Monthly Archive: April 2016

What do you do?

It’s a totally normal question, but I feel it comes with some weight in my present life. “What do you do in Scotland?” I always assume it initially means, “Why do you live in Scotland” and the easy, normal response is, “My husband’s work brought us out there.” Maybe, or maybe not a follow up with what he does. Then there’s the variety of follow-up questions from “Are you working there?”, “What do you do all day?”, “Do you have kids?”, and “So what do you do all day?”

I know these are probably innocent enough questions, and I’m probably more sensitive to them from my vast amount of time unemployed mixed with a preconceived idea that a housewife without babies sits around and eats bon-bons all day. Back when I was not-totally-intentionally unemployed, my life wasn’t glamorous in the fact that I was actually dedicating about 6-8 hours a day job searching, applying, and interviewing…. but of course it did have a lot of extra padded time for the gym and meeting for lunch. But people always asked, “Aren’t you getting bored?” No. I never got bored. There’s always stuff to do and fill the time productively.

But it seems from my encounters, people have a really hard time imagining how they would spend their time if not slaving to the man or changing diapers. I don’t really get it because isn’t that all what we’re working towards…getting out of the grind? Well I’m out baby, and this is how I spend my time.


Horsey selfie.

I do work. Just a wee bit. I have two clients whom I manage their social media and create content. So that’s creating a two week calendar every week, scheduling all the posts, responding to consumers throughout the day, writing blog posts, and a once a week call with my employers. I also work Friday mornings at the stables I ride at in exchange for a lesson, because as it turns out, horseback riding is an expensive hobby. This is not easy work as it turns out…. filling and hanging about 60 hay nets and 30 water buckets, grooming and tacking up the school horses, sweeping the yard, etc.

Speaking of horses…beyond my stable job, I spend a lot of other time horsing around. I volunteer every Tuesday with the Riding for the Disabled Association (The RDA) for about 3-6 hours (depending on need). I take 2-3 riding lessons a week, and take a night class for a general certificate of Horse Care on Thursday nights. The class is two hours long and an hour away. So that’s a pretty large chunk of time where I’m busy and smell like horseshit.

For the last year and a half I also volunteered on the board for the American Woman’s Association. This commitment was 3 Wednesday’s a month: a board meeting, a general meeting, and my position, hosting/welcoming newbies to Aberdeen for a coffee.

Then all my other hobbies: book club, golf lessons every week, actually going out and golfing, running/working out/training for stuff, planning travel and holidays (more time than always anticipated), writing personal blog posts, entertaining guests, meeting friends for coffee and/or lunch, staying in contact with friends stateside, attempting to sew, taking pictures of sheep and coos, and walking my dog an hour, if not two hours every day.

How appropriate...our bookclub book for the month.

How appropriate…our bookclub book for the month.

I might also spend a fair bit of time trying to get Stella to pose for pictures.

I might also spend a fair bit of time trying to get Stella to pose for pictures.












These coo pictures won't take themselves.

These coo pictures won’t take themselves.

Walking Stella is such a chore.

Walking Stella is such a chore.

Leaving the last bit that takes up my time…. Domestic Goddess/Manager of the Fellowship of the Babcock duties. I meal plan for the week, grocery shop and cook. I clean…not well or consistently, but it’s there! I fight with the gym to change membership rates, waste hours rearranging my day for a plumber that never shows, figure out the process of renewing car tax, sort out the weird expenses and bills we still have in the states, help my mother book her travel/figure out instagram, and engage with the neighbors. Phew.

AND. I tend to average about 8 ½-9 hours of sleep a night. WINNING.

So for the past (nearly!) 2 years…that’s what I’ve been up to. It’s a tough life I lead, but have faith I’m never bored and always well rested. Unless we have a 6 am flight…

Friday Faves 4.22

Well, I was sorta hoping for another real blog post…. but it would be about my injuries and I’m hoping to know more next week and I don’t really feel like dwelling on what I am assuming is wrong with me. So instead- my Friday Faves!

