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Why World Travel Blogger Sarah Wilkie Loves Photo Challenges

#14 of the Challenge Interview Series

Hi, I’m Marsha Ingrao and my blog is Always Write. Welcome to the Challenge Interview Series.

In addition to meeting the hosts of writing and photo challenges, this series also includes some of the wonderful participants who make the challenges successful.

Today I want to introduce my friend Sarah Wilkie, who writes inspiring and informative travel posts from all over the world. She is now an avid photo challenge blogger as well as a travel blogger. She often combines her love of travel and photo challenges into one post linking to many of the same friends you’ve already met through your journeys in photo challenges.

I am linking different favorite posts to her name if you’d like to check out her blog.

Please welcome Sarah Wilkie.

When, how, and why did you start blogging?

I only started this WordPress blog in August 2020, but I’ve been sharing my travels online since July 2005 when I joined the now-defunct Virtual Tourist website community. The emphasis there was on writing reviews of places visited (restaurants, tourist sights etc.) rather than blogging. I became a very frequent contributor and also got involved in attending the member-organised ‘in real life’ meetings, as well as organising some myself. I acquired a great network of friends around the world.

When VT (Virtual Tourist) was shut down by Trip Advisor in early 2017, many members gave up sharing travel info online. Others turned to other review sites or blogging. I joined TravellersPoint, partly because a VT friend was already active there and partly because the owner kindly developed a programme to move all our VT content across to stop it being lost (although I had nearly all mine saved as Word documents in any case). I really got into blogging, using TP (TravelersPoint) as a platform to journal my travels from that point onwards and write up some previous trips from old VT notes. But the transfer of VT material wasn’t as immediately successful as hoped, as the platform wasn’t set up to host reviews, and in any case I found I preferred the blogging format.

Sarah

How did you decide to move to WordPress?

Some other VT friends had started WP blogs and from time to time tried to persuade me to do the same, because they thought I would enjoy the flexibility of having my own site and full control over the content. I didn’t think I had the time to devote to two blogs and I was enjoying the community aspect of TP (although it wasn’t a patch on VT’s) so I resisted. But in 2020 two things happened to change my mind. I retired, so had more time, and the pandemic struck, which meant no new travels for a while. I decided to take the plunge and haven’t looked back! 

Whereas on TP I wrote day by day journals of a trip (and will probably continue to do so once I can travel again), I decided my WP blog would have mostly shorter posts focused on specific sights, experiences etc. Plus I saw it as an opportunity to be more reflective about my travels, pulling together different experiences at times to reflect an overarching observation about a place, or draw parallels or simply group some photos from different locations around a common theme. My sub-title ‘travel snapshots’ reflects this concept and also an increased emphasis on photography.

Sarah

How do you organize your posts and photos?

Did you take a class?

No, I worked all this out for myself. It’s probably over-complicated for some people but I think it was the librarian indexing training coming out in me, plus I tend to lean towards having a system / being organised.

From the start I knew my posts would all be about a specific place or places. I considered listing them all by country but choosing ‘Destinations’ as a heading gave me the option to list by city, state or whatever going forwards. I came up with the grouping by continent later, as my content grew and the list of places became unwieldy. But I thought it would also be interesting to group posts by theme as I saw them reflecting the various subjects I like to photograph – people, landscape, wildlife etc. I couldn’t decide between destinations or themes but realised I could do both! 

I also saw early on that some of my posts would be quite lengthy while others would have few words and have more emphasis on visual content – hence designating some of them as galleries to make that obvious. I originally had that as a heading on my menu but changed it to ‘My photography’ when I started to do the challenges so that I could group things there. It’s not ideal as not all my challenge posts are photo-heavy but it works for me for now. No doubt I will tweak it again one day!

Sarah

How do you decide a title for your post?

Some of us (like me) include the Photo Challenge title in the post like “Sunday Stills: Emerging Blossoms in Prescott, AZ.”

