If you’re like me, as soon as I heard about the $450 annual fee with the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) travel credit card, my reaction was “oh hell nah“. But then I eased up and started researching the benefits of the card and slowly realized that the fee is well worth all the perks (as you will see below).
One of the main reasons I can travel so much is because I use travel reward credit cards to build points to get free plane tickets. Any plane ticket over $600 I don’t pay for. I use points to get free flights.
I’ve been taking advantage of this for the past few years and I seriously think it’s one of the biggest secrets as to how to travel more. That and NOT spending money on dumb shit. But to each their own…
If you’re new to the whole travel reward credit card thing, don’t worry, I’ll try to break it down easily so that you can actually understand it.
Note: This post is in NO way sponsored and I have absolutely no affiliation with Chase. I’m just sharing my honest review in hopes of helping others to travel more with travel reward credit cards. It’s one of the main reasons why I can travel so much).
Update: I wrote the draft of this post a few weeks ago, and now they opened up a referral bonus for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, woohoo!!
So What is a Travel Rewards Credit Card?
A travel reward credit card is basically a credit card that is linked to a rewards program. You spend money, you get points towards travel. It’s as simple as that.
For example: you buy a plane ticket for $500, you get 3 points per dollar with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Therefore, you get 1500 points for buying that plane ticket. These points can be used to buy plane tickets, hotel rooms, and many other cool things. (I honestly don’t think it’s worth it to use points for hotels or other things, and I only use my points for flights).
Here’s an idea of what a certain amount of points will give you for flights:
For 60,000 points, you can take a roundtrip flight from the USA to Europe. For 40,000 points, you can take a roundtrip flight from the East Coast to Ecuador or Peru. For 80,000 points, you can fly from the USA to South Africa.
But let’s get to what you really want to know:
Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is So Worth the $450 Annual Fee
Actually, the first year, it’s really only $50, and then it’s basically $150 per year thereafter. Wait, what? Let me explain by highlighting all the card’s benefits and you’ll see wtf I’m talking about. I’m not crazy, I swear.
$300 Travel Credit Per Year
Once you spend $300 worth of travel purchases, this gets reimbursed to you immediately. This brings that $450 annual fee down to $150 right off the bat.
What counts as travel? flights (not just directly from airlines but any travel search website, i.e. Skyscanner, Expedia, etc.), taxis, toll roads, parking lots, ferries, Uber, Lyft, car rental agencies, hotels, Airbnb, etc.
No Foreign Transaction Fees
The Chase Sapphire Reserve has NO foreign transaction fees so I can use it when I travel overseas as well to earn points. Just make sure to alert Chase of your travels beforehand so they don’t freeze your account for suspicious spending!
$100 Global Entry or TSA Pre Check Credit
(note: you must pay the application fee with your Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card)
I finally caved in and got my Global Entry (GE) and let me tell you I’m kicking myself for not getting it sooner! I avoided it for so long because I heard it’s hard to get an appointment. While this is true, I found a center near me that accepts walk-ins.
The whole appointment took 10-15 minutes and it was the easiest thing ever! They asked me if I’ve ever been convicted of a crime and if I have ever violated immigration laws…and that’s it! Oh yeah, they proceeded to tell me all about their dogs.
What I did was google “Global Entry walk-in appointments in Washington, D.C.” and I found a place. So try that in your area! I went to the Washington, DC Enrollment Center.
To make things easier, I found this great resource for the walk-in centres that allow same day appointments here.
So with the $300 cash back for the travel credit plus the $100 in Global Entry/TSA Precheck, that equals your $50 the first year charge. After that, you’l be essentially be paying $150 ($450-$300 travel credit). BAM. Not bad for ALL the awesome perks and points you get!
*Note: TSA Precheck is included with Global Entry so definitely go for the Global Entry! (unless you do not travel outside the USA at all). There is no “upgrade” option, so if you get TSA Precheck and decide later you want GE, you will have to reapply and go for the interview all over again for the GE (and pay the $100 app fee). Boo.
Priority Pass Airport Lounge Access
I must say this is the most underrated perk of this card! So basically you get free VIP access to over 1000+ airport lounges around the world. In these lounges you can find food, snacks, alcohol, wifi, TVs, comfy sleep areas, and even showers in some.
First, download the Priority Pass App to your phone, then it’s super easy to search for a lounge. It has all the info about the lounges and tells you where exactly in the airport it is.
Download the Priority Pass App to find all the lounges!
However, I’ve learned that not all lounges are created equal, I’ve noticed the international ones are way better than the domestic ones. My favorite is the Turkish Airlines lounge in Washington Dulles Airport (IAD). They serve full on gourmet food like lamb, chicken skewers, falafel, rice, and hummus. I now get to the airport an hour early so I can go to the lounge and stuff my face with yummy food before my flight. And oh yes, I definitely have a few glasses of wine as well to ease my flying jitters. #morewineplease #freewine
I just got back from South America and on my connection home, I stopped in Lima and went to the VIP Club Lounge and Business Center. There was a “quiet room” inside the lounge where they had 10 super comfy leather recline chairs. I pulled an all nighter so when I saw this I was in heaven. I had a 4 hour layover so I took a much needed nap. Then I had a quick brekkie and coffee (they even had lactose free milk!) and was on my way.
Having access to airport lounges is awesome!! If only for the free wine alone (and the good wifi)!♥
3 Points for Every Dollar Spend on Travel & Dining (& 1 point for everything else)
Every time you use your card to buy something travel related or eat out at a restaurant/fast food, you get 3 times the points!! For example, I recently spent $500 for my Peru/Bolivia plane tickets and I got 1,500 points for this purchase. Yay!
So what do all these points mean?
Well, you can either use the Chase portal to search for flights, or you can transfer these points to the participating airlines/hotel partners. These partners include: British Airways, Flying Blue Air France KLM, Korean Air Skypass, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards,United MileagePlus,Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards, World of Hyatt. The points transfer at a ratio of 1:1.
For example, if you have 50,000 Chase points, you can transfer them to United Mileage Plus and have 50,000 United points. United is part of Star Alliance, as are 28 other airlines such as Lufthansa, Croatia Airlines, Air Canada, etc.
