vanessa island drum

Love of Travel Series: The Beat of an Island Drum – Meet Vanessa!

Have you ever wanted to live on an island?  Well, for this installment of our “Love of Travel” series, we’re talking with Vanessa the founder of The Island Drum.  Originally born in the states, Vanessa’s career and passion for art and travel has taken her to many parts of the world; and eventually took her to the island of Langkawai, Malaysia.  Vanessa spends her time exploring and taking selfies with locals, while sharing her travel tips and inspiration with readers all around the world.  So let’s get to know her a bit more…

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how The Island Drum came to be. 

The Island Drum website idea began its life as a simple Facebook group to keep track of various local events that might be happening in Langkawi, Malaysia. At that point I was actually piecing together a word doc for Monday through Sunday weekly events and posting it in the group. Obviously I had a lot of time on my hands. Two years later someone suggested I start a website. It was never my initial intention to begin with and it sure took on a life of its own!  

Where are you from and when did your “love of travel” begin?

I’m originally from Pensacola, Florida but my last port of call in the United States was nineteen years in San Francisco, California. I wouldn’t say I had a ‘love’ for travel as much as a ‘love’ of being somewhere new. But it wasn’t until I started doing travel research (for another website) that I truly began seeing the world through a different set of eyes. I hate to use the word ‘wanderlust’, but I do get itchy feet now and feel the need to go somewhere new with more frequency.

What is it like living on the island of Langkawi, Malaysia?

Langkawi is very limited in what it has to offer, especially when it comes to the arts and shopping, so I have changed my lifestyle drastically. Or perhaps simplified is a better way of putting it.  Cultural events, art and music scene, clubs to join or classes to take are inconsistent at best, so I just plan trips off island for those type activities.

How is Langkawi different than other parts of Malaysia?

Despite the ongoing development of the island, Langkawi still has parts that are reminiscent of the ‘good old days’. With a few traditional looking buildings still intact and enough elders maintaining traditional behavior in lifestyle.
But where other parts of Malaysia are inclined to embrace various cultures within the Malaysian culture, with events which celebrate ‘culture’, Langkawi does not. So, outside of the hotel industry, you will primarily see Langkawi events and activities focused on the Malay population, with few events even promoted in English.

How long have you been living abroad and what do you enjoy about it?

I have been living abroad for about ten years now. Having easy and affordable access to further travels and a simpler way of life are appealing. Being so far away from family and friends has become more of an issue as I have gotten older. And that is one of the downfalls of living abroad. I’m unfortunately not in the financial position to jet set back home every few months for a dose of familiar civilization.

What is your favorite thing to do in Langkawi, and what would you recommend to visitors?

My favorite thing to do in Langkawi is to enjoy the peace and quiet of the early mornings. For Langkawi visitors I would recommend exploring what is still unique to Langkawi, and that is its nature. Shopping and theme park type activities are available elsewhere in Malaysia, but diverse nature is still strong in Langkawi. Visiting waterfalls, touring mangroves, cycling through padi fields are non strenuous and interesting.

For visitors to Malaysia, I would recommend not limiting themselves to an itinerary of Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Langkawi. Kota Bharu, Pangkor Island and Ipoh are three slightly off the beaten path locations that I have found especially interesting and diverse. They will also give visitors some insight into true Malaysian culture.

What destination has surprised you (good or bad) from your past travel experiences.  Why?

Malaysia has actually surprised me in many ways. All of the ‘expatriate’ guide books and how-to culture books didn’t prepare me what-so-ever. I have found that what makes Malaysia so unique is in fact its people. It’s not the beaches, food, temples, etc.. And for anyone visiting the top ten must see and dos in Malaysia will not have really experienced Malaysia. So for anyone who has it on their bucket list I would highly recommend allowing themselves more time to do a bit of ‘slow travel’ through some of the smaller towns.

What is your number 1 travel tip for people planning a visit to Malaysia?

Try to remember it isn’t Thailand. It is a completely different culture across the board.

Where is your favorite travel destination you have visited (so far, anywhere in the world)? and Why?

The British Virgin Islands is top of my list so far because I love clear water and true island style. Of course I haven’t been there in many years, but from memory their true island lifestyle really appealed to me.

What’s on your bucket list for future travel, and why?

Guam is at the top of my bucket list because my grandmother was born and raised there. I’m sure it’s nothing like it once was, but I still need to experience my Chamorro heritage.

 * All photos were kindly provided by Vanessa 

Vanessa Workman took a break from a career in hospital work and found that travel, blogging and social media were creative outlets she could sink her teeth into. She is the writer, editor, and creative director for The Island Drum.


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