I'm Helen from Destination>Differentville. I'm a journalist & blogger who loves finding quirky and unusual things to do - and expat who has lived in three countries. Ask me anything.

Jun 12, 2018

I'm Helen and I run the travel blog Destination>Differentville - the main aim of which is to give me an excuse to do slightly bonkers things that cause me to clap my hands with glee a lot in the name of work (like go to an island full of rabbits and get covered in rabbit food!).

During my travels, I've eaten more insects than I care to think about, drunk beer on top of a helipad (even though I'm terrified of heights) and swam with tuna fish (which are faster than you might think).

I also write sensible travel articles for magazines - and have published 14, even more, sensible books on nutrition and health! 

I currently live in Australia, but have also lived in the UK and New Zealand.

Ask me anything about quirky travel, writing or moving countries and I'll do my best to answer.  

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What tips do you have for getting good deals on lodging and airfare?
Jun 17, 2:32PM EDT0
When you go to any destination, how do you know where to find those quirky places? What is your method to discover all those less-popular spots?
Jun 16, 11:20PM EDT0

You know they say only 1 per cent of people go past page one on google - I'm one of them! I search and search and search using a few key phrases. I can get up to page 50 sometimes! I might see one line mentioning something which then sends me off on a tangent to find a whole genre of quirky things. When I get there, it's just a case of walking around with my eyes open. Often I'll notice something like an unusual ingredient on a menu or a strange ice cream flavour somewhere I'd never heard of in my research - I wrote an entire piece on quirky food in Kuala Lumpur that almost all came from things I spotted once I got there. Then when I get there, I ask people, 'what's the quirkiest thing here' which is often a good way to find things.

Jun 17, 2:11AM EDT0
Is there an African country included in your next traveling adventures? Why or why not?
Jun 16, 8:22PM EDT0

I wish - I'd love to see so many places in Africa. The Giraffe Manor hotel is probably No2 on my Bucket List (No1 is the Taj Mahal).  As I said before though I fund my own travels and from Australia, Asia is cheaper and easier logistically to visit right now. If anyone wants to host me on a tour of the continent though, it won't take me long to pack and get my jabs!   

Jun 17, 2:14AM EDT0
You mentioned you have two more countries where you would like to live in. Do you have an idea which countries are those two?
Jun 16, 1:53PM EDT0

I would love to live in Japan for a year or two - I think it's the only way I'll get it out of my system finally, but I'm not sure that will happen without a lottery win. And I have the dream of retiring to Thailand - but I'm not quite there yet! 

Jun 17, 2:16AM EDT0
How do you manage your time to organize your travels, write for your blog and also write for your health magazine?
Jun 16, 7:09AM EDT0

I'm a strong believer in the saying that work expands to the time you give it and so my health and print travel work are done Monday-Friday 9-5 - and at 5pm I turn off my computer.

I write blog posts at weekends - and the rest of the blog tasks, social media, backend work, travel planning etc happen before I start work or in the evening - it's a full-time job, to say the least.

I should spend more time promoting the blog, but there's only so many hours in the day - I used to run marathons once. I'm not sure I'd be able to fit one of those in as well now! 

Jun 17, 2:19AM EDT0
I'm sure a lot of people tell you that you must have the best job in the world being a travel writer but what are some of the downsides to a job like that if there is any?
Jun 13, 9:09AM EDT0

I'm not a full time travel writer so there's not too many downsides for me, but the writers I know say the biggest problem is being away from home. It sounds wonderful seeing the world all the time but often you can't take your partner and it's nice to just be able to cook what you want for dinner for once - or just eat cheese on toast! I suppose the only problem I've found personally is weight gain! I write a lot of foodie travel and you have to eat out twice a day - and snack - I can easily gain half a stone when I'm away. It's sounds so ungrateful to moan about it, but blimey it's hard to get that off again!  

Jun 17, 2:24AM EDT0
Why would you willingly eat insects? Was it a way to push your boundries somehow?
Jun 13, 5:25AM EDT0

The same reason as I do most things - because I've never done it before and I might like it!

There's also a school of thought that says if we carry on the way we are, we're going to need to introduce insects into the food supply to survive so I thought I'd get ahead of the trend.

I'd also rather eat an insect than Marmite (a toxic sludge thing some people in the UK willingly put on toast! Even the smell makes me ill).  

Jun 17, 2:27AM EDT0
How many times have you been to Japan? What fascinates you about the country? What are your favorite destinations when going there?
Jun 13, 12:12AM EDT0

I've just come back from my fourth trip - and already want to go back for No5.

