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Essential Tips For Making the Best of the Iceland Airwaves Off-Venue Gigs

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the past two decades, you’ve probably heard or read some rave reviews about Reykjavik’s Iceland Airwaves Festival, which took place from 1-5 November 2017. It’s a music lover’s indoor festival dream come true plus it takes place in one of Europe’s tourism hotspots (literally, given all the geothermal activity there!), so it’s the perfect combo for travellers with a love for live music. What you might not have heard of is that the festival has a large number of fringe events, half hour sessions taking place in venues around town, which don’t require a festival pass and are completely free. Amazing, right? In order to make the best of them though, you need to come prepared. I’ve done all the legwork for you this year and compiled this list of tips for getting the best out of the Airwaves off-venue gigs. Here we go:

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Pick a Strategic Place to Stay

As most of the off-venues are right in Reykjavik city centre, it makes a lot of sense for your temporary digs to be as central as possible, so you can get everywhere on foot, especially if the weather is terrible (I had four rainy days out of six with one proper storm). There are no options like Uber and taxis are dear, unless you can share with friends. After speaking to a couple of long-time festival goers, I opted for KEX Hostel, which is also one of the off-venues (see pic below, Högni) and has a self-catering kitchen. I had been a bit worried it would be more of a party hostel, but a lot of other folks where there for the festival, too, so everyone was friendly and laid-back plus the dorms had good heating and comfy beds. Loft Hostel (even more central) and Oddsson Hostel are other good alternatives and also off-venues. There are also plenty of airbnbs, hotels and apartments you can rent, but they get booked up really fast during this time and most of them are not exactly very budget-friendly.

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Come Prepared – Apps, Deals & Special Events

Download the excellent festival app, which lets you sort the schedule by all events or off-venues only, has maps and notifications for special deals and venue changes. The second app you need is Appy Hour, alerting you about the cheapest drink (and some food) deals around town as a pint is normally around 7-9 pounds and simple meals start at around 15 pounds. The Reykjavik Grapevine (English-speaking news about the city) also publish a great festival special, a free magazine, which you can pick up at venues around town with schedules and additional offers. This is also how I found out about a special venue on Laugavegur street run by Reykjavik Grapevine (keep an eye on the #GrapeWaves hashtag), which was like a pop-up art gallery, where they displayed festival magazine covers and organised special performances by cool musicians like Soley (pic below) plus a fridge with free beer (while stocks lasted) and goodie bag giveaways. Again, make sure you get there before it opens, which on the day I went was 5pm.

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Get recommendations From Those in the Know

As I knew zero of the off-venue bands, my strategy was to discover as many different venues as I could fit in and hopefully find some great bands along the way. I started (very conveniently!) by walking down the stairs to the KEX hostel bar where the fab Seattle radio station KEXP was live streaming gigs every day. All their sessions were excellent and I was glad I’d made the place my base. In between the half-hour shows, it was easy to get talking to music fans from around the world and asking them to help you figure out which bands to see next. So much fun!

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Awesome Music from All Sorts of Genres

In no particular order, these are some of the bands I discovered at Airwaves and really enjoyed listening to this year. Quite a few of the bands sang (at least some songs) in Icelandic, which sounded beautiful and I was also pleased to see that there were lots of great up-and-coming female musicians in the off-venue line-up.

Between Mountains (young female Icelandic duo, beautiful harmonies), Groa (three female Icelandic musicians rocking out),  Emiliana Torrini & The Colorist Orchestra (probably my fav performance all week, beautiful sound), HAM (if you’re a metal fan, one of the singers moonlights as Iceland’s health minister), Bangoura Band (world music, the first gig I caught, groovy and fun), Fox Train Safari (Icelandic Soul Music, so great), Hatari (crazy show, worth it just for that), I Am Soyuz (Swedish singer-songwriter), JFDR (experimental Icelandic pop), Myrra Ros (Icelandic singer-songwriter), Kiasmos (Icelandic electronic group), Mammut (great live show), Snorri Helgason (very humorous songwriter and storyteller), Soley (beautiful Icelandic alt-pop), Graveyard Club (American melodic synth-pop band), Högni (Icelandic singer-songwriter, also in electronic group GusGus).