So even if you hate United (which I kinda do), I personally think they have the best point system and it’s the easiest to get free tickets. You go to United.com and search for award flights, and all the partner airlines will pop up, so most the time, I hardly ever even fly United.
Here is an example flight from Washington, DC to Split, Croatia. A one-way ticket will cost 30k points plus taxes.
If you notice, these flights are not even operated by United. There is an option to fly the first leg with United with the taxes only at $26 instead of $42. It depends on how much you hate United I guess.
To Get the 50K Point Sign-Up Bonus, You Must Meet Spending Requirements
I jumped on a debut promotion where I got 100,000 miles when I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Now that promotion is gone and the bonus is 50,000, which is still pretty awesome though.
In order to get this bonus, you must spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of receiving your card. That equals about $1,333 per month. That’s easy to spend in the US, especially because you can use the card to purchase things you would already be buying anyway like groceries, gas, and even some bills. Most companies these days will let you pay your bills with a credit card so make sure to check with them. If you can try to pay your rent with the CSR, even better!
If you think you may have trouble meeting spending requirements, ask your friends to give you cash when you go out to eat and put the bill on your card. Or, ask you parents if they need to make a big purchase and offer to put it on your card for some cash. There are many ways around it!
Will Opening a New Card Hurt my Credit Score?
Meh. Temporarily it will drop slightly, but not by much. So unless you’re about to apply for a huge loan for a car or house, it will not affect you that much at all in the long run.
However, having a credit card open will build your credit. Just make sure you pay your card off in FULL each month to avoid the high interest rates. Making purchases and then making payments WILL build your credit. Having credit cards can be a good thing if you’re smart about it.
Other Awesome Perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve
Car rental collision damage waiver(CDW), trip delay and cancellation, baggage delay, emergency medical and dental, road side assistance. Just please note that only services purchased with the CSR will be covered (so if you rent a car on another credit card, you will not receive the car rental insurance benefits..duh).
Important note: the emergency medical and dental is only up to $2,500, which is EXTREMELY low. I would recommend you still purchasing a travel insurance that covers medical insurance at a higher rate. This $2,500 isn’t going to get you crap in some countries!
I use World Nomads and I love them (and no I don’t get paid to say that)! They have awesome coverage (especially medical) and they have been easy to work with.
Shit happens when you travel and I have already made 2 claims with them in the past year and got fully reimbursed (once for a hospital trip in Croatia and another for a stolen camera lens in Colombia). Oh, and since I have had an unlucky year, my phone was just stolen in Bolivia so I’m about to make my 3rd claim of the year.
Like I said, shit happens when you travel! Make sure to have some travel insurance before your next trip (as most US health insurance plans will NOT cover you overseas…unless you have a super badass policy with an enormous monthly premium).
If you’re interesting in coverage and prices, you can get an easy quote below. I just signed up for their affiliate program (because I think they are great), so I just need to disclose that I may receive a small commission if you purchase insurance through my link, at no extra cost to you. Yay!
Do You Pass the 5/24 Rule?
Chase abides by the 5/24 rule, which basically means that if you’ve opened up 5 new credit cards in the past 24 months, you unfortunately will not be eligible for this card.
But I Already Have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Love It
Yes, this was me too. I loved my Preferred and used it for everything. But with the Reserve, the 3 points per dollar for travel and dining purchases, (instead of 2 points with the Preferred) was the deal breaker for me!
I didn’t want to pay the annual fee for both cards, so I called Chase and downgraded my Preferred to the Chase Freedom Unlimited with no annual fee. With the Freedom Unlimited, you get 1.5 points per dollar on all purchases so if my purchase doesn’t fall in the travel or dining category, I use this card to get 1.5 points instead of 1 point.
How I’ve Used My Miles to Travel for Free
Like I mentioned above, any flight over $600 I get for free basically. Most my long-haul continent to continent flights are bought with miles, not money. I try to be smart and save the miles for the most expensive flights. I have yet to use miles within the USA because I don’t think it’s worth it.
Last year I transferred my Chase miles to United Mileage Plus and flew to Cape Town, South Africa from Split, Croatia for 30,000 miles each way (60k total). Even with the free flights you do have to pay taxes, which are usually less than $100 and sometimes as little as $5 one way.
I often fly from Washington, DC to Split, Croatia for 60,000 points roundtrip on Lufthansa (found through the United system).
I really want to go back to Africa and New Zealand, which are really far away, so I’m saving my miles for those trips! I have about 140,000 points saved so far (and counting).
Now You Can Get Extra Points for Referring Others (up to 50,000 points)!
So I got lucky on this one and now the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a referral bonus they just opened up in the last week! If you sign up using my link HERE, I get 10,000 points! And once you get your card, you can get the bonus too if your friends sign up! They limit it to 5 referrals so you can get up to 50,000 points just to refer a friend. Hell, I refer friends either way because I love this card and it allows for more free travel!
If you haven’t been able to tell from this post, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is so fu*king worth it. It really has been a game changer and allows me to afford to travel more.
I’ve had a few travel reward credit cards, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve gives the best benefits in my opinion. It’s completely worth the $450 annual fee and I think every avid traveler should have this card!
If you enjoyed this, please PIN it for later ♥
Have I convinced you to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve? Do you Have any Other Travel Reward Credit Cards You Really Love?
Let’s face it, The Galapagos islands are not a cheap destination. This bucket list destination is one of those once-in-a-lifetime places that people save up lots of money for over an extended period of time and usually spend quite a bit on this trip.
There are actually so many free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos and I have highlighted them below based on my experience. Couple them with a few last minute tours and your dream trip can easily become a reality.
Free (or Cheap) Things to Do in The Galapagos
Santa Cruz Island
Charles Darwin Research Station (free)-learn more about the amazing ecosystem of the Galapagos and Darwin’s impact left on it. There is also a turtle center and some colourful iguanas to see.
Tortuga Bay (free)-a beautiful bay to relax at or swim/snorkel in. It requires a 40 (ish) minute walk to get to. There are boats that can take you there too if you are too lazy to walk. When you get there, walk 15 minutes to the right for a place to swim and snorkel. Along the way, you will see a gorgeous blue/green wading pool that is very picturesque. They should really call this Iguana bay because you literally will see hundreds of iguanas on the beach and in the water.
