If you enjoy travel adventures and aren’t familiar with Zhu, you’ve been missing out!
For those of you not familiar Zhu is the pen-name of Juliette Giannesini, a travel blogger and photographer based in Ottawa. (And I swear, the fact that I keep interviewing Canadians is completely coincidental! That’s just how it works out. Plus, Canadians are awesome.)
Today, I’m excited to share with you an interview with Zhu in which we cover the vast benefits of travel, writing/travel balance, and an insight on where travel writing may be going. Enjoy!
1. Thanks for agreeing to do an interview today and being a part of my Astounding Travel Writers Series. It’s wonderful when we travel writers can connect. I’d like to begin with a simple question: How do you usually introduce yourself?
I’m Juliette and “Zhu” is my pen-name. I’m a citizen of the world, a traveler, a photographer, a writer, a mother , a former French, and a new Canadian. Oh, and I love chocolate.
2. What does Travel mean to you?
Traveling is the ultimate freedom—with a backpack, a passport and a little bit of money, the world is yours if you dare to explore it. Meeting people from all walks of life, both travelers and locals, is always an eye-opening experience.
3. In what ways has it pushed you to grow?
Traveling helped me to understand the world and to be less judgmental. Instead of relying on media or perpetuating stereotypes, it allowed me to catch a glimpse of how people around the world live and to understand cultural differences. There is no right or wrong way to live your life, deep down we are all the same… we just do things differently, that’s all.
Traveling is also a great way to confront your fears. When you are in a foreign place, you have to trust your instinct and trust people—yes, even strangers!
4. Have you ever hitchhiked?
Depends what you mean by “hitchhiking”! In Latin America, it’s fairly normal to jump at the back of a pickup truck to get to the nearest market or bus station. In South-East Asia, private vehicles often double as taxis as well. When in doubt, follow the locals!
5. How did you get involved in the travel sector?
In Junior High, I took up Mandarin as a foreign language. When I turned 16, I decided to spend a summer in a Chinese university to attend classes and improve my language skills. Retrospectively, this idea was pretty crazy—I was only a teen, and I traveled half-way across the world by myself! I still can’t believe my parents let me go. I felt confident about my travel abilities but I was naïve and innocent. But hey, traveler’s luck, the trip turned out great and I survived!
This “academic” experience was an eye-opener: in Beijing, I met other foreign students and backpackers and I thought, “Wow, people actually do that? Pack a bag and go explore the world? Sign me in!”
As soon as I graduated from high school, I took up a job in Hong Kong, and then started traveling all over the world—Latin America, South Pacific, South-East Asia… eventually, I settled in Canada.
6. How was your site born?
I felt very lonely when I first came to Canada. I was sorting out my immigration status and I didn’t know anyone in Ottawa. In 2005, I started a blog on Blogger to keep in touch with my friends and family back home. After a little while, I realized I could reach a wider audience. I started blogging in English about life in Canada, cultural differences, travels, and other topics.
By 2007, I was hooked to blogging. I bought a domain name and moved my blog to a self-hosted WordPress platform.
I now have about 100,000 visitors a month… I still can’t believe so many people read my adventures!
7. Do you use social media daily? And if so, how do you find balance with it within your daily routine?
I’m one of these three or four persons on earth who don’t have a Facebook account! I don’t have time for it, and I’d rather focus on my website where I have some control over what I share and what I keep private.
I have a Twitter account where I share blurbs and pictures with my smartphone, as well as a Flickr account where all my pictures are stored.
I try not to spend too much time on social media. It’s okay to be social but easy to lose track of what matters, i.e. content.
8. In that same vein, how do you balance writing and travel?
I’m lucky: when I’m inspired, I write pretty fast. I also have a routine. I usually gather a few pictures around a specific theme (i.e., local food, transportation, landmarks, etc.) and write the article. I schedule one or two articles and go from there. There is always something to write about!
I don’t have time to do a lot of photo editing when I’m on the road, so I try my best to take good pictures!
9. Do you have any advice for people who want to start a travel blog or grow their travel blog?
If you want to start a blog, focus on what you love in life. Your enthusiasm will show in your writing. Don’t worry too much about SEO, popularity, etc. I firmly believe that good work is eventually rewarded—the number of keywords you stuff into an article or the number of Tweets you publish is irrelevant. Readers want to see something true, something inspiring, something moving. That’s all.
To grow a blog you need to be patient. Again, I’m sure there are tricks and quick fix but really, all you need is to be “discovered”. Comment on blog you love, help out in relevant forums, offer advice, be genuine and be consistent.
10. Out of everything you’ve ever published or created, what are you most proud of?
Definitely all my travel series because I wrote the articles while traveling and reading them again take me right back into the moment!
11. How do you see travel writing & travel sites evolving into the future?
I think the era of “I’m blogging because I want to get rich” is almost over, which is probably a good thing because it led to a multitude of “empty” blogs that only existed for sponsored articles and banner ads. Bloggers are more genuine these days.
12. Is there anything you’re proud of that you’d like to plug?
You can find me on Twitter and on Flickr, where all my travel sets are available. And of course, on Correr Es Mi Destino!
Thanks again for sharing your story, Juliette, and happy travels!