The award-winning travel blogger from Singapore debunks the misconceptions of his profession and shares exciting updates on his startup, The Travel Intern.

Since making the bold decision to stray from his original career path three years ago, Hendric Tay has travelled to 22 countries, gone on 35 trips and spent 281 days out of Singapore.

While his life as a globetrotter may sound enviable and glamorous to some, it’s also one that comes with lots of hard work, sacrifices and sleepless nights. Here, the 29-year-old behind Pohtecktoes.com discusses the realities of travel blogging and making it financially sustainable through The Travel Intern.

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What were you doing before you started travel blogging?

I was an intern at an ad agency during my last year at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). The company offered me a full-time position, but I rejected it because I felt like a stopgap measure. The management saw everyone as dispensable; who wants to work at a place like that?

After graduating from NTU, I taught at Anderson Junior College where I used to be a triple science student. I was very busy, but I sincerely enjoyed the experience. Teaching was a good contract job that paid well, and it reminded me of what I liked and disliked about bureaucracy.

The iconic Taj Mahal in India

The iconic Taj Mahal in India

What motivated you to drop everything and travel the world?

Everyone wants to travel, but when you’re stuck in a nine-to-five job, you just don’t have the time for it. After teaching for a year, it hit me that I only have one life and I don’t want to live with regrets.

I really like travelling because it exposes you to different experiences, and there are just more chances of experiencing new things when you’re out there and not stuck in a routine in Singapore, so I had to pursue it.

Paragliding in Turkey

Paragliding in Turkey

Was there any opposition from your family?

Of course. For a whole year after I left my job in September 2013, my parents thought that I was simply taking a break to travel the world. Eventually, it became more than a sabbatical; it turned into a career path.

Even though I secured a couple of freelance gigs in 2014 and contributed a little to the family income, they wanted me to find a stable job. It was quite tough because they’re over 60 and not very savvy about how things work online; but, after constantly persuading them, they’ve kind of accepted it.

Doing acro yoga with his girlfriend Cherie along the Ganges River in Rishikesh, India

Doing acro yoga with his girlfriend Cherie along the Ganges River in Rishikesh, India

You won Best Travel Blog at the 2015 Singapore Blog Awards. What did that recognition by omy.sg mean to you?

2015 was the first year omy.sg took voting out of the equation and looked at content rather than popularity, so winning that award was validation that I’d done something right.

Pohtecktoes.com actually started off as a portfolio blog where I’d put up stuff I’d done for school or previous clients. It only became travel-focus recently. As people start to respond positively to your content, you continually see the value in sharing and feel encouraged to keep it up and do it well.

At the 2015 Singapore Blog Awards

At the 2015 Singapore Blog Awards

Share with us some of your most memorable trips.

My 2014 South America trip was memorable because it was my first big trip after quitting my job. I travelled to Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador and did a lot of outdoor activities.

I particularly loved the Galapagos Islands where Darwin got inspired for his theory of evolution. The cool thing was that humans are not the island’s main inhabitants; they live harmoniously with the sea lions. I would go to the beach and swim with them but was very conscious about not touching them.

Hanging out with the sea lions of Playa Mann Beach

Hanging out with the sea lions of Playa Mann Beach

My 2015 trip to Gold Coast was also memorable because it was my first sponsored work trip. Scoot approached me after seeing a video of my South American adventures and wanted me to create content that can be used for their social media channels.

I collaborated with the Tourism Events Queensland and FlyScoot to help change people’s perception of Gold Coast as just another theme park destination. The highlight for me was going to Lady Elliot Island. It’s the southernmost point of the Great Barrier Reef and snorkelling there was epic.

On the hot air balloon in Gold Coast, Australia

On the hot air balloon in Gold Coast, Australia

How do you finance your travels?

I do it the same way anyone else would I work and save up. I split my time between travelling and doing freelance media work that’s related to writing, social media consulting and web design.

To stretch out my finances, I always opt for cheaper accommodation and hunt for the best deals when booking flights. I’m also quite simple; I don’t go for brands or eat out much, so I channel my funds to my travel savings instead.

What inspired you to start The Travel Intern?

It started off with the idea of revamping my blog and taking it more seriously last November. Pohtecktoes.com is a good personal brand, but I really need something that’s financially-sustainable, so I posted an opening for an intern who could help me out.

I ended up with 586 applicants! Seeing how good the response was, I figured I should just branch out this idea of The Travel Intern into its own company. There are no major news sites in Singapore that focus purely on travel, so I wanted to create one that covers a wide range of travel-related content.

iceland-vik-black-beaches-light-painting

Light painting in Iceland

Describe the selection process for The Travel Intern.

After shortlisting eight candidates, I chose Kenneth and Clara as my first two travel interns. They were both at that phase in their lives where they’re just exploring options Clara had just quit her job and Kenneth just graduated.

I chose them because they were serious about their applications and are genuine storytellers at heart. They have personality and are also better writers than I am, which is important because writing is not my biggest strength.

Secret Lagoon in Iceland

Secret Lagoon in Iceland

What did Kenneth and Clara do during their internship?

They were paid $600 each for a full-time, one-month internship. Kenneth was focusing on social media while Clara was working on editorial content, so you can say that she was the Editor-in-Chief.

During the first week, they did a lot of research on other news sites and brainstormed on different story ideas, and by the second week, they were already preparing for their all-expense-paid trip to China.

I actually managed to persuade Scoot to sponsor their flights in exchange for content. Week three to five saw them travelling to China and then coming back to rush out content for the site and our client.

You also just wrapped up the second run of the Travel Intern. How was it different from the first one?

The second run with travel interns Rachel and Dingyi was longer for sure. This time, we did a three-month internship and squeezed in two trips.

The first trip was a week long and we went to Osaka, Kyoto and Nara in Japan. The second trip was for two weeks and we went to Chennai, Agra and Jaipur in India. Having it longer was more interesting because there was actually time for the interns to apply what they’ve learnt.

At the Fushirama Inari Shrine during the second run of The Travel Intern

At the Fushirama Inari Shrine during the second run of The Travel Intern

What are your plans for the future?

I intend to do a web series on The Travel Intern life in December. The plan is to film in a few destinations – they’re yet to be decided – and highlight what it’s like to be a travel intern, from the challenges we face to how we personally view travelling should be.

I’ll also continue to seize more opportunities to work with amazing brands while growing the company’s social media following. In the time span of six short months since The Travel Intern was launched, we have garnered 28k fans on Facebook and worked with brands like Scoot, Skyscanner and Klook.

Vatnajokull ice cave in Iceland (Picture by Peter Amber)

Vatnajokull ice cave in Iceland (Picture by Peter Amber)

Any words of advice for aspiring travel bloggers out there?

Just know that it isn’t easy. I think the biggest misconception about what I do is that it’s all fun and glamour, but there’s a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes.

There are many sleepless nights where I just sit down and think about what to do for the upcoming months to make this career financially sustainable. I’m aware that I’ll be working on a deficit as I start my new company, but as long as I remind myself of why I love to travel, I’ll be OK.


 

Arman Shah

A former travel writer with fond memories of solo adventures in Southeast Asia, Arman is now Founder of The Everyday People. He's also the co-host of Channel Empathy, a podcast about the marginalised in Singapore.