Peter Welcome to our travel podcast. We’re specialist travel writers and we’ve spent half a lifetime exploring every corner of the world.
Felice So we want to share with you some of our extraordinary experiences and the amazing people we’ve met along the way.
Peter This week, we’re taking a look at travelling with children and making a living out of it. Katja Gaskell is a successful family travel blogger who roams the world to such an extent that her three children were born in three different countries on three different continents.
Felice Katja, thank you very much for coming on to our podcast today.
Katja Hello. Thank you very much for having me.
Felice So can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Katja So I’m a freelance travel journalist and family travel blogger, and I’m a mum to three kids aged 13, 11 and five. And we are currently living in North London, but we were overseas for 12 years, so we lived in Australia and then India and then Mexico. And each of the kids was born in one of those places. But I grew up travelling as well. So I’m British, but my parents lived overseas for about 30 years, so I was born in Belgium and then we moved to France, and to the States, and back to Belgium. And I came to school in the UK and then went to university in Scotland and then moved to China. And so I’ve always travelled and always moved around and get quite itchy feet if I’ve been in one place for too long.
Peter So travel is in your DNA, so to speak?
Felice And how come your children were born in those amazing places?
Katja So we moved to Sydney, my then fiancé, now husband. I had decided I wanted to go to Australia before I met him and do a masters in journalism and he managed to get a transfer with work. And so we moved up there. We got married; Alfie, our eldest, arrived a little sooner than anticipated. And then with his work, we moved to India, where our daughter was born, and then to Mexico City, where the third and final child, Sam, was born.
Felice So what was it like raising a child in India, for example?
Katja India was the challenge, particularly having moved from Sydney, which is all beaches and glorious weather and life outside. And then you move to a very populated, very polluted megacity. So once we had worked out how Delhi, where we were living, operated, it was great; it was a real adventure. And we travelled a lot and we made great friends. But, yes, we definitely had some moments where we wondered what we were doing there.
There was one time…Delhi in the summer, it’s 45°C and never gets below 30°C in the evening and it’s just no respite from the heat. And so there’s one weekend, we were desperate to get away and go to the hills. And so we tried to get an overnight train from Old Delhi railway station and arrived there at about 10.30 at night; and the platforms were packed. And we have this tiny baby – Tess was a few months old and we had her in her Maxi-Cosi car seat – and were trying to battle our way onto the station, and Alfie was a two and a half years old. And we waited and waited for this train that never came, and eventually gave up on that.
And the next day drove to the hills but got lost…and the pockmarked roads…it would have been nice but it was really nothing special. We spent two nights then came back again. It was moments like that where we think: ‘Was this really worth it?’ But it makes a good story at the end.
Felice Did your children go to school in India?
Katja My oldest went to nursery, a local nursery, which was lovely.
Felice And then you moved to Mexico later. Was that for your husband’s job as well?
Katja Yes. So with his job, we moved to Mexico City where we were for six years, and we loved Mexico City. I mean, really, of those three places that we’ve lived as a family, Mexico was our favourite by far. It’s just..I don’t know if you’ve been there…but it’s such a dynamic city.
Peter I lived there for about four months.
Katja And it’s just it’s such a dynamic city – amazing food and great people. And the kids went to a local school, so they were fluent in Spanish – now trying desperately to keep the language up. But it was wonderful. Yes, absolutely loved it.
Peter So where did you start your blog?
Katja So I started it in India. So I have worked in travel for 20 years or so, and I started writing for Lonely Planet guidebooks. So I worked on a couple of their China books, Australia, and then India; and it was when we were living in India, I realised there really wasn’t much information out there for families. You know, there was a lot for backpackers or luxury travellers, but nothing really geared towards people travelling with kids. It started as an expat-focused blog, advising people on where they could go for weekends or trips away. And from that it grew into what it is now, which is more adventurous family travel.
Felice Were you ever a digital nomad? Were you someone who travelled around before you had kids?
Katja No, I was never your digital nomad definition. I mean, I’ve always travelled, but I’ve always had a base, so I haven’t gone from one place to the next to the next; we’ve always made a home somewhere and then explored that place and then moved on to the next one.
Felice So then you went back to the UK, that must have been a bit disappointing after all those lovely places?