    This is our first halloween together in 2005.

    This is our first halloween together in 2005.  Of course this picture is a) before digital cameras and b) framed in my house.  

    Especially my favorite Prince song, preformed with the Muppets.

  1. My new favorite breakfast. An instant packet of Quaker Apples & Cranberries porridge with a dollop of Rachel’s Organic Apples & Cinnamon Greek yogurt. Yum. And the extra protein keeps me going longer.273923011_0_640x640
  2. Reflexology. And even more so, friends that are getting trained in reflexology which results in me getting free treatments as she practices. Unfortunately it’s hasn’t healed my shoulder, hip, tailbone…but I’m sleeping better and it definitely makes me less stressed. And who doesn’t want a two-hour foot rub with some gal chat. Now I just need friends who are working on getting certified in massage, acupuncture, nail tech, and physical therapy….
  1. Ginger Beer. I consider myself a connoisseur of ginger beer and the best hand’s down is Old Jamaica.

5.  Shake Shack. I only took a snapchat so it’s disappeared into the vast Internet space never to be found again. But was able to nip down to London to see my BFF (of my entire life) while she visited her in-laws. And I had to demand some American goodness for lunch. Cheeseburger, cheese fries, and a vanilla milkshake. We did walk about 15K steps and I needed an American fix dang it!



Hmmmm….lot of foodie things today.  Probably a sign to get back on my diet.  Until next time….have a good weekend and think positive thoughts for me next week as I see doctors on Monday and Tuesday to try to get to the root of all my pain.

Travel Trials & Tribulations

Ask people what they would do if they won the lotto or didn’t have to work anymore and a lot of them would say “travel”. Obviously, there are a lot of great benefits to travel, one of which is it sure isn’t work. It’s easy to think travel is…well easy. The gorgeous photos, the limited mention of funds spent, the adventure…. I totally add to that delusion in my blog posts. So I want to set the record straight. Travel is fantastic, but don’t think everything goes as planned. And I tend to plan EVERYTHING. I’m pretty Type A when it comes to travel with restaurant reservations, itineraries; I even make lists of what I’m wearing on which days. It’s kind of surprising I even like travel…. given that no matter how well you plan, shits going to go wrong.

So, for your amusement, and perhaps a dose of reality, here’s a sampling of the shit that has gone wrong when I’ve traveled.

♠The most recent travel woe was when our flights to Tromso were cancelled, 2 hours before take off. Resulted in an unexpected night over in Oslo, frantic rearranging of our schedule, and E taking an extra day off work. Flexibility is key!

♠The trip right before Tromso, we got to Chamonix and didn’t have any luggage and made a rookie mistake of not having a carry-on bag. Lessons learned!

♠My first trip abroad was to Paris with my parents and friend, who was sustaining off of Coke Light and baguettes. When she finally did brake and need some real food, she ordered a sausage. Once she cut into it, this awful smell hit all of our nostrils. She took a bite and nearly gagged. It took a while, but finally through language barriers, came to find out the sausage was made out of intestines.

♠While driving across Italy, E stalled a car right around a corner from a busy round about. We were all screaming since we were sure a car was going to slam into us…E couldn’t take the pressure and just jumped out of the drivers seat and abandoned us…. In correcting that error (with my brother now driving) we nearly got stuck (literally stuck) in an alleyway. We had to fold in the mirrors and we all held our breath…some guys on the street were nice enough to move ladders, garbage cans, and cats to make sure we could fit through. Come to think of it, there are about 4 other “incidents” with that car in Italy. Let’s just say, we all actually thought we were going to die or have to pay for extreme amounts of damages at least once.

One of the many times we almost we were in Austria, before we got to Italy.

One of the many times we almost died…here we were in Austria, before we got to Italy.

