Q & A on the Map My Adventure story so far
Tell us about the women behind Map My Adventure.
I feel so grateful to be born in London. I secretly (or not so secretly now), love the fact that I'm an original Londoner. Born into one of the worlds most incredible cities, I grew up in a loving family home, and never wanted for anything. I took the very "normal" route of going to University after A’levels to study a degree in Business Management, down on the South coast of England, then on finishing that, I decided to stay in my university town of Bournemouth & get a temping job in an office.
Here were where my eyes were opened to the possibility of travel & wonder. My Manager at the time had previously worked out on location in the Maldives for one of the biggest travel companies around, Kuoni Travel. Knowing my passion & desire to discover the world, (not to mention the fact that I’m a huge water baby, & the Maldives is all ocean), she set me up with an interview. And the rest they say is history.
I worked on location for Kuoni Travel, for 6 months, an experience that I am so incredibly grateful for. A truly unforgettable time, and one that would open my eyes to the mind blowing beauty of this world. I set sail before the times of social media – in fact I think msn and hotmail had just come onto the scene, so that was the only way I could communicate with my friends & family. At 22 it was tough being so far away without the social media world at my finger tips - that said it was easily one of the best experiences of my life!
Following the Maldives, I came home and slotted back into life in London, got a full time job in a bank as a Corporate Relationship Manager, bought a flat - basically did all the things I was expected to do as a 20 something girl. My 20's were a lot of fun, including countless trips to LA, Miami, New York, Ibiza, Cyprus, Malta, Europe - but these were holidays, and my appetite to travel longer term, never went away. So with that, I acted on my gut feeling and took a year sabbatical to travel the world, as a solo female backpacker. That was my first real taste of real travel. Budget travel. And I loved it. I travelled across the states for 3 months & even managed to venture over to Hawaii, which had always been a dream of mine. Following that I did Australia, both work and travel - with the help of my working holiday visa. I then hopped across the pond to Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Since than I've lived and worked in Thailand teaching English as a foreign language. I've travelled across Europe both solo and now with my partner. I've been back to Thailand for a 5th time. I've experienced the magic of Morocco and Mexico. So far I've travelled to 22 countries across 5 different continents. Plus a whole load of islands and states too.
How did you get started traveling? What inspired your wanderlust?
I'd always been inspired by wanderlust and the thought of what was beyond the horizon. I remember choosing my university in the UK, just so I could be by the ocean, as I'd spent at least half of my life up until that point competitively swimming, and I was, and still am the biggest water baby. I used to sit on the same bench down by the beach most weekends, with my headphones in, press play, and dream, looking out to the ocean & the horizon, wondering what was on the other side. At the age of 22 whilst tempting in a mediocre office job, my Manager recognised my passion for travel , wonder and the water, and recommended I should apply to a role with Kuoni out on location in the Maldives, as she had previously worked for them. I went out for 6 months and never looked back. My day to day life there was pure perfection. I'd finally found what was on the other side of the horizon....white sand beaches that stretched further than the eye could see, the calmest, crystal clear waters, fish surrounding me as I went for my morning swim, palm trees, hammocks. Island life that I couldn't believe I was lucky enough to experience at 22. Not many "foreigners" can say they've lived in the Maldives. I did of course eventually return to London, realising that perhaps I needed to start my career and put my degree to good use, as opposed to living in paradise. My desire and passion for wanderlust never went away, and eventually after countless holidays all over the world, and countless years spent working my way up the financial services ladder, I decided to live the dream, apply for a one year sabbatical and book a round the world ticket, just me, my passport, and my backpack.
What are some of your favourite places you've been to? Any particularly memorable experiences or highlights?
There are stand out moments for me:-
Hawaii. Everyone dreams of Hawaii, but to be honest I almost didn't make it. I'd been travelling across the states and had spent almost half of my yearly travel budget, so venturing through to Hawaii (even though I'd already paid for the plane ticket), didn't seem like the most sensible thing to do. I'm glad that my sensible hat was not in charge however, and that I went with the experience of it, and didn't worry about my finances.
