under my Contact page):

  1. Savings (as mentioned above and there is a whole chapter about minimalism and saving I’m going to write about soon…
  2. Management consulting/Project Management: the same job I did before but for my own clients and on a freelance basis now;
  3. Writing
    • Magazines: The Guardian, Il Sole 24 Ore, Mission and others
    • Blog posts, guest posts and reviews
    • Ghost writing (you would be shocked to know the amount of famous bloggers who actually don’t blog at all!!!)
  4. Photography:
    • photographic assignments: travel, lifestyle editorial and commercial (since February 2016, I’m represented by Townsend/London
    • Instagram coverage
    • prints – check my shop now! My first photographic memoir about India is available in pre-order now with 20% discount till end of February, Shipping worldwide from September 2016
    • photography workshop (you can book your ticket for the next one on my shop)
    • photographic content for my clients’ channels
  5. Social media:
    • Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat strategies and campaigns, competitions, brand ambassadorships, takeovers for small, medium, large clients in travel, leisure and lifestyle. You might have seen some on my channels but others are handled completely behind the scene (anonymously) by me
  6. Affiliation: you might have noticed that in the last few posts I’ve added some affiliated links. I’ve only used these for products I LOVE and brands I TRUST. It’s an incredibly tiny income (0.12$ in December! YAY!), but every little helps, right? By the way, it doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it gives me a micro percentage of your purchase.

So it’s H A R D and you might be thinking that I’m suggesting to give up your dreams, but I’m not. I’m actually giving your some

Practical Tips:

  1. Jump like Tarzan.
    Yes, don’t leave your current liana before you safely caught the next on: If you have one, keep your safe, permanent job as long as necessary before you start your gardening, photography, writing, knitting, painting or whatever business you want to get in. Keep your focus and goal, but don’t get fooled by the people bragging about how easy it is. It is not easy. And it requires loads of work, day and night, weekends included.
  2. Keep doing what you love on the side, until you are 80% sure that your new creative lifestyle can be sustainable.  Keep doing it  because you love it not because you seek success or you think you deserve success.You don’t.
    I don’t.Nobody was born with the granted amount of success. Or money.Maybe your art will be successful or maybe mine will. But I know for a fact that what people appreciate the most (even in terms of Instagram likes if you want), is when I put my heart our there when I share my creativity and not when I think I got a good shot or I’m aiming for thousands of likes.
  3. Ask yourself this simple question:
    Are you willing to try without the success or without the guarantee of success (and I’m not talking just about financial success), or not?Because if you are not, then perhaps you shouldn’t pursue a creative life. Maybe this isn’t the right path for you. Perhaps you should get your head around the fact that if you mainly want money and fame, there are plenty of jobs that pay extremely well (I just left one behind) and the path to get those is tough but not as tough as in the art / creative world.But, on the other hand, if you are really committed to your dream and your art, well then forget the money, stick to your job and keep creating on the side (at sunrise or at night if necessary!)
  4. Save. Save. Save.
    Yes, I hear you, your answer is: “Well, you *did* leave your job!”Yeah, I did, but before doing that I spent years saving up for this big jump. I carefully decided exactly my moves and crafted a budget that  allowed me to take the risk without becoming homeless but actually travelling in the meantime. As I said, I’m a realistic dreamer: 2016 is the year of my leap of faith, the plan is to eliminate the use of #1 and #2 from my revenue stream above while increasing the others. Is it possible? I don’t know yet, what I do know is that I’m working super hard to get there, I will work extra-time and constantly pushing the boundaries of my creativity, inspiration and comfort zone.And unless you are willing to do the same (or have very rich parents/partner), don’t jump. The cliff is extremely deep, wide and dangerous. If you jump without a working parachute, you are mad. No, you are stupid.
    And stupid people don’t succeed. They normally just smash on the ground and then bother others to pick them up. Well, I’m not going to pick anybody up because… Well, because I told you not to jump in the first place 😉
  5. Don’t set yourself  an irrational monetary target, if you do, you are going to fail. When you try to create anything under that pressure, you won’t be able to to put your heart in it and your work will be s***, your art will pay the consequences and ultimately you will too.So. Just. Don’t.So, my ultimate honest and heartfelt advice?
  6. Get a job that pays well, start saving from your very first check. Expand your knowledge and become a portfolio worker rather than a specialist. Or, at the opposite, become the best expert of a niche where you can indeed expect to be paid extraordinarily well. Stick to the job until you are ready. Then, and only then, set off for your trip/start-up/restaurant/art studio whatever you have in mind.