♠Last year we were in Croatia for my birthday. For my day, I planned a nice hike up to a cave. This was on the way to another destination, and so there was only this one-day to do it. Nature had other plans and as soon as we came into the town it started hailing so hard we had to pull over on the way there. We tried to wait it out but after 30 minutes there was no end in sight so we carried on…to celebrate my birthday with (surprisingly good) pizza – that I accidentally dropped half on the floor of the restaurant. Happy 30th.

This is the storm the came in on my birthday in Croatia.

This is the storm the came in on my birthday in Croatia.

♠In high school I had a teacher who had gone to Rome the summer before. It’s all she could talk about and spent a full class in detail of the Vatican, passing around a book and doing a slideshow of her pictures. I was religious (catholic) at the time and I wanted to see the Sistine Chapel more than ANYTHING. Years later when studying abroad in London, I took a trip to Rome with a guy I hardly knew (un-romantic) who was a huge douche bag. We stayed at an awful hostel, got lost/trapped at some insane only-in-Europe Rave, and I had a splitting migraine the whole trip. Alas, I was going to see the Sistine Chapel. We were going to do it on Sunday, and we flew out Monday morning. We get to the Sistine Chapel and it has closed 30 minutes earlier for the day. I sat on the ground and wept. It felt like I got sucker punched and someone was playing a mean joke. This is probably the reason I am so insane in my travel plans and probably why I gave up on god.

Finally made it to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel

Finally made it to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel

♠Also in studying abroad…. I spent 4 nights in Dublin without pajamas. Which shouldn’t be that big of a deal…but I was in a cold hostel and only had skin-tight jeans that had booze, and more than likely some remnants of puke on them.

♠On our honeymoon in South Africa, E got “mugged”. It’s in quotes because it wasn’t a mugging in the traditional sense, it was E being a chump and inadvertently giving a guy his atm card AND the pin code. Luckily, it was a bank we didn’t keep much money in and after a lot of stress and tears, got it all sorted away…and eventually got refunded the money despite the fact that basically all banks declare if you’re a dumbass in South Africa, it’s not their problem.

♠Oh you think that’s the only bad thing that happened on our honeymoon? Think again. The last bit of our honeymoon we were in the Seychelles. We had hired a private tour of the island that ended with a few hours on a private beach and a picnic lunch. At some point…. right about here:

Lovely photo...E's ring was probably sliding off his finger right now.

Lovely photo…E’s ring was probably sliding off his finger right now.

E lost his wedding band. The white gold, engraved, not-yet insured wedding band. Poof. Floated away in the sea. There were a few hours of a seething newly wed there.

♠When we went to Turkey, we forgot our real (or any) camera. We only had our phone to capture the memories. Thus, no photos can be blown up and displayed.

Would be great if we got high quality pics of this experience...

Would be great if we got high quality pics of this experience…

♠We went to London to meet up with E’s friend who was to be in town (from Texas) to see the Dallas Cowboys game. He had a bunch of friends in the UK, so through his organization we all got tickets together. Then he realized he couldn’t come. Luckily, his friends were nice and we got along swimmingly…otherwise it was going to be a real awkward night.

♠The same trip to London, we had tickets to see Phantom of the Opera. I dressed to the nines. It poured down rain that night. Umbrellas broke. Streets are flooded. I showed up looking like a drowned rat. Still…a great show!

♠I think the most recent time this happened was in Istanbul…. but it’s definitely happened prior to. When you put your bank card into the cash machine and it gets flagged and not only do you not get money, but you don’t get your card back leaving you with no access to paper money. ALWAYS bring back ups and alert your banks people.

♠Using expired sunscreen and burning to an absolute crisp in Turkey. And before the burn totally settled in, going to a weird chakra massage where I was put naked on a table with hot oil water boarding me. I smelled (and felt) like a fried chicken by the end. The oil trapped in all my internal body heat and I spent the night with E putting cold towels on me, and having them turn actually hot to the touch every 5 minutes. Then the next day, despite painfully running through Charles De Gaulle, missing a connecting flight and suffering with my third degree burns in a shitty hotel until I could get on a flight the next day, and find some aloe vera relief.