I love the oddness of the place - the fact that it's seen as completely okay to launch a hotel completely staffed by robots (including dinosaur ones) or put a giant Godzilla head in the middle of the city that roars and no-one says 'hang on guys, are we going a bit overboard here'.

But I also love that hidden among all of that are these tiny traditional neighbourhoods with family firms and years of tradition.  My favourite part of my last trip was visiting an area called Sugamo which is where Tokyo's seniors 'hang out' - I haven't written the post up yet, but I loved it there. 

Tokyo is probably my favourite place; but I absolutely loved Osaka =- any city that has giant pufferfish hanging off the buildings is okay with me. I've been to Kyoto twice but I haven't warmed to it yet. My next trip will take me right to the bottom of the country to Nagasaki and Beppu - I'm just not sure when it will be yet. 

Jun 13, 2:22AM EDT0
The first time you travelled alone, what were some of your concerns?
Jun 12, 11:46PM EDT0

As a woman travelling alone, security is always the issue - is this place okay for me to wander around on my own, particularly at night. Am I better in a taxi or public transport? Is my hotel room secure. 

That's one reason why I always buy a local SIM so I always have a map to hand; I also tend not to stay out too late (but I don't do that when I'm travelling with others either). If I'm going to the US and staying in a motel with external corridors I also request a room close to reception and pack a door wedge that makes it harder to open the door from outside.

Generally though I love travelling on my own.   

Jun 13, 2:27AM EDT0
What are some little known facts about Australia as a travel destination that you would like people knew more?
Jun 12, 10:34PM EDT0

That's a hard question - I'm not sure I know any 'facts' - I do know a few myths I'd like to dispell though. 

There are not snakes in the street! So many people say 'I couldn't live there because of the snakes' - but you don't (often) see them in the city. I will give them spiders though! 

Adelaide is probably the most underrated city in Australia. Most write-ups focus on the fact that it's full of churches and parks (snore). I didn't go to either of those things and spent a fantastic week there. 

It's a long way from one city to another. I've had people ask for advice on what they can see in Australia in a week and are surprised when you suggest one or two cities. Flying from Sydney to Perth takes five hours!

It's also not right next to New Zealand - again, people think they can do both in a week, but it'll take the best part of a day to fly between the two by the time you've checked in, flown and allowed for the time difference.

Jun 13, 2:34AM EDT0
What is a country you've travelled to where you felt most welcomed by its people?
Jun 12, 10:28PM EDT0

Has to be the USA - I have a British accent and that works wonders in the US. 

Jun 13, 2:36AM EDT0
Have you thought on working with other bloggers in Destination Differentville? Are you developing new strategies to market and expand the reach of your blog? How can people contact you if so?
Jun 12, 8:20PM EDT0

I'd love to work with other bloggers - I regularly contribute to other people's blogs in collaborative posts and would love to hear from anyone keen to write for Differentville. Check out my work with me page for more details which also tells you how to get in touch, 

I admit, until now I haven't marketed it effectively, it's the writing I love so I tend to put off the rest - but that's changing. Hence my being here having a chat! I've got a year-long plan that I started implementing this month. Fingers crossed world domination follows! 

Jun 13, 2:41AM EDT0
What is the foulest insect you have ever tried? Did you eat it more than once? What insect wasn’t so bad?
Jun 12, 4:19PM EDT0

If I never eat the body of a spider again I wouldn't be sorry - it has the consistency of a praline chocolate but not the taste. The legs are okay though. I didn't mind the silkworm larvae I had in Seoul - they are quite nutty. Small scorpions just taste like crunchy popcorn so I'd eat those again. I still haven't had ants - they are my next aim.

Jun 13, 2:43AM EDT0
What is your favorite type of tourist? Which one are you? What type of tourist you cannot stand and why?
Jun 12, 4:17PM EDT0

I think anyone who goes exploring is great! I don't like the whole 'are you a tourist or traveller' distinction - so long as you're open to enjoying the country and respect the culture I don't think it matters whether you trek 27 miles to volunteer with a hill tribe or sit by the beach on a lounger your whole trip! I'm a hybrid traveller - I've been to Orlando more times than I can count and absolutely love Disney, but I also love finding really local unspoilt areas in a city. I don't do camping though! I draw the line at tents.   

Jun 13, 2:49AM EDT0
What were the best and worst aspects of living in the countries you’ve lived in?
Jun 11, 11:31PM EDT0

Answering this one could get me into trouble! So, I'm going to say what were the best and worst things for me personally...

