Lola Akinmade Åkerström is a Nigerian-American, Stockholm-based writer and photographer who has contributed to digital and print publications such as National Geographic Traveler (both UK & US versions), BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet, AFAR, San Francisco Chronicle, Fodors.com, several in-flight magazines, and many more. She is featured in a South Africa vignette Through The Lens that airs on National Geographic Channel and her photography is represented by National Geographic. Check out her blog, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Traveling Type: How did you get started travel blogging?
Lola Akinmade Akerstrom: I’ve always had a travel website of some sort since 2002 when I volunteered as a field journalist with an expedition race in Fiji. I shared dispatches, snippets and photos so my family and friends could follow along, but it wasn’t until late 2006 — when I discovered Matador Network — that I fully began “travel blogging.” At that time, I was still working a full-time job as a GIS system architect developing cool interactive online maps, but by 2009, I officially left that life behind in pursuit of travel writing and travel photography.
What’s your blog about?
I developed my own travel blog to feature highlights from travels along with dispatches because I work primarily as a freelance writer and photographer. So my blog acts more as a showcase for my work — writing and photography — with the occasional service-y “how to” post and product reviews.
How many countries, cities, and continents have you traveled to?
I stopped counting countries after my 40th because travel to me isn’t about some arbitrary list of places that need to be checked off and conquered. That said, I’d probably be well over 50 countries by the end of this year. But who’s keeping count?
What’s your favorite place you’ve traveled to?
I don’t have a favorite place but I do have favorite experiences, ranging from volunteering in Cambodia and photographing the Northern Lights in Swedish Lapland to learning about Zulu culture in South Africa and soaking up the vibrant markets in Lagos, Nigeria.
What’s your favorite place to get away from it all?
We actually live on one of Stockholm’s islands so we have a favorite cliff by the water where we steal away to just relax and watch sailboats and ships cruise by.
What’s your must-have item that you never travel without?
Camera. I have a hard time traveling without one.
What’s your favorite travel app?
Skyscanner. I’m always searching for cheap tickets.
Tell us your funniest travel story/experience.
Strong winds plus me in a skirt and you already know what happened. But what made it even more embarrassing was that I was boarding a full double-decker bus in London and was climbing the stairs to the upper deck when a gust of wind rushed in, lifting and wrapping my skirt around my waist in the process. So those seated in the lower deck definitely got a good view of my underwear.
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten while traveling, and where was it?
A tough call, but I can say the best pizza I have ever eaten was in the remote village of Gratteri in Sicily — the type of tiny village where the baker rides a small Vespa through narrow streets delivering bread directly to homes. We had to wait all day until 7 p.m. for the pizza maker to arrive into the village … and it was well worth the wait.
What’s the best hotel/resort/hostel you’ve stayed at?
Right now, it’s Les Jardins de la Medina in Marrakech. I really enjoyed its ambiance and would return in a heartbeat.
Home is anywhere my husband and daughter are. Right now, they’re in Stockholm so Stockholm it is. But I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and it will always be my “true roots” home.
What would you recommend to travelers visiting your hometown?
When visiting Lagos, try to experience one of its open-air markets for a sensory overload and a true glimpse into what makes it such a vibrant city. When visiting Stockholm, take a boat cruise around the harbor. Better yet, take a brunch or lunch cruise so you can dig into local Swedish specialties like pickled herring and cured salmon while soaking up Stockholm’s stunning views.
What’s #1 on your bucket list?
Mongolia. Oh, and the North Pole.
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Some small towns are hot destinations. Take Bastrop, LA, for instance. Never heard of it? If you are a hunter or an avid outdoorsman, you have. Bastrop, just outside Monroe, LA, is home to Simmons’ Sporting Goods, one of the largest sporting goods stores in the country, drawing customers from across the South and selling everything from camouflage and camping gear to guns and ammo to ATVs and 4-wheelers. Bastrop also happens to be home to TravelChannel.com’s new exclusive web series, Girls Gone Bayou.
