Friday, January 30, 2015

4 Valentine's Day Date Experiences for Him & Her

As the month of January wraps up, that means February is here and right around the corner is Valentine's Day! While Nick and I don't celebrate Valentine's Day too much (its more of an everyday thing!), we do like to make sure each other knows we are thinking about them. Of course, everyone celebrates Valentine's Day differently. My personal opinion with holidays and gifts is that often, an experience can be much more memorable and meaningful than a physical gift. This year, I am thinking of different Valentine's Day date ideas and how we will spend the holiday (hint, hint, the first one!) So for Valentine's Day this year, why not consider partaking in one of these experiences together, as a gift to your partner and yourselves?

Wine Tasting
As somebody who loves wine, a dream vacation for me would be to go on a luxury wine tour. Preferably, this would take place in either Italy or in California, covering Napa & Sonoma valleys. Unfortunately,  How about you create a wine tasting experience for your gal, right in the comfort of your home! Pretty simple idea: head to the nearest wine shop, and pick up 3-5 different bottles of wine. You can either select several different and greatly varying bottles, such as selecting one riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and champagne. Or, to go a different route, select a theme such as Pinot Noir, and purchase several different bottles from various parts of the world. Print off some information about each of the wines, and have fun tasting them and experiencing new flavors with your significant other!

beer flights at a local Minneapolis brewery
Just like the wine flights idea above, beer flights can be relatively easy to test out as well. Head to a local brewery and do a taste-testing of each of the brews. If you are staying in for the night, grab several different types of craft brews and try something new. Bonus points if you provide shelled peanuts and popcorn for a real pub-type feeling!

Spa Day!
What woman (or, let's be honest, man) wouldn't love a relaxing spa day? You can either send them off to the spa, for a relaxing massage/mani/pedi/facial, whatever it is that pleases them… or create the spa day in the comfort of your own home! Consider purchasing some new and fluffy towels, bath bubbles, aromatherapy candles, massage oils, and a bottle of chilled champagne for the experience. With just a little effort, you can create the relaxing mood of a spa right at home.

You can certainly do the typical old 'dinner & a movie' on the town, but why not try something new? Unbox Love is a new subscription service that will send you a date night in a box, once a month. While I haven't tried it out yet, I know as soon as Nick and I return to the states we will be testing Unbox Love out!

go on a romantic vacation
The great news with Valentine's Day this year is the holiday falls on a Saturday. This is perfect news for those who would like to take a quick getaway, whether it be to a traditional romantic destination like Paris, or a staycation near your town, even at home! I know for myself, a true 'holiday' would be an entire day spent where I could forget about the cleaning, dishes, and cooking, even just for a day. If you can't take the time off to get away for the weekend, treat yourselves and your partner, either simply taking care of all the household tasks for a day, or even hire a maid to do some deep cleaning.

How do you usually spend Valentine's Day and other holidays? What is your dream present for one of these holidays- is it a physical gift, or an experience?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review: Air Berlin Airlines

Over the past year and a half, I have flown many different airlines, ranging from large international carriers such as Delta and United to smaller, budget airlines. One of the airlines I have flown with that has stood out is Air Berlin. Air Berlin is Europe's third-largest discount airline, and Germany's second largest carrier. Today, I will give a quick review of my experiences with Air Berlin! Flights I have taken with Air Berlin include:

  • Stockholm-Berlin
  • Berlin-Stockholm
  • Stockhom-Vienna (connection) - Munich
  • Munich - Berlin (connection) - Stockholm

Air Berlin Christmas Plane
The most recent time I flew with Air Berlin was when Nick and I went to Berlin for Christmas. We flew Stockholm-Berlin-Stockholm, and overall had very pleasant flights. A very nice surprise when we boarded the plane was to see that the plane was decorated for Christmas, with the message 'flying home for Christmas' on the plane, as well as each of the seat head covers. I felt it was a very nice touch for the holiday, especially for travelers who were taking late flights- such as the one Nick and I took, due to arrive in Stockholm at 7 PM.

One of the nice things about Air Berlin is that despite being a discount airline, you still get many of the amenities you would on regular flights. In my experiences with Air Berlin, there has always been a beverage service as well as a light snack. While this has not been a full-on meal, each of my flights were usually only 1-2 hours, or short haul flights. For longer haul flights, Air Berlin offers sandwiches to snack on. Like many other airlines, Air Berlin offers upgraded snacks and beverages for purchase. An added bonus I have learned? For domestic flights within Germany, after 2 PM complimentary beer and wine are offered! Looks like I know who I will be flying with if I am ever flying within Germany…

On to a quick overview of Air Berlin. The pros are:

  • Beverage and snack service
  • In-flight entertainment available
  • Friendly service
  • Average level of comfortability with seats
The cons are:
  • None! With Air Berlin, you get what you pay for.
Overall, I will most likely definitely be flying Air Berlin again, especially for short haul flights. It is usually a much cheaper option than some of the larger airlines, and has been perfectly fine in my experience. While I have had slightly delayed flights, I have had this with every airline. The seats are just as comfortable as any other carrier, which is why I state that you get what you pay for. 