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Great Quirky Venues from Book Shops to Cinemas

These are some of my favourite off-venues around Reykjavik:

KEX Hostel – beautiful bar setting and great sound
12 Tonar – tiny but great record shop (see pic above)
Boat Andrea – on an actual whalewatching boat in the harbour, seating and good sound, one of my fave venues, see pic below, stunning, right?
Solon Bar – stylish bar on first floor (restaurant downstairs)
Kaffibarinn – quite small bar, so arrive early
IDA Zimsen Bookshop Café – cosy bookshop café with seating
Aurora Reykjavik – by the harbour, gigs in room with Northern Lights video on giant screen behind musicians, quite magical, quieter music
Bruggjan Brugghus  – this place is quite big (by the harbour) and it was packed when I got there for a pretty popular band, a good place to have food while seeing a gig if you can grab a table early in the day
Loft Hostel – take the lift to the 4th floor and enjoy music and a nice Swiss mokka in one of the cosiest places in town (spent half a day there when the storm was raging outside)
Kaffi Vinyl – great vegan food, records and nice seating, arrive early
Bio Paradis – the lobby of a local cinema, always space to join for a gig a bit later, some seating, coffee/bar
Dillon – great attic space in a whiskey bar
Reykjavik City Library – I love libraries, so I made an effort to make it to this one, music on downstairs, some seating

The off-venue gigs usually ran from around lunchtime each day until about 8pm and most of the spaces had free wifi, hurrah. There are lots of additional venues I didn’t have time for, which even included kindergartens, fashion stores, gyms, barber shops, museums, churches, hotels etc., so it’s great fun to do a venue crawl!

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Hunt for Cool Souvenirs

In most countries, you can pick up a handful of small souvenirs for family and friends pretty cheaply. Not so in Iceland. While on Reykjavik’s high street Laugavegur every second shop seems to be selling overpriced puffin stuffed toys, magnets and Icelandic scarves, you’re much better off bringing home CDs or vinyl by a brilliant Icelandic band you just discovered, a 12 Tonar tote bag or some official Airwaves merch. That way you’re supporting independent musicians and help keeping the lively Icelandic music scene alive, which in turn helps them putting on great events like the one you’re attending. Win, win!

Extra Tips

If you want to see some of the official bands playing at an off-venue, get there super early! Seriously, most of the off-venues are tiny bars or cafes and they fill up extremely quickly. You don’t actually have to consume any drinks or food in the venues, but of course it makes sense to buy something here and there to support them. This year the festival also included two days in Aykureri, which is a nice excuse to explore the North of Iceland, too (about an hour’s flight away).

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What is the Festival Like for Solo Travellers?

My Airwaves visit was one of the easiest trips for getting to know other travellers. Everyone is a music lover and it’s like the United Nations, I met lots of people from the UK, the US and Canada (some very cheap stopover flights from there) but also festival goers from as far as Jordan, Ukraine and Israel. All the people I met were happy to share festival tips and pass on music recommendations and I kept messaging with people I’d met at shows or at the hostel about what bands to catch next.

Was it worth it and would I do it again?

Absolutely! Apart from finding lots of awesome new music, it was also a revelation for me to get exposed to live bands from genres I normally never listen to. It did feel a bit strange being at a festival and not actually attending any official gigs. Having said that, buying a full festival pass would have not been worth it this time around as I did sightseeing tours (Golden Circle, South Coast, Northern Lights) on all the good weather days. So you can have a great time at the official festival, just the off-venues or both. I’m definitely considering getting a full pass next time around, as they also had a conference with films, discussions on the Icelandic music industry and networking events.

Don’t forget to check out my other Iceland post for additional tips on outdoor activities, cold weather clothing, walking tours, eating out and how to save money during your first trip to Iceland.