♠Flying across the Atlantic when you realize that new prescription for your dog has a domino effect, and she now has to pee. Badly.

"What?! I would never disrupt a flight with a need to pee."

“What?! I would never disrupt a flight with a need to pee.”

♠Thinking that you’re checking into an amazing AirBnb…. only to arrive to a slightly dirty, slightly moldy, room with weirdly stained towels. But the view is great….

♠When E came to visit me in London (when studying abroad), we took a weekend trip to Paris. Our first night, even though it was late, I wanted to show him the Eiffel Tower. We got on the metro, and somehow read the map wrong, we went all the way to end of the metro- the wrong way. And it was the last train of the night. We had no idea where we were or how to get home. We tried to hail a cab but none would stop. We found a restaurant that was open and tried to figure out a cab but no one spoke English. This was before smartphones people! We went out and just started walking, eventually stumbling upon a cabstand and finally getting a cab home.

We finally made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower

We finally made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower

♠That same Paris trip…we were broke college kids and booked the cheapest hotel we could find. It was on the 5th floor, of course no elevator, in a pretty rough neighborhood. And better still, the metro stop closest was closed down for construction, so we had to get off a stop early and walk up a massive hill every time. It was just a warm up for the 5 flights of stairs. I swear I lost 5lbs that weekend.

♠And my own fault, there are have been a couple times when I let my guard down, and became a little over-served. This resulted in hellacious days on holiday the following day. Glad I got to see the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, but I barely pulled it together and would have had a better time if I didn’t have to put my hands on my knees and my head in-between my legs every 10 minutes to stop from passing out. And it probably wasn’t my finest moment, and definitely one of the most painful travel days returning from Lisbon after staying out until the sun came out, running to the hostel to get our things (and puke) and then head to the airport. Not sure how many germs I picked up lying on the Lisbon Metro floor but…. let’s not think about that.

So yeah, travel definitely has its downsides. But like seeing how other people live, eating new foods, speaking a new language…there’s plenty to learn from the nightmares of travel. Like be careful with your debit cards, don’t buy your husband nice jewelry, always have a carry on bag, sunscreen expires after a year, you can’t control the weather or the airlines, and how to adapt to change.

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to your on a trip?


Friday Faves 4.15

I don’t mean to fall away from blogging ever. I really don’t. It just happens. I just get busy. I didn’t get back to Scotland and recovered until a week into January, and since then have been to 3 different countries (France, Norway, USA again). And I have to say, those trips have been my most procrastinated, lasse fair trips I have ever planned/been on. Anyway, I though it’d be good to commit a little time back to blogging. Thinking about getting at least 2 posts a week, and what better way to get a post out than with a Friday faves?!

So this week’s Friday faves:


IDShot_540x540Coconut Milk! I have documented the lack of coffee creamer in this country. And I just can’t bring myself to stocking the fridge with single or double cream to put in my coffee (though I certainly take advantage if there’s some leftover from another recipe). And if you follow me on twitter, I have a melt down about my broken heart for my American Keurig and K-cups at least once a month. So I am so happy to welcome Coconut Milk in my life. Yeah, I like almond milk but it doesn’t do much for my coffee (chai tea lattes are another story). But coconut milk not only cuts the coffee taste, but actually makes it taste like coconut! It has literally made my mornings much sweeter.

David Lloyd Aberdeen  My gym has officially reopened.  Sadly, even with a “£4 million renovation” the gym still sucks in the same ways it always has.  But it’s nice for it to be open.  They’ve been closed since before I came back from after Christmas due to the crazy flooding in Aberdeen. So here’s to committing to twice weekly Body Pump and Pilates if only my body would cooperate.

American Ovens. I don’t have one….and boy do I want one. I am so tired of trying to bake in the country for everything to either blow up, taste bitter, get stuck, or fall apart. I try something once every month or so, only for the result to be a crumbled pile of bake goods, possibly looking like literally dog poop, and me in tears.   You don’t know how good you have it American residents.