What about you? Are there any airlines, especially discount airlines, that you have had either great or terrible experiences with? 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

19 Travel Tips & Tricks You Should Be Using To Save Money in Europe

travel tips to save money in Europe

So, you want to go to Europe. Great, you've taken your first step towards your next destination, and decided on a location. Today, I'm going to share the best European travel tips and tricks to save you $$, or , or  £ £, whatever it is you want- I'll show you how to save it while traveling throughout Europe.

1. Flying places? My (most-recent) favorite site to search has been Skyscanner. With Skyscanner, you have unlimited options to research and pick the best destinations for the cheapest prices. All you need is a departure airport- or really, region. From there, you can be inspired infinitely. You can search for flights to specific airports or countries, or you can leave your options open and simply search for the cheapest flights to anywhere. You can search for specific dates, weeks, months, or even the entire year. The more flexible you are, the better!
My open-ended search, from any Stockholm airport to any country, for the month of February. Just the beginning of course- there are tons more options you can't see pictured!
2. Use public transportation. Europe is well-known for it's amazing public transportation system, from buses to trains and more. When using public transportation, look into purchasing a 24, 48, or 72 hour pass versus a single trip pass. When doing this, look into night trains if you have longer trips- then, the train can also double as your hotel room for the evening, saving you that money. 

3. Book in advance. With public transportation, definitely look into booking it ahead of time. 

4. Consider alternative destinations. There are some places in Europe that are simply more expensive than others. If you are on a budget trip, you may not be able to hit all of the hot spots of London, Rome,  Zurich, Oslo, etc. Instead of heading to the Swiss Alps, consider the Slovenian Alps. Instead of going to Venice for a canal tour, try out Bruges in Belgium. 

5. Look into AirBnB. This past fall, my family and I stayed at an AirBnB location in Bergen, Norway. For those who don't know, Norway is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in, and definitely to travel to. By staying in an AirBnB, we were able to not only save money versus a hotel, but we also had access to a full kitchen- saving us money on meals and drinks out as well. When traveling in more expensive locations, AirBnB can definitely be a terrific option, even compared to hostels. 

6. Eat lunch, not dinner. Many restaurants will offer buffet lunches, including a drink and coffee or tea, for a set price. These deals often go until 3 PM or so- have a big lunch, and then go for a lighter dinner to save a bit of cash. 

7. Find free walking tours. Many hotels, and even cities, have free or 'pay-what-it's-worth' walking tours. The best free walking tour I participated in was in Prague, and included all of the main tourist attractions. Our guide had tons of knowledge about the city, as well as distributed great tips and tricks for the stay. At the end of the tour, you can tip the guide whatever you think the tour was worth- this is often a great way to see the city, get some exercise walking, and save some cash, especially when traveling in a large group. 

8. Look for free museums. Again, tons of museums will be free of charge, or offer free admittance on certain days. Most recently in Berlin, I was able to view tons of museums for free, as well as other free attractions such as the East Side Gallery

9. Take the time to examine exchange rates. Many companies will have websites that list their prices in USD, Euro, or the local currency. When researching your destinations, take some time to examine the exchange rates and find the cheapest price. For an upcoming trip, my husband and I discovered it was almost half the price to book in SEK (Swedish Krona) versus USD or Euro. While it took us an extra three minutes to research this, the $150+ savings is a huge payoff for the three minutes of work. 

10. Check out city pass cards. Most larger cities will have tourist or visitor information websites. Check these websites and look at their city pass cards. For example, in Berlin, my husband and I used the Berlin Welcome Card, which gave us free public transportation, in addition to tons of discounts at various restaurants, shops, and more. 

11. Walk. Walk, walk, and then walk some more. Not only is it great exercise, but it is also the cheapest form of transportation you will find. Plus, while strolling through the city you will likely see some sights that you never anticipated. 

produce selection at the Viktualienmarkt Farmers Market in Munich
12. Go local. For meals, check out where the locals are headed. Consider going to a farmers market and picking up some goods there. My family and I loved spending time at the Munich farmers market, and were able to find a ton of great food for great prices. 

13. Watch your credit card. Using a credit card? Be careful of not only foreign transaction fees, but also the exchange rate they give you. Often, it can be a better idea to hit a bank's ATM, withdraw cash, and use that for your spending. The exchange rate will likely be better, and you won't have to worry about racking up foreign transaction fees.

14. Don't overtip, and watch for 'service charges'. In the U.S., it is pretty standard to tip 20%. This is not the case in much of Europe. Research before going what you are supposed to tip, and don't worry about going over that- even if they know you are American. Especially in Italy, watch for 'servizio'- this will often be a charge of 1-2 euro per person, just for sitting down at the table. Either refuse to pay this upfront, or if you do get charged with it- don't tip additionally. While this may seem rude, it is a cultural difference in tipping. Like the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. 

