As part of The Traveler Series, The Pin the Map Project will often interview travel bloggers, editors, photographers and writers to hear their story and what inspires their work. This week, I am happy to interview Frankie Thompson (a fellow Travelette) and the blogger behind As the Bird Flies. Frankie is a self-described “Londoner-turned-wanderer” who left her life in the big city for two years of nomadic travel in October 2011, aged 29. After a fantastic two years, in 2013, Frankie and her boyfriend settled in Amsterdam, smitten with the city’s laidback lifestyle and happy to indulge in their love of living in a cycling city. Nearly two years later, Frankie is still in Amsterdam and expecting her first child. As a published author, freelance copywriter and travel & lifestyle blogger, Frankie has managed to turn her love of writing into a career. Here I ask Frankie about what inspires her travel, her best advice to budding bloggers and how she affords her world travels; she shares great insights, so read on!
What inspires you to travel?
As a writer and naturally nosey person, I’m inspired to travel to experience the different things the world has to offer. I travel to find stories about people, places and periods of time that have shaped the way the world works today. I travel to build on what I already know and to enjoy a different way of life. I’ll also be totally honest and say I’m also inspired by the opportunity to relax, eat good food and create memories that will keep me company when I am older.
For those who don’t yet know you, can you explain your travel style?
Are we still using the word “Flashpacking”? I guess this is the best word to describe how I travel as I definitely don’t backpack and I’m certainly not a budget traveler, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a luxury traveler as I don’t have the budget to sustain that. I like to vary my travel experiences. I would say 50% of the time I stay in self-catering accommodation and 50% of the time I’m in hotels, B&Bs, resorts etc. I don’t mind spending money if I feel I’m getting value for it and we definitely splash out on at least one luxury holiday a year. I don’t “rough it” with long bus journeys or the cheapest mode of transport possible – I get horrid travel sickness and besides, long journeys cost me more money in time away from work – and I definitely like to focus on style, comfortable and cool experiences rather than working my way through all the “must-visit” sights in a place. That said, I love museums and walking tours, though I will always make time to just wander or cycle around a city by myself. I also try to do all the above with sustainability in mind and would always rather stay in an independent or family run boutique hotel than a vast luxury resort owned by a multinational brand.
How do you afford your travels?
I work as a freelance writer, but because this can be unpredictable in terms of regular income, I would say my number one way to save for travel is by not spending much money! Ever since I started saving for our big trip in 2011, I’ve been quite strict with my spending, which was a huge 180 change for me as I used to spend a lot on clothes and going out. Nowadays, after rent and living expenses (food, utilities etc.), I think travel is actually my biggest expense (though I expect that to change when our baby arrives!). I’m also lucky that most of the time I travel with my partner so I’m rarely having to pay for a solo trip and we’ve got fairly savvy about the best time to book flights and how to find the best deals.
Sometimes, I travel for free too as I’ve been travel blogging for nearly four years and have taken part in some fantastic press trips. I’ve also been paid to travel when I’ve been involved in a blogging campaign for a destination (for example, I’m a member of the Must Love Festivals team), but I don’t see these travels in the same way as I do my personal trips with my partner or with friends. Personally, I definitely see these trips as work so I feel it’s wrong to give the impression that blogging is the way to get “free travel” or “free holidays” as people will miss the point that most bloggers work their asses off to get to that stage (myself included) and when you’re on these trips you need to be professional first, and a beach bum second or not at all!
Where has been your favorite destination and why?
This is the hardest question I think you can ask anyone, along with favourite song or favourite film. I have several of places that I’m deeply fond of for different reasons and most of them are very personal. I love Thailand because it’s where my partner and I feel most relaxed. I love Morocco because that’s where I was living when I finished and published my very first book. I love the Netherlands because it’s such an easy, and unexpectedly beautiful country to live in. I love Finnish Lapland because I was able to snowboard there in complete darkness… at 3pm in the afternoon. I love London because it’s home and it both challenged and looked after me during much of my twenties. So, I’m sorry I can’t answer that question with a single answer!
If you had to settle down in one location forever, where would you choose and why?
Well, I suppose I’d have to say Amsterdam as that’s where I’m currently putting down roots and choosing to raise a child, but if nomadic travel taught me one thing, it’s that you can actually be very happy in a lot of very different places so I’ll always stay open minded about where our “forever” place may be.
What’s the funniest or weirdest cultural idiosyncrasy you’ve either witnessed or experienced?
I witness cultural differences every day as an ex-pat in Amsterdam, but most are very subtle like the way Dutch kids say English swear words freely in front of their parents (they hear them all the time on TVs and on the radio) or the way many Dutch apartments and houses don’t have curtains so you can gaze into people’s front rooms (which I not-so-secretly love doing).
