Dykstra, with her adopted street dog, Oreo, in Albania. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED
When Anita Dykstra was 19 years old, she quit her fulltime job and bought a one-way ticket to London, leaving behind the Wairarapa farm life she was accustomed to. Since then, she has travelled the world writing about temples, castles and historic sites, all while earning a fulltime wage. ELISA VORSTER talks to the the girl from Carterton who has made a living from living her dream.
When Anita Dykstra wakes up each morning, she gazes over at the golden sandy beaches across from her apartment in Albania, where it is already 30C.
It’s a far cry from the sheep farm she grew up on in Parkvale, but despite the many destinations the former Wairarapa College student has visited, she still looks forward to the opportunity to come home.
Coming home, that is, from Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Philippines, USA and Spain to France, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Greece and Japan – and those are just the places I managed to scribble down.
The 25-year-old travel blogger is based in Saranda, Albania, after spending the past six years travelling around the world while being paid to write about her experiences.
“It still blows my mind every day,” she said.
Over the years she has built up quite a reputation for herself in the travel blogging arena, earning the equivalent of the average New Zealand wage, while getting to travel wherever she likes.
And still, the wall in her apartment is covered in post-it notes with destinations she still wants to visit, including Nepal and Vietnam.
“Every time I talk to someone, I add five more places to the list.”
Her blog ‘Anita Hendrieka’ covers topics such as where to stay, places to visit, cultural do’s and don’ts, how to get free accommodation, 30 things to do in London for under £10, and tips for women who want to travel alone.
“It’s something I like to talk about, solo female travel, because I feel like sometimes there’s a stigma about females travelling alone, especially to certain destinations, so I do write about that a lot.”
Her blog describes her love of storytelling, her practical travel advice and her attempts to “squash any misconceptions you may have about travelling”.
“I’d like to hopefully inspire women to get out there – don’t be afraid to travel by yourself and don’t listen to stereotypes.”
Her blog has gained so much attention that she has been nominated by Flight Centre UK to compete for the title of ‘best New Zealand travel blog’.
She is now at the mercy of online votes to determine whether she will win the prize of a trip to Australia, which would give her the opportunity to sneak in a visit home at the same time.
She has come a long way from the 18-year-old who started writing a lifestyle blog in her free time.
Like many graduates, Dykstra was working fulltime while she figured out what she wanted to do next and decided an OE was the way to go.
She moved to London where she planned to stay for a year and work as a nanny.
It proved to be great place to be based, as flights to other European destinations were cheap and enabled her to evolve her blog into a travel blog.
After she had been in London for two years she was faced with a choice – return to New Zealand or continue travelling and make a real go of being paid to blog.
“I entered this competition from Kerela Tourism, an Indian tourism board, and they were sending one person from 30 countries around the world on this press trip, and I entered it to represent New Zealand and I got an email to say I was picked.
“I think it was 6 o’clock in the morning and no one was awake, and I was screaming and running around the house.”
The trip was the catalyst for her travel blogging career which took her from writing once a week as a hobby to writing up to three times a week, and earning the same as an average New Zealand wage for her efforts.
If it sounds too good to be true, Dykstra explains how it works in practice.
From ads on her blog, social media posts, being paid a cut through bookings made via her accommodation reviews, to being paid by tourism boards to go on press trips to specific destinations – Dykstra knows all the tricks of the trade.
“I haven’t been on a press trip for about six months because I wanted to travel for myself as well.”
To help fund her personal trips, she contacts travel boards and asks if they are interested in her writing for them.
But she admits it’s not always the carefree life people may imagine.
“It does take a long time to get to that stage.
“I work for myself, so I have to be motivated.
“Some months are amazing and some months there’s no work so it can be quite stressful.”
She said it was important when travelling to embrace the culture of each country, something she had successfully done in Albania.
“Tourism is quite new here and they love foreigners.
“I remember catching a bus here and I sat next to an old Albanian woman who fed me the entire time.
“She was just the most lovely person, and this is just ingrained in their culture – they’re very hospitable people and they’re always making sure you’re full.
“Afterwards, we arrived in the city that I live in, Saranda, and it was 4am and she invited me to her house to have breakfast and have somewhere to sleep for a little bit.”
Dykstra said she was now settled in her 150 Euro [$NZ257] a month apartment and had adopted a street dog named Oreo.
“Albania is so underrated, it’s one of Europe’s hidden gems.”
“It’s such an amazing paradise.”
Votes for Anita’s blog can be made online before August 31 at https://www.flightcentre.co.uk/travel-blog-awards/2018, with voters going in the draw to win a £500 Flight Centre UK voucher.