I approach titling challenge posts the same way I do all my posts. I start with a title that simply appeals to me and reflects the content of the post. I have the MonsterInsights plugin that includes a Headline Analyser. It allocates a numeric score based on several factors such as length, use of certain trigger words etc. I can preview what it would look like in a Google search. I don’t always take notice of all of that but if it shows a very low score I will have a look at why and maybe consider tweaking the title. But usually I just stick with what feels right to me!

Sarah

which challenges Work Best for you?

As Yvette Prior pointed out in her interview, and we have all experienced it, none of us can do all of the challenges available to us. We all have to pick and choose. What about you?

I’ve dipped into quite a few as I started to explore that side of blogging. But now that I’ve got more into my stride I intend to focus mainly on those challenges that provide an opportunity to highlight stories from my travels like Cady’s Just One Person from Around the World, which is such an inspired, and inspiring, idea for a challenge! I enjoy challenges that have a strong photographic element like the Lens-Artists Photo Challenge and Sunday Stills. I also like Friendly Friday, while Jo’s Monday Walk fits well with ideas I already have for future posts (I keep a list). Lisa’s Bird Weekly is a chance to share one of the subjects I enjoy photographing, but I wouldn’t aim to do those every week.

Before I started on WP I didn’t even know about these challenges. None of my ex-VT blogging friends are involved in any of them. A few months after I started my blog I came across a challenge for the first time, Friendly Friday, purely by chance, through a blog I’d started following. It looked interesting and I saw it as a way to build my network of followers while trying out a different approach to blogging. It achieved both those things and I found that the people who did that challenge also did others, which led to me discovering those too.

Even though I enjoy the challenges I don’t want them to dictate the overall ethos of my blog. I set it up to share two things, my travels and my photography, so I won’t do any challenges that would force me to deviate too far from that, e.g. a purely writing challenge or one on a theme that doesn’t relate to travel in its broadest sense – by which I mean, including places close to home as well as those far away, but usually remaining location-centric. And I’m generally not interested in single photo challenges – I prefer to tell a story through my posts. Although I did do the ‘Around the world in ten photos’ challenge when several blogging friends nominated me, partly because I didn’t want to let them down, partly because it was so strongly travel related and partly because it was in the run-up to Christmas when I had a bit less time to write longer posts! 

I tend not to take photos especially for a challenge although I have been known to take one or two to supplement what I have. Rather, I look at the challenges as a way of focusing my ideas around material I already have, ideally photos and anecdotes from my travels or perhaps a subject matter I like to photograph closer to home. If a challenge theme doesn’t fit that principle I will skip it, like the recent ‘volunteering’ theme. I could have written about the charity my husband co-founded, for which I now volunteer, but it would have been out of place on my blog.

Sarah

Tell us about the cameras you’ve usedsome of your earlier pictures are just as clear as your newer ones

I think that’s an illusion caused by the resizing and down-grade in quality that happens when I upload to WP. I can see a significant difference in quality between my oldest photos and most recent ones when I view my originals. My photos from the Galapagos in 2012 were the last major travel ones taken with my previous Fuji camera; it was after that trip that I realised I wasn’t happy with the quality and switched to a Panasonic Lumix bridge camera. I really like it. The lens is first rate (Leica) and it has the right balance of ease of use (relatively light to carry, auto settings when I don’t need anything more) with full manual mode if I do want to play around with aperture, speed etc. In pre-digital times I used an SLR so I know what I’m doing around a camera but these days I don’t want to be encumbered with several lenses to hump around!

Sarah

Do you have published stories or photos?

Other than online on the various platforms I’ve already mentioned, no. I do upload some of my better images to Dreamstime, a stock photo library, and I’ve had some sales. It doesn’t pay at all well (sometimes only a few cents per image) but it’s quite fun to think my photos are being used somewhere. However many of the pictures I take aren’t suitable because they include people and I’m not keen enough to go out and take lots of the images needed for stock photography.

It would be fun if anyone did want to publish something I wrote or some of my photos, but I don’t write with that in mind.

Sarah

How much time does it take to research, write and fact check a post?

