6 Things I’ve Learned in 6 Months as a Travel Blogger

It’s hard to believe that it was a whole six months ago that I launched the Ginger Passports. I feel as though it was just the other week that I was frustratingly trying to work out what hosting platforms and domain names were (*cue traumatic technological flashbacks*). Fortunately, the good times have far outweighed the bad, and I’m still here going strong 💪

To celebrate 182 days (give or take) as a travel blogger, I’ve rounded up the six most significant things I have learned along the way. Whether you use these as inspiration for starting your own blogging enterprise, or you’re simply curious, I hope everyone can take something away from this post!

I remember how when I was conducting my own research into personal experiences of blogging before I decided to take the big leap, a recurring theme connecting all bloggers was their insistence on being driven by passion rather than forces such as money. I would roll my eyes, both at the cheesiness and seeming impracticality of that advice.

Well, it just so turns out that the joke is on me, because the only thing you can rely on in this endeavour is your own enthusiasm. When you enter the blogging sphere, it’s easy to be blinded by the potential for making revenue and enjoying free perks such as sponsored products. Whilst I have certainly reaped the benefits of the latter, I would be lying through my teeth if I said that those perks make everything worth it. I have invested hours upon hours into this blog, and at the end of the day, I have relatively little to show in terms of earnings. Well… little. Well… none. But the point is, I have also loved every single minute of it, and that knowledge in itself is enough to drive me forwards.

To quote the Beatles, “I get by with a little help from my friends”.

I may be confident creating content, but I am certainly no expert when it comes to technology. Truth be told, the reason it took me so long to actually get a blog up and running was because I couldn’t navigate the technicalities. Hosting platform? Domain name? Bitch please, I struggle to operate my TV remote.

Fortunately for me, I was approached by a good friend who studies IT, and was offered his services. We have been working together for most of 2017, and the Ginger Passports has certainly benefited from it. Without him, I would probably still be on wordpress.com with a website looking as though it were designed by a fourth grader.

Long story short, what I’m trying to communicate here is that sometimes you just need to put your pride to one side and ask for help (or accept it, in my case). Furthermore, there’s something undeniably rewarding about being part of a team. It can get awfully lonely otherwise.

When I was first developing this blog, I – being as stubborn as I am – was hell-bent that I would publish a new post three times a week regardless of circumstances. Oh, if only.

Tying back into the first point about passion, sticking to a schedule in a context such as this relies largely on motivation. If you wake up on Sunday morning, realise that you have only published two posts in the past seven days, but cannot for the life of you find a couple of hours to draft something up between all of your other commitments, then guess what? You’re not the massive failure you think you are.

I have the luxury of not being held accountable by anyone for missing my weekly goal of three posts – save perhaps myself, who is a pretty merciless judge. Unrealistic expectations aside, this luxury means I have the flexibility to roll with the punches and write when the mood takes me. Generally, my passion for blogging squeezes out at least two posts a week, but that’s not always the case. And you know what? That’s okay. If I sacrificed the joy of flexible blogging to meet my tri-weekly goal right from the outset, I would not be here six months later writing this post.

I’m talking about the two C’s here: content and collaborations.

Regarding content, there have been some subject matters I have written about that I was scared would backfire and earn a negative reception. Likewise, there were some that dealt with issues I don’t have a knowledge base in, and wasn’t entirely confident writing about. Nevertheless, I gritted my teeth and clicked ‘publish’. I figured that I have to start somewhere, and I can’t just discuss travel playlists and Balinese villas named after Ariana Grande for the rest of my blogging career.

Collaborating was also an intimidating prospect for me. Infact, it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I finally mustered the courage to start emailing brands and bloggers about the possibility of working together. Now, I’m not trying to deceive you; I estimate that approximately 90% of those that I reach out to either ignore or politely decline my offers. But the key point worthy of highlighting here is that 10% accepted. There are plenty of exciting projects in the works thanks to those 10%; you might have already read about my campaign with Organic Initiative. Not unlike creating content that exceeded my comfort zone, I took risks and they paid off.

I welcome any excuse to channel my inner Monica Gellar.

Perhaps the most important resource I use to keep my blog developing is planning. The easiest way to lose track of your goals is not to have any, but setting those goals is only half the job. The other half entails actually working out how to achieve them.

As I have mentioned numerous times over the course of this post, my goal is to publish (roughly) three posts per week. I manage to reach that goal most of the time (*cough*) by planning in advance. On the last day of each month, I set aside time to brainstorm which posts I will write, and on what days I shall publish them. On a similar note, I also track my blog statistics on this same day for the past month, compare these figures with other months, analyse what were the strengths and weaknesses and decide how I can capitalise on these in future.