15. Utilize free wifi. International calling, texting, and data plans can- and do- cost a fortune. Rather than using one of these, just flip your phone onto airplane mode for the trip and only use wifi. Tons of cafes, restaurants, hotels, and locations will have free wifi. Use wifi and apps such as WhatsApp (or iMessaging) for any communication you may need. If you must have contact, get an unlocked phone and purchase a local SIM card and calling plan. 

16. Buy souvenirs in cheap countries. Or, don't buy them at all. If you must buy them, look for what you want in cheaper countries. For example, when my family visited; I highly encouraged them to purchase souvenirs in Germany versus Sweden or Norway. You will get a much better souvenir, for a much better price. 

My family visited the fjords of Norway in October, which meant we saved with 'off-season' prices!
17. Travel off season. Prices, especially for hotels, will be much cheaper in the off-season. Even many attractions will be. In addition to the simple cost savings, most Europeans take advantage of their vacation time in the summer and head out- for a more authentic experience, avoid Europe in the summer months, instead hitting it in the spring, fall, and even winter.

18. Pick your focus. Just like Rome wasn't built in a day, you can't experience all of Europe in a day…or a week…or even a month. Because of this, pick a focus or area you want to experience, and stick to it. If you want to experience wine country, head to several cities in France and Italy. If you want the most 'bang for your buck', consider staying central, and visiting several bordering countries. My first ever Europe trip lasted three weeks and toured Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. By being central, we were able to visit a lot more sights for a lot cheaper than flying to many different destinations. 

19. Be flexible. You know how most airlines have that 'my dates are flexible' box? Yes, it is for a reason. Flexibility can save you on flights and hotels to nearly any destination. Beyond that, being flexible may lead you to experience cheaper destinations you never though of visiting. Having an open mind is essential to making the most of your travel experiences. 

What are your best tips to save money while traveling, either in Europe or throughout the rest of the world?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Next Stop: Riga, Via the Baltic Sea

Just one short week from now, I will have finished (or be submitting) my final paper for this semester's MBA class and be 30% done! In celebration of this and myself having a week off from school, Nick and I have booked ourselves a little trip to Riga, Latvia!

Riga Old Town Tallink Silja
view of Riga!
Because we only have two days, Nick and I knew that we wanted to book a quick little trip somewhere. Unfortunately, with only having two short days that really limits your travel options. Nick and I looked into flying, driving, and finally decided we would go for a cruise to Latvia!

The Isabelle, our ship for heading to Riga!
Nick and I have booked our cruise with Tallink & Silja line on the Isabelle. Because of our time crunch, this seemed like the perfect opportunity for a quick getaway to explore a new city, and all at a very reasonable price. Our cruise will depart Stockholm in the early afternoon, sail to Riga overnight, and be docked by about 10 AM. At this point, we will have six hours to explore all we can of Riga, before heading back to the Isabelle and departing back to Stockholm!

When deciding on our trip, Nick and I knew that the Tallink & Silja line had tons of different destinations and options for our trip. They are the leading passenger ferry company in the Baltic Sea area, and have 18 vessels that operate daily on 5 different routes. The routes we looked at were Stockholm-Riga-Stockholm and Stockholm-Helsinki-Stockholm. Other cities on the routes include Turku and Tallinn, among other locations.

We will most definitely be relaxing in the sauna on the Isabelle!
In any case, Nick and I are incredibly excited to explore a new city and country together! While I have tons of great ideas so far of what we will be doing to occupy our time, I would love any advice that readers who have visited Riga can offer. Current plans include strolling around the Old Town and Riga Town Hall Square, viewing Riga from above in St. Peter's Church tower, walking along Pilsetas Kanals, visiting the Freedom Monument, and hopefully if we have time stopping by the Museum of the Occupation of Riga! Of course, this is a ton to pack into just six hours- so who knows where we will be able to actually visit! Even if you haven't visited Riga, if you have been in a new city for a short amount of time like this- just six hours- what are your best tips for exploring as much as possible?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Homemade Funfetti Cupcakes Recipe

homemade funfetti cupcake recipe

For as long as I can remember, funfetti cupcakes (or cakes) have been my absolute favorite. Last year, I went to the extremes of bringing two boxes of funfetti cake mix over to Sweden (of course, you can't purchase it here). This year, it seemed high time that I learn how to bake them- homemade. This recipe is super easy, delicious, and in my opinion tastes better than the store bought mix! Without further ado, here we go with the recipe:


  • 1 2/3 cups Flour
  • 3/4 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 cup Unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/4 cup Plain Yogurt
  • 3/4 cup Milk
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 cup Sprinkles
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl, stir the melted butter and sugar together. Chill for 1 minute.
  4. Add the egg, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract to the first bowl. Mix well.
  5. Stir in the butter and sugar mixture. 
  6. Fold in the sprinkles.
  7. Divide into cupcake liners, filling about 2/3 of the way. 
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cupcakes are golden brown on top and toothpick comes out clean.
  9. Cool 15-20 minutes, frost & enjoy!
  • Yield: 12-15 cupcakes. Thus, I usually double this recipe- who only wants 12 delicious cupcakes?!
  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Bake time: 15-20 minutes
  • Total time: 1 hour
Baking Tips
  • I use non pareil sprinkles, as the colors bleed less. If you choose to use non pareil sprinkles (the little balls) be very careful folding the sprinkles in and try to stir the batter as little as possible.
  • The batter may be slightly lumpy, that is OK!
  • Make sure to let the cupcakes cool completely, or your frosting will melt!
homemade funfetti cupcake recipe

