It’s particularly hard, especially in the fast moving and fickle world of social media, to stand out in a sea of travel writers and photographers – did you take particular inspiration from specific styles/genres when it came to creating your own look and feel for Sophee Smiles?
I find it hard to strike the right balance between being inspired, unique and authentic. I’ve definitely tried to emulate other bloggers whose aesthetic style I love – not only in the travel space but also fashion and design influencers. But, I’m a firm believer it’s our differences that make the world exciting. So, moving forward, I really want to challenge myself to create a look that’s uniquely me (I’m a lot edgier than my photos let on).
I’m proud to say my writing has always stayed true to the person I am. I really try to bring the Sophee Smiles community around the world with me – into wild locations, exotic cultures and the homes of beautiful strangers. I want my blogs to be raw, immersive and inspiring not fluffy and forgettable.
Ultimately, I think the way to succeed as a travel blogger (especially considering it’s a saturated and highly competitive market), is to grab on to the things that make you unique and convey your individuality with confidence. Audiences can tell when someone is merely following the trends, rather than doing their own thing. It’s boring and not worth their time. Now I just need to start following my own advice!
Are there other writers, photographers or bloggers you admire and/or feel are managing to stay true to their ‘brand’, in terms of remaining unique in style, approach and ethos?
From a blog perspective, I really admire what Gemma Clarke has done to create the Global Hobo. Equal parts witty, wild and brutally honest, it’s pretty darn unique and highly addictive. Despite growing from strength to strength, it’s remained down-to-earth and inclusive as a brand.
From a social media perspective, I can’t go past the ‘Fashion Queen of Instagram’, Chiara Ferragni. She’s a rock star – there’s no one quite like her. Unlike a number of other digital influencers whose social media channels are squeaky clean and too stylish for their own good, Chiara effortlessly embraces everything from chaos and couture to glamour and grunge. She makes imperfection look perfect. That’s a rare gift. It’s hardly surprising how successful she’s become.
From an image perspective, I’m actually not a raving fan of most travel blogger photography, especially when it comes to pure landscape or nature shots. These situations are already beautiful, so the focus is more on mastering digital cameras, lighting and editing software to create travel porn, rather than being a creative genius or thought-provoking. I’m drawn to photos where location, culture and time clash together to create a visual story that’s multi-layered and completely one of a kind. Think Life Magazine, National Geographic, Time Magazine and those iconic shots that never lose their impact.
Have there been any particularly difficult lessons to learn along the way that you’d like to share?
There are few quick paths to becoming a successful travel blogger. It takes a lot of hard work, skill development, strategy and patience. It also comes down to a little luck, like stumbling across a new social media channel before it gets big and riding the wave to an ocean of followers or a random publicity opportunity. Prepare to do the hard yards, but pick a content specialisation and style that make the journey a pleasure, not a chore.
Where in the world have you had your most memorable moments, either professional or personal?
My most memorable moments have been those which both pushed me out of my comfort zone and delivered magic beyond my wildest dreams. I’ll never forget my trips through Central Asia, India, Morocco and Nepal (the latter during the 2015 earthquakes). These experiences were completely foreign to me and left me completely buzzing. They also helped me discover ‘my calling’ and as a writer. I discovered I really enjoy bringing my followers untold stories and broadening their world view (along with my own). For instance, by travelling to Pakistan, I was able to share tales of its impossibly beautiful locations and generous locals (many of which have become my friends for life).
What are your personal travel necessities?
A sarong or large scarf, because they are multipurpose. I’ve used them as a headscarf in conservative countries, a dress in beach destinations, a bed sheet and blanket in hostels, a makeshift tote bag and even a hammock! I also always travel with headphones and some form of music. I struggle with misophonia from time to time, and certain noises really get under my skin (soup slurps are the worst!). Apart from that, I rely pretty heavily on my phone, which doubles up as an e-reader, music player, map, ‘Lonely Planet Guide’, a camera… the list goes on.
Where’s next on your itinerary?
My next destinations are Cairns and Port Douglas for the Great Barrier Reef Marathon – a true balance of pleasure and pain. Over the holidays, I’ll be catching up with loved ones in the Whitsundays and Lady Elliot Island. Sun, sand, surf and seafood – it’ll be a true blue Aussie Christmas. I can’t wait to reach Lady Elliot Island. This little freckle on the Great Barrier Reef is home to some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world. I’ll be swimming alongside manta rays and turtles until I’m wrinklier than a raisin.
To celebrate my 30th birthday in January, I’ll be visiting Japan for the first time (I may never leave). I can’t wait to get under the skin of the place and dive into the unknown. I’ve been fascinated by Japan’s quirky subcultures, such as decora fashion, for years. I feel a mini documentary coming on.
Fingers crossed, I’ll also get my visa approved for Iran. I’d love to couchsurf my way around this beautiful country early next year.
And what do you look forward to the most when you come home?
If I’ve been on the road for a long time, my kitchen and the freedom to exercise regularly. In other words, the routine I was trying to get away from in the first place! I always enjoy getting back to family, friends and my pug Chaos. I wish I could take her around the world with me. Pugs should be given special travel permissions – they’re more like people than pets after all.
Do you have any hot tips for where you see being the next up-and-coming destination, and why?
Iran and Central Asia countries – especially for European travellers – seem to be on travellers’ radars. People are becoming increasingly interested in off-the-beaten-track locations, possibly because it gives them an edge on social media. Iran and Central Asia are slowly opening up to more tourists, so get in quick before the masses descend! Scandinavian destinations also seem to be showing up on people’s bucket lists. Norway and Iceland are fuelling people’s winter wonderland dreams – they’re definitely on my “to-do-soon list”.
What is your vision as you take Sophee Smiles forward?
I want my ‘digital story’ to be more fearless and more authentic. Next year I’ll be turning Dirty Thirty and embarking on a long journey of discovery (including self-discovery). I’m sure it’ll take me to some pretty mad and challenging places, and I hope you can join me for the ride.
We believe at Supernomad in the importance of treading lightly (in terms of environmental and social impact) when it comes to fashion – do you agree that this is also important for travel?
I think in any situation, it’s important to give more than we take. We’re on borrowed time on planet earth, and we need to leave it in good nick for future generations… and just because it’s the right thing to do. As such, I’m a big supporter of ethical fashion, eco-friendly tourism and any initiative which supports the sustained health of planet earth. While we can’t fossilise her and she will continue to evolve, we certainly don’t need to speed up the process of change to the point where she doesn’t have a chance to adapt.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be?
Stop worrying so much – worrying about not fitting in, worrying about career choices, worrying about your body. Be kinder to yourself (and those around you), embrace the moment and own who you are. Don’t worry, have faith, be happy.
What would you say is the best part of your job?
I get to keep learning. For me, few things are more fulfilling than knowledge. I constantly crave food for my brain. Planet earth is the ultimate classroom and travel offers the gift of perspective. By exposing myself to different cultures and experiences I’m able to keep my assumptions in check and broaden my mind to life’s possibilities. Plus, travel has helped me gain friends all over the world. It’s pretty awesome!
'Happiness Hunter' Sophee Southall is the writer, photographer and social media addict behind the travel blog Sophee Smiles - 'Explore. Experiment. Find your Happy Place.'
Website / sopheesmiles.com
Facebook / Sophee Smiles
Instagram / @SopheeSmiles
Twitter / @SopheeSmiles