Meet Inessa and Natalie from Through a Travel Lens | Travel Blogger Interview Series

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(Last Updated On: January 22, 2022)

Woohoo, it’s time for yet another travel blogger interview. Today, I’m happy to introduce you to Inessa and Natalie from Through a Travel Lens!

Inessa and Natalie are sisters and storytellers based in Kyiv, Ukraine. With one being a screenwriter, and the other one a photographer, they believe that it is the emotional journey that matters the most. This is why together they started a Through a Travel Lens blog to encourage everyone to travel and to do so with a heart and mind open to adventures. One of the countries to open the hearts to is their home country Ukraine that has so much to offer!

Interesting in keeping up with their adventures elsewhere? Be sure to follow on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

How long have you been blogging for? Why’d you decide to start a travel blog?

abandoned castle in ukraine

Inessa: Blogging is a new activity for us. My sister and I ventured into it a bit unexpectedly, and it ended up being one of the best decisions in this crazy year 2020 that we all try to power through. 

I write for a living, I am a screenwriter. My sister Natalie is a photographer. We always traveled a lot, for fun, and never had a decent place to share our footage and stories. We’d both go on Instagram once in a while. Natalie would squeeze her gorgeous images into this small Insta-feed square, I’d do the same with my stories. And then she’s come back to her standard photographer schedule, and I’d continue writing volumes for the next project.

And then the pandemic hit. And just like many others left to our thoughts, fears, and uncertainties, we got on a video chat one evening and said hey. So, we are locked in our apartments. But the imagination and will are always free. Why not put our memories to better use? And just like that, we launched a blog.

Natalie: Yes, this kept us busy and positive. We’d go through archives of images, and through our memory archives, digging out fun stories from travels, putting them into posts, and uploading. 

And, what’s very important to the both of us, avid promoters of traveling to Ukraine, is that we finally got to share images and stories from trips to abandoned Ukrainian castles. There are lots of them, and many are absolutely beautiful and, at the same time, under the radar!

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Kachanovka residence

Do you have any tips for new travel bloggers/aspiring travel bloggers?

Inessa: I know that consistently delivering new content may be a bit of a challenge. We tend to procrastinate, to reschedule, to get frustrated that we’re not in the mood to write when there’s a deadline, or we’ve missed a week of posting and now have to catch up, ugh.

As a writer, I would say that writing is very liberating. But I feel like many beginning writers also treat it as more of an over-romanticized process, where a good article/post/publication/paragraph would not come to mind unless there is a cozy Instagramable chair and table, both facing a beautiful view from the window, or a muse is on her way, but not quite there yet.

While all of these are also very individual factors, and I would not deny a muse a chance, I’d also say that the best way to consistently deliver is to write consistently. To have a schedule, a routine. There’s nothing romantic about the routine, and that’s what makes it good. It simply works. Words will most likely come to mind as soon as one sets the fingers to the keyboard. At the end of the day, it is not about the perfect setting. It is about the idea, the mission, the motivation behind a blog that will get results.

What’s one thing you wish you knew before you started traveling?

Natalie: I wish I knew more about Chungking Mansions before we booked our room there when coming to Hong Kong for the first time:)

But to be honest, we wish we knew how great slow traveling is. On our first trips, we were always in a rush, trying to check as many points off our must-see lists as possible. It was not until the first winter in Asia that we finally realized that it is okay to slow down. That traveling is not a competition.

The photogenic streets of Hanoi in Vietnam

I believe, it was in Bali, where we lived for a month, and did not get to see all of its attractions. And this is Bali we’re talking about, it’s small. It’s not like we spent days by the pool, we drove around a lot. We just opted-in for the balanced trips.

In Vietnam, we befriended a lovely young couple of cafe owners. They have just started their business, and it was hard work. They were up early in the morning, shopping for groceries, on their feet all day cooking and being good hosts, and then left late in the evening because they needed to clean and close the cafe. 

So, they were a bit stressed. But every morning, they got on TripAdvisor and checked whether the people from the previous day liked their place. If there were new reviews (always positive), my sister and I witnessed such an outburst of joy! It was a sense of a country and its people we’d never get on a fast tour.

Why do you love to travel?

Inessa: I’d love to say that it is for the attractions, but with time I figured out that cities frequently look the same. So do the islands. And then I realized that the best thing about traveling is meeting people and telling our stories to one another. 

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I once spent three hours on a beach in Negombo talking to this fantastic traveler from Greece. He was in his 60s. A vagabond for most of his life, he had a meeting on this beach with his son. He was remorseful that he did not spend more time with his kid back in the days. And the son, already an adult, was finally ready to forgive him.

