Callum Elsdon is a fellow travel blogger based in London, UK. His blog CallumElsdon.om has 15-25k visitors every month and covers a wide range of topics, including flight reviews, hotels, airlines, credit cards, and frequent flyer updates.
Callum started blogging at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and his articles on Cathay Pacific became particularly popular among his Asian audience. I found one of Callum’s review articles online (about a SAS flight), and since I’ve been following his journey every week. We connected through Instagram, and I figured it was the perfect opportunity to kickstart my Meet The Travel Blogger series of interviews!
Hope you enjoy this first edition with Callum’s behind-the-scenes story. We had fun putting it together!
Meet The Travel Blogger (#1) – Callum Elsdon
1. Your blog was born during the COVID-19 pandemic. What were your thoughts and that time, and what motivated you to jump on writing?
I began my website in March 2021, about a year into the pandemic, mostly buoyed by a yearning to rediscover the world as it was still mostly closed beyond domestic travel. I enjoy documenting my travels and providing my perspective or spin on these experiences – to make content that I would enjoy reading.
Is there a market for that? I don’t know, but there is definitely somebody out there reading it, and even getting the odd comment or email from people who find a helpful article is appreciated and makes it worthwhile.
For the first six months, I mainly filled my two to three articles a week with existing experiences pre-Covid or the latest news from the industry to which I could add my perspective of thoughts.
By the time we got to September 2021, I was able to do some proper trip reports – covering destinations in Europe, such as Cyprus, Barcelona, Madrid, Copenhagen, Malmo, and Oslo. At this time, I was able to get some excellent content, including Singapore Airlines from Copenhagen to Rome and British Airways’ latest Club Suite Business Class from Rome to London.
I even got the chance to go to Thailand during their stringent reopening in December 2021 as part of Scoot’s inaugural flight to Bangkok from London Gatwick (funded by the airline). Funnily enough, because there is very little content on Scoot long haul online, it is still easily my best-performing content today.
As a side benefit, my actual job is in marketing, and the amount of copywriting, design work, and video editing I do for the blog can come in handy for upskilling myself. This helps improve my skills as a marketeer and my attractiveness on my CV to potential employers – recently helping me get a role at a leading airline.
Note: I am writing this in my personal capacity as the owner and author of CallumElsdon.com and not as a representative of my employer.
2. What do you enjoy the most about traveling?
New experiences. Whether trying a new airline on the flight out to review through sampling new cultures and foods on my travels, it’s all about widening your horizons and embracing other cultures during your visits.
3. How do you balance creating content and enjoying your travels? What challenges have you faced?
I think I can add a bit more to this, just dealing with life and work in general. I am very lucky that my partner first of all, encouraged me to pursue this passion and is very supportive of travelling wherever possible (plus he benefits from joining too on some ). The balance between creating content and enjoying travels is quite easy for me, as I focus primarily on transport and properties – I.e., planes, trains, lounges, and hotels.
Finally, I don’t do too much destination content. I find that I want to enjoy the place I am visiting at the moment, not be stuck behind a camera. If I take pictures and have interesting, unique experiences, I may write about it – but there is far more competition for this type of content than aviation or hotel properties.
I enjoy the process of travelling, so documenting it isn’t too tricky. It’s usually just a case of making sure I take as many pictures of a hotel room when I arrive at a property or pictures of a cabin before most people board a plane. It’s a minor thing, but getting most of the shots at this point means that you can appreciate the rest of your trip.
Video is a bit different and is a lot more time-consuming, but generally, I only find long flights (8+ hours) interesting to film, and there is more than enough time to capture what you need.
4. Callum’s top 5 destinations and why you love them
Philippines – yes it is a very big country with over 7000 islands, so it’s hard to pinpoint where. While Metro Manila, in places, isn’t the nicest, there are lots of cool spots – be it Intramuros, BGC, or even Binondo, which is home to some great food (even if you’ll struggle to get out in traffic).
It’s when you get out of the city that things get interesting, seeing beauty spots such as Palawan on the coast of the West Philippine Sea or Siargao on the Pacific coast – they all have their uniqueness that is mesmerizing. Las Isla Filipinas is at the intersection of Spanish colonial influence, Chinese immigration, Malay culture, and even some Arab input, making Pilipino culture some of the most diverse and interesting globally.
Istanbul – a wonderful city at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East. I love Turkish food and how they have managed to preserve the city’s culture.
Helsinki/Nordics – just a short city break, but Helsinki is very much the forgotten Nordic city that people should definitely visit. The clean air and beautiful Nordic skies in Helsinki make it a very pleasant and quaint place to visit, while nature is never very far away – with excellent island visits such as Suomenlinna.
Hong Kong – a great mix of Chinese cultures intertwined with specks of British influence which still cover the whole city. A pocket-sized city that is intriguing and simultaneously awakens the senses.
Hanoi, Vietnam – Vietnamese food is great, including the abundance of French influences on Southeast Asian classics – and some of the best croissants I’ve tried.
5. What’s your favorite aircraft?
The Airbus A350 is easily my favorite because it is the most comfortable aircraft to fly. It also has a beautiful design with the winglets and the mask around the cockpit windows, creating a unique look. That being said, I like pretty much any wide-body aircraft, including the 777 or A380, but the higher humidity on the A350 means avoiding nosebleeds (which seem far more common when I fly on older aircraft!).
