I receive dozens of emails from readers every single day, asking for travel tips and advice. While I love receiving, and replying to, every email I receive, it has shown me that I don’t do a very good job at answering questions on Never Ending Footsteps.
As a bit of a trial run, I decided to put out a post on Facebook, inviting people to ask me about absolutely anything. I promised to answer every question, whether it was related to travel, money, blogging, alpacas or doorknobs.
I’ve been extremely pleased with the response and, given that this post has ended up being absolutely enormous, I’ll stop writing and simply say that I hope you enjoy reading, I hope I manage to answer some questions you may have had and I’d love to know your thoughts at the end of the post!
Sunset in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.
What are the top three countries you would still like to visit? — Ayesha Granville.
I think I’ll have to go with Ghana, Madagascar and Nepal.
Aside from the tsunami, what was your most difficult moment during your trips? – Kle Klelia
It’s hard to narrow it down to just one event — the tsunami was the only time I was genuinely convinced I was about to die.
I’ll go with my first few nights in Laos. Not only did a woman die on my slowboat, but I then ended up in the worst guesthouse of my entire life. I was locked out of my room and had to watch the owner hack off the door handle with a machete. When I then entered said room, the door locked behind me and I realised I had no way of getting out – I was locked inside for two hours. Somebody finally let me out and the only spare room left at the guesthouse was some kind of garage with a grotty old bed. The room was filled with literally hundreds of cockroaches, mosquitos, bed bugs and spiders. A cockroach ran over my face so I decided sleep outside on the ground. When a couple of backpackers arrived at the hostel at 2am and said I could stay in their room that night, I didn’t expect to end up back in my old room that couldn’t be opened from the inside. I woke up to find one of them stroking my ass.
I spent the rest of the night crying on the ground outside. You can read about this night in more detail here.
What has been your scariest adventure so far and what has been your most memorable in a good way? — Alyson Jackson.
My scariest adventure would have to be my tsunami experience.
The most memorable would probably have to be the night I spent camping in the Sahara Desert. I rode a camel over sand dunes for hours and watched the sunset from one of the highest dunes around. I ate amazing Moroccan food around a campfire, learnt to play Moroccan drums. I dragged my mattress out of my tent and onto the sand and slept under the stars, in awe of the Milky Way above me. My experience was finished off with another camel ride over the dunes, this time during sunrise.
If you could only chose one destination to settle down, what would you choose? – Kle Klelia
I genuinely can’t think of a single destination where I could live permanently — there are just too many places that are close to my heart. If I had to choose then I’d probably go with Chiang Mai, in Thailand. I’ve lived there on and off for five months now, so I know it works for me.
Can you see yourself ever returning to the UK?! — Cherry Lee Mewis
I actually have plans to, but I won’t be living there permanently. While I’ve grown apart from most of my friends from back home, I do miss my family like crazy and would love to see them a lot more than I currently do. Dave is currently thinking about running the London marathon in 2015 so we’ll probably be in Europe for at least six months prior to that.
Boracay, The Philippines.
What’s your favorite place in Asia that you’d highly recommend? — Beth Harriet Mead.
So many places that it’s hard to narrow it down to just one! If I had to choose a favourite country, it would be Cambodia. My top three favourite places are Hoi An, Vietnam, Kampot, Cambodia and Boracay, The Philippines.
Where would you recommend doing work and travel? — Jan Klasen.
If you’re going to be working and travelling, you’ll want to free up as much time as possible to travel by reducing the hours you work, so I’d recommend visiting cheaper countries around the world, in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Central America.
My favourite place to travel and work is Chiang Mai, Thailand. There are hundreds of digital nomad type people living there, so it’s easy to make friends and feel inspired. I stayed in a fancy apartment, where I had a weekly cleaner, a gym and a swimming pool. I rented a scooter and took regular trips around Northern Thailand. I ate out for every single meal.
My total expenses were under $500 per month.
Napping on a ferry ride in New Zealand.
What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in a new city? — Austin McConnell
I take a nap! I suffer from extreme motion sickness and the tablets knock me out for close to 24 hours after taking them.
After napping, I’ll usually walk into the centre of town and have a drink at a few cafes and pubs while people watching. I try not to do anything touristy for the first few days if I’m planning on being there for a while.
