I met Sabina on a grey morning in Glasgow for brunch. She had just moved there, but already discovered the bustling breakfast and coffee scene of Pollokshaws Road. I always feel a bit awkward around other travel bloggers – obviously we all share our love for travel, so it should be easy for us to talk, right? Only that it isn’t always so easy, and frankly, I don’t always want to talk about travel and blogging, especially not when you’re supposed to get to know someone. But without travel, common ground is often tiny. With Sabina it was different. We both lived in Vienna, both moved to the UK to study, both moved to Glasgow without knowing anything about it, and ended up in the same part of town, hungry for pancakes and milkshakes. The time flew by, we talked about travel (of course) but also about work-life-balance, photography, cool areas of town and our plans and dreams for the year.
I knew I was sitting opposite a well of inspiration for many, and the stories and experiences Sabina shared with me that day stuck with me. So, when we discussed who to make our next Travelette of the Month, asking Sabina was a no brainer. She runs the incredible Girl vs Globe travel blog and founded Girls vs Globe, an online community for travelling women.
Read on to find out more about how she makes it work for her, and her recent change of heart about travel blogging.
You run an incredibly successful travel blog and you do it all by yourself – what’s your secret?
First of all, thank you for the compliment. That means a lot to me! Success is definitely a relative term – I’m not sure any blogger ever feels like they’ve “made it”. I certainly don’t.
But that might be a good thing because it pushes you to work hard. I used to work twelve hour days, Monday through Sunday. I’ve since eased up a little but I rarely fully disconnect – I’m constantly thinking up new ideas and putting together work projects.
How did you get into travel blogging?
Back in 2014 I was living in Russia, studying by day and working as a broadcast journalist for an international TV network by night. You’d think I’d have had my hands full – and I did. But there were always a few hours, between 2am and 4am, when things would quiet down in the studio and I couldn’t afford to keep up my habit of buying a new ebook every few days.
That’s when I decided to start a blog about my travels and life in Russia. I thought it was such a unique idea – I had no idea travel blogs even existed!
You grew up in Czech Republic, spent your teenage years in Vienna, and relocated to the UK and Russia to study – how does this influence your travel style?
Unlike many other bloggers I never had that aha moment of “I want to travel”. I’ve been travelling my entire life, it’s an integral part of who I am.
That definitely means my travel style is different. I’m not bothered about counting countries or rushing from sight to sight. I’d much rather spend a few weeks in one city and really get to know it.
I did this in Beijing, for example, spending a month studying Mandarin and attending Beijing Normal University. But even when my travel isn’t as educational, I still make an effort to meet locals and learn a few phrases in their language. It’s all about being open to new experiences and not afraid of looking silly or feeling uncomfortable.
Have you always been travelling a lot?
Yes. Although my parents aren’t millionaires we travelled a lot – as many people reading this already know, travel doesn’t always have to be expensive or luxurious. We often visited Germany, Croatia and Italy, as well as Greece which is still one of my favourite countries in Europe.
But because I’ve seen so much of our continent already, I’m much more drawn to far-flung destinations with markedly different cultures. I love feeling a little out of my element, it keeps me sharp and fuels my creativity.
Name three things you never travel without.
My iPhone with an international SIM, a nice dress and a good natural moisturiser or coconut oil. I also try not to forget my passport, with varying degrees of success…
Do you think it’s harder for women to travel than for men?
There’s the obvious barrier of women not being considered equals in many cultures, and generally being more at risk of harassment. So yes, it can be harder for women in that respect and we do need to take more precautions. But despite writing for a female audience I don’t like emphasising this gender divide, as it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whichever gender you are or identify as just be cautious, respectful and trust your instincts.
I was sad when I heard that you had left Scotland again. Where are you based now?
It was a bit of a rushed decision to be honest. Living in Scotland taught me one thing – my psyche was not built to withstand constant rain. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and the terrible weather was making me into a total hermit. Not a healthy lifestyle for somebody who works from home.
I’m based in Vienna for the time being, a city I grew up in and love. But it’s not permanent and I’m not completely sure about my next move yet.
What is important for you when you chose a home base?
It’s usually quite a quick decision for me. I moved to Vienna after visiting once, London having seen it two or three times, Moscow never having visited at all. I also moved to Manchester and Glasgow without really knowing anything about either city.