Unsurprisingly, down the smaller end of the aircraft segment, the A220 is easily the best to fly from a passenger experience perspective – plenty of room for passengers and carry-on baggage. Finally, not forgetting turboprops such as ATRs or DeHaviland Canada – many of which ply routes that can take you to exotic destinations, such as rural islands in the Philippines to the highlands of Scotland.
6. What are your most memorable flights, airlines, or experiences?
There are so many to choose from… I would say too often that airlines get a bad rap because a very small minority have a bad experience – and are very vocal about it. The truth is that across the board, there are so many amazing airlines worldwide – with excellent staff passionate about this industry.
Number 1 is easily Singapore Airlines Suites on the A380 from Singapore to Frankfurt for obvious reasons. This was a trip I hadn’t published yet, but unsurprisingly it is the most comfortable way to fly long haul along with a super attentive, proactive crew, an excellent hard product, and a soft product to match.
Second was Air France La Premiere from Paris to San Francisco – which I reviewed on my website and YouTube. What Air France does well represents their Frenchness, whether through the cuisine onboard to the crew’s reassuringly confident engagement with you as a passenger or the Audi car transfer to the aircraft. They have created a truly excellent experience from the ground to the clouds.
Another flight I took recently was ANA The Suite Business Class back to London from Asia, easily one of the best Business seats around. The crew was excellent, while the seat was far wider than one would expect, along with Japanese cuisine that is truly divine. The review will be out soon, but the top tip: try plenty of the noodles while on board; they are great!
While these are wonderful, the stand-out experience will always be your first – my early-2018 trip to China, which was just on Turkish Airlines in Economy. Economy is difficult to differentiate; they provided a good experience with excellent food and an amenity kit. The most notable thing about this trip was it was my first long-haul solo travel, which gave me the travelling bug that I had needed to discover for a long time.
Meanwhile, another very memorable experience was Finnair’s Business Class on the A350 in October 2018. While Finnair is not the best airline in the world, they are easily one of the best in Europe, and departing from Hong Kong meant I could sample the excellent Qantas and Cathay lounges before departure. It was travel on another level, which hooked me on Business Class.
7. What frequent flyer programs are you digging into, and why?
I am across a mix of programs globally, some for obvious reasons – others less so.
For status, I’m in:
- Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Gold – from a 2021 offer where you could earn status without flying, so I transferred pretty much all points I had to Singapore Airlines so I could pay for my Suites flight and get status at the same time.
- Finnair Plus Platinum – I paid for a bunch of points in late 2021, which I transferred to turn into status (Oneworld Emerald) as well as a number of points and upgrade vouchers. It was a pretty good deal; you can even gift a friend a Gold card for 12 months. This should last until the beginning of 2025, dropping to Gold in 2024. I am in two minds about whether I renew my Finnair Plus status after this, but we shall see. Spending points on Finnair flights is okay value and pretty decent with the upgrade vouchers, but partners are very expensive.
For spending points, I like the following:
- Aeroplan (Air Canada) – not necessarily the best value but such a wide range of partners from Star Alliance through to Emirates and Etihad to more obscure airlines like Bamboo Airways. They clearly have a team who are avgeeks in charge! It’s just a shame that there are no transfer partners in the UK, but hopefully, this will change.
- Virgin Atlantic Flying Club – as a UK-based traveler, it’s easy to earn Virgin Points. The scheme is a lot more attractive now they have joined SkyTeam but also retain access to ANA and Singapore Airlines (for now). The cash portion on tickets is very expensive, though ironically, on Virgin Atlantic flights. I published a few articles on Virgin Atlantic joining SkyTeam here and a YouTube video on the basics of Flying Club here.
- BA Executive Club – by default! But actually, BA Avios flights are excellent value within the short-haul range (up to 5 hours). I will maybe go back to BA as my primary OneWorld program when my Finnair status ends in 2025.
8. Can you share some travel plans for 2023?
The first couple of months has been very busy with a work trip to Abu Dhabi and vacations in Singapore and Toronto/Montreal, Canada. Later in the year, I’ll be returning to the Philippines, tagging on a short visit to Bali, Indonesia, and Taiwan at the end.
9. What others bloggers inspired you?
I enjoy the content that is factual and detailed. Head for Points is excellent in the UK and has a pretty comprehensive range produced, which I find educational and helpful – especially in getting into the UK points and miles game. Outside this, I’m a regular reader of One Mile at a Time and Live and Let’s Fly. While some news stories they post are clickbait, which I understand because they need to capture their clicks, their trip reports and reviews are excellent.
On YouTube, I’m a fan of similar content – stuff that’s made more for avgeeks than general entertainment. The likes of Paul Lucas, Gabe Leigh (a relatively new one to me, but very well produced), and Matt’s Planet (excellent for travel ‘hacks,’ e.g. BA Executive Club, ex-EU fares, and honest reviews). Of course, AirLapse can fit into this category too!
If you’re feeling kind, please subscribe to my channel – I would be very grateful!
10. How do you handle reviews and partnerships?
This seems to be a very “hush hush” topic, producing polarising debate among readers. I think there is a careful balance to be had. My position is that I am open to working with companies for reviews but only on the proviso that I have complete editorial control.
I do not give companies a preview of the article; the first time they see it is simultaneous with my readers. All my media stays at hotels are clearly stated in the reviews, which helps make reviewing premium properties more sustainable in the long term. Some may disagree with that approach, but this aligns with practices in other industries.
An example of this is technology reviews, where companies provide content creators with their products free of charge to review temporarily. If a company insisted on editing the content before my stay, I would refuse to work with them.