Whilst going through the everyday motions of her Australian day job, Tara Foster met someone who’s bicycle travels inspired her to ditch a life she was tiring of and take off on her own solo-female adventure around Ireland. The author, adventure travel blogger and TV producer admits to being terrified when setting off, recalling occasions when her project was frowned upon by those who felt it wasn’t suitable for a solo woman. With her #AroundIrelandOnAPushie social media adventure now drawing a notable following, Tara hopes to inspire and encourage young women to take chances and pay less attention to the opinions of others. We caught up with her to find out how it all started.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello! I’m Tara! I was born in the United States and then in 2005, I moved to Australia! To make a long story short, I came to Australia for a holiday and the person sitting next to me on my flight offered me a job. I’ve been living in Sydney ever since. I became an Aussie just a few years ago and now consider myself Australian through and through! I’m a TV producer by trade and have been working in TV all over the world for over twenty years. It’s been a pretty wild ride – for sure!
I’m a girl who loves to travel. I spent over a month travelling across the United States in a van, backpacked all over Europe and trekked through the jungles of Borneo. I also quit my job to travel around Ireland for three months as a first-time cyclist. It was only me, my bicycle and my wits.
I also do a lot of social media reporting at space events around the world, Twitter and my blog are my social media spirit animals! I’ve been on 29 radio stations across three countries and was featured on TV3. Whist giving a lecture about #AroundIrelandOnAPushie at Trinity College, I was trending #4 in Ireland and my story was featured in Irish national newspaper, The Independent. It was the most shared and most read article in Ireland for two days.
You quit your job to cycle around Ireland on a push bike and write about it. Was it an impulse decision, or something that had been festering for a while?
#AroundIrelandOnAPushie was kind of one of those things that just happened to evolve. I didn’t really know it at the time, but I was bored with my day job. In saying that, sometimes we don’t know we’re bored because we’re so comfortable with doing the same thing day in and day out and that’s where I was.
As fate would have it, I met an Irishman who shared with me his story about cycling from Sydney to Melbourne on a $50 bicycle. I thought that was the coolest, most obscene idea EVER and I would NEVER do anything like it. But, there was something about his adventure that really hit home. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. There was freedom and adventure and the characters he met along his travels – it all stuck with me. I wanted to experience something like that because I was feeling so stagnant in life.
I was just going through the daily motions. I was going to work, going to the gym and coming home from that just to do it all again the next day. I was bored AF and kind of wanted a creative challenge that would allow me to feel some sort of emotion again. And that’s how #AroundIrelandOnAPushie was born!
Who is your book aimed at?
I think the book is aimed at those who want to experience an adventure similar to mine but aren’t brave enough yet or aren’t really sure how to do it. While this book is not a how-to, it is an honest account of my thoughts, feelings and experiences. It also includes all the behind the scenes that I didn’t tweet about.
It’s kind of really cool to have written a book like this because when I was a kid I would binge-read all the Bill Bryson and travel books I could find. I just couldn’t get enough of them. These days, you can hardly find true travel accounts since most of the slack is written by bloggers online. But, I believe it’s so important to have stories like this. Also, there’s something about holding an actual book that is amazing. You can take it places … turn the pages … you can loan them to friends.
I would probably call my book a bit of an armchair adventure. It’s got all the behind the scenes that I didn’t tweet and it also has a lot of reflection. I also realised that we all have the chance to live our lives how we want. That we have the power to change things, so if there’s a reader who needs a bit of motivation – it’s got that, too!
I also hope that this book gives a bit of confidence to young readers – especially girls. I think it’s a rite of passage for girls to travel solo without prejudice. Sometimes our loved ones don’t understand us and won’t accept why we do things – I hope that this story gives readers a chance to say ‘fuck it’ and to give it a go! You learn so much about yourself when you do and no one should stop you. I’m brutally honest about how shit-scared I was with #AroundIrelandOnAPushie, but I survived and managed to only hit one parked car bicycling from Cork to Cobh. (Yes, it’s in the book!)
You used social media to get the public to set challenges for your travels. As a writer, how important was the interaction between yourself and the public in developing the book?
