In this first Weekend Travel Inspiration this year, Sophie from Sophie’s World tells us about herself, her family, and her travels. She’s been to over 100 countries and is an accomplished journalist and travel writer. I’ve been following her website for a couple of years, and I love hearing what she’s been up to, and I’m sure you will to.
Let’s get started!
I know you are from Norway. It’s one of those countries on everyone’s bucket list. Can you tell us a little about your home, and maybe a couple of hidden gems we never read about?
Of course, the western fjords and the northern archipelagos with the midnight sun in summer and the northern lights in winter are what draw most visitors up here. One part of the country that doesn’t get as much attention is the south. Norwegians love Sørlandet, as we call it (meaning South Country). Heaps of Oslovians and people from other parts of the country have summer houses here, or sail their boats down the gorgeous coastline, during the summer holidays especially. The landscape is ancient, mysterious and beautiful with light houses and Stone Age rock carvings.
You are lucky to have two daughters to travel with. I love traveling with mine. They’re adults now, but it’s still fun. What is your family travel philosophy? Do the girls help you decide on destinations or what to do when you get there?
We decide together, wouldn’t be fair otherwise. When they were younger, and I wanted to visit a temple and they preferred the hotel pool, we‘d see the temple in the morning and spend the afternoon at the pool, even if it was pouring rain. Now that they are older (Alexandra is a young adult now, and Catarina, my youngest, is 13), they just won’t come along if they’re not interested. Cat is the one who travels with me the most nowadays and her one requirement is riding. Finding horses to ride has become a big element of travelling these days.
What inspires you to travel? What types of places call to you? How often do you get to travel?
I’m drawn to new places; there’s nothing I like better than hopping off a train in a city I haven’t been before. Never know what’s around the corner. I travel fairly frequently, shorter trips in Europe at least once a month; transcontinental journeys two or three times a year.
Describe your travel style. Do you like to be in control and do all your own planning, or do you like to let go and go on tours or go to a travel agent to help out?
I like variety. Whether it’s a luxury hotel or a hostel, what matters is that it’s interesting and unusual. I never use travel agents – and, frankly don’t plan very much in advance myself either. I usually have the flights sorted and the first one or two nights booked, if that. The rest I take care of along the way. I like to be active and experience a lot, even if time is short, but I often decide what to do on the spur of the moment. The kids are a bit more laid-back, so we have to compromise a bit.
What types of things are you interested in while you are traveling? Is it adventure/adrenalin or history/culture? Do you want to relax on the beach or hike around ruins?
I like adventure: not necessarily the adrenaline kind, but more the fumbling about in a new place kind of adventure. I also enjoy seeing historic places and discovering culture. I like visiting world heritage sites and especially the more unusual ones, like the ancient churches in Armenia and Georgia or the mountains of Lesotho. Definitely prefer hiking around in ruins to beaches. More than an hour on a beach bores me silly. Although wandering along a beach at night is very nice.
Everyone always asks the impossible question of what is your favorite, but just tell us a couple of places that you just love or surprised you, or a place you find yourself going back to.
I adore London; it’s absolutely impossible to tire of this city. A new discovery for me this summer was the Orkney Islands. I loved wandering around the island, and especially discovering the ancient site Skara Brae. I spent hours there, wondering what life must have been like for the people living there 5000 years ago. Britain is also my kids’ favourite country; my oldest likes it so much, she did her MAin Aberystwyth, a small coastal town in Wales. When I was on parental leave with my youngest (we have generous arrangements for that in Norway; 49 weeks with full pay), all three of us spent half a year in New Zealand. I love that part of the world, too – if only it weren’t so far away. The Middle East is another favourite, because of the generous and hospitable people – and because I’m oddly drawn to the stark landscape of the desert.
I don’t think anywhere is disappointing, really. Reputation is based on subjective criteria anyway. I never visit a place just because someone recommends it, and, more importantly, I certainly won’t refrain from visiting a place because others say it isn’t worth it. Everywhere is worth experiencing yourself.
What is one funny, embarrassing, cute, or even frustrating anecdote from your travels?
Things that are embarrassing, or frustrating, or even a bit scary, usually make for the best stories afterwards, don’t they… I’ve managed to frighten myself a couple of times: Once in Bulawayo, it wasn’t possible to lock the door of my hotel room. There was a bar downstairs, packed to the rafters, and I imagined all sorts of scary scenarios. So I moved the bed to the far corner of the room, and a wooden chair next to it to use as a weapon should the need arise. Of course nothing at all happened. In fact, the only time I’ve ever felt threatened, was while walking down the Strip in Las Vegas at night on my own.
In Bahrain a few years ago, I was wandering around in the Muharraq area of Manama. It was around noon and incredibly hot, so I sat down in the shade to scribble in my notebook for a bit, when suddenly two young men came out of a house nearby, inviting me in for lunch. I weighed back and forth (scary, tempting, should I, shouldn’t I…). In the end, I followed my intuition and came along. I’m glad I did; it was a big family affair, with lots of relatives and heaps of food. I was sat down in a chair and given plate after plate of delicious food and desserts and had the best conversations. Only in the Middle East!
How did you get started travel blogging? Do you think it takes away or enhances your experiences? What do your daughters think of it?
I first started Sophie’s World as a home for stories I didn’t publish elsewhere, the ones where I’m the editor and have complete control. I suppose that’s still what it is. My daughters write on the blog, too.
What is your next destination and what are you looking forward to doing there?
I’m off to South-East Asia next week, without kids this time. I’ll have a look at the tiny sultanate of Brunei, which I’m curious about, then I’ll sail from there up to Vietnam and along the coast for a bit. Look forward to getting to know this part of the world even better.
Finally, if you could inspire someone to start traveling, which place would you recommend to him or her as a good starting destination and why? Are there any places that you wouldn’t travel to your first time out and why?
That depends where you’re from and what you’re familiar with. If you’re American, perhaps Europe is the easiest place to start. On the other hand, I would say getting to know people seems to come much easier in Africa and the Middle East. So it depends upon your interests. Except for war zones, there’s nowhere I wouldn’t go, even if it was the first time out. It’s really about using the common sense we’re all born with.
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.