BFFS. Since I’ve moved, I’m pretty much only guaranteed to see my closest Midwest friends once a year. And my east and west coast friends….who knows. Well this year is the year of friends! I’m going to NYC twice where I’ll see my Asian, I get to see Merima (who’s a Cali-girl) when she comes over to my side of the pond, and not only will I see Heather, Megan and Tricia at Christmas time, but I’ll be welcoming Tricia into my home, meeting Megan in Northern Ireland, and seeing Heather in London. HOLLA!  Let’s hope this helps, not hinders, homesickness.i have such pretty friendslg and tric

No. 1 Magazine. Because for some reason, Scotland’s (only?) gossip/celeb magazine has a picture of me in it- whaaaaaat?!?! I find my new socialite status more than a little amusing. And to think, in Chicago after 8 years I never even was able to attend an event where a photographer was (unless volunteering).IMG_3204


Cold Year

It has suddenly dawned on me that I may not see temperatures North of 60 degrees this year?! Ahhhhhh. I don’t even like the heat…but that’s a little extreme. Last year we had a pretty epic year of vacations, with a lot of heat and beach time in both Turkey and Croatia. And I got a girls weekend in Lisbon…and unfortunately, quite a warm weekend in Paris for the marathon. My vacation planning this year was a little dictated by outside forces, but beyond that I made a crucial error in planning two winter holidays.

I would like to to take this same picture....but substitute sand for the snow, a chaise for the snowmobile, and a swimsuit for the snow suit. PLEASE.

I would like to to take this same picture….but substitute sand for the snow, a chaise for the snowmobile, and a swimsuit for the snow suit. PLEASE.

Snowboarding in Chamonix, France and Northern Light chasing in Tromso, Norway.

Seriously, what was I thinking?! It’s okay…I’ve already started planning for next year and I’m thinking 2 weeks in Thailand in April. It’s sad how excited I am for something that’s a year away. But what’s cracking until then….

We’re going to NYC/NJ TWICE this year. These are the pre-dictated holidays.

April – I’m heading down to London to see my BFF who’s visting her in-laws there.

May – NYC/NJ for my brother’s wedding, and I’ll stay on to hang out in NYC with my mom, uncle, and goddaughter.

June – Isle of Skye with our friends visiting from Chicago.

July – a possible weekend get-away with a friend, otherwise 3 groups of visitors back to back to back.

August – Northern Ireland for a long weekend.

October – Possibly Copenhagen for a long weekend.

November – NYC marathon.

December – Home for Christmas.

Next selfie needs sunglasses and sand.

Next selfie needs sunglasses and sand.


But it looks like E won’t be able to carry over days, and that leaves us with maybe 3-4 extra vacation days so I’m thinking, we MUST make it somewhere warm at the end of November. Thanksgiving on a beach would make me pretty thankful I think. Maybe Tenerife, or Malta, or Majorca? We’ll see, but I don’t think I can make it an entire cold year!

A little bit of this needs to be happening in 2016

A little bit of this needs to be happening in 2016

Chasing the Northern Lights: Tips & Advice

So you want to see the Northern Lights, huh? I won’t pretend to be an expert, but here’s what I learned from research, feedback from guides and friends, and personal experience.050

When to go: January to March is ideal. You have long dark nights and since its still winter, plenty of snow activities to keep you amused otherwise. That being said, Aurora Borealis occurs throughout the year- but it’s pretty difficult to see during the summer, especially when you’re far north as the sun doesn’t set for very long (or at all). I chose March because weather should be a little warmer, you get more daylight to play, and reading through message boards and posts from last year, it seems people who went out in March had a lot of success in seeing the lights. The downside to March is that the whales have moved out by then, so no chance as seeing killer whales in Norway.

