After spending eight years working in the tourism sector, this passionate South African became obsessed with sharing everything awesome about her country. Her blog and Twitter account allowed her to share her love for Africa with the world. Mzansi Girl, AKA Meruschka Govender, created the #Afritravel hashtag to help curate great African travel related content and share the Mzansi love.
How did your love affair with African travel begin?
My grandmother was my inspiration - she was really frugal, and saved her money to travel and she travelled a lot! My first independent African travel experience was backpacking from Johannesburg to Malawi via Mozambique, after which I was hooked!
“I imagine myself as an unofficial ambassador for South African travel. So I started a blog.”
The very best and very worst places you’ve travelled to?
Best local places are Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, the Wild Coast and the Karoo. The best of Africa so far has been Mozambique and Madagascar. I really don’t have any worst places – every destination has something unique and endearing to offer.
What did you do before becoming a full time travel blogger?
I originally studied economics and thought that I wanted to become an investment banker before the travel bug bit. I spent 8 years working in the tourism sector - from running a backpacker hostel, to working for South Africa’s only tourism NGO and eventually working in tourism policy in national government. Travel is my passion - my blog is an extension of that.
What do you attribute your success to in being able to ‘live the dream’ full time?
I’ve only been ‘living the dream’ full time for 4 months, so it’s early days yet. That being said, I think passion for travel and strong networks are crucial. For me social networks have been key. Find a niche, be useful to others and share the love. I don’t consider myself successful yet, but talk to me in a year.
What makes your blog unique and why should people read it?
I was tired of other people telling our stories for us; of reading the same stale content about South Africa. There are just too many articles on safari lodges and Cape Town. I think I have a unique voice and my personality and passion for African travel is felt through my writing.
Which of your travel photographs tell the best stories?
I think spontaneous images tell the best stories and that’s why I love mobile photography and Instagram so much. I actually take most of my photos with an iPhone and love jumping into the pictures – I actually have a signature jump! You can find me @Mzansigirl on Instagram for more real time visual stories.
How has the platform for travel bloggers evolved and developed over the past few years?
Travel blogging is becoming a true profession. There are travel blogger associations, networks and regular conferences around the world. Bloggers aren’t willing to blog just for ‘a freebie’ anymore. We need and deserve to get paid - at the end of the day it is our job. It may seem like fun, but when you’re on press trips it is hard work. On a recent trip to Mauritius I stayed at 5 hotels in 7 days and did more than one activity every day. I came back exhausted. The South African tourism industry hasn’t quite embraced bloggers the way they have overseas. We need more local bloggers telling our story.
What are your thoughts on the development of social media in tourism & tourism marketing in general?
You don’t need a big marketing budget if you’re social media savvy. I think social media gives even the smallest players a big voice. If you look at what is going on overseas in terms of social media marketing for tourism, SA is lagging behind. We still have a way to go - which is a shame since we offer such an excellent product. I think that there’s lots of room for innovation.
What should a seasoned traveller never travel without?
Passport, cash and you’re good to go. You can find basically find everything else en route. I also never travel without my iPhone and a good book.
What do you look for when choosing a new travel location to experience?
I look for interesting cultural experiences – be it music, festivals, architecture or the arts. I prefer authentic experiences – I’m not really into theme parks, cultural villages and the like. I like going places where I have friends, as it gives me a couch to crash on and a local perspective on a destination. Luckily I have friends all over the world!
What has been your biggest lesson learnt through travel?
Realizing that we are more alike than we are different, and also that patience, flexibility and a smile will get you everywhere.
What is your advice to aspiring travellers?
Money spent on travel is well spent. No-one can take your experiences and memories away from you. Get off the beaten track, meet locals and travel independently - it will open your eyes.