When I first created #AroundIrelandOnAPushie I debated on telling social media. I thought long and hard about putting myself out there but after weighing up the options, the positives outweighed the negatives. I figured that the world has more good people than bad and if I got into any trouble, that somewhere someone would help me.
The challenges actually evolved out of social media. One day I was bantering with @Armoured_Combat which is a group of men and women who fight as medieval knights in competitions around the world. They challenged me to fight with them and I did! It was probably the coolest thing I ever did in my life and I’m very thankful that they welcomed me into their family. And whilst taking on challenges, I was dipping into people’s worlds at the same time. I was able to leave my boring Sydney life to experience the exciting part of theirs. A few of the cool challenges I took on was performing stand-up comedy in a castle, attempting to eat Ireland’s biggest breakfast fry-up (and failing), meeting some ghostly sprits in Belfast and trying improv for the very first time.
Also, I think it’s important to say that I never set out to write a book. I was just living my adventure and interacting with people just as I normally would. I think that if I had a ‘book on the brain’ that it would have taken away from my experience. Instead, the goal of #AroundIrelandOnAPushie was going on an adventure and interacting with the Irish locals and just having a laugh. The book just evolved from it.
Of the many social media platforms, why did you choose Twitter to promote and encourage your adventure?
I think it’s important for anyone who’s interested in social media to find the social media channel that works for them. For me, I like Twitter because I like to banter and I can do it in real time. My Twitter account is an extension of my blog but on a much smaller scale. For example, I once live-tweeted my observations of tourists on Christmas day from a Centra in Dublin. I felt like I was watching a Norman Rockwell painting evolve in front of my eyes, so I started a thread and just tweeted the experience away. Then, my story was picked up by two Irish newspapers!
It’s important that society encourages women to take chances and pursue things that will make them happy. How did women respond to what you were doing, both in person and on social media?
I didn’t realise the importance of this adventure until I was invited to give a lecture to some of the students at the Gorey Community School. First, I met with a few mixed classes. There was nothing unusual about this. The students would ask questions and I’d answer them. But I had the ‘lightbulb moment’ when I was in a classroom that was girls only.
The interaction with them seemed different because their questions were different. Like, they were asking girl related questions about safety travelling alone or what it feels like being a solo female traveller. I didn’t get these sorts of questions in the mixed classroom. I wouldn’t say that the girls were too intimidated to ask these types of questions in the mixed setting, but it was just different. However, being in the girls only classroom is when I knew that I had to protect what I was doing – like I was onto something – that I was given a gift. So, I was completely honest with them. I told them how I was scared a bunch of times, but I just kept going.
After that lecture I knew that I had to protect the message and be completely upfront and honest with my adventure. I actually had Ireland’s national broadcaster invite me for a stunt, but I passed on it because of the quality of their message. I felt as if I had a duty of care to the future female explorers and travellers and I felt really strongly about it after my experience with them.
A few days later, I had a very different experience when I attended a private dinner party. Some Irish locals invited me over for a meal and during that party, I was a little bit shocked by what the women were saying. Now, to set the scene, they were older women. They had grown children of their own and some even had grandchildren. What I found fascinating with telling them my story is they were horrified with what I was doing. From what I could gather, they didn’t want their daughters or granddaughters doing what I was doing. They also didn’t understand why I’d use social media to tell my story and to take on challenges from the public. One dinner guest compared my social media interaction like one of their girlfriends going to Thailand and sharing shots of their food. Another interesting aspect to this same dinner party is, the men were so enthralled by my story it seemed that they wanted their wives and daughters to be as adventurous as me. It was quite interesting to see how people viewed my adventure from both sides.
Following the confirmation of your book deal, you’ve been live tweeting to teach people how to write books. How do you get around the 280-character limit?
For me, Twitter is all about having a conversation that anyone can jump into at any time. The 280 characters doesn’t really bother me. I’ve done a lot of TV copywriting, so I can narrow down a message. Closer to the book launch, I’ll be vlogging a lot of tips and tricks for writing a travel blog and how it is a great starting point if you want to be an author.
What’s funny is, I never set out to be an author – it just kind of happened. I don’t really know much about publishing and so I plan on sharing what I learn along the way!