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Highway to Adventure: The Adventure Travel Film Festival 2017

The Adventure Travel Film Festival, which took place from 11-13 August 2017, had been on my to do list for a few years now and I finally managed to pay it a visit. It is a film festival showing mostly independently produced outdoor, adventure sports and travel documentaries combined with camping just a tube and a bus ride away from Central London at Mill Hill School. The annual event, which also has sister festivals in Scotland  (September) and Australia (February), is run by adventurers and filmmakers Austin Vince and Lois Pryce and apart from the extensive film programme offers talks by well-known explorers, workshops (first aid on the road, medicinal plants, bushcraft, spoon whittling) and even motorbike trial lessons.

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I managed to make it to two of the three festival days, but even though the films were repeated at different times it was really difficult to choose between them as they all sounded really enticing. Some of them also had filmmaker Q&As at the end, like Liemba (a journey on Africa’s oldest steamship), whose director Julie Clavier came over from Paris to present her film. The first film I caught was called Man with a Pram and featured Swedish adventurer and now family man Mikael Strandberg who set out on a two-month walking journey from Manchester to London together with his two-year old daughter Dana and assistant Georgia Villalobos. Alternating between staying with friends and acquaintances and wild camping along the way, the three encounter an intriguing cast of characters, old and young, friendly and odd, on their journey to figuring out what the English are really like as a nation. Definitely one to watch if you think travelling with children is (nearly) impossible, just put them in a pram, pack some nappies and off you go!

This was followed by a triple bill of shorter films: Kapp to Cape, a three-month high-speed cycle journey from Norway to South Africa by British Iranian Reza Pakravan; Two Bedouins, A Camel & An Irishman follows Leon McCarron and his local guide Musallem Faraj into the Sinai desert where they explore the fascinating landscape and learn about the traditional way of life of the nomads; In The Eyes of God Latvian extreme kayaker Tomass Marnics and a handful of his friends tackle the most dangerous rivers in remote Kyrgyzstan.

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Unlike at most other festivals I’ve been to, the venue provided all the food (and I’m assuming they don’t allow outside vendors), so if you’re planning on attending the whole festival, I highly recommend booking your meal plan in advance (this covered cooked breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday as well as dinners on Friday and Saturday night). As I wasn’t staying the whole weekend, I brought my own snacks and supplemented them with coffees and sandwiches from the indoor café (plus there was a BBQ, which included veggie kebabs and veggie sausages, for extra food options). Talking of practical things, there was a shower and toilet block not too far from the camping areas as well as portaloos and indoor toilets in the venues and plenty of drinking water available. I also picked some lovely blackberries right behind my tent, which made for a delicious foraged snack.

After dinner, it was time to attend a talk and the one by native Sri Lankan Dylan Wickrama was very inspiring. He decided to tackle the Pan American Highway on his motorbike and build his own raft to cover the Darién Gap (where no road exists) between Central and South America, resulting in a 30-day solo boat journey (bike on board), which made for a profound experience, including meeting a pod of inquisitive dolphins. It was a beautiful story illustrated by videos and photos from the trip.

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As the weather was quite windy and cloudy on Friday night, the Starlight Screening, which would have normally happened outside, was moved to the sports hall with hundreds of chairs set up for us. The whole festival was efficiently run by the organisers and dozens of friendly volunteers like Kathy and James, who checked me in on Friday afternoon. The feature on Friday night was called DugOut and was a film by and about Ben Sadd and James Trundle, who ventured into the Amazon enlisting a local man to help them fell a tree, turn it into a dugout canoe and then take it downstream for a river adventure. The film is a beautifully made testament to what can be achieved when you have an idea, follow through with it and are open to learning from the locals thereby discovering a whole new world and skills which our Western societies have largely lost.

