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She’s the one with the long blonde locks and infectious smile; she’s the fanciful detective infatuated with unearthing a city’s very soul, and she’s coming to a town near you! She’s Katie McKnoulty, founder of The Travelling Light, a beautifully curated, visual-blog seeking out the special and secret places to visit around the world. I caught up with this lovely traveller currently on the hop from city to city, forever rummaging through the tourist facades in search of the perfectly hidden hideaway. This is what she had to say…
When and Why did you start The Travelling Light?
I travelled a lot with my family growing up and I always had an obsession with seeking out the more secret, strange spots to visit in a city. So that became my goal in life – to publish guide books shining a light on these lesser-known places. I’ve always worked in travel marketing too so I guess I’ve had a lot of exposure to those iconic tourist attractions – Big Ben, the Louvre, the Empire State Building, the Story Bridge in Brisbane (!) etc. but I always had a problem with people (and I definitely do it at times too!) visiting an attraction just because it’s really old, it’s really popular, everyone’s telling you to do it and you’ve seen a million pictures of it.
Some tourist spots are worth the fuss but generally the way I try to travel is to seek out the little places, something you’ve never seen before, something genuinely amazing, someone small somewhere doing something quietly and very well…so The Travelling Light was borne out of this. And in saying that I guess I don’t want to be telling people where to go and what to do either but the site is supposed to act as an inspiration point to give people a few unique places to visit but really to move them to follow their feet and their intuition to their own special little places.
Where in the world are you currently residing and how do you fund your travels?
I’m a digital nomad! I work freelance for a few different small businesses doing their marketing, graphic design and social media which helps keep me on the road and in the skies and [of course] with a roof over my head!
I’m spending this month in Mercatello sul Metauro in Le Marche, Italy. It’s a tiny town of around 1,500 people and I’d say around 50 of them would speak English so it’s really forcing me to learn and practice the language. I’ve been on the road on this particular stint (I left Australia three years ago to first live overseas in Europe) for about three months spending a month each in San Francisco, Portland and New York, trying to spend long enough in each place to get a local’s feel for it. Though it’s never long enough…I’m trying to stop planning and remain open to what pops up in the next few months but Copenhagen, Berlin, France and South-East Asia are all floating around in my head and in my dreams.
If you could sum up the kind of traveller you are in one word, what would it be?
Curious….though maybe my friends would add the adjective ‘stubbornly’ to the front of that. I sort of see travel as detective work. I have an insatiable appetite for travel blogs, online and print city guides (Herb Lester are my favourite) and googling ‘secret insert city name here’…which is where I lose hours of my life. But my desire to find a secret, special, strange, inspiring, beautiful spot is very strong.
Then comes the implementation of visiting these strange, out of the way places…I’ve led friends through many a dark, sketchy neighbourhood looking for a very vague address to find a secret bar. I’ve travelled to the edges of cities to seek out weird galleries and walked up nondescript staircases knocking on doors to find a tiny restaurant. I have a bit of a ‘never-give-up’ attitude to finding these places because I almost tend to think that the more treacherous the journey, the more special the destination becomes when you reach it…much to the chagrin of my travel companions.
Can you think of a film which has inspired you to travel to a particular destination?
Well it’s not a film but the TV show ‘Portlandia’ was the thing that first alerted me to the weird and wonderful city of Portland where I’ve just spent a month (pictured throughout article)…I’ve since learnt that the people who actually live there i.e. the stereotypes on which the show is supposedly based aren’t so keen on it! I definitely noticed some things from the show brought to life during my stay though – the overwhelming politeness of drivers, the seriousness of the juice bars, the cafes and stores exclusively catering to cats and dogs (one or the other, never together), the independent publishing scene, the dive bars. Just people being as weird as they want to be and following their passions, no matter how niche or strange. It was actually like a utopia to me!
Describe the weirdest travel experience you’ve ever had…
Recently I once found myself on the front stage of a town meeting, sitting right next to the mayor, in the rural Italian town of Mercatello sul Metauro. The meeting was to discuss the annual pork festival that the town was putting on in a few months’ time and my friend had invited me along, insisting I sit onstage with her.
The town’s residents in the audience were looking at me strangely, no doubt wondering what I was doing there. I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying, though I recognised the Italian word for pork popping up a lot. A forty-something year old man in the crowd actually raised his hand at one point to ask who I was, what I was doing up there and if he could please have my phone number. FYI – I understood nothing of this exchange at the time.
Apart from the basics, what can you never travel without?
Journals and the ever-growing collection of paper travel mementoes I always seem to amass as I go – postcards, business cards, ticket stubs, menus, look books, event schedules, I can’t get enough. These items get really heavy though so I’m always cursing them when I’m packing up and shipping out to somewhere new. I hold onto the hope that I will someday somehow put this ridiculous collection of paper to use through my site though.
What’s the best meal you have eaten in the last week and where?
I ate at an Agritourism restaurant up in the hills above Mercatello sul Metauro a few nights ago and it was incredible, as they always are.
Agritourisms (agriturismo in Italian) are family-run restaurants in Italy with B&B style accommodation attached, usually built into centuries old stone farmhouses where they only use local produce and everything is handmade on-site. There is never a menu, they just bring out course after course on platter after platter, pouring unlimited house wine. There’s always a small community atmosphere at these places, everyone knows each other, they come up to each other’s tables to kiss, hug and chat. The bill is always very small too!
What’s your plane personality?
I love flying! So maybe my plane personality is ecstatic? Ecstatically calm. I always walk onto the plane with a big smile on my face. I love spending uninterrupted quiet time by myself so flying alone, with eight or so hours to watch movies, listen to music, read, stare into space, nap with no interruptions is bliss to me. I really don’t like this wi fi business being introduced on planes…
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