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6 months ago, I left my year-long home of Barcelona and packed my life into a small, boxed suitcase, backpack, and purse, and set out on an indefinite journey to pursue my, once hobby of travel blogging, as a full-time career.
Through the laughs, tears, and inevitable stretches of perpetual brokeness, I’ve discovered so much.
It wasn’t always easy, heck to be honest, it was never easy, and it’s not because of the roadblocks, it’s in spite of them, that I can look back and feel a sense of accomplishment about it all.
I’m writing this from the charming city of Edinburgh, Scotland, where I first visited as a study abroad student in 2012.
It was the city and country where I took my first solo trip.
It’s where the little wanderlust sperm cells attacked my passport and jizzed all over its pages. Sorry, getting graphic here. Back to the point I go.
I guess it’s just a bit crazy to think that I booked a one-way ticket to Europe just a week after graduating from Baker University back in 2013, only having a way to fund traveling for 6 months, but was determined to find a way to turn that 6 months into a year.
Well, oops. I ended up turning it into 2 years. And counting.
Starting this blog out of pure fun, I had no idea of the potential it’d come with.
As I worked random gigs here and there around Europe from interning at a British institution to au pairing to working reception at hostels to playing semi-professional basketball overseas, I always kept my blog as a side hustle.
I didn’t invest the time I should’ve in the beginning, nor did I have the slightest clue of what direction I wanted to take it.
Heck, just a week after moving to Barcelona with $100 to my name, I got an email from my domain and host accounts saying my annual $75 fee was due in order to maintain my website and keep things running.
Dream, meet struggle.
The two got along really well.
Every time I felt myself inching closer to my dreams, some sort of struggle would take the center stage.
You see, the idea of being a travel blogger is so much prettier than the reality of it.
I think if people knew even half of what goes on behind the scenes, they’d all of a sudden find their cubicles that they complained about daily, to be sufficient.
I remember being on assignment once with some travelers and they were just awed at the idea that someone could travel for a living.
But all it took was a couple days before they admitted they didn’t desire it nearly as much, after having seen what goes on behind the scenes; such as the need to capture things constantly because you never know what will be the golden content to share later or satisfy a brand.
Nevertheless, in a career where I couldn’t be happier, I thought I’d share the 6 biggest discoveries I’ve learned, hoping that it might bring some clarity or perspective to any one else wanting to pursue the unique and ever-evolving industry of travel blogging.
1. There will always be an awkward and inevitable discomfort when someone tells you you’re “living the dream”.
If not daily, I’m told at least every other day via social media or in person that I’m “living the dream!” And let me put a disclaimer by saying that by my own definition of wanting to travel the world for a living, then yes, I’m absolutely living my dream and couldn’t be happier about that!
This was the dream I set out to find a way to achieve over two years ago. So yes, by my standards, this is that dream. I’m living it. And it’s one of the most refreshing feelings in the world.
BUT… from its tone or context when said, I can’t help but feel like it slightly discredits all the work that goes into not only building my platform, but sustaining it as well.
People view this job as a nonstop vacation with 100% freedom, bottomless pockets, and copious amounts of alcohol.
While the latter might be true to sometimes deal with the workload, it’s definitely not the standard. And because our Instagrams serve as our portfolio for brands, we have to craft and curate our lives to an extent.
No, it’s not putting on a facade, because just like you wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to share a picture of your extramarital affairs or your toddler’s diarrhea-stained bed toys, you share the highlights of your life because that’s exactly what it is — a high[lighted] moment of your life that you want to remember and hope others can share your happiness in.
This industry is competitive, and without coming off as narcissistic, you have to find a way to constantly produce quality content that’s not only engaging, but keeps people wanting more.
The dream for me, came at the price of sometimes having to choose between laundry or lunch.
The dream for me, came at the price of telling my mother that I couldn’t be what she wanted me to be (a doctor or lawyer) and knowing there will always be a strain in our relationship because of that.
The dream for me, came at the price of losing staring contests with laptop screens while Googling the crap out of every single detail about this industry that I hadn’t
and still haven’t figured out.
So the “luck” you give credit to for my successes, please don’t forget to acknowledge the doors I’ve knocked down in the process, the walls I’ve climbed over in the journey, and the barriers I’ve bruised my body running through in the storm.
2. There’s an unhealthy amount of gossip, envy, and hate within the travel blogging community.
As a naturally happy-go-lucky person, I’m all about the good energy and positive vibes. I feed off the inspiration of equally driven people, and just like oxygen, there’s plenty of work to go around for everyone.
But travel bloggers are naturally competitive people, which makes sense, as this is a really competitive field!
You’re essentially fighting for the right to work with amazing brands, who if you’re lucky, actually see value in investing in travel bloggers beyond the lucrative payment of “exposure”.
When I first started out, I used to casually chat and cyber-hang with so many other rising travel bloggers. Many of whom were at my level or slightly higher.
