An Interview with Vanessa Chiasson
Home Base: Ottawa, Ontario
Blog: Turnip Seed Travel
Connect With Vanessa
I'm an Ottawa based freelance writer, social media strategist, and travel blogger at TurnipseedTravel.com. In my early days I was an extreme budget traveler out of necessity and travelled Europe on $35 a day. To this day I still carry a flame for free museums and farmers’ market fare! Never exactly the world’s bravest soul, I still begin each journey not entirely convinced on the merits of being adventurous, but that hasn’t stopped me from sailing to the Aran Islands, running a marathon in Paris, working on Malawian fish farms, and exploring global cultural nuances through nacho consumption.
I chronicle my stories of intrepid value travel at TurnipseedTravel.com, which has been honoured by the White House as one of the top 100 most influential travel blogs in the world, and by the Canadian Web Log Awards as second place winner for Best Travel Blog and Best Product Review Blog.
When and how did you discover your passion for travel?
My great aunt divided her time between her cottage in Nova Scotia and friends and properties in the United States. She had a little travel kit that included all kinds of travel miniatures, like those telescoping collapsible cups. I was hooked on travel gear long before I took my first trip.
How has travel changed your life?
It has given me a real appreciation for our health and happiness here in Canada, as there are so many people in the world who struggle with unsafe, unstable circumstances. And yet, people everywhere are so similar, no matter their environment or situation. I've met wonderful, warm, hospitable, open minded, good humored people all over the world.
What is your biggest pet peeve while travelling?
People who STILL try to take over-sized liquids in their airplane carry-on luggage. The liquid rule has been in place for nearly a decade! Why are you still shocked that your 2 gallon jug of shampoo isn't allowed?
I beg everyone reading this to take just 5 minutes before their next trip and read the rules of airport security and carry on luggage! I'm convinced that if everyone took just 5 extra minutes to be a tiny bit more prepared and a tiny bit more organized, we would all enjoy much shorter security lines, more cheerful staff, and more pleasant flights.
All together now: no more liquids!
What is the one thing you absolutely never travel without?
I have a keychain with a tiny purple plush bunny, a mini mag light, and a bottle opener that has been with me on every single trip.
What is the most unique experience you've ever "accidentally stumbled upon" while travelling?
While returning to Lilongwe after a weekend away visiting a national park in Malawi, my friends and I had to "go" so we just pulled over on the side of the road, scampered across the field, and did our business behind a huge boulder. We thought we were the only people around but no sooner had we dropped our trousers that we heard giggles from a group a kids spying on us! Um, thanks guys!
Meanwhile, our friend who stayed with the vehicle had struck up a conversation with a local resident who informed us that the road was the unofficial border, we had unwittingly (and illegally) crossed into Mozambique, and there was a good chance that there were still a few stray landmines in the field. Oops!
For the record: it is wrong, wrong, super wrong to illegally cross borders for any reason, bathroom needs included.
If you were going on a one-week rest and relaxation vacation somewhere you've previously been, where would you go and why?
Anywhere in Belgium. I'm not sure what's in the water (or beer) there, but every time I've been to Belgium I've always had the most relaxing, rejuvenating days. There must be something about the combination of cheese and chocolate - and I've always found amazingly good Italian food all over the country as well! Perfect for indulging and watching the world go by.
With the Canadian Dollar being a little weaker than it once was, what is something unique you do to stretch your dollars while travelling?
Your two biggest tools to cope with the poor exchange rate are to negotiate and search for coupons. You would be amazed at how easy it is to save 10% on virtually all of your accommodations just by asking. Can you get a 10% early booking discount? Will they offer a 10% discount for your CAA card, your teacher's card, you name it? This has worked for us time and time again. You just have to pluck up your courage and call the property directly. It's easy for people to say no in email - a friendly voice on the phone is much, much harder to resist!
Coupons and coupon codes are great for online bookings for major chains and properties, but they're also fantastic for meals, activities, and entertainment. Does the museum of your dreams offer a 2-for-1 package on a certain day of the week? Is their a coupon code for your theater ticket purchase? I love travel coupon research - even if I fail to find one, I always learn more about my destination in general, which is it's own wonderful reward.
If you could pack only a carry on sized backpack for an extended trip, what would you pack
This is the only way to travel! My formula is 3 pairs of bottoms, 4 tops, 5 pairs of underwear, and one special occasion outfit (and 'special occasion' doesn't have to mean fancy - it could be climbing gear!). I've come to embrace travel laundry. Reading a book and sipping coffee for an hour or two as the machines whirl around me hardly feels like a chore. I'd much rather spend my time that way than by waiting at the airport carousel, praying for suitcase deliverance.
What kind of mistakes did you make when you first started travelling?
Too many gadgets! I do love travel gear - remember my great aunt's cup? But after purchasing and testing MANY an item I've come to realize that there's a lot of fine form out there, but not a lot of function. Things that look cute and just perform one specific function rarely earn a repeat trip. I'm looking at you, cutesy travel make up bags and too-ridged packing cubes.
What is your most embarrassing travel story?
Did I ever tell you about getting caught peeing that time I sneaked into Mozambique?
What's the craziest thing you've ever eaten while away?
I'm an anti-crazy food kind of gal. I once paired red wine with a fish dish - that's about as wild as I get.
What is the most exciting thing/craziest story that has ever happened to you when travelling?
For the rest of my life, I'll never forget my first hour in Africa. So terrified my mouth was dry, so excited I was almost hyperventilating. When my plane landed in Lilongwe I felt like that moment was the benchmark in my life, the moment where there'd always be a "before" and "after" in my mind.
Of all the places you've been, what was your favourite destination and why?
It's such a cliche, isn't it? The Paris you see in the movies doesn't exist, which is why I'm sure so many people leave disappointed. It's a city you have to make your own moments, where you have to find your own special things. And once you do, the love affair will begin.