Metric Measurements & Swedish ingredients:

  • 4 dL vete mjöl
  • 4 mL bakpulver
  • 3 mL bikarbonat 
  • 2.5 mL salt
  • 1.2 dL osaltat smör
  • 2.4 dL socker
  • 1 egg
  • .6 dL yoghurt
  • 1.8 dL mjölk
  • 10 mL vaniliarom
  • 1.2 dL sprinkles

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mio Alpha 2 Review: Heart Rate Watch

**I received a complimentary product to facilitate this review. However, all opinions are truthful and my own.** 

Yesterday was quite the exciting day for Nick and I, as we received in the mail the new Mio Alpha 2 Heart Rate watch. Over the next few weeks, we will be using the Mio Alpha 2 and providing a review of Mio Alpha 2. Nick has had his eye on this since the first announcement it would be coming out, so we are quite excited to work with Mio in testing this watch out. As a professional hockey player, Nick is always looking for the newest and best fitness toys, and as soon as he read about the Mio Alpha 2 he knew he had to have it. The Mio Alpha 2 is different from the competition in that it measures your heart rate without a chest strap. Most other heart rate monitors require a chest strap, which can fall down during workouts or dig into your sides. Mio worked with Philips to develop the Alpha 2, which measures your heart rate using two green LEDs and an eletro-optical cell. The LEDs and cell work together to detect your pulse and measure your heart rate.

Features of the Mio Alpha 2:
-constant heart rate monitoring
-accurate calorie burn
-distance, speed, and pace tracking
-standard watch and countdown features
-configurable heart rate zones with LED light notification to indicate zone
-Bluetooth transmission to sync with smartphone apps
-water resistant up to 30 meters
-get it? There are tons of great features! These are just some of them.

Mio Alpha 2 Heart Rate Monitor Watch
OK, you get it. There are tons of great features for the Mio Alpha 2. Check out Mio Global's Alpha 2 website for more information. On to the review of the watch! First, I'm going to tell you Nick's opinion on the Mio Alpha 2. Then, I'll share my personal review, along with the overall pros & cons of the Alpha 2.

Mio Alpha 2 will be a staple for Nick's workouts now!
Mio Alpha 2 Review
Mio Alpha 2 worked perfect for an ice practice for Nick
Nick's review: One of the first things we noticed with the Mio Alpha 2 is that when it arrives or you purchase it, the watch already has some battery life. This is terrific news if you want to be able to immediately use it, versus having to charge your brand-new product for several hours before using it. I was able to get in a 3-hour workout using the watch, then Samantha a 2-hour workout, no problem. The Alpha 2 looks very soft and sleek. It comfortably fit on my forearm, even wearing it slightly higher up than a normal watch. The instruction for the Alpha 2 were very simple, and I was quickly able to use it to the fullest extent. I love that I am able to set and change target heart rate zones. As a professional athlete, I am constantly switching up my workouts and depending on my workout, have different target heart rates. When you switch between zones, the watch will beep and flash an LED color that is coordinated with what zone you are in. It is very convenient to use and track your target heart rate. At the end of a workout, the Alpha 2 gives you your workout stats on the watch, or you can have them downloaded to a smart phone app to better track your workouts. In the past, I have had issues with chest straps and like that with the Alpha 2 there is no chest strap necessary.

My review: As an 'average' person, I've never thought too much about my heart rate while working out.  Last year, I tried using a chest strap monitor, but the strap kept getting twisted during my workout (a boxing workout) and caught underneath or above my sports bra. Because of this, I was excited that the Alpha 2 can be worn as a watch and still measure your heart rate. For somebody who has rarely used a heart rate monitor before, the Mio Alpha 2 was super easy to set up and use. Even after only using it twice, I feel confident that I know how to use it and get the best workout in. Features such as being able to set different heart rate zones are super helpful to me, and I have already become inspired to start using the watch more while working out. Another feature of this product that was convenient is that both Nick and I were able to use the Alpha 2, despite having very different wrist sizes. The biggest challenge will likely be getting Nick to give it up for a workout or two!

Mio Alpha 2 Review
LED lights on the Mio Alpha 2 that monitor your heart rate
Pros of the Mio Alpha 2:
  • Arrives with battery life, allowing you to immediately use it
  • Very easy to set up for different users and heart rate zones
  • Comfortable for working out, yet a very sleek look
  • No chest strap
  • Measures and alerts you by light and sound when switching into new heart rate zones
  • Easy to understand instructions
Cons of the Mio Alpha 2:
  • The only thing I wish the Mio Alpha 2 had was perhaps different user settings, where you could store two different users (i.e., Nick and myself). Fortunately, it only takes a couple quick pushes of the buttons to switch these settings manually.
Overall, we both love the Mio Alpha 2 and I know will be using it frequently. If you are looking for an accurate heart rate monitor without the hassle of a chest strap, the Mio Alpha 2 is the perfect product for you! It is sleek enough to be worn as a regular watch as well. I can definitely see Nick and I bringing this with us everywhere, even on vacations and using it as a tool to stay fit while traveling.

