In this edition of Celebrity Travel Addicts, we speak with travel blogger Audrey Bergner, the founder of That Backpacker and one-half of the dynamic travel vlogging duo known as Samuel and Audrey! We speak with her about how her and Sam’s passions for travel began, how her blog has evolved over time, the importance of immersive travel, and much more. Check out her best travel advice and find out where she and Sam are headed next!
How did your passion for travel get started?
For Sam, it started while he was in university. As one of his part-time jobs, he decided to start tutoring English and many of his language students were from Korea. Sam became friends with his students, and they, in turn, got him interested in the possibility of teaching ESL overseas. The summer before Sam graduated from university, he decided to travel to Korea and see how he liked it. He spent a few weeks exploring Seoul and knew he had to come back. Before commencement even rolled around, he already had a job lined up. That started a cycle of teach overseas, travel, repeat!
For me, the travel obsession started even earlier. I grew up in a very international family with relatives scattered across different continents. I was always fascinated by the languages they spoke and the stories of daily life in their chosen lands. I think it also helped that my parents enjoyed travel and always took us kids along with them! By the time I was in university, most of my savings were going straight into travel; one or two big trips a year, travelling on a strict budget, crashing with friends, and exploring new places. It wasn’t long after graduation that I also accepted a teaching job in Korea, which is where I met Sam, and the rest is history!
How many days/weeks are you traveling in any given year? What are the types of places you like to visit?
When we first started travelling, we used to spend the whole year on the road, only returning home to Canada for summer and Christmas holidays. This was great from a travel perspective, but it wasn’t very conducive to getting work done. These days we like to spend about half the year travelling and the other half of the year at home.
As for the types of places we like to visit, we’ve lately found ourselves drawn to quieter and lesser-known destinations. We really enjoyed the energy of mega-cities when we were in our 20s, but these days we prefer smaller destinations that are close to nature and have access to outdoor activities. We recently spent 3 months travelling in Argentina and we specifically chose smaller towns that don’t necessarily see a lot of international tourism – it was great going off-the-beaten track and being surprised by places that we knew nothing about.
Audrey, you started your blog, That Backpacker, while you were still at university. What makes That Backpacker stand out among the other travel content out there? How has it grown and evolved since then?
I sure did! I was obsessed with travel while I was in university and I would use every Christmas Break, Reading Week and Summer Break to travel anywhere I could. I started my blog as a way to documents and look back on these trips, but I soon discovered there was this whole travel community out there, and it became a way to connect with other people who love travel as much as I do.
The format of the blog has definitely changed over the years. As more people started finding my blog, I also started getting more comments and e-mails from readers requesting additional tips and advice on the destinations I had been to, and that took my blog in a new direction. Now, when I’m writing a blog post, I still share the destination based on my personal experience, but I also try to sprinkle in travel tips and useful information that will help the next person visiting the place.
The two of you moved to Seoul, South Korea to teach English. How did that experience shape your lives and travels going forward?
That’s true! We met while we were both teaching ESL in the province of Gyeonggi-do. The experience of living overseas was like a little taste of travel – new culture, new foods, new language, and endless possibilities to explore the country on the weekends. The job also allowed us to save money so that when we completed our contracts, we were able to go travelling around Southeast Asia, the Middle East and then Europe. We got a taste of the travel life and haven’t looked back since.
On your YouTube channel, you immerse yourselves in the local culture of the places you visit while diving into the cuisine and sharing money-saving tips. What makes immersive travel so special and so important to you?
There’s a quote by James A. Michener that says, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay home” and we whole-heartedly agree! For us, travel is all about immersing ourselves in the destination, connecting with locals, and of course, trying the food, which in turn opens the door to conversation. We’re foodies through and through so you’ll always find us scouting the local markets, sampling the street food, and trying new dishes in restaurants. Eating is half the fun of being in a new place!
What do you want audiences to gain and learn from your work?
We want to help people experience the same places we travel to! One of the key features of our work, be it our videos or blog posts, is that we try to share all the information you’d need to go and have these same experiences. We’ll tell you how to get there, how much it costs, what the place is like, whether we enjoyed it, and then people can decide whether it’s someplace they’d like to add to their itinerary.
What are the top three destinations you’ve visited?
We have way more than 3, but I’ll share 3 countries whose landscapes blew us away: Jordan, Kyrgyzstan and South Africa.
Give us your ‘Top 5’ list for one of your top 3 destinations. Like a mini-guide or a to-do list of sorts. It can be anything from your favorite hotel, the best place to have lunch, the best sightseeing, etc.
Okay, I’ll go with Jordan:
- Spend a night camping in the desert. Imagine Wadi Rum under the stars, a zarb barbecue cooked in the sand, followed by cups of mint tea and a few rounds of shisha while you sit around a crackling fire.
