The world’s full of people travelling to exotic places and sharing their experiences. But we know that for every person who blogs a record of their Australian travels, there are another dozen secretly saying “I wish I’d done that.”
Writing about your Australian travels doesn’t have to be done with the aim of becoming the next Simon Reeve. It could be a way to make long Greyhound journeys feel less arduous. It could be to keep families and friends informed. It could just be a desire to share a brilliant place to eat/work/sleep. But whatever the goal, you don’t get anywhere without making a start. That’s what Fly Isabella’s Liz Stark did when she launched her blog in 2015. Already, it’s become one of the top 1000 travel blogs in the world and we’re delighted to have shared loads of her Australian travel posts here.
So it was high time we had a head to head with Liz to find out what made her start travelling – and writing. And if you’re thinking of writing about your travels but haven’t got round to it yet, you’ll find inspiration here…
Have you always written? Did you keep a diary or write stories as a child? Was it always a dream to be published or was it something that developed organically as a way of documenting your travels and then deciding to share them?
I used to enjoy English at school and kept an infrequent teenage diary, which has long since been destroyed. I was obsessed with art and drawing. Writing is a more recent passion for me.
Having worked in digital marketing for ten years it never crossed my mind to explore writing as a profession. Instead I’ve collaborated with branded content producers and publishers on behalf of clients.
Right now I’m happy keeping my passion for travel and the documenting of my adventures separate from current professional goals.
How did you start and what advice would you give to would-be bloggers?
I’m in awe of mega-bloggers who forge a full-time career via their own platform. That’s really tough. I quickly realised it takes something special – a unique angle, excessive determination, great digital marketing skills, an established network – to stand out from the crowd. I don’t confess to be there and I’m not sure I want to be either, although it’s constantly fun trying.
I’ve found more success in keeping my own blog quite personal and then trying to part-finance additional travel by writing for other people. When I get the opportunity to have work published it is extremely satisfying. It’s definitely a time consuming process though, involving persistence, intuition and patience.
I started by using a handful of links that established writer Caroline Eubanks recommends monthly on her blog www.carolineinthecityblog.com. The next step was to approach digital publications that were keen for contributor content. Some offered small fees and others just a feature.
I’d estimate one in twenty of my early emails were returned, and then things started to take off slowly and organically from there. I haven’t tackled print publications yet as that is an entirely new and different challenge. I’d feel I was a legitimate writer to get a full-length feature in Conde Nast Traveler!
Why do it, and what have been the best responses to your posts?
I spontaneously launched my blog in May 2015 with the primary intention to record the places I’d been lucky enough to visit. Basically, my memory is terrible so I decided to start writing events down.
I also take an excessive number of photos so a blog was a good way to do something with the best ones. To be honest I think my most avid fan is still my Mum. She’s all over my Instagram posts! I do love it when I can share quite specific destination tips with other travellers, and vice versa.
What was the initial inspiration to start exploring? Who lit the blue touch paper?
Growing up we used to go caravanning a lot in the UK and France. Then my grandparents moved from Anglesey, Wales, to the Costa Del Sol, Spain, and that became our go-to holiday destination. This was very fun but certainly not the source of my own travel bug.
When I was at sixth form college a favourite art teacher talked passionately about sheep-shearing (of all things) in Australia. His magical tales of this far off country inspired me to take the clichéd gap year before university. I haven’t looked back since.
What was your first trip?
My first significant big trip was 10 months in South East Asia and Australia at the age of 18. I spent three eye-opening and mind-blowing weeks travelling through Thailand and Bali before arriving in Sydney for New Year (2001) with a year’s working visa.
I worked as a receptionist in a hostel and met loads of adventurous people. This convinced me to spend two more unplanned months on the return leg in Sumatra, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
What was the best experience you ever had and – what was the worst?
I loved every minute of travelling in a campervan with an extremely good friend around South Island, New Zealand over New Year (2012). The landscape is beautiful and we swam every day in the fresh water lakes.
Worst was probably eating a burrito with sour cream at a cinema in Antigua, Guatemala. Except this ‘cinema’ was just a dark room in someone’s house and this burrito had me running back and forth to the shared outdoor toilet for the next 48 hours. You don’t want more details, but needless to say I missed a planned volcano climb the next day. Perhaps being bedridden was a lucky escape…
What was the most useful bit of kit you have ever taken with you, and the most useless?
My favourite thing is my tiny universal travel adaptor – how boring. I was given it as a freebie in a goody bag and I take it everywhere.
I also swear by the ear plugs, eye mask, blanket and mini pillow combo given out on long haul flights. I ‘borrowed’ these items for a five month trip around the USA and slept like a dream on every single coach and train ride.
I find those travel towels totally useless – they just seem to stroke your skin! I take a cotton sarong if I can’t carry a normal towel as this is much more versatile. In general, just always remember to pack light.
What was the best bit of advice you were ever given – and did you take it?
A friend recently reminded me, “Money comes and goes but memories last forever.” I had been debating whether to take a final trip within Australia despite already having spent well beyond my intended budget. I took the sentiment on board but was actually level-headed in this instance – my bank account is far too depleted!
We love technology, gadgets and apps; how do you feel about them? Do you use any and if so which would you recommend?
I agree – I’m totally sold on technology and how it has improved the travel industry. I don’t go anywhere without my phone and laptop, but need to invest in a better digital camera. I’m an Instagram addict and get a lot of my travel inspiration from here.
I’m less inclined to use travel review sites now until the final ‘check’ as I find the opinions to be too polarising, or misleading. I like using my own blogger network through the WordPress platform. I admit I’m actually not as diverse in my platform usage as I’d like to be.
I’m a huge advocate of travel heavyweights Airbnb and Skyscanner as they’ve never failed me, although I’m about to trial NightSwapping for a trip to Portugal. TripIt is good for keeping my flights and accommodation bookings in one place.
What’s your favourite place in Australia, (and why)? And what place would you like to visit but haven’t managed to on this trip?
I’ve fallen in love with the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It’s an area I hadn’t been to before yet there is so much on offer. Gorgeous water, ocean waves as well as a tranquil portside, cute colourful beach huts, wineries and hot springs.
Frustratingly there’s also been so much I didn’t get to do. This visit has been very Melbourne centric for me and any funds have gone towards weddings in Sydney and Margaret River, a birthday on Moreton Island, Queensland, and a trip to Bali to extend my visa.
I’m certainly not complaining. However, I would have loved to re-visit Byron Bay and either Uluru or Kakadu National Park – something that presented a huge contrast from city living.
If Liz has whet your appetite for a) travelling Australia and b) writing about it, we’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch here.