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Interview with Vanessa from The Island Drum

Interview with Vanessa of the Island Drum Travel Blog - Featured

Today we are traveling with Vanessa from The Island Drum.

My name is Vanessa and I’m from originally from the United States. My blog is nearly four years old now and it didn’t actually start out as a blog per say, so it has morphed a bit over the years towards the slow travel and expat lifestyle direction.

What type of traveler would you say are you?

My travel ‘style’ covers the gamut from low-budget to a great appreciation for the finer things in life. As I’m now officially a professional freelance writer as well as home spun blogger, my travel style has changed drastically. Especially when it comes to packing. The challenges of packing lightly as well as being prepared for ‘any occasion’ is an art form, because I’m usually working on the road and the ‘backpacker’ look isn’t always beneficial. In my experience I can say that a ten day minimal in one location is the best way to really get a feel for a destination. I see places much differently as a travel writer than as I did when I went on short annual vacations.

What’s inside your backpack? What is that one thing that you ALWAYS have to carry.

I usually carry a large day pack in addition to toting a rather uncool looking wheeled carry-on size suitcase. I’ve found that massive sized luggage usually gets me the evil eye from mini vans and boatmen. So for the most part my laptop and other electronics are always perched on my back. And I always carry a roll of duct tape. 😀

Which one is your favorite destination in Southeast Asia? Why?

My favorite Southeast Asia destination so far? That’s a tough question. Off the bat I’d have to say Vietnam. It was a country I heard of most of my childhood and unfortunately because of the war I also saw plenty of news videos of this ‘exotic’ country that affected so many families I grew up around. I grew up in a Navy town, so many of my friends were from military families. When I finally went to visit Vietnam as an adult, it put many things into perspective. Plus, Vietnamese food is quite awesome.

Can you recommend a local dish for us to try in Southeast Asia?

I’m not much of a foodie, but if you ever have a chance to try Sarawak Laksa, it is the one dish that actually changed my mind on Malaysian cuisine. I can just think about Sarawak Laksa and my mouth waters. It’s like magic. I’ve only made it using Sarawak Laksa paste, which according to insiders is a guarded ‘secret’ recipe in itself. But it’s basically a mix of blended herbs when combined with coconut milk create a sauce to pour over noodles. The garnishes of chicken, shrimp, cilantro, onions and egg slices add a brilliant and unique flavor. There are quite a few Laksa variations and ask any Malaysian and they will tell you which one is their favorite and where to get the ‘best’.

Vanessa from The Island Drum

Vanessa by taxi.

Can you tell us about The Island Drum ?

The Island Drum actually started life as a Facebook group on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia. I basically started a group for sharing local events and what not. It was suggested that I start a Langkawi website, which I did, but there wasn’t enough content from the small island to keep a website very lively or for it to have growth. This was also true for me in trying to improve, grow and network as a travel writer, which I had soon discovered was something I really enjoyed doing. I still post weekly events and a few blurbs for sightseeing and restaurants I recommend, but it’s no longer the meat and potatoes content it once was.

I’ve found that some islands can lean towards being socially clique-ish and locals can get a bit jaded when it comes to new arrivals. Some may even have a predetermined opinion of why people come to visit their island in the first place. Sand, sun and swaying palms, etc..

But the interesting thing about islands in Malaysia (and elsewhere) is that they usually have a rich culture/history that may be deemed as ‘uninteresting’ by tourism touts, thus those aspects of island life are under promoted to the visiting masses. Penang, however, is the complete opposite when it comes to their island heritage, so for anyone wanting to discover a diverse culture of Malaysia they should put Penang Island at the top of their must-visit list.
In case you were wondering about ‘The Island Drum’ name, it finally dawned on me one day that I was hearing a drum beating on Fridays before ‘announcements’ were made in the village I live in. But I have kept my domain name location-free as I plan to be beating The Island Drum elsewhere eventually.

Traveling alone or with someone? Why?

I usually travel alone, but I’ve also found that traveling solo is a different experience. Local people are more open and less shy, so it is easier for me to hear their stories. I may even need to change my personality a bit for a sudden different approach and that is much easier to do without having to explain to a friend why you are doing this or that… It can of course get very lonely at times, but having a travel buddy for the sake of companionship can be a distraction unless they have the ability to entertain themselves and still allow me to do my ‘work’. This can be a difficult concept for non media travel buddies to comprehend.

Which country did you find the most hospitable people?

Another tough question. From my own personal experience, Slovenia sticks in my mind as having the most hospitable people. At that time I was a full time Respiratory Therapist and accustomed to the ‘saving lives’ role.

My then boyfriend and I were driving through a small village in Slovenia when we came upon a motorcycle accident. Everyone was just standing and staring, so I tried to comfort and talk to the guy while we waited for the local medical services (which were slow at the time).

Maybe the locals were not accustomed to tourists doing things like that, but they invited us to the local pub and more and more villagers showed up and rounds of Jager Meister were poured, rather generously, as a token of Slovenia friendship. Unusual but heartwarming to me.

Vanessa by boat.

Vanessa by boat.

How is a day in your life when you aren’t traveling?

If I’m not on the road, I’m usually hunkered down at home playing catch-up. My day starts with an enormous amount of coffee and I plunk away at online chores and writing deadlines. I try to take one or two days to run errands or go to the beach for some fresh air, but that’s about it when I’m on ‘the island’ home base.

What’s the big reason why you are traveling?

