Blogger Interview: Julie Cao

Blogger Interview: Julie Cao

I had the pleasure of interviewing another travel blogger, who has a unique perspective on travel as an expat in Canada, a freelance travel writer and full-time travel blogger. Check out her travel blog and get to know her in my interview below.

When and why did you decide to become a travel blogger?

I initially set up my blog five years ago to provide a journal for myself of living in Hawaii, and to show readers the reality of living in paradise. I wrote a post on the things I learned after living in Hawaii, and readers and my friends in Hawaii told me they loved my post and could totally relate to what I wrote about.  This inspired me to share more of my island life.

In the About Me section of your blog, you say: For me, living abroad is the best way to get to know a country. What do you think you learn from living abroad that a tourist cant learn during shorter travel? 

Living abroad has given me an extended period of time to explore my host city and country, and get to know some aspects of a place other travelers are not aware of. For example, after living in Hawaii for a few years, I realized it was not all paradise. It also has many negative sides – too expensive to live, very limited job opportunities, island fever, and has the second worst traffic in the USA (behind Los Angeles). One cannot notice these parts by just going there on vacation. 

Hawaii Kai

Youre a full-time travel blogger and freelance travel writer. How did you transition your passion for writing into your full-time job?

I did not think much, I just decided to do it full-time because it would be the best to combine my profession with my passion for travel and sharing stories. When I just started out, I had no experience in travel writing. I joined the MatadorU travel writing program to hone my writing skills and get myself exposed to the travel journalism industry. There are support groups, valuable resources and work opportunities in the program that helped me transition as well.

What are you most proud of that you have accomplished so far with your blog?

One of my favorite parts of blogging is being a part of the supportive travel blogging community. I have met many bloggers and we have been very supportive of each other. You know the feeling when you get to know someone and totally understand what you are doing?

What are you still hoping to accomplish?

I still want to finish the MatadorU travel writing program. I signed up for the course three years ago and I am still only halfway through it. It is a huge commitment and it’s easy to get distracted, but I am determined to finish this course so I can step up my career.

What has been your favorite place youve visited, and where do you still want to visit? 

Alaska. It is the best place to visit in the USA if you love natural beauty. I have been to Alaska five times and I still want to return. 

I also wish to visit Churchill Manitoba, the polar bear capital of the world with 300 days Aurora Borealis every year and only 3,000 residents. 

North Douglas Island

What is the biggest lesson travel blogging has taught you?

Always be kind and generous. The world is very small and the travel blogging community is no exception. Everyone loves working with those who are nice and easy to work with. 

What are some of the things you are most grateful for in your life right now?

Having the opportunity to live abroad and travel around the world. I have seen poverty and people struggle with daily life and it makes me feel privileged to live the life I want in a developed country and be able to travel.

Who are some of the women (both in your personal life and famous people) who inspire you the most and why?

Julia Dimon, co-host of Word Travel, gave me the idea for travel writing in the first place. Her travel show revealed that it is possible to travel around the world full-time. She is quirky and practical, and you can tell she is very intuitive and smart.

I am also grateful to have met my travel blogger friend, Emily Luxton, when I just started out. We collaborated with each other and she invited me to her Facebook group where I had the opportunity to meet and collaborate with other travel bloggers. She offered me valuable advice on blogging and encouraged me to work with tourism boards when my blog was just five months old. Thanks to her, I was then offered a self-organized press trip to Winnipeg early this year despite my blog being so new.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start a travel blog?

Focus on creating high-quality content, and try not to look at the numbers and your blog statistics. I used to obsess over social media, blog statistics and comment pods, but I found it very time-consuming and can only get me so far. If you offer something readers really need and write from your heart, followers will come and ask for more.

What is one thing most people dont know about you? 

I do not like most sweet foods and desserts, but chocolate and ice-cream are exceptions.

 

Make sure to follow Julie on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to follow along with her exciting travels.

 

Explore With Me: Wineries in Fredericksburg, TX

Explore With Me: Wineries in Fredericksburg, TX

Last weekend I got the chance to check “wine tasting” off of my bucket list. My friend Heather invited me to join her and two other friends to drive to Fredericksburg, Texas (a small town about an hour and a half west of Austin) for a fun day of wine tasting! I’d always wanted to explore wineries, and had heard Fredericksburg was home of a lot of great ones, so of course I was game.

Our first stop before the wineries was lunch at Auslander, a popular German restaurant/beer garden. We did not partake in the beer part since we wanted to save ourselves for the wineries later, but the food was delicious! I tried the jagerschnitzel with potato salad, and it did not disappoint.

