One Year Later: Reflections on our Month of Adventures Abroad | Bjorndal Travels

Last year, Evan and I took a month-long sabbatical from work to travel around Europe for four weeks. We ventured to eight cities across France, Italy & Spain with just two backpacks and a camera bag. And we had the time of our lives!

Now that it’s been a year, the reality of our wonderful European adventure has (almost) fully set in. When we first arrived back in the U.S., we felt accomplished, well-rested & excited to share about our trip with others. The memories and photos have given us so much joy over the past year, and as we celebrated our third anniversary, we found ourselves longing for another month-long trip together!

So a little backstory on our trip:

Evan and I decided we wanted to do this trip while we were engaged, so we started saving and planning for it almost three years in advance. We came up with a budget, Evan got permission at work early on (a year in advance), and we started dreaming up ideas. We settled on making this a two-year anniversary trip and wanted to be on the Amalfi Coast for the day-of (selfie of us on our anniversary is that top left photo!). With those specifications as our guide, we planned our trip.

We ended up settling on a route through three different countries: France, Spain & Italy. I had been to Italy several times before and longed to share the experience with my hubby, Evan had dreamed of Paris & the South of France, and we both agreed Spain was an awesome third choice based on friends & family recommendations. We also loved that we’d be there in the summer, so it would be easier to pack light!

For getting around, we quickly knew that trains would be our main mode of transportation. We bought most of our tickets before the trip, which allowed us to build a framework of where we’d be when. We also booked hotels & AirBnB’s in advance so we wouldn’t ever have to worry about having a place to sleep. We splurged in locations like Seville, Rome & Paris, and looked for deals (and asked our native friends for recommendations!) in places like Amalfi & Florence. Our absolute FAVORITE place we stayed was Hotel Bacco in Furore, Italy. Set atop the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, the view was STUNNING. This was clearly a hidden gem of the area, as we were the only non-Italians staying there! We were super thankful that Evan’s Italian co-worker hooked us up!

How did I take a month off from work?!

Before you read any further, you’ll want to read about what I didn’t do while I was traveling. Folks, this was a true month off from work. While I did need to check in periodically to make sure current clients didn’t have pressing needs, I truly took a month off! But this was NOT something that just happened all-of-a-sudden. I spent TWO months prepping content, social media & blog posts to keep my business rolling. I also made a plan for how I would communicate with clients WITHOUT having to lug the laptop across the world (I should totally share more in another blog post, huh?!).

The main takeaway was that taking a true vacation requires extra work and preparation ahead of time. Otherwise, I’ll end up stressing about all that needs to be done while I’m trying to relax! Making a game plan and checking off the prep to-do list was key in truly relaxing and enjoying this wonderful vacation with my hubby!

Reflecting on this trip a year later:

The main concept I keep coming back to is the idea of rest. Not “rest” in the sense of sleeping in and lounging around, but instead, resting from the hard work that Evan and I do everyday. We are very fortunate to have careers that we absolutely love, and overworking is the #1 consistent weakness that we have as a couple. We both get easily swept up in our jobs, and very quickly, we find ourselves staking our whole identity & value on the success of our businesses. Let me be clear: this is unhealthy, and not at all the way we as humans are meant to live! 

Yes, work brings fulfillment and purpose to my day-to-day life, but it is NOT where I should be finding my ultimate value & purpose. Taking a rest from our work – I mean, TOTALLY shutting off the phone, social media, email . . . you get it – was a TRUE challenge for both of us. It took us both a full week to really let go and just enjoy the trip without constantly feeling the need to look at email or texts. We finally agreed to do quick checks of email each morning and put the phones away for the rest of the day. It was SO FREEING!

Another strong feeling that we both had was the reminder about how much we love being married to each other. One full month of just being together with no other conversations or communications with the outside world? Dream come true! It was like our honeymoon all over again, and it reaffirmed in my mind that I married the BEST human on the planet. We laughed so much, made so many memories & had a new adventure every day. We worked together to problem-solve, push ourselves out of our comfort zone, and most of all, give one another grace daily. I will cherish the memories of our month-long Euro adventure for the rest of my life!

Lastly, a piece of advice:

There is no time like the present to do something like this. I’m sure we could have come up with a million reasons NOT to go, and we definitely felt that we sometimes had to explain ourselves whenever we’d tell people what we were doing. While I’m well-aware that it was a BLESSING to be able to have the money to do this trip, we planned & saved and MADE IT HAPPEN! We knew that this was not something we’d be able to do after we start a family, and traveling and seeing the world together was a huge priority in our life. So, are you interested in doing something similar? Stop contemplating and start making a plan! You will absolutely not regret it!

I just had to go ahead and share some of my fav photos from our trip, I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them!

