Stephanie, the brains behind the famous travel blog,Big World Small Pockets, caught the travel bug at the young age of 19 when she went on an adventure backpacking trip to Southern Africa. And after a tour to Guatemala with a friend, she just couldn't look back to "a career in London"! She travelled across Latin America and Australia, enjoying and sharing with her readers exciting adventures all the while. Her blog shares the highs and lows of budget travel and offers useful tips to backpackers on ways to travel cheap. Stephanie has received different awards and accolades over the years. She was named the Top Budget Travel Blogger 2015 by FlipKey (Trip Advisor).
How have you evolved as a traveller over all these years?
I think the main way in which I have evolved as a traveller is that I've gone from travelling with friends when I was younger, to travelling by myself for many years to now travelling with a partner. Each way presents its own highs and lows of course, but it is interesting to see how my personal life beyond travel is reflected in the places I choose to visit and who with. As a result, or perhaps because of these changes, my choice of accomodation has also evolved. I always loved a good dorm bed in a hostel when I was younger, then took to using a tent as I got older to achieve more personal space. Now I'm still in a tent, but with someone else and its strapped to the roof of a 4wd, so the personal space seems to have taken a hit again!
You say it was the wild adventure in South Africa that had you hooked. What was it about the country that inspired you to keep on travelling?
Without wanting to dismiss South Africa in any way (I do think it's a great country), I don't know if it was being there in particular that inspired me to keep on travelling. I think I could have gone anywhere in the world with a different culture, ethnic mix and economic status to the UK and the response would have been the same. For me, it was more about being 19 years old and about having my eyes and mind blown wide open by the world that existed beyond the tiny and safe island in which I'd grown up. It was about feeling a sense of wild abandon, of pure freedom (perhaps only the sort you can do as a young adult without responsibilities) and of living that to the full. Going places we were told were too dangerous, doing things we were told we shouldn't, throwing away most of our belongings and coming out the otherside to tell the tale - that's pretty exhilarating! Oh and meeting 2 strangers kitesurfing on a Mozambique beach and ending up crewing on their catamaran and sailing up the coast of Madagascar for a month - that was pretty wild too!
Australia can be an expensive destination. How did you manage to keep your travelling costs low in the country?
Australia is an expensive country, you're right (especially when I first got here and the exchange rate was almost $1 = £1, ouch!) The main way that I've kept my travelling costs here low is by working! I'm lucky enough to have come here on a visa that allowed me to do just that (working holiday visas are available to most British citizens under the age of 30) and have taken full advantage of it - staying in one place and working during the tourist season and then travelling in between. A lot of the travelling I have done here in Australia has been as part of a road trip, so camping for free where possible, eating a lot of picnics and enjoying the wonderfully free and available outdoors lifestyle of this country in national parks and at the beach.
Your 4WD Australia trip is coming up. Tell us about your travel plans across this vast nation.
A dream of both our ours for a while, my partner and I have packed up our lives into our Landrover Defender and are setting off on a long road trip around Australia. Yes, it's a pretty exciting and to coin a good Aussie phrase, "I'm stoked!" This trip has taken much more planning and preparation than anything else I've done before, (usually I just pick up my backpack and go!) so it's great that we will finally be hitting the road in just a few weeks. We start by heading north from our current base in Noosa. Queensland and want to tackle the wilderness of Cape York before heading across into the Northern Territory and then onto Western Australia. We've loosely given ourselves a year to travel right the way around the country, but don't really have a set timeframe and also need to work as we go, so plans are definitely likely to change! We've only got an allowance of A$5000 between us (about £2500!) so it's going to be budget travel to the max!
Which are the most pocket-friendly destinations you have come across during your travels?
Central America is a real budget-travellers' paradise, especially the more northerly countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, which are still very cheap. As you travel further south in Costa Rica and Panama, things get a bit more expensive, but it's still definitely not a scratch on the cost of travelling North or even South America. Morocco was also a very pocket-friendly destination and, of course, Mozambique was pretty budget-easy too!
You have often referred to Little Corn as the most favoured destination. What impressed you about this island?
Initially, the beauty of the island made a huge impression on me, as it does anyone! (If you're looking for picture-perfect white sand, palm trees and a turquoise lapping ocean you can't get better.) I was also hugely impressed by the fact that this beauty was coupled with a low rate of development. As opposed to a lot of the Caribbean where big resorts dominate, there was none of this when I was in Little Corn Island - no ugly buildings, no private beaches. Instead it was all very low key, low impact, low price tag and I loved it! Secondly, I was very impressed with the people and the lifestyle of the place. I made many lifelong friends on Little Corn Island and the local inhabitants were so welcoming. There is a real and genuine mix between them and the ex-pat community there - and it was great to both live and work with Corn Island people as well as others from across the globe.
You have travelled solo and with a partner. What do you prefer and why?
This is a tough one, especially as my partner is going to read this! I'm going to have to be diplomatic and say that each has its own merits, which for me have served me well at different times of my life. In my twenties, I am so glad I travelled solo and got the chance to grow and develop as a person in this way. I loved the flexibility traveling solo gave me, the freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted; I didn't have to compromise for anyone and that's addictive! Now however, I am learning the art of compromise with my partner. He's pretty laidback, so I still get to call a lot of the shots (ha ha!), but it's wonderful to share some of the amazing stuff you see and do when you travel with someone else. As I get older, I definitely appreciate this notion more and more - after all, a trip is so often made by the people you share it with.
You say New Zealand is safe and accessible for solo female hiking tours. Where else do you think female travellers can enjoy a safe and exciting hiking trip?
I've enjoyed exciting hikes all over the world and have never let the fact that I'm a woman travelling by herself interfere with something I want to do. Some of my favourite hikes I've made alone include the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador, some of the Pennine Way in the UK and Magnetic Island in Australia. But I've also hiked solo in Spain, Colombia and Costa Rica. I would really love to do some great hiking in Nepal next - that's big on the bucket list. Generally,I think it's all about how you feel when choosing whether to hike alone and about judging what is within your own personal comfort limits.
I've enjoyed exciting hikes all over the world and have never let the fact that I'm a woman travelling by herself interfer with something I want to do. Some of my favourite hikes I've made alone include the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador, some of the Penine Way in the UK and Magnetic Island in Australia. But I've also hiked solo in Spain, Colombia and Costa Rica. I would really love to do some great hiking in Nepal next - that's big on the bucket list. Generally,I think it's all about how you feel when choosing whether to hike alone and about judging what is within your own personal comfort limits.
Along with Australia, you intend to visit Indonesia in 2016. Are there any more travelling plans for the year?
I think the road trip around Australia is probably enough for one year! With all the prep and costs of setting up the car, we're starting later than intended, so I don't see us finishing the big lap before the end of the year. This means Indonesia will be pushed back to 2017, but then the plan is to travel from there all the way back to the UK overland,so hopefully it will be another big one! It's a good excuse to go home and see the family anyway!
This interview with Stephanie is a part of Travel Trolley's ongoing 'Best of the Travel Bloggers' series. We are interviewing popular travel bloggers who encourage and inspire people to travel. Check out all the bloggers we have interviewed and learn about their interesting experiences, adventures, travel stories as well as useful holiday tips.