Hey guys! I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday. Today I want to introduce you to Silvia from Heart My Backpack. She’s a recent addition to my Bloglovin’ but easily a new favorite. Her posts are always varied and unexpected (no trite top 10 lists here), and her effortless humor and truly off-the-beaten-path travel tales keep me wanting more.
Occupation: Freelance travel writer
Hometown: Worcester, MA USA
Residence: I’m usually somewhere in Asia, the Middle East, or Europe!
Country count: 63
Favorite city: My top five are Munich, Bangkok, Tokyo, Tehran, and Dushanbe.
Favorite museum: Don’t tell the grown-ups, but I sort of hate museums.
Favorite blog(s): I read tons of travel blogs, but I also really love Norwegian fashion blogs, particularly Ulrikke Lund, Cath in the City, and Nette Nestea. Their photos are always so beautiful, plus reading them helps me brush up on my Norwegian! (Language nerd tip: I’ve found reading foreign blogs to be super helpful when studying a language, because they’re usually written in a very colloquial way). [Editor’s note- couldn’t agree more!]
Favorite hostel: Sakura Guest House in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Favorite hotel: Bø Hotel in Telemark, Norway. My grandparents built it so I’m totally biased!
Favorite piece of street art (with a photo!): This is no secret, but Malaysia’s Georgetown has some seriously amazing street art.
Your parents are from Norway, right? How has having two nationalities (and two passports!) changed your travels? And are you fluent in Norwegian?
Yes! Well, my mother is from Norway and my dad is from Kentucky. I do speak Norwegian, but I’m pretty sure it sounds a little special, ha. Having two passports has been incredibly helpful for traveling, especially as many Asian visas are a lot more expensive for U.S. citizens than Norwegians. My Norwegian passport also allowed me to visit Iran independently this past spring. I simply got a visa on arrival at the airport, whereas Americans are only granted visas when traveling as part of an official tour. I may also have used my two passports to get around recent visa run crackdowns in Thailand…
So you started out blogging at theroamingcoconuts.com. Why did you make the jump to having your own personal blog? What are the differences in running your own blog vs. running one with someone else?
I started blogging with my friend Danielle when we set out on a 5-month trip across Asia a year and a half ago. It was a lot of fun writing posts together, though we also had to make many compromises. At the end of the trip we decided to go our separate ways (I wanted to head to the Middle East while she was dreaming of Africa), so I decided to start Heart My Backpack. At first I was really embarrassed to have my own blog because I’m a fairly introverted and private person, but I quickly got over that and grew to love the freedom of blogging on my own!
I read you backpacked solo through Iran- that’s incredible. Can you tell us a little more insight on that?
It’s funny that my posts about Iran get the most attention on my blog, because while that trip was definitely life-changing, it was also one of my trips that I’ve put this least amount of planning into. Some of the travelers I met in Central Asia had passed through Iran, and all of them raved about the country, particularly how welcoming the locals were. Based on those stories, I decided to only organize my first two nights of Couchsurfing in Iran and let my hosts help me plan the rest of my two weeks when I arrived. It worked out perfectly!
Through Couchsurfing I met an Iranian student for lunch, and she decided to take time off work to go to Isfahan, Iran’s “culture capital,” with me. After our trip Mina took me back to her family’s home in Tehran to celebrate the Persian New Year, and then we somehow managed to convince her parents to let us visit her (secret) boyfriend near the Iraqi border in Kurdistan. It was amazing to get to travel with a local like that, in particular because Mina had never had the opportunity to travel to these places either, so we were discovering the country together. I could go on and on about Iran (and have on my blog) but what stood out most to me was how unbelievably welcoming everyone was there.
You’ve been to some seriously off-the-grid destinations: Oman, Georgia, rural China. What offbeat travel destination do we all need to visit in 2015?
Central Asia! Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in particular totally blew me away, and I cannot understand how they aren’t flooded with tourists. Maybe because “stan” is in their names? They’re ideal backpacker destinations: super cheap with dramatic landscapes, welcoming locals, and a plethora of opportunities for unique cultural experiences like drinking fermented mare’s milk in a yurt, as well as outdoor adventures like hiking, horse treks, mountaineering, and skiing.
I want your hair- it’s always so perfect! How do you keep it so well-groomed on the road? And how do you stay so blonde?
Haha wow, after such a compliment I almost don’t want to admit that I’m a total slob about my hair. I guess I’m lucky that it’s fine and straight, because at least it looks pretty tame most of the time, though I would LOVE to have thick, dark curls instead. I like to keep my hair long while traveling, because when it’s dirty and barely brushed I tell myself it looks “hippie-chic,” whereas my hair always needs a bit of styling when it’s short. And I’m naturally blonde, so the more I’m in the sun the lighter it gets. Though I have to say, my blonde hair and height (I’m 5’9) have made me feel like quite the freak during my past four years in Asia!
You’ve written before about how you weren’t huge on Vietnam. I found this interesting because you’re a self-proclaimed foodie, just like me! What were your feelings on Vietnam?
Honestly, I think my problems with Vietnam mostly came down to a matter of poor timing. When I got to Hanoi, I had just spent four months traveling through Western China and the Stans, so returning to the backpacker trail was a bit of a shock. I had forgotten what it was like to be in a country whose economy depends so much on tourism, and how much that can affect the dynamic between locals and tourists. Seeing so many young backpackers drunkenly confronting locals and sunbathers buying coconuts from old Vietnamese women while only wearing a thong and nipple pasties was just all a bit much for me at the time! But the food was amazing, and I would love to return one day and explore less touristed areas of the country.
And speaking of food, where are some of your favorite food destinations?
These ones are obvious, but India, Japan, and Thailand! I also really loved the food I ate in Western China, and the Balkans have amazing seafood and vegetables, as well as seriously delicious, dirt cheap wine!
Your blog is so funny. How do you infuse your posts with a sense of humor?
I think people just never take my blog seriously. Like that time I tried to post a super helpful guide to photography and everyone commented saying my tips were “hilarious.” Rude! Haha no, I guess I also can’t manage to take my blog very seriously; everything seems to come out a little tongue-in-cheek.
You’ve worked as an English teacher before. Which countries and how did you like it?
I taught English in Japan for two years. I wrote a post about it here, but long story short, I pretty much hated it.
And the quintessential question. Besides English teaching, how do you afford a life of travel?
Actually in my case there isn’t really a “besides English teaching.” I saved around $44,000 in Japan and, two and half years later, I’m still living off of those savings. I’ve written more about how here. I have started making some money writing travel articles, but over the next year I’ll definitely need to come up with a more serious income strategy.
And on a less serious note- how did you think of your Taylor Swift Halloween costume? Because that is possibly the best Halloween costume idea ever.
Please Ashley, as if I’m going to admit to all your readers that I’m secretly a huge Taylor Swift fan.
So let’s hear it! Anything else you want to know about Silvia?
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Want to be featured in my monthly blogger spotlight? Get in touch and we’ll talk!
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