Q&A Part 1: Travel journalist Vicky Baker
As promised, here is Part 1 of my e-mail interview with Vicky Baker, a Buenos Aires-based freelancer who blogs at Going local travel (a blog inspired by the “Going Local” series she wrote for The Guardian). Note that Vicky answered these questions way back in October 2009; the delay in posting them is all mine, and I’m very grateful that she took the time to respond in such detail!
Vicky and I “met” via Twitter. I was immediately intrigued by the fact that she lived in Buenos Aires, a city I fell in love with at first sight when I visited in 2006. I’ve often dreamed of going back; it’s fun to live vicariously through a British ex-pat who has put down roots there.
How long have you been writing about travel?
Have you always been a journalist? (Well, not as a child, of course!) Or did you come to the job via another career?
I’ve always been a journalist, although I took various random jobs while I was studying and in university holidays, including working as a cast member at Disneyland Paris, running a karaoke studio in Ohio and trying to sell people paper rolls for cash registers in a hideous telesales job in Canada. I really got into the idea of journalism when I worked for my university newspaper. After that, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.
What gave you the idea for the “Going Local” series for The Guardian that inspired your blog?
I’d been backpacking on and off for almost ten years and I was feeling disillusioned. Backpacking had created such a developed infrastructure that you could spend months in a country enveloped in a cocoon and spending all your time hanging out with other travellers. Or you can fall into the expat trap. For example, I spent months living in Sydney before I realised I only had one Australian friend there. I decided on my next trip I wanted to make more of a connection with the places I visited and the people that lived there, rather than just ticking off sites. I was also really fascinated by how the Internet was, and is,
helping travellers do this. Backpacking needed a shake up and travel networking provided it.
Had you tried Couchsurfing.org and other “meet the locals” sites before starting the series?
Yes, I had limited experience. I tried a few sites to meet locals on trips to Berlin and Taiwan. The meetings really enhanced my trip. I always felt I was a little late to jump on the Couchsurfing wagon, but it’s amazing how many people are still hearing about it for the first time, every single day.
I can see lots of advantages to travelling this way. But what are the drawbacks?
I don’t see many drawbacks other than that you can become a little too reliant on the Internet. You need to be open to encounters the old-fashioned way too. It’s amazing the affect of simply telling people that you are into learning more about their culture: many people are delighted to hear this and bend over backwards to help.
Did you have trouble selling editors, readers and/or nervous family members on the idea of planning a whole trip around meeting strangers? If so, what were their reservations?
A lot of other people seem to have a knee-jerk reaction to the word ‘stranger’ where they automatically expect the worst. Those that read more about hospitality tourism–or give it a try–realise it’s not nearly so intimidating in reality. People do worry about the danger element (and they’re right to be careful), yet they don’t bat an eyelid when a backpacker goes out for a drink with someone they just met at a hostel. In fact, with extensive profiles and references, you often know more in advance about ‘the strangers’ you meet online than those you meet randomly when travelling.