I am trying to make a more informed choice this time though. It would be nice to stick around for a while and not want to move again in a few months!
You recently changed the focus of Girl vs Globe to focus more on responsible and sustainable tourism. How did you come to this decision?
Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for asking about it – I’m so excited about this new direction.
Over the past year my interest in my blog was waning a little. I love my readers but I wasn’t feeling inspired at all. I’d sit in front of my laptop and feel like a total failure, because I couldn’t come up with a single original thing to write. I initially blamed Glasgow’s gloomy weather and writer’s block but it was becoming clear that wasn’t the whole story.
I found the real reason by chance, while participating in NaNoWriMo – a project aimed at writing 50,000 words during the month of November. I was sat at home doing research for my dystopian novel, figuring out which catastrophe was most likely to destroy society in the near future. You know, jolly stuff. It was then I realised the biggest catastrophe – climate change – was staring me right in the face and I was actively making it worse by crisscrossing the globe every chance I got.
That really made me stop and think. The more I thought about it, the clearer it became that I had to change the way I not only travel but live. I’m still learning a lot every day but I feel much more fulfilled since I made the leap.
Do you think travel bloggers have a certain responsibility towards the planet and their readers?
I do. When you’re just a regular traveller, the only person you’re influencing is yourself and perhaps a handful of friends. But as a blogger you become a public figure with hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands of fans.
These fans look to you for travel inspiration and 99% of them are amazing, open-minded people who just want to see the world. Pointing them in the direction of more sustainable and eco-friendly travel is a great way to channel that influence and use it for good.
It is a scary change to make at first. Responsible travel requires a lot more research than “regular” travel. I was also worried about my income decreasing as blogging is my full-time job but I’m quickly realising that won’t be an issue. Many companies are actively seeking out eco-friendly creators to work with. In short, if you’re a blogger and are feeling up to the challenge, it’s a direction worth considering.
How long did it take you to stop regarding your blog as a hobby, and treating it a business?
Over the past three years I’ve gone from not knowing travel blogs existed to making mine into a full-time job. It sounds crazy when I put it like that!
I think I first realised I could monetise my blog about half a year in. The summer of 2014 I contracted a pretty bad lung infection in China and spent nearly two months on strong antibiotics, tired and not wanting to leave home. But it was a blessing in disguise because during that time I quickly built up my audience, spending about twelve hours working on my blog every day.
It was around that time that work offers started coming in. I didn’t make much at first, but a couple of hundred dollars here and there seemed like a miracle back then!
Do you have any tips for new bloggers who are just starting out?
I have a whole section about blogging on my website where you can read my in-depth practical advice. But my top tip is to just be yourself. Blogging is all about letting your personality shine through and telling it like it is.
Here’s one more thing… Before buying a domain make sure the name you’ve chosen is something that can grow with you. I’m glad I went with Girl vs Globe, because it doesn’t limit me to travel and has a degree of flexibility that “University Traveller” wouldn’t have for example. Consider just using your name – that seems to be the new trend. Once you’re done choosing reserve a profile on all major social media channels even if you’re not planning to use them just yet.
What do you think are this year’s travel and travel blogging trends?
Not to be a broken record or anything, but the UN declared 2017 the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. So we can expect a lot more companies and travellers to be leaning in that direction.
I’ve also noticed many blog readers getting sick of cookie cutter content and top 10 lists. These might help you rank higher on Google but they will not gain you a loyal following.
There are also many uber-popular destinations like Venice or Cinque Terre that are beginning to introduce measures to limit tourism. This means 2017 is the best year yet for exploring new destinations and being adventurous.
What’s next for you and Girl vs Globe?
I wish I had a nice concise answer to that! But here are a few things I’m working on… I’ll be focusing on growing my YouTube channel this year which is something I’m very excited about. I’m in Mallorca right now and have filmed so much footage that I’m scared my hard drives will finally give up and explode.
I will also spend a lot of time growing my Facebook community called Girls vs Globe. We have about 10,000 members and it’s such a great group of women!
Finally, I’ll be learning about responsible living in general. I’ve recently become vegetarian and am collecting delicious recipes from all over the world. Speaking of which, I need to go get some breakfast. Thank you so much for having me, I’ve been a big Travelettes fan for years.
Thanks Sabina! We can’t wait to follow your future journeys!