How to grow Instagram engagement – 5 secret tips

grow instagram engagement

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

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

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

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

#1 Know when is the best time to post

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

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

#2 Know how frequently you have to post

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

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


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

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

# 3 Post more Top Posts

What the hell?

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

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

grow Instagram engagement

#4 Ask something

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

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

grow Instagram engagement

#5 Use Instagram Stories to create a relationship 

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

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

grow instagram engagement

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

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

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

 

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

Airbnb vs hotels

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

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

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

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

1 SOLO TRAVELLERS: AIRBNB 1 vs HOTELS 0 

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


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

2 THE LOCAL FEEL:  AIRBNB 1 vs HOTELS 1

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


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

3 UNIQUE EXPERIENCES:  AIRBNB 2 vs HOTELS 1 

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

4 LOCATION: AIRBNB 3 vs HOTELS  2 

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

5 PRICE:   AIRBNB 3 vs HOTELS 2   

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

6 INNOVATION: AIRBNB 3 – HOTELS 3

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

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

CONCLUSIONS AIRBNB vs HOTELS

AIRBNB vs HOTELS: 3- 3 It’s a draw

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

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

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

Times are changing…

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

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

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

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

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

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Myanmar itinerary and 10 places you must see

myanmar itinerary

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

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

A bit of background and history of Myanmar

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

Myanmar was calling and I had to go.

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

Myanmar itinerary

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

Books to get ready for your trip to Myanmar

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

Burma – A country at the crossroad by Benedict Rogers

Letters from Burma by  Aung San Suu Kyi

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

My Myanmar Itinerary

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

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

Choosing a starting and ending point:

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

How long do you need?

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

STOP 1: Yangon (3 days)

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

Things to do in Yangon

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

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

myanmar itinerary

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

myanmar itinerary

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

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

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

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

Caffeine fix & food in Yangon

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

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

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

Dream + sleep in Yangon

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

STOP 2: Ngapali Beach (2 days)

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

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

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

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

Dream + sleep in Ngpali Beach

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

How to get to Ngpali Beach

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

STOP 3: Bagan (3 days)

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

Things to do in Bagan

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

Myanmar itinerary

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

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

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

myanmar itinerary

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

Caffeine fix & eat in Bagan

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

Dream + sleep in Bagan

Ostello Bello

Getting to Bagan

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

STOP 4: INLE LAKE (2 days)

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

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

Things to do in Inle Lake

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

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

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

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

Myanmar itinerary

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

Dream + sleep in Inle Lake

Ostello Bello

How to get to Inle Lake

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

STOP 5 MANDALAY (2 days)

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

Things to do in Mandalay

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

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

myanmar itinerary

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

Myanmar itinerary

Sunset at Mandalay Hill

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

Caffeine fix & food in Mandalay

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

How to get to Mandalay: 

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

Dream + sleep Mandalay

Ostello Bello was again my choice in Mandalay

 

STOP 6: Yangon (2 days)

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

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

OTHER INTERESTING INFO & FACTS TO PLAN YOUR MYANMAR ITINERARY:

Phone, Internet & Wifi

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

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

Money & ATMs

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

The Locals

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

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

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

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

Food and STREET FOOD in Myanmar:

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

Cost of travel in Myanmar

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

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

Power sockets 

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

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

  

Final comments: 

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

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

Top 10 Things to do in Myanmar:

1 – Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

2 – Get lost in the streets of downtown Yangon

3 – Circle line train in Yangon

4- Ngpali Beach

5 – Inle lake

6 –  sunrise in Bagan

7- U Pein Bridge at sunset

8- visit Mingun

9 – Mandalay Hill

10- talk to the locals

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

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

 

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

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5 alternative ways to see the most popular tourist attractions

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

Sydney Opera House

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

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

The Colosseum

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

Golden Gate Bridge

how to see popular attractions

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

Eiffel Tower

how to see popular attractions

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

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

St. Peter’s Basilica

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

 

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

 

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Leave the dreams to the dreamers….

planner 2018

Leave the dreams to the dreamers….

They said.

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

deluxe planner

And today is here. Today is real.

My first baby is born. 

original planner

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

CREATE IT.

Period.

Another Life is Possible – The eBook

change your life

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

*

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

Why?

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

Society pushes us to think that we have to:

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

Die.

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

The truth is that

You can

because

Another Life is Possible 

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

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

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

I’m here to tell you that….