I stayed on the North shore of Oahu at a homestay opposite Shark Cove, with a great family, and other guests that were from all parts of the world. The owner of the homestay's best friend was around a lot, especially when the BBQ and beers were flowing. He knew so much about Hawaii and the islands, telling us his travel stories and engaging us in his passion for fishing and being out on the open water. He recommended that I and another traveller get up early at dawn and drive to a secluded rocky part of beach, that was unknown to tourists, but very well known to the beautiful green turtles that fed off the rocks there. We did, and we took his advice, standing on the rocks, with our snorkels, pulling bright green seaweed off the rocks, rolling it up into balls and throwing it as far as we could into the sea. With that, I remember seeing a turtle pop its head up to the waters surface to breathe. I'd never seen one before. I jumped in, pulled my snorkel on and swam, I just had to see it up close. Before I knew it we were surrounded by the most incredible site. Turtles everywhere, some as big as small cars, swimming calmly and contently alongside us. I swam back to the rocks to get more seaweed to feed to them. They followed and I was able to stand, knee high in the ocean and feed the turtles around me. I was very careful not to touch them, as the green turtles are endangered and I love the underwater world so much that I know the rules, but it was just the most magical experience. Happiness, wonder, gratefulness, every positive emotion filled every blood cell in my body. I remember the feeling and writing about it, brings back everyemotion that I felt that day. I live for those moments.
I remember the electricity used to run on generators between the hours of 6pm - 11pm, and after that complete darkness. That is until you looked up. Diamonds. Dazzling bright shining diamonds dotted all over the black blanket of the night sky. You could see the stars, that were millions & millions of galaxies away, so brightly on Koh Rong, because there was no electricity, and no other lights on the island to dim their shine. The water that lapped onto the shores was incredibly flat & lagoon like, still in motion and as warm as that nightly soak that you take at home in your bath tub to relax.
Underneath the water's surface were more diamonds. Not stars this time, but plankton. Everywhere. Running out into the ocean with friends and my snorkel, I dived into the underwater world at night, discovering how the plankton glowed with every move my body made. So bright. It was mesmerising and I felt transported to a magical place where below and above the water's surface I was met with the most beautiful of sites. Whenever I think of that moment for me, I think of Coldplay's – Paradise. Every time I hear that song even now, it teleports me back to that time and place. One of my most special memories, the beauty of nature, and the beauty of new travel friendships combined.
The land of smiles is definitely my spiritual home. In my first year travelling around the world, I think I went back 3 times. One of those was for Songkran, celebrating the Thai New Year, by way of a water festival. Blew. My. Mind . I'm convinced that Songkran for those 3 days in April every year, is the happiest place on Earth, forget Disneyland! This place for me holds so many memories, not just of travel, but of also teaching English, working and living as an Expat there. Everything about this country draws me back, and I feel so connected with my experiences here. I've travelled to Thailand solo, with friends and with my partner, and all have been amazing for lots of different reasons.
Bali for me has everything a traveller could ever want. It was a real turning point for me arriving here, as I'd previously been working and travelling Australia for 4 months. My best friend from London had flown over to experience some of it with me, but had to return back home far too quickly. As a result I was left in a bit of a funk and felt incredibly homesick after 6 months of travelling solo. I arrived in Bali lonely, out of my comfort zone (again) and at a bit of a loss. But it was here that I found my strength and my spirit again to continue to do what I love and to not turn back, just because the road got a little bumpy. Bali was a real soul seeking time for me, I missed my family, my friends, my home comforts after 6 months on the road, but the Balinese believe that their country holds spiritual powers and is the centre of the universe, and I'm kind of with them on that. My mind set was transformed here, and my ability to see through the little clouds that were forming, through to the bright blue sky overhead was made so much easier by the smiles from strangers, delicious food, and thirst for life that the Balinese people have.
Where are you heading in 2017? Why?
So far this year we've been to Essaouira, Morocco (again), Sal island in Cape Verde and have just got back from Slovenia. We are very lucky in that we have access to staff flights on our low cost airline, EasyJet so try and get away as much as we can for as cheap as we can. We've got Paris booked for the Easter weekend, travelling by Eurostar across the water. Were hoping to head to the Canary islands or Kefalonia in May for my birthday and the hot weather of course. In July we will be venturing to Greece and doing a tour of the Cyclades islands. I'm half Greek, so as you can imagine love everything about the food, culture and history. My partner is also a very keen & strong kitesurfer, so Naxos and Paros are high up on the list. After the islands we'll start thinking about our long term travel plans that we have, which will involve South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, The Philippines, Myanmar, Japan, Thailand and end with some settled time in Bali.
Tell us about your blog (How did your blog get started? How long have you been blogging?)
Map My Adventure is my blog and travel community website. It's a combination of my own personal blog, as well as travel destination guides and travel photography. It works really well because I love to write and my partner is a fantastic photographer, so both sides compliment the business well. I guess it all started because I love travel and helping others, so I combined my love of writing with the two and decided after years of contemplating to bite the bullet and set up my own business. Since travelling I've never really settled back into life in Corporate Finance in London, and I've always had a constant feeling that I was meant for more, and that I needed to help inspire others to experience this beautiful world we live in. If I can do that whilst travelling myself and doing what I love, then it seemed like a no brainer to me. That said I'm only 4 months into creating my website and my blog, discovering my niche of budget travel both for solo and couples travel, as well as small groups of friends. For almost 9 years I carried out a Corporate Relationship management roles for small and medium sized businesses in the UK, and now I'm working my way to actually being one. Putting all that experience to good use.
