Being one of Ireland’s most renowned travel writers, it’s a pretty sure bet that Julianne Mooney knows a thing or too about holidays. We were delighted to get the chance to pick her brains and she has kindly agreed to share with us some of her insights into the travel writer’s world; as well as giving us those all important top travel tips:
Julianne you have been a travel writer for a few years now – is it as glamorous as it appears to be?
“There are, of course, moments of glamour. Staying in five star hotels I could not afford myself, eating out in great restaurants and discovering new cities and countries, I may never have visited. However, as with any job, it’s not all glamour. These moments are woven into jam-packed travel schedules, early morning flights, packing and unpacking, long bus journeys and stints in airports. However, saying that, I feel incredibly lucky to be doing two things that I love and am very passionate about, writing and traveling.”
What did you think the job entailed as you started to write and did it live up to expectations?
“After spending two years traveling the world, I decided there would be nothing better than travel writing. However, it took many years for my dream to come true. When I tell people I’m going away on a trip, they sigh, go misty eyed and say, “You’re so lucky”. Which I am. However, the trips are not like a holiday, especially if you’re exploring a whole region. It’s not like it was when I spent two years, moving at my own leisure, spending time really getting to know somewhere. When I’m on a trip, it tends to be moving at a fast pace, taking in as much as you can, writing as you go and capturing as much information as possible.
So, I guess, no, it’s not what I thought it would be, when I imagined myself moving at the pace of a snail exploring the world. It’s a different experience, but I get to explore the world, visit cool places and there’s always the excitement of where I am going to next. Just the other week I got an invite to go on a trip to Cappadocia in Turkey, somewhere that is on my list of places to see after I’d watched a documentary on it. I never really thought I’d get there and suddenly I got an email inviting me to go. I’m incredibly lucky.
One of the best things about my job is being able to tell people about these places, through photos and words.”
What has been your favourite kind of trip? A cultured city break, sunny beach holiday, an exotic trekking or camping experience or something else?
“This is a hard question. It really depends on how life is at a particular time. If things have been hectic, there’s nothing nicer than going to a beautiful island, lazing on the beach in the sunshine, exploring the island on a scooter and eating outdoors. After writing the Time Out Guide to Ireland, I needed a break from all the travel and chaos. I’d read about a little island, off the coast of Ibiza, Formentera, so I booked a week holiday there and it was heaven. However, my best travel memories are of traveling around Brazil and spending time in the Amazon, which I’d always wanted to do. Brazil is an incredible country, with such a diverse landscape. Everything about it feels exotic and vibrant. Another favourite trip was driving up the west coast of Australia. It was magical – sleeping under the stars, cooking over open fires, trekking through gorges, swimming beside dolphins – it was the most carefree trip I’ve ever had.”
What is your favourite country to visit?
“I love New Zealand. You can be climbing a glacier one day, kayaking turquoise waters another, then within a couple of hours be tasting wine or watching whales. I loved every second of my trip there. Closer to home, I love France – the food, wine, cities, countryside. I visit the south of France, near Carcassonne a lot and never tire of it. If I could buy a second home somewhere, it would be there.”
If you were allowed to choose one city break – where would you go and why?
“I think it would be Reykjavík as I’ve never been. I have always wanted to bathe in the thermal waters at The Blue Lagoon.”
What is the first thing you do when you check in to a hotel?
“Look out the window to see what view I have and check the bathroom.”
What takes a hotel stay from the ordinary to the exceptional?
“Excellent service. The moment I step into a hotel, I can tell if the service is going to be good or not. If you’re greeted warmly at reception, it puts you at ease straight away and makes you feel welcome. I like to see some personality in a hotel, and this is often in the small details. I stayed at the Capa La Gala Hotel, Sorrento last year and they had a nautical theme, with a little edge. There were quirky paintings and sculptures throughout and I developed an unnatural obsession with the breakfast napkins. They were bright blue and every time I saw them they made me happy!
The staff were so friendly and relaxed, yet worked hard to make sure everything was perfect for all the guests. They remembered what we drank, what we liked and our names. It was exceptional.”
When on a city break what do you make sure you fit in?
“As many cafes and restaurants as possible, a walk through a park, one museum, and a search for places off the beaten track.”
Do you have any tips on choosing restaurants when abroad?