Much of what I post is adapted from my TravellersPoint blog or old VT material. A lot of the research was done when I wrote those original reviews or blog entries. If it’s quite an old piece I do double-check some things, especially web links, and I sometimes add to it if I have a fresh perspective with the benefit of time.

The main work comes in repurposing the text to fit the style of this blog – I may make it into more of a narrative or pull several separate pieces into a single post. As an example, the post I wrote quite recently, Spending Time with the Children of Chongjin, used bits of two separate TP blog posts because we visited the two schools I describe on two separate days. And my very first post, Meeting Leo, was based on just a short section of an old TP post. 

I probably put more work into the photos. I enjoy editing my images in any case, and I quite often do further tweaking to those I’m going to use in a post, especially if they’re more than a couple of years old as I’ve acquired more editing software since then. 

Sarah

Which bloggers influence your blogging?

I won’t mention everyone – many will be known to you as they’re active in the same circles I think – people like Tina Schell, Anne Sadler, and Lisa on the Beach. Among my favourite photographer bloggers are Jane Lurie – I really love her work. Also Mike Ross, and Susy Blue for nature photography. And Maria Vincent Robinson is a great street photographer I’ve discovered recently.

For travellers’ tales I like The Hungry Travellers among others. And I especially enjoy Sandy’s take on the Just One Person Challenge – she features such interesting characters and I like the page design she’s developed to use for that challenge. I always enjoy the way Amy at The World is a Book uses quotations and the visual style of her blog.

Finally I have to give a plug to the friends who got me blogging in the first place and helped me with the set-up of my site when I was still learning how WP worked, Malcolm, Don and Albert. The latter also inspired our visit to North Korea which was an absolute travel highlight for me.

Sarah

Anything to add? Maybe a message to fellow photo challenge participants and to the hosts and hostesses of the challenges?

Quite simply, it’s been great to ‘meet’ you all and to be inspired by your various themes and by everyone’s posts. When I started blogging on WordPress I had no idea I would find such a great community here, it’s been a revelation and has added to my blogging fun enormously!

Sarah

Biography

Toonsarah – Sarah Wilkie

Sarah Wilkie was born in north London and grew up in a west London suburb, Ruislip. She studied English Literature and Librarianship at university in Aberystwyth, Wales, which is where she met her husband Chris.

Sarah worked in public libraries for many years, starting as a children’s librarian and working her way up into management, finishing with a short spell managing the library service in the City of Westminster. From there she went on to spend five years in a government agency managing a national public library service improvement programme.

She took redundancy when the agency moved out of London and set up her own consultancy service. For the last eleven years of her career she worked in that field both independently and with a small start-up consultancy firm, leading the development of their offer to local and national cultural services – strategy development, customer consultation, change management etc. She wound down from that gradually over the last few years (one of the bonuses of self-employment!) and declared herself officially retired last spring as the pandemic started to bite. When not blogging (and waiting for the chance to travel again!) she volunteers with a food surplus charity, Plan Zheroes, run by her husband.

Thank you so much for visiting me, Sarah. It’s been so much fun getting to know you better and learning about parts of the world I will probably never have a chance to visit in person.

now it’s your turn

Be sure and click on one or two of the links, leave likes and comments, and get to know Sarah and her community better.

Do you or someone you know host a photo or writing challenge? Do you have certain challenge communities that you participate in that you want to share? I’d love to interview you and get better acquainted. Contact me.

