You guys know I like to confuse you – you may have seen at the end of last year I interviewed Anna Hart, aka founder of One Roof Social and blogger. By total coincidence when I was looking for people to interview for INSPIRED I thought stumbled across a lady I have been following for years now, another Anna Hart, but this Anna is a travel journalist, author and total babe. I couldn’t not interview her when the opportunity arose as she is someone I have admired for years – through her passion for adventure and story telling. Keep reading if you want to learn all about what a travel journalist really does…
Anna Hart is a globally focused writer and travel author, who regularly writes for to Conde Nast Traveller, The Guardian, Suitcase and Vogue. She’s the former Travel Editor of Stylist magazine, and current travel columnist at The Telegraph. She specialises in adventure travel and emerging destinations – spas are not her thing! Nothing annoys her more than a half-arsed massage… Her first book, DEPARTURES, is a travel memoir about her adventures as a solo female traveller is out now!
“Over the past fifteen years, as a student backpacker, a world-travelling reporter and now a travel writer, it’s been travel that has turned me into the woman I am. There were the months I spent backpacking around Southeast Asia after university, in search of a personality. It worked. I returned to the UK a scuba diver, a surfer, a yoga devotee, a foodie, and a confident solo traveller. As a confirmed people-pleaser in everyday life, I found travelling with nobody to please but <myself> completely exhilarating. The joy of waking up when I wanted, doing what I wanted and eating what I wanted, became addictive.
There was my first ever work assignment abroad as a junior reporter, covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, where I learned to go forth and be nosy, speak to strangers, and do my job. There was a three-month-stint working at organic farms in New Zealand and living in a campervan, where I kicked my city habit and learned how to appreciate the great outdoors. There was a trip to the Amalfi Coast that banished a lingering bout of depression, restoring colour to my life when I’d let things slide into the grey. There was a surprise ten-day digital detox around Namibia, which prompted me to reevaluate the role that social media plays in my life, and forever shifted the power dynamic between me and technology in my favour.”
- I love reading your articles, whether it is in Stylist, Grazia or The Guardian. How did you get in to travel writing, and freelance journalism?
After university in Glasgow I got a graduate traineeship placing me as a junior reporter at FHM magazine, their first ever female writer. After two years I went freelance and wrote investigative pieces, social commentary and culture stories for Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Glamour, The Times, GQ, Vogue, Conde Nast Traveller, The Guardian, and The Telegraph, before taking a role as Commissioning Editor at Grazia magazine. After this I became Features Editor at Stylist magazine, and when I left, I became the magazine’s Contributing Travel Editor for three years. I’d realised that I was much more of a writer than an editor, and I wanted the freedom and flexibility to work abroad and report on stories around the world.
I left the role of Travel Editor at Stylist in order to free up time to work on this book (although I still contribute travel to the mag) and am now a Travel Columnist at The Telegraph. I know I’m regularly called a travel writer, but in fact I write across culture, fashion, lifestyle and international trends, and report on global events, so an “internationally-focused reporter” is perhaps more accurate.
- Freelance writing is not easy, it takes a lot of time and effort, free writing gigs and even more time spent selling yourself in to publications. You have set the standard, writing for amazing publications all around the world. But what has been your biggest challenge in your career?
Thank you! It took me at least three years to relax comfortably into a freelance career. Before that, I worked around the clock, convinced that every commission would be my last. But now that I’ve become established and settled into a routine, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
- What are the pros and cons of working in the travel sector?
Being a journalist is basically legitimised nosiness, a way of making a living out of insatiable curiosity about the world. And writing gives my travelling a purpose. I can’t imagine writing without travelling, or vice versa!
People think my life is one long holiday, but when I’m away, I’m there to do a job, to experience and find out as much as I can about a new place in the limited time I’ve got. The itinerary will be hectic, I’ll have a list of people to interview, and I’ll average five hours sleep a night. Another misconception is that we get to bring a partner or friend; more often, journalists travel solo.
Or we travel on a press trip with other journalists, when a PR takes a select group of journalists to review a hot new hotel opening, or the tourist board puts together an itinerary to show off the destination. Trips are often only confirmed a few days beforehand, so I’ve become a speedy packer – it never takes me more than 15 minutes.
On trip departure days, journalists all show up bright and early at the airport with our suitcases – and meet the people we’ll be trekking around Nepal with for ten days. It’s a lottery, and I’ve heard nightmare stories of press trips where everyone bickered or one diva/nutter/alcoholic ruined it for everyone (naming and shaming is a favourite dinner conversation on trips) but I love the mixture of ages and backgrounds. On a press trip you’ll find yourself in an infinity pool with a former BBC war correspondent, or lion-tracking on safari with an editor from Tatler.
Press trip itineraries are notoriously rigorous; on a recent trip to Seattle we were dropped off at 2am after checking out the local bar scene, then met in the lobby again at 6am for a tour of the local market. If I get a free hour, I’ll head out to something under-the-radar that I’ve pre-researched – a local microbrewery, a local fashion designer or something else I think my readers would want to know about.