The series follows the quirky adventures of Lindsey Simmons, as she takes over day-to-day operations of Simmons’ with some help from gal pals, Lori and Kila. Lindsey’s got to convince her overbearing dad, Jeff, that they are up for the challenge, and prove that she and her blonde bombshell BFFs can hunt, fish and trap better than any good ole boy in the bayou. You can watch all 9 episodes of the series, starting today, on TravelChannel.com
We asked Lindsey what people should know about Bastrop and to share her favorite places in her hometown.
“Obviously, one of the biggest attractions for our town is Simmons’ Sporting Goods,” Lindsey says. “We have people that drive from a 5 state radius just to come to our store! They bring their RVs or stay in hotels and make a weekend out of it.”
Lindsey also recommends a stroll through Bastrop’s Town Square at the intersection of Highway 165 North and Highway 425 North to visit its antique shops, jewelry stores and theater.
“It’s a great place to explore Bastrop,” she says. “I guarantee you, when you pass people on those streets, they WILL smile and make you feel at home. I just love that!”
Finally, there’s the Morehouse Activity Center, known as “The Mac,” on Marlatt St.
“On Saturday night you can find everyone in town there to watch a rodeo,” Lindsey says. “Talk about a good time!”
Bastrop has some famous frequent visitors, too. The Robertsons of Duck Dynasty have been doing business with the Simmons’ ever since they started making duck calls. The popular reality-TV family signs autographs at Simmons’ every year.
“They are a great family and are truly as wholesome as they seem on TV,” Lindsey says. “Willie is a hoot. He’s down to earth and hilarious.”
Sounds like another family we’ve come to know. Get to know Lindsey, her family and friends on Girls Gone Bayou. Watch the first episode, now.
At the top of many people’s bucket list is a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. A trip on the railroad allows riders to experience the never-ending forests of Siberia, the lonely valleys of Mongolia, and the Gobi desert in one trip. However, with a trip that can span a third of the globe and take up to 7 days to complete, special preparations are definitely necessary.
The first step in preparing for your journey is to figure out which of the 3 routes you want to take. The classic line is the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Vladivostok on Russia’s far eastern coast. On the other hand, the most popular route with travelers is the Trans-Mongolian, which crosses through Siberia before veering off the main rail line, traveling through Mongolia and ending in Beijing, China. Lastly, you can take the Trans-Manchurian line, which runs from Moscow to Beijing, but bypasses Mongolia.
The second step in preparing for your journey is to get the appropriate visas. Nearly every nationality requires a visa for travel to both Russia and China, and while you can obtain them yourself, both are time consuming. To make the process easier, consider using a visa service to like Invisa Logistics for Russia and CSCA for China, both of which are recommended by the respective embassies.
Americans can enter Mongolia visa-free, but most others will have to secure a visa to travel there as well.
It’s also a good idea to arrange your tickets prior to leaving. While you will pay a surcharge for this service, it beats turning up at a Russian train station and discovering that your train is sold out or that the ticket seller doesn’t speak any English (a problem you’re likely to encounter). For trains leaving from Russia or Mongolia, you can obtain your tickets from Real Russia. For trains departing from Beijing, CITS is a reputable agency with English-speaking agents.
Buying your ticket ahead of time also requires you to plan your stops. All 3 train lines pass through Irkutsk, which is a very popular stop close to the mid-point of the journey. This Siberian city is also the gateway to the must-see Lake Baikal. The largest lake in the world by volume, Lake Baikal is so clean that you can drink directly from its frigid waters. There’s no better place to see Siberian culture or nature than the peaceful shores of the lake.
On the Trans-Mongolian Line, many like to stop in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, as well, to experience this amazing country. While the city itself is nothing special, a trip to the countryside gives you the chance to stay with a nomadic family in a traditional ger (felt-lined tents) and view the sweeping vistas of beautiful green grass and impossibly blue skies that go on for as far as the eye can see.
Lastly, you need to prepare for the trip itself. Since you’ll spend a total of 6 or 7 nights on the train, make sure that you have plenty of reading material and batteries. Also make sure to pack some wet wipes for cleaning yourself (there are no showers onboard), a thermos and instant coffee or tea (hot water is provided in each car), and some ear plugs.
