Turnipseed, originally a childhood nickname of Vanessa’s and today seems suitable for a blog that focuses on great value. Beginning her journey as a budget traveller and still managing to pull off some impressive feats such as sailing to the Aran Islands, working on Malawian fish farms, and best of all exploring global cultural nuances through nacho consumption!! Vanessa and her other half, Ryan, now run one of the 100 most influential travel blogs in the world (Whitehouse in 2014) taking readers with them, We wanted to hear how life was on the road…
- What was the world like before you guys started travelling the world?
Before my partner Ryan and I started travelling the world, I think we felt most places were unobtainable – too far, too expensive, too complicated. But the more we travel, the less we feel that way. True, we can’t move Australia closer to our house or alter the exchange rate of Euros to Canadian dollars, but things that would have once felt intimidating (like navigating on foot from the bus stop to our guest house in Mandalay, Myanmar) or overwhelmingly expensive (like two weeks in Hawaii) are surprisingly do-able. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy or that there’s never an expensive day but in general, I see the world as much more open and accessible now.
- Was there a big moment when you decided to leave it all behind and hit the road, what was it and why?
It happened by chance. We each had a week’s vacation in February 2010 (and as any Canadian knows, everything about February just beckons you to get out of town). But we weren’t planning to do anything. We were going to stay home, be sensible, and save our money. But a few days before our planned time off, a friend who works for an airline gave me the surprise gift of buddy passes as a thank you for a small favour I had done for her. Suddenly, we could go anywhere in North America on standby! We picked the furthest, warmest destination we could find – Hawaii! Within 5 minutes of stepping off the plane and into the warm, light, floral scented breeze of the open air airport, we looked at each other and said: “We’re doing this again!” We promised then and there that we would return in 2 years to visit another Hawaiian island and we did! And nothing has been the same since.
We still have a home base here in Ottawa and we love the blend of travelling around the world and then returning home to our nest to dream of the next trip. Our house is filled with art and treasures we’ve collected around the world and it gives us a great place for frugal fun, like board games and dinner parties with friends, while we plan for our next big trip.
- When did you decide to start writing about your travels, what was that like?
I’ve wanted to write my entire life. Even at 5 years old, I wanted to be a writer. But I was terrified – of the commitment, of the rejection, of the notorious financial instability. I started my first blog in 1999 and another in 2001 and then another in 2009… none of which really captured what I wanted to say. But after that first trip to Hawaii, which we did on a shoestring (in addition to our generously gifted tickets), I knew I wanted to write about travel, to share all the tips and tricks we had for travelling longer, more meaningfully, and more affordable than most people could imagine.
Writing about travel, and travelling for the purposes of writing, is an interesting world. I once read that Mick Jagger said that if he couldn’t be a musician, he would want to be a travel writer. So when I am jet lagged or battling a mystery parasite or worrying about where my next pay cheque will come from, I take comfort in knowing that Mick Jagger WANTS TO BE ME. I, the least cool person in the world, am very cool to a rock star!
As far as jobs go, it’s the best job in the world. But it is still work and I take my work very seriously. Plenty of nights I have turned down Roman wine or Irish bars because of a looming deadline or early morning commitment. You are a solo entrepreneur, your own bookkeeper, publicist, proofreader, photo editor. I would encourage anyone with an idea or a dream to start a travel blog in order to record their memories, express their creativity, or share stories with family and friends. But I would caution anyone who’s considering being a full-time travel writer to think it through carefully to really consider if it’s right for them.
- Is being a writer something you already are, or is it something you learn?
For me, it’s something I already am but I am constantly learning. Like any other skill, you can always improve, always refine your technique, and gain inspiration from others. I think I was born with a sense of creativity and a love of words but I always, always, always encourage anyone who claims to hate writing to keep at it. You can only get better. And, of course, you can hire an editor!
- What was the biggest hurdle to travelling full time?
That I love routine. I know, routine does get a bad name. In fact, most people claim to love travel because it breaks up routine. But I love my Thursday night market trip, my Sunday morning recipe experiments, my Monday mornings tackling emails (which, when you’re a travel writer, are usually filled with happy stuff!).