As a child, you were diagnosed with dyslexia. What advice would you give to young people with dyslexia who are interested in writing?
Ah man… school sucked. I felt REALLY out of place. I was bullied a fair bit by my peers and so I just did my own thing. I mean, I didn’t even take a lunch because I was so freaked out with having to sit and interact with people.
It always sucked getting my grades back. I always got incredibly bad anxiety when my mom would say, “WAIT UNTIL YOUR FATHER COMES HOME.” It didn’t prove anything. It didn’t make my grades any better – it just made things worse. You can’t force a kid to do well. When I was in fourth grade, my mom had me sit at her desk for two days straight and do homework. That sort of bullying doesn’t work or fix the situation but, I can tell you this: Yes, there’s stuff you need to learn and yes, it won’t be easy … but if you can find a better way to learn, go for it. We’re all different so what works for you might not work for someone else.
After applying for their social program, you were invited to some of NASA’s events to blog about the launch of a space shuttle. Why do you think they chose you to include you?
I’ve been invited to attend social media events with both NASA and ESA all over the world! This is REALLY COOL. If you have a social media account and are interested in science and space, both ESA and NASA post open invites across their social media channels asking for people like you to attend events. The agencies take anywhere between 20 and 100 people from around the world to Tweet, blog, Vlog and Insta.
My first social event was with NASA at Cape Canaveral, Florida, for the CRS-5 SpaceX rocket launch. It was a two-day event but it actually scrubbed, which in rocket terms means it was cancelled. It was only until the third attempt that the rocket launched! During the social I got to learn about the mission and meet like-minded social media friends. We’re actually our own little community now!
When I first attended a #NASASocial I kind of really had no idea why they chose me. I had 600 followers at the time and my travel blog was just for laughs. When I applied for the #NASASocial, I wrote that I’d like to write about the event from a travel writer’s perspective. I guess they liked what I said, because I got to go to that event. I’ve since travelled around the world covering different social media events related to space. I’ve been to Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Estonia, the Aussie Outback, the deep space listening array in Canberra and Cape Canaveral heaps of times covering events all because of social media. It’s been a blast!
You seem to be able to adapt your writing to so many different genres; travel/space/tv production. What is it about your writing style that keeps people engaged?
I’m a massive fan of using conversational writing – I find it is the most honest form. What I mean is, I don’t try to be anything I’m not. What you read is what you get.
I also have a fair bit of crazy real-life experiences that are hilarious. I’m not entirely sure how I end up in crazy scenarios, but it happens. Some fond memories include that one time I got locked in a bathroom whilst at a science conference and had to be rescued by real-life scientists! Or, that one traumatic childhood story that involved a snapping turtle which mom turned into soup. And, I also once scarred the entire town of Tubingen, Germany by trying to surf the Nectar River. I sometimes get into weird situations and I just write about them!
Social media sometimes offers dangerous people a platform to reach others that they would never have had before. As a solo female traveller trying to inspire others, how did you maintain the balance of safety and spontaneity?
I think social media is dangerous if you allow it to be. I believe that if you use common sense you can thrive in a social media environment. Yes, there are a lot of jerks out there who troll, and yes, a lot of times, it’s hard to ignore them. I always pick and choose my battles. If the argument is worth fighting for, I’ll challenge them – otherwise, I just drop the topic.
I once had a guy say a bunch of nasty things about #AroundIrelandOnAPushie. I challenged his thoughts, politely, and asked why he felt the way he did. I later found out that his mother recently died and he was just using me as a punching bag. He was having a tough time. He later deleted all his tweets.
My general rule of thumb is, I ask questions and join conversations. I don’t attack anyone online for their thoughts but I will challenge and ask them questions if I’m not following their thought process. I also try to be funny. I don’t try to patronise anyone – it’s just not worth it and nobody wants to be patronised.
Completely Craic’d: The girl who went #AroundIrelandOnAPushie is due for release this year with Book Hub Publishing in Galway.
Sarah Mackenzie is travel writer and marketing professional based in Edinburgh, Scotland. With 39 countries under her belt, her personal work focuses on vegan budget travel, alongside eco and women’s awareness topics. She also writes for online interview magazine 5minuteswith.