Katja It did feel to start with the sort of end of the adventure. But actually, we’ve really enjoyed being back. And the kids haven’t lived here before, so it’s great for them to be closer to family. And actually, until this year, we were really enjoying exploring the UK and Europe…having Europe on our doorstep and being able to drive across. And we’ve had some great trips there, so it’s actually been really fun. And actually it’s been quite nice to have a change from living in…I know London‘s a big city…but really big polluted megacities. To us, London’s clean air and the traffic is fine and nothing to worry about, so we’ve been enjoying the time back here.
Peter How do you earn money from blogging? It’s always a mystery to me.
Katja So there’s various ways. I think as if you work in journalism of any kind, you have various strings to your bow. And so with blogging in particular, I have advertising on the site; I do affiliate marketing; I work with brands or tourism boards and work on campaigns with them. So I also work for brands on Instagram; I then freelance as well for various publications. So it’s multi-faceted; you have to have very diverse revenue streams to make money
Felice And do you take your children with you whenever you go to visit places…to write about places?
Katja I take them as much as possible; it was definitely easier when they were all younger and school didn’t matter quite so much, but my oldest is in secondary now and so I can’t take him out. But we travel – in normal years, non-Covid years – we travel all holidays. And I take them with me whenever I can. And obviously there’s an opportunity sometimes when they can’t come and so I leave them at home with my husband and go off by myself, which is actually really nice. But the kids are great travellers – they really enjoy travelling, which is wonderful. So, long may that continue.
Felice We found that with our kids. They grew up travelling and so they love it now and they go off all over the place.
Peter It doesn’t prepare you for doing a nine-to-five job, that’s for sure. You don’t really want to go and settle down and work in an office.
Katja I can understand that. And I’m so passionate about travel as education. I think it’s such an important thing for kids to see outside their neighbourhood and outside that school and to see how different people live, and different cultures and different languages. And I think it’s massively important now more than ever when we seem to be coming sort of more globally separate, you know, despite how close we all are….that actually kids realise, as clichéd as it sounds…we’re more similar than we are different. And I think you can only get that if you leave your bubble, not your Covid bubble, just your bubble.
Felice And I agree. In the days when our children were young, you could take them out of school then, and it was classed as being educational. So even skiing, if it was in France and they could be practising their French, that was okay to leave a bit before the end of term to do that.
Katja That’s wonderful, I really wish they did that now. It changed; now you get criminal records.
Felice So has there been anywhere where you felt a bit uncomfortable taking kids?
Katja There hasn’t, I was thinking about this. No, apart from a couple of situations like the train fiasco in India, on the whole we’ve never really had any problems. There was one time in Mexico City, where I sort of dragged the family out trying to find a famous antiques market. You might know it – I completely forgot the name now, but the one that’s held every weekend and it’s in a slightly less than salubrious neighbourhood. And I dragged the family out and couldn’t quite find it, and my husband at one point, just said: ‘Right, time to go. We are not in the right neighbourhood and we are wandering around very obviously not supposed to be here.’ But otherwise, we’ve been very lucky. And I do think having children really breaks the ice.
Peter I think having children with you removes a lot of the danger in a situation that you were just talking about because the whole world loves children. And you’re unlucky if you’re going to start getting robbed with children with you.
Katja Absolutely. And people love seeing seeing you travel with kids. And that’s immediately sort of a great way to start speaking to people and get invited to people’s homes.
Felice When we went to Sri Lanka one year with our children, the tuk-tuk driver invited us into his home so that our kids could meet his. And I think it was amazing for them to do that.
Katja Yes, and you really get sort of below the surface of a place, don’t you? You really see more of a place.
Felice Yes, definitely. So I assume you take all your own photos wherever you go?
Katja I do, yes. Photography is not my forte, I’m a writer first and foremost, but I’m working on photography. I think if you are a blogger, you do have to be able to provide the whole package. So I have a camera and an iPhone, and I don’t do video – I just do video for Instagram. But otherwise I take all my own photos.
Felice We’re the same and it’s mainly on an iPhone. It’s more convenient.
Katja It’s so much easier just to be able to whip it out and make a quick snap.
Peter I used to travel with a huge amount of cameras and mercifully I don’t anymore. Life is much easier. It’s rare that we need a wide angle lens or something. But on the whole, so snaps on the iPhone are brilliant for the Internet.
Felice And social media – do you do all the different ones there are? Do you find one – Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – one of them better than the others for you?
Katja But for me, I really focus on Instagram. I’m on all the channels. But Instagram is where I spend most of my time. I think for travel, it’s really where my audience really is and it’s so visual travel. So it’s where I often go to look for ideas of places to go and be inspired about hotels I want to stay in. And so I think it’s a really such a great visual medium. And it is when you’re working with tourism boards or brands, they really love Instagram because it’s pretty and it looks nice.
