A Year in Travel: 2018 Travel Highlights

A Year in Travel: 2018 Travel Highlights. Pin Me!

A Year in Travel: 2018 Travel Highlights. Pin Me!

When life is busy and the days just roll into each other, it is hard to realise the milestones and the achievements that we have done. I had to sit with myself and scroll through my calendar to pin point when I traveled and what locations I actually managed to see. This whole year I kept feeling that I haven’t been travelling as much, but that sit down and look at the destinations made me realise that in fact I have been to five new countries with minimal prior planning and on a budget, which instantly lifted my spirit and reminded me of all my blessings.

If you are a reader of the monthly travel newsletter than you have already received my 2018 travel highlights, but I though it will also be good to have a more in depth blog post about the reasons behind my travels in 2018 and why they are much less than they were in 2017 .

March Travels - Lithuania

My travels in 2018 did not start till March this year because I travelled right up to the end of December the prior year, where I said goodbye to 2017 with a beautiful women only retreat in Morocco. So I wanted to be home in London to just start the year with some extra savings and to get work done before I jet off. For March, B and I travelled to Lithuania and although it was five days, it went by very quickly. I was very impressed with all the things the capital, Vilnius had to offer and would love to go again to explore the areas around it. I also enjoyed learning about the Islamic heritage of Lithuania. It was very cold in March too, which was nice! I like a little bit of winter destinations because they have their own charm.

Vilnius Three Day Itinerary (Muslim Friendly guide to Vilnius)

On the frozen Lake in Lithuania

You can also watch the two videos I made from the Lithuania trip:

April Travels

2017 summer, I went to Portugal for the first time and I absolutely loved it, so when I had the chance to work with a yoga and surfing retreat there I had to jump at the chance. I also couldn’t go all the way without exploring a few more cities since I am there and all! That turned into a ten day trip into the beautiful Algarve. The videos of that trip will make an appearance in 2019.

Ten Days Itinerary to the Algarve, South Portugal

Beaches and Cliffs in Algarve

May Travels

I have been waiting for the right time to go to Montenegro for about two years, so I get myself organised early in the year and found a very affordable tickets to go. It was a short trip of four days and I tried to make the most of every minute, but it was barely enough to see that little gem of a country.

Two Days in Kotor, Montenegro

One day itinerary in Podgorica, Montenegro

Hijab and Muslims in Montenegro

You can watch my two videos about my four days in Montenegro here as well.

June Travels

Ramadan, the holy month of Islamic fast, fell between May and June this year. The time of year changes based on the moon movement and other calculation. The summer fast is always a struggle and it’s too long to be fasted in the UK, so it’s my favourite time of the year to go be with my Saudi family. I was fed so much though. I am still trying to lose that weight that I gained then!

15 things to know about Ramadan in Saudi

After the Eid celebrations in Saudi, I got back to London and it was a busy summer in the city, struggling with the London heat, teaching art classes and doing some university work. I also don’t love travelling in July and August since it’s the school holidays and most destinations are over priced and over crowded.

Ramadan in Saudi

September Travels

The September trip didn’t take me very far, but it was a nice city break to Belfast in Northern Ireland. I have been living in England for eight years and I haven’t been to the closest places around me. I am slowly trying to change that and there was a reason I couldn’t resist, which was the power of video conference about video making and succeeding as a YouTuber. It was so inspiring and I really loved the nature around Belfast. It was a nice little break.

Weekend in Belfast (First Timer Guide to Belfast) - Halal Edition

September in Belfast

October Travels

This trip happened between the end of September and the very start of October when the weather was still nice in Europe. It was much colder than expected, but it was manageable. B and I went to Tallinn, Estonia and hopped to Helsinki, Finland for the day. It was another five day trip that went by way too fast! I liked the mix of styles in Tallinn that had a touch of Russia and a touch of the Nordic.

