An Interview with Sarah Wilkie, World Traveller, Photographer, and Blogger

Fisherman in Fort Kochi, Kerala, 2017
Fisherman in Fort Kochi, Karala 2017, by Sarah Wilkie

I discovered Sarah Wilkie’s wonderful blog, Travel with Me, about two years ago, probably through some of the photography challenges that we both participate in. She generously agreed to be interviewed for ARHtistic License and to share some of her gorgeous photographs.

ARHtistic License: You only just started your blog in August of 2020 (though you had previously contributed to the Virtual Tourist community and TravelersPoint) and you already have well over 1100 subscribers. I’m in awe. That’s a testimony to the quality of your work.

What was your profession before you became a blogger?

Sarah Wilkie: I trained as a librarian and worked in that field for most of my career, specialising in work with children and young people. I managed learning services in the City of Westminster’s libraries, then left to work in a government agency overseeing national public library strategies. For the last twelve years before retirement I worked as freelance consultant advising local authorities on their library and other cultural services, and a range of other projects.

Glacier Grey in the Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, 2016
Glacier Grey in the Torres del Paine National Park, Chile 2016, by Sarah Wilkie

AL: You’ve travelled extensively around the world (though not since the pandemic). You’ve been to very modern and sophisticated locations, and also to places remote and exotic as compared to Europe or the US. How do you choose your destinations? What are some of your favorite places?

SW: The choice of destinations can be inspired in a number of ways. Often a friend has been there and shares on Facebook or blogs (or in the past wrote Virtual Tourist reviews). Our trip to North Korea was inspired by a VT friend who blogged about his visits there. I also read Wanderlust magazine and watch TV travel documentaries. I have a long wish-list and it tends to grow rather than shrink even though we regularly tick places off! The final decision on a trip can involve a negotiation with my husband, e.g. I make three suggestions and one appeals to him much more than the others. We also like variety, so if we’ve been somewhere in Africa recently we’re more likely to consider Asia or the Americas next time around.

As to favourite places, that’s almost impossible to answer. North Korea has to be the most fascinating place I’ve been, but other places stand out for different reasons. India, especially Rajasthan, for the colour and friendliness of the people. Botswana for the wildlife and the landscape of the Okavango Delta. The Antarctic for the icebergs and penguins! Japan for the culture. Galapagos for getting close to nature. Chile for variety and stunning landscapes, with desert in the north and the high Andes in the south. Laos for a sense of timelessness. I could go on! And we also love road tripping in the US for the freedom and the beauty of the landscapes in the west in particular. My favourite cities are Paris and New York, I would say.

Serrekunda Market, Gambia, 2014
Serrekunda Market, Gambia 2014 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: What modes of transportation have you used?

SW: Most to be honest. We probably fly long-haul more than we should but we try to offset our flights. Once in a country we enjoy road travel, either driving ourselves somewhere like the US or being driven in India, where there’s so much to see along the road. I also love a train journey – if going to Paris we always use Eurostar, and I’ve loved our train journeys in India and would like to do more. The one thing we don’t do normally is cruise, but we did a small (16 berth) boat cruise around the Galapagos and a larger one for the Antarctic trip. I loved the small boat and would like to do more similar trips, but I don’t fancy the idea of those massive floating hotels, although I know they appeal to some of my friends and I never say never! We’ve only done a few group tours – we did some in the past when we were on tighter budgets, and more recently for North Korea where it’s really the only option, but generally we prefer to travel alone.

St Paul's Cathedral, London, 2018
St. Paul’s Cathedral, London 2018 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: In the past few years, travel has been extremely challenging, between Covid protocols, violent behavior from passengers, and rampant flight cancellations. Can you recall a time when you had a better-than-average travel experience?

SW: I’m not sure how to answer this. Maybe we’ve been lucky but I can’t recall a bad travel experience, beyond the usual little niggles (delays, hotel rooms not living up to glowing descriptions, annoying fellow travellers on a group tour). I firmly believe ALL travel is better than no travel, so maybe I could say that all my experiences have been better than average?

AL: How many languages do you speak?

SW: In addition to English I speak passable French and a smattering of German

In Old Delhi, India, 2015
In Old Delhi, India 2015 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: What advice would you give to people who want to travel around the world?

SW: Not having ever done a round the world trip I wouldn’t dream of advising on any specifics. My general advice to anyone wanting to travel is simply to say, do it! I also always say there’s not a right or wrong way to travel. I get impatient when people are dismissive of tours, for instance, or say backpacking is the only way to go. The only right way to travel is the one that feels right for you.