Peter So tell us about where you’ve been to beyond the three places you just mentioned. Where else have you been?
Katja So some of our favourite places that we’ve been – we went to Sri Lanka as well, about ten years ago now, and that remains one of our favourite holidays ever. Just loved it. And we’d love to go back. We just did the coast, but I’d like to go back and go inland and go to Kandy and some of the wildlife park.
When my kids were very little, just before we moved to Mexico, I took them trekking. So Alfie was four and a half and Tess was two, and we went with my parents and checked in the Lower Annupurnas of Nepal, which was wonderful. Tess was carried the whole way but the Alfie walked a lot with us and it was magical. We obviously travelled a lot in Mexico, which I love. And while we were there, we went to Guatemala, which is a beautiful country and it felt like a real adventure.
And then since being back here, we’ve done a lot of France, which is always a favourite. We spend a lot of time in the mountains in Morzine, in the French Alps. And Finland has been a recent discovery, we’ve been both in the winter to go to Finnish Lapland and did a road trip in southern Finland, which is just beautiful, basically lakes and forests for miles.
Felice And now that there isn’t travelling at the moment, have you done a lot in the UK?
Katja We’ve been doing more of the UK for sure. So in the summer after lockdown finished, we escaped to France and my family have a place in the French Alps so we spend a lot of time there. And so we spent six weeks eating French cheese and drinking nice wine and swimming in lakes and hiking up mountains. But we have been doing more in the UK.
We were down in Cornwall for half term; I haven’t actually spent time in Cornwall before, having not really grown up in the UK. And people always rave about Cornwall and I never really got it, and then we went down there and it was like: ‘Oh, now I see what everybody’s talking about.’ It was it was beautiful. When we went swimming in the sea, we had wetsuits on, went swimming every day in October in the sea and it was really lovely. So that’s been fun definitely, exploring a bit more near to home. It really is lovely, the coast is just incredible.
Felice It’s beautiful. But now that travel is a bit of a problem, have you been tempted to go into another area of blogging?
Katja No, I think if you’ve worked in an industry such as travel or the arts or something – this year, there’s been a lot of sort of reflection and people wondering: ‘Should you be doing something else? And what other skills do you have?’ But my skills are travel and writing, and so it’s been a real kind of perseverance, doing a lot of upkeep on my blog, make sure everything’s optimised so that when everybody emerges from the rubble and is ready to travel again, it will be in a good place. So, yes, I’ve had to be really positive that things are going to to get better and that travel will come back.
Peter Well, I think it will come back. It’s going to take some time though, to get back to any semblance of normality.
Katja Yes, definitely.
Felice So do you have any particular views on travel with the environment?
Katja I do. It’s interesting. So I haven’t been on a plane since February and I can’t remember the last time that I’ve had 10 months with no air travel, and particularly having lived abroad – both as a kid and with my own kids – we’ve always just been getting on planes both to see family or to travel. And so I think ten months of not flying is quite mad. And yet you think, well, that’s good as well, and I do think that this pandemic will make us think more about how we travel.
We’ve always been conscious of responsible tourism when we’re away – shopping locally, working with local vendors, leave no trace, that kind of thing. But I definitely think in terms of environmental impact, people perhaps will go back to less but longer holidays, rather than that short city break that we had all got so used to.
Felice Yes, same for us. This is the longest I’ve ever been without going to another country or going on a plane.
Peter Since I was a child the last time I went 10 months without a flight. Extraordinary. I feel a bit stir crazy at the moment and I want to go.
Katja I hear you.
Felice So do you think after everyone’s travelling again, things will have changed? Like the cost of air travel, insurance and all those sort of things?
Katja I do think that travel is going to become expensive. And my worry is that it will become prohibitive to a lot of families, and it will become a luxury again rather than accessible, which is what it had been. That does worry me, because I do think it’s important that families can travel and go and see places. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens because flight prices will rise, insurance is going to be expensive. People are going to be trying to make their money back from everything that’s lost this year, and going into next year. So it’s going to be very different for a while at least.
Peter And I think the budget airlines are certainly going to put their prices right up. That’s the future, I feel.
Felice And I think if you live in mainland Europe, you’re going to be going by train and car much more.