Botanical Gardens in Tallinn

You can watch the videos from Tallinn and Helsinki below as well:

November Travels

November was going to be a work month and to tempt myself to work I already set myself a reward trip to Cyprus in December, but life is never as we plan. Not mine anyway. My grandfather got really sick and I had to go back home to Saudi before he goes into a very critical surgery. Unfortunately his health got even worse and he passed away. So my November turned out to be a sad travel month. Living abroad means sudden travels in such cases. I am thankful I went earlier in the year back to Saudi, when he was well to spend more time with him. I didn’t have the heart after that to go Cyprus. He will be greatly miss. The pain of losing a loved one will never be fully gone, but he will be in my heart forever. May God bless his soul.

East Saudi - Cemetery

A note before you go, I know packaging my year like this with highlighting my travels make me sound like the happiest and luckiest person in the world, but you have to know that I am just like you with lots of downs and struggles as well. I am still very thankful and aware of my privilege. A lot of it was on an obtainable budget and most of the posts I have written tell you exactly how much I spent, so take a look at that and hopefully you will be able to travel much more in the new year!

More posts from the blog:

Best Travel Vlogging Camera

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Last year, I wrote about the Canon vlogging camera I swear by and use for all my travels. Almost an exact year ago actually! I used my previous camera, Canon G7X, for two years and it is still functioning well, but my needs as a vlogger developed the more I created travel content and I felt that it was time to upgrade. Canon has released the EOS M50 in March and after reading about it and watching the available video reviews, I decided to go ahead and get it to improve my filming game.   

Travel Vlogging Camera requirements: 

Most of my videos are about my travels and explorations around the world, so I have a set of requirement that any camera of mine should have. These are my own personal choices that I feel help me with videos. 

  • I wanted something light and compact.
    My second camera that I ever bought back in 2013/14 was the Nikon D7100. Although the quality was fantastic, the heavy camera meant that I hardly use it. It was also big and bulky.
  • A Camera that Can go without notice.
    I travel a lot of places solo and I didn't want to be a target because of my big fancy camera. My big DSLR has always given me the wrong kind of attention and with a little mirrorless camera it wasn't a problem. People only notice it when I add the mic, but I take lots of footage especially in crowded places without it!
  • Flip Screen is a MUST
    As a vlogger, I HAVE to talk to the camera and see myself to make sure I am presentable and more importantly "in focus". Pervious Canon cameras that had a mic input, had the screen flip where the mic would go. Although I watched lots of hack videos that work around this issue, I feel like the flip screen possibilities in the M50 are much better especially that I can close the screen so it doesn't get so scratched up!  
  • Mic Input NEEDS to be there
    This was my biggest issue to change the whole camera. Having a real mic seriously makes a difference to the audio quality and now with the light Rode mic (pictured below) this doesn't have to be a heavy set up at all!  
  • Camera with Great Quality  
    Good video quality is essential if all you are creating is video and I love the colour that Canon gives me and the over all quality. 

The Canon EOS M50 ticked all my boxes and I made the decision to get it and I can already see the difference and hoping that you can too! I know I sound like an advert, but when you spend nearly £700, you make sure you love that product already before investing! 

Below are some unedited photo examples from the Canon EOS M50:

Added bonus of the EOS M50: The viewfinder!! Which means I don't always have to flip my screen and waste the battery life to take photos. Also I can switch up the lenses! I don't think I would any time soon, but planning on that for next year!

Featured Gadgets: 

If you are planning to buy any of the mentioned products and my review has helped you, please consider buying them through my affiliate links below. These links will give me a little commission with no extra cost to you. This commission helps me maintain the blog and supports the content. Thank you for your support! 

Canon EOS M50 unboxing and test video: 

Over to you: what do you think of the Canon EOS M50? And what would you say a very important requirement to you in terms of travel vlogging? 