After a lovely bluegrass live set by The Jolenes (including festival director and ace banjo player Lois Pryce) by the campfire on Friday evening and a peaceful night in the happy tent, the first sessions of the day started at 10am (sadly clashing with the morning yoga class). I picked the How to Make a Film of Your Adventure by festival director Austin Vince talk, who explained in an hour and a half the rules, pitfalls and ideas around making a TV-worthy travel and adventure documentary. So do remember to work with a shot list, vary your sequences (bits of story) and transitions (bits to link the parts of the story, i.e. maps, local flora and fauna, day counters with commentary and/or music), include children, older people and animals and aim to show interesting places, artefacts and experiences plus try and shoot only what you need.

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I also watched Paddle For The North, a Yukon canoeing adventure which, to my delight, included two puppies, Taiga (a golden retriever) and Zephyr (a wire-haired pointer), who made the already intriguing film even more fun to watch. I somehow managed to see a lot of water-based films during the weekend, another one was Rowed Trip describing Canadians Julie and Colin Angus’ seven months rowing and cycling trip from John O’Groats in Scotland all the way to Aleppo in Syria in 2008, particularly poignant to see given the current political situation.

The final event I attended was a talk by explorer Benedict Allen who, together with BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardener in his wheelchair (he was shot by terrorists), embarked on a quest to see Birds of Paradise in Papua New Guinea. It was another good example of how having a dream and following through with it is what adventure is all about. And this is what this festival is really good at. Inspiring people to turn their dreams into an adventure, learn from the experts and just go for it. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be an adventurous type to enjoy the event. In fact, the festival was definitely on the quieter side and is suitable for families, more laid-back folks (many of them into motorbikes) and anyone with an interest in travelling and filmmaking.

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend pass for the 2017 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event and mentions on social media. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

Where Travel Blogging Conference meets Festival: Highlights from Traverse 17

I found out about Traverse 17 at World Travel Market last November and immediately thought that their programme sounded a lot like a really tempting festival schedule: crazy golf, parties, workshops and walking tours all in the company of around 500 travel bloggers from around the world. Who wouldn’t want to sign up for that?

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Cultural Events, Fun Experiences & Networking with Travel and Lifestyle Brands

Being based in London proved a big plus for this year’s conference as I managed to attend a good few of the 40 or so events the Traverse team put on during the week. Our first meet & greet with fellow bloggers took place at Kouzu Restaurant near Victoria Station whose prosecco and delicious Japanese food was incredibly moreish. On Tuesday I gave Junkyard Golf at the Truman Brewery in East London a try and we learned all about Gran Canaria as a travel destination. My God, it was like escaping into a parallel world where dinosaurs devour pigs (eek!) and in teams of 4 or 5, colourful cocktails in hand, we fought our way through a maze of neon-lit rooms, fun slides and derelict car parts. We also got to toast our excellent choice of attending this conference on the rooftop terrace of the Expedia office near Angel station one night and at the digs of the Lonely Planet publishing team south of the River on another night where we learned about their Pathfinders programme.

team pic at Junkyard Golf

Whyte & Brown café just off Carnaby Stret welcomed us for an influencer breakfast courtesy of Carnaby followed by one of my favourite events of the week, a practical youtube skills walking tour led by Tom Hooker of Out The Box. He was so great at giving tips and sharing advice and it was super inspiring. So were a lot of the bloggers I met that day and during the whole week. I also headed to the Olympic Park for a Tea, Tour & Tech tour run by London City Steps, which included a visit to the Orbital (sadly we were too late to give the longest, highest slide in the world a go…) and the Olympics 2012 Aquatics Centre (now a really stunning looking community swimming pool) plus learning about the local history.

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The Friday night welcome party thanks to Jet2Holidays took us to Skyloft on the 28th floor of the Milbank tower with the most amazing views over night-time London. Just wow! On Saturday night we boarded a Citycruises boat for a sunset cruise on the Thames sponsored by Cheapflights and, naturally, we made the best of it with lots of social media posts, good conversations and selfie-opportunities galore. The closing party on Sunday night was held at Iberica Restaurant in Canary Wharf courtesy of the Spanish Tourist Board and their truly lovely UK team. The food, authentic tapas with some good veggie options, was absolutely gorgeous, the venue looks fantastic and is well worth a trip across town.

