Fran McKenzie is the face behind the travel blog Frans Photos and the Instagram profile of the same name. A solo female traveller who has been to more than 50 countries, she talks to us today about her perspective on travels.
Fran, tell us something about your early years and how your love of travel developed.
I grew up in a family that wasn’t interested in travel. Apart from two short family trips to Germany and once to Disneyland I hardly left my home town. My parents and I had huge fights over it, where I’d beg them to take me on holiday, but the reply was – wait until you’re older and you can take yourself away. And that’s exactly what I did!
You’re from UK – do you feel you are similar or different to the ‘stereotype’ of a Brit and how do you feel your country of origin has affected your view of the world?
I’m very guilty of being a stereotypical Brit. When we’re abroad you can spot us from a mile away – I’ve had sunburn and when I was travelling across America I found a bar serving beer at 10am to watch England play in the World Cup. Also, one time at a hostel in Montenegro I was having breakfast with a group of fellow Brits, the host poured us a Turkish coffee, we looked at it and straight away asked for milk and sugar!
But being British has given me the opportunity to travel – we are extremely lucky that English is so widely spoken, it makes traveling a lot easier, plus we have strong passports and the pound goes far in many parts of the world.
The only problem can be, in some countries, as soon as they hear the accent, they add a zero to the prices…
Vang Vieng, Laos
And give us some of your hidden gems of the UK that may not be so widely known.
I recently completed the West Highland Way, it’s a 96 mile up the West Highlands in Scotland. If you have an interest in walking and are relatively fit, then I highly recommend it. The walk took me 7 days but it can take as long or as short as you like and you can use hotels or camping to accommodate your budget.
Also – Macclesfield Forest, Biddulph Grange Gardens, Druids Temple Ripon, Thor’s Cave Wetton.
What is your travel style in general?
Fast, basic and solo. I wish I could travel slowly but I’m still at a stage in my life where I’m studying and working to fund travel, as well as balancing general life commitments. I did do a group tour in Egypt but it wasn’t for me. I like my freedom and doing things at my own pace, but I understand why people do them as they offer convenience and you can sometimes visit more places in a shorter amount of time.
You’ve been to about 1/3 of the world’s countries. Which ones surprised you most?
Thailand was a huge surprise, I’d seen so much about people (especially western men) going there for the sex tourism industy and ping pong shows etc. and lots of drunk backpackers. And sure, these are all definitely there, but it’s also an incredibly beautiful and spiritual country, with stunning beaches, quiet parts and friendly people.
When I first visited the Baltics I was surprised at how thriving Vilnius and Tallinn are. These cities are full of young hip people, art, trendy cafes, there’s much more modern culture to see than just touring the historic Old Towns.
Conic Hill – West Highland Way
Give us a few travel stories that are really memorable.
Train surfing in Moscow was a fun experience. I posted on my instagram that I was going to Moscow and I received a message from some young guys there who were into rooftopping and train surfing, inviting me to join them when I visited. I had no idea what to expect but they took me around the city, jumping onto the back of moving subway trains and drinking cheap wine on rooftops.
When I was in Yerevan in May 2018 it was during the anti-government protests. Seeing the energy and passion of the people protesting was really inspiring.
Train surfing in Moscow
You have a very active blog as well as an extremely popular Instagram channel. Tell us about these and what your aims for these are.
I enjoy writing so having a blog is perfect for practicing how to write and it gives me a record of my trips and I hope passes on some tips to people going to the same places. I want to keep my blog active, I’m also going to keep being honest and not glamourise places and situations that aren’t, which unfortunately can make you lose followers, but I’d rather that than lie and make everything sound perfect.
Do you feel social media posts may detract from authentic travel experiences?
It totally detracts and is all fake. Now that I’m older (30s) I don’t feel the need as strongly, but in my 20s, I spent so much time trying to get the perfect instagram/facebook photo, that I wasn’t taking in the surroundings and the moment. And it’s totally pointless, a photo means nothing compared to the memory or experience. I know people who have over 100K on instagram and they’ve let their accounts go defunct (they no longer travel as they’ve settled down, married and had babies), all the time and money they spent to build them and now they aren’t even used.
In Georgia I met a young German guy on a bus and he was doing an overland journey from India to Germany, he had no social media. I was like – that’s how I should travel. But then there’s a need in me to post on my instagram story and try to have a connection with people online. I guess it’s about trying to find a balance.
Which places are still high on your travel bucket list and why?
Yellowknife in Canada and Murmansk in Russia, in the winter. Give me a freezing dark place and I’ll be there!
How did the covid pandemic affect your travels?
I had to cancel several trips. But luckily they were in Europe and the flights were only £30 with RyanAir so the financial hit wasn’t too bad. I was very fortunate that I spent the pandemic doing a PhD in Engineering, which didn’t require travel and we had Zoom. So I was still productive but I definitely lost some interest in travel, as well as my confidence being stuck in lockdowns (which I think a lot of people can relate to), but now things are opening up I’m starting to get back out there. Back in April 2020 no one expected the travel restrictions to go on this long!
Valley of the Kings, Egypt
So what are your plans for travelling for 2022?
Visiting Turkey. I had planned a 3 week trip there in September but it was on the UK red list so I couldn’t go. Naples to do touristy things such as Pompeii and eat authentic pizza, and to visit more of the Greek islands, perhaps tie it in with the Turkey trip.
And finally our signature question – if you could invite any 4 people to dinner, from any era, who would you invite and why?
Nellie Bly, she went around the world in 72 days in 1890, I want to ask her about the logistics of that trip.
David Attenborough, he was documenting nature in remote places before people had even commonly heard of them.
The Slovakian youtuber PPPeter, because I’d like to know about his Africa trips and I think he’d be honest.
Nicholas Cage – because he’s such a character.
Hill of Crosses, Lithuania