One thing we didn’t consider was the phase of the moon. We went when the moon was nearly full. Some light chasers love the full moon as it adds a dimension to their photos. But if you have a weak aurora display (which was the case 2 of 4 of the nights we were there) and a full (or nearly full) bright moon, it can be difficult to see any signs of the aurora. That’s not to say you can’t see the aurora with a full moon…but it might hinder your odds. It could be that only your cameras can really pick up on it. The moon could also alter your pictures a bit because the sky is so bright from the moon, when you have a long shutter speed, the sky can end up looking like daytime.DSC_0531

The Chase Logistics: If you’re headed to a popular Northern Lights destination, chances are there are companies or groups that you pay to take you on a Northern Lights chase. The other option is renting a car and going it alone. In general, I don’t sign up for tour bus group outings, but in this case, it was never a question. We were going to hire a group to take us out and chase the lights.

Why? Well, I’ve had several friends go to several different locations to see the Northern Lights and opt to do it on their own…NONE of them had seen the lights on their holidays. That doesn’t bode well. Not to mention, one couple got their car stuck in a snow bank and had to be towed out. Which is something to consider. You don’t know the roads or what the road conditions will be in these remote areas, let alone what the weather will be and how it will impede upon your plans to drive across the country looking for lights.

Depending on the company, exact details and specifics of what you’re paying for differs.

Some things to consider when looking at groups/companies:

  • Size of the vehicle/group
  • Cancellation policy
  • Do they provide you with thermal gear/clothes
  • Do they provide you with anything to eat or drink
  • What are the general hours of the chases
  • How far (in distance) are they willing to go
  • What are their reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp saying

I really liked Arctic Explorers over Tromsø Safari because with AE, the group was only 8 people, they provided us with thermal clothes, they had a planned pee stop, there were a couple different breaks/stops when we saw activity, the first one we just would have hot cocoa/tea/coffee, the second one they would set up a campfire and with hot water we would have a “meal”. Don’t expect gourmet food- it’s freeze dried and cooks with hot water, but the taste was actually pretty good (texture a bit off) and there are plenty of options (from reindeer stew to chicken tikka masala). And you can’t forget about the Lefse!! Lefse is a thin, flat type of bread (think a sweet tortilla) and they put “brown cheese” (a weird, sweet Norwegian cheese) with cinnamon and sugar and roll it up. We consumed a lot of lefse on the trip.

Overall AE’s network seems larger and they have more resources to communicate and determine where is the best place to see the lights- they were willing to drive all the way to Finland. The downside only being that twice we all had to get out of the van and push it out of a snow bank (ha!) but I kinda just think the girl the second night wasn’t the best driver.

In comparison,Tromsø Safari didn’t provide clothes or fire (they did provide a hot drink and lefse), the bus was quite large (15 people or so), we had to stop on the way home to fill up the tank with gas (poor planning), and it didn’t seem they were willing to drive as far in the search for the lights.063

What to wear: More clothes. Whatever you’ve planned, you’ll need more. As stated, I think it’s worth paying extra just to be provided some sort of thermal suit. But even with that, you need lots of layers. I had brought my super intense Canada Goose coat and I think pretty equally intense Ugg Adirondack boots just for walking around in Tromsø, and I think that if I had brought (I didn’t) my down-filled snowboarding pants that my actual outfit would have been warmer than the thermal onesies we were provided. But most people do not have such intense winter wear. I have Chicago winters to thank for that.

You won’t be freezing for hours on end…you’ll be warm in the car. And the first couple hours generally always seem to be just driving. I always unzipped the suit and tied the arms wrapped around my waist and took off my hat and gloves in the car. But they understand you’re bundled up and won’t be blasting the heat until on your return journey when you’re nice and chilled frozen to the bone.

Once you find the Northern Lights you’ll get outside and might be out there for a while. You could stay out until that particular aurora passes and then drive some more until you spot another, or just stay out at the one location for a long time. But I felt that even when you were done and all back in the car with the heat on for the drive home, you never fully warmed up. I was pretty happy for the most part with what I was wearing and my level of warmth….but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have pretty painful cold parts. I just don’t know if it was humanly possible….

