Welcome back Traveler of the Month! Each month I feature a legion of travel bloggers to inspire you with their stories from around the world and help spread some love in the blogging world.
Without further ado, meet June’s Traveler of the Month, Vanessa.
And if you missed last month’s, check it out here.
Introduce yourself! What is your travel story?
I grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada and now live in Ottawa with my husband Ryan and our dog Oliver. Studying abroad in southern England as a university student was my gateway to a wider world of travel. I loved the crafty program that took us off campus and into local communities to explore history, and from then on I was hooked. When my program ended, I stayed to work at school for a few months to save money to travel. I was assigned to work as a housekeeper and was allowed to keep the coins I found in the rooms of the departing students. This was before the Euro and I had lots of one, five and ten cent pieces from many countries, leftovers from student trips to the continent.
I used those coins to go on a three-week backpacking trip in 2001. Lugging a few kilos of coins around in your backpack is no joke, and I definitely got a lot of disgusted looks when I paid for my hostels and crepes with handfuls of coins. . But there was no shame in my game. I had a budget of $35 a day and that was to cover everything from a safe bed to a hot meal. I made it happen.
My typical budget is a little higher now, but I still love a good deal. This year I am focused on local Canadian adventures and hope to be in the Pacific Northwest and also back in Ireland in the near future. My husband just got his Irish citizenship so we want to research his roots.
When did you start your travel blog and what kind of stories do you share there?
I’m the voice of TurnipseedTravel.com, a personal travel blog chronicling my cozy, affordable micro-adventures since 2012. I love doing deep dives on reader questions. We backpacked through Myanmar in 2013, just as travel there was becoming more common. It has been extremely rewarding to have people from all over the world send questions and comments on my Irrawaddy River Cruise post.
I also like to share my personal adventures, which frankly most people wouldn’t consider all that adventurous; For example: I enjoyed writing this piece about my efforts to find squirrels in Paris. I lived alone in Paris for a month at the end of 2022. I’ve always wanted to spend time alone in a city, part travel adventure, part writing. Who knew squirrels would catch my attention?
What do you do when you’re not traveling or writing about travel?
I am a full-time freelance writer and editor. I have written Toronto Star, Reader’s Digest, USA Today, Matador, Buzzfeed, and dozens of others. I also cover human interest stories, from wine and coffee to books and small businesses to community concerns like sustainability and ChatGPT. When I’m not writing, I also frequently host workshops and webinars about the freelance business.
If you had to sum up your travel ethos in one phrase, what would it be?
Never turn down an opportunity to use the bathroom.
I’m sure there are much more profound or elegant slogans to adopt, but mine will bring you great peace of mind. Never, ever, EVER assume that there will be a better, cleaner, or more comfortable bathroom down the road.
What is the most unique moment of your trip?
I accidentally crossed the border into Mozambique to use the bathroom…. And I was immediately discovered by a group of kids with my pants down who appeared out of nowhere and laughed at me as I tried to do business behind a large rock. I’d like to think I handled the situation with great dignity.
What’s your unpopular travel opinion?
The old mantra “Be a traveler, not a tourist” is rubbish. What’s so wrong with being a tourist? What is so virtuous about being a traveler? It’s like we should shame people who work hard and save their whole lives to enjoy a ten day bus tour of Italy. I like to take the approach that I am a guest and, as if I were a guest in someone’s home, I should enjoy myself, not overstay my welcome, and avoid throwing up in the rose bushes.
How do you deal with travel burnout or bad days on the road?
In my family, we call burnout “the three of the day.” We start each trip with unbridled enthusiasm, and it takes us 72 hours before the inevitable jet lag, sore feet, and mild culture shock. A big part of the solution is simply accepting that this is our pattern. Lunch wasn’t bad. The staff were not unfriendly. The problem was the USA. We’re on the dreaded third day. Long hot baths (or showers), organizing my gear, eating a home cooked meal and getting proper sleep go a long way to recovery.
Everyone should know that you’re no less a rude, tough, devil-may-care traveler if you’ve given in to a Starbucks or McDonalds craving or replaced a worn-out shirt from a chain store rather than the local market. In Paris, I got over my homesickness by buying Snickers ice cream bars. Who gets junk chocolate in the gastronomy capital of the world? This girl. And they were excellent.