The gorgeous little lagoon on the way to Tortuga Bay
Las Grietas(free-ish)-the taxi is $1.60 round trip to get there, hence the “ish”. It’s a great place to snorkel and cool off. It is also the clearest water I saw in the Galapagos. Las Grietas is regulated by an attendant and you must sign in upon arrival. You have a limit of 40 minutes and they allow only up to 48 people max at a time.
Self-guided bike tour ($15/day)-rent a bike and go along the path to the Wall of Tears. It takes about an hour to get to, and there are many awesome spots on the way to stop off. Try to go early in the morning to beat the heat, because the last 1-2km is going uphill and it’s not fun in the heat (trust me). Make your stops on the way back.
Wall of Tears (free)-the wall of tears was constructed by prisoners in the penal colony, many of whom died during the construction due to harsh conditions of being in the heat all day. The wall was left there as a testament to these people and to highlight the abuse of power.
El Estero (free)– a little estaury leading to the ocean covered by trees, mangroves, and a little creek. I was the only one there and really enjoyed walking through the creek in the shade. It’s a beautiful setting.
Playa del Amor (free)-here you will see a little natural wading pool surrounded by lava rocks and the ocean in the backdrop. If you’re lucky, you will be joined for a bath with a marine iguana.
Las Salinas (free)-a lagoon that is frequented by pink Flamingos. They weren’t out when I went unfortunately, but it wouldn’t hurt to stop by on your way back to town to check!
Concha la Perla (free)-a place to snorkel near the port and has many sea lions and sometimes penguins/manta rays. I didn’t see penguins or manta rays, but I did see a bunch of sea lions.
San Cristobal Island (all free activities)
Cerro Tijeretas Hill-about 15-20 minutes past the Interpretation Center you will come up to Cerro Tijeretas Hill with a great lookout point over the island. This is also a major breeding ground for Frigate birds so keep an eye out! On the bottom of the hill there is a little cove where several sea lions are laying around on the rocks and swimming. The water is super blue/green and gorgeous and it’s worth a snorkel.
Punta Carola-if you follow the trail back to town you will come to Punta Carola beach, which has a little lighthouse on the lava rocks. This is where I saw a mini baby sea lion laying on the sand alone and I almost died! I want to take it home with me, it was so stinking cute.
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Playa Mann beach-a small local beach that’s nothing special, but its super close to town so it’s a nice place to go to cool off real quick.
La Loberia-a more secluded beach about a 40 minute walk from town. The little bay is filled with black lava rocks and is a popular place for sea lions and iguanas. I saw many sea lions playing in the shallow waters and rolling around in the sand. Go here if you want an up close encounter with sea lions!
Interpretation Center (about a 20 minute walk from town)-sorta like the Charles Darwin center but different. I stopped in here on my way up to Cerro Tijeretas Hill and learned a lot about the Galapagos. I didn’t have time to go through the full center, but it’s definitely worth stopping by if you’re walking up to the hill anyway!
Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It’s also rated as the biggest waterfall in the world (based on combined width of 5,604 ft and height of 354 ft.
It goes by the nickname “the Smoke that Thunders” and that nickname will prove itself once you have been graced by its presence. Trust me on this one.
My first glimpse of the falls came on my flight into Livingstone. From my tiny airplane window I gasped at the spewing mist bursting into the air, making its power known. I could see and feel the power of the falls from what seemed like miles away.
Victoria Falls is an incredible place and should be added to your Africa itinerary. However, it’s one of those places that you have to plan for in advance since there is a lot to think about. But it’s 100% worth it and will surely be a memorable experience.
There isn’t much practical info on the interwebs regarding visiting Victoria Falls, so I put together this little guide with the best tips for visiting Victoria Falls, Africa that will help you plan a smooth trip.
Best Tips for Visiting Victoria Falls
Where is Victoria Falls?
Victoria Falls is located on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. The tough choice is deciding which side you will want to stay. I stayed on both the Zimbabwe and Zambian sides and I personally preferred the Zimbabwe side much better.
Livingstone, Zambia is known as the backpackers town as accommodations are much cheaper and abundant. But I really didn’t enjoy it honestly. It was extremely dirty and didn’t havethat much to offer in my opinion. I would choose the Zimbabwe side in a heartbeat!
How to Get Visas for Victoria Falls
(Note: this information is based on US Passport holders only and I cannot comment on different nationality’s visa processes since I personally do not know. Please check the specific visa requirements of your country!).
For US citizens, visas are required to enter both Zimbabwe AND Zambia.
A single entry visa into Zambia costs $50 while a double entry visa costs $80 for US citizens. You can get a single and double entry visa on arrival, so no need for advanced planning. However, if you want a multiple entry visa, you must apply in advance at the appropriate embassy before your trip.
My Zambia visa obtained at the border
A single entry visa to get into Zimbabwe costs $30 while a double visa entry costs $45 for US citizens. This can also be obtained upon arrival.
There is also a “day tripper” visa for $20 that you can purchase if you just want to cross the border for the day (valid for 24 hours). However, in my experience, that process takes SO long at the border so I would definitely plan out how many times you plan on crossing the border and getting the appropriate visa based on that.
Note: getting the visa at the border can be a very LONG process. It took us a total of 4 HOURS once we landed in Livingstone to get our Zambia visa, cross the border to Zimbabwe, get our Zimbabwe visa and make it to our lodge in Zimbabwe. People will also try to butt in line in front of you so make sure to stand your ground and practice your RBF.
*Due to the above mentioned stress to get the visa, I would highly recommend that you stay in the country you are departing from the night before so you don’t have to deal with this on the day of your flight and potentially miss it!
Payment: Although sources will say you must pay in cash, we were given an option to pay in cash OR credit card. FYI: They do accept USD.
What Airport to Fly Into
You will have 2 choices of airports to fly into to reach Victoria Falls:
Livingston Airport (LVI) in Zambia or Victoria Falls (VFA) in Zimbabwe.
