My name is Hai. I’m 34 and I’m a freelance photographer from Australia and also the primary shooter for travel blog Notes of Nomads. I’m writing this to you from a quaint apartment in the city of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
When did you first discover your love for travel? Did you always aspire to make a career out of it?
Although I always intended to go abroad at some point, the fire wasn't lit until I met my now wife and serial wander-luster, Jessica, and we started travelling the globe together.
As for the career side of things, no, not at all. In the past, travel was something that I viewed purely as pleasure rather than business. But as we've come to travel more, we've also come to the realization that life is too short to not enjoy it. Combining our passion for travel and our careers was the next logical step in ensuring we didn't have to stop doing what we love. So it’s been more of a natural progression towards a digital nomadic lifestyle based on what’s important to us.
What sparked your interest in blogging? What would you say is the most important part of travel blogging specifically?
The interest in blogging stemmed from wanting a platform to voice our opinions and to give more independent and balanced travel advice. It started after the 3.11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters that took place while we were living in Japan and wanting to share our on-the-ground volunteering stories, but has now grown to a much larger endeavor without geographic boundaries.
The most important thing about travel blogging is to do it because you really love it. Don’t go into it thinking of free travel. It’s a long road to get there and it’s never free because you work hard in exchange for it. If it’s purely work, then it’s just another job and there’s no freedom in that. When you do something that’s meaningful to you, it shines through your content like no forced article ever could. That’s where you’ll engage an audience, through your storytelling and building a reputation and community over time. You also won’t have a successful site without your readers/followers, so always value them and remember them in everything you do.
You’ve managed to turn your love for travel and adventure into a career as a travel writer and photographer; what tips do you have for beginners just starting out?
Have patience. Blogging is a competitive industry and understand it can take years to build a solid audience and get recognition. That’s where having the passion I mentioned earlier plays a huge part in your longevity as a blogger. That’s what will keep you going even when you don’t yet have the readership. Going on from that, blog about what you love and not what you think you should be blogging about, because that’s what other successful bloggers are doing. Sure, learn from what others do well but also understand that your best niche is you and the only way you’re going to stand out in the growing sea of bloggers is to be yourself and let your own style shine through.
Increasingly, saying you’re a “travel blogger” is not enough for companies or readers anymore. They want to know what exactly you’re an authority on in the travel sector and why they should work with you or listen to what you have to say. Whether its expat life, street food or a particular destination(s), don’t be afraid to focus on things you’re passionate about. Consistent content on particular themes will attract a far more targeted and engaged audience than saying you blog about anything travel-related.
Travelling can appear to be very glamorous from the outside, however that is not always the case. Can you share any of the most frustrating (and unglamorous) moments you’ve experienced while traveling internationally?
Haha, this is so true! Let’s see…There’s sharing a train toilet with 50+ others for five days straight on the Trans-Siberian. Oh, and there was no shower onboard either! Getting Delhi belly that, let’s just say, lasted well beyond India. Staying in loud hostel dorms and frequently travelling overnight on less than restful transport. A girl we shared a cabin with on the train from Mongolia to Russia actually brought the contents of an entire apartment into the cabin. We could barely scramble out to use the bathroom because the refrigerator was taking up the entire floor space! Yes, she brought a fridge onto the train! And Jess seems to get bitten by all the animals we meet that potentially have rabies (Monkey in the Amazon - CHECK. Dog in Bali - CHECK). These may be some of the not so glamorous or fun sides to travelling but, that said, they more often than not give us some of the most memorable stories!
What is your funniest memory?
Probably when Jess went to a salon in New Delhi with a group of women to prepare for a friend’s Indian wedding. She came back with what they termed “Indian makeup”, which was not really suited to her natural skin color. I had to refrain from laughing out loud so as not to offend our hosts who had arranged the whole thing and were quite pleased at her transformation. Although we did have a proper good laugh after the event!
What is your most memorable adventure on a trip?
My spontaneous decision to attempt the 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan, over just a long weekend. I think I got to 46 before realizing I was in over my head, driving around rural Japan without knowing exactly where I was going and sleeping in the back of the rental car in convenience store car parks! One to be reattempted!
Favorite travel experiences:
- Favorite city and/or country: Tokyo, Japan
- Favorite locals: In Vietnam
- Favorite destination for food: Four-way tie! Vietnam, Thailand, India and Turkey.
- Favorite Island and/or beach: The Red Sea in Dahab, Egypt.
- Favorite Accommodation: Japanese ryokans with onsens.
- Favorite places to party: The Netherlands. The Dutch are crazy! ;)
What are your top 5 bucket list items right now? What was the last item you crossed off of your bucket list?
- Kayak through ice caves and photograph migrating colonies of Emperor penguins in Antarctica.
- Go on a multi-day and multi-country safari in Africa, culminating in a climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro
- Buy a used car and camp/drive across America
- Learn to live off the land with an indigenous Australian community
- Attend every single day of the five-week Iga Ueno Ninja Festival in Japan - living, training, dressing and eating like a ninja!
The last item I checked off was a hot air balloon ride over Turkey’s lunar-esque landscape of Cappadocia, filled with its iconic valleys and fairy chimneys, and 100 other balloons in the sky. It was magical.
What advice can you share for individuals who want to travel but have no idea how to start?
I could spout for hours on end about doing your research and all the philosophical arguments about letting go and following your dreams, but, at the end of the day, all you really need to do is buy a ticket and go. Oh, and follow Notes of Nomads. ;)
What is the biggest lesson you've learned about yourself through traveling the world?
How many days I can go without a shower before it becomes socially unacceptable…even to myself. In all seriousness, probably how few material possessions I really need to be happy, things that once upon a time I thought were so important to this happiness. It’s so liberating to just hit the road with what you can carry and concentrate on making amazing memories rather than collecting more things. Oh, and by the way, the answer is 12 days.
What’s next for you?
Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, the UK, Italy, Sri Lanka, India and a mystery destination TBA to round off our 2014. It will be a busy end to the year but excited for all the opportunities that await. We love to meet new people, so if we’re near a town near you, do let us know!
Images Courtesy of Notes of Nomads