TODAY YOU CAN

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

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

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

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

🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥 SAVE THE DATE 🔥🔥🔥🔥

Another Life is Possible – the eBook

is out on 

December 1st 

 

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

 

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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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Another Life Is Possible – Escape The City – Rome 2017

Another Life is Possible

Another life is possible and in September 2017, I was invited by Escape The City to share my story from former Senior Project Manager at Amazon EU to Social Media Strategist and Content Creator around the world.

Many people who couldn’t participate in person to the event, asked me to stream the event, but because that wasn’t possible, I’ve decided to share with you the main points here.

Life 1.0 – My Previous Life

After graduating from Economics at the best faculty in Italy (Padova), I took an internship in London at an American management consulting firm with several offices around the world. The internship became a full-time, permanent contract and after 3 and half years with the same company and a 2-year assignment in Milan, I decided to join a smaller agency in London. After 3 more years, I switched to corporate life and joined Amazon’s European Centre of Excellence where I applied my previous experiences to the Ops team of this tech giant.
Another Life is Possible But one day in November 2014, something happened and turned my life upside down. Time was suddenly more important money, success, career. Time was more important than anything else. As Jep Gambardella said in the fantastic movie “The Great Beauty”:

My most important discovery is that I no longer can waste time doing things I don’t wanna do. 

Jep Gambardella

Another Life is Possible

 

Fear as the engine for change

I’ve been asked about a million times if I was scared when I left my safe and well-paid job in London. The short answer is “Hell, yeah!”. The longer answer is here and the way I used to use my fear as an engine was answering this question:

 

What’s the worst thing that can happen? 

 

The answer for me was to die without having at least tried. To test if another life was possible.

Another Life is Possible

And so I decided to take a 6-month sabbatical which turned into a 25-month trip. Which turned my life upside down.
Once again.

WATCH MY 2 YEAR TRIP AROUND THE WORLD IN 90 SECONDS

 

 

Life 2.0 – Another Life is Possible 

Today, I am a Social Media Strategist and Content Creator (you can read more about what I do here). I’ve been on the road full-time since September 2015 and I have no intention to stop. I help my business clients to be successful online and I help my personal clients to be successful offline and make it remarkable through tailored coaching programmes.
One of the channels I use for my clients is Instagram, where I promote products and services as well as help them to grow their accounts.


 

Another life is possible
Make it remarkable

 

If you wish to book your first coaching session and understand how you can also change your life, feel free to email me directly (using the contact form here

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Matera, why you must visit it now

Matera

I’ll admit it. It was through Instagram that I fell in love with Matera and it became a constant, fixed, ever-present travel obsession goal. And finally, this summer – my summer of fulfilling Italian dreams and exploring my home country-  I managed to see it with my own eyes.

As much research you can do about Matera, as much as you stalk people on Instagram and Pinterest, there is not much that prepares you for seeing the shiniest Italian gem for the first time.

World-known for its famous sassi, Matera is located on the border of Basilicata and Puglia and is one of my latest (and favourite) discoveries in Italy. Walking around this cute town where the sun reflects off the white limestone is not only breathtaking but extremely fascinating because of its history but also for its stunning beauty. But things were very different not too long ago…

THE OLD ITALIAN SHAME

Matera dates back to the Paleolithic Age and once you get there, you will see that not much has changed. Matera, after Petra in Jordan, is the oldest city in the world which was continuously inhabited for more than 30,000 years. It was once considered a giant slum filled with malaria and where poor people were living in medieval conditions. In caves. Exactly as described in the controversial book ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli‘ by Carlo Levi (1945), there was no running water or electricity and people were really living in very basic conditions. Truth to be told until the 1950’s Matera was also where prisoners were sent to live (and possibly die) in horrible conditions. In 1952, after the visit of the then prime minister, the Italian government ordered its evacuation due to inhumane living conditions and the city was left behind and abandoned by everyone but the addicts and the “bad people”. The residents were offered a new apartment in the new Matera, but some struggled to live their homes, livestock and families.

MATERA TODAY

The city was never completely empty until the 1980s, but it’s only in the last two decades that the government and the local authorities and entrepreneurs have launched and managed a deep and important make over and facelift. Today, Matera has re-shaped its streets, caves and general vibe. There are luxury and boutique hotels at every corner and you can dine at some of the best Italian restaurants right in the same caves that not long ago hosted entire families and their livestock, often in the same room.