Travel Photography and Videography Books: 

More posts you might like: 

Travel Blogging is harder than you think and here's why

Travel Blogging is harder than you think and here's why

What does it really take to become a successful travel blogger generating an income? By Income I mean enough money for the basic living expenses: rent, bills, food on the table and more travel. Some people actually do that, which makes it even more tempting to make it as a successful blogger. The longer I am in the travel blogging field, the more I realise how difficult it really is. I have been a travel blogger seriously since 2015 and I am still not living off my blog. I did however get very rewarding opportunities that I wouldn't have if it wasn't for travel blogging, such as, the collaboration with Skyscanner and Philadelphia Arabia (yup the cheese company). I also got to work with small, local business in the countries I travelled to. These perks are very encouraging and keep me going. However, it is still really difficult to make a consistent income to fully support myself. Travel blogging in general is very difficult and have many sides to it that are not apparent to most people who are not blogging themselves.   

In this post, I want to tell you about the reality of travel blogging. 

There are two parts to this: the visible part that you can see on this blog and the invisible part that you probably don't know much about unless you blog professionally yourself. Don't get me wrong, this post is not a rant about travel blogging, it's about the reality of travel blogging that people might not fully be aware of. In fact, I myself as a travel blogger was not aware of all these points and considerations until I made the decision that I want my blog to generate an income! I thought it was just a matter of going on a trip and writing about it, but it's much bigger than that. 

Part One: Visible Blogging Work

The visible side of travel blogging is what we get envied for. People see this side: a blogger on a trip, laughing in their photos, exploring gorgeous destinations and having lots of fun. This is true. This happens. This is the whole point of this new field that emerged in the past ten years. There are three main visible parts in a blogger's life: their fun trip, the blog post they have written and all the social media sharing.

Going on a Trip

The best part about being a travel blogger is going on a trip! After going on a few international trips and living abroad for years, I decided to blog about my travels to share stories, advice and inspire. Exploring the world is truly magical and my only regret is not travelling enough previously and not taking all travel chances I had. Being away "on holiday" is what people notice the most and that's the most visible. 

Writing a Post

This is what people expect from you as a travel blogger and rightly so. This is also what people get to see. This written documentation is the evidence. The spoken writing style of my blog make people think that it is very easily done. 

Promoting on Social Media

It feels like this is the only thing people see from travel bloggers. The pretty photos we post on Facebook and Instagram. Some bloggers actually make their income by being visual ambassadors for companies, but that's only a very small percentage of travel bloggers. 

Part Two: Invisible Blogging Work

This is the part that most people are not aware of. The part that really exhusts me. This is why I am busy all the time and why I stay home when I am not travelling. When I tell people that I have a lot of work to do, they are always puzzled and I get comments like: "what do you mean? Didn't you just write about your last trip?"

Take a look at my humble Travel Blogging Posts Checklist to see what I mean by all the invisable blogging work. All the details are below the photo! 

Travel Blogging Checklist

Emailing Companies

Emailing companies is the first thing I do while I am planning a trip. As a full time student and a part time blogger/vlogger, the finances are usually very limited. So, I contact companies, accommodations and tour operators in the destination I intend to visit to provide them with services and marketing options. This takes a lot of prior planning and can be soul sucking! I don't do it as much now because it requires a huge amount of work and sometimes all of that work is not appreciated. It also turns the holiday into a work venture because you will be required to record everything, promote it on social media instantly and later on and photograph everything. It gets really intense and I end up with only a little time for myself. This is also dependent on the company. Sometimes they are such a joy to work with, but other times they get too much.  

Documenting The Trip

This could be part of the visible part of blogging because people see some of the documentation on social media. For example, I usually post one or two photos on instagram daily during my trip with some highlights and a location. Off the social, I document everything there is to know about that location and place because when I write about it later I want to have every possible info to help my readers. This is basically travel journalism and since this was not what I studied in university (I studied/studying design hence the Designer Esra name), I have to really prove myself even more. 

How to Be A Travel Writer (Lonely Planet)
By Lonely Planet, Don George

Editing Photos  

Photos are a huge part of blogging. They are just more enticing. Imagine a post with photos verses one without. Personally I am put off by websites that hardly have any pictures. I like to see the place I am going to! I use the photos I take in the cover for the post, in the content and on social media. 

I usually take lots of photos to edit after every trip! Let me give you an example, on my two-week trip to Iran, I took over five thousand photos! I am not even exaggerating. Editing all of them was not an easy task. I ended up reducing that number to 100 because my blog would have exploded if I uploaded all of the photos I took. That 100 was divided on various travel posts though. 