Is it hard? Immensely.

Is it fun? Absolutely.

Is the best choice I have ever made? No doubt.

Think about these points and make your own decision and ask yourself: am I still willing to sacrifice my savings, my free time with an extra job and maybe sell my beloved possessions?

Well, if you are, get ready and go. If you are not then, maybe you can try with the lottery or wait for that third-degree auntie to leave you a million $ inheritance.I’m going to leave you with  two examples of success that I’ve recently came across.

One is Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the world phenomenon Eat, Love and Pray, who kept her three jobs while and after publishing that book. Now, here we are talking about millions and millions of dollars, but still she kept waitressing during the day and writing at night. What does tell you? If you really love your art, you will find the time to dedicate some time and maybe, just maybe it could become your full-time job.

The second is an insightful podcast interview to Lauren P. Bath one of my ever favourite and most inspirational instagramers and one of the earliest “influencer” (probably when that profession didn’t even exist!) She worked super hard both in her career as a chef and later as an Instagramer/marketing strategist. She never took anything for granted. So, why should you? Listen to the podcast here.

And, remember…

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Start Somewhere.

Make it Remarkable. 

[And about books, if you wish to join our bookclub and discuss about her latest best seller Big Magic , register your attendance here.]

The moment you stop expecting success and money from your art,
you will finally be free to create and dedicate your heart and soul solely to the purpose of art.
Nothing else.

 

Your Definitive Packing List for a Year (or more…) of Wanderlust

 

So, you are finally ready to set off and embark on that train/plane/bus/boat/bicycle/feet that will take you away for a year or more and you are facing the tricky question of:

What the heck shall I pack?

Packing for a weekend away or a short holiday can be difficult. Packing for a year of wanderlust can be daunting and scary, especially if it’s your first time. For some stupid reasons, I personally left it until the very last minute despite being well aware of the importance and urgency of it all. Unfortunately, I lost myself in the online jungle of recommendation of other travel bloggers and let’s be honest, there is lots of crap out there.  So four months ago I got on my plane to Istanbul unsure I had all the things I needed for the following 12 months and quite sure I had missed something.

The truth is that I hadn’t forgotten anything, in fact I had (many) more things than I needed and that I soon left behind (more about this below). Like many beginners, I fell in the most common trap of reading detailed packing lists of other travel bloggers and ended up “over-packing” with stuff that had no use for me.
So, if you are about to hit the road for the first time and you have no idea of what to take with you, here is my personal, heartfelt advice after 4 months on the road.

Rule number one and only one:
u-n-d-e-r-p-a-c-k.

Easy-peasy

Remember that while traveling, you’ll be constantly packing, unpacking, packing again, checking that you’ve got everything, screaming if your stuff doesn’t fit or having huge fights with your backpack zip which will refuse to collaborate with you on a daily basis. What to do then?

Yeah, you got it right, I told you: Underpack. What I want you to do (and wished I had done so in September too!) is leave your home with almost a third of your bag empty in order to keep that spare space that you’ll need (and deeply love) while on the go. In order to do so, there are a few things I want you to keep in mind ahead of the actual packing process:

  1. You can buy most of the things on the road, yes, even in some of the most remote area you will find shampoo, chocolate and underwear; depending on where you are going some of the things you will need will cost a fraction of what you would pay them at home;
  2. When you are on the road, you will need less things than in your normal life
  3. There isn’t really any difference between packing for 6 weeks or 6 months, because you’ll just do laundry about every week or more, so just think you are going away for a short time and don’t stress too much!

So, this is my packing list and the items that I have with me right now. Bear in mind that after the first month on the road I sent a package home with things I no longer needed or wanted and I also donated some other items that were no longer necessary to me.
This is my current backpack and possibly the one I will keep for the next 6-12 months.