This year, and especially in the past few months, big things have been happening.
The Blog Abroad has been growing at an exponential rate and it’s to the point where even I get slightly uneasy seeing other people brag or flaunt my content around like it’s the best thing since sliced bread.
I own my confidence, but I don’t ever want to think so highly of myself that I become allergic to the necessary slices of humble pie I try to maintain in my regular diet.
A couple fellow travel bloggers who used to share my content (back in its early days) have told me they now feel a bit threatened, as they don’t want to lose readers from their own blog if those readers started relating to my content more. ERRM, WOT?! As if people were only allowed to read one blog to begin with?
It’s like saying Beyonce fans could never be Rihanna fans at the same time. Good music is good music, and the same goes with content. People will consume as much of it as they like, so why treat this stage like it’s got one spotlight?
When a girl told me this, I had to laugh. I mean, I appreciated her honesty, but I felt more disheartened by it than anything. Why the insecurity? Dimming my light won’t make yours shine any brighter, but if you’re comfortable in your darkness, just don’t expect any light from my direction either.
I value my space and the type of people and energy I allow in my circle.
I never feel threatened by a powerful woman, only inspired.
And don’t get me wrong, there are heaps of amazing mentors and friends in this community, but unfortunately, just as many haters.
I almost felt like I was losing friends in the industry because they saw my success growing faster than theirs.
It’s like people want you to be successful, just never more than them. Because then, you become a big, bad threat. And eww, competition! Get it away! Get it away!
And once I learned that, it made me appreciate my readers even more. Other travel bloggers aren’t what define my success nor will they be the ones to catalyze it. It’s the loyal readers and wanderlusters that propel me forward and keep me motivated. So if you want to join this industry, prepare to feel like you’re back in high school.
Minus the acne.
3. Money kinda sucks.
Talking about it. Negotiating it. Comparing it. Earning it. Crying over the lack of it, ha.
One thing I love to encourage, is for people to chase their dreams despite what their bank account suggests. The only problem people might face with that is when they have million dollar dreams and a minimum wage work ethic.
Let me be crystal clear when I say your debt does not have to be your destiny. Your hustle will define your future better than anything else, not your savings account.
And the minute I realized that, I knew I wasn’t gonna stop grinding until my passion became my paycheck.
I tell people all the time, if you want to be a travel blogger for the money, you’re in the wrong business.
In fact, you may want to catch the next flight back to the land of 9-5’s while they still run trips every half hour since a majority of bloggers give up in their first year when they don’t make money right away.
Your first check probably won’t come for several months, maybe even years after starting your blog.
But even when you get to a point where you’re able to charge on collaborations, you’re constantly questioning whether you’re underselling yourself.
You put a price on something and then realize it took you 10x more stress and time than you initially thought it would, but oh well, you’ve already signed the dotted line
in blood. No backsies!
Luckily, travel blogging is such a fulfilling job for me, that I’d do it for free. And that’s when you know you’ve found your calling in life. When you’d do it regardless of the dollar amount attached to it.
At the same time, you’d run yourself to the ground doing work that didn’t put food on the table at the end of the day.
Just because you enjoy your work, doesn’t mean you should feel guilty getting paid for it. For some reason, I struggled with this so much.
I could smile all day long, but Sallie Mae doesn’t cash those kinda
I remember when I first started my photography business in college. My first clients were peers, classmates, and friends. I can’t tell you how terrified I was to charge my friends for something they looked at as a hobby.
Trying to explain to your friends that you’re transitioning from recreational to professional in something, and them not being as entrepreneurial-minded on top of that, they still interpreted it as something you enjoy and do for fun. Hence, “Hook it up, Glo!”
It’s funny, friends would invite me to parties and events, then coyly mention that my camera was also invited if I wanted to “bring it for fun“.
So wait, are you inviting me or my camera? Because we work as a team, but we don’t accept opportunistic invites. Is it me you want there celebrating with you, or my camera capturing moments for your new profile picture?
A couple months after I bought my first DLSR in 2010, a friend from the college football team came up to me after seeing a couple graphic design posters I made for his teammates and said, “You know, if you’re this good at something, you really oughta charge for it.”
Wait a minute, you think I’m good?! Like, I could pass as a professional and stuff???
WHOA. MIND BLOWN.
I had to learn to accept compliments for what they were. And master the art of discerning people who were being genuine from people who were being nice, because everyone is quick to tell you what you want to hear, and not what you need to hear.
But the minute I started buying into the positive feedback from my work, is when I was able to take things to another level.
The lightbulbs that went off must’ve looked like an entrance to Heaven, because everything was so much brighter from there. And this was back in 2010.
But even today, no matter how successful I may have become, I will never feel comfortable discussing the income side of travel blogging. I love the freedom and ability to be in a position to dictate it, but nothing brings out my awkwardness more.