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Ethereal Summer Wedding with Floral Crowns & Dreamy Details at Castle Hill Cider in Keswick, VA | The Woomers | Hannah Bjorndal Photography

This ethereal summer wedding with floral crowns & dreamy details at Castle Hill Cider in Keswick, VA was photographed by Hannah Bjorndal on Saturday, July 7, 2018. Hannah is a wedding photographer based in Washington, D.C. and available for travel to Charlottesville, VA and other locations nationally & internationally.This dreamy, ethereal wedding at Castle Hill Cider was one for the books! Francesca & Hudson’s wedding day was a beautiful day of celebration in every way! What a joy to be their wedding photographer!

If you are familiar with Virginia summers, you know that July is humid and hot hot hot! When I first booked this wedding, I planned for a hot and sticky day in the Virginia sun. But Francesca & Hudson’s wedding day was so much more perfect than I could have imagined! With a high of 80 degrees and low humidity, the weather was absolutely heavenly.

Francesca & Hudson’s love story is so romantic! Hudson describes his meeting Francesca as love at first sight. After a short conversation at church, Hudson stopped traffic to chase Francesca down and get her number. They started dating shortly after that, and the rest is history! I loved watching the way Hudson looked at his bride and the sweet smiles & laughter they shared throughout the day. Clearly, these two are head-over-heels in love and could not wait to be married!

All of the details of this wedding day were beautifully designed and woven together by Francesca. She did SUCH a fabulous job of choosing colors, decor, and all other types of details to enhance the celebration in the most beautiful way. Some of my favorite elements of the day include the beautiful bride’s bouquet & floral crown from Casa Delirio and DIY bridesmaid bouquets, the gorgeous tablescape for the head table, the dreamy setting for the ceremony, and the sparkler exit.

One more thing – as you probably will notice from the photos of this couple, Hudson serves our country in the Marines! His career has taken him all over, and Francesca even followed him to Hawaii for a while, which led to a proposal! Throughout their engagement, they were on-and-off long distance, and Hudson will soon deploy to Japan. The stories of each military couple I work with are always moving to me. I am amazed by the sacrifice that husbands and wives make to serve their country, and Hudson and Francesca are no exception! On behalf on the Hannah Bjorndal Photography team, thank you both for serving and sacrificing for our country!

Here are some of my favorites!

Photographer: Hannah Bjorndal Photography

Venue: Castle Hill Cider, coordinator Laura Pate

Caterer: OMO Catering

Band: Bachelor Boys Band

Invitation Suite & Stationary: Minted

Bride’s Bouquet & Floral Crown: Casa Delirio

Makeup: Kira Savoia

Hair: Bride’s Mother

Wedding Shoes: Badgley Mischka

Wedding Cake: Sweet Lou’s Cakes

Wedding Dress Boutique: Ava Laurenne Bride

Wedding Dress Designer: Justin Alexander

Bridesmaid Dress Designer: Weddington Way

Shaved Ice Truck: Kona Ice

Videographer: The Neskes

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A Tropical Beach Wedding at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay, Jamaica | The Learys | Hannah Bjorndal Photography

This tropical beach wedding at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay, Jamaica was photographed by Hannah Bjorndal on Saturday, June 30, 2018. Hannah is a destination wedding photographer available for destination weddings worldwide, including weddings at all-inclusive resorts.

What a joy it was to celebrate with Kim & Matt at their Sandals Royal Caribbean wedding last Saturday! Crystal blue water, white beaches and tropical palm trees surrounded us for the most perfect Jamaican setting imaginable.

While we spoke a lot on the phone and through email, Saturday was my first time meeting this sweet couple! Wow, do I wish I had met them sooner – they are the best! I absolutely loved being a part of this sweet wedding day!

Other than the too-beautiful-for-words setting, three things really stood out to me about this wedding day. Firstly, the beautiful bride, Kim, is one of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever met. With all the craziness of the wedding day (like any wedding day!), Kim was calm, joyful and incredibly kind to all the people around her. It’s no wonder that her friends and family speak so highly about her abilities as a teacher!

The second thing that stood out to me was how truly in love Matt & Kim are. Matt gave Kim a sentimental, romantic & incredibly thoughtful gift that emphasized all the reasons he loved her. Kim smiled and laughed for the longest time looking through this gift, as if no one else in the room was there. As a wedding photographer, I obviously see many head-over-heels in-love couples, but I was so moved by this wedding and this couple in particular!

Lastly, I was moved by Kim’s incredibly loving family. The wedding was intimate, with just the closest of family and friends in attendance. This tight-knit community, highlighted by toasts from Kim’s dad and sister, clearly love each other so much! Again, I was SO moved by this love and felt honored that they welcomed me in so kindly and generously!

I am so thrilled to share my favorites with you guys!!!

Matt & Kim, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU for choosing me as your wedding photographer!

Venue & Resort Host: Sandals Royal Caribbean

Photographer: Hannah Bjorndal Photography

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