Women: Following their Dreams #3: Katja Gaskell of Globetotting.com
Welcome to the third interview in my new series Women: Following their Dreams. In case you missed the first two (here & here) my aim in doing this series was to, once a month, introduce you to many and varied women who all have one thing in common, they have been brave enough to follow their dreams. Maybe you might be inspired by one of their stories, maybe their story will strike a chord with you, maybe what they are doing is something that you would like to do too, maybe you will find a new interest, talent, idea or realise that these woman are just like you and me and the only thing holding you back is you. So grab a cuppa and take a seat and see where this series might take you.
This month in Women: Following their Dreams we are talking to Katja Gaskell Co-Founder of Globetotting.com who is actually living one of my dreams! Travel writer and global roamer.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a Belgian-born Brit currently living in Mexico City with my husband and three children. Nick and I met just over 10 years ago and have spent the last 9.5 years abroad. We lived in Sydney, Australia for three years, Delhi, India for three years and we have just completed three years in Mexico City. Each one of our children was born in one of these countries! We are all really happy in Mexico and so there are currently no moves (and definitely no more children!) on the horizon!
Katja & her lovely family at home in Mexico
Before Globetotting what did you do?
I have worked as a freelance travel writer for years. I’ve been an author on Lonely Planet guidebooks to Australia, China and India and I’ve reviewed gorgeous hotels for the British boutique hotel group Mr & Mrs Smith. I’ve also written for travel websites, magazines and newspapers.
How and why did you decide to become a a travel writer?
I was brought up in a family that travelled a lot. We moved around for my father’s job and always travelled during our school holidays. After finishing my A Levels in the U.K. I spent 6 months in Asia, four months volunteering on an environmental project in Nepal and two months travelling in India and Tibet. After that I was well and truly hooked!
I studied Mandarin Chinese at University and after graduating I moved to Beijing where I lived for a couple of years. During this time I worked as an editor and writer for a bilingual arts and entertainment magazine called Beijing Scene. The magazine is no longer around but it really was one of the first of its kind in the capital and it meant that I had incredible access to artists, musicians, filmmakers and more, which was a wonderful way to learn how to write.
After returning to the U.K. I applied to be an author with Lonely Planet and was given my first job updating the northeast corner of China. Since then I’ve worked on another guide to China as well as guides to Australia and India. Away from backpacker hostels, I’ve been lucky enough to review luxury hotels in Australia, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka and Mexico for British boutique hotel brand Mr & Mrs Smith (tough job…but!). I do less guidebook work these days but still write for Lonely Planet online and have had articles published in various British and Australia publications.
What led you to start Globetotting?
We spent three years living in India as a family. We arrived in Delhi when my son was 18 months old and my daughter was born there. We wanted to see as much of India as possible while living there, but we quickly found that there was very little information available on travelling in India with children. Anything that we found was aimed at either backpackers or five star travellers.
It was at this time that I met Victoria, another mum with kids the same age, and we decided to create a resource for families that loved to travel. The aim of globetotting has always been to provide original, informative content that is both inspirational and useful. (Victoria Westmacott, Co-Founder & Marketing of Globetotting)
We started with hotel reviews for families travelling in India and the site has grown from there. We now offer travel tales, travel tips, family-friendly hotel reviews and adventures for families everywhere from India and Nepal to Mongolia and Mexico. (Photo at the very top was taken at Holi the Indian Festival of colour which celebrates the start of spring).
Tell us a bit about how the site works?
There are three parts to the site; the blog, the hotel collection and the holiday collection.
The blog is where we share our love of travel. Here we profile real life family adventures where we, and fellow family travellers, share our travel tales. So far we have featured stories from Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore to name just a few!
The hotel collection includes tried and tested hotel reviews – all hotels have been personally visited and reviewed by a parent, usually with kids in tow. Destinations covered include India, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Panama, Indonesia, Nepal, Peru, Thailand, Oman and The Philippines. This year we’re introducing some European and Canadian properties.
