Today, we’re sharing our interview with Nikki, the founder of South East Asia Backpacker.
Tell us a bit about yourself! Why do you love travel? How do you think travel unites us or teaches us more about the world?
My name is Nikki Scott and I’m originally from Warrington, a rather normal town in the north of England. I traveled a lot in Europe with my parents as a child, going on holiday to Spain, Scotland, and Yugoslavia, as it was then called (now Croatia). When I was 23, I decided to quit my job in advertising and head off on a solo backpacking adventure to Asia, starting in Kathmandu, Nepal.
After six months backpacking across Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia, I decided that I didn’t want to go back to the conventional life of the UK. I wanted to find a way that I could make money on the road. I started a printed publication for backpackers called ‘South East Asia Backpacker Magazine’ that was distributed for free in hostels and travel agents across the region. Now, eight years later, the magazine is entirely digital and I run the website, South East Asia Backpacker, as well as sister websites for South America, Europe, and a trip bookings website, Backpacker Bookings, from anywhere on my laptop. I have been living in Barcelona for the past two years, but I’m now currently traveling for six months in India with my boyfriend, Dave.
I love travel because it is unpredictable, rousing and it can be, very challenging. Travel can change your life in so many ways. It forces us to confront the values that we’ve been brought up with, question our morals, and discover more about ourselves in the process. Travel will change you as a person and you’ll only realize it when you step off the plane at the other end to return home. (If you ever do go home that is. I never did!)
Can you tell us something about the culture in your country and why did you decide to stay there?
For the majority of my expat life, I lived in Thailand, which is where I started the magazine that changed my life. Over the five years that I lived there, I rented an apartment in Bangkok, Koh Phangan, and Chiang Mai, and loved each one in a different way. I decided to settle in Thailand for a while, and open my business there, as I knew that Thailand was the most popular country at that time for backpackers and there were many good connections that could be made there with entrepreneurs working in the travel industry. Also, my dad was living in Thailand at the time so I had family to stay with whilst I worked on my idea.
Thailand is an amazing country for travelers, and even though many people say that it is too touristy these days, there are still so many hidden gems and easy ways to get off the beaten path. The people are friendly and welcoming, the culture is easy to get along with and fun-loving (especially the festivals), the food is cheap and delicious, the countryside is beautiful and it’s a very safe place to travel.
What surprising aspect of culture do you love about your country (or your specific town/city) that travelers may not be aware of?
The most surprising aspect about Thailand is that no matter how long you live there, something will always astonish you. You can be an expat in Thailand for 20 years and still not fully understand the country in which you are living. Thailand is spontaneous, full of character, and at times, totally crazy – but never ever boring!
Which dish do you feel best represents where you’re specifically from? Share a picture and tell us why you love it!
If you’re talking about a dish from the area of northern England where I’m from, I would have to say the dish ‘Scouse’, which is like a hot pot or a stew, made with beef or lamb, potatoes, onions, carrots and rich meaty gravy. I think it’s become famous in the north of England, in particular, Liverpool, because it’s always rainy and cold there and you need something to warm you up! I love the dish because it is the epitome of comfort to me. It reminds me of my mum and grandma and the smell of it makes me think of home. Whenever I’m feeling a little down I make Scouse for tea (the northern way to say dinner) and it cheers me up!
Growing up in your country, what’s something that you believe makes it unlike anywhere else in the world?
Northern England is famous worldwide for its music, for example, The Beatles, Oasis, The Stone Roses, The Smiths, Happy Mondays. However, I would say the thing that makes it unlike anywhere else in the world is the sense of humor and friendliness of the people who are born there. Just going into a shop or a café in the north of England, or standing at a bus stop, you’ll end up having a good chat and a laugh with an old man on his way to pick up his pension or a cheeky kid who’s on the way to the sweet shop. The conversation usually starts with something about the weather!
Talk about the role of family in your life. What does family mean to you? Which family values are valuable to you?
As an only child, I have been very close to my parents throughout my life. My dad (who passed away four years ago now), was a huge inspiration to me to follow my dreams and he helped me to start my business in the first place. My mum, who is my best friend, has always been there for me to give me unconditional love and protect me whenever I need it, yet she’s never stopped me from traveling and doing what I want to do. (Even though she cried every time I stepped on the plan to a foreign land!)
At the moment, I am traveling with my boyfriend, Dave, who is so special to me and has felt like family to me since the day I met him. I also am lucky to still be in touch with an amazing group of friends that I have known since high school who are like family to me. I know that if I was in need I could turn up on their doorstep tomorrow and they would look after me, as I would for each one of them.