Your home away from home

Now that you are about to leave the comfort of your house, your backpack will become your home. Exactly like a snail, your chosen backpack will be your shell and exactly like that you will have to carry it on your back on buses, trains, planes and on foot many, many times during your travels, so my advice is to keep it minimal. The optimal weight should be around 8-10kg, less if you can, or maximum 12kg if you must.

Leave your suitcase at home. Yes, even if you are planning to stay in 5 star hotels and resorts leave your trolley home. I could tell you about one of my stay in a 5 star secluded resort where in fact I had to reach the harbor by walking on semi-submerged boulders, cross a river on a very tiny long-tiled boat and ultimately climb a very narrow and steep staircase where my car was waiting for me. Now, I easily managed to do all of it, but people who where carrying large or medium suitcases really struggled and had to ask for help as well as pay extra for their large bags. Even if you are over the age of the usual backpackers (what is that, anyway?), think again and buy one for yourself. Even if you aren’t planning to “backpack” in the conventional sense of the word, ditch the suitcase and trade them in for a good, sturdy, waterproof backpack.

My Bag(s)

Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset

 

41MxLQlZGlL._SS160_Osprey Farpoint 70 Travel Backpack
(Main backpack volume is 55 liters and the Farpoint Day is 15 Liter). Yes, I must admit, I had a few fights with this bag at the start of my trip: things seemed to take more and more space and the bag seemed to get smaller every day. I later learnt that everything needs to go in the right place every time, exactly like the pieces of a jigsaw which needs to be in the right order in order to make sense. Fast-forward to four months later and I now love my bag and it’s like my second skin. I use the small one for my tech gear when in transit and my large one for everything else. The two of them, currently weigh 10.5kg together.

41808o+499L._SS160_

Quequa Waterproof cover
For your bag, not only protects it from water, but also from tear and dust when in the plane booth as well as the other transports

Newfeel Foldable backpack: this is one of the best thing I bought for my trip. Not only is super tiny, but it becomes handy in million occasions like food shopping, beach, hiking, sightseeing. It only cost me two euros and I always have it with me in case I need some extra space.

Two cotton shopping bags: perfect for a day by the beach and for your laundry or just in general for you to carry around your things. There will be moments when some things won’t fit in your bag, so they are always very handy. I have one normal size and a smaller one which is perfect for little things or even to keep things separate in your bag.

One leather shoulder Camera bag: this is a late addition to my travel kit that I bought in India. I didn’t really need it, but it’s extremely handy for those other situations when you can’t be completely casual and/or business meetings I need to go to. I love it and it was a massive hit on my instagram feed some time ago and before you ask, no, you can’t buy it online 😉

 
The Essentials

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These are like THE MOST  important items, without them you can stay home and forget about your trip. Don’t only pack them, but throughout your trip always hold on to them like they where the most precious items you ever own – which in fact they are when you are traveling:

Passport – do I need to add anything to this? Well, I just say that in order to enter most countries, you will need to make sure to have at least 6 months left on it

10 copies of your passport – like your money, they should go half in your day-bag and half in your backpack/hotel

5-10 passport-sized photos – you will need them for visas and other documents on the road

Health and travel insurance – I use Worldnomads

Two or three debit/credit cards – don’t stack them all together in your purse/wallet, but use different locations and remember them!

  1. Credit/Debit Card with free cash withdrawals abroad
  2. Credit/Debit Card for purchases and backup
  3. Prepaid Credit/Debit Card  additional backup (trust me it’s never too many! Insert long story here…)

Cash – take approximately $200 or £200 for emergency and spread them around in your belongings. Dollars are universally accepted, but any international currency would do in those tricky situations you want to avoid.

