BiB032: Travel Epiphanies with Stuart McDonald

In this episode of Brewed in Bangkok, Siddhant meets up with co-founder of Travelfish.org, Stuart McDonald, in Bangkok.

Stuart caught the traveling bug early in life, leaving Australia for a round-the-world trip that included The United States, India, and Nepal before his penultimate stop in Bangkok. Upon his return to Sydney, Stuart felt a deep connection with South East Asia and he kept returning to visit Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and others countries in the area. It was also around this time that he began writing guidebooks and enrolled in a travel writing class while in Sydney.

It was in this travel writing class where he met his wife, Sam, and the two have been together ever since. Stuart and Sam came on a trip to Thailand when the currency crisis hit the Thai baht, giving the young couple an expected windfall of money and they stayed in Bangkok for longer than expected. Sam got a job at the Australian Embassy and Stuart found employment with them as well. They stayed in Bangkok for seven years before moving to Phnom Penh and then Jakarta. It was in Cambodia that they decided to launch Travelfish.

The McDonalds live in Bali now and they have changed the business model of Travelfish to better suit their audience.

Stuart tells us about traveling in 90s, what guidebooks were like back then, the pitfalls of common travel writing, and the impact of travel on life.

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About Stuart

  • Co-founder of Travelfish.org, a website that creates travel guides without any form of compensation from hotels and OTAs.
  • From Sydney but spent a large part of childhood in various port towns in Japan, South Korea, and Italy.
  • He traveled extensively from a young age and noticed that guidebooks were not as good as they could be. He met his wife, Sam, while attending a travel writing class in Sydney.
  • Sam and Stuart spent seven years in Bangkok. They moved to Phnom Penh, Jakarta, and they have now settled in Bali.
  • They founded Travelfish before moving to Phnom Penh and made sure not to accept any junket trips or compensatory stays, so that their reviews remain unbiased.
  • Travelfish is now their main source of income and they have switched to a membership model.
  • Stuart is also a travel consultant that curates tours for people who are interested in seeing more.

Topics Discussed

  • Buying a round-the-world ticket in the early 90s
  • The stops along the way before Stuart reached his most anticipated destination of India
  • Stuart’s experiences and misadventures in India
  • Visiting Bangkok for the first time before heading back to Sydney
  • Spending the next four years visiting Thailand
  • Writing a guidebook
  • How Stuart met Sam
  • Seven years in Bangkok
  • Is travel good for a young couple?
  • How were the seeds of Travelfish planted?
  • The first steps in establishing Travelfish
  • Moving to the various Southeast Asian countries
  • “Banana Pancake Trails”
  • The ethics of travel writing
  • Travelfish’s first destinations and why Thailand is Teflon-coated
  • Hardships and changes at Travelfish
  • Who is the audience?
  • Stuart’s Sulawesi epiphany
  • Travel consulting and how Stuart approaches it

Resources Mentioned

Credits

I had some help with this episode. Lou Pobjecky kindly helped me with a lot of the necessary audio edits to get this file into the fine piece of audio it is today. Lou also put together the cover image.

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