My issue was, which their provided clothes didn’t fix, and where apparently I lack in ridiculous outdoor wear, was the feet and the hands. My feet were so painfully cold. So, so painfully cold. We would get back to the hotel and I put on fresh (non-chilled) socks, climb under the covers and stick my feet under E’s butt until the throbbing pain stopped.

I thought my Adirondack boots were pretty legit, but turns out they weren’t enough on our last night chasing lights when we weren’t provided with clothes. But the boots provided by the companies weren’t any better. I thought the boots at the dogsledding were pretty adequate but they didn’t keep me warm the entire ride….I think the only time my feet weren’t cold was in the boots I got to snowmobile but that was during daylight hours and just a far less cold day. My hands were also constantly cold. The best mitten we got were dogsledding- they were legit, $200 a pair North Face mittens, and they did the job. But the mittens for Northern Lights were a bit old and sad and just not warm enough.

But what did I wear? They really recommend wool long johns- not cotton. I would wear 2 pairs of tights/long johns every night. The first base layer being either a pair of Icebreakers wool long underwear or Mizuno Breathe Thermo running tights (they have some weird technology where the fabric actually heats up upon contact with your body- so much so I can never wear them inside the house, and only on a Chicago winter -20F run). Then I would wear a pair of thick, Lululemon winter running tights over that.

For the top layer, I wore a sport bra (because I didn’t want to bother with straps falling down and trying to find them in the layers), an Icebreaker wool tank top, a long sleeve dri-fit base layer (like an Under Armor cold gear base layer turtleneck), and then a thicker, long sleeve quarter zip running top (Luluemon or Nike, quite thick).

My body was never cold. So if you’re getting a thermal suit- that’s the amount of layers I suggest on your body underneath the suit.

For your hands. Of course everyone provides mittens because mittens keep your hands warmer with your fingers being together. But I wore a pair of glove liners under my mittens, and I think that the double layer kept my hands warmer than having my fingers touch. And if you’re taking your mittens off sporadically to set up your camera or something like that, then you still have at least something on your hands when your mittens are off. So that’s my advice: use the mittens provided, but bring at least 1 (if not 2) glove liners or thin gloves to wear under them.

For your feet. It’s hopeless. When we were provided boots I was wearing a full size larger to incorporate all my socks. I was always wearing 3 pairs and still was always in pain. Seriously, pain. Arctic Explorers provided socks and I would wear those at the outer most layer, with thick Smart Wool ski knee-high socks as a base layer, then Heat Holders (check em out here- generally speaking the only things that keep my feet even remotely warm in wellies), then the provided thick fuzzy wool socks. And my feet were still freezing. I’m not sure what the solution is for warm feet above the Arctic Circle is….maybe those hand/foot warmers that your rub and they actually produce heat? If you can figure it out, let me know!042

What you need: So everything we read said how quickly the cold zaps your camera batteries and you need at least 4. I really didn’t want my battery to die halfway through the night so we went and ordered 2 more batteries. Our camera (and battery) is about 5 years old and let me tell you, the battery did not die, or even go half way down. So we bought a bunch of batteries for not. But…it’s probably not a bad idea to bring one back up.

I would definitely bring your chargers to charge everything up in your hotel room if needed, as well as plenty of memory cards and/or your laptop to upload you pictures nightly. I am paranoid about bad things happening, so I made sure to upload all the photos every night.

You 10000% need a tripod. You won’t be able to get a decent photo without- the shutter speed is way too long.

