Sometimes all I want is to be back in my own bed with a cup of tea.
It’s hard for some people to grasp the idea of what I do. It took a long time for my parents to understand you can actually make money from travel blogging, and that it’s a real career path people follow.
It all started a couple of years ago when I went on my first solo Topdeck trip to Europe. While I was traveling, the Topdeck team noticed my photos with their hashtag. Shortly after, they started sending me across the globe with a camera in hand to capture photos of their trips. This helped me realize people actually enjoy my photos, which inspired me to start my travel blog, Polkadot Passport. After about a year and a half, my blog had become a full-time career and income source for me.
I sleep in a lot of hostels and also some wonderful hotels, either paying nothing or at a reduced rate – but I have worked hard for the privilege. At the end of the day, though, there is no such thing as a ‘free’ hotel – these stays have come from blogger agreements in which I have agreed to share a review of the hotel and my experience with my followers.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned about myself on this journey is that while it may be amazing to stay in luxurious hotels, I don’t get the genuine experience there. To be honest, I prefer just sleeping in a backpackers hostel because I get to meet new people and I’m a little bit more in touch with local life.
I first caught the travel bug when I was 15 and went overseas to Cambodia on a school trip. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced, a real culture shock, but I fell in love with being out of my comfort zone and meeting people from an entirely different lifestyle. That trip was the spark. I remember thinking ‘I love traveling and never want to stop exploring new countries and meeting new people’.
Making my dream a reality wasn’t always smooth sailing. When I was studying full-time on top of blogging and posting travel photos, I couldn’t dedicate much time to my course. I quickly learned studying wasn’t for me, because my true passion was traveling and sharing these experiences with others, so I made it a full-time commitment and dropped out of university.
Some people thought I was crazy, but I don’t regret my decision, as it has enabled me to see the most amazing places I would have probably never been able to go to had I not committed to my blogging career. One such place was Ljubljana in Slovenia. I hadn’t planned to go there but I got a cheap train ticket and thought ‘why not?’. After taking an hour bus ride from Ljubljana, I discovered Lake Bled, which is a true photographer’s dream. The mountains and castles reflecting off the water and in the background were breathtaking – it looked like something from a fairytale.
I try to avoid tourist hotspots for the majority of my travels. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to tick the hotspots off your bucket list and get the token photos to send home, but I always find it more rewarding to explore lesser-known sights. For example, on a recent trip to Bali, I hired a scooter and went to little villages – it was so exciting to experience a more authentic side of the island; the main drag, with all the busy shops and pushy vendors, can get really exhausting.
Each country I have been to has its own unique customs, which as a young solo female traveler can be a bit tricky when you first land. Locals aren’t always what you’d expect – when I traveled to Turkey, the culture was a stark contrast to what I was used to. I was very glad to be there in a group with an experienced Topdeck trip leader who kept us safe and educated on local customs.
What I love most about traveling is the fact that it broadens your mind and pushes you out of your comfort zone. Any time I’ve made an effort to meet people from different cultures, I’ve ended up staying longer in that place. It’s just incredible to realize that we’re all humans yet we live such different lives. In the end, there’s nothing quite like letting people from all walks of life expand your mind.
The worst moments of my career involve getting sick overseas. I’ve had to go to hospital in countries where I don’t speak the language and had to try to navigate a whole different system. Sometimes all I want is to be back in my own bed with a cup of tea.
Most people think I’m constantly traveling, but I’m actually just sitting at home in Auckland, New Zealand, posting photos and wishing I was traveling! It’s important to strike a balance, because it can be a challenge to transition from the mental high of traveling to being in a routine back home.
So far I’ve been to 31 countries and I look forward to seeing that number – and, with it, my appreciation for this amazing world we live in – grow.
Comment: If you could visit any place in the world, where would it be?
Nicola is a 21-year-old Aussie with a camera glued to her hands, and adventure glued to her feet. Sunshine, tea and adrenaline rushes are a few of her fave things. She's explored 31 countries so far... That's only 165 to go! Follow Nicola on Twitter and Facebook.