Ps. I use Adobe Lightroom CC to edit all my video. Check out their packages.

Editing Videos

I also do vlogs, which means double the work! I don't make it easy for myself now do I? Editing video can be a lot of fun, but it is the longest process ever especially that I am teaching myself as I go along! I can easily spend 16hours on a 4minute video. Shocking, but 100% true! I use Adobe Premier Pro, which is really helpful. I love Adobe products because I use them all the time for my design work, so trying the Premier Pro was an good transition. I watch a lot of Youtube videos to help me figure out the settings and edits. I feel like I am improving slowly. I think even if you go to film school, you will take a while to get the hang of it and develop your style. 

Ps1. I use Adobe Premiere Pro CC to edit all my video. Check out their packages.

Ps2. If you are interested in becoming a travel vlogger, you might find the how to become a travel vlogger online course useful. It is run by two of my favourite travel Youtuber: Hey Nadine and Kristin Sarah. I would only recommend the course for beginners. If you have previous video experience and you have done so much research then you would have most likely already come across most of the content.

Read: The Vlogging Camera I swear by (Review for Canon G 7X)

Creating Social Media Content

With every blog I write, I have to have at least one pin-able photo (like the one at the start of this post), which means creating something like a poster that has an attractive photo related to the subject plus a written title for Pinterest, which is considered a really good visual search engine. I use Canva for that. It's a free website that requires signing up. It's really good because they have the exact sizes for everything and it's super easy to use. Alternatively you can use Photoshop or Illustrator. 

There are also the other social media outlets like twitter, instagram and Facebook. Each is slightly different, which means creating something for each is not the same. Not to mention all the engagement you have to do with others to notice you as well!    

Blog post Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) 

Now that I have followed the list above and prepared everything: the information, the photos, the poster and the video in some cases, I am ready to write the post. For years I have been writing useful travel advice posts with high quality photos, but I have only realised recently that my website traffic is so low! I thought that was because I was still new to the game, but it turns out, my blog lacked good keywords that optimise search engines! I even did a little test for a post I wrote about clothing in Iran. The previous title was "Outfits I wore in Iran" and had zero search. Literally, no one looked up that term. So, I spent three hours revamping that post using the suggested and searched terms. I changed it to "Iran Women's Clothing + What to wear when visiting Iran" and that is preforming much better. I find the SEO to be the hardest thing about blogging. SEO is crucial for travel blogs and anything written online. This is basically what makes strangers on the internet find you! Otherwise your blog will only be visited by family and friends forever. 

The tool I currently use to help me find searched-for keywords is called Key Search and I pay for it monthly. It is kind of easy compared to other tools, but learning it is still hard and needs lots of focus! Here's a very useful blog post from Digital Nomad Wannabe that tell you about everything you need to know when it comes to Keywords.

Adding Affiliate links

One of the way to make an income from blogging is to share affiliate links meaning links to products or services that you endorse resulting in a very small percentage. For example, I am an affiliate to a number of companies like Amazon, Adobe, ShopStyle and a few others. Although, I want people to use my links so I make that tiny percentage, I am always aware of what I am telling people. I am very honest in my reviews and opinions. When I usually hate something I don't even mention it on my website unless I am warning people against it. So, after I write my post or during writing, I find ways to add these links in a "natural way".    

Read: How to Monetise Your Travel Blog?

An extra step must be considered if adding affiliate links: the nofollow link. Again something I only recently learnt about and it's causing me a lot of pain to go back to all my previous posts to fix. There are many tips about this subject, so a quick search online will tell you all you need to know. This is very important otherwise Google gets annoyed with me and my site gets blocked.

Ps1. If you want add a nofollow link on SquareSpace (the platform I use for this website), then use the markdown block and this: <a href="the affiliate link" rel="nofollow">Name/Sponsor/title </a>

Ps2. To avoid adding nofollow links on SquareSpace, use the Amazon block instead, but make sure you enter your Amazon ID in the external links in the settings, so you can get the rewards.  

