Hey all. Today’s interview features Leighton who runs the blog ‘Leighton’s Travels’, an excellent blog with great detail and images of some fantastic adventures. I was very lucky to have Leighton agree to an interview indeed! So please – enjoy!
- Hi Leighton! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Would you mind starting by telling us who you are and where you’re from, and of course the name of your blog? What do you do when you’re not blogging (doesn’t have to be work, could be hobbies or interests etc) Where are you based at the moment?
Hey, my name is Leighton, an Englishman born in London, raised in various towns across Buckinghamshire. My initial blog, Leighton Literature (started in 2015), morphed into Leighton Travels in late 2019 to better reflect the site’s focus on travel writing. Believe me, I spent some time trying to think of a witty play on words. But in the end the simplicity of Leighton Travels felt like the best choice.
I’m currently based in Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia, where I’m waiting on a temporary residence visa so that my girlfriend and I can continue to stay together during the pandemic. If, fingers crossed, it comes through, I’ll be here for at least the next six months.
When I’m not blogging I teach a bit of English online. The rest of the time I listen to music, indulge in my love of cinema, watch football (soccer), read other blogs and follow world events.
- When did you start your blog and why did you decide to start a travel blog?
When I started blogging in 2015 I didn’t even recognise my site as a travel blog. I started with a few short stories about my life experiences around the world, along with some album reviews on my favourite bands and singers.
After a few years, I launched the My Travel Reports series, with the idea of cataloguing every single location I’ve visited worldwide. A few years later, I realised I had over 500 of these articles and that they’d become my primary focus. Thus, I set about transforming the blog into what is now Leighton Travels. What started out as a hobby has now become a way of life, this is what I love doing!
- What do you like to write about and why?
I love writing about the things that I think life is all about. Travel and the personal experiences that have shaped me. My successes and failures. Music… film… world cuisine… coffee… animals… people. This is a simplified overview and indeed there are subcategories that spring up from within the above.
- What have been some of your favourite destinations?
This is a tough one. I’d certainly start with China, because I spent four years there and I think it’s the country that has been the most responsible for my personal growth. The culture is at times baffling, the food equally magnificent and horrifying. It’s also a land of contrasts, from the obscenely wealthy and dirt poor, to the mega cities and tiny, off the beaten track villages.
There’s so much more I could say about this bewitching land, but I think it’s best revealed through my hundreds of travel reports from around the country and via my short story series Challenged in China.
Elsewhere, I adore the south of Spain, the north of Scotland, New York City, Tokyo and Amsterdam to name just a few.
- Who do you see as the audience for your blog?
That’s a good question! And one I suppose I should have already given some proper thought to. I would like to think that my blog is for anyone who truly loves travel.
At the same time, I’m definitely trying to do things a little differently. I guess my core audience would be people who want to know about how travel experiences can make you feel. How they mould you and affect the way you view the world and your place within it.
I suppose my most loyal readers aren’t afraid of working their way through longer articles. Of embarking on a more personalised journey that gets you under the skin of a place. I think, slowly but surely, I’m getting better at this. But it’s a constant learning process and there’s still a way to go.
- What advice would give to someone just starting out blogging?
Oh, lord. I guess, first and foremost, I’d say write what you want to write, from the soul. Don’t fall into the trap of writing how you think people want you to write. You don’t have to follow the herd.
I’d also say it’s so much better when you get organised from the very beginning with a clear vision. Take your time and do the best job you can, it’s not a race. I wasted a lot of time putting out hastily written pieces with staggeringly average photos. I didn’t understand what a good article should look and read like, or what SEO was.
I bumbled on like this for years and in truth I’m still working on redesigning and rewriting those old pieces, so that they’re up to the standard of my more recent work. One of these years I will finally catch up with myself!
- What is the hardest thing about running a travel blog?
Hm, I think discipline can be tricky. To keep plugging away and improving in all areas. It takes a whole heap of time. I think the technical side of maintaining a blog can be trying, as I’m not all that computer savvy. This is improving though, through self-education.
