Original post on Hostel Culture.
Young Student and Travel Blogger on Travel Tips and Writing
Isabel Leong is a young travel blogger who visited 55 cities in just under 6 months last year, an impressive feat for a young student. Isabel has garnered a lot of attention in media & the travel-blog sphere as well as amassing a significant number of budget-traveller followers to her insightful blog devoted to “the discovery of a world outside what you limit yourself to”. Now in her final year of studies, we caught up with Isabel as she prepares for her next adventure to talk backpacking, beaches & nature, being bold and “unorthodox” money-saving techniques.
1. You began writing your blog as a you were coming to Europe on an exchange program, so was travel-writing something you had previously aspired to or was it simply a great by-product of being on exchange?
I’ve been writing since I was young. My first blog post started in 2006, and I’ve been keeping a travel journal for as long as I can remember travelling with my parents. My exchange was simply the impetus for creating a proper public platform focusing on world travel, as the trips that I made around Europe was vast, and the only way to share my stories with everyone was through a singular platform.
2. Where in the world are you now and why?
Singapore, my hometown. It’s back to finishing my final year of undergraduate studies and earning some cash before jetting off again!
3. Where is your favourite foreign land and why?
Because Singapore is a cosmopolitan, urban city, I always find that I’m missing out on nature. As such, I am particularly fond of natural landscapes, particularly of mountainous, wide spaces.
Think Hallstatt or Salzburg in Austria. It’s the kind of land I would love to lounge in, with a scenic view of the mountains and a lake at my backyard. I also enjoy walking along the streets of Amsterdam interspersed with the confusing network of canals. Love the traditional houses by the canals, visiting weekend markets and hunting down some of Amsterdam’s local food!
4. Of your travel experiences so far, are there any in particular which, for good or bad, stick with you more than others?
The first time I tried Couchsurfing, I met some really amazing hosts who lived in the countryside. They took me hiking around the spots in Cotswolds, made me traditional pancakes, and I got to live in a house with a fireplace – something I only got to experience in the movies. It was a really bold move for an Asian girl to be living in strangers’ homes, but I’ve never looked back since!
5. Do you think being a travel-writer influences how you travel and experience new places…is writing such an ever-present part of your trip that you ‘see’ places & things from the point of view of what will make good reading?
To be honest, when I first started traveling, travel writing has never occurred to me. I merely jotted down the places I went and the thoughts that went through my mind as a way of remembering my trips.
It was only through doing extensive research on countries prior to traveling that I found the gap between prospective travellers and the limited information that was out there. Having experienced first-hand what it’s like to be in a particular country, that meant I knew what others did not, and when people come to me asking about particular destinations, that’s when I felt like I had to share about it through my blog.
6. Where to next? Why?
Philippines then New Zealand in May 2016! I will be travelling with my university mates, as a way to commemorate our final year of studies, before we move on to individual career paths. Lots of backpacking, beaches and nature – just the kind of respite I need! So, so psyched, because they are going to be the 2 big trips of 2016!
7. Of all the great tips and advice you offer to travellers, what would be your top three tips to anyone about to venture out travelling for the first time?
1. Be bold. Be open to new experiences. Don’t miss out on things, only to regret them when you look back. Certain moments can never be relived
2. To avoid being a target of pickpockets, don’t be ostentatious with your belongings. Avoid carrying branded bags/ wallets, keep your valuables out of sight whenever you can.
3. Take pictures. Our memories will fail us, and you want to remember special moments of being abroad. There’s no better way than to keep those memories frozen in still images.
8. Where did you experience the biggest ‘culture-shock’ or what surprised you most while travelling?
In Spain, where everyone has dinner at 10 pm at night. How do you sleep after such a heavy meal? Or maybe they don’t. 😉
In France, where it is common to have coffee after dinner. Wouldn’t that cause you to be sleepless?
9. Is there anything you would do differently if you were embarking on your first travel experience again?
I wish I could be bolder. I have yet to try hitchhiking, or enter a pub alone… Haha!
10. You mention in one article that you have “unorthodox money-saving tips” but you’d have to be asked about in person…..can we ask you now? We’re intrigued….
Haha. Well.. For instance, when doing grocery shopping and you have to weigh your food, I would always under-declare its weight.
When I’m taking the public transport, I will try to recycle my ticket i.e. not punch it, or buy a concession pass and pretend I didn’t know what I selected.
Also, the best way to find the cheapest way around is to speak to locals. I swear by this tip.
11. You seem to be very organised and a big fan of spreadsheets….are you always inclined to be organised in general or is it something which specifically developed as a mechanism for getting the most out of your travel time? Does planning like this hinder the spontaneity at all for you when you travel?
I have to admit, I cannot stand mess. I also believe it’s better to overplan than underplan. As travellers, there is only a finite number of days in a certain place, so I want to seize every single day and explore as much as what the city offers, because you never know when you’ll be back again!
I still leave space for spontaneity, like when I bumped into an old friend that I haven’t met in 3 years in Barcelona. I never planned on this, but we decided to meet up the next day to go hiking at Montserrat together. That’s spontaneity for you!
12. Do you see yourself still writing about your experiences when you are travelling with a walking stick?
Walking stick?! Haha. I haven’t thought that far, but I sure hope I would (and could)! It’s become a hobby for me. I like to capture my memories through words or pictures to remind me of the places I’ve been, especially so when I become older and more forgetful!