As well as covering adventure travel and city destinations for Stylist, Grazia, The Telegraph, The Guardian and GQ, I write about culture, social trends, fashion and food while I’m on the road, and it’s a challenge juggling other writing commitments with the itinerary. But my trusty MacBook Air means I can work from anywhere; I’ve filed a feature about catwalk trends for a women’s fashion magazine from a bale of hay at a New Zealand winery, a piece on horror movies to a men’s magazine from a hammock in Antiqua, and submitted a news feature to a UK paper about the sharing economy from a Seattle coffeeshop at 5am. My editors never know where I’ll be, but they do need to know I’ll file copy on time. To do this job I’ve had to well and truly embrace flexible working, taking time off when it’s worth it and then opening my laptop whenever and wherever I can. I know my way around airport lounges and train station wifi zones, and I haven’t watched a plane movie in years….
- What made you fall in love with travel and how has it changed you as a person?
The thing I find so intoxicating about travel is that when we step off the flight, I’m stepping into a whole new version of myself. Nobody knows if I’ve just been dumped, been sacked, or if I’ve left a trail of wanton destruction behind me. I can get a £5 pedicure, plonk myself on a yoga mat, book a few surf or dive lessons and I’m a whole new person. Travel is the ultimate self-help intervention; meditation can go jump. Throughout my life, I’ve used travel to fix myself. And let me tell you, there has been quite a lot to fix. I’ve travelled extensively, and yet I’m never short of improvements I’d like to make to myself.
- What are your five top travel experiences to date?
Gorilla tracking in Rwanda and Uganda, star-gazing in Namibia, exploring the Bornean jungle, driving the ice roads of the Canadian Arctic, and hiking to monasteries in Bhutan.
- I love travelling with only a carry on! It makes life easier, and ensures you do not take non-essential items. What are your essential carry on products?
My winter packing list is a few Markus Lupfer jumpers, Paige jeans, Ugg Adirondack snow boots, Canada Goose jacket. Anywhere hot, it’s a heap of vintage-inspired Tibi dresses, Westward Leaning sunglasses, Havaianas and Swedish Hasbeen cloggs.
- What is your most trusted gadget when you are on your travels?
I make a Spotify playlist for every trip I go on, so noise-cancelling headphones are my biggest necessity. If it all gets too much, I can retreat into my own sound cocoon and listen to The Smiths, Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills & Nash or Kate Bush.
I also love my Philips Sonicare toothbrush, which makes me feel clean and presentable even when the rest of me is covered in mud from the jungle.
- Many people these days’ struggle to maintain a good work-life balance. I know I have done in the past! What advice would you give someone who does not feel like they have it quite balanced?
Because I travel so much for work, alone or with strangers, I do miss out on trips and weekends with my friends and family. In 2014, Sean and I only spent one week together on holiday. And travelling so much means I miss out on important occasions. I spent my 30th birthday on the National Express travelling between Gatwick and Heathrow. I couldn’t feel that sorry for myself, though – I’d flown in from Sri Lanka at 11pm and was due to check in for a flight to Brazil at 4am the next day. The trips made up for the crummy birthday…
If I get back from a trip in the afternoon or evening, I’ve learned not to go home and flop. Instead I’ll head to my office or Shoreditch House, dump my bag, go for a swim and then curl up on a sofa to catch up on emails and finish the piece whilst its still fresh in my mind. There’s definitely a danger in this job that I’ll neglect my friends because I’m either on a trip or too jetlagged to go out, so I make sure that I don’t sink into the sofa when I get back. I make myself a matcha and get on out there…
- What would be your dream trip, regardless of money or time? No harm in dreaming right?
I’m currently working on a dream trip to the Galapagos for later this year….
- You are always on the move travelling to wonderful stylish places! Where will your trip next trip be taking you?
I’ve just learned to drive, and my trip this summer will be driving to Base Camp in Nepal with a brilliant company called Nomadic Roads.
- And finally, I ask everyone this, who is your ultimate travel partner?
Honestly, I love travelling solo. Much as I love my boyfriend and my friends, it’s liberating to know you can hurl yourself into this new adventure right away, rather than waiting for someone else to wake up and decide what they want for breakfast. Travel is the most whimsical of pursuits, and to experience it in its purest form, you need the freedom to follow your every whim.
To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure.” The intrepid British explorer and writer Freya Stark expressed these sentiments decades ago, but her words come to me every morning I wake up in the starched sheets of a new hotel room. I really think that female travellers need to officially call off the search for their dream travel companion! It’s you!
Anna Hart’s travel memoir, Departures: A Guide to Letting Go, One Adventure at a Time, published by Little, Brown Book Group – you can buy Anna’s book on Amazon NOW!.
Who would you like to see interviewed next? Let me know in the comments!
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Thank you for reading and as always happy adventuring!
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