Mio Alpha 2 Review
workout out with the Mio Alpha 2
Mio Alpha 2
Nick got a good sweat in with the Mio Alpha 2!

Monday, January 19, 2015

10 Simple & Effective Blogging Tips You Should Be Using Now

When I first started blogging, I had no idea what I was doing. Even now, I am a long ways from being a 'professional' blogger, but I am also a long ways from being a newbie. When I look back at my first posts, it is amazing how much I have grown. Along the way, I have learned many tips and tricks to help grow your blog, and today I'm going to share the best tips I've learned (and begun utilizing) recently!

Content Is King
I have heard this ever since I first began blogging, and it is something that did not really sink in until I began my new blog here, simply titled Samantha Angell. I was at a point where 'hockey wife, hockey life' (my former blog name) no longer truly described myself and my blog, so it was time to make a change. Along with making a change, I wanted to 'rebrand' myself: thus, Samantha Angell, a travel & lifestyle blog was born. I have been working diligently over the last month, and have started to see the results from 'content is king' pay off. Now that I have narrowed my categories, and selected a focus for my blog, I have more ideas than ever for content I want to write.

Promote Yourself
Something I am still working on is promoting my blog in person. My husband does a great job of this, and myself, not so much. I don't usually talk with my friends or family about my blog, let alone random people I may be speaking to. But hey, if you are taking the time to write a blog, it should be something you are proud of. First and easiest step to promoting yourself? Add a link to your blog in your e-mail signature. Now, every time you e-mail, your signature will include a link to your blog, driving traffic to your blog. In addition to this, use Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram- anything and everything- to promote yourself! If you don't promote yourself, why would others promote for you?

Write Strong Titles
One of the first things visitors to your blog is the title of your blog posts. Similarly, if you use sites like Bloglovin, the title of your post may be all that readers see.

Put Your Best Foot Forward
When placing pictures and images in a blog post, put your best foot- or image- first. Similarly to the titles, the first image in a blog post will be what draws readers in, and often the only image shown when you promote your content. If you are writing a travel post, select your favorite and most intriguing image first, rather than a shot of your hotel room. If you are a writing a recipe post, rather than the dry ingredients in a bowl, place an image of the finished product first.

Interact with Others
If you want people to comment on your blog, share your posts, or engage- make the first move and engage with them. Comment insightful and genuine thoughts on their blogs, and it is likely they will return the favor. At the same time, don't simply leave a meaningless comment with a link to your blog. When people do this to me, I know that chances are they didn't read my post and are simply trying to self promote. Most of the time, I delete these comments. Of course, if your comment is relevant and leaves a link- that is a whole new story, totally accepted, and probably loved! If you want to interact with others, begin the process yourself. Often, you can find great post ideas and inspiration from fellow bloggers- I would just recommend against stealing ideas, unless you give them credit for their idea.

Own Your Domain
This one is quite simple. Rather than being, or, invest in purchasing your domain. I have purchased mine through GoDaddy, and it is a simple $10/year investment. When people think about your blog, they are much more likely to remember than

Make Sure Your Links Are a Different Color
As I mentioned in a previous blog tips post, it is a great idea to link back to old blog posts in current posts. When doing this, make sure your links are a different color than the text- otherwise, readers have no way of knowing it is a link to a separate post! Also, when you link to old posts, make sure they open in a new window. When I am reading a blog post, often I will click on a link- and when it takes me away from the current page, I get distracted and forget to click back to finish my reading.

Keep It Simple, Silly
Blogging is supposed to be fun- at least in my opinion. If you are having a difficult time wanting to post or creating content, take a break. If you want people to follow you on social media, make it easy for them to do so with share buttons. If you want people to know who you are, have your name and a photo of you easily available. When writing posts, use an easy-to-read font: if I can't easily read it, I'm not going to. Don't make your readers guess about what the subject of your post is, make it simple for them to figure out.Stick to the simple things first, and eventually all of the pieces will fall together.

Edit, Edit, Edit
Before you publish a post, edit it. Then do it again. If necessary, have somebody else read the post and give you a second opinion. I'll be honest, Nick reads about 80% of my blog posts before they ever go live- and often, catches a mistake I may not have seen. Perhaps it is something simple, such as spelling or grammar. Sometimes, it is a different way of phrasing things so readers will be more interested. And often, there are things I forgot to write about in the posts- especially traveling ones- or different facts I should mention. When blogging, always read your own posts first and then ask yourself: Would I be interested in reading this? Is it easy to read? What can make this post better?

