Life as a Travel Writer with Nikki Scott, Founder of South East Asia Backpacker Magazine

12 Feb 2021

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Nikki Scott, originally from the UK, is the founder of the legendary South East Asia Backpacker Magazine, a popular free magazine that was distributed to hostels, cafes, bars and adventure centers across the continent for over five years. Whilst running the magazine, she spent six years living in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Chiang Mai and our beloved Koh Phangan.

She now runs several backpacker magazines in South East Asia, South America and Europe, a Backpacker Trip Booking website, AND she has just written a book all about her adventures! So how did she do it? We caught up with her to find out more!

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up living in Thailand?

I left my job as an advertising executive in rainy Manchester, England, after only a year working there. At 23 years old, I wasn’t ready to settle into corporate life and I wanted to see what else was out there in the world before resigning myself to a life of 9 to 5!

I set off to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, where my horizons were widened by the exotic sights, smells and sounds of Asia. I think I almost knew right then that I would never go back to England! Life in Asia was so different, so spontaneous, so exciting!

After Kathmandu, I hopped on a plane to South East Asia and began exploring Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

I had the idea to start South East Asia Backpacker Magazine after six months backpacking the continent. I wanted to start a business that would allow me to allow me to keep exploring this amazing place, and I saw a gap in the market for a fun, inspirational free travel magazine! The first issue of SEA Backpacker Magazine was published in July 2009 and I handed it out personally to travelers in the most famous backpacker street in Thailand, the Khao San Road. After that day, life was never the same again!

Tell us about your book, Nikki – and what inspired you to write it? Is it a completely true story?

So, I had been living in Thailand and travelling in South East Asia, whilst running the magazine, for a few years. I had completed the backpacker trail a few times over, lived through the red shirt riots in Bangkok, arranged meetings with the Vietnamese government about censorship and done business deals with so many interesting and quirky characters!

No day was the same and I was racking up so many ridiculous stories and funny tales about life as an expat in Asia. I MUST write a book about all of this one day! I thought.

I started writing the book in a particular dismal hostel in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia as a rat ran back and forth across my ceiling. The words poured out of me – all of my hopes, fears, good moments, bad moments, lessons, discoveries.

It took me over five years to complete the book, with spurts of enthusiasm every now and again – and me having to change the direction of the story as new things happened in my life!

And, it’s not all true no. I changed the names of people in the book and certain character profiles, as well as order of events and so on… but it’s certainly based on true events!

You spent a fair while living on our paradise of Koh Phangan - to which a chapter of the book is dedicated - tell us what you really thought of it!

I absolutely loved my time living in Koh Phangan! And indeed it is a paradise!

Before that time, I had been living in the city of Bangkok, which although an exciting and interesting place to live, was becoming more and more stressful. The traffic, the pollution and the chaos had been getting me down.

And then there was the red shirt crisis, where my housemate and I got trapped inside our apartment whilst gun fire raged between the army and protesters on the street below! I left my Bangkok apartment for a much needed holiday to Koh Phangan, and decided never to go back to the city again…!

My time living on the island (which was around five months in total), was spent on the West coast, in Haad Yao. I hired a rustic bungalow with a sea view and immersed myself in the hippie yoga scene, which was a lot of fun! I loved riding my motorbike through the jungle, trekking over to Bottle Beach and walking on the deserted sands of Mae Haad in the early mornings or during low season when there wasn’t a tourist in sight!

For me, Koh Phangan is a truly magical island, one that has something for everyone. You have the party scene of the south coast, the more flashpacker hotels of the east and the alternative bohemian healing community of the West coast. I always feel inspired to write and create when I’m in Koh Phangan – must be those amazing island sunsets!

So, is it a tough job being a travel writer? Or does it have its challenges?

Well, life as a travel writer isn’t quite that dreamy image that you get if you search google images, of an arty type in a hat, lying in a hammock whilst penning philosophical thoughts in an old notebook!

Whilst writing the book, I was much more often in my pajamas with messy hair and a scowling face staring at my laptop, than I was sipping a piña colada on a beach!

There were certainly frustrating times when I thought I would never get the book out at all. You see, it’s quite personal in parts, and I was concerned about sharing such personal details about my life and relationships. I was worried what people would think about me and paranoid that I may offend someone.

In particular, I write about the death of my Dad, who was also living in Thailand during that time. His death was definitely the most difficult time of my life and in a way, I think it was cathartic for me to write about and share this story with others. I had big doubts about it, but from feedback about the book so far, I have found that people have really appreciated me bearing my soul in this way.

I guess, if someone, somewhere can read my book and feel comforted, inspired, touched or even just entertained, then that’s all I can ask for.

Any advice for budding writers with a story to tell about their own travels?

I say - go for it! Although writing a book may seem like an enormous task, if you write a little bit every day, you’ll see it come together bit by bit. After living in South East Asia, I spent three months living at my Mum’s house in rural France with nothing to do apart from drink tea, and that’s how I was able to focus and finish the book.

I think it’s hard to write a book whilst you’re actually on the road, as there are so many other distractions and amazing things to do! Have ideas in mind, but make sure you have some big adventures first – so that you have something to write about!

What have you been doing since you finished the book?

After living in Thailand, I spent six months backpacking around South America, before coming to live in beautiful Barcelona. Whilst living a more ‘normal’ life here in Europe (and a bit closer to friends and family for once), I’ve been working on growing South America and Europe Backpacker magazines, and also building up our new trip booking website, so that potential backpackers from all over the world can book group trips in South East Asia online.

There’s everything on there from Halong Bay trips, to Dive Courses to Full Moon Party Group Trips. These trips are particularly great for backpackers who are setting off on their travels for the first time.

And finally, what are your plans for the future? Is book two in the pipeline?

Well, after thinking that I had well and truly got the backpacking bug out of my system, I’m heading off to travel Brazil in October with my boyfriend!

Book two? Who knows! You need to have the adventures first – so I’ll be working on that one, as soon as we land in Rio!

If you’re interested in finding out more about Nikki’s story – her new book, Backpacker Business, is available on Amazon in Paperback or Kindle here.