From Canada To The World: A Chat With Travel Writer Christopher Mitchell
December 13, 2019
Hailing from Toronto, Christopher Mitchell has been writing and documenting his adventures on his blog travelingmitch as he travelled across 80 countries for the past ten years together with his travel partner and editor-in-life, Bri.
On the side, he also runs a popular travel podcast "Rick Steves Over Brunch" with another travel writer, Stephanie Craig, that chats about episodes of the classic travel TV show, Rick Steves' Europe.
In this chat, we find out more from Christopher about how he first started, stories about his travels, and his advice for new bloggers just starting out.
You've been writing and documenting your travels for over ten years, and have visited 80 countries along the way, how did you first get started on your adventure and was it something you ever thought you would do?
So my adventure really started when I went over to Ireland in 2006 to take a writing course for a high school credit focused around Irish authors. I couldn’t get over the fact that I could read a classic book like The Dubliners actually in Dublin.
Mainly, just being half way across the world on my own at 16 taught me not only that there was a lot to see, but also that it was worth seeing. That curiosity that was sparked back then has never left me, and I’m grateful for that.
You could also argue that the first seed was planted when I was 12 and took a train trip from Toronto to Vancouver with my family. I still remember looking out the window as we rolled into the mountains and being overcome with how large and beautiful my home nation was.
I figured at that point that if my own homeland contained so much that the rest of the world must have an infinite buffet of experiences just waiting for me.
In your recent essay and reflection on “Why Travel is Important”, you talked about what travel means to you and how travel helps to place local problems in perspective relative to international issues.
Could you share about how travelling has changed you and how it has shaped your perspectives over time?
Well, I think the main power of travel is that you forge deep connections to places in which you weren’t born. Once you’ve visited a city, country, or even region, it’s hard not to solidify a sense of appreciation and empathy for that place.
The more places that I visit, the more room I seem to have in my heart for the struggles of different nations. I don’t think one person can take on the entire world’s problems, but, on a very basic level, I do feel as if the world would be a better place if more people took the time to understand what it might be like to live in another county, or be in another situation.
I firmly believe that travel forces you to become a more caring and empathetic person, at least if you’re the sort of traveller who is willing to do more than just get off a cruise ship for 8 hours at a time.
I can spin a globe now and bask in a rush of memories from all over the world. The goal, in the end, is to have an emotional attachment to every country. That keeps me accountable to genuinely care about the world.
Having been to half the total number of countries in the world, I'm sure you will have some exciting stories to share as well. What were some of the most memorable travel adventures you've had over the years?
It’s very hard for me to just narrow it down to a few stories, to be honest.
It’s everything - it’s all the stories for me.
I don’t have a wonderful memory for the everyday things, but some stories stick with me with an almost surreal clarity.
I can see the Turkish flag waving as my wife and I cruise down the Bosphorus, and can still see the makeup on the face of a geisha that just walked past me in Kyoto. I can taste the richness of the hummus in Jerusalem, and the boldness of the wine in Portugal.
It’s not any one memory, it’s all the memories that sit, waiting to be recounted when I have a moment to reflect.
On the other hand, what were some of the toughest challenges you've faced on your journey, and how did you manage to overcome them?
For the most part, I’ve been able to put challenges along the way in perspective. As a writer, I also was very aware of the fact that, often times, your best stories are going to come from a little bit of struggle and strife.
I remember one particular instance where I went away with one of my good friends to Croatia when we were studying abroad together in Norway. Of course, as luck would have it, a volcano erupted in Iceland and disrupted all air travel. This wouldn’t have been a problem, but I had an upcoming exam that I needed to be back in Oslo for.
So, along with two of my friends, I ended up taking an 8 country tour from Croatia to Norway that involved a bizarre arrangement of buses and ferries, but I did indeed make it back in time to write my exam!
As with most stories of this nature, I now look back on that rather fondly.
With numerous travel bloggers and travel-related content on the internet now, the travel niche seems very saturated and almost impossible for someone new to stand out, let alone make a living by blogging and travelling.
What are your thoughts on travel blogging as a lifestyle and business, and what would your advice and encouragement be to new travel bloggers just starting out?
This is a million dollar question, my friend. I’m a bit lucky in that I’ve had my brand for a while, so I’ve got some traction with that, but, you’re absolutely right that it’s difficult to be starting out at this moment.
When I’m speaking at conferences and so forth, I basically sum it up by noting that it’s never been easier to enter the space, but never been harder to actually make it.
The main thing that I would suggest to anyone starting out now is to establish a very clear niche! From the title of your site, people should be able to tell instantly what it is you’re going to be communicating to them. Not to mention that, for better or worse, Google is rewarding niche and specific sites by placing them higher in search results, and the opposite is happening for sites without a clear niche, or just confronting travel in general.
So, my first site www.travelingmitch.com now serves as the seat of my brand, but I’ve also just launched www.ultimateontario.com with a colleague of mine so I can tap into that hyper-niche market. Just ensure that you’ve actually got knowledge about the niche and you’re not just going for it because no one else has.
In your writings, you've also talked about climate change and how you would prioritize trains and environmentally-friendly buses over planes whenever possible.
As a climate activist, what are some of your recommendations for sustainable and responsible travel for people to reduce the footprint that travel has on the environment?
Everyone is going to have their own answers here, but I think it has to be a wide, varied approach that extends beyond travel.
That being said, there are certainly some things that you can do when you’re travelling to be kinder to the environment that I try to communicate to people as much as possible.
If you’re in a country with safe drinking water, I’d ensure that you’re bringing a large water bottle with you so you can avoid buying unnecessary bottled water and adding more plastic waste to the environment.
Similarly, if you’re staying at a hotel, opt not to get your room cleaned and towels changed.
Eat locally wherever possible, as you want to support structures that are in place which require the least damage to the environment. If I’m buying locally, I know that I’m supporting the farmer down the road, and more money is going into their pocket.
Those are some things that come to mind, but folks can always reach out to me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or on my Facebook group “travel talk with travelingmitch” to talk further about all this stuff as it’s a huge passion of mine. That would actually be a great question to ask in the group now that I think of it!
What are your future plans and the next destinations you have in mind for 2020?
On the immediate horizon, Bri (my wife) and I will likely be doing a bit of a US road trip in the south in the next few weeks here, and not long after that I’m off to New York City to attend a conference.
Beyond that, I’m not totally sure what’s on the horizon, but I’m sure opportunities will arise when they’re meant to, and I’m hoping that, if I’m fortunate, I’ll be able to add a few more countries to the list of places I’ve visited thus far, which, as you mentioned in the beginning, currently sits at 80.
As a parting note, what would be the most important message you would want to share with our readers?
I suppose what I’d like to say is to just take a deep breath. We’re inundated with news that basically suggest that the world is falling apart at the seams, but there’s also a lot of good in this world as well.
Whenever I take a break from the news, and just travel around and talk to people, my life seems so much richer. In the end, we can learn a lot more from the eyes of someone halfway across the world than we ever can from a television screen in our living room.