Business Cards if you are planning to meet potential clients on the go

Airline Miles Membership Cards

 

Medical Kit

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This is as essential as the section above, especially if you have some permanent conditions. It’s a great idea to also have a mini medical-kit with you at all times especially in some third-world countries or where some diseases are more frequent and common.  Your medical kit should include some of the below, but obviously only you know what are you weak areas and what you should bring with you. I currently have with me:

Plasters

Bandages

Antiseptic handwash

Antidiarrhoeas (Imodium)

Antacid (for indigestion)

Ibuprofen / paracetamol

Antihistamines (mosquitos can be a big problem in some places)

Motion Sickness Pills: I never got motion sickness but then I was very sick on my ferry from the Andaman Islands as the Ocean was very rough.

Sleeping pills: I’m a late-sleeper and early-riser and when I feel I need to sleep more, I knock myself out with a couple of natural, valerian-based tablets.

Lavender essential oil: for the same reason above (thank you Rachel!)

Tea-tree Essential oil: endless ways of using it and a best friend while travelling!

Condoms (yes, girls too)

Clothes

Right, ladies (and gentlemen!), this is the moment where I’m telling you to forget your fashionable habits at home and think smart.  I’m not telling you to look like a lost soul or a homeless, but to smarten up your wardrobe and matching skills.  You must leave home most of your clothes and start thinking in multiple outfits, if you are not doing that already. On the road, life will be easier (less choice=less drama), but the crucial moment is when you pick the things that are going to come with you for the next year or so. Below is my current selection and the things I have with me right now. Sometimes I struggle, most of the time I’m extremely happy that I don’t have to waste time choosing what to wear, only one time (at the Opera) I felt I was underdressed, but I was excused as I had very little notice. 

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Fashion tip #1

Try to pack only clothes that match together or that have a similar tonality. Ideally, select dark or neutral colors (especially for your bottoms).

Learn to dress in layers, depending on the temperature, you will need to learn how to dress adding or removing layers. Of course, if you are traveling to Iceland or to the Himalayas you might want to bring that bulky, fat, super warm jacket, but unless you are going there, then the layers’ strategy will work for most places around the world.

Fashion Tip #2

Roll your clothing – yes, folding won’t work for a backpack, it’s much better if you you’re your items very tightly so to minimize the air and to avoid wrinkles

Underwear X 5
Socks X 3
Bra X 2
Bikini X 2 (2 swimming costume/boxers)
Short shorts X 2

Jeans 1
Light long trousers X 2
Leggings 1
Dresses X 1 (for those fancy occasions or elegant dinner)
T-shirts / vest tops X 5

Longsleeve top 1 (for temples, protect against mosquitos)
Shirt x1
Fleece (it can get cold at night, especially in the desert)
Hoodie (to keep warm on planes and at night)
Waterproof Jacket

Ultra-light Uniqlo puffy jackets
Beach Towel: use a lovely sarong
Belt x1
1 x large scarf or pashmina
Hat

 

Footwear

Obviously, it all depends on your destination(s). I can tell you to bring your flip flops/thongs, but I believe you will make little use of them if you are going to climb Mount Everest or cycle through Africa, right?

So, considering I’ve been doing some adventures as well as some beach time and city exploration, this is my current mix and I love it.

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Adidas Ultraboost 2 black: they have no visible brand and that’s great for me as I don’t want to be a walking advertising board

H&M Espadrillas: recent addition to my mix here in Sydney as it’s very warm for my trainers but my sandals aren’t ideal for very long walks

Crocs Flip-Flop: had to replace my Hawaianas recently as they broke down and there was no way to repair them. I’ll let you know how I like them soon!

Sandals: bought these almost 8 years ago in a little shop in Spain, everybody, especially me loved them. They are super-comfortable and almost fashionable! 😉

 

Toiletries

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Nothing. Yes, leave at home everything. EVERYWHERE in the world you can buy these things and you do not need to carry them all the way from your home country even more because you will end up taking too much.  Well, take with you a travel toothbrush and small-sized toothpaste, that’s all you need for the flight or in case your bag get lost. 
So, once you are at your first destination, head to a supermarket and buy the followings:

Tooth floss/paste/brush

Shampoo / conditioner (not pictured)

Deodorant

Bodysoap

Aesop Sun cream (at least SPF 30)

Aesop Aftersun / moisturiser

Make up (I personally only have one black eyeliner, one mascara, a red and a pink lipsticks)

Lip balm

Cotton buds

Nail clippers

Tweezers

Comb/Hair bands

For Ladies Only (from home):

Mooncup

Braun Silk Epil

Pacifica Solid Parfume (it smells delicious, it’s super-light and compact and lasts a life time, plus no worry about breaking it in your bag!)