“- Research – I like to read about recommended restaurants before I go away. I check websites like Fodors, the Guardian and Telegraph travel sections, which often have recommended restaurants from locals.”
- Ask the locals – it’s always good to get tips from the locals. They know the best places to eat, which won’t break the bank. The places tourists are recommended to go to are often not the best and tend to be more expensive. When I’m in a city or town, I will always ask someone in a café, shop or in the hotel, where the best place to eat is.
- Explore – I love just stumbling on a restaurant or café, down a side street or on some shaded square. As I walk about a city, I always keep my eyes peeled for places I want to return to for lunch or dinner. If you find somewhere great you feel like you’ve discovered a wonderful secret!”
Most people end up taking too many clothes on holiday – can you be accused of this or what do you do to make sure you keep luggage to a minimum?
“I’ve had too many instances where I pack exactly what I think I’ll need and then the weather changes and in fact, I should have brought a t-shirt or that extra jumper. I always look to see what the weather is going to be like, pack for that, and then throw in two emergency items!”
Do you think the internet has revolutionised travel?
“Absolutely. You can go online and find recommended hotels, restaurants and destinations for free and in a couple of minutes. You can find holidays for every taste and budget in a matter of minutes. People can tailor their holidays, creating a trip that fits all their requirements. It’s made the world smaller and travelling a whole lot easier and more affordable. As a result of this, it’s made us more adventurous.”
Do you find you book more trips online or through a traditional travel agent?
“Online. I have always done so as I tend to travel around and I find doing it myself means I have a lot more freedom. However, there is a real benefit in booking with a travel agent. If my parents are booking a holiday, or if someone asks where they should go on a family holiday, I tend to direct them to travel agents. They know their destinations well, they cut out the research and need to arrange transport and will often have an agent on the ground in the case of emergencies. Also, booking long haul trips, can often be easier if you go into a specialised agent who knows the country your flying to and can book all internal flights for you and give good advice on your itinerary.”
Do you think online travel has promoted a more spontaneous approach to travelling?
“Definitely. These days, people are booking holidays at the last minute. With job insecurity, they don’t know if they’ll be able to take a holiday or not. Others are just so busy they can’t commit to booking a holiday in advance. They realise they have a free weekend only a week or two in advance and just want to get away. All they have to do is go to any of the websites like lastminute.com and see what’s available for that weekend. There is always a last minute deal, whether it’s to Egypt, Cuba or London. There’s a real sense of excitement realising you have a chunk of time and within a couple of minutes you can book a trip to somewhere you may never have even thought about visiting. That’s the joy of being spontaneous, it makes life exciting and it’s thanks primarily to online travel.”
What tips would you offer lastminute.com travellers heading on a city break?
- Pack light, leaving room in your bag to take things back with you.
- Put on a pair of comfy shoes, walk and get lost. This is how you find the best places in a city.
- Make a list of the top 3 things you really want to see or do, because after that, it’s impossible to see everything on one trip.
- Talk to the locals. Ask them what’s good to see or do. Where to eat or drink. They’ll be your best guide to a city.
And finally – you promote travel in Ireland a lot – what would be your top 5 tips for people heading to your home country?
- Don’t try to see the whole country in two weeks. It may be small, but it’s too beautiful to race around. You won’t get to see the real Ireland if you’re speeding about.
- The west coast of Ireland is incredible for scenery, bring a camera and choose just two of the counties to visit. If I were to choose two, it would probably be Kerry and Sligo. Although, Galway and Donegal are a close second. It’s so difficult to choose!
- Look out for the special offers. Travelling in Ireland can be expensive, but you can make it affordable if you do your research for deals. Hotels will often offer mid-week deals including dinner. Check hotel websites and other online travel companies for special offers. The B&Bs in Ireland can be good, but do your research. If you plan on staying in one place for a week, it’s worth looking into renting a house/cottage/apartment. It will cut costs on food and drink.
- If you are traveling around, rent a car. The places you’ll want to visit are often difficult to get to by public transport. A car will bring you freedom to see what you want and to reach some of the most beautiful parts of the country.
- Bring a raincoat and ignore the weather. Go out and do what you want to do – the sun will shine at some point.
Want to find out more about Julianne – check out her own blog at juliannemooney.com