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Life and Career Advice

With all the fun events happening I tried to also make it to a few more serious workshops, both held at WeWork coworking spaces around London. At WeWork Paddington a smaller group of us worked on developing a new business concept in the ‘Half-Day Company’ session and at WeWork Moorgate we picked up time-management tips from Alice of Teacaketravels and learned about positive thinking and NLP from cognitive hypnotherapist Gemma Holmes. Of course, the real work is finding a system that works for each of us personally, but learning from the experience of others and sharing thoughts and ideas in a supportive environment was very motivating.

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Learning from the experts during the conference weekend

I’m going to talk about the excellent sessions I attended during the conference weekend in a separate blog post sometime soon, as there is just not enough space to go into detail about them all here. One thing which quickly became obvious to most of us during the conference weekend, however, was that you had to pick wisely from the 50 classes and sessions on offer. I tried to attend a mix of more business-related classes as well as generally inspiring ones, all of which tended to revolve around relationship building with brands, followers, fellow bloggers, SEO, professional branding, marketing, PR, book publishing and contracts. There was also an opportunity to arrange a one-to-one pro-bar chat with conference speakers and a chance to meet the representatives from various destinations and brands, such as Spain, Ireland, Hamburg (London mini festival coming up in October 2017!), Cathay Pacific, Agoda, affilinet, Donkey Republic, Topdeck and Trip.com in the lobby area of the Ravensbourne where the conference was held.

Traverse 17 programme

Making new travel blogger friends from around the world

From the very first event on Monday night until the closing party on Sunday there were plenty of opportunities to get to know other travel bloggers (and in fact some food, fashion and lifestyle bloggers too), be it at the larger events with a couple of hundred attendees or at the smaller workshops and tours for a dozen or so people. I was amazed at the fascinating stories I heard and the things I learned just by talking to a couple of new people every day who included Anna of Would Be Traveller, Nicole of Lost in This Whole World, Tom of Spaghetti Traveller, Charlotte of A Much Prettier PuzzleIk Aldama, Gemma of Little Miss Gem Travels, Teresa of Brogan Abroad, Liza & Pepe of TripsGet, Heidi of Take Me To Sweden, Eulanda & Omo of Hey Dip Your Toes In, Alison of Up & At Em, Juuli Aschan, Corinna of Aussteigen Bitte!, Lexx of Travel Lexx, Annemarie of Travel on the Brain, Katy of Untold Morsels, Inka of Inka’s Tour, Lauren of Bon Voyage Lauren, Asma of Jet Set Chick, Sara of Speaking of Sara, Janos of Solaris Traveller, Jess of Jess In Your Ear, Becky of Munchies & Munchkins, Ant & Lou of Vanutopia, Anne-Sophie of City Cookie, Emily of London City Calling and lots of other friendly travel-crazy content creators. When I was on my way home after the closing party, a bit sad that it had all ended after such a fun week of events and meeting like-minded people, I heard a guy in one of the tube stations playing ‘What a Wonderful World’ and I thought, absolutely, thanks for summing it all up for me!

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A big thank you to the organisers Michael Ball, Paul Dow and their team for making this ‘conference’ so incredibly festival-like, to the speakers for their awesome advice and to all the brands and sponsors for treating us like royalty with various goody bags and competitions, but most importantly their enthusiasm for their destinations and brands, which was truly refreshing to see. More blog posts in the pipeline, watch this space.

Next year’s Traverse 18 will be held in Rotterdam where I’ve never been, so now I have the perfect excuse for a trip and I suggest you come along for the ride. I also cannot wait to find the city’s best cultural spots, veggie cafes and cuddle and snap some handsome dogs for my new Instagram project @cuddleadogaday (thanks to Heidi for the suggestion!).