Of all the places you’ve visited — where would be YOUR perfect wedding destination? — Jodi Gray
I don’t know how to answer this without terrifying Dave! If it has to be somewhere I’ve visited (if not, then The Maldives!) then I’d probably go for either Slovenia, the Philippines or Morocco. Probably somewhere crazy like the Sahara Desert. Or a tropical island with nobody else on it.
The Great Wall of China.
Knowing where you are now, is there anything from your journey that you would have changed? — Kristin Scheidt
Knowing how happy and content I am with my life at the moment, I feel that everything has worked out for the best, thanks to the decisions I’ve made.
However, I do wish that I had travelled through China with an open mind and given it more of a chance. When I visited, I had only travelled for four months in total and had never been outside of Europe or the United States. I arrived in China and was instantly overwhelmed by the difference in culture and didn’t handle it very well. I was naive enough to get scammed several times, I was scared of the food and ended up with food poisoning for the entire three weeks I was in the country. I couldn’t handle the spitting, the children crapping in the street, the agressive pushing and shoving and the constant staring — I couldn’t wait to leave.
I feel like I wasted an opportunity to explore a fascinating country because I was too busy whining about how everything was different and how it wasn’t like home. One of the great things about travel is how much it changes you and, in my opinion, makes you a better person. I’d love to return to China with a completely different attitude and not be so judgemental or whiny. One day…
Can you see yourself settling down at some point? — Camille Poire
At present, no. The longest I’ve stayed in a place since leaving England is three months, and by the end of that I was itching to leave! I imagine that my travels will eventually evolve into me spending 3-6 months in a city or region and then moving on. I have a list of around 30 places I’d love to spend three months living in, with most of them costing under $1000 a month, so it’d be extremely hard to choose just one…
Making lifelong friends in The Philippines.
Do all your friends and family accept your lifestyle — or do you ever get any grief for it? — Camille Poire
My friends and family were mostly supportive of my decision to travel, though several of them seemed to take great delight in telling me I was making a terrible decision, that I needed to get a job, that I shouldn’t waste my money, that I’d probably end up dying.
Now? I’m not too sure. Sadly, I’ve grown apart from 90% of my friends in the two years I’ve been travelling. We’ve gone from talking for several hours a day to something like once a month — and when we do talk it’s hard to find common ground. They ask where I am, I ask how their work is going. We ask about other friends, partners… and then we don’t have all that much left to talk about. Eventually I’m asked when I’m coming home, if I’ve thought about what I want to do when I get back, and they decide I’m insane when I tell them I’m not coming back. It hasn’t happened with everyone, I still have some fantastically supportive friends back home, I can just count them all on one hand.
It does make me sad but I am still incredibly good friends with many of the people I met while travelling, even if I’ve only spent a couple of days with them!
I know that my family were originally against the idea of me travelling. We’re a very small family, I have my Mum, my Dad and my Sister. My Dad’s Sister and her family live in Canada and I have some extended relatives scattered around London, but that’s about it. I miss my family more than anything and being away from them is absolutely the biggest downside to this lifestyle. While they did originally feel upset and hurt and wanted me home when I first left, they’ve gradually come around to the idea and are now my biggest cheerleaders. They can see that I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life, which makes them happy too.
My parents are actually flying out to Portland in a couple of weeks to visit me, I can’t wait to see them!
I’m a millionaire in Indonesia!
How much money did you actually save up when you first set off on your trips? — Rob Davies
I left England with £25,000, or $38,000, in my bank account.
How did I save that much? I spent my five years at University working four different jobs — I was working every weekend and as many evenings as I could, all while struggling to fit in time to actually study. At one point, I took a summer internship with the Physics department while working every weekend and worked seven weeks straight without a single day off!
I managed to save £15,000 during those five years and the other £10,000 was the inheritance my Grandmother left me when she passed away. Before she died, she mentioned that she would like the money to be spent on a deposit on a house, or a car. Because of this, I don’t plan on ever spending it on travel, though I must say I have no plans to buy a car or a house anytime soon!
Were you ever worried your website wouldn’t make the money required to travel even more? — Rob Davies
Originally, no, because it was never in my plans to make money from Never Ending Footsteps. I was going to travel for six months, head to Australia on a Working Holiday for a few years, travel some more, head to New Zealand for the same, travel some more, head to Canada for the same…
Once I started making money and decided to continue travelling on a somewhat permanent basis, I suddenly started worrying about my finances every single day. Self-employment is tough and scary and unpredictable and I never know what’s going to happen from month to month. My income could disappear overnight and I’d be straight back to square one again, which is terrifying!
One of my New Year’s Resolutions I made at the start of 2013 was to stabilise my income and to find new ways to make money. I now have several well-paying, regular, freelance gigs that have really helped to take the pressure off.
Living the travel blogger dream. Or not?
I’m thinking about starting my own travel blog. Have you any tips for getting started? — Craig Allen.
Before you even register a domain name or start your site, force yourself to write your first 10-20 blog posts. Did you find it easy or did you hate every single second of it? Are you proud of what you produced or do you think your writing sucks? Would you want to read what you’ve just written?
A lot of people start a travel blog because they think it’s easy, because they want to make money to fund their travels or because they want freebies and press trips. A lot of these people give up within a few months because they’re simply not passionate about writing and don’t want to sit in font of a laptop for days when they could be out exploring a new city. Think about why you genuinely want to start a travel blog and what you hope to gain from it first.
Once that’s out of the way, then set up a self-hosted WordPress blog, purchase a decent-looking theme (I recommend finding a premium one on ThemeForest), publish the posts you’ve already written and sign up for lots of different social media sites. Write guest posts for other websites (preferably not travel blogs so that you can reach a wider audience) and work your ass off getting your name and face out there.
What do you think makes your blog successful enough to help fund your travels? And how many hours do you currently spend on it a day? — Georgina Young.
I attribute a lot of my success to the fact that I started Never Ending Footsteps seven months before I was due to leave England. Running a travel blog is really time consuming! There’s researching posts, writing posts, editing posts, replying to comments and editing photos. There’s writing posts for other websites (such as my weekly contribution to Too Many Adapters), running four million social media accounts, tracking website statistics and trying to get my head around SEO. There’s networking with other bloggers, networking with non-bloggers and researching other ways to promote my work (I’m British so I’m obviously appallingly bad at this). There’s keeping track of earnings and keeping track of expenses (both business expenses for taxes and travel expenses for my monthly summaries). There’s replying to the hundred-odd emails I receive every day that require a response.
Oh, and there’s, you know, ACTUALLY TRAVELLING.
When I started Never Ending Footsteps I was completely unaware of how much time and effort it takes to run a successful website — I naively thought it would take just 30 minutes a day to keep it running. As you can see from the above, I was so very, very wrong.
The seven months between starting Never Ending Footsteps and actually leaving to travel were spent researching every single aspect of blogging, learning the technical side of it, improving my writing skills and spending every other spare minute trying to get my name out there on social media. Yes, I was doing all this while working two jobs and studying for my Masters in Physics. Funnily enough, I didn’t sleep all that much.
If I had waited until I started travelling to do all this, I’m 99% confident I would have given up within a month. It would have been too much work.
I also think that finding a unique angle has helped my site a lot. There are thousands of travel blogs out there that all focus on how to travel, with tons of advice and helpful resources. I can’t think of any other site that focuses on how not to travel.
As for how long I spend on it, it used to be around 90 hours a week, now it’s probably around 60.
Working at a badass apartment in Ubud, Bali!
How much per month do you make on your blog? — Gillian McBain
It’s tough to give a definitive answer to this because it varies so much from month to month, there’s no real logic to it. To give an example, in May I made $4000, in June I made $300! I’d say that over the past 18 months it has probably averaged out to around $2000 a month.
The variability (and the fact that working 90 hour weeks to earn $2000 gives me an hourly wage of a fantastic $5.55) is part of the reason why I’ve recently decided to stop focusing on monetising Never Ending Footsteps and explore other online ventures instead. I’m excited to announce that I’m now going to be working for About.com and running their Student Travel site, as well as freelance writing and editing for a few print publications. I’m also writing a book, to be published in October, based on my incidents and all the ridiculous things that have happened to me since I started travelling.
And how long did it take for you to make it profitable? — Scarlett Windsong
It took four months for me to start making money. I was making enough to fund my travels around eight months after starting Never Ending Footsteps.
I ran out of photos of me sat in front of a laptop so here’s a photo of puppy cuddles in Cambodia.
I have a travel blog, and as much fun as it is writing about my experiences, I don’t feel like I’m writing in a way that makes it interesting or funny to read like your blog does! Any tips for writing? — Katherine Price
Firstly, thank you so much! My writing has improved dramatically since starting Never Ending Footsteps — just click through to any of my early blog posts and try not to stab your eyeballs. Since starting this site, I’ve been forcing myself to write every single day, especially when I don’t feel like doing so. Yes, most of it is horrible and yes, I end up deleting a lot of it but after two years of doing this I find myself deleting a lot less than I used to.
If I’m really struggling with a specific blog post, I have a couple of glasses of wine and brainstorm. And by brainstorm I mean write 5000 words that don’t make all that much sense in the morning. After a lot of editing, however, I’ve usually found my story and my angle and can finally finish the post.
I’m also a perfectionist, which is part of the reason why I don’t post regularly on here. I’ve tried to force myself to schedule posts for specific days of the week and it didn’t work for me — I wasn’t happy with what I was publishing, and I was often staying up editing until 4am so I could meet my deadlines. My writing has improved since I stopped forcing this and only posted when I was happy with an article.
What camera do you use and where can you purchase one? — Alyson Jackson
I use a Canon 550D with 18-55mm, 55-250mm and 50mm f/1.8 lenses. I bought mine from Amazon.
Failing at eating crickets in Chiang Mai.
What is the funniest food you have ever tried, then spit up (at Dave)? — Dustin Main.
I once told Dave I’d love to eat fried crickets, not expecting him to actually go out and buy a bag and bring them back to me. It took me about three hours of screeching and crying before I finally worked up the courage to put one in my mouth. I took a bite, felt it crunch and squish, screamed loudly and spat it all over Dave.
I think he was impressed.
I’m thinking of going travelling on a bicycle. First of all to make it more affordable and second to improve my fitness level. Would you recommend travelling by bike? Or what’s your take on it? — Scarlett Windsong
Okay, first of all, I think this is an amazing idea and would be an incredible experience. Personally, I’d wouldn’t ever attempt to do something like this because I cannot ride a bike without falling off. When I took a cycling tour in Bali, the instructor had to ride behind me with his hand on my back to push me up the hills. I then fell in a rice paddy.
I’d recommend getting in touch with my friend Sam, of The Random Sam. He cycled from the east to the west coast of the US and made a documentary about it. He can offer you much better advice than I can!
Kissing the LHC!
Why did you study Physics at uni? And do you use your degree in anything that you do now? — Beverley Reinemann
I’ve always been interested in Science and Maths and I actually originally applied to study Chemistry at University. I had a last-minute freak out after applying when I realised that I actually really disliked Chemistry and wanted to study Physics instead.
I chose Physics because it’s a subject that comes easy to me and because it interested me more than anything else I’ve studied. I had an overwhelming desire to understand how the world around me works, from teeny tiny particles to the huge expanse of space. I eventually decided to specialise in particle and high-energy physics after taking a tour of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
Sadly I haven’t been able to use my Physics degree for much since I began travelling. I did originally look into teaching Physics over Skype but mostly only received offers from 13 years olds who wanted to pay me £5 to do their Physics homework for them. I’ve considered freelance writing for Physics magazines and websites but haven’t put too much effort into that right now. My original plan was to travel and then return to the UK to study for a PhD in Particle Physics but I just can’t imagine staying in the same place for three years anymore, so I’m not sure if that will ever happen!
What do your travel plans look like for the rest of the year? — Emma Hayes
I’m currently in Portland, Oregon, where I’m renting a gorgeous house for a month. I wasn’t expecting to love the US — I believed that Southeast Asia is truly where my heart is, but I’m having so much fun here! Because of this, I’ve decided to make full use of my three month visa and explore some more for my remaining two months!
After leaving Portland, Dave and I have six weeks left before we have to get out of the country, so we decided it would be fun to let him choose where we go for the first three weeks, and me for the second. It’s been interesting seeing just how different our plans are! Dave is choosing for us to spend three weeks in New York City, Boston and Washington DC and I’ve decided to go for Arizona, New Mexico and Texas!
After leaving the US, I’ll be spending the rest of 2013 in Mexico and Central America, but I have no idea where I’ll be visiting, or the time scale, which, after so many years of rigorous planning, feels really good!
I’d love to know your thoughts on this post. Did you find it helpful? Would you like any clarification on any of my answers? Would you like this to become a continuing series? Thank you so much for taking the time to read this!
Courtesy of Never Ending Footsteps.
For more from Lauren Juliff, check out an interview with her on tomorrow’s episode of Biology of the Blog.