And because I’m no longer driven by money, but rather by results and tangible evidence that I’ve inspired someone to see the world, my life and experiences will always be priceless.
4. There will be a constant lack of direction and a ton of self-doubt.
How do I keep my blog entertaining?
Why aren’t these brands answering my emails?
Did I pitch them too aggressively?
Maybe they’ve never worked with black people? LOL. But, really.
How often should I be self-promoting?
Does this come off as narcissistic?
What time should I post this article?
Wait, not yet, America doesn’t wake up for another 7 hours.
Am I wasting my time?
What am I even doing with my life?
Will this career last forever?
Will I eventually have to grow up and “get a real job?”
Why am I so damn broke?
Why are there cockroaches in my bed? I didn’t pay for that kinda room service.
How can I ever vent or complain without sounding ungrateful?
Am I allowed to complain given my circumstances?
Nah. I’ll just sound like a whining b*tch.
Okay, bottling up my emotions it is.
And all of a sudden, you find yourself in this vicious cycle of anxiety, stress, and confusion about every living detail of your life. And worst of all, you’re having this [internal] dialogue alone. Because who could possibly relate without judging?
Who could understand? Who could empathize? Because, suck it up right?
But I learned you have to be your own source of comfort and strength, because even the days you feel worthless, overwhelmed, and unsure, you’ll get that random email, or sudden book purchase, or Facebook comment that reminds you of your purpose. Even on days when you can’t see it, someone else always does.
5. You’ll develop an introverted side.
Being an extroverted traveler is exhausting! It catches up to you after so many months and years on the road.
You realize your body, mind, and soul are constantly adapting to unfamiliar surroundings, accommodating the needs of others, and putting on your best face to entertain those around you.
It almost becomes a chore as you find yourself ditching plans to hide in your room and just remember what it’s like to not have to put pants on all day.
You find the approval of others (un)necessary evils, because while everyone wants to be liked, sometimes the effort we put forth isn’t worth it, because people will judge, criticize, and hate if they want to anyway.
You could be the kindest soul in the world and still be judged for it. So why bother even making an effort when you’re not in the mood?
While trying new foods, meeting new people, and experiencing new environments constantly is incredible, it’s also twice as exhausting long-term and sometimes your body just craves nothing more than sleeping in the same cramped bed for more than two nights in a row.
Little everyday comforts that are overlooked in the first few months or even year of nonstop travel are quickly remembered once the honeymoon phase passes.
And despite this newfound introversion, the cure is just to find balance in having a healthy social life, while prioritizing your personal time even more.
6. There are no days off.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again.
I rather work 24 hours a day for myself than even 1 hour a day for someone else.
You can’t put a price on the freedom to wake up when you want, live where you want, and work how you please. That’s a special type of blessing I’ll never underestimate.
That being said, the grind mode never really switches off. And because you have total control over your life and destiny, you need to stay sharp. You need to always be pitching, promoting, and working around the clock to grow and nurture the audience and platform you’ve worked so hard to build.
Whether I’m up late trying to tackle my never-ending inbox of travel questions from readers, or lending casual travel advice to friends, or even engaging in thought-provoking comment threads in Facebook travel group forums like Girls Who Travel #GWT, there’s always something I’m doing to grow myself or my brand.
I can’t tell you the last day that passed when I didn’t have to open up my blog, email, and/or answer to something travel-related.
It’s for this reason that I don’t have a Facebook Fan Page. My life and my travels overlap so much, that it’d be pointless for me. Not to mention the fact that Facebook’s algorithm was put together by a toddler, so I much prefer that my friends and “fans” coexist in the same space, and whatever private things I want to reserve for friends can be adjusted at the time I post.
I’m writing this now as I watch the clock fade into another day, now 3:30AM, knowing good and well I have a 5AM bus I need to catch soon.
Not a travel blogger’s priority, I’ll tell you that much.
Whether travel blogging is something you want to pursue, is something you’re fascinated by, or something you’d like to learn more about, I’m more than happy to expound on any points in detail through email.
One thing to note is that this is solely my journey and I’m fairly confident in saying no two travel bloggers journeys will be the same.
We’re all just kinda guessing our way to the top if we’re new to the industry, so take what I say with a grain of salt — but also consider taking like a million of those grains, because #truthbombs.
Whether you read this from the outside-looking-in or vice versa, I’m curious to hear your thoughts and if anything surprised or resonated with you.
As I’m getting ready to cross into another year of this crazy, unbelievable journey, you can bet the discoveries, lessons, and memories will be just as plentiful.
So please don’t put me on a pedestal because of my title. Instead, put me in your prayers.
Pray for mental strength, a fighter’s heart, and the capacity to sustain a platform that has the ability to empower and inspire people around the world. Because this journey is so much more than what it can do for me.
And when it’s all said and done, I want the legacy of people I’ve inspired to live on long after I have.