I initially took a hospital job overseas and when that ended I took more time than expected to go back to my career. Exploring Southeast Asia was a tiny distraction. Now as a blogger and freelance writer I bounce around as time and cash flow allows.

Can you tell us about your longest trip? How long was it ?

My longest trip per say was pre-blogging days when I spent about three weeks in Morocco, exploring Essaouira and the High Atlas. In those days I had a full time hospital job so cash flow was not an issue. Spontaneity is also possible with the lucrative overtime pay hospital workers get.

Vanessa at Langkawi.

Vanessa at Langkawi.

In all the trips you’ve done, what has been your favorite so far? and why?

Sailing and island hopping for two weeks in the Bahamas and the Abacos was my best trip. Not on a yacht, but a regular old fashioned sailboat. Sailing warm waters and going native is my idea of a dream vacation. There is something quite freeing being at sea (for short periods of time).

What’s your favorite gastronomy/food cuisine that you had in your travels?

Anything from New Orleans, Louisiana, from PoBoys to Shrimp Gumbo, yes please!

Has there been any challenging and bad moments?

I have a strong sense of potential danger and problems that have (knock on wood) kept most ‘bad’ stuff away. I have however made a few social blunders that didn’t win me any fans, but I’ve learned from those mistakes. Traveling can be an exhausting sensory overload at times and I’ve learned that heeding some of the advice of those serenity prayers can do wonders. Don’t get too tired, hungry, lonely, etc.. and things will generally run smoothly. Even whacko things can be easily laughed off if I’m not exhausted.

Vanessa in Sungai Petani.

Vanessa in Sungai Petani.

What has been you favorite destination on all the trips you’ve done?

I really miss living in a diverse surf and water sports ‘beach’ community, so travel wise I might say Mexico and Costa Rica coastal regions. They usually have an accumulation of all age surfers, divers and the like to keep things fun and interesting. It’s also so close to the US that expense wise it was always affordable. That area is also part of my long term Plan B.

What’s the worst place that you have stayed in for sleeping? What’s the best?

The worst place I ever stayed was my first and last dorm room in Washington D.C. It smelled and the people staying there stunk too.

The best place I ever stayed would be any place with white sand beaches and clear ocean water just outside the door. I’ve stayed in too many great hotels and resorts to pick just one.

Are you planning for a new trip or do you already have a new trip in mind?

I have a few trips in mind this year, but it depends on time and finances. Indonesia, Borneo and the Philippines in addition to a a few trips to Thailand.

Vanessa in Penang.

Vanessa in Penang.

Its easy to find love while you are traveling?

From my own experience love seems to find its way to people when they aren’t looking for it.

How do you finance your trips?

I live quite inexpensively and I make a little money from freelance writing and a few local ads on my website. I occasionally do some social media consultation too. I’m always happy to get a FAM invite, which can certainly help with accommodation costs.

Do you have any recommendations which blogger/traveller should I interview next?

Alice of Teacakes Travels takes the travel bull by the horns. She has the special gift of intelligence, creativity and a great sense of humor. I met her briefly at TBEX Asia and I look forward to crossing paths again with her in the future.

Which one is your favorite post?

Are you kidding? They’re all so amazing! (joking) My favorite blog post would be one I did a couple of years back about Kota Bharu. It didn’t get much traffic or acknowledgement, but I was really proud of how I pieced so much information together. I had been on my first FAM trip in Malaysia and of course nervous and thrilled, but I was also overwhelmed by the endless content presenting itself. I had thought I knew Kota Bharu quite well at that point, but found out there was much more. There were so many interesting aspects of the area that a return visit has been on my list since.

Vanessa by boat.

Vanessa by boat.

How many hours do you spend working in the blog? How do you manage while traveling?

Since I work solo, I’m pretty much it for the work force, so I easily put over 10 hours a day into the process, which includes my social media efforts. I do the bare minimal when traveling and try to avoid actual website work if I have sketchy internet access.

Have you always thought that you wanted to monetize your passion by blogging?

Actually once I did launch my website, I realized that to maintain it properly it takes money. Then add in the expenses of actually getting content, whether paying an entry fee, eating a meal, staying in a hotel and of course the transportation costs it takes revenue. Of course monetizing doesn’t pay off unless you have website/blog traffic, and that can take endless hours and networking.

Interesting story, thank you for your time,  Vanessa!

It sounds great, living in Southeast Asia. Vanessa is living and traveling alone around Southeast Asia. And now, she is pitching a few story ideas to a few publications. But other than that, she continuous to live this amazing lifestyle that she has chosen and been doing for the last years. Keep up with her life, stories and adventure by following her blog. Feel free to follow Vanessa in social media —  Facebook and Instagram.

If you want to read more female travel stories and adventures, check here and meet Alexandra who has also traveling solo, around the world. Or read here to meet Melissa, and how she’s been backpacking around the world, plus her new adventures with her current love.


Looking forward to share more travel inspiration to all of you. Share Vanessa’s story in to your friends and via social media to help inspire more people to travel and live the lifestyle they want. x

Ruben Arribas is a Spanish traveler who has traveled more than 70+ countries around the world. Now based in the Philippines!


Monday 2nd of May 2016

Nice one Aunty V

Vanessa Workman

Monday 2nd of May 2016

Thank you Stefan, muah!

Interview with Vanessa from The Island Drum — Gamin Traveler – NICE TRIP WORLD

Monday 2nd of May 2016

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