The UK:

Best thing: It's extremely cheap and easy to leave it! You can get a flight to Europe for less than £10 on airlines like Ryanair. I really didn't appreciate this the first time I lived there, the second time I was literally on a plane every weekend going somewhere new. Annoyingly, I wasn't running the travel blog then.

Worst thing: The weather. I hate the cold, the dark, rain, snow and winters in the UK just never seemed to end. It's the one thing you can't do anything about and it was the thing I absolutely hated.

New Zealand: The best and worst thing about New Zealand are the same. It's laid back, unpretentious and quiet. When I first moved there from London, I needed that and it was lovely to not have to worry about getting dressed up to go out in case you didn't get let in somewhere and that you rarely had to queue for the bar - but after a while I missed the buzz of a really big city. Admittedly Auckland now is much buzzier than when I lived there.

Australia: The best thing is the sky - it's almost always bright blue. Even in the middle of winter and that just makes everything better.

The worst thing: The cost of living is high - but for me worst thing is that my house is built to stay cool. Which is brilliant in summer, but not so great right now - it's actually warmer outside right now than in my office! But, I figure if that's THE WORST thing I can think of, I'm doing okay. That's why we invented jumpers. 

Jun 12, 2:29AM EDT0
What do you like to do on your downtime while on assignment and how do you usually relax?
Jun 11, 12:47PM EDT0

If I'm away and researching for the blog or a story, there's not really any such thing as downtime as I'm trying to cram in seeing EVERYTHING - in my last trip to Japan, I walked 235km in 14 days! However, because I love what I'm doing I don't mind things being so full on. I do however, let myself off some evenings, just stay in the room having a picnic of a takeout sandwich (Japanese 7-11s have the most amazing sandwiches!) and whatever the local beer is - and not move. I do also always get eight hours sleep - I'm hopeless without it. 

Jun 11, 5:33PM EDT0
Quirky’ travel includes many things: “unusual, thought-provoking, fascinating- and plain stuff.” Do you have a favorite type of quirky travel?
Jun 11, 1:28AM EDT0

This is often my biggest problem when trying to describe what Destination>Differentville covers to others so thanks for asking this. To me, quirky means anything that makes a place stand out in some way from the norm - that might mean something obviously odd like the toilet restaurant I visited in Taipei where food is served out of bowls shaped like toilets - or more subtle things; for example, when I went to the Channel Island of Guernsey, I discovered that the reason the butter is bright, bright yellow is down to genetic quirk in the way cows process beta-carotene which fascinated me. That to me is what makes a Destination>Differentville round-up of a place different from anyone else's - it's often more subtle in what I define as quirky. No-one is ever going to book a trip to Guernsey just to eat the butter - but it's a cool thing to know about when you're there. 

Jun 11, 5:45PM EDT0
What skills, besides travel writing, have you picked up from being on the road so much?
Jun 11, 1:04AM EDT0

Well, ninety percent of my time I'm in one spot as I'm not travelling full time and to be honest, I'm not sure I'm skilled at anything other than writing! I suppose a few useful things I've learned while travelling are how to limit your chance of getting an upset stomach (prebiotic pastilles for a week before you leave); that getting a local sim card is the best use of the first hour of your trip (I use Klook to prebook mine) and how to almost always get an empty seat next to you on the plane, but I'm afraid I'm not spilling that one or it won't work any more! 

Jun 11, 5:54PM EDT0
What are your favourite luxury experiences in Asia? What can’t travellers find anywhere else in the world, in your opinion?
Jun 10, 6:47AM EDT0

Because I pay for my own travel, luxury is not really a word that comes into my life! I'm definitely not a budget traveller, but I do have to watch the cash. The good thing about Asia is that hotel rooms are so much cheaper than elsewhere in the world, so you can normally book a suite for the same price as a room, but to me luxury is a hotel that includes breakfast so I'm not sure I'm the best person to answer that question. Sorry.

Jun 11, 5:57PM EDT0
How do you learn about a culture and meet locals without speaking their language?
Jun 9, 10:19PM EDT0

Smiling, pointing, waving goes a long way, but if there's a language barrier it's tricky - I'm still trying to find out what a particular plant was I found in a market once. It was something to do with curing diabetes, according to the stall holder, but even herbalists I know don't know what it is! This is one reason I'm booking more tours on my travels now even though I like to travel independently. Most of them are offered by local guides, but who speak English, so you can get to ask questions of them and people you meet more easily. Also, talk to everyone who does speak English like taxi drivers or people at the hotel - we tend to forget that they are still locals even they are fluent in a second language! I got some great recommendations for a food piece I wrote on Bangkok from the staff at my hotel.

Jun 11, 6:05PM EDT0
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