87 replies »

  1. I enjoyed reading these thoughtful comments by Sarah, whom I have known virtually since she joined VirtualTourist in 2005, and in person at a number of VT meetings.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m glad you got to read it, Nemorino. I’ve enjoyed getting acquainted with her. I’ve loved her posts since the first time I read one. I was a history-social studies consultant before I retired, and she would be a great speaker for the Social Studies organization I used to belong to. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Always interesting to read about the blogger behind the blog. I hadn’t realised Sarah was this new to the WordPress community, she’s built up a loyal following since – including me 🙂

    Thanks for the call out to my blog and the Friendly Friday Challenges!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. How great to read about Sarah in your interview, Marsha! She takes stunning images of the most amazing places. What I love about Sarah’s posts for Sunday Stills, is she tells a story and shares information about the images and paints a picture of the destination. Now that I know more about her background it makes sense! Fabulous interview!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Glad I came along for the read, and thanks for the mention, Sarah. We arrived here by a similar process, writing elsewhere and finding WP at a time when we needed a new direction. I haven’t revisited any of my original material (also written in the style of a review) for Simonseeks, but that might be interesting to do. I like the balance of information and social conscience on your blog, and of course it chimes with me that you know my patch of north east England well. 🙂 🙂 Many thanks, Marsha, for another great interview. I have a few links here that I need to pursue.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Fun post Marsha, thanks for the continuing series -always great to see other bloggers featured. And special thanks to Sarah for the mention. We love having her as part of our Lens-Artists community and I’m honored to have her mention me as an influence. Her travel stories are wonderful and we’ve visited quite a few of the same interesting places. I always enjoy her perspectives. A big thanks to both of you!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Very nice post, Marsha! I enjoyed learning more about you Sarah! …and thank you for the shout out 😊 All of the photos are lovely, but oh I love the photo of the women. So beautiful ❤ Thank you both for the efforts you put into creating this post to share with all of us.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. It’s nice to meet you here, Sarah. I took a quick look at your blog and saw many destinations that I’ve visited and some I haven’t. Beautiful photos throughout.

    Fabulous interview, Marsha. You know how I love travel and photography. Thank you for introducing Sarah to us and #WeekendCoffeeShare.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. What I love most about the WordPress community besides being able to write freely is the sense of community amongst us. This post and all the comments reflect the strength and bonds we share, for photography, for travel stories and of course for writing. I so enjoyed reading about Sarah’s blogging journey and these were excellent questions, Marsha! It was lovely to see that my own Friendly Friday Blogging Challenge was mentioned. Sandy and I have developed a fun way to connect with other writers and bloggers, in this venue that has no geographic limits!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is a great back-story about Sarah, a blogger I’ve been following for a few months now. It’s been interesting to read about her background and travels. She’s made travelling such an enriching experience, and communicates all that so well. Thanks for a great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I am another one of the few above like Don (nemorino) who has the privilege, and such it is, of knowing Sarah personally and came upon this page via her site which I follow assiduously.

    I am now going to embarrass the poor lady and risk a slap if we manage to realise the meeting in June that she e-mailed me about a couple of days ago.

    I met Sarah some years ago through the Virtual Tourist website she mentions in the interview and which still retains such a strong identity amongst the “Old Guard” (think Napoleon here, he sent them in at the death at Waterloo and lost). We tried everything but lost VT which was effectively a way of life for so many of us. Times change and I think that WP blogging was a natural progression for a lot of former members of that wonderful site. Other travel sites like TP, Boots ‘n’ All, Travbuddy (also slaughtered by TripAdvisor who have so much to answer for) and so forth just didn’t seem to do it.

    The potential embarrassment comes when I state here that Sarah is one of the best photographers I know of, writes brilliantly as befits her professional status and, just to put the cherry on the cake, is one of the loveliest people I have ever met. I honestly look to her blog as a benchmark for what I should be doing.

