Top 10 Travel Highlights & Surprises of 2017 (+ 2018 Preview)

Top 10 Travel Highlights & Surprises of 2017 (+ 2018 Preview)

As another whirlwind travel year comes to an end, it’s about that time to reflect and reminisce on my crazy year and highlight my top moments/surprises. In 2017, I traveled to 13 new countries including, Ecuador, Finland, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Cuba, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Cyprus, Oman, and Jordan. I also revisited some of my favourite countries including Italy, Greece, Croatia, and Norway.

In 2017, I visited a total of 17 countries on 4 continents. WOW. I didn’t even notice it was that many until I typed it out. I guess I’m really living up to the name Crazy Travelista. 🙂

Without further ado, here are my Top 10 Travel Highlights & Surprises of 2017:

1. Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos is on many bucket lists and a dream destination for animal and sea lovers. But it costs a fortune, right? WRONG. I did one week for under $1K. Yep, I got skills like that haha. You can read about how I did it here  and also free or cheap things to do in the Galapagos here.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQnZuOQDVBt/?taken-by=crazytravelista

It was just so fascinating to me walking around and seeing Sea Lions sitting on park benches, marine iguanas (that look like mini dinosaurs) wading next to me in the water, and stopping for a traffic jam of life size turtles in the wild. Oh, and seeing a sea horse up close in the wild was freakin incredible!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BQieKkmji-_/?taken-by=crazytravelista

But my ultimate favourite memory was swimming with hammerhead sharks and sea lions at Kicker Rock. I’m not going to lie, I was scared shitless of jumping into the water above a shark, let alone a whole swarm of them. But it was a once in a lifetime experience and I wasn’t going to pass it up. If you do ONE thing in the Galapagos, take the tour to Kicker Rock on San Cristobal Island.

Gopro Hero 5 Session underwater

2. Northern Lights in Tromsø, Norway

One of my top 5 bucket list items of all time was finally fulfilled in Tromsø, Norway this year. I miss the Northern Lights in Iceland the year before and was so bummed. But let me tell you, it was well worth the wait and just made it that much more special when I finally got my first glimpse.

2017 Top 10 Travel Surprises

Not only did I see the Northern Lights, but they really put on a dramatic dancing show of electric neon green in the sky that I cannot describe it with any other word besides MAGICAL.

If you’re really itching to see the Northern Lights, Tromsø is a fantastic place to do so. I highly recommend the small family run tour company called Tromsø Friluftsenter. Hands down my favourite tour I’ve ever taken! You can read about my experience in my blog article Chasing the Northern Lights in Tromsø (+Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips)

3. Lapland, Finland

God, I loved Lapland. I didn’t think i would enjoy it that much but it really surprised me. I’m not the biggest fan of freezing cold destinations, but Lapland has single handedly changed my mind!

2017 top 10 travel surprises os

What really captivated me was all the super unique winter activities that you can try that are specific to this region. My favourite activities were the Husky ride, snowmobiling on a lake to see the Northern Lights (unfortunately they didn’t come out that night), taking a photography tour of the arctic landscapes, and especially the sauna plus an arctic ice dip. I did end up seeing the Northern Lights in Levi the next day!

I also really enjoyed a reindeer ride and visiting an ice hotel. Oh, and you can also visited Santa Clause Village and cross the arctic circle! Where else in the world can you do these things?

The only thing I missed was sleeping in an glass igloo hotel, which I plan to return for one day!