Boys
Leave your electronic razor at home, beard is SO sexy! 😛

 

Tech Stuff, Photo Gear and Gadgets

If you, like me are working while travelling, you will need some of the below. If you instead have decided to take a total break from the digital world, you can skip this section completely and jump to the next one.

Remember to back up and get insurance all the items you particularly care about!

Mini ipod for long train or bus journey, days at the beach and back up for saving battery of my phone

Olympus OM ED10 (plus extra battery) with 14-42 and  Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8 lens

4x SD card

JOBI Gorilla pod

iPhone6

Power bank x2: a small ANKER (thank you, Anna!) for my out and about and a TECKNET 15000mAh with dual USB for those long train/bus journey with no power outlets. It was  also very handy in India where I used it every other day or even in those guesthouse or hotels where there is only one plug or it’s too far from your bed!

WD 1TB My Passport External HD and robust anti-shock case 

USB stick (1GB) for those things you might need to print on the road or those pictures you take of strangers and want to print and give to them

Kindle: I’m a book-worm so I can’t go anywhere without a good book. The battery life is great (one month or more), and if you’re planning on getting away from it all there’s no better company than a good book.I have an old one that I think Amazon does no longer sell, but if this one breaks down, I will surely buy the Voyage or Paperwhite 

11 inch MacBook Air: Whilst I travel, I’m also working. If you’re not working and just want to keep in touch with people and access the internet, then an iPad mini or your smartphone would be perfect for the purpose

Go Pro Hero 3 with waterproof case and pole

Triple UK plug: Every day I have at least three things to charge (phone, laptop and camera) so this bulky item has become my life savior when there is only one plug available

Apple iPhone6

One spare cheap phone (just in case!)

Headphone Splitter (to watch movies with your mate or travel buddy on planes, stations and/or buses

1 x Travel Adapters (to charge all this equipment)

Camera, phone, kindle and video battery chargers

 

Miscellaneous

Super Glue – a must-have for all those quick repairs, it’s incredible to see how easily things break when you are constantly using them.

Plastic bags: there will be moment when your bikini or towel will be dump or wet and you will be on your way to the airport: one or even two of these freezer-kind of bags are going to save your life (and the rest of your stuff!)

 Packing Cubes: these were introduced to me by a packing pro and since I bought them, my travelling life has changed. All my clothes are organised so I know exactly where to look for a specific item at any time eBags cubes and the Eagle Creek packing sleeves.

 Locks: you can either choose a Combination lock or one with the key, the risk is that you might lose it

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Sunglasses: I love my folding Wayfarer Rayban, the box is super compact and they are just perfect for any kind of adventure

Travel towel: they don’t feel amazing, but they dry super quickly and that something you need while travelling

Rab Sleeping bag Silk liner: for the occasional dirty bed or for when there isn’t one, yup it can happen!

 Eye mask, I cannot sleep if there even the tiniest light so, my beloved silk eye mask became my best friend on train, buses but even hotels and guesthouses that didn’t provide pitch black

 Ear plugs, for planes or even while working in noisy cafes

Inflatable travel pillow, perfect for that nap waiting at airports and on planes

Sewing kit: yup, another handy thing to fix those things that might become loose on the road

 Swiss army knife: it’s cool to have one 😉

Shoe cover: shoes can be the more disgusting thing to put in your bag, instead of taking plastic bags, try and get some covers, they are lighter and don’t take space at all!

Pen and paper: who knows, you might find some inspiration while on the go or you might need to share your phone with that cute girl/guy you’ve just met!

