I’m Polly Allen, a freelance journalist with two years’ previous experience in the travel industry. When I’m not writing for the likes of The New European and Running in Heels, or reviewing theatre shows and comedy for Everything Theatre and Funny Women, you’ll find me wandering around art galleries, shopping for second-hand books and vintage photos, drinking tea,
going to therapy, and – of course – planning my next adventure.
I challenged myself to start this site back in January 2013 (though I wasn’t a total newcomer to the blogging world – I used to write a fashion blog). Since then, I’ve been cited in an Icelandic travel and tourism dissertation, plus I’ve won or been nominated for various awards, including a Contiki award for travel blogging, less than six months after starting this site.
My most popular blog post, Tips for First-Timers and Solo Travellers in New York, ranks #2 for the popular search term, ‘travelling alone in New York’. Meanwhile, my summary of trending destinations from the fashion industry became a National Geographic Traveller blog post of the month in May 2016.
Beyond this domain, I occasionally blog for the Huffington Post, where my Edinburgh Festival Fringe post for first-time attendees ranks higher than the official Edinburgh Fringe website for the search term ‘Edinburgh Fringe first time’.
Other external blog posts include a winning entry in the Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 blogging competition.
BREAKING THE STEREOTYPES
The tough questions I asked myself before going live:
- Have I ever been to that much-hyped travel blogging hotspot, Angkor Wat? Nope.
- Have I ever referred to myself as a nomad? Definitely not.
- Can I wax lyrical about backpacking? No, since my backpack has wheels. Hey, I like to keep my options open.
Instead, I like to cover quirky museums, cultural haunts, historical sites, unique hotels and travel trends. My site isn’t exclusively aimed at either ‘budget’ or ‘luxury’ travellers, but looks at both extremes – plus the middle ground that so many of us aim for.
TRAVEL AND MENTAL HEALTH
I occasionally blog about mental health and how it relates to travel, due to my own experience of treatment-resistant clinical depression. I’m an admin for the London-based Mental Health Mates peer support walking group (mentalhealthmates.co.uk); as a journalist, I often write about depression, and, as a Mind media volunteer, I’ve been interviewed by BBC News and Al-Jazeera about the lack of crisis care and the ongoing stigma surrounding mental health issues. For World Mental Health Day 2017, global mental health campaign Ditch the Label featured me in their round-up of leading mental health bloggers.
Ultimately I want to show that – with the right support networks and planning – trips can be a huge boost to wellbeing, and are advocated by countless therapists, including my own. Besides, as 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems during their lifetime, many of the travellers you meet will be battling unseen demons, such as anxiety, OCD or depression. Getting away from it all doesn’t mean you’re cured, but a change of scene with supportive friends and family, plus a few distractions and gentle exercise and your trusty medication, can do the world of good.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
As for the blog name? Calavera means skull in Spanish, and it’s become a recurring icon from the trips I’ve taken, my own experiences and the trips I’m planning.
As a student I wrote plenty of essays on anatomical art, visiting galleries to see artwork by Leonardo Da Vinci, Andreas Vesalius and Laurie Lipton. I also found that skull imagery is a staple part of memento mori, traditional paintings to remind viewers that life’s too short. For me, the concept of using your remaining time wisely, and refusing to waste it, is a big incentive to travel.
My ideal adventure would be visiting Mexico during the Dia de los Muertos celebrations, where skull imagery is celebrated rather than feared. Aside from the Mexican dream, you’ll notice that all things anatomical do tend to come up on the blog, whether that means looking at morbid exhibitions, graveyards and memorials, or unusually creepy souvenirs. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
So, what weird and wonderful travel experiences have I actually had? Well, so far I’ve…
- Been white-water rafting in British Columbia, and walked under a waterfall, with a Welshman called Taffy
- Taken part in the Glastonbury Sun Dance with druids in Hyde Park, and then ate Ben & Jerry’s with them (it’s clearly a druid favourite)
- Worked at a Parisian fashion trade show during a heat wave
- Discovered that Chinese restaurants in Washington DC do not serve prawn crackers
- Visited the Edinburgh Festival Fringe nine years running, and I’m aiming for a perfect ten
- Tracked down an almost submerged boat wreck in Wales that my great grandparents used to sail (they didn’t sink it, in case you’re wondering)
- Accidentally seen a new Pope announced in Rome
- Fallen in love with Estonian culture
- Had the best curry of my life, in Iceland
- Found Monty Python-inspired street art in Eindhoven
2013’s adventures included riding a Vespa in Rome, waxing lyrical about the UK’s only bone chapel, meeting a tiger in Thailand and seeking out Reykjavik’s best pubs and skull-shaped graffiti.
2014 involved soaking up the best of Brussels, Bath and the Grand Budapest Hotel, along with a scorchingly hot city break in Lisbon and a de-stressing trip to Cornwall.
2015 led to a five star Valletta hotel stay and a tour of Copenhagen’s parliament before the Danish General Election.
2016 saw a family trip to New York, one of my favourite stomping grounds, plus a day trip to Helsinki, a brilliant stay in Tallinn, and a visit to the Bronte Parsonage Museum.
2017 has so far taken me to Vienna, in search of all things Graham Greene, to Seville, and to several London theatres for a culture fix.
With an ever-growing bucket list featuring India, Rwanda, Norway and New Zealand, I can’t wait to see where travel takes me next.
GET IN TOUCH
If you want to talk travel with me then:
- Feel free to comment on the blog
- Email me – pollyallen89[at]yahoo[dot]com
- Find me on Twitter – @misspallen
- Add me on Google+ (I hear it’s what all the cool kids are doing)
Needless to say, all views held here are my own and not those of my employers. All images, unless stated, are my own, and should not be used without my permission; the same goes for the text. All experiences, even the embarrassing ones, are also my own. I hope you enjoy them too.