Lucy Wilton speaks to travel writer Lauren Juliff about her backpacking shenanigans
Back in 2011, Lauren Juliff had just graduated from Royal Holloway with a master’s degree in particle physics. She was hoping to pursue a career at the renowned nuclear research firm, CERN. The five years after has seen her travel to 65 countries and experience a tsunami. Lauren, who is a self-confessed “walking disaster”, originally intended just to take a gap year after her degree. Instead, she has managed to become a fully-fledged travel blogger, featuring in everything from the Daily Mail to the Wall Street Journal, and releasing her much-anticipated first book “How Not to Travel the World” last summer.
Visiting a condom-themed restaurant in Bangkok? Check. Being sexually assaulted in a backstreet Thai massage parlour? Check. Getting locked in a cockroach-infested hostel room in Laos for two hours? Also check. Intrigued to find out more about her enviable lifestyle, I caught up with her to discover more about the life on the road.
What made you decide to give up your job for a life of travel?
I originally planned to take a gap year after graduating from university, so it was never really in my plans to build a life of travel — it all happened very organically.
I often tell the story of a miserable holiday I had with my family one year when I was five years old. We were staying in a caravan in Devon, where it rained continuously and all we did was argue. The night before we were due to head home, though, I suddenly burst into tears because I was so desperate to stay!
That set the theme for much of my life. I’d spend all year counting down the days until I could go away, then spend my holiday depressed that I’d have to head home in two weeks. When I wasn’t away, I’d spend the majority of my spare time watching travel shows, gazing longingly at maps, and reading guidebooks for places I wasn’t planning on visiting any time soon. I probably should have realised sooner that in the long-term, travel was something I wouldn’t be able to avoid.
You’re now a self-proclaimed ‘digital nomad’, keeping your thousands of followers updated with all the juicy details of your adventures. How did you get started in the world of travel blogging, and more importantly, how do you fund such an exotic lifestyle?
I decided to start my blog to keep my friends and family updated on my travels. I fully expected that I’d take a year-long trip and then return home. A few months after leaving, I received an email from a travel insurance company which wanted to advertise on my site. Things just spiralled from there, really. Over the next few months, I worked on building my audience and attracting sponsors until I was at the point where I could cover all of my travel expenses. It was then that I realised I didn’t have to go home if I didn’t want to. And I didn’t want to.
These days, I fund my travels through a variety of different sources: advertising on my site, affiliate sales (whereby I recommend a product and, if my readers buy it, I receive a commission), freelance writing for other websites and magazines, and royalties from book sales.
What is the strangest place you’ve ever been?
The Maldives, or rather more specifically: the Maldives on a budget. Independent travel is very new to the country — the government has only allowed access to the local islands for a little over five years — so it’s one of the rare places in the world where the locals have met only a handful of Western tourists. There’s very little information about the islands online, so you never really know what to expect, which can be a bit daunting! For the most part, I was welcomed by friendly locals, got to experience the gorgeous beaches that were just as nice as they are on the resorts, and, in one case, was told by my guesthouse owner that I was the only tourist on the entire island! I ended up averaging £50 a day for my entire trip, so I highly recommend checking out the local islands there!
Your worst travel experience?
Taking the slow boat from the Thai border to Luang Prabang in Laos. It was probably the unluckiest 48 hours of my life! I accidentally ate a fried cockroach while drunk, shared a room with a girl who screamed in her sleep, and had a woman die on the boat I was travelling on. I was left sitting next to her dead body and grieving husband for six hours. The next day, I got locked inside my guesthouse room for hours, after which I was moved to a cockroach-infested room. Finally, I was sexually assaulted by a backpacker that offered to let me sleep in his room. I spent the rest of the night crying on the ground outside. Phew!
What is your single best piece of travel advice?
To leave your comfort zone as frequently as possible. I was terrified of everything when I first started travelling — small things like staying in a hostel, taking a bus or eating foreign food used to intimidate me. It was pushing myself to try those new things that helped me transform into a confident person with life experience. Travel is the perfect opportunity to try new things, as nobody knows who you are or your story — they don’t care if you have succeeded or failed in your life. Make the most of that opportunity and do the things that scare you, they’re never as bad as you think they’re going to be.
What is one thing that travel has taught you about yourself?
I’m far more capable than I ever realised. When you travel, and this is especially true if you travel alone, having nobody to rely on is fantastic for building your independence. Figuring out how to find my way around an unfamiliar place, a new public transportation network or communicating with locals who don’t speak a word of English has done wonders for my confidence. In fact, there isn’t much I feel like I can’t do now!
Apart from family, what do you miss most about the UK when you’re away?
Cathedral City cheese!
And finally, as the Student Expert for About.com, where is your go-to destination for those on a student budget?
Definitely the entire Southeast Asia region! It’s safe, beautiful, warm, affordable, and incredibly easy to travel around. There are also so many other travellers in that part of the world so it’s easy to make friends as well!
You can check out Lauren’s blog at http://www.neverendingfootsteps.com/ and can purchase her book “How Not to Travel the World” from Amazon for £6.99.
Featured image credit: Lauren Juliff