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Travel Industry Insiders: Ethical Hedonist and Sonja Holverson

By Kati Taylor

This month we thought we’d take our interview questions to the wider travel community! We managed to grab some time with Alison Reid and Sonja Holverson. Alison is a leading feature writer, sustainability expert and founder of The Ethical Hedonist.  With her emphasis on sustainable travel, without the doom and gloom, she’s a trailblazer for the ecotourism community. Sonja has worked in the travel industry for many years and, having written for specialist websites and journals, she’s a veteran of online blogging. She is the co-founder of Outbounding: an online platform which promotes informative, high-quality travel content. We caught up with them to chat about their experiences in the travel industry, favourite destinations and the advice they would give to an aspiring traveller…

Sonja Holverson

SonjaTL: What inspired you to start travel writing? Was it a particular destination or experience?

I have always had a passion for writing and travelling gradually became my inspiration. When I was 19 years old I went to Honolulu for a week holiday and ended up staying 7 years. I studied for my BA in Art and ended up working in many different positions in the travel industry.

In terms of particular destinations… my time in Hawaii really inspired me to embrace the rest of the world! While living there I travelled to Italy, Mexico, South America… It kick-started my love of exploring.

TL: What’s the most immersive, ‘local’ experience you’ve had while travelling?

It’s difficult to measure the “most” immersive as I’ve had some extraordinarily deep experiences thanks to the many warm-hearted and lively local people I’ve met around the world! I have fond memories of my time in Mexico: haggling with street market vendors and eating penny tortillas. I lived with a host family and they were so kind and welcoming - it put a whole new angle on the experience.

TL: What's your favourite destination and why?

I really love Guatemala! I remember the charm of colonial Antigua - I got happily lost there and would love to go back. There’s also the ruins of the Mayan Civilisation in Tikal which are utterly unforgettable. Even with all this, the most impressive aspect of Guatemala is the kindness of the people who live there. Always ready to lend hand; they have a genuine hospitality which has been lost in so many places!

Closer to home, I love Norway. I’m an outdoor person and it’s got so much to offer: mountains, lakes, fjords… It’s an incredible experience.

TL: What advice would you give someone who was thinking about going travelling?

If it was for the first time I would advise them to welcome all surprises! Do some research on the culture, language, geography and responsible tourism. If you’re booking with a company, make sure you check their credentials! Unplanned activities can turn out to be the best so be open minded and never be afraid to interact with local people. Every place is unique and special in its own way. Really, there’s just one thing to remember at all times: be respectful and doors will surely open.

Follow Sonja on Twitter (@SonjaSwissLife) and check out her website.

Alison Reid

AlisonTL: What inspired you to start travel writing? Was it a particular destination or experience?

For me, travel writing is a natural extension of feature writing. As a journalist I have the opportunity to travel, and I really love writing highly descriptive travelogues. It's fun and it is also a great way to polish creative writing skills! I would like the reader to feel that they are right there, with me, and that they can soak up the beating heart of a city, building or landscape.

TL: What’s the most immersive, ‘local’ experience you’ve had while travelling?

That would be my journalistic assignment of a lifetime to go to Kenya for The Times Magazine to write ' Out of Africa' style stories about fashion, wildlife and the larger than life people I encountered along the way. We had lots of adventures - some were pretty scary! I will never forget walking into a bedroom in a tree house and being greeted by a pet cheetah lolling on the bed! Another highlight was seeing a procession of 25 hippopotamuses with their young, walking along a dry riverbed at dawn - they were noisy, bad tempered and utterly magical.

TL: What's your favourite destination and why?

Can I have two?! Scotland first because of the cathedral majesty of the Highlands and west coast - it always makes my heart-leap. I love the colours of Scotland; the browns, purples and golds, the craggy castles and golden eagles. Scotland is a great places to see wild nature. Going north takes me back to my childhood, singing the Sky boat song with my father.... I'm half Scottish. Then, Italy, for the slow food, the people, the glamour and allure and the clash of passion, culture, sensuality and antiquity - an intoxicating mix.

TL: What advice would you give someone who was thinking about going travelling?

Always, always do your homework before visiting a place for the first time. Find the best guide and then ask the locals where they love to eat. The best and most affordable places are always away from major tourist areas and offer a far more authentic experience. I'm always motivated by the hunt for delicious local food!

Follow Alison on Twitter (@AlisonJaneReid) and check out her website.