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Photo courtesy of The Auslander’s Facebook page

Once our stomachs were happy and filled with amazing German food, we drove towards the wineries and ended up stopping at a random one none of us had heard of, but we liked the name: Fiesta Winery. Fiesta had a cute outdoor seating area, complete with an old cowboy singing classic country songs. The tastings were done inside at the bar, so we went in and got to tasting! One of the things I liked about Fiesta was that their menus had descriptions of some of the ingredients and the flavors of each of the wines. We were able to choose six to try, and the descriptions made it easier for me to decide since I had an idea of what was in each of them.

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Sign at Fiesta Winery

After our tasting we sat outside and enjoyed the beautiful weather for a bit, before venturing to our second (and final) stop of the day: Becker’s Vineyard. Overall we enjoyed the atmosphere and general vibe of Becker’s better than Fiesta, but it was also more expensive and fancy, so it depends on what you are in the mood for. The wine list also didn’t have descriptions, which I was disappointed by being someone who isn’t good at recognizing names of wine without more context.

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Soaking up the sun at Becker Vineyard

However, the wine was really good and we were able to sit in the sun and relax for while, and even ate a snack at the food truck they have there. Becker’s is also a lavender shop, which was a huge draw for me. I have always loved lavender, and though I did not buy any of the products they had (including soap, lotion and linen sprays), I will definitely go back sometime and treat myself.

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Lavender store at Becker

Overall, I would rate my first winery experience a solid 10/10 (the great company may have swayed my vote a bit). If you have a free Saturday, I would highly recommend taking a trip to Fredericksburg, or your neighboring wine town, and making a day of it. Fredericksburg also has a lot of shopping, other restaurants, and tons of other wineries to explore, so I am definitely planning on going back when I get the chance.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever been wine tasting or been to Fredericksburg, or if it’s still on your bucket list!

Adventures in the UK

My last hurrah of the semester was a trip to the UK. My trip included London and three different cities in Scotland. I stayed in each country for about three days and four nights, and was lucky enough to have friends to stay with in both places.

I stayed with Tara and Katherine in London. They are both in my sorority and were studying abroad in London for the semester. Katherine was actually only there for one of the nights I was there, so she let me take her bedroom while she was gone. Because I haven’t had a room to myself this entire semester, it felt as if I was staying in a luxury hotel. I even got my own bathroom!

My first full day there, Friday, I went to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, which is just outside of London. For any of you who know me well, you know that this was an absolute dream come true. My Harry Potter love knows no bounds. I’ve also always been a bit of a nerd with discovering behind-the-scenes secrets about movies, and the making of movies really fascinates me. So basically this tour was two of my absolute favorite things in life wrapped into one amazing experience.

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Outside the Harry Potter Studios!

The tour was almost completely self-guided, starting out by walking into the Great Hall. It was set up exactly how they used it when filming. The only thing missing was the magical star-lit ceiling, which they explained had to be added in with special effects (of course I knew that must have been the case, but even so, it is crazy how different it looks without the ceiling). The rest of the tour consisted in walking up to different sets like the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledore’s Office, Hagrid’s Hut and The Burrow, all of which were decorated exactly as they had been in the movies, complete with dummies of each character positioned as if they were performing a scene.

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At the entrance to Dumbledore’s office

One of my favorite parts was an un-exceptional looking cork board, that when I went closer was covered in photos of different animals. They were all of the “animal actors” that had been used in the movies, from Crookshanks (Hermione’s cat) to Hedwig (Harry’s owl) to all of the different dogs that had played Fang (Hagrid’s dog). Each animal had a notecard with a description of their personality, which films they had been featured in, and funny facts about them. There was also a TV with a video (videos were playing next to a lot of the sets), explaining the process of training the animals. It’s crazy to think about how much time and effort must have gone in just to get Hedwig to fly and land on Harry’s shoulder.

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The animal actors

On Saturday morning, Tara took me to Portebello Market which is located in Notting Hill, where a lot of famous people have lived, and where a lot of movies take place. The market was huge, complete with everything from clothes to ceramics to every type of food imaginable. We ended up eating kebabs, and delicious pastries for dessert.

After the market I headed to my walking tour. My tour guide was Australian, but moved to London a few years ago and loves giving tours. He was eager to point out all of the Australian things in the city like the Australia House, which coincidentally was used as Gringotts Bank in the Harry Potter movies.

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Australia House aka Gringotts Bank

The rest of the tour covered a lot of the oldest parts of London, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. The tour guide was very knowledgeable about all of the history behind each sight, and I definitely feel like I learned a lot about the city. On Staurday Tara took me to all of the major places that I hadn’t seen on my tour, including London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and St. James Park. One of the the things I liked best about London was that although it is a huge city and has that big city feel, it is also very beautiful, with plenty of parks and antique architecture.