In Tallinn, Estonia, 2015
In Tallinn, Estonia 2015 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: What packing advice would you give to novices?

SW: Again, I probably shouldn’t advise on this as I’m not particularly good at travelling light. There’s plenty of good advice out there which I doubt I can add to. One thing I would say is, research where you’re going. How easy will it be to get laundry done if necessary? Will you be close to shops where you could buy essentials? Do you need to leave space in your bag for shopping?! When I travel with my husband I’m spoiled as he helps with my bag, but if I’m travelling on my own I always make sure I don’t take more than I can manage to carry up and down stairs, on to a train, etc.

Musician at Nizwa Fort, Oman, 2019
Musician at Nizwa Fort, Oman 2019 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: Do you have any favorite travel anecdotes?

SW: Oh gosh, far too many – my blog is full of them! It’s often the smaller things that stick in the mind, and the people we meet. Like the guy we got chatting to in a bar in New York who asked us to look after his beer while he popped outside – we thought he was going for a cigarette but when he came back he’d been for a haircut. He’d told his girlfriend he was going to the barbers but had spent the afternoon drinking instead and didn’t feel he could go home with hair the same length as when he’d left! Or the lovely Leo in New Mexico who was the subject of my very first blog post. We’ve had a few (minor) dramas too, like being almost charged by a bull elephant in Tanzania!

Statues of the Great Leaders on Mansudae Hill, Pyongyang, North Korea, 2019
Statues of the Great Leaders on Mansudaei Hill, Pyongyang, North Korea 2019 by Sarah Wilkie. Oh, the scale! Those are some big statues.

AL: When did you start taking pictures?

SW: When I was about ten years old my parents gave me a Brownie box camera and I’ve been taking photos ever since!

Little Bee Eaters, SIne Saloum Delta, Senegal, 2016
Little bee eaters, Sine Saloum, Senegal 2018, by Sarah Wilkie

AL: You use a bridge camera. What is the make and model? What are the advantages of a bridge camera over a DSLR?

SW: I use a Panasonic Lumix. In fact I have two – a small point and shoot compact which is useful for carrying in a handbag and the larger bridge camera. My current (very new) one is the FZ330. The biggest advantage is size and weight; I’m prone to back trouble so don’t like to carry a lot of heavy equipment. Also, not having separate lenses means I’m always ready for a shot. When I had a SLR in pre-digital days I found I kept my 35mm-200mm zoom on the camera nearly all the time, which meant the ability to swap lenses was really rather redundant! So I’ve never gone down that route since moving to digital.

Bald Eagle near Deception Pass, Washington State, USA, 2017
Bald eagle near Deception Pass, Washington State, USA 2017 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: The photos on your blog are so engaging. When taking travel photos, what do you keep in mind?

SW: I think the main thing is that I try to suit my photography style to the place. In a city I’ll shoot architecture and street photos. In other places it will be the landscapes and wildlife that I prioritise. One thing that’s important to me is looking for details, e.g. in architecture. And I always want to photograph the people – I enjoy capturing candid shots more than posed ones.

Zebra in Chobe National Park, Botswana, 2018
Zebra in Chobe National Park, Botswana 2018 by Sarah Wilkie

AL: What organization tips do you have for photographers in regard to storing their photos?

SW: As an ex-librarian I should be better at this than I am! I don’t have a detailed indexing system, for instance. My travel photos are in folders grouped according to place. I always edit the hundreds I shoot down to a manageable number of ‘best’ shots, but I keep all but the most disastrous rejects on another hard disk in case I feel the need to find more, e.g. for a particular blog post. A typical trip folder will have a sub-folder for each day and an extra one with the very best shots to use if some asks to see some. For instance, my VT friends and I have regular Zoom meetings at which one of us will usually share some photos from a recent trip.

These days I try to label the shots with the date and place soon after my return, before I forget where I was! I’ve learned from past experience how important that is. There’s a bit of free software called FastStone Image Viewer which is very useful for reordering files in a folder and renaming in bulk – I highly recommend it.

And my other main tip is to back-up your files and/or keep multiple copies in different places, but I’m sure most of us do that!

Sarah Wilkie, traveler and photographer
Sarah Wilkie

Thank you to Sarah for sharing her expertise and her beautiful photographs. For more, and to learn about her travels, be sure to follow Travel with me.

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