Planning is not only productive, but thoroughly gratifying as well. There’s nothing like ticking off the tasks on your to do list one by one, and the sense of accomplishment you gain is yet another of those driving forces behind your motivation.

I know, I know… that sounds absolutely bonkers. That’s like saying ‘you don’t have to wear make up to be a make up blogger’.

But it’s true! The beauty of travel blogging is that a majority of your readership are not going to be from where you live. I call New Zealand home, and have received so many lovely messages from readers across the globe asking about this beautiful country. I have written so many posts about Dunedin without having to travel more than ten minutes from my front door. By viewing the city through the lens of an outsider, I have actually felt like a tourist. It was something I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to experience.

I have also enjoyed writing about things that extend beyond geographical location. Some of my favourite posts include 5 Travel Tattoos That Don’t Scream PINTEREST and the No-Bullsh*t Guide to Saving Money to Travel for Young Adults, both of which did not require me to buy a plane ticket or even sacrifice the warmth and comfort of my bed.

I have gone six months without traveling (save for a sneaky wee trip three hours west to Central Otago) and still have ideas up my sleeve for future blog posts. Travel blogging has taught me to find inspiration in everything, and that is certainly something I don’t take for granted.

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Everything You Need To Know About Tailoring in Hoi An

Tailoring in Southeast Asia is vast and world-renowned, although perhaps nowhere as much as Hoi An. Hoi An – a small town in central Vietnam – is known for many beautiful things, among which include a thriving tailor industry. Over 700 tailors reside here, with the trade often existing generations upon generations back within a single family.

If you’ve read any of my other blog posts from Southeast Asia, you’ll know that I am unapologetically suspicious of anything that doesn’t quite stack up. So when I discovered how little it cost to get six items of clothing made at various tailors across town, I was skeptical about the quality of the garments I would be receiving. Yet after doing some research, I was quickly reassured that I would not be sacrificing quality for price. The low prices are attributed to the low cost of living (and consequently wages) in Southeast Asia.

In saying that, you should always be vigilant of tailors that are prepared to rip you off. Despite the cost of tailoring in Southeast Asia being low, there are still those that will try and sell you inferior fabric or overcharge for substandard service. Although I didn’t encounter any tailors that I was unsatisfied with, I have heard from a handful of travellers that there is an outrageous number of tailors who actually do not produce garments in their own shops.

If you are being accompanied by a tour guide, be wary that they may take you to certain tailors regardless of their quality of service simply because they receive a commission. This happened to me thanks to one shady tour guide, but luckily the tailor we ended up at was absolutely superb 👌

So how can you tell which tailor to invest in? Unfortunately, simply consulting TripAdvisor won’t always suffice. Tailors often pay companies to remove negative reviews and replace them with fake positive ones for the sake of improving business. Instead, I recommend engaging in some good old fashioned research. If you have the luxury of time, go exploring and investigate the different tailors on offer in Hoi An. If you have a particular design in mind, keep an eye out for tailors with fabrics to cater to your needs. Not all tailors have an abundance of materials on hand, so if you are looking for something special such as leather or chiffon, it pays to do your homework in advance. Furthermore, inquire about the experience of the tailors. Generally speaking, there is a reliable correlation between years in the industry and service satisfaction.

The Tailoring Process

  1. You walk into the tailor shop (without a reservation)
  2. You decide on the design(s) you would like madeA question I often receive is whether you need a preconceived idea in mind of what you would like made. There is no right or wrong answer to this; you can either bring a picture of a garment you would like made or you can collaborate with the tailor to create a design using their ideas. I myself have experimented with each option and have been ecstatic with the results of both (if not more so with the collaborated design).
  3. Your measurements are recorded with photographs taken if need be
  4. You will be required to make a deposit on your orderIn my experience, this is typically 50% of the total price. In return, you will receive an itemised receipt as proof of order.
  5. You will return for your first fitting where you will try on unfinished garments
  6. The tailor will make chalk marks and/or insert pins where changes need to be made to ensure the clothing is the right sizeThis step may be repeated a number of times depending on how long it takes to get the perfect fit. This generally depends on the difficulty of the design and the fabric used.
  7. Once the garment(s) are all finished, you will return for the final fittingReaching this final part of the process can take from between a few hours to a few days. When you are satisfied, you will pay what the deposit did not cover and the tailor will package your purchase in plastic sleeves.

Bonus Tips and Tricks

☞ Capitalise on the fact that they are tailors!

So you want an A-line skirt. Fantastic! But why are you traveling halfway across the world to buy one? The whole idea of tailoring is to order something original, so make the most of the opportunity.

☞ Be flexible!

As I mentioned above, not all tailors have the materials you may specifically request. To ensure you will be happy with the final product, endeavour to entertain all ideas and avoid a fixed mindset.