Victoria Falls airport is closer to the falls, however, flights tend to be more expensive coming into that airport. Therefore, most opt to fly to the further Livingstone Airport. However, I think you should make the decision based on what activities you want to do, where they are located (Zimbabwe or Zambia side), and where you want to stay. You also have to factor in crossing back and forth between the borders, which can get pricey in visa fees!
There is no public transport to the falls from Livingstone airport. Your 2 options are a private transfer or taxi.
Taxis cannot cross the border so you will need one taxi to take you to the border, another that takes you from one side of the border to the other, and then a 3rd taxi at the other border that will bring you to your destination. Complicated, huh?
From our resort in Zimbabwe, we paid $10 to get to the border, $5 to get to the other side of the border, and then $20 to get to Livingstone. A private transfer set up by our lodge cost $24 per person and they stayed with us the whole way through, which was way more convenient than having to switch cars and drivers 3 times to cross the border!
Make sure you agree on a price beforehand, because they WILL try to rip you off. They tried that on us but we called them out, to which they then agreed on a fair price.
What Activities To Do in Victoria Falls
I thought that going to Victoria Falls just meant going and viewing the waterfalls. But little did I know that there was going to be so many adventure activities at the falls to choose from. From the numerous high-wire activities on the Zimbabwe side such as gorge swinging, zip-lining, bungee jumping, the superman swing, to the microlight and Devil’s pool activities to pick from on the Zambia side, you will not most certainly not be bored.
In 2.5 days there, we did so much, yet wish we had more time there to do more! The microlight flight was definitely the highlight of my time in Victoria Falls and I wasn’t expecting tears of joy. It left me speechless.
Read more about my top 4 MUST DO adventure activities in Victoria Falls here. Or just watch the video below:
Where to Stay in Victoria Falls
This should depend heavily on what activities you plan on doing. If you don’t plan on doing the microlight flight and/or Devil’s pool, there is no reason to stay in Zambia honestly. Stay in Zimbabwe and just get a double entry visa and you’re good to go!
We had a once-in-a-lifetime stay at Victoria Falls River Lodge and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s literally inside the Zambezi National Park, so there are wild animals all around you. It’s a bit scary but super thrilling and something you should experience once in your life. Read my detailed review here.
Viewing Victoria Falls
Most of Victoria Falls is located on the Zimbabwe side and this is where you can enter to view the falls.
Entrance is $30 so give yourself ample time to go to all the viewing points and take lots of pictures. You will see monkeys running around from time to time, so save time also for some monkey selfies! You know you want one.
If you’re short on time, go to viewing points 11-14 for the best views. You’re welcome ♥.
The mist is very strong so you will get wet (remember that Smoke that Thunders part?). Embrace nature’s shower.
Currency in Zimbabwe is the USD. Currency in Zambia is the Zambian Kwacha. Although, USD was accepted in Zambia as well.
Make sure you bring cash because credit cards are not widely accepted everywhere. We did pay all our tours with credit cards; however, some restaurants did not accept credit cards so just be prepared.
You’ll probably spend more money than you thought.
I was a little surprised at how expensive the prices were in and around Victoria Falls. It was more like Western prices and not something I would expect in Africa.
Here are some sample prices to expect in Victoria Falls:
$30 USD to enter Victoria Falls (go to Viewing point 11-14 for best views)
$90 gorge swing
$50 flying fox
$80 double entry visa for Zimbabwe
$30 single entry visa for Zambia
$$-$$$$ lodging (much more on the Zimbabwe side, but well worth it)
Victoria Falls is probably not the best budget-friendly place to visit for solo travellers. With transportation and lodging costs, its much more doable when you have another person to split it with. Even then, it was a pricier trip than I was used to. I’m not saying solo travellers should avoid Victoria Falls, just know what to expect!
If Victoria Falls is not already on your bucket list, hopefully you add it soon! It truly is worth it!
Last year I flew to Iceland in the frigid January weather just to see the northern lights. In 3 days there, I didn’t have any luck. On top of that, my tripod blew over and I cracked my brand new camera. #EpicFail
Why I Chose Tromsø, Norway to Chase the Northern Lights
This time, I flew all the way to the north of Norway to a town called Tromsø. Tromsø is rated one of the top 10 places to see the northern lights in the entire world. Although you’re never guaranteed to see them, I thought I had a pretty good chance. Little did I know…
Welp, I guess I’m going back to Norway! Not a bad place to return to I must say.
I thought I had my mind set on a specific company to see the northern lights. Until a few weeks before my trip, I found Tromsø Friluftsenter, a smaller family owned company who have been operating since 2004. I’m a sucker for smaller family owned tours/companies because I love supporting smaller business, because I absolutely loathe being herded around like cattle on a huge tour bus, and because a smaller company usually means more personalized attention.
So I pulled a little switcheroo and decided to go with Tromsø Friluftsenter. Best. Decision. Ever.
The First Sighting
I knew it was going to be a great night when 10 minutes into our drive, we saw a glimpse of the northern lights zig-zagging across the sky. What was to come that night was extremely unexpected.
We arrived to their base camp about 45 minutes outside the city. As soon as we pulled up, we were greeted by a dashing display of the Aurora Borealis lighting up the sky in shades of neon green, purple, and pink (which turned out to be the strongest we saw them the entire night). Stepping out of the van and looking up to see this natural phenomenon that you’ve heard about since you were little bombarding the sky above was even better than I have ever dreamed about.
It left me speechless and teary-eyed, something that has happened only a few times in my travels.
Ok, back to the base camp. The base camp consisted of a few traditional Sami tents, with the mountains and the ocean nearby. It was a gorgeous snowy setting and provided many different foreground options to photograph the northern lights. Actually, this was one big factor that helped me with my decision to choose this company (as well as the near perfect TripAdvisor reviews). I really wanted to have a nice setting with cute houses or something else to frame the shot. I didn’t just want a million pics of the sky (although the sky was phenomenal on its own I realized after I arrived).
Traditional sami tent(with a badass fire burning inside to keep you warm)
Our Sami tent had a bonfire burning and wooden seats made from tree trunks and topped with reindeer fur Surrounding the fire pit in a circle. It was so cozy and cute and I couldn’t have asked for a more arctic setting! It also meant we had somewhere to run to and warm up in between shooting the northern lights, something that all the other companies didn’t have! It was freezing and I couldn’t imagine standing outside for 4-5 hours straight so this was a huge plus!