    Before you ask, no she isn’t paying me for this post, her wonderful hubby (who I also know, brilliant bloke) would probably frown upon such activity. I am so glad you gave Sarah the opportunity to explain her writing / photography ethos here, subjects I have been privileged to discuss with her personally and hopefully will (Government restrictions permitting) again very soon. Any aspiring blogger could do a whole lot worse than look to Sarah’s work and, yes, if you read this Sarah, please feel free to slap me when we next meet!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fergy, what a loving and wonderful recommendation of and for your friend, Sarah. I have known Sarah only a few months, but as a former history consultant for our county office of education, I LOVED her posts and learned so much about places I had never and probably never will see. Her photographs are so brilliant and her writing is so easy to understand as well as interesting, I BEGGED her to let me do an interview for my series on Photo and Writing Challenges from the perspective of someone who participates. Not only did I love the post, but so did a record number of other readers. In a very short time, she has won over the WordPress community of photo challenge bloggers. It was my great honor to interview her on my blog and learn more about her by spending time exploring her wonderful blog. Thank you again for writing this wonderful tribute for Sarah. BTW, I notice that you did not earn a slap! 🙂 Happy meeting, as it sounds like you will soon do. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great interview, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Thank you so much for sharing Marsha. I know Sarah since long time back, during the days of Virtual Tourist, and this interview reflects who she is really well. I always liked her work before, but her site at WordPress takes her work to a totally new level. For me her site is a source of inspiration regarding travel; just for the joy of reading about them, or to investigate possible future travel destinations.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Sarah,

    I know you are not at all a vain person so I thought you might be a bit peeved at my gushing, although entirely factually correct, summation of your talents. It is quite OK, I have been slapped by women before which will come as no surprise to you!

    Marsha,

    you do not know the world of annoyance you have let yourself in for. History consultant? You just know I am going to be pestering you now with silly questions. What is your speciality? It is OK if you don’t want to answer, you probably don’t want to “bring your work home” and subject yourself to answering things I should have asked at school half a century ago.

    I know this is a compete long shot, especially in the current situation but if you ever find yourself in London then please get in touch. We have a little hideaway that we have hosted many VT and former VT members in, the food is great and I am sure we would have an absolutely wonderful time. We seem to be very like-minded people.

    Liked by 2 people

    • How very generous of you, Fergy. Don’t be surprised if I take you up on that invitation. I went to Australia by myself because my husband did not want to travel that far. I traveled and stayed with my blogging friend Carol for three weeks, pretty much wearing out my welcome. But I got to see Australia as very few people ever do – from the viewpoint of a resident Australian. We visited another Australian blogger, some of her and her husband’s relatives, and traveled all over. She’s the Eternal Traveller if you want to look her up. She just retired from teaching.

      Being a history consultant was a dream job. I was more of an organizer, writer, staff development, and events person than a history expert. My degree is in liberal studies, so I came from the elementary perspective with an emphasis in sociology rather than history.

      I learned history as I went along through the grant program we funded and special trainings offered by different organizations. I went through the ranks to become President of California Council for the Social Studies for a year, so I had a lot of opportunities to study and travel in the position as I offered those same opportunities to teachers. (life-long learner – you know the teacher’s role!)

      It’s been wonderful to meet you here, Fergy. If you get to Prescott, AZ or even parts of CA, I can offer you, and Sarah, too a place to stay, a tour guide service and lots of friendly faces.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks so much for your kind offer although I think that Az. may be just a pipe-dream for me now as I am still unsure as to whether the medicos will allow me to fly again. DVT’s and flying are not good bedfellows and the insurance companies will have a field day!

        Sarah and I (and a few others of our old VT clan who do not blog here) would be glad to host you when circumstances dictate. We have welcomed visitors from all over the place and have had some great times.

        If you want to be shown round London and it’s environs (London alone would take three lifetimes to see) then you are in the right place. Sarah is a North / West London girl, I am an adopted son of the East End, we both cover the centre and we have loads of friends who know just about everywhere. Honestly, with or without your “better half” (don’t shout at me!), we’ll look after you. We have a dear friend from Chicago who visits regularly or at least did prior to this nonsense. She usually leaves hubby at home and comes and hangs out with us in London, it is great fun.

        As one who was far too stupid to go to Uni. I am fascinated by your degree. What exactly is “liberal studies”? It sounds like a fairly broad church to me.

        I am so glad we “bumped into each other” here. Frankly, the internet and blogging has been just about all that has kept me vaguely sane (this is relative term) through this current totally unnecessary destruction.