While you’ll have a nice bed on your trip, most people will share a compartment with others, so a phrasebook will be very helpful in getting to know your travel companions. Even if you opt for a private compartment, having a Russian and Chinese phrasebook will help you figure out when the train is leaving each station and how to order food in the dining car.
The Trans-Siberian Railroad is the journey of a lifetime, and with a bit of preparation, you can ensure that you’ll have the time of your life as you traverse the Far East.
All photos by author Jim Cheney.
Jim Cheney is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Harrisburg, PA. Jim spent over two years in Asia traveling and working prior to settling back in America. His writing focuses mainly on travel planning advice and unique travel destinations throughout Asia, Europe, and North America.
To find more of his work, visit his site, Tripologist.com.
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Throughout the month of June, we asked you to weigh in on the most memorable Ghost Adventures moments of all time, and today is the LAST day to vote! The guys want to know which moments are your favorites to help them celebrate their 100th episode coming this season.
So hurry over to TravelChannel.com and vote for your favorite moments in 5 categories: Scariest, Funniest, Terrifying Possessions, Memorable Trigger Objects and Best Experiments. Watch the moments, and then decide which one you think is unforgettable.
Then, tune in to the countdown special in September to see what you and your fellow fans picked as the very best moments – and to see what the guys consider their own favorite moments throughout the 5 years of Ghost Adventures.
Great barbecue is an art. And for a real taste of the craftsmanship that goes into roasting a whole hog or smoking a rack of ribs so tender the meat falls off the bone, look no further than Memphis in May’s World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
Tonight at 9|8c, Adam Richman witnesses the barbecue madness on an all-new episode of Fandemonium. From delicious smoked sausage to Denmark’s take on American barbecue, Adam tastes it all. He also meets more than a few barbecue devotees who make this weekend the highlight of the month-long Memphis in May celebration.
It’s never too early to start planning your next spring fling! If Adam’s got you wanting to join in the barbecue fun, check out our Memphis travel guide for tips to plan your own Memphis in May excursion. Or use our Best BBQ Festivals and Competitions photo gallery to find one closer to home!
And don’t forget to tune in tonight at 9|8c for Fandemonium!
Sharks, sharks and more sharks. No creature of the sea does more to intrigue … or terrify. With sharks top of mind over the coming week, we thought we’d let you in on the top places to see sharks nationwide.
If you’re looking for a close encounter, but not too close, you’ll want to head to some of America’s top aquariums. Some great bets include the Tennessee Aquarium, where you’ll see this fierce-looking shark, and the Newport Aquarium, where you can see sharks circling above your head.
Of course, not all shark encounters are welcome (unless you’re LandLopers blogger Matt Long, check out his blog and amazing whale shots here). So when you next hit the beach, be prepared – for helpful hints on how to stay safe when swimming near shark-infested waters, check out our Travel 911 web series episode, Shark Attacks.
Brony: An adult or teenager, often male and college-age (or older), who is a fan of the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic — a show about pretty, magical ponies who fight evil. Seriously.
In 2011, the very first BronyCon was held in New York City with 100 bronies in attendance. The convention hopped around the city, holding 3 more events complete with visits from the voice actors and dance parties, until reaching 3,000 attendees in 2012. And today marks the first day and a new city for this army of bronies, with attendance expected to be 6,000 brony-strong.
Get excited, Baltimore! Or should I say, Baltimare …
The Baltimore Convention Center, a picturesque location on the harbor for these My Little Pony fans, will be hosting the event all weekend. From the “Mane Events Hall” to the “Portal to Equestria,” there will be videogame tournaments, lectures on voice acting and discourses analyzing the culture of My Little Pony.
Not yet convinced? Head to the Hall of the Moon for a class on drawing ponies. Or visit the Salt Block Lounge for the Brony Karaoke Smackdown.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a bro to enjoy the pony festivities. Girls are welcome, too. Need a little help navigating the city? Check out our Baltimore travel guide for tips!
Can’t make it to Baltimore? Watch the convention’s live stream!