Highlight Related Posts & Popular Posts
If you want to lower your bounce rate, make it easy for others to continue reading things that interest them. In addition to linking back to similar posts, use a related post widget to highlight similar posts at the end of the post someone is currently reading. Somewhere on your page, feature your most popular posts or most read posts. If somebody loves what they are reading and wants to read more, make it easy for them to do so!

Your turn- what are the best blog tips and tricks you have learned? What's the easiest blogging tip that has proved effective for you?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Brandenburg Gate: A Historical German Attraction

Brandenburg Gate, one of the best-known historical landmarks in all of Germany. Located in West Berlin, Brandenburg Gate has stood for centuries, enduring wars and tumultuous times; yet representing European unity and peace. Brandenburg Gate is located near the German Reichstag building, as well as many of the embassies.
Brandenburg Gate history
Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate is built on the site of a former city gate that marked the start of the road that separated Berlin from the town of Brandenburg an der Havel. Brandenburg Gate was commissioned by King Fredrik William II of Prussia, built from 1788 to 1791. As you can see, there are five places to pass through Brandenburg Gate. Originally, citizens were only allowed to pass through the outermost passages. The center passageway was reserved for royalty to pass through. In 1806, Napoleon marched through Brandenburg Gate in a celebratory procession after defeating the Prussians. During the Cold War, Brandenburg Gate was one of the checkpoints in which citizens could pass from West Berlin to East Berlin. 

Brandenburg Gate is the site where lots of political history occurred. In 1987, Reagan spoke at Brandenburg Gate and demanded the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since then, Brandenburg Gate has become a symbol for the unification of East and West Germany, and specifically East and West Berlin. 

Brandenburg gate menorah
menorah at Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate at night
Brandenburg Gate at night
bullet holes in the columns of Brandenburg Gate
 During WWII, Brandenburg Gate and the surrounding areas suffered from tons of damage. In the above picture, you can see patches where the gate was repaired from 2000-2002, in an attempt to restore Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate Christmas
Brandenburg Gate at Christmas time
Much of the area around Brandenburg Gate is cobblestone pedestrian walking streets. On the streets leading up to the gate were a giant Christmas tree, as well as a Jewish menorah.

Brandenburg Gate menorah
menorah at Brandenburg Gate

Christmas at Brandenburg Gate
Nick and I at Brandenburg Gate!
As one of the most iconic historical sights in Germany, it was cool to see Brandenburg Gate in person and reflect on all of the historical events that have happened near it. Personally, I enjoyed thinking how many hundreds of thousands of people have passed through the gate, and all of the history that it represents. For anyone visiting Berlin, time at Brandenburg Gate is a must!

Friday, January 16, 2015

How to Stay Fit While Traveling: 9 Tips & Tricks

One of the challenges that comes with traveling is finding a balance between enjoying your vacation to the fullest while also maintaing some sort of a fitness routine. I know personally, when I am traveling the last thing I want to do is hit the gym. Fortunately, there are still tons of different things you can do to keep yourself in shape. Today, I'll be sharing the best tips and tricks to stay in shape while on vacation!

1. Walk, and walk everywhere. Skip the taxi, bus, or train, grab your walking shoes and hit the road. Walking between attractions is not only exercise, but also saves you money- and perhaps introduces you to sights and places you may not have explored otherwise.

little bit sweaty after a 5K in the Thai heat!
2. Find a local fitness activity and join it. Before heading to Thailand for our honeymoon, Nick and I did some research and discovered there would be a 5K run where we were staying. It was one of the last nights of our trip, which was perfect motivation to us to stay somewhat in shape throughout the trip.  The Koh Samui Midnight 5K was the perfect fun activity that also had us performing physical activity! The 5K run we chose was a charity event that benefited children in Thailand- so not only did we feel good from the run, we also felt good from supporting a charitable organization in the country we were visiting.

3. Learn to love jet lag. If you are like me, jet lag means that you may be waking up some time before you usually would. Learn to love this aspect of the vacation, and use that extra 30-60 minutes for a quick workout. Hit the beach for a run, go for a swim, use your hotel's fitness center. Whatever activity it is, waking up and getting a quick workout in will kickstart your day and leave you feeling awesome.

4. Pack a workout. Have extra space in your bag? Throw in a jump rope. Super small, compact, and lightweight, even the presence of this will help motivate you to workout. When you are fresh out of the shower and selecting your clothes for the day/night, you might happen to grab this- and do a minute, or three, then get on with your day. Any physical activity here helps.

5. Drink water. It can be hard to drink enough water while on vacation or traveling, but you definitely need it. Not only will it keep you hydrated, but it will also boost your energy levels, leaving you more in the mood for a good workout.

family hike in Bergen, Norway
6. Make exercise a part of your daily activities. Are you headed to the mountains? Great, go for a hike, skiing, snowboarding. Going to the beach? Go for a run, or hit the water and swim, snorkel, windsurf. Going wine-tasting? Instead of enjoying your wine at a table, grab a glass and walk through the vineyards. Instead of thinking of it as a workout, think of exercise as an activity you are doing. This will make it an experience, and definitely be more enjoyable than simply hitting the gym.

