As I started to write my ‘year end’ posts for 2019, I realized that there was one important area of my life I was skipping over: travel blogging/being a creative professional in the travel industry. I shared some observations in my sixth blogiversary post, but I didn’t necessarily translate them as prescriptive ideas for those reading.
This post is meant to ‘remedy’ that, to share the blogging lessons I’ve learned this year, as well as a few directions for us all as we head into the 2020s. At a higher level, I think it’s critical that we discuss issues like these to grow as professionals and push our industry forward. It’s easy to be insular and ‘in the trenches’ (how I describe daily life as a full-time blogger). But, as I become more of a second generation OG blogger, I want to cultivate and contribute to a wider discussion of the work I do.
These blogging lessons are ones I specifically learned this year, so while they might sound a bit generic, they actually tie directly to trips I took in 2019 and lessons I learned (usually the hard way). I’d love your thoughts too, so check the end of the post and let me know what you think in the comments. Here’s raising the glass to better professionalism and greater success in the new decade!
#1. There is Such a Thing as Too Much Travel
I get it, humble reader: to say ‘I’ve been traveling too much’ sounds like an impossibility. If you’re reading my blog, you’re likely dreaming of traveling more not less.
But I guarantee no matter who you ask – if you travel a lot, you’ll eventually hit a wall and know you’ve traveled too much. Consultants hit the wall with their crazy commute-traveling; full-time travel bloggers hit it at some point when they’ve been moving around for months or maybe years.
As a full-time blogger/writer and part-time traveler, I hit my wall after too many months of being on the road more than 50% of the time. I could feel it in my bones: every part of my life was suffering, rather than improving, from being gone so much. I understand that travel will always require sacrifice in some areas of life (relationships, perhaps physical health), but when my mental health started to turn south and Mr. V and I didn’t have enough time to reconnect to one another between trips, I knew I had to slow down.
The stories and experiences weren’t worth it. After that whirlwind of travel (54% in March, 50% in April, 58% in May, 60% in June, and then 65% in August) and crunching to meet countless assignment deadlines during that time, I had to slow down. I still haven’t gotten over that burnout and sense of exhaustion about traveling for work… but taking a few months’ break is a good start.
#2. There’s No Place Like Home
As a corollary to #1, but also it’s own point, as Dorothy says: there’s no place like home.
Actually, I feel that this quote better summarizes the way I learned this lesson in 2019:
No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. – Lin Yutang
While there’s an inimitable excitement on takeoff each time I’m headed somewhere new, I love sinking into (most) hotel beds, and I relish trying new foods, cheers-ing with locals, and exploring hidden corners of the world… These can’t compare with the first time laying down in my own bed with my own pillow.
And having traveled to a few places this year with less developed tourism infrastructure, I can also say that coming home to one’s own toilet is a great comfort too.
These earthly amenities pale compared to the first hug I receive from Mr. V after a long trip away. I am fortunate to have found my other person (and to travel with him as often as I do). But, pillows and toilets aside, home is where he is, and how much I like spending time with him competes with how much I love to travel. 2020 will be a bit more balanced in that way, I hope!
#3. Be Pleasant to Work With & More Work Will Come
I had the chance to work on a few projects that taught me this lesson in 2019. Especially in the creative arts, our success requires the hard work and support of many other people. If you are kind, grateful, and do good work – people will support you and lift you up. New opportunities will come your way. One great example of this is the Lonely Planet video project I got to work on in September. Another is my friend Vita – she has been such a delightful human that I continue to introduce her to great job opportunities; she took over for me at Go Overseas last month when I left my role there after three years.
Conversely, if you are an asshat and make everyone around you miserable, you can totally expect that to eventually bite you on the ass. As I mentioned in my 2019 annual recap, I traveled with a real [insert mean word here] this past year. This person made my trip exceptionally unpleasant at times, and I will never forget their close-minded and unprofessional approach to being a ‘professional’ travel blogger. You can also bet I’ll never work with them on another project again – and I’ll tell any client every single reason why.
#4. You Can Make the World A Better Place
This is a wider extension of #3 above for all of us – whether or not we’re professional full-time travel writer blogger influencer whatevers. Around this time of year (the holidays, the new year), everyone’s all giving and grateful and caring – but it’s important to keep that mindset all year long, especially as a professional traveler.
When we set out on a trip, we are emissaries of our homeland and culture. It doesn’t matter whether we want that responsibility – it is a given that the people you meet are ambassadors for their way of life, and you are for yours in turn. As a travel blogger whatever you call yourself, it is your job to exchange cultures. Try new things. Discuss difficult ideas with a conscious and open mind.
If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion & avoid the people, you might better stay home. – James A Michener
The above quote summarizes it perfectly. You must try the food, embrace the customs, consider the religion, and meet the people as a travel blogger. If you do this – and you do it with an open heart and gratitude for the amazing opportunity and privilege you have –, you will change the world for the better. The people you meet on the road will remember you fondly, will mimic your openness, and embrace their own new experiences rather than insulating themselves.
We have a responsibility to be kind, good people when we travel, because that makes the world a kinder, better place.
#5. Don’t Believe the Lie: Nobody’s Traveling for Free
Just because somebody else is footing the bill for your fave Influencer’s latest trip doesn’t mean they’re not expected to deliver something else worth value in return. I’m not an Instagram star, but from what I hear it can take hours and hundreds of takes to get every single shot you finally see on your feed. Some people spend less time – but they’re usually doing other kinds of work instead (stories, blogging, or other contingent work).
Similarly, just because I got paid to go on a trip doesn’t mean I am off the hook to produce a bunch of deliverables that usually add up to way more time-value than I was paid. As we all aim for more paid work in 2020 and beyond, it’s important to remember that as content creators, we’re expected to deliver value in exchange for compensation – whether that’s in-kind (“free” travel) and/or additional payment.
I’m sure fake influencers will continue to peddle courses they didn’t write to try and make money off the desire to travel for free. Don’t fall for it. Travel blogging is a marathon of work, but it has great benefits. If you’re doing it right, it’s a job, but it’s one you love and are grateful to have.
I certainly am grateful, and look forward to sharing adventures with y’all in 2020 and beyond.
To my blogger friends: Did you learn these lessons, or other ones?
To my non-blogger readers: What do you think? Are there other things you wish travel bloggers would learn?