What has been your biggest success so far?
How my website looks to me, is probably my biggest success so far, as before I started designing and building it I was a complete technophobe. It just goes to show me what hard work, drive and determination can achieve, and I'm thriving on the new challenges and new skills that I'm learning along the way, and that are going to mean that I can probably answer this question a lot better in the future :)
What struggles have you had during your blogging career? How have you overcome them?
Due to the fact that my blogging career as a business has been quite short, I haven't had any major struggles, however I think the general pressure and stresses of starting your own business, with only yourself to rely upon to make it work and to achieve your set goals is always going to be a challenge. I think you always have to embrace difficulty with determination, and be motivated towards achieving what you set out to - which in my case is to really add value to other travellers and my readers. I want people to say "because of Map My Adventure I made the best memories in a place I never would have visited if it wasn't for reading that blog on ....." "I wouldn't have met my significant other, or life long friends, or learnt that about myself, or this about myself etc". That is what I want for Map My Adventure and my readers. To overcome anything my headspace is always to take a deep breath, plan, organise and the rest will fall into place.
What do you enjoy the most about blogging?
A trip down memory lane. When I'm writing, I'm transported back to a place, that only feels like I was there yesterday. I can see it, smell it, feel it, and my dream super power of teleportation is pretty much real to me in that moment. I love that I can travel and write, putting pen to paper, so I can pass on the wisdom to others, even if its just one other person makes enough of a difference to me to want to do it, and be passionate about it.
In addition to this course, what other resources do you rely on for help/information? (other blogs, books, apps, etc.)
I'm reading the Lonely Planet's guide to travel writing by Don George, as well as a book about starting up a business online. I always look to Nomadic Matt, The Blonde Abroad, Hippie in Heels, Hey Nadine, Be my travel muse and Two Travel Monkeys for inspiration and knowledge of the field. Youtube is a great one, as well as friends of friends, that may have senior jobs in marketing and SEO. They are always helpful. I do really enjoy an autobiography, and am currently re-reading Richard Branson's again.
Why do you keep blogging?
Passion, motivation and my vision for myself in this industry. if you love doing something, then keep doing it.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you started blogging?
I wish I'd known how much content I would need to write and how long setting up the type of website I wanted would take. I had a very strong vision of what I wanted my site to look like, and what kind of content I wanted to feature, really from the initial stages of starting the business online, so it took a little longer than expected. If I could go back in time and tell my younger self to take more photos and write more down, then that would have saved me a lot of time now.
What are your blogging goals for 2017?
I want to build a really strong social media audience on all of my social media channels. I want to continue to take great photographs and to write inspiring, storytelling content, always improving as I go and learning new styles and take on a place. I would really love to be featured by the end of this year, and have strong amounts of traffic coming through to the website. The important of feedback and the traveller community to me is huge, so just building a name for myself in their presence would be enough in 2017.
What apps do you use that make your blogging easier when traveling?
I'm lucky to travel with an iPhone, so I've got my little notes app that I'm always using to scribble things down, when I visit a cool place, bar, beach, hotel etc. I use the Booking.com a lot, as well as Skyscanner, Hostelworld and Air Bnb. Momondo is a great one too, I haven't found a cheaper flight anywhere else yet. Google Maps and city mapper are great - as is travel buddies for when you're travelling solo and want to meet people that are travelling on a similar route to you.
What is one thing you can't travel without?
My phone. I'm totally reliant on it for everything. Without Whatsapp, Facebook, Notes & Google maps for any extended period of time, would make me miss my home comforts too much
What camera/video gear do you travel with?
I always travel with my GoPro as well as my Canon DLSR camera, which takes great photos. I'm actually looking into buying a drone this year and maybe an Olympus Pen-F. I think the investment will be worth it.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to a new blogger?
If you're just starting out or in the early stages of setting up your website, than try not to compare to others. Unfortunately it's something as humans we all do, in many aspects of our life. But it will only lead to a feeling of "why am I even bothering to compete" or a general feeling of anxiousness. You are you and that is amazing. Because of that your site, pictures and content will be unique, which is all any of us can hope for.
Hayley heads up the site, Map MyAdventure. She's originally a London girl, but has lived and worked in the Maldives, Thailand and Australia, after leaving behind her 10 year career in Corporate Banking for her passion for travel. She is obsessed with the ocean & not so secretly wishes she was a mermaid. You'll find her doing what she loves; exploring beautiful places.