I also add Google AdSense inside the posts and other types of affiliates in the side bar and within posts in the hopes of generating an income. The money I made so far using every possible affiliate is below $25 -before you start thinking I am making a crazy amount of cash-.

Working really hard and getting such a little financial return is not too fun and sometimes very discouraging. I have to remind myself that I am blogging to share my tips and routes rather than to make money. Although, some money is always nice because we need it to stay alive! 

Blogtacular 2015 Official Photos by Piers MacDonald. Thanks Mollie Makes

Blogtacular 2015 Official Photos by Piers MacDonald. Thanks Mollie Makes

Sharing on the web

After following all the checklist above, you now have some content. As Sharon says (the lady behind Digital Nomad Wannabe) says: Content is king, but market is queen. So, marketing the post is a MUST! It's not as simple as tweeting a link or posting it on Facebook and Instagram, but this also means finding Facebook groups and communities that care about your content or want to exchange shares. For example, I am part of Blogtacular and everyone shares a new blog post every Monday. I am also part of Female Travel Bloggers and participate in their #BlogPostSaturday. These are the two specific FB groups designed for bloggers that I use. I am also part of three other female travel groups -that are not for bloggers- for any female traveller. I frequently check them and respond to other members who are looking for advice and posts about certain destinations such as Muslimahs Who Travel, Girls vs Globe and Girls Love Travel

Why am I still a travel blogger even with all of these difficulties? 

The short answer is I really enjoy all the aspects of travel blogging and the travel blogging community and TRAVELLING! 

Yes some parts can be tedious and difficult, but I don't mind doing them as long as I see the result and impact of that. Every time I get a positive comment from a fellow female traveller who was inspired, I get a kick of happiness and a sense of purpose. I love it more when people use my practical tips and find them really helpful! I find travel blogging rewarding and enjoyable. 

Blogtacular 2015 Official Photos by Piers MacDonald. Thanks Mollie Makes  Spot the green scarf that's me!!

Blogtacular 2015 Official Photos by Piers MacDonald. Thanks Mollie Makes
Spot the green scarf that's me!!

Useful resources to make your blogging journey easier: 

  • Digital Nomad Wannabe
    This website and Facebook group have been really helpful
  • Video Influencers
    I have learnt so much from this Youtube channel. Their advice and useful tip are wonderful not to mention FREE!
  • Blogtacular
    They really helped me and started me on the right path of blogging. 

Another amazing resource is other bloggers. Make sure you go to blogging events and make blogging friends. I learnt so much from my friends plus they make blogging an even more fun field to work in!

Over to you: Are you a travel blogger? What are the hardest things you face while blogging? Do you have any tips to make the process easier? Even if you aren't a travel blogger, feel free to leave some feedback in the comments below!  

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small commission. This helps support the blog and allows me to continue to make posts like this. Thank you for the support! 

How to take pictures of yourself when travelling solo 

How to take pictures of yourself when travelling solo.jpg

I am very excited for you that you are taking a trip solo! And pictures are really important! Even if you don't like your photo taken, it's really nice to have a few pictures just to remind yourself of the trip and to share with your friends and family. We all appreciate a good view but when you are in it, it's more personal and truly yours. You might have wondered how can solo travel instagrammers take pictures of themselves. It's actually not too hard! The photo below was taken by myself in Sri Lanka

Here are the four tricks I regularly use!

1- Mini Tripod and Timer

I use the Joby tripods because they are so versatile and can be twisted and places in random spots. I think most cameras would have a timer. Look into how to set that before you trip! You don't want to be fiddling with your camera and figuring that out on the spot. 10 seconds is the most common time, but you can set the duration. Possibly 20 seconds so you don't have to run to the spot. 

Ps1. You can do that on your phone too! 

Ps2. You can take a proper tripod with you if you like but that might be too heavy to carry. 

How to take pictures of yourself when travelling solo 

2- Remote shooting

This is done by connecting your wifi enabled camera with a phone application and using your phone as a remote. If your camera doesn't have an app from the manufacturer then it might be worth purchasing a remote. I absolutely love this feature on my Canon G7x and its own app Canon Camera Connect. I can see the photos on my phone before shooting as well!  