Related: Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

4. Japan

My favourite destination of 2017 goes to Japan! Japan is like steeping into another world and I definitely experienced the most culture here than any other place in 2017. I’m not usually a big fan of huge capital cities, but Tokyo is certainly an exception.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BTAirXeFk-m/?taken-by=crazytravelista

My senses were constantly stimulated walking around the chaotic yet peaceful city, and I could have spent my entire time in Japan exploring Tokyo and been satisfied. My favourite part was experiencing an owl and cat cafe.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BTSM3-8loG0/?taken-by=crazytravelista

Other favourites included expiring Kyoto (dressing as a geisha is a must), climbing the Fushimi Inari shrine, taking a sushi making class, visiting the Bamboo forest, and walking part of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage route.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BTMOc5hl7lc/?taken-by=crazytravelista

Japan is easily one of my top 5 favourite countries in the world and it’s somewhere I will 100% return to. Japan was the cleanest and most organized country I have ever been with the most respectful people I have ever encountered. If only the rest of the world would follow their lead. 

5. Indonesia

Indonesia was near the top of my bucket list, especially Bali. And boy did it live up to my high expectations. I spent 2 weeks hopping around the islands, swimming with manta rays, snorkelling, surviving the craziest driving on a motorbike ever, chasing waterfalls, frolicking through rice fields, and slurping down smoothie bowls.

Bali is the perfect place to live it up in luxury, for next to nothing in cost. The people were amazing, the temples were grande, and the option for healthy food was endless. What’s not to love about Bali?

https://www.instagram.com/p/BUCT3yBlTb_/?taken-by=crazytravelista

The only thing I missed was Komodo Island and Raja Ampat, which I plan to return to explore some day.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BWVn-8ZFRTi/?taken-by=crazytravelista

If you’re looking for the perfect place to solo travel, Bali is it! I felt safe and welcomed and I would highly recommend it for female travellers. Until next time Bali…

Bali articles:

How to Spend 3 Days in the Nusa Islands (Lembongan, Ceningan, & Penida)

Cute Places to Stay in Bali with Amazing Views for Under $40/night (+ 1 Splurge!)

6. Philippines

When I was younger, my family sponsored 2 Filippino girls who became like family (and lived with us for years). I always wanted to go see where they came from and I finally got the chance this year. With over 7000+ islands to choose from, it was hard to pick where to go. But since Palawan got rated the most beautiful island in the world, I knew I couldn’t miss it.

I spent a week between Coron and El Nido island hopping some of the most beautiful waters I have ever seen. I climbed the most dangerous hike I will ever do at Mt. Taraw and motorbiked around El Nido. I caught some epic sunsets at Las Cabanas and got daily massages.

 

I rented a kayak and paddled out to Bikal Beach on Cadlao Island through a gnarly storm that came out of nowhere (I’m glad I didn’t capsize and lived to tell about it hehe). Palawan was outstanding and gave me just the ideal amount of adventure and relaxation.

 

You can read about my adventures here: Palawan, Philippines | How to Spend 7 Days in Paradise (Coron + El Nido)

7. Colombia

My second trip to South America this year brought me to the super dangerous country of Colombia (extreme sarcasm people). Colombia is such a colourful and vibrant country and I felt completely safe traveling there solo.

My favourite part of Colombia was visiting Tayrona National Park. It’s basically a national park filled with endless gorgeous beaches. You can even rent a hammock and stay the night there if you are into the camping (and spiders) thing. My only regret is that I only spent one day here.

Other highlights included climbing El Peñol for the EPIC views from above and visiting the most colourful city I’ve ever seen in Guatape. Oh, ad you can’t miss the beautiful and lively city of Cartagena. I basically spent all my days eating ceviche and photographing the dreamy colorful balkanise of the city. Colombia quickly became my favourite country in South America!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BVncE3flCvL/?taken-by=crazytravelista

8. Peru

Another top 5 bucket list items was checked on my trip to Peru when I visited Machu Picchu. The long wait was more than worth it and it didn’t let me down one bit! What was even more special is that I miraculously almost had the whole place to myself. What a dream!

I spend 6 days in Cusco and the Sacred Valley constantly being awed of the next site. I attempted and completed the most exhausting hike of my life at Rainbow Mountain (above 17,000 feet altitude).

