As part of our aim to keep you inspired and to keep your wanderlust ignited, we at Explore by Expedia wanted to showcase some of our favourite travellers. First up is Monica Stott from the blog The Travel Hack! Based in North Wales, Monica lives with her partner and their three children, and her blog focuses on weekend holidays and affordable adventures. We asked Monica about her favourite destinations, her earliest memories, and why she decided to become a professional travel blogger.
Travel Blogger Interview with Monica Stott of The Travel Hack
What is your first memory of travelling?
My first memory of travelling isn't actually me travelling, it was watching other people travel. My mum travelled weekly for work and I'd always go with my dad to pick her up from the airport. It was the highlight of my week. I was excited to see my mum but I just loved being in the airport. That sense of possibility and jetting off to anywhere in the world! I loved watching people coming and going, people with enormous suitcases or tiny backpacks, people greeting loved ones and saying goodbye. I'd patiently wait for my mum and wonder where all these people were coming from or going to. It all seemed so exciting and I couldn't wait to be one of those people jetting off somewhere new.
When did you realise you wanted to make travel a large part of your life?
When I was 16 I was 'studying' for my GCSE's and I was using the internet to help with my revision. I put 'studying' in inverted commas because I didn't do a lot of it once I discovered a few websites about travelling, gap years, and backpacking. I didn't do any revision (and have some mediocre exam results to prove it!) but spent three months pawing over these websites!
This was when I realised that normal people like me could pack a backpack and travel the world. These websites opened up a whole world of possibility that I had no idea existed to me before. It was all I could think about and it was all I wanted to do.
It was actually a great moment because it gave me such clarity and focus. Over the next few years I realised I wanted to be a travel writer so it helped me to focus on English and Media Studies at college and I had two part time jobs to help me save.
Explain your journey to becoming a travel blogger. Was there a particular turning point when you realised you could do this professionally?
I wanted to be a travel writer or a travel journalist so I did an internship at my local newspaper while I was saving to travel to Australia. When I left the newspaper they asked me to write a blog for their website. The newspaper had a section on their site with blogs by local people in the community; there was a local teacher, a councilor, a shopkeeper and other people within the community with something interesting to say.
I set up a blog to document my travels and I put a bit of extra effort into it because I knew it was going to be featured on the newspaper's website. I saw it as a portfolio that could help me get journalism work in the future so I took it really seriously. I uploaded 2-3 posts a week and got involved with the online travel blogging community via Twitter. I LOVED it and continued to blog during my two year backpacking trip.
When I came home I moved to London to study journalism. I studied part time so I could also work at a travel website where I learned more about websites and social media.
Living in London is very expensive so I also worked as a copywriter in the evenings. I was paid for each article I wrote so I soon learnt to write very quickly and I could write two to three 1,000 word articles each evening.
While I was in London I socialised a lot with the travel blogging community. I attended a lot of events and was soon invited to travel journalist events organised by travel PRs. It was a great opportunity to network and this was definitely the turning point in my career. I got to know PRs who invited me on press trips and brands who would pay me to produce content. I also met other bloggers and we formed strong communities and friendships and encouraged each other to become more professional.
Since then I've grown my blog and it's become something my family can live on. I have three children and they're lucky enough to travel the world with me. I have a range of luggage, an online course and work with some incredible brands. I'm so, so thankful I started my blog all those years ago!
What is one of your favourite travel memories?
My favourite travel memory isn't just one moment but a whole year when I was in Australia. I was there with my now fiance and we were travelling around the entire country in a campervan. We had an old VW and drove around the whole coast in it.
It was such an incredible time and I don't think I'll ever feel that free again. We'd drive for an hour or two a day and stop when we found somewhere nice. We'd go fishing, swim in the sea, camp in the most beautiful spots, cook on a BBQ and spend every evening under the stars. We made some great friends and had the most amazing adventures and it helped me realise that you don't need 'stuff' to have a great time. We had nothing but a van, some clothes, a few books, some snorkelling gear and a fishing rod and I've never been happier.
What is your favourite holiday destination in the UK?
Abersoch on the Llyn Peninsula in Wales. It's gorgeous! We have a caravan there and go most weekends. It's just a two hour drive from our house but it feels like a million miles away. Abersoch seems to have it's own little microclimate and it's much warmer and sunnier than other parts of the UK.
I always get up early and go for a run along the beach while the water is perfectly still and calm. We spend our days swimming, snorkelling, and paddleboarding, and evenings are for BBQs on the beach and watching the stars in the sky. It's so peaceful and a lovely place to be able to escape to.
What are your essential items to pack when you travel?
I like to travel light so I keep my clothes pretty minimal and pack a simple, capsule wardrobe. A pair of comfy white trainers is a must and I'm currently wearing the FatFace Organic Cotton Sustainable Sneaks as they go with everything.
My real essential items are my phone and my camera. I use a Lumix G80 with a 25mm lens and an iPhone XS Max with Sandmarc lenses to capture my content. I make short videos using my phone and I just love that technology has advanced so much over the past few years that I can create my content using such tiny devices.
What would you say has been your biggest lesson learned while travelling?
There's no place like home.
While I love travelling, being away from my home definitely gives me a new appreciation of where I come from.
How do you balance travelling for fun and travelling for work? Is there a difference for you?
Oh yes, there's a massive difference and it is hard to find the balance. When I'm travelling for work I have deliverables and I have a certain amount of blog posts, videos, photos and social media uploads I need to produce. I love creating this content but it definitely puts some pressure on to ensure I deliver what I've promised and that brings a level of stress I don't want when I'm travelling for fun. There are times when I know I need to capture a certain image but maybe the lighting isn't perfect or there are too many people around or it's just not working. This can be really stressful and definitely isn't a holiday!
But it's hard to switch off this travel blogger mentality. If I go for a weekend away with my family I do find it hard not to photograph everything and make videos and take notes. If I'm in a beautiful location then I want to capture it and share it with my followers! There's just a lot less pressure and it might take me a few days to edit and share the content.
What are some of your most recommended destinations?
Here are some of my favourites:
- Montenegro - for the great outdoors
- Japan - to experience a very different kind of culture
- Thailand - for an amazingly varied holiday with beaches and culture, parties and great food
- North Wales - for an active holiday in the UK
- Romania - because it's cheap and completely underrated
- Menorca - for family holidays
- Morocco - for an exciting weekend break
Where would you love to travel in the future?
New Zealand. My absolute dream trip would be to spend a month or two travelling around New Zealand in a campervan. I'm waiting for my youngest child to get to around 5 or 6 so we can handle the long flight out there!
Also be sure to check out more inspiring content from Explore by Expedia!