How to take pictures of yourself when travelling solo 

3- Selfie stick

I know. You probably know that, but just in case! It looks slightly funny, but everyone is doing it now it became very normal. I actually use a selfie stick for my travel vlogger rather than still photos! Just like the two photos below!  

4- Asking others

You can start this conversation by asking others if they want their photo taken then ask nicely for them to do the same. Everyone loves that! You can ask them straight if they would take yours and offer to take their as an appreciation token. Sometimes people just offer when they see me struggle setting the tripod and timer. 

Over to you: Which of the tricks above do you use to take your own travel photos? And do you have any other ways I haven't mentioned? Share away! 

Relevant posts: 


Making the most of Instagram stories

Instagram stories have been the highlight for a few months now. When Instagram came out with that new feature, many resisted because it was a rip off of snapchat. I really wanted to stand by Snapchat and just ignore the Instagram stories, but I couldn't! The appeal of them was too strong and my audience is much bigger on Instagram. The thing I like the most in the Insta stories is the option to see who exactly is viewing the stories and seeing their interests and profiles. A few features have been added a few weeks ago such as the location and the hashtags. Those two have really helped me reach to more people that I thought I was losing!

I found five useful ways for using Instagram stories and I thought you might make a use of them too!  

1- Post something on your story at least once a day

With the very annoying algorithm of Instagram that makes you see only the people and the posts it thinks you are interested in, I stopped seeing many posts from the 850 people I follow. When the stories pop up on the top of the page, I remember those people exist.  I see the stories of people I haven't seen in my feeds in ages, which is good because then I click on their profiles and find that I haven't even seen their last 10 photos! My insta story views are significantly higher than my post likes. The most likes I have been getting lately on my travel instagram is 150, but my story views reach to over 400, which is massive to me! 

Ps. Don't over share though. The more stories you have, the more people you will loose. 

Impression of Instagram Stories
Instagram Story Viewers

2- Make it interesting

The Instagram stories need a little more thought unlike snapchat. Some avid instagrammers even go to the lengths of editing videos with an editing software such as Premier pro to create a much more engaging story. You can certainly do that, but you can also be interesting without spending too much time on there. I especially love the Boomerang option! It only needs a slight movement and it gives more life. I generally prefer sharing videos on insta stories and keep the good photos for the feed. Another thing people seem to enjoy is process! My art instagram gets so much love when I share a process for a new piece of art. I also get more views and engagement out of that. 

3- Add a location

One of the coolest, newest things about the Instagram stories is the public story based on a location. All you have to do is to take a photo or a video then add the location and Instagram will automatically add you to the public story. I am not sure what's the reasoning behind who gets shown or not, but it's really cool when it happens. I got 100 views once from a specific London location. This also means that your story will show up (for 24 hours) when someone is searching the chosen location.   

4- Add a hashtag

A hashtag is the key to be found on Instagram and I am so excited that Instagram has added this to the story features. I have been using relevant popular tags and it's been working. For example, I used #Ramadan2017 a few times this month since I know many people are looking it up. I got a good amount of views just out of adding that. Instagram tells you how many views you are getting from a specific location or a hashtag. Worth adding for sure! 

Instagram Stories Hashtags

5- Call to action

Call to Action on Instagram

This is what makes your story shift from an individual's point of view to an engaging story. Talk to your viewers. Don't only give them orders to check links, but also attempt to have a conversation. Ask about their days, favourite activities and recommendation. It's fun to see what people have to say and it gives you a more personal view of your followers and their interests. I posted once asking people if they are interested in visiting unusual locations like Uzbekistan and after few minutes I got five responses from people who were intrigued. Not many, but it's still something!  

More Instagram posts that you might like: 

Instagram Tips and Highlights from Polkadots Passport

Instagram shadowban and how to get around it

Instagram Fully Explained 

Instagram as a Research Tool

Over to you: Do you have any ways to use the Insta stories to their fullest potential?