What experiences would you recommend people have in your native Canada?
People visiting Canada should make an effort to opt out of MTV. It’s Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and people spend a lot of time there. I bet you’ll have just as great a time (and spend a little less) if you add places like Winnipeg, Halifax, Quebec City, Kingston, Victoria, Fredericton, and Whitehorse to your list.
What’s the best local festival or celebration you’ve attended?
When we were in Myanmar, we got off the boat from Mandalay in Bagan and found ourselves right in the center of the parade. All the local young ladies were dressed in their best outfits and you could feel the giddy energy of the teenagers huddled together. A decked out truck was driving right behind the pickup we were in and it got blasted by the Psy gentlemen. I asked our driver what the special occasion was and he said. “Buddha Festival”. I’m sure something got lost in translation because it wasn’t all that religious, but the Buddha Festival remains the best celebration I’ve ever attended.
What is your process for writing a blog post?
There is an old story where a famous writer is asked if they write on a schedule or when they get inspired and they reply that they wait for inspiration and that it always strikes at 9:00 am every morning.
Without a doubt, my best writing happens when I’m inspired. The kind of ideas that keep me up in the middle of the night are phenomenal. But I’m a working writer. This is my job, my income, my retirement plan. I don’t have the luxury of waiting for that lightning to come at 11pm. So come hell or high water, when inspiration strikes at 9:00 am, I’m ready.
My life is driven by spreadsheets that track story ideas for both my freelance work (which is the majority of my writing) and my blog (which is a few times a month). I use the Passion Planner to map out everything from my travel plans to big picture travel goals. I love the book The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. Good stuff for packing your stuff.
Which travel experience is overrated? Or with hype?
Paris is both the most over-hyped and under-hyped destination there is. I really understand why people get frustrated on their first visit. It looks nothing like the movie-worthy, picture-perfect location of your dreams. There are crowds, overflowing bins, wildly overpriced stale croissants. But damn, when Paris is good, there’s nothing like it. No preference justifies it. Walking the empty streets of Paris early on a Sunday morning with a (fresh!) croissant is one of life’s great pleasures.
I also found Parisians to be incredibly kind and helpful. I had to go to pharmacists, optometrists, grocers, florists and baristas with questions, crisis and general tourist gossip and everyone went above and beyond to make sure I was sorted and ok. Forget everything you’ve heard about Parisians and their unfriendliness. Being reserved and unfriendly is not a sign of friendliness or lack thereof.
In fact, no destination is neutral. Your experience is shaped by what you bring to it. Circumstances beyond everyone’s control, such as the weather, cannot be avoided. Places I initially disliked (like Istanbul) quickly became favorites on a second visit once I got away from the crowds. Places that seemed magical to me (like Brussels) were a little more ordinary the next time I saw them through the lens of a bleak dam. Places that don’t feel like me in many ways (like Bangkok) have grown on me bit by bit, until now I feel like *my* place.
What’s your favorite travel snack?
Peanut M&M’s. Nectar of the Gods and anyone stuck on a flight from Sydney to San Francisco when the airline runs out of food before they reach your row at the very back of the plane.
Which direction is calling your name in 2024?
I’ve had Labrador (part of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador) on my list for years now. It has this austere beauty that is just captivating.
Finally, where can we find you online?
I blog at TurnipseedTravel.com and my full portfolio of writing and related services can be found at VanessaChiasson.com.
I’m moving towards a greater degree of digital minimalism, but I’m still pretty active on Twitter and you’ll find me there @Turnipseeds.
I also run a Substack newsletter called The Clothesline. This is where I let it all hang out and share news and stories about travel, reading, media and more. Here I also share news about the monthly book club I run. It’s called the Thursday Murder (Book) Club and focuses on British-style murder mysteries. It’s free and anyone can join on the second Thursday of every month.
Thanks for joining my Traveler of the Month series, Vanessa! Visit Vanessa’s websites to hear more of her travel wisdom, read her stories in Canada and around the world, and check out her freelance writing, and stay tuned for July’s Traveler of the Month.