And to top it off, I enjoyed one of the most scenic train rides I’ve ever taken through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu.Oh, and I ate ceviche just about every day and didn’t feel guilty about it one bit. All in all, Peru was awesome!

Peru article: Peru | Sacred Valley Quick 6-Day Itinerary

9. Jordan

Another “dangerous country” I visited myself this year (sarcasm again people). I want to start by saying that the hospitality I experienced in Jordan was some of the most heart felt i have ever experienced. I felt super welcome and super safe the entire time.

most epic views of Petra

I spent 3 days in Petra and it blew my mind!!! Along with Japan, it was my favourite destination of 2017. I felt like Indiana Jones discovering the lost city of Petra and I had so much fun hiking around the city and doing some mini photo shoots.

The highlight for me was Petra by night which was pure MAGIC. If you go to Petra, definitely don’t miss it!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BaeteoEFusq/?taken-by=crazytravelista

My biggest regret about Jordan is not staying longer and exploring more of the country. But it’s just an excuse I will use ti return! Jordan, I love you!

Jordan articles:

The Most Epic Views in Petra (+ how to reach them)

Practical Tips for Visiting Petra (aka “The Important Sh*t You Need to Know”)

10. Oman

Most people I know have never heard of Oman and/or don’t know where it is on a map. And this is exactly why I wanted to visit! For the few people I knew who have visited, I have never heard a bad thing about the country.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Barav40FT01/?taken-by=crazytravelista

The main attraction for me is all the Wadis in Oman. Think a desert oasis with a bright green body of water in the middle, lined with palm trees. It was like a mirage, but in real life. Oman was amazing and I had the best time renting a car and driving around to find new places. The Omani people were very kind and I felt right at home in this beautifully untouched Middle Eastern country. I highly recommend you visit soon before it becomes super touristy.


So What’s In Store for CrazyTravelista in 2018?

Well, let’s just say that 2018 is going to be the year of GROUP TRIPS and I’m super excited about it! I have 4 trips planned so far to Lofoten Islands (Norway), Croatia, Banff, and Iceland. The Norway trip is tentatively filled, but keep a look out very soon for details on Croatia, Banff, and Iceland. So excited to meet like-minded travellers!

In terms of solo travel, I have my eye on some places that I’m hoping to get to this year. But as always, who knows if I will actually make it to all these places.

CrzayTravelista’s 2018 Travel Wishlist

  • Sri Lanka
  • Myanmar
  • Bhutan
  • Hong Kong
  • HaLong Bay, Vietnam
  • Patagonia
  • Iguazu Falls
  • Rio de Janeiro
  • Sicily, Italy
  • Georgia (country)
  • Banff
  • Malaysia
  • Faroe Islands
  • Back to Albania

Looks like I have lots of planning to do! Cheers to 2018!

What are You Travel Wishes for 2018?

 

Chasing the Northern Lights in Tromsø (+Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips)

Chasing the Northern Lights in Tromsø (+Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips)

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.

Tromsø Friluftsenter

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.

Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips

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.

Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips

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.

Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips

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).

Photographing the Northern Lights

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.

Never gets old 😍(p.s. look at alll the stars! ) #northernlights #auroraborealis #tromsø #visitnorway #tromsøfriluftsenter #sonya6000

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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 stop). The wider the aperture (i.e. the lower the F stop number) the better for night shots.

  • Put on Manual Focus (MF)-to prevent blur. Activate screen of camera and zoom in to set it. Use infinity “∞” symbol on camera if you have 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).

Camera: you don’t need a fancy DSLR, a mirror-less camera will do. I used my Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera with 16-50mm Power Zoom Lens

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

Travel Tripod:  Fortunately they lent us tripods for the tour, so I left mine behind. But this is the super lightweight one I usually travel with: AmazonBasics 50-Inch Lightweight Tripod with Bag

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.

Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips

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.

Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips

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!

The Verdict

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!

Click photo to PIN for later♥

Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips