Jeremy Head interviews: Abi King from Inside the travel lab.
Travel blogging is moving mainstream – fast. Forget the weekend travel supplements, it is bloggers who could well be the future of travel journalism. People like my interviewee this time: Abigail King.
Abi set up her blog Inside the Travel Lab in 2009 as part of her “master plan” to switch from her career as a hospital doctor to one as a travel writer and photographer. Since then, her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Lonely Planet, Red and her blogging and social media exploits have opened the door to adventures in America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Looking back now, she’s not quite sure how she managed it. You can also follow Abi on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and Facebook.
What got you into the idea of travelling and writing for a living?
I’d always enjoyed the two aspects separately but sought out a more stable career first of all. Then the point came in life when I realised that there was never going to be a better time to give it a go: I was young enough, healthy enough and had no-one depending on me financially. I took the plunge and have never looked back.
What’s the best thing about being a travel blogger?
I love the creativity that blogging brings. I can write about whatever I want, take whatever photos I want and dabble with video and podcasts as and when I want. The science part of me enjoys playing around with code and keeping up with new tech events too, so it’s a very varied job.
And the hardest thing?
The hardest thing is the lack of job security and the seemingly endless flow of people who are trying to exploit you.
What’s been the most memorable experience – best place you’ve visited to date and why?
Too many to narrow down…Hiking on the ice fields of Patagonia, watching the stars appear over Petra in Jordan, dancing salsa on the streets of Cuba, spotting thanaka paste in Burma/Myanmar…I’ve been very, very lucky.
Which place or places do you still want to visit and why?
Oh…So, so many. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of ideas. I’d love to visit Iceland and Mongolia, the Amazon and Madagascar. Then I’d like to see a little more of the States – the Grand Canyon, Texas, the Mississippi. I love southeast Asia and am keen to revisit Malaysia, Burma/Myanmar and central Vietnam. I’d like to make it into Laos and shiny-looking Singapore. You’d better stop me there as I could go on forever…
What’s your top tip for making your money go further whilst you’re away?
Skip breakfast. At most hotels it’s outrageously overpriced. You’ll find a much more enjoyable, authentic and less expensive option at a nearby cafe or food stall outside. For flights, I always check Skyscanner before I book. It’s the most flexible flight comparison site I’ve found. Lastminute.com has served me well for finding the best deals on hotels and Agoda works particularly well in Asia.
What thing or things do you always pack when you go away and why?
My iPhone. It’s great for having a backup of the admin side of travelling (like tickets, insurance, and hotel reservations) and it also provides entertainment for long journeys. There’s music, obviously, but also videos, books and internet articles that I download onto Pocket.) Then there’s navigation – not only Google Maps but the TomTom SatNav app keeps me safe on the roads. I can use it to take photos and make notes and then store those, geotagged, on Evernote. And speaking of geotagging, if I can get online I use FourSquare, Spotted by Locals and Gogobot to look for good places to eat or quirky places to visit right where I am.
Accessing Twitter on my iPhone has helped me in an emergency – I got bumped off a flight just before Christmas and a tweet resulted in an alternative travel plan that I couldn’t have put together on the spot. The phone also doubles as a torch, it scans receipts and it has plenty of translation apps for when my linguistic capabilities fail me. And finally, there are photos from home in case I get homesick. All within something I can hold in the palm of my hand. I’m still amazed by the technology – as I expect you can tell!
What’s the craziest thing that has happened to you on the road?
A woman once handed me a machete so that I could “protect myself” on the border between Mexico and Guatemala, which I thankfully never had to use. And I once received a text message to say that an armed gunman was on a shooting spree only metres away from where I was standing. That was incredibly surreal. I was surrounded by sunshine and happy, relaxed tourists and no-one else had the slightest idea that anything was wrong. I didn’t know what to do, whom to tell or where to go. In the end, the gunman was killed by security forces, but the clash of realities of standing somewhere peaceful while reading on twitter about events around the corner seemed pretty crazy to me.