We were served coffee or tea and cake, and later roasted marshmallows over the fire. It was absolutely perfect and reminded me of the fun times I had camping when I was young. It also provided time to get to know the others on tour. We had a blast listening to all Knut’s (the owner) reindeer stories as we warmed up our fingers and toes.
Don’t Stress About Shooting the Northern Lights
On the drive over, our awesome guide Pierre gave us some quick and easy photography tips for shooting the northern lights (which can also be applied to all night photography). This was also a big plus since I have never shot night photography before so I really needed help!
Pierre also helped us with the setting or any other questions we had while we were out shooting. He wanted to make sure we all got good shots of the lights, even if everyone didn’t have a fancy DSLR camera.
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Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips
Put camera in Manual Mode (M)
Check sensitivity of sensor (aka ISO). Recommend ISO 1200-1600. More ISO means more noise (grainy)
Shutter Speed: at least 10 seconds. 15 seconds is recommended as a starting point.
Aperture (F number). The lower the aperture the better for night shots.
Put on Manual Focus (MF)-to prevent blur. Activate screen of camera and zoom in to set it.
You MUST use a tripod (night shots require the shutter to be open for longer periods of time and complete stillness is needed)
*Most of my shots were taken at 1600 ISO, F4 aperture, at 15-20 seconds. However, I was so excited when I went outside and saw the lights that I forgot to put my camera on manual focus so they aren’t as clear as they could have been. Rookie mistake!
Camera Gear for Shooting the Northern Lights
The right camera gear is KEY to shooting the northern lights. However, you don’t have to be a professional and you don’t need to spend thousands. But you’re going to need more than a camera phone or GoPro. Below is all the camera gear I used and all can be found on Amazon (my obsession).
Wide Angle Lens: a wide angle lens is a must as it allows more light in (due to a wider aperture), which is essential for night photography. I bought mine pre-used. It cost more than my camera base but it’s SO worth it as I use it to shoot ALL my landscape shots! My lens is the Sony SEL1018 10-18mm Wide-Angle Zoom Lens
iPhone 6: Sorry, but you can’t get good shots of the northern lights on an iPhone. I used this ONLY for a remote through the Play Memories Mobile App. This allowed me hands-free shooting without the risk of movement from manually pushing the shutter button. My trusted iPhone: Apple iPhone 6 64GB Space Gray – (Verizon Wireless)
Disclaimer: the above links are affiliate links with Amazon. Meaning, if you make a purchase with these links I may receive a tiny commission, at no extra cost to you. It’s what helps me keep this site up and running, so a special thanks!♥
All of the Lights
We didn’t just see the northern lights, we got hammered with them the entire night! They danced, they pranced, they moved, they boogied! Incredible is an understatement. I waited so long to see them, and boy did I get a show! The lights were active the entire night, and at some points they would really blew up in the sky.
Pierre would constantly check outside and come get us when they were exploding! We immediately grabbed our tripods and dashed outside. Pierre loved shooting at the nearby beach and would hurdle over there quickly in the snow. We couldn’t keep up at times he was so enthusiastic about it! It was funny to watch and it kept our energy high, especially when it was getting late.
The best part is that Pierre took several hundred photos of us and the lights, and we were given access to them via Flickr. So even if you don’t have a camera with you. You will get some awesome shots of the lights so your memories will last forever!
We were also given a tripod and a warm jumpsuit to wear if needed. They only had size large and X-large so I was tripping on mine at some points, but hey, it kept me pretty warm!
Overall, this might have been my favorite tour I have ever taken! The crew was awesome, the base camp was unique and fun, the setting was just perfect and had a lot around to use as props for our pictures, and the light show was just out of this world!
We got lucky as Pierre said this was the strongest show he had seen all year. You’re never guaranteed to see them, but boy did we get smacked in the face with a spectacular show from Mother Nature.
I would 110% recommend you to check out this company if you come to Tromsø. I had a special night with them I will never forget. They also do whale watching tours which I would have loved to do, however, that season ended in January unfortunately.
Note: I read on their site that visiting the base camp isn’t always guaranteed. On nights when the activity is low, you will drive around to different spots and “chase” the lights. But as the activity is pretty solid in this area, I would assume you have a good chance of visiting the base camp.
Disclaimer: I was a guest ofTromsø Friluftsenter; however, my opinions are my own and as you can tell, I freakin’ loved them! I would confidently recommend them to my family, friends, and anyone else visiting Tromsø. Hell, I would take this tour again if I ever return to Tromsø!
As holiday seekers flock to Dalmatia for the popular sailing trips on the Adriatic Sea, the Istria region in Croatia is often overlooked. It only took my 8TH TRIP back to Croatia to finally venture to this lesser-known peninsula, due to my intense (and some might say unhealthy) attachment to the mesmerising Dalmatian coast.
Rovinj is located on the coast of the Istria peninsula, in the Western part of Croatia. Istria is known for its impeccable wine, world class gastronomy, coveted (and expensive) truffles, and storybook hilltop towns. What’s not to love about Istria? Please tell me. I’ll wait…
Last September, my friend CareBear and I decided on a more slow-paced holiday and to spend an entire week in Rovinj, using it as a base to explore the Istrian peninsula. Let me start by saying Rovinj is the perfect place to base yourself when exploring this region, given its central position along the coast. Not only that, it’s f***ing gorgeous! That fact is undeniable.
I will say that I wasn’t expecting to love Rovinj as much as I did. The Dalmatian coast has set the bar super high for me and I must admit I am quite biased to that area. You could go as far to say that I’m passionately obsessed with it. But Rovinj absolutely blew me away and it quickly moved to the top as one of my favourite Croatian cities, if not my favourite.
The best way I can describe Rovnj is quaint, charming, clean, colorful, and rustic…all in one perfect package. It sounds cliche, but there are no other words I can use to describe the awesomeness that is Rovinj.
There is not much to see in Rovinj in terms of historical landmarks, monuments, or museums. However, it is one of those places where you can just relax and take in all the surroundings in a peaceful atmosphere. The people are extremely friendly and the service was excellent overall.