Recognizing that I’m a routine loving gal, I try to incorporate what I know works best for me while I’m on the road. That means keeping my inbox and files organized and making sure I have time each morning to address the work that comes in overnight. You cannot enjoy your beautiful surroundings when you’re stressing about work. It also means prioritizing time to fit in my other hobbies, like reading and yoga. There is more to life than work and travel and well-rounded people usually make for happy travellers.
Being routine oriented and sometimes a bit adverse to spontaneity is actually an advantage for me as a travel writer. There are a lot more people in this world who identify with this mindset than those that can identify with the carefree, devil-may-care image (rightly or wrongly) that’s associated with frequent travellers. I’m here to show people that travel and trying new things is something that can appeal to all personalities, all kinds of families, and all kinds of interests.
- What is it that you love about travelling so much?
At the risk of sounding like an enormous cliche…. the more I travel, the more I learn about and understand myself. I have a much stronger sense of who I am, what my values are, even what my likes and dislikes are, having seen so much of the world.
One of those key things has been learning that I take the most pleasure in the simple things. Like the perfect nectarine at a farmers market in Ljubljana, or a gorgeous doorway in Prague, or that first cappuccino after flying overnight to Australia, or an extraordinarily kind barista in Stockholm. These are the moments that make a trip for me and has made me enjoy and appreciate my life in Canada that much more as well.
People always ask me “Going anywhere good this year?” And I know what they want to hear -that’s I’m going to Rome for a cooking class or that I’m riding in hot air balloons over the ancient temples of Bagan. And I wouldn’t trade those bucket-list type activities for the world. But I think I love to travel so much because every place is a “good place” for me to travel. I have learned to see the beauty in more humble destinations and I know I don’t have to travel far to discover new cultures, tastes, and traditions. Some of my favourite places are flying very much under the radar, like Norfolk County, Ontario and Bern, Switzerland.
- What are the three big lessons you’ve learnt from travelling the world to date?
First, that people are generally good everywhere in the world. We have never once been subject to criminal troubles or been cheated out of money. We have been inspired by the generosity and dignity of museum volunteers, bookstore employees, small shopkeepers, and everyday citizens all around the world.
Secondly, that spending more money does not usually equal making more memories or having more fun. I enjoy a luxury hotel or tour as much as the next person and, of course, there are days where you just need a familiar brand name or some extra comfort to collect yourself. But we have no regrets about staying in the cheapest hotel in all of London to save money for outstanding theatre tickets. Or for visiting all the free museums in Sofia and only selecting one paid activity. Or for skipping a hired tour in Bruges in favour of following the guidebook’s suggested route. We’ve managed to see some of the most incredible, sought after, and expensive destinations in the world, all for a fraction of the standard prices, and we’ve always had a clean, safe bed and three square meals a day.
Third, to slow down. I’m still struggling with this as I’m the kind of gal who wants to get up at the crack of dawn to beat the lengthy gallery line ups in Paris and I constantly want to add “just one more” city to an itinerary. Last summer, we visited 13 European countries in one month – that might have been a bit much! I knew things were getting out of control when I was considering taking an overnight train into Krakow, spending the day, and then taking an overnight train out. Just because you CAN sleep on the train doesn’t mean you SHOULD do so, especially several nights in a row, all to have a few fleeting hours in a new destination.
- Finally, what’s the next thing on your Bucket List?
A second round-the-world trip! In 2013, we cashed in all our airline points to hack a DIY round-the-world trip that was really a flight to Australia specifically designed to have as many layovers and stopovers as humanly possible. We ended up visiting New York, Brussels, Bruges, Liege, Paris, Istanbul, Bangkok, Mandalay, Bagan, Yangon, Singapore, Sydney, San Francisco, and Chicago for $350 each in taxes and fees.
We’ve just reached the threshold of points to do it again and we’re so excited. The best thing is that we really can’t pick and choose our destinations as we’re looking more for the most layover-prone flights we can find. But even as a routine loving traveler I’m excited -there’s virtually nowhere I don’t want to go and I can’t wait to see where the universe (and the available flight paths of economy based airlines) will take me!
Huge thanks to Vanessa and Ryan, wish them all the best on the next massive adventure and can’t wait to read the tales! To keep up to date head over to the blog.