        What is it they say? “Keep on keeping on” or, if I may revert to an old “mob” expression, “It’s not over until we say it’s over” and it’s not over yet. Pick whichever phrase you like best.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I am super glad we bumped into each other as well. Liberal Studies is the degree elementary teachers earn meaning that they can teach a bit of everything from history to physical education, but they are not experts in anything. To top that off, I got a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, which means I’m still not an expert in any field, but I can write and teach curriculum of all sorts. I was just the kind of person they needed at the county office to train teachers in math, language arts, history, coaching, class size reduction, and other trainings that came down the pike from the state.

          The last time I visited London was in 1992 with my mom. I’m definitely due! We traveled with a group of high school English teachers in the San Joaquin Writing Project. We went to about 25-30 plays in 3 weeks, visited 3 schools and at least three towns. It was an amazing three weeks. Here’s a picture of us at Stonehenge. https://tchistorygal.files.wordpress.com/2020/04/9eabe-peggy-and-marsha.jpg

          Liked by 2 people

          • Sonow I know and every day is a schoolday as I like to say often here on my blog but often get told off for in typical schoolma’am fashion!

            Had I been intelligent enough to go to University a degree like that is something that might have appealed to me. I like to dabble a bit in every discipline although I have never mastered any and I had never even heard of the specialisation your Master’s entailed, it sounds great especially for teaching very young ones whose direction is not yet defined.

            Don’t you just love the democracy (in the proper sense of the word) of blogging? Here am I in conversation with a woman that held one of the most prestigious librarianship posts in my country and another woman from another continent with letters after her name. For my part I was too stupid to go to Uni but have tried to “improve” myself since by reading and travelling.

            Without being boastful, I was bloody good at what I did but it is somewhat of a niche market and I envy you and Sarah your rather broader skills.

            I love your image of you and your Mum at Stonehenge. You cannot get anywhere near that close to it now so count yourself lucky. Have you seen the latest (2019) evidence which shows that the entire structure was moved from Wales where the stone was quarried? Impressive engineering.

            Almost 30 years, you are definitely due a trip back over this side of the pond. As and when you do then please let us know, we’d be glad to put something on for you. I know I speak for Sarah in this as she does all the organisation, I just turn up!

            Liked by 2 people

          • You put yourself down far more than you should! I can tell you are a wonderful and smart person. And you pick great friends. We are all on a lifetime of learning. My grandfather only was allowed to go to school through eighth grade. He was quite bright. A lot of our education had more to do with opportunities than intelligence. We all have our own intelligences. So never say you are stupid. In just a couple of short conversations you have convinced me that you are nothing of the kind.

            Liked by 2 people

          • You know what they say, “It takes a wise man to act the fool although I am not sure how far that applies to me really. Thanks for your very generous comments all the same.

            A bit of self-deprecating humour rarely goes amiss, it is certainly better than coming across as a pompous ass.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I love that photo of you at Stonehenge Marsha 🙂 And you’re right, Fergy shouldn’t be putting himself down like that! He’s a great conversationalist (although you might need a while to attune yourself to the accent :lol:) and takes an interest in so many different subjects. Plus he’s very well-travelled and has lots of great traveller’s takes!

            Liked by 1 person

    • She gets pictures that I would not have seen if I’d been with her on the trip! Her portrait pictures are amazing. The other thing I love is how she captures color.

      Like

        • Yes, you can camp on her website and take virtual trips around the world. Here’s my suggestion, Interview her like I did. It’s amazing to spend time with her and her website. I will be glad to either reblog or list your link on my post or figure out something to help you promote the interview. But the person who benefits is you because you get to know her even better. 🙂

          Like

        • Just stating an observation, Sarah. I’m in love with your pictures. As a digital puzzle worker, I’m trying to get more color into my pictures to make better puzzles for myself. I have this addictive app on my computers that will turn my pictures into puzzles. I can make them as hard or easy as I want. They are on my computer only so if you ever want to send me colorful pictures, I would be eternally grateful. I lost all the puzzles on my old computer when we spilled coffee on it. LOL. The original pics are still in my online files, fortunately. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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Marsha

Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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