First Impressions of Rovinj
Rovinj has such a huge Italian influence, understandably given its close proximity. The city of Rovinj felt like a blend between Italy and Croatia, my 2 favorite countries in the entire world. The food, the rustic architecture, and the colours are like a spitting image of the Ligurian region in Italy (my favourite region in Italy!). At times, I forgot that I was actually in Croatia and felt as if i was in Cinque Terre. That’s how strong the Italian influence was.
What really surprised me about Rovinj is that Croatian didn’t seem to be the dominant language, although technically it is. We heard just as much Italian and German as we did Croatian. And when the locals spoke Croatian, it sounded like it was with an Italian accent. The dialect is completely different from further south along the coast, and it was distinctly apparent. I was extremely surprised to hear how much German was spoke there, until we were informed that these were Austrians speaking and it made sense as this region used to be ruled by Austria in historical times!
Why is Rovinj so Lovely? Let me Count the Ways…
The Picturesque Streets of Rovinj
Rovinj is the epitome of Picture Perfect. The streets of Rovinj are a photographer’s dream. In fact, Rovinj was one of the most picturesque towns I have ever seen. Period. My favourite part about Rovinj by far was the consistently stunning streets. Every day we found ourselves just getting lost in the maze-like alleys and having a blast. Around every corner, it was more and more beautiful.
There were numerous little cafes with funky/colourful furniture that were just so visually inviting it made you want to go in for a coffee every 5 minutes. One can only drink so much coffee in a day, but damnit they were just so stinkin’ cute!
The stores were so unique and the eclectic displays were very pleasing to the eye. The immaculate design of each little shop astounded me and silently lured me in. I could have shopped all day, even though I didn’t buy anything. We experienced boutique heaven in Rovinj.
What To Do in Rovinj
The Farmer’s Market
I could never leave a city without visiting the local farmer’s market. In fact, it’s usually the first place I visit when arriving to a new city in order to stock up on some healthy snacks. The Farmer’s Market in Rovinj does not disappoint. The fruit is super fresh, juicy, and robust. The vendors are also very friendly and inviting, often giving you loads of tasting samples.
Honey, olive oil, truffles, and figs, you name it and they had it there. What’s best about this specific one is that it’s basically open all day until about 10pm, unlike most farmer’s markets that are only open in the mornings.
We went there so often that everyone started knowing us by name, and eventually free fruit was thrown in here and there.
Let me start by saying Rovinj isn’t known for its beaches. The one I would recommend is called Monte Beach and is located just a hop skip and a jump from the center (did I really just say that?).
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Monte Beach isn’t really technically a beach, it’s more like a rocky cove frequented by sunbathers brave enough to lay on the rigid rocks. It was super cute and not too crowded, and this became our little go-to spot every day. We even went here a few times to watch the sunset over the rocks and it was incredible. Check it out at least once if you’re in Rovinj. Oh, and bring some wine.
Church of St Ephemia Clock Tower
This is where you can find the best panoramic views over the city. You have to walk up some wobbly/narrow stairs to get to the top, but it’s worth it for the 360 degree views.
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This was a great way to see more of just the centre of Rovinj. You can’t really ride the bikes inside the narrow streets. Instead, we went along the coast where some of the other more populated beaches were located. There were rental places all throughout the city, so no need to book in advance.
Go Boutique Shopping (or in our case, window shopping)
There was no shortage of specialty boutiques in the city, from eclectic jewellery shops selling one-of-a-kind pieces to musical shops selling cool vintage instruments. The displays in these stores were outstanding and you could really appreciate the attention to detail. All were so funky and different, it was nice to just browse through them one by one, entertaining our curiosities.
Find the Most Instagrammed Spot in Rovinj
As you’re walking through the city, you may stumble upon the cutest little street ever and your head will turn (as did mine). Can you see why it’s the most Instagrammable street in Rovinj?
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Secret Find: Mediterraneo Bar
This was by far our absolute favorite place in Rovinj and we came back every single day. The irresistible archway framing the steps leading into the sea is what initially drew us in. A cozy cafe by day and a coveted drinking spot during sunset, this is the place you will want to be.
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Newly opened in May 2015 by a Rovinj native, Jasmin Huskic, Mediterraneo Bar serves coffee and speciality cocktails in a cozy seaside retreat. The staff is warm and inviting, always making sure you are enjoying your time.
The cafe/bar is nicely decorated with an eclectic and bohemian inspired flare. Plush colourful cushions placed on the rocks and mismatched furniture give it a vibrantatmosphere. During the day, you have the option of jumping from the rocks and swimming right in front of the cafe. How cool?
The best part about this bar is the “secrete escape” spot that is, well…a secret. Tucked away in a private corner on the rocks, there is a magical spot that offers privacy in a romantic setting with a small table, cushions, and soft blankets offered for the cold night breeze.
The secret escape has become so popular that reservations are now warranted for this coveted spot. It was truly a unique experience watching the sunset in our own private little nest.
Mediterraneo Bar is seriously one of my favorite cafes I have ever been to! Hands-down. And no, this isn’t sponsored in any way, it’s really that awesome! If you make it over there, tell Jasmin that Crazy Travelista and CareBear Abroad say hi!
Where to Stay in Rovinj
As I usually do, I highly recommend using Airbnb for accommodation. During my search, I came across a big variety of choices in the center of the city and at very reasonable prices. We chose to stay in the center and it was the absolute perfect location, everything within a few minutes walk.We picked a private apartment and we couldn’t have been happier. It happened to be on what became our favourite street in Rovinj, with a restaurant and coffee bar conveniently outside our door.
The one-bedroom apartment had a full kitchen, private bathroom and shower, wifi, a flat screen TV, and a pull out couch. The apartment could fit 3 people comfortably. We really enjoyed utilizing the kitchen to save money on eating out every meal. The total price for one week including all taxes and fees was $350 ($175 each split between us). It could have been even less if we had one more with us. We paid a little more this time for the prime location and it was well worth it.