A wide-angle lens is advised. In truth, I think our normal lens (18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G) would have done the job decent enough, but we rented a lens to make sure, a 4-24mm f/2.8G. And if you’re not too serious about your photography- I highly recommend renting lenses. We rented a lens from America for our honeymoon in South Africa and then rented a lens for the northern lights. A great way to try new lenses or get what you need for the situation without the huge investment.DSC_0841

What to expect: This is probably the most important section in this post if you’re going to see the Northern Lights. I assumed everyone did lots of research and had realistic expectations before they went on a holiday of this sort, but as I learned with our bus mates, this is not always the case. So I am, as a little over prepared, nagging birdie, here to help you manage your expectations for your Northern Lights holiday.

Early and LONG nights – you’ll leave your hotel sometime between 5-7pm (so a very early dinner/late lunch needs to be planned) and might not get back until 4 am. There is ample opportunity to sleep in the van/bus/shuttle…but plan your itineraries accordingly. And don’t be surprised if you don’t get in until 3am.

 Tired – see above. You’ll be tired if you have daytime activities. If you’re going out the night before daytime activities, I would suggest booking exciting things that keep you awake. Snowmobiling and doglseeding do the trick. Cross-country skiing or a reindeer safari might destroy you. If you’re not planning daytime activities it’s fine- you can sleep in! But this trip (while amazing) was exhausting…not as exhausting as safari in Africa…but planning a nice lie-in on a day or two will be greatly appreciated.

Cold – see “What to wear.” You need to be kind of hearty for this type of expedition. No crybabies allowed.

Sitting – there’s a lot of time just sitting a bus/shuttle/van. You can’t call upon the aurora to just appear. You need to find it. So expect to spend a lot of time on your tailbone.

Photography – You can’t take photos of the Northern Lights with your iphone. Well I guess you can take super grainy ones if you buy a special app. But you also can’t expect to take your camera, point it at the sky, and click the button like you would at a family BBQ. While the guides seem to be very well educated and can help you with the ideal settings for you camera….do some research beforehand! Take some night photos at home playing with the different settings and knowing how to get to them and adjust them (you want as low ISO as possible with a fast maximum aperture, be able to adjust your shutter speed, turn off sound, and set a timer so that you don’t need to worry about your movement of pressing the button to impact your photo). And you should probably tool around with your tripod to make sure you can maneuver it effectively. I am not a photo expert. And since returning and researching more, I probably would have done some different settings on my camera…but I’m happy with our results.

But the amount of people on our group who had no idea that there required any camera knowledge/adjustments to get a photo was a little shocking.

Lights – There’s no guarantee to see the lights. And sometimes, even seeing the lights can be pretty disappointing. Sometimes, you just see a little bit of a cloud and only your camera can pick up the green. You have to be patient. At first maybe only your camera sees it, but if you sit around and wait it could grow stronger. I think it’s quite rare to have an entire sky of crazy green activity. We were pretty lucky and our first night was actually pretty amazing with some epic shows (the most amazing being while we were in the van driving down the highway looking for a place to pull over- so no pictures but so beautiful) and our night with the dogs was another good one. But the other two nights, I think I would have been a little disappointed if that was all we saw on the trip. Book in a couple nights worth of going out (I’d say at least 2, but would advise on 3). You might be able to cancel the extra nights if you have a great show the first night. On our 2nd night, the other 6 in our van were having their first night and they were super disappointed in the lights. One woman couldn’t see the green at all for some reason (maybe she was color blind?), and the overall response was, “Well this is it? You never see the sky all lit up bright green? That only happens with photo manipulation?” And I tired to tell them that no, it can be super incredible without rubbing it in that the night before was amazing. You never know, you have to keep trying. But then they all told our guide they wanted to cancel their other nights! I couldn’t believe it. They didn’t seem to understand that every night is different. Even on a beautiful clear night, there’s no guarantee to see any activity. You kind of have to be patient and diligent…and even still, you might not get to see an incredible showing. It’s a risk…but if you go all the way out there, I think you owe it to yourself to make a few efforts.009

Hope this helps if you’re planning your own trip to see the Northern Lights. I definitely recommend Tromsø!

Did you get to see the Northern Lights some place else? What tips would you add to this list?