- Experience the Dana Biosphere Reserve. This is Jordan’s largest nature reserve and it has an incredibly rich biodiversity. We stayed at the Feynan Ecolodge where we got to learn about the nomadic way of life, enjoyed a star-gazing session on the rooftop, and then fell asleep to the sound of the howling wind.
- Go off-roading in Wadi Rum. It’ll feel like you’ve landed on Mars! Marvel at the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, challenge your buddies to a race up the sand dunes, and then watch the sun set over the desert.
- Cover yourself in mud and float in the Dead Sea. The mud is good for your skin and it’s pretty cool being able to float without even trying.
- Explore the town of Wadi Musa. This is the closest town to Petra and there’s plenty to do here once you’ve visited the archaeological site. Some ideas: learn to make baba ghanoush and tabbouleh in a cooking class, enjoy drinks in a cave bar set in a 2000-year-old tomb, or get pampered in a hammam.
We have lots of other suggestions, so if this sounds like someplace you’d like to visit, you can check out our complete Jordan travel itinerary across the length of the country.
How many countries have you visited so far?
Somewhere around 70-ish! We’re country repeaters; if we love a place, we’ll go back again and again and again, so our country count is very slow-growing.
What are your top 3 favorite cuisines?
Korean, Peruvian and Vietnamese.
What is your favorite restaurant in the world? What dish do you recommend there?
If there’s one restaurant we keep going back to again and again, it’s Bodegón Norte in Buenos Aires. There’s nothing fancy about this place; it’s really an old-fashioned, family-run restaurant that specializes in Argentine classics, but the food is hearty, the portions are large, and the staff treat you like family. It’s like you’ve gone over to your grandparents’ place on a Sunday afternoon and everyone is gathered for a big feast. That’s the feel of the place and it’s the reason we keep going back. We always enjoy chatting with the owner, Rogelio, anytime we’re in the city – if you go, tell him the Canadians sent you! 😉
What is your favorite travel movie?
Lost in Translation. I’m pretty sure that’s what first sparked our interest in visiting Japan.
What is your favorite international airport?
Incheon International Airport in South Korea. It’s such a modern and efficient airport, plus there’s so much to do if you have a long layover. They have lots of cultural experiences where you can try on the traditional Korean dress (hanbok), learn how to make different crafts, watch the recreation of a Joseon dynasty royal parade, plus they hold concerts that range from classical music to K-pop.
Which city had the friendliest people?
Can I answer with a whole country?! I’m going to say Argentina. We’ve spent months travelling there and we’re always amazed at how easy it is to meet people and make friends. Argentineans love to chat and whenever we’re there, we find ourselves striking up conversations with strangers. Seriously, if you ever find yourself travelling through Argentina, accept people’s invitations and you might find yourself making a lifelong friend.
Who is your favorite travel companion?
Each other! As cheesy as it sounds, we’ve been doing this travel thing ever since we met back in 2012 and we’ve learned to work together no matter what travel throws our way.
What is the best way to kill time while traveling?
If we have a long travel day, we like to try and get work done, be it video editing, writing blog posts, or editing photos. If that’s not an option, we’ll listen to music (Sam) or an audiobook (Audrey).
What is the most exotic place your career has taken you?
We first travelled there in 2016 to attend the World Nomad Games, a sporting and cultural event that showcases the rich tradition of nomadic culture found in Central Asia.
We got a taste of the nomadic life with some yurt living and horse trekking in Song Kol, and then we came back two years later to explore Issyk Kul’s south shore, eat our way around Karakol and do some more trekking.
What is your best bit of travel advice for someone who wants to, or is about to, embark on a life of travel?
Focus on the solution, not the problem. Travel tends to throw lots of surprises your way and it teaches you to become a quick-thinker and problem solver.
What are 4 things you could never travel without?
Camera, laptop, headphones…and sunscreen! Everything we need to film and edit…and keep Sam from getting a sunburn.
What is your ultimate dream destination?
We both agree on a cruise to Antarctica. It’s the last continent we’re yet to visit!
What is your favorite travel quote?
“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” -Paul Theroux
Our travels have involved riding buses with no AC through the Cambodian countryside, having our train derail in a tunnel in the middle of the Thai jungle, and breaking our camera gear while travelling in Poland. Travel is not always easy, nor does it go according to plan, but it makes for great stories that you can laugh about, and somehow in retrospect, even the bad experiences don’t seem that bad.
Where are you headed next?
More travels in Canada! We’ve really been prioritizing exploring our home country this summer. After spending this past month in the Maritimes, next up, we’re flying out west and doing a two-week road trip across Vancouver Island. That’s where Sam grew up and I’ve never been before, so it’ll be really nice to explore the island together.
We’re Samuel and Audrey! We’re originally from Canada but have been travelling the globe ever since meeting back in 2012. We like to document our travels through videos, so you can find us on Youtube in both English and Spanish. For some behind-the-scenes updates, you can follow us on Instagram.