You can check out our Airbnb rental here. (Update: the price has increased a bit since we stayed here, wahhh). And if you’re new to Airbnb, feel free to use my $40 off coupon! They really do have a great referral program! (PS: even if you already have a AirBnb account, you can sign up with a new email and still get the $40 OFF. YAY)
Where to Eat in Rovinj
As a Gluten-free eater, my restaurant recommendations are often limited as I can only sample a small selection of foods, unfortunately. I also tend to cook most my meals if I can, even when I’m traveling. Nevertheless, I did manage to find a few Gluten-friendly options that I really enjoyed.
Pano e Vino-I was so excited to find an Italian place that served Gluten-free pasta. I sampled the gluten-free bolognese and the seafood risotto which were both flavourful and rich. I loved the fact that they brought out gluten-free bruschetta as an appetizer on the house, as well as gluten-free bread with our meals. I highly recommend this place even if you are not gluten free. The staff was super friendly and even gave us a whole bottle of honey grappa on the house. If we hadn’t eaten here the last night, I would have definitely returned again.
Squid 2-this restaurant has a great view of the riva and offers a variety of fresh seafood. We opted for the fish platter for 2 and it was very good and filling. The bonus is that they take credit cards.
Scuba-this restaurant also offered a variety of gluten-free options at a reasonable price. I also sampled the seafood risotto here, which was delightful and a very big portion.
B52-this place had the best gelato we tried in Rovinj and with the biggest selection. This is also the ONLY place that would allow us to sample the flavors. The scoops were huge and well worth the price. I recommend the fig gelato, unusual, yet mouthwatering.
How to Get to Rovinj
Planes, trains, and automobiles…literally. The only airport located in the Istrian region is in Pula, about 40 minutes by bus to Rovinj (costs 43 kuna). There are many affordable flights to Pula within Croatia on Croatia Airlines. I flew from Zadar to Pula for around $75 and it took less than an hour.
There are also busses from Split and Dubrovnik by Bus Croatia, but they are less frequent, take 9-12 hours, and some cost almost as much as a flight. Busses from Zagreb take about 6 hours.
You could also rent a car and drive to Rovinj; however, parking in the city can be a pain in the butt. Also, you really would only need a car for a day or 2 at the most, so if you are staying for a week it’s kind of a waste of money in my opinion.
Your best bet is snagging a cheap flight from Dalmatia or Zagreb!
How to Get Around Rovinj
By foot! It’s a total walkable city given its small size. You can get anywhere in 15 minutes max. I do however, recommend renting a car for one day to explore the surrounding region.
Exploring Istria (day trip)
One thing you must do in this region is get out and explore the countryside by car. In fact, this is the only way to reach the nearby hilltop towns, as public transport doesn’t serve most of these areas.
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Highly recommended on your Istrian road trip are the towns of Motovun, Hum, Groznjan, and Novigrad. You can do them all in one day as they are all less than an hour and fifteen minutes from Rovinj! Just make sure to get an early start. To get all the details, read my post Exploring Istria, Croatia by Car: the Perfect 1-Day Road Trip
Day Trip It to Pula
Pula lies on the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula and is a short 35-ish minute bus ride from Rovinj. The main attraction in Pula is the magnificent Pula Area, which was constructed back in the 1ST CENTURY! In fact, it’s older than the Colosseum in Rome! It’s also the 6th largest Roman arena in the world that still exists today!
There are also a few cute beaches to visit in Pula, as well as the nearby Kamenjak National Park, which I’m kicking myself for not getting to (I was short on time). If you make it over to Kamenjak, please let me know what I missed!
Moral of the Story?
GO TO ROVINJ! It’s an overlooked Croatian splendour that doesn’t get the hype it very well deserves. Rovinj is very relaxing and romantic, the perfect base for exploring the Istria countryside, is filled with hospitable people, has great food, and is undeniably drop-dead gorgeous! All the elements of THE perfect city if you ask me!
Do you have any other tips for what to do in Rovinj? Any secret finds I failed to mention? Please let me know in the comments below! I would love to check them out when I finally return!
Click photo to Pin for later♥
RECOMMENDED TRAVEL GEAR:
1.Sony Alpha 6000 Mirrorless Camera: I made the switch from my huge DSLR and I wouldn’t go back. It’s light, compact, and takes amazing photos!
2. Sony 10-18mm Wide Angle Zoom Lens: this wide angle lens is the key to landscape shots. I use this lens more than the original and am super happy with it. It’s not cheap, but super worth it if you want to get those special nature shots. Honestly, I would purchase the Sony alpha 6000 camera body only and save up for this lens to go with it.
3. E Bags Packing Cubes: the biggest life changer to keep me packing light! This is my biggest travel gear obsession and I have NO idea how I traveled without them before.
4. LifeProof NUUD Waterproof Case (iPhone 6): this helps protect my phone from water, sand, dirt, and the numerous drops that incur while I travel. I love it!
5. GoPro Hero 5 Black: I am a proud GoPro ambassador and obsessed with GoPro selfie pics if you didn’t notice! This is an essential item when you’re traveling solo to get all your cool shots (and of course underwater pics). Plus it’s so much fun to use! 🙂
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a super small commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I have used before on my own and that I truly love 🙂
If you’ve never heard of the Skyroam portable hotspot device before, you’re about to hear everything there is to know about this powerful little device. After one use, I questioned how I ever travelled before without it. I love mine and am absolutely obsessed with it, it never leaves my side! So for me, it is 110% worth it. But is it worth it for YOU? That’s the question. I’ll get to that later after I tell you all about this incredibly handy little device!
Skyroam Portable Hotspot Device
In a Nutshell
The Skyroam is a portable hotspot device that allows you to stay connected to wifi all around the world.
It works in 100+ countries (and counting) and gives you unlimited and secure wifi for 24-hour periods.
What Countries Does the Skyroam Work in? I’m Glad You Asked!
Argentina, Aruba,Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, El Salvador, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Mexico, Montserrat, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Saipan, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos Island, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela
Australia, Christmas Island, Fiji, Guam, New Zealand
Egypt, Kenya, South Africa
Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Laos, Macao, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan,Tajikistan, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Vietnam
Israel, Qatar, Turkey
So How the Heck Does the Skyroam Work?
Does it really matter, it’s awesome. Just kidding, I’ll explain. The Skyroam connects to the best local wifi signal. It basically allows you to access local date, internationally!