☞ “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”

Cheesy proverb aside, if you are utilising the service of a tailor, it is only fair that you reciprocate. A little positive feedback on Tripadvisor goes a long way for small businesses (if you are satisfied with the experience, of course). This is especially the case as tourists rely on such means to finalise their itinerary. Tailors will also give you their business cards so that you don’t forget their name, and won’t be subtle in their hints for you to leave a good word or two on their social networks.

I visited a variety of different tailors in Hoi An, but perhaps my favourite was Two Ladies. There, I had the most stunning forest-green coat with a satin lining made that makes me feel somewhat like a Tolkien elf. I brought a similar style back home in New Zealand about a year previously on sale, where the original retail price was NZD$900 (approximately USD$630). In Hoi An, I paid around NZD$50 for the new coat (approximately USD$35) and — although I’m no couture expert — I am convinced that the quality of the latter is far superior.

The ‘Deats

Name: Two Ladies

Location: 71 Tran Hung Dao, Hoi An, Vietnam

Contact: +84 510 3928 123

TripAdvisor: Two Ladies Tailor Shop

Facebook: Two Ladies Tailor

Have you ever visited Hoi An for some unique retail therapy? What tailor(s) would you recommend to future travellers?

All photos sourced from unsplash.com

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6 Things to Look for in a Tour Guide

Should I hire a tour guide?

It’s not a straightforward yes or no answer. There are countless reasons people decide to fork out for this service, whether that be to gain historical or cultural insight, to translate information from a foreign language, to ask for recommendations or purely out of safety. I personally have been motivated by the latter, as there are certain places in the world where being an accompanied young woman is not in the interests of my wellbeing.

Having a tour guide can be fantastic, but it can also make or break a trip.

I’ve had tour guides who have followed me into an ATM room and have physically taken cash out of my wallet in an effort to ‘help’. I’ve had tour guides who have refused to take me places I specifically asked to go because they received commission at other businesses. And I’ve had tour guides who have outright shouted at me for not understanding their instructions.

The problem for me is that I am not naturally upfront; I’m the first person to admit that I am something of a pushover. In these situations — although the idea of standing up for myself crossed my mind — I was not confident enough to put my foot down. So if you want to avoid getting stuck with a tour guide like this, then the following six things are what you need to be mindful of…

1. Flexibility

Your tour guide needs the plasticity to be able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and roll with the punches. Their priority should be to cater to your interests and to be sensitive to your needs. If you want to skip an activity, then they should accept that. If you want to stop and grab a bite to eat, then they should recommend a nearby café. If you are tired and need to slow down, then they should match your pace. An itinerary that is meticulously planned with no room to improvise is doomed to end in failure.

2. Knowledge

This is kind of a given. Perhaps one of the main reasons people enlist the help of a tour guide is so that they can gain a further dimension of understanding for the location. If your tour guide is not up to date with historical, political and cultural information, then you’re not getting bang for your buck.

3. Language Barriers

You may be surprised by the number of languages tour companies cater to if you make the effort to seek them out. You need not settle for a tour in a second language that you have to continuously translate in your head just to make sense of what they are saying. Your tour guide should also be able to speak the national language so that you have the opportunity to interact with locals and read written texts. A further thing to keep in mind is that — even if your guide speaks your language — their accent needs to be understandable. From experience, constantly asking them to repeat themselves can be very embarrassing.

4. Sense of Humour

While tour guides don’t need to be stand up comedians, it’s important that they have the ability to deal with their client’s… well, stupidity. In short, they need to be able to laugh when you make mistakes and not take anything personally. A red flag is when they are offended by questions you may ask. As a naive kid from New Zealand, I remember unintentionally insulting a Vietnamese tour guide once by asking them a question related to communism. Tour guides need to be equipped to deal with enquiries like this. Tourists want to learn, and they can’t do that if they don’t feel comfortable asking for clarification.

5. Professionality

And yes, I did just invent that word. Nevertheless, many aspects fall under this. You should expect your tour guide to be punctual, well-dressed and ethical whilst still being friendly and welcoming. You want to feel comfortable enjoying their company whilst at the same time knowing that you can approach them regarding serious matters.

6. Passion

This may sound clichéd, but it’s true. The more passionate your tour guide is, the more you will get out of the experience. Enthusiasm is contagious; I have found myself getting really excited about activities I was tempted to skip purely after seeing the smile on my tour guide’s faces.

If your tour guide is making you feel uncomfortable, then it is important that you communicate this. At the end of the day, you are the one paying them, and it is your holiday that is being sacrificed if you keep your thoughts to yourself. A lot of tour guides will also appreciate your feedback, as it is in their best interests to provide a satisfactory and memorable service. Think of yourself and your tour guide as a team; both sides have to participate for the experience to be a success.

All photographs taken during a walking tour in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam.

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