- We’ve survived a nearly a year now of Covid-19. How do you see 2021 shaping up?
Oh, it’s got to better! Now there are vaccines on the way and The U.S. has a new president. These two things alone have to give us all a bit of hope.
From a personal perspective I’m relaxed about the year in terms of travel. I think, at the very least, the first half of 2021 should be about geographical stability as my girlfriend and I continue to build our lives as digital nomads, while we wait for those all-important injections. For now, I’m happy developing Leighton Travels and researching the next great travel project.
- Reading your blog you have been to a lot of different countries. Do you know how many?
I guess I have an okish country haul. 33 so far, but collecting countries has never been my aim. I’ve always spent way too long in places to ever be the kind of traveller that has those insane numbers I often see on social media.
I was in Belgium for four years, Amsterdam for four years, China four years. A year apiece in Qatar, Slovakia, the south of Spain and Cambodia. Three months exploring Thailand. I’ve never really seen the appeal in doing a week in Indonesia, a fortnight in The Philippines. Or of say covering twenty countries in the space of twelve months.
Having said that, my attitude may start to shift somewhat in the coming years. I’m now edging into my mid-forties and very well aware of how much more I want to see. And of the associated math! Let’s see how things pan out.
- You seem to have a real love for SE Asia. What is it about this part of the world that attracted you? Which places across the region do you love most and why?
Ah yes, South East Asia! I love the landscapes, the food, the people and the absurd situations I often find myself in. The fact that your hard-earned money seems to go so much further. I really do love all of the southeast Asian countries I’ve visited. But if I had to pick a few favourites I’d plump for Vietnam and the north of Thailand. Find out why on Leighton Travels! #shamelessplug
- What place would you really like to visit and why (that you haven’t visited yet)?
So, so many. One thing self-isolation has helped Sladja and I with is our bucket list. It’s a long document, but right up there at the top are California, Oaxaca, Hawaii, the south of Italy, The Faroe Islands and an African safari experience.
- What does it take to become a ‘digital nomad’, and how did you become one?
After years of dreaming about it and wondering how it could be achieved, it ultimately fell into my lap. I’d been teaching English on and off for over twenty years and had become quite disillusioned with the politics of the various schools I worked for around the world. Teaching kids is a lot of fun, but everything else about those jobs was tedious.
When I heard about a Chinese company that operates online, giving me the opportunity to become location independent, all I had to do was be brave enough to take it. To accept that I’d have to build up a student base from scratch. And that it was gonna take time to bring in the kind of income I needed to make it work.
Now, sixteen months on from that leap of faith, I teach exactly how many hours I want to achieve the right balance of income and time for blogging. Happily, I’m now in a position where I spend more time writing and posting than I do teaching. Hooray!
- Please recommend three posts from your blog you’d like people to read (and why!)
I think this piece is a good template for how I want my travel articles to look and read. Plus, you know, elephants are just gorgeous and spending time with them is an absolute privilege!
As a travel experience, this is one of the world’s truly unique places. Not for everyone I guess, but a fascinating, bewildering buffer zone between two countries with so many weird spots. Getting to step onto North Korean soil was a strange sensation, while the subsequent article was definitely one of my most challenging writing projects.
While I try to personalise all my travel writing, it’s in my short stories that I really offer a window into my soul. The End of Everything is a chapter from my short story collection Notes From The Netherlands. The story documents my time running around Amsterdam and London interviewing movie stars while, in the background, my personal life falls apart from all sides.
- Finally, how can people find you on the net and social media? Please include blog address, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and any other channels you use.
- Finally (again!) what are you hoping or dreaming for in 2021?
In 2021 my priority is to stay healthy with my girlfriend until the vaccine comes along. To develop Leighton Travels further and figure out our next big travel project. A new adventure in the second half or final third of the year would be great. If not, I’m more than happy to stay patient, rebuild, and in the meantime explore more of Serbia and the surrounding Balkan region.
A HUGE thanks to Leighton for this interview! Please check out his blog! Thanks for reading today, take care – and May the Journey Never End!