From my point of view, family is not there to smother or hold you back in any way. Family is there for each other when needed and push each other to follow their dreams and believe in themselves.
How important is spirituality and religion in your daily life? What do you do to celebrate the two?
I was not brought up religious or to believe in God, but I wouldn’t say that I am an atheist, as I think that it is too arrogant to say that I don’t believe in God. (What do I know about the world?) I appreciate the thoughts of a neuroscientist, David Eagleman, who coined the concept ‘possibilianism’, which means to be open to all of the possibilities of how we arrived on this earth and what we are doing here.
In terms of a spiritual practice, I guess for me, it would be getting close to nature. I love to hike in the mountains and be by the ocean, especially on a windy day when the waves are crashing against the shore and spraying salty water in my face. The enormity of the mountains and their high snowy peaks that have stood there unchanged for millions of years have always been a comfort to me. In the face of such vastness and timelessness, I feel like the problems of my own life are made small and insignificant. This is not a depressing thought at all, just a feeling of ‘whatever will be, will be’. One day, when I am no longer here anymore, those mountains still will be standing tall. The power of the weather and the crashing waves remind me of the immense force of Mother Nature, and that we must respect her. If she wanted to, we could all be obliterated in a second! Nature teaches to appreciate this precious, fragile life that I’ve been given and to appreciate my surroundings and my life every day.
Share about a custom/tradition you observe. What makes it special?
My boyfriend and I have started to celebrate Valentine’s Day on 15th February, due to the fact that we spent our last Valentine’s Day on an overnight train from Hampi to Bangalore in India. We decided that we would always try to do something romantic the following evening, instead of on the actual night – which would make restaurants and places less crowded and less expensive too!
Art and dance can tell a deeper story about local culture. Tell us the story of a specific artwork or dance that has a meaning for you. Share a photo, if you can. (It can be anything from street art to a festival to a painting to architecture to woven art work, to woodworking, a family heirloom, etc.)
I love art of all kinds, and I love to have a boogie once in a while, but I can’t think of a specific piece of artwork or a particular dance that has special meaning to me. Music is a great love of mine and I love having a strum on the guitar and making up my own songs. An artist that has personal significance to me is the Scottish folk singer, Amy Macdonald, whom my dad loved. Her music takes me back to my childhood and walking in the mountains of Scotland with my parents. I love the sound of the bagpipes and that powerful Scottish drum beat.
Languages not only give us the power to communicate but also can unite us across cultures. What’s something you love about the multitude of languages spoken in your country? Share a favorite saying you have, or teach us something in your native language.
At the moment, I am trying to learn Spanish, as I have been living for the past two years in Barcelona. I also traveled down the west coast of South America in 2014 and picked up some of the language there. I loved the different sounds of the Spanish language, depending on which country you were in; the slow, melodic sound of Peruvian Spanish and the fast, Italian-fused Argentinian Spanish. I found some accents much more difficult to understand than others!
In Barcelona, however, the people speak primarily Catalan, which is the language of Catalunya, a region of north-western Spain. The region has a long and fervent history of desiring independence from the rest of Spain and they are very proud of their unique festivals and traditions. Even if you just learn a few sentences in Catalan, the locals will love and appreciate you for it, as they want to encourage foreigners when they visit Barcelona to learn a little of the local language, rather than Spanish. If you ever visit Barcelona, try this: ‘molt de gust!’ (nice to meet you!) and watch people thank you and smile!
What local spot in your city/town do you love most? Why is it personally important to you?
In Barcelona, there are many plazas and streets that I love – it is such a beautiful city! However, what many short-term visitors don’t know about the city, is that at the end of the metro line, there’s a national park called Collserola, which is filled with pine trees, windy paths, and is blessed with breathtaking views over the whole city, all the way out to the sea.
The whole place is very special to me because I have walked there many times with my boyfriend when I first arrived in Barcelona and we’d just met. As an expert on all of the routes and secret spots, he continuously impressed me by finding the picnic spot with the best view and least crowds. An amazing view of Barcelona, a bottle of wine shared between two in plastic cups, olives and jamón (Spanish ham) – how could I not be impressed!
Who is the most inspiring person in your life? In which ways does this person inspire you?
My Mum. She is full of enthusiasm and always gives things a go, even though I know that she gets scared sometimes. She loves to enjoy herself and is just a kid at heart which makes her so likeable amongst everyone that she meets. She’s kept herself very fit during her life and she walks faster than most 20-year olds I know. She is always there for me, to encourage my ideas or to pick me up when I am feeling low and tell me I am wonderful, when I don’t feel it at all. What she doesn’t realize is that she is wonderful herself.