Interview with Nikki Scott
Recently, I had the great opportunity to interview South East Asia Backpacker Magazine founder Nikki Scott. Soon after she started travelling, she realised that she didn’t want to go back to the 9-5 job. She just wanted to keep exploring the world. Luckily she saw a gap in the market that needed to be filled. And she was brave enough to take a chance. And see what would happen. Now she has been travelling for nine years! It is an inspirational story about how she started as a backpacker and ended up as an entrepreneur.
Could you please tell me about yourself?
My name is Nikki Scott and I am from northern England. I set off travelling at the age of 23 (I am now 32). Before that, I worked for two years at an advertising agency in Manchester as an account executive, after graduating from University with a degree in English Studies.
I had always wanted to travel. It was just a matter of time. What I didn’t know was that my travels would change my life forever. When I set off to Kathmandu, Nepal, on my first solo backpacking trip, I would never return to live in England again! I ended up spending the next nine years of my life (and still counting!) living on three different continents. Six of those nine years were spent living in Thailand where I worked on South East Asia Backpacker Magazine.
How did you come up with the idea to publish travel magazines?
After six months travelling in South East Asia (Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia), I wasn’t ready to go back to the nine-to-five world of work. During my travels, I had picked up many free magazines lying around in hostels and travel agents. They covered new spa hotels, reviewed restaurants and advertised elephant rides (yuk!). There was nothing that spoke to a backpacker like me. I saw a gap in the market for a quality travel magazine for adventurous travellers.
Along with my own journey, I had discovered that every backpacker had an interesting story to share, and so my idea was to open up the pages of the magazine to fellow backpackers. It would be a magazine written by backpackers for backpackers – a ‘travel diary for everyone’. The magazine would be free and the printing would be funded by businesses who wanted to advertise their services to backpackers – hostels, dive schools, adventure companies.
Could you please tell me how did you become an entrepreneur in a foreign country, was it difficult?
Becoming an entrepreneur in any country is a challenge. But in one where you don’t speak the language and are new to the culture, it’s a challenge indeed! As I had some close contacts in Thailand, I decided to open my business there, and I hired a local lawyer to help with the process. In many Asian countries, you cannot own 100% of a business and therefore you need to find a local person that you trust to become your business partner. You also need to be aware of cultural differences of doing business in a foreign country.
In Asia, it is important to nurture business relationships (phone calls are preferred over emails and small gifts are appreciated at special occasions, for example). We even had our first office blessed by a monk at a Buddhist ‘Tam boon’ ceremony! Being an entrepreneur in Thailand meant that I was always learning new things.
How did you get your first magazine published? How did you find the publisher, how long did it take to get it published and how did you fund it at first?
We did not find a publisher for the magazine, instead, we published the magazine independently. We raised the money for printing by finding sponsors for the magazine. It took several months of knocking on the doors of backpacker-related businesses all over South East Asia. Until we had 18 advertisers and enough money to fund the very first printing bill. Then, once the magazine had been designed, we found a local printer and printed thousands of copies which were distributed for free all over the region.
What have been the biggest challenges along the way and how did you overcome them?
Starting the magazine led to many incredible experiences for me. I met so many interesting people, travellers and business owners. And it allowed me to travel all over South East Asia. However, at certain times over the six years that I lived this lifestyle, I can’t deny that I was lonely, homesick and exhausted. As I no longer fit into the ‘backpacker’ category, nor could be considered an average ‘expat’. I found myself going on many work trips alone and lacked someone to share things with.
Every other traveller I met told me that they were so jealous of my life and that I was ‘living the dream’, yet inside I was lonely. I felt guilty for harbouring such thoughts when I should be appreciating the amazing opportunities that I had to travel rather than sit behind a desk. I talk about some of these personal challenges in my latest book, Backpacker Business.
What has been your favourite destination so far and why?
There are so many amazing places that I have visited all across Asia. I loved the hustle and bustle of Vietnam’s hectic capital, Hanoi, the mighty peaks of the Himalayas in incredible Nepal, and the mysterious jungles and volcanoes of Sumatra. The west coast of Koh Phangan, in South Thailand however, will always have a special place in my heart.
What are the most important lessons you learned from travelling the world?
No matter how beautiful the beach, mountain top or jungle, it’s the people that you share your travels with that you will remember forever. People are more important than any place in the world.
Do you miss your home and do you think you will return there one day permanently?
For the past two years, I have called the beautiful Catalan city of Barcelona my ‘home’. Although I am currently travelling for the next year, I am likely to ‘settle’ there one day. Right now, home is wherever my boyfriend is, and at the moment that’s Goa in India! My Mum lives in France and is currently in the UK and likes to travel herself. I make sure that I see her at least two or three times a year. I take a trip back to the UK once a year to catch up with family and friends, that is very important to me. As I wrote in a previous article on the South East Asia Backpacker website, the concept of ‘home’ is more of a feeling than a place.
What are your future plans?
This changes every week! I have never been able to plan more than a few months ahead as you just don’t know what is going to happen! One day, I would like to have a permanent house and a family. But I don’t know when that will be! For the next few months, I am travelling in India with my boyfriend.
What is your advice for someone who wants to quit their job and travel but is too afraid to do so?
Just do it! You have nothing to lose. You will never regret your decision to travel. There is so much out there to learn. There are so many opportunities, so many different ways to live your life than the regular nine-to-five existence. And so many friendly, curious people in other countries ready to welcome you! Travel has the power crush stereotypes, combat prejudice, and dispel any lies told to us by the media about certain other cultures and religions. The world is not as scary as fear mongers would have you believe!