 Camomille bags (a taste of home…)

Digital Luggage Scale

 Travel Laundry Soap

Little Mirror

Tiny hot water bottle

Light

Digital  packing list & Apps

I’m not going to tell you that you are not a real explorer if you bring your smartphone with you, like so many travel-gurus on the net. I’m telling you bring your phone but use it only when truly necessary or when there is nothing better to do (which won’t happen often while travelling). There is no point in avoiding technology when it can be so helpful to us, so bring your phone, get a local SIM card and make your life easier. Yeah, you will still be considered a cool traveler!

Apps

Google maps

Pennies: great to set a budget and keep an eye on it everyday

AccuWeather: to check forecasting of your next destinations

Tripadvisor: it’s not the bible, but it can give you an idea of the places and the features you are looking for

Zomato: like the above

Shazam: you never know which or where you are going to hear your favourite new song!

Townske: up-and-coming, community-based global city-guides. This is an essential to find cafes, galleries and restaurants and you can be a contributor too!

Sleep Better: not only while travelling, but for everyday life as it wakes you up at the right cycle of your sleeps

Postagram: little cute app to send your phone pictures as postcards to your family and friends

Skyscanner: check the best price for your flights comparing all the different airlines

Instagram: of course! IG is not only a great photo sharing app, but also the perfect way to meet locals and expats in the places you are visiting

Spotify

Skype on laptop and iPhones

Twitter

Facebook

WhatsApp messenger for iPhone: great app that you can group message friends & family for free over wifi

Photo editing apps (but this will be a separate future post!)

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Things to do before you go
(VERY IMPORTANT STUFF!)

Notify your bank of your travels, mine has a section on my online banking where I can compile a detailed itinerary, some others might require you to call up or to send an email. Check some time before your departure. There is nothing worse than being locked out your card at thousands of miles away from your home with no cash at all (yup, I’m talking from personal experience here!

Make sure to do some research for your back-up card(s) and make the right choice. Most cards will charge you for withdrawal and payment in foreign currency, see which one offers the best deal in your home country

Set your google drive as your go-to back-up: Create a folder of digital copies of documents, credit cards, tickets, travel insurance, contact details and everything else you might need. If you lose everything, you will have a safe copy in the cloud.
Some people suggest to keep physical copies of your credit cards, I say don’t! Have them online or emailed to yourself or to someone you trust, but don’t carry physical copies with you. It’s very easy to make payment with the copies and you might be lose all your money in no time.

Unlock your phone: some new generation phones are locked by the carrier, so make sure to unlock it before you go. The process can be dreadful and long (especially if you bought a Vodafone device at Carphonewarehouse in the UK, my gosh! Never again!), so start calling the customer service far in advance. If you have an unlocked phone you can pick a local SIM card wherever you are and use data as you were at home. Do not use data-roaming, unless is a life-threatening emergency!

*

Ready, steady, Go?!?

No, not yet. Before you leave, pack and unpack your bag in the comfort of your home. Do it in different moment of the week and maybe make a sketch of how you placed your items. Put the bags on and walk around your house for 20 minutes or more. If you are ok, you are ready to go. If you are suffering, sweating or crying then go back and re-pack again.
You will soon realise that items will fit better in one or the other position and it’s better you save yourself time at home in the preparatory phase rather than getting frustrated with these experiments while you are away (yup, another personal testimony here!!!). If you have a weekend away before your big trip, take the opportunity to test the bag and your packing skills too.

I hope you’ve found this article useful. I certainly wished I had these information  4 months ago!

Additionally, if you enjoyed this post and are interested in buying some of the products above, you can click the links to my Amazon shop: it doesn’t cost you anything more than the displayed price and it will give me a micro fee on the products you purchase. I’ve only added the affiliated links on products I truly value, love and trust. I wished I had this kind of list and links a few months ago, when I was spending days comparing products online, well you do have it now…easy-peasy! 😉

[Note: This is NOT a sponsored post, but my own personal recommendations!]

Don’t forget to leave me a comment below to let me know your packing tips; share my post on your social medias and if you have any other  packing questions, please let me know via my facebook page or Twitter. If you wish to help me creating boards on my baby-born Pinterest page, I’m here .
As alwaysy you can find my photographic journal on Instagram and peak my Aussie adventures on snapchat {sab_storyteller}.

See you there and don’t forget to Make It Remarkable! 😉