We work with small, niche travel operators that are experts in their destination(s) and are experts at organizing family holidays. The holiday collection features sample itineraries organized by these partner operators. Our Mongolia partner agent, for example, only organizes holidays in Mongolia. She’s also a whizz at creating itineraries for families with children of all ages. Holidays can be booked via globetotting (but you never pay more doing so!). Some of the holidays on our site include a Rajasthani road trip in India, searching for Orang-utans in Borneo and family-friendly trekking in Nepal.
For me personally it’s good to know that family holidays aren’t necessarily limited to big resorts. What are your top tips for adventurous travel with kids?
For our family it’s all about balance, we try to include something that everyone will enjoy on the holiday. So, if we spend the morning sightseeing, then we’ll spend the afternoon playing in the pool.
I think the most important thing, however, is to keep it simple. As much as you might like to travel at the same pace as you did pre-kids, it’s not going to work (unless you travelled really slowly to begin with!). Don’t try to cram too much into an itinerary and make sure you allow time for everyone in the family to relax and enjoy just spending time together.
What has been your best trip with the family so far? Why, what did you do?
It’s hard to choose the best but two of my favourites have been trekking in Nepal and exploring the southern coast of Sri Lanka.
We went to Nepal with my parents when my children were then 4.5- and 2-years old. It was an incredible adventure in a wonderful country. In Sri Lanka my son had just turned 4 and my daughter was not yet 2. The country, people and food are all wonderful; I would go back in a heartbeat.
Kids trekking Nepalese style!
What are your top travel destinations for 2015?
Over the next 12 months, I will be heading to Canada, the UK, Florida, Italy, Argentina and, hopefully, Norway! All of these are for family holidays, either the five of us, or to visit extended family. Both Victoria and I are heading to Florida for TBEX, a travel bloggers conference in October.
How do you recommend dealing with fussy little eaters in exotic locations?
I’m not the best person to ask – we trekked in Nepal with bags of cheerios and pasta in our backpacks just in case the kids wouldn’t eat anything else! As they’ve got older they have got better (and we pander less to their whims). I think introducing foods common in your holiday destination prior to travel is a good way for children to get used to ‘different’ food; for example noodles before a trip to China. I also have no problem carrying bags of Cheerios with me if it means that we’ll have a fuss-free breakfast!
You have just had your third baby, congratulations! How do you juggle your travel, family work commitments?
Thank you! I’m very lucky in that we don’t rely on my work to keep the family afloat. My work definitely contributes to the family bank account and there are great perks such as discounted or complimentary hotel stays but we do not reply on globetotting to pay the bills! This means that I have a huge amount of flexibility and can work around my kids’ schedules.
What are your travel essentials? Personally and for kids?
I always travel with a large scarf / pashmina that can double-up as a blanket on flights, a good set of headphones, my smartphone / camera and an iPad. The kids pack their Kindle Fires, headphones, activity / sticker books, reading books and snacks!
What are you reading right now?
Since the arrival of number three, three months ago I’ve not had the time to read anything but the book being ignored on my bedside table is Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What’s your favourite family meal?
Pizza! Best enjoyed all together on a Saturday night in front of the TV and a good movie. As for recipes…. we have a very good local pizza takeaway joint!
You have managed to make a career out of your passion, which is so inspiring, what advice do you have for people who are wanting to follow their dreams?
Go for it! I love travel and I love writing – and now I love writing about travel with kids! When I first started out, Lonely Planet was the only guidebook that I wanted to write for. I had used their guides constantly whenever I travelled and to me they were (and still are) one of the best sources of information for independent travellers.
With globetotting, Victoria and I have hit many (many!) hurdles along the way. It’s been a huge learning curve and there have been times when we have both been ready to throw in the towel. Fortunately we have never felt like giving up at the same time and the result is that we now have a website that we are both really proud of and that is growing in popularity daily.
Katja, Alfie & Tess out and about in Mexico
Thank you so much Katja for sharing a bit about you with us today, such an accomplished woman who really is living the dream. As Oprah says:
“The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams”
I think Globetotting is a fabulous travel website and a great resource which makes thinking about travelling to the more adventurous locations seem much more achievable. If you would like to keep in touch with all Katja’s amazing travels and holiday recommendations you can via the website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and You Tube.
Do you travel with kids? Are you inspired to travel now? Ever wanted to be a travel writer?