Katja I do wish if anything good’s to come out of this, it would be great if train travel became more reliable and affordable. I would happily travel by train more. But to date, trying to get the train across to Amsterdam or to Paris or anything, it was cheaper for us to fly with easyJet or Ryanair than it was to to get on the train. But I train is a lovely way to travel.
Felice Yes, I’d much rather go by train if I could.
Peter Yes, well, if you’re going skiing and taking lots of gear with you it is the easiest way to go. But the price is too high and we’ll see what happens.
Felice So do you think that there’s an ideal age of child to take travelling? I mean, very young children, is that easy or do you think it gets a bit easier as they get older?
Katja That’s a good question. Every age has its challenges and positives, I suppose. Babies are actually, bizarrely, really easy to travel with because they’re just so portable and they sleep and you carry them around, and actually the only downside is the amount of stuff that you have to take with you. Toddlers, I think, are probably the most challenging because long haul flights with an active two year old is quite wearing; I think that can be quite a tricky age.
But I think once you get to five and upwards, kids like to do stuff and so there’s lots of fun things to do, to get the kids involved in choosing whether they want to do. And if there’s any activities in particular they want to take part in, or museums they want to go and see. And so, yes, I think once you don’t have to contend with daytime sleeps and nappies, then actually it becomes very easy, and the older you get, the less stuff you have to take for them. And yes, it becomes quite straightforward. And they have a really interest in where you’re going, what you’re doing, which is which is always fun.
Felice Is there any particular activity you like doing as a family?
Katja What we love is to ski, that’s one of our favourite activities. If we’re not in the snow, then we love swimming in lakes, so we’ll do a lot of time outdoors. I’m a big fan of city breaks and exploring cities but mostly the kids like being in the water, whether that’s the ocean or a pool or a lake. So I think any family holiday is about that balance, it’s finding something to do that they might not be so excited about but you’d like to do – a museum or a walking tour or something – and then you balance that with time by the pool or swimming in the ocean in the afternoon. So keeping everybody happy.
Peter We done a few things like Club Med – it is great with kids, actually.
Katja Yes, we did some Club Med when I was a kid and I remember them being great fun.
Felice So when all of this is over, where is the first place you’d like to go?
Katja Honestly, we’d be happy to go anywhere really, just anywhere out of North London would be great. I think short term, we are hoping to go to Spain and France in the summer – we’ve got my in-laws’ big 50th wedding anniversary and that’s going to be in northern Spain. And we are hoping to go to a family surf camp in France, which we were supposed to do last summer and that was cancelled. So it’s near the Bordeaux region and I can’t surf, so that should be quite interesting and quite fun. And you camp in bell tents and and do yoga and surfing and there’s a club for the youngest one if he doesn’t want to surf, and that should be quite fun.
Longer term, on my wish list, I’ve always wanted to go to Mongolia. That’s been on my dream list for the longest time. I really would love to go to the sand dunes and meet the eagle hunters and I think it would just be amazing.
Felice Yes, sounds good. I’m not sure about the food.
Katja That’s a good point.
Peter Anyone I know who’s been there says they can’t wait to get back and eat something different.
Katja Yes. I think it will be taking a lot of snacks. When you travel with kids, you always take snacks and we’ll take double the amount.
Peter And adult snacks as well.
Felice Do you have any tips for family travel?
Katja Yes, I always say to people that there’s never the right time to start travelling with kids. You’re always going to think: ‘Oh, but they need a routine or they’re not sleeping through the night or they’re fussy eaters.’ But I just think that the sooner you start, the easier it is. And it doesn’t have to be a big trip, it could be going to the neighbouring town to start with, or it could be going for a weekend away, an hour’s drive away. I think it doesn’t have to be a massive long haul flight. But I think the sooner you start, the easier it becomes, because you get used to it and your child gets used to it. And you just realise that actually getting out of that routine at home is really good for everyone.
Felice Can you tell us what your blog is called?
Katja Yes, it’s called Globetotting. So tots as in little children.
Felice That’s an interesting name. And people can find you on Instagram – what are you called on Instagram?
Katja I’m Globetotting across everything…so the blog and Instagram and Twitter and Facebook.
Peter Katja, thank you very much for appearing on our show today and we wish you the very best of luck when travels do resume.
Katja Thank you so much for having me.
Felice That’s all for now. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please share this episode with at least one other person! Do also subscribe on Spotify, i-Tunes or any of the many podcast providers – where you can give us a rating. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or any of the many podcast platforms. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We’d love you to sign up for our regular emails to [email protected].
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