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Tower Bridge
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London Eye

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see a musical while I was there. I really wanted to see Once, but I guess that just gives me an excuse to go back to London some day! Monday morning I headed out fairly early to the airport to catch a flight to Edinburgh, followed by a few hours on a train to get to Aberdeen, where Rowan goes to school. Even just from looking out of the window of the train, I was taken by how beautiful and green Scotland is, and couldn’t wait to explore.

Rowan met me at the train station, and we headed to her apartment for a little while before going to meet some of her friends at a restaurant for dinner. It was great to finally meet her friends. She had told me so many stories about them that I already felt like I knew them all! The next day Rowan had class, so I decided to explore a bit on my own. I went to the Botanical Gardens, which were gorgeous! People gave me some strange looks for taking so many pictures, but I didn’t even care.

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Botanical Gardens

After walking around the gardens for a bit and enjoying the sunny weather (which would soon disappear), I headed to St. Machar’s Cathedral. At this point I have lost track of the number of cathedrals I have seen while traveling, but it’s a lot. I still enjoy visiting them though, because I feel like I should appreciate them before I head back to the United States.

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St. Machar’s Cathedral

That night Rowan’s friends came over to her apartment for “Mexican Food Night.” Because we are both missing the taste of Mexican food, and because  her friends weren’t really familiar with Mexican food as they are not from the U.S., we decided it would be fun to cook some food to educate them on how delicious it is, and to satisfy our cravings. We made chicken enchiladas and tortilla soup, which turned out great! And when I say we, I really mean Rowan, she deserves all the credit for cooking. It was definitely nice to taste my favorite cuisine after months of living without it.

Wednesday we began exploring. We took a train to Edinburgh for the day, which was a really cool city. We began our day at a coffee shop to eat a bit of lunch and drink some coffee. The cafe had a very Austin-y feel, so we both felt very at home there. We then headed up to the castle, but ended up just taking pictures as far as we could go without paying, since you had to pay an arm and a leg to go inside. We then stumbled upon a kilt factory, which led to many laughs. There was a little photography station set up where you could pay to dress up in an ancient Scottish costume and get your pictures taken. Though we were extremely tempted to experience it, we settled for just looking at all of the pictures they had displayed, which were priceless.

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Me and Rowan at the Edinburgh Castle
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Some of the classy photos

We ended the day at the Scottish National Gallery, the national art museum, which includes Scottish and international art from the beginning of the Renaissance up to the start of the 20th century. After the gallery we had a little bit of extra time before our train back to Aberdeen, so we actually went bad to the same coffee shop for “Luxury Hot Chocolate” and a piece of cake. And yes, it was just as delicious as it sounds. 

The next day, Thursday, was when the real adventure happened. We took a short train ride to Stonehaven, a tiny town whose two big claims to fame are the castle and deep fried mars bars. They also have a great ice cream shop, which we went to. You can either get ice cream with or without “the toppings.” Instead of choosing one or two toppings, they put a whole bunch of things on your ice cream if you ask for the toppings, including marshmallows, a piece of waffle cone, and assorted hard candies. It was amazing to say the least.

We then made the long hike up to the castle, which starts out completely up hill but gets easier as you go. We again wimped out and decided not to pay to go all the way inside, because we figured the inside basically looks the same as the outside. After looking around a bit, we decided to take an adventure and walk down to the beach area. We found a few caves, and at one point we paved our own path down the mountainside, to get down to the water, later seeing that there was a clear path that we had missed. I only slipped and fell three times, which sadly is pretty good for me. Anyone who saw us probably laughed. We must have looked pretty ridiculous galavanting through the Scottish countryside.

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Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven
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One of the caves we found

Unfortunately Friday rolled around too soon, and I had to begin my journey back to Spain in the early afternoon. I went back the way I came, which was longer because I had to go back to Edinburgh by train, fly to London, then fly to Seville. By the time I arrived back in Seville I was exhausted, but I would do it all over again if I got the chance. I absolutely loved London and Aberdeen/Edinburgh/Stonehaven. London was the perfect blend of historical and fun, and Scotland was just as I had imagined it would be, from the beautiful green countryside to the kilt factory.

Although I am sad that my travels have come to an end, I am glad I ended my semester there. It was a great end to a wonderful semester filled with travel adventures. This is normally when I preview where I will be heading next for my next blog post, so it is really weird to not have another trip! I can’t believe I only have one week left in Spain. The semester really did fly by! I will probably write a wrap-up blog filled with feelings and stuff at some point this week, so keep your eyes pealed for that. But right now I need to study for finals, so I don’t have time for emotions.

Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experience as much as I enjoyed living it! And for those of you considering studying abroad: do it! It will be challenging at times, but completely worth it.

Bye for now,

Shelly

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