After so much general effort, in 1993, Matera was named a UNESCO World Heritage sites, which means that it is considered of ‘outstanding value to humanity and is protected to preserve the cultural and natural heritage of the area.” Matera will also be the 2019 European Capital of Culture and I think this gem is totally ready to attract thousands of visitors.

First of all, let me tell you that the sassi aren’t what you think (or what I thought!). Many people think that Matera’s caves are the “sassi”, but they’re not. The sassi (literally meaning “stones”) refer to the two neighbourhoods, Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano, made of stone dwellings in porous limestone of tufa in the ancient town. The original living quarters were primitive cave dwellings on the other side of the canyon. Gradually, the people made their way over to build the city you can visit today. 

To really get a feeling of Matera, you need to walk (and get lost) among the narrow lanes between houses.

 

 

 

How to explore the city 

Kids, there is a new way to explore a new city and this new way is an app called Aroundly (available in the App Store and google play). Aroundly allows you to tailor your visit to your preferences, whether you are alone or in a group, looking for fun or culture, this app creates an itinerary just for you takes you around Matera (or Cagliari, Erice, Catania, Trapani, Siracusa, Trieste and many other cities) and puts you in touch with locals and new friends.

Where to stay in Matera 

Sant’Angelo Resort

When I was invited to stay at the Sant’Angelo Resort in Matera, I had no doubts to say YES and immerse myself in this stunning hotel and its ancient walls and rooms. The owners took on the massive project to transform these caves that were once humble abodes, into splendid residences, suites and luxury rooms in order to redeem and restore the noble soul of an old civilization. The result is a mesmerising resort where you are constantly spoiled by incredible views over the old town and where every little detail screams luxury, but also home. I had a fantastic stay at Sant’Angelo and I am sure I’ll go back next time I am in Matera.

As I always do when I travel for work, I opted for breakfast in bed which was served in a sumptuous basked filled with all the delicacies you would expect from such a top notch hotel.

Vicolo Fiore

If you are looking for a simpler room in Matera, then Vicolo Fiore is the go to option. Only 50m from the Piazza Pascoli viewpoint, this brand new and super cute apartment features two double rooms (Barisano & Caveoso, the names of the two neighbourhoods) and a brand new kitchen that offers all you need for a short stay in town.

You will have all the comforts and facilities you will need for a short or a long stay in Matera, including (strong) wi-fi making a perfect place for fellow digital nomads looking for a place to work and stay put for a short period of time. Another plus is the free parking (which is a massive plus in Matera which is almost completely car-free).

 

How to reach Matera 

  • Train: if you want to travel by train, the easiest way is to first get to Bari which is connected to Trenitalia (the national train system and it’s a 4-hour train ride from Rome to Bari), then go to the regional train site, Ferrovie Appulo Lucane, putting in “Bari Centrale” as your starting point and “Matera Centrale” as your endpoint. The ride takes between 1 hour and 15 minutes and 1.5 hours and it is very cheap (something like 2 euros). From the train station, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the sassi of Matera.
  • Car: as part of our #fromnorthtosouthandbacksummer road trip we came by car, but parking in the centre of Matera can be quite difficult (erm…impossible!) since it’s a big ZLT area (no cars allowed except for residents), but you can still find a solution by talking to locals or parking just outside the city center.

INTEresting FACTS and tips ABOUT MATERA

  • Matera was tagged a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993
  • Here is where Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of Christ’ movie was filmed
  • Forget your heels and wear (very) comfy shoes – ideally with a good sole as the streets can be quite slippery
  • Fully charge your camera batteries and bring a wide angle lens if you have one

BOOKS & MOVIES 

  • Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi’
  • The Passion of Christ by Mel Gibson
  • Ben Hur
  • La Lupa, 1953
  • Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo 1964, by  Pier Paolo Pasolini

WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT MATERA NOW

Today, the city (still) has a great non-touristy vibe. I don’t think it will be the same next year since Matera will be the 2019 European Capital of Culture and I am sure it will attract even more visitors in the next decade and beyond. So, if you don’t love crowded places and queuing every 10 minutes book your stay in Matera now!

Sleeping in a cave? Where else can you experience it? I am not sure, but I think Matera is the only place in the world.

As Carlo Levi said:

Anyone who sees Matera cannot help but be awe-struck, so expressive and touching is its sorrowful beauty

Loved this post? Share it, pin it, tweet it or print it!

 

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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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going home after a long time

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