Another funny one was when I was living in Montpellier, France for a summer studying French and it was a fellow English student’s birthday so a big group of us – all international students – went out to some of the city’s bars. Half-drunk, myself and an American lad decided to buy the birthday boy a “dirty pint” full of a mix of beer, wine, and a few shots. It was a disgusting brown colour but when we handed it to him he took it and did his best to drink it. All the while a group of Italian, Spanish and German girls looked on in shock, asking why we were poisoning him and why would we do this to him on his birthday. Now I understand their fear because it probably was a disgusting concoction, but at the time I thought they were prudish. It was certainly really funny and interesting to see how different our drinking cultures – and approach to celebrating a birthday – were.
What keepsake do you have to get at all your destinations? (Whether it’s something free like ticket stubs or brochures, or something you have to buy)
I don’t have a specific thing I must keep or buy as a souvenir, though I’m still a big fan of sending postcards and try to do this as much as possible. I also like to collect business cards from a nice restaurant my partner and I find or I keep the corks from a good bottle of wine, I put these kinds of things in a jar which I open at the end of each year; I call it my Good Things Jar.
How about the one thing you cannot travel without?
Can I say my boyfriend or will that get me kicked out of this interview for soppiness? Unfortunately my alternative answer is considerably less romantic as I would say ear plugs! They are my life saver as I can’t sleep without them (I blame five years of living on a busy road in London) and no matter where I am in the world, I can be a really moody cow if I don’t have enough sleep!
Have you ever traveled solo? If yes, what was the experience like?
The sad answer, is not really. I’ve gone on several work trips on my own (for my previous job and now as a travel blogger) but they’re never the same as just heading out on an adventure on your own for no reason other than to enjoy the journey and experience. I would like to change this one day in the future.
What are your go-to travel apps?
The ones I use most are Google Translate, XE Currency Exchange and Google Maps, which probably are the ones everyone else uses! However, I did write this post for Travelettes recently about the extended list of apps that I also have and use regularly.
What is the best piece of travel advice you’ve picked up over the years?
I’ve learned the hard way that impatience is your worst enemy when traveling so invest some time in finding a way to either fill long periods of time when you’re stuck waiting for a delayed flight or find a way to “let go” of any stress you feel when travel plans don’t go your way. Don’t let the physical act of travelling ruin the broader experience of being somewhere special.
Why did you begin your website? How did you come up with your website name?
I began travel blogging in the second half of 2011 but before that I was a “hyperlocal” London blogger, focusing on the events, news and things to do in an area of the city called Shepherd’s Bush. I called myself “Bird in the Bush,” and so when I left to go traveling I was keen to keep blogging and I thought “As the Bird flies” was a nice name because this bird was flying the nest… I’m really glad I went with this name rather than a more travel specific name as my blog is now about a lot more than just travel; it’s about my journey changing careers to become a freelance writer and I also share my experiences about writing fiction and being an independent author. In the last year I’ve also started to share writing advice and tips as I now want to help others chase this dream as my doing so has brought me a whole lot of joy, I want others to experience this too.
What is your best piece of advice to budding travel writers looking to start a blog or website?
Unlike five years ago when “hobby bloggers” found their rapidly growing following catapulted them to big readership numbers and business opportunities, I don’t think that nowadays this will happen by accident very easily. I think now you have to be quite smart and almost calculated about how to launch, manage and sustain a blog, no matter the niche you write about. So my first piece of advice is decide if you’re starting a blog or website to make money and pay your bills, or if you just want a creative outlet that you will work on in your spare time. Having this clear in your mind will obviously change how you approach setting a blog up and will help you either get to your money-making goals quicker or alternatively, will help you just relax and enjoy the creative freedom and satisfaction that blogging or writing for joy can bring. I was confused in the beginning because I wanted my blog to make me money, but the articles I wrote and the content I shared fell into the other category. It took me nearly two years to realise I just wanted my blog to be my own personal project where I could write what I want without worrying about SEO or how many page views it got me or chasing brand partnerships. It was following this realization that I actually then started to communicate more with my readers and as a result, somewhat ironically, brands and companies were more interested in working with me because although my following is small, it’s very loyal and engaged. If you want to be a travel writer I would use a blog or website as a place to “show off” your varied writing styles and experience. Use your blog to experiment and to write things you want to write because if my experience is anything to go by you won’t always be writing about the most interesting topics for clients!
What’s next for you in 2015? (Trips planned, etc.)
With a baby due in July, I’m not doing any more trips until our new arrival is with us and we’ve gotten used to caring for a little one. Rather than being downhearted by this I’m actually looking forward to taking advantage of this downtime to finish my latest book (a novel set in London about a young woman who is hired by a private investigation firm because she has forgettable looks so she can follow their people they’re investigating without being noticed) and to enjoy my favourite Amsterdam’s restaurants, cafes and museums while I’m still able to! I also be hopefully publishing my first non-fiction book which will help guide new writers through starting and finishing the first draft of a book with both practical advice and writing inspiration.