Exploring the Bay of Islands in New Zealand with my Skyroam. I was able to provide live updates to Snapchat while on the go!
It’s SO simple. All you do is turn on the device and hit “start” and BAM, wifi works. Plus, it’s so compact and light you can just slip it in your pocket and take it with you wherever you go.
The bottom line: the Skyroam portable hotspot device is the most convenient way to access wifi when abroad. Period. There is no monthly contract. You pay for what you use, whenever you want to use it.
Some Other Awesome Features of the Skyroam:
Your phone doesn’t need to be unlocked to use it! For all those AT&T iPhone users, this is a Godsend.
You will no longer have to deal with SIM cards, contracts, or roaming/overage charges.
You can connect up to 5 devices: yep, you heard that right! You can hook up 5 devices to the Skyroam and enjoy unlimited international wifi. However, it’s important to note that once you hit the 1GB mark, the service slows down a little. So I wouldn’t connect more than 2-3 devices unless you want super slow service.
Use your Skyroam on road trips to access Google Maps! You have no idea how convenient it was to use this device during my New Zealand road trip. It was a life saver!
Always use a secure network! Skyroam uses an encrypted connection to keep your data safe and secure while using wifi. (In case you didn’t ever think about it…when you use local wifi in cafes, hotels, restaurants, these networks are not secure and you may be exposed to hackers).
The Skyroam Portable Hotspot Device is especially useful and cost effective when traveling through many different countries in a short amount of time.When you cross borders, the pass does NOT reset and once it connects to the local service it’s good to go!
Using Google Maps through my Skyroam service saved my life during my New Zealand road trip!
I tested this traveling through the Baltics by bus. I thought maybe the day pass would reset and I would have to use another one once I crossed the border, but this was not the case at all! There was a short transition period of less than 20 minutes and then it picked up the local service of the new country after crossing the border. So easy!
Rent vs buy
Rent: you can rent the hotspot and pay $9.99 per day for shorter trips (or if you do not travel often).
Buy: you could buy the hotspot for $99 and then pay $8 for each day pass (which I highly recommend). On the days you don’t use it, you don’t pay!
Oh, and recently they have introduced Skyroam vending machines in San Francisco airport! How cool. You can also purchase the Skyroam in various airports throughout. Two popular airport stores selling the Skyroam include InMotion and Brookstone. To search for a resale stores near you, you can click here.
Daily passes: you pay for a daily pass and this gets you unlimited global data for a 24-hr period. So simple!
If you travel even occasionally I would highly recommend buying the device and taking it with you on all trips in case of emergencies. It will come in handy sooner or later and you will be happy to have a backup when necessary (more on that below).
Is the Skyroam Portable Hotspot Device worth it?
Ok, so let’s get down to it. Let me provide a few different scenarios, which will help you decide if it’s worth it for YOU.
Scenario 1: you’re going to Europe for one week and hitting up 3 different countries.
Is the Skyroam worth it? Hell yes.
Here’s why: getting a local SIM card for 3 different countries will not be very cost effective. It will also be a pain in the a** to waste time in each county finding a reliable SIM.
Example: I was just traveling through the Baltics and spend 2 days in 3 countries. I used the Skyroam with ease and even as I was crossing over the borders(as I just mentioned above).
Scenario 2-You’re going to Portugal for a month.
Is the Skyroam worth it? No
Here’s why: it would definitely be more cost effective to pick up a local SIM and use that for the duration of your trip. Unless your phone is not unlocked (see below).
Scenario 3: you’re going to Colombia for 5 days and your phone is NOT unlocked.
Is the Skyroam worth it? Yep
Here’s why: most carriers charge a sh*t ton for international data. Since you will only be there 5 days, use your Skyroam!
Scenario 4: You are traveling to Europe for one month, hitting up 4 different countries, and decide you will purchase a SIM card in each country.
Ok, that still sounds more cost efficient, so you don’t need a Skyroam, right?
Yes and no. My advice is to bring your Skyroam anyway, for emergencies.
Let me explain: let’s say for instance you land in a small airport in Croatia in the evening, all the kiosks are closed (or there is no place at the airport that sells SIM cards), there is no airport wifi, and you need to make it to your Airbnb. The easiest solution? Activate a day pass on your Skyroam to help navigate your way. Then the next day, go ahead and purchase that SIM. This scenario happened to me in New Zealand recently and it was a life saver to be able to cut on my Skyroam and use it to order an Uber. (The airport wifi wasn’t working..something that happens from time to time even if they have wifi!)
Scenario 5: you and a friend are traveling to Iceland for 4 days.
Is the Skyroam worth it? Yuppp.
Here’s why: remember that part above where you can connect up to 5 devices?Yep. So you and a friend could split the costs and both use the Skyroam! But, I honestly would not connect more than 2-3 devices on this because it tends to slow it down a lot. But using 2 phones is perfectly okay and would make it super convenient for your trip!
→A quick note on Battery life: I read somewhere that the battery on the Skyroam lasts up to 9 hours, but it lasts me about 6 hours. I guess it depends on how much you use it (I use mine a lot). I always carry my awesome dual power bank by Jackery so it’s not a problem. I recharge several devices on this each day while travelling, and the power never runs out.
Crazy Travelista’s Overall Impressions:
I have personally used it on 4 continents and 13 countries so far including: Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Italy, Colombia, USA, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.
How did I live without you before?
I have been extremely impressed with the quality of service, speed, and convenience of always having the option to have wifi wherever I go. I have no idea how on earth I ever traveled without it before. It’s light, compact, reliable and the most convenient way to access wifi abroad!
So is it worth it? In some instances it is not, as I highlighted above. But overall, the Skyroam is definitely worth it and something every traveler should own! I have a feeling this is going to revolutionize the way we travel and always being able to share our travels is really awesome. Kudos, Skyroam. Kudos.
To rent/buy, you can check out the Skyroam websitehere.
*FOR 10% OFF YOUR PURCHASE, YOU CAN USE THE CODE “CRAZYTRAVELISTA” AT CHECKOUT! ♥
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a super small commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no extra cost to you. I am a brand ambassador for Skyroam and absolutely love it! I wouldn’t recommend something I didn’t truly love!