It is incredible all those stories we carry with us, and all the people that we get to share them with just to feel the support and to realize that no matter the struggle, we’re not alone. And if there’s happiness, we will get to share it, too.

What’s your best and worst travel experience?

Inessa: I was taking a train from Belgrade in Serbia to Budapest in Hungary. And I remember reading a few horrible stories on different travel forums about people getting robbed on that train, at a particular location closer to the border. All of them mentioned a sort of a gas that’d put them to sleep. I ignorantly thought that those were a bit exaggerated, and disregarded. 

And then, when getting on a train (I was the only one in that wagon), I saw someone trying to catch my attention. It was a couple of professional photographers from Australia, who came to the country on an assignment for a big news agency. They were passengers on the train I was about to board. And they got robbed, just like that. Lost consciousness. When they woke up, all their professional equipment, all the valuable footage, as well as the money, was gone. And they were telling me to be careful. 

I remember feeling scared. Nothing happened, but I still wonder, if this is a systematic thing that happens, why is there so little awareness about it? If anyone reading this heard of the situation and can clarify or share experience, or correct me, anything, any information is valuable. On a side not, Serbia is a beautiful country, really worth visiting, and the locals are wonderful.

Natalie: I would say that the rest were great traveling experiences. One of the most memorable happened just recently. It was the last Sunday before Kiev went into quarantine lockdown, and the city was already empty. We knew we had to  catch those unique moments. 

Kiev before lockdown

That day, as we were driving around, stopping to take pictures, we could hardly believe our eyes. Podol, usually a crowded area of the city with traffic jams, hundreds of locals and tourists, was empty. The Ferris wheel looked like a decoration on an abandoned movie set. Freed from boats and ships, the Dnipro River’s waters turned from sandy and brown to navy blue. There was not a soul in the governmental quarters usually filled with protesters. We shared some of those images in our Kiev guide. This is the day that we’ll definitely remember.

Do you prefer solo travel or traveling with other people? Why?

Inessa: It really depends on the mood. There are destinations where it is just a lot of fun to hop into the car and drive to Budapest to spend a weekend as a company. I’ve also traveled solo twice and found this experience very rewarding. The frequent fear is that you’d be alone, but in fact, there was rarely a day when I was truly alone. Every location I went to or a place I stayed in, I got to meet the locals and fellow solo travelers, and every day, it was a completely new experience.

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What’s your favorite place you’ve ever been to? Why?

Natalie: I loved Bali and Vietnam with all my heart. It is a magical combination of hospitality, unique culture, and beautiful nature that still makes me want to revisit someday.

blossoming lavender fields of Provence

Inessa: To these, I’d add Morocco. We made a circular car trip last October, and it was unbelievable. Marocco is a gem with each town offering a completely new experience. What is more, the route between the cities is an adventure well within itself. The sceneries are so diverse, and they change several times during the day, from red cliffs of the mountains to lush greens of the palm groves, and from the stillness of the desert roads to busy routes through the monkey forests. And don’t even get me started on the people, they are wonderful!

What’s your biggest travel tip?

Natalie: Oftentimes, it is the ticket aggregators that offer the best plans for the next trip. On many of our trips, we visited the countries that might have never ended on our list if not for the ticket sales. And those turned out to be great experiences! 

girl holding a professional camera

I would also advise to do research and to try to avoid high seasons. For instance, in Rome, we found that for us, the best time to visit was in January, the low season. There were fewer people, the weather was great, and neither of the attractions had lines. On the other hand, in countries like Myanmar going against the recommended seasonal flow will mean battling the dry and dusty season and missing out on the beautiful landscapes.

Is there one specific thing you like to do, see, or buy in every place that you visit?

Inessa: We always look for the local food, and try to start our acquaintance with the country with a cafe as non-touristy as it is always possible. 

Is there one particular food that you’ve tried while traveling that you loved? What food was it and why do you love it so much?

Natalie: That’s all the street food in Hong Kong, Vietnam, all the local cuisine of Provence and… what did I miss?

Inessa: That really-really tiny space in the attic of an old building in Istambul where they make the best fish rolls with onions and spices!

Natalie:…and that we will neven be able to find on our own again because it was so well-hidden!

Quick Questions

Plane or train? Plane

Hotel or hostel? Hotel

City or nature? Nature

Popular site or off the beaten path? Both!

Suitcase or backpack? Suitcases

Fast travel or slow travel? Slow travel, definitely.

Professional camera or iPhone photography? Professional camera

Warm or cold weather? Warm.

All photos used throughout this post are courtesy of Inessa and Natalie.

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