7. Take a bike tour or rent a bike. Many cities will have bike tours, where you can rent a bike and have a guided tour with all the sights. Look into these tours, or rent a bike on your own. It can be another great way to explore the city, and definitely a great form of exercise.

8. "Getting Ready" repetitions. While brushing your teeth, do wall sits, or lunges. Whenever you have a task like this, take the two minutes of down time and use it. Men, I'm looking at you here- instead of watching TV while your wife/girlfriend gets ready, use this time the get a few reps in and you'll feel much better about your day.

9. Relax & make smart choices. Relax, buddy. You are on vacation. Enjoy it. If you want that dessert, go ahead and have it- just don't have four. Same thing applies with alcohol. Making smart choices and enjoying everything in moderation is the key to your vacation.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

AirBnB: Saving Money in Bergen, Norway

This past fall, my family and I traveled to Bergen, Norway. Norway is one of the most expensive countries to travel to, yet offers many beautiful sights. In our short three days in Bergen, my family and I were able to hike Mt. Fløyen, tour the Norwegian Fjords, and visit the UNESCO heritage site Bryggen. Because we knew Bergen would be a more expensive trip, we looked into AirBnB options as well as hotels. We were able to find an AirBnB that was cheaper for 4 people to stay at than any of the hotel options. The best part? We enjoyed AirBnB more than we would have a regular hotel!

living room
The air bnb we chose had a fantastic location in Bergen. While it was a short 5 minute walk to Bryggen, the place was perfect for us. As we had four people, we were a larger group and a single hotel room likely would not have been suitable. This air bnb had 2 bedrooms, as well as a pull out couch in the main living room. 

kitchen of our air bnb
One of the best features for us while in Bergen was that we had access to a full kitchen. We used this to save quite a bit of money, making many of our meals at home and carrying sandwiches with us while out and about.

full size bathroom
The bathroom was a good size, and had clean, soft towels for our use. There was shampoo and body wash in the shower. My favorite part was definitely the heated floor of the bathroom!

Our stay at the air bnb location was absolutely perfect. We enjoyed the larger, spread-out space; as well as access to a full kitchen. It was incredibly convenient that we also had free wifi available to us. While we did not meet Christel, the owner of the apartment, her boyfriend was incredibly helpful to us. He pointed out how to get to the beginning of our hike, as well as gave us many restaurant recommendations and answered questions about the town and how to get around. For anyone looking at a stay in Bergen, I would highly recommend this air bnb location!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

8 Tips to Beat Homesickness

how to beat homesickness

Homesickness. Something that can happen to anyone: it can strike you on a one-week vacation, a semester abroad, when moving across states, and definitely when moving to a new country. The first few weeks, or months, are pure bliss- you have just started a new adventure, and are consistently meeting new people, trying new things, and are likely still in constant contact with friends and family back home. Then, as the days go on, and in Sweden- the winter hits and darkness literally surrounds you 20 hours a day- the excitement fades.

Last year, I was definitely homesick more frequently throughout January and February. Being out of the country, not only did I miss friends and family, I missed the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, everything that defines the U.S. to me. To show you the extent of this homesickness- I missed tall buildings. Yes, you read that right- tall buildings, skyscrapers, which are commonplace back home in Minneapolis- and the tallest building I saw for four straight months was five stories. That's it. This year has been much easier, and it is safe to say that at this point I've been relatively homesick-free. However, much of this is because I've learned how to beat the blues and beat homesickness, and today I will share my tips! Some of these are tips to prevent homesickness, some of them are tips to cure homesickness, and others are just tips to avoid homesickness when it does strike.

  • Make friends with locals. Upon arriving in your destination, reach out to local people- however you may meet them, whether through classes, sports teams, or other organizations. Making new friends is a great outlet to help prevent homesickness, as these new friends will provide you with a new support group and likely a way of looking at life. 
  • Find groups to connect with people from home. Sometimes, there really are things that nobody else can truly understand- or commiserate with- except for people from home. For me, this can be simple things such as the desire to have lefse at Christmas, stuffing at Thanksgiving, customer service at any point…you get the picture.
  • Skip social media for the day- or better yet, week. Sometimes, seeing a familiar face is all you need. At other times, being bombarded with pictures on Facebook and Instagram can be the exact opposite of what you need, because of the fear of missing out (FOMO). Seeing pictures of all your friends and family getting together, whether a random Friday or for holidays, promotions, etc, can often make your homesickness worse. I tend to avoid social media especially around the holidays, as I know this will make me homesick. 
  • Teach yourself how to cook homemade food. Missing food from home? Easiest solution may be to try teach yourself to cook it. I frequently crave chipotle while abroad- a simple google search can reveal copycat recipes, and you can learn to make these foods you miss so much!
  • Book a trip to a new destination. This is my favorite cure for homesickness. Whenever I feel it coming on, I take to the iterate and start planning and booking a trip. Sometimes a change in scenery is all you need, and the excitement of prepping for this change in pace can beat homesickness. I'm currently planning for a trip to the Dominican Republic, and hoping for a quick trip to Latvia and perhaps Poland. Even dreaming of these trips is helpful for myself.
  • Skype with friends and family from home. Feeling disconnected from home? The easiest and cheapest fix is a Skype phone call to friends or family. Catching up on all the news and gossip, as well as seeing a familiar face, is a great way to cure a bout of homesickness. 
  • Plan trips with friends from home. It isn't realistic to go home every weekend- so why not plan a trip with a friend from back home, and have them visit you? By hosting a friend or family member and showing them the sights in your new town/country, you will begin to feel more at home. 
  • Turn your new home into a home. One of the problems with homesickness can be that you don't feel you fit in or belong. Part of this comes from living in a space that you haven't really turned into a home. Take some time to decorate, hanging photos and memoirs, in order to turn it into a home. Making your living space into a home is essential to feeling at home, even if you will only be there for a short time.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Koh Samui Sightseeeing: a Tour Around the Island

While on our honeymoon in Ko Samui, Nick and I spent the majority of the time relaxing along the beautiful beaches, just enjoying each others presence. After two weeks of this, we decided it was high time for us to take a tour of Koh Samui, seeing all of the beautiful sights that the island has to offer. Here are just some of the sights and things we were able to experience!
Koh Samui honeymoon
viewpoint of Koh Samui
The tour we took picked us up from our hotel and then began the exploration of the island. One of my personal highlights was how throughout the trip, you had access to stunning views of the island and the ocean surrounding. At many points, the gorgeous blues of the sky and ocean colliding were indistinguishable. So many terrific landscape photos to choose from!

temples of koh samui
Wat Phra Yai
Big Buddha koh samui
Wat Phra Yai up close & personal
tourist tips koh samui
Nick with 'Big Buddha'
One of the stops on the tour was to check out Wat Phra Yai, or Big Buddha. Big Buddha is named so because of the size- visitors throughout the island of Ko Samui, and especially the Chaweng Beach area, can see Big Buddha in the distance. Big Buddha is over 12 meters tall, and is situated on a platform with stunning views of the island. A couple of traveling tips while in Thailand and visiting temples: you are not allowed to wear shoes in the temples, so plan on wearing shoes that are easy to take on and off. Secondly, it is important to have your shoulders covered or you will not be allowed entrance to many of the temples. For this reason, I carried a light scarf with me that I could drape around my shoulders.

Thailand honeymoon
Lamai Beach of Koh Samui
 During our honeymoon, Nick and I stayed on Chaweng Beach. We were happy that one of the stops of the island tour was to check out Lamai Beach and the Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks.

mummified monk temple
Wat Khunaram
koh samui tourism
mummified monk
The next stop after Lamai Beach was to visit the mummified monk housed at Wat Khunaram. The mummified monk dedicated his life to religion at age 50, becoming ordained in 1944. Legend has it that he could foresee his own death in 1973 at the age of 79, passing away in this exact meditative position.

Nhatrang waterfalls
Namuang Waterfall 
Another stop on our tour of Koh Samui was a visit to Namuang Waterfall, where there are actually two waterfalls. The first one is a short 20 meter fall, and after hiking to the second waterfall you are greeted with an 80 meter fall. In order to reach the waterfalls, you must hike through the jungle- and it is definitely a hike, so I would recommend tennis shoes and a water bottle! 

honeymoon in Koh Samui
more island views
After a busy morning, we headed for lunch at a lookout point of the island. As stated before, all of the views are simply stunning!

house at the Magical Garden
the Magical Garden or Secret Garden
Another stop along our tour of Koh Samui was the Magical Garden or Secret Garden. The garden was built in 1976 by a 77 year old fruit farmer. It features stone statues of animals, gods, and demons.

Koh Samui coconut plantation
coconut plantation
 One of the last sights on our tour of Koh Samui was a coconut plantation. Before the tourism industry took off in Koh Samui, coconut farming was the largest industry for the island. The coconut plantation we visited was high up in the mountains, allowing us more views of the island and sea. At the coconut plantation, we had the opportunity to purchase fresh coconuts for coconut milk, as well as products such as coconut oil.

Koh Samui spiders
biggest wild spider I have ever seen
Of course, no tour of Koh Samui would be complete without some wildlife. Between destinations, our tour guide stopped the truck, hopped out, and disappeared into the forest. A moment later, he came back carrying the largest wild spider I have ever seen. Glad this wasn't at my hotel!

elephants in Koh Samui
hanging out with the elephants!
I was pleased that at one of the temples we visited there were elephant statues. After my previous experience with the elephants, I knew this was the only picture with elephants from my trip I would be happy about!

Koh Samui honeymoons
one last gorgeous shot of Koh Samui
Our day tour of Koh Samui was overall a great way to explore the island, visiting all of the main sights and attractions in just one short day. It was a terrific way to leave Chaweng Beach, taking a break from sunbathing and swimming. If you are in Koh Samui and looking for a one-day excursion to knock out all of the most popular attractions, a tour of the island is definitely the best way to do this!
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