The truth about being a travel blogger

“How do you stay motivated?” a friend says over soy chai lattes one warm Brisbane morning as she dunks her spoon into the foamy cinnamon-sprinkled milk floating at the top of her cup. The conversation has shifted to me and my work-from-home lifestyle as a writer and blogger.

“If I worked from home I’d spend all day on the couch watching daytime television,” she says. There have certainly been moments when I’ve spent hours at home sitting in front of the box still wearing my pajamas at 2pm, lacking motivation, wondering what project I should focus on, what I should do next, whether or not midday is an inappropriate hour to brush my teeth for the first time that day, but most of the time I’m sitting at the dining table working on the laptop from early in the morning until I get hungry (every few minutes). Every moment spent procrastinating could potentially be an opportunity lost.

Being a travel blogger, or a travel writer, looks glamorous and adventurous on paper. The photos I share on my blog and Facebook page are mostly of me having an amazing time, eating delicious food, being embraced by locals in distant landscapes that are so different from what I’m used to back home.

The truth about being a travel blogger

Awkward posing with the locals

But there are moments of stress, too, of uncertainty, of questioning: Am I doing the right thing? Should I grew up and start behaving like a responsible adult yet? Do I need a reliable income? Is paying rent on time really all that important?

I am an incredibly anxious traveller, too, so while I might look adventurous in my photos, I am secretly wondering if this activity will be my last. Just over the weekend my boyfriend said to me: “In your travel photos you look so adventurous, but in real life you’re a big wuss.” It’s true.

The truth about being a travel blogger

Looking adventurous, but actually very nervous about crashing my bike.

That’s what drew me to travelling in the first place. I felt overprotected and grew tired of being warned about every hazard around every corner by my incredibly sweet and well-meaning mother. Watch out for the sun, Sarah, you’ll burn. Watch out for the sea, Sarah, you’ll drown. Watch out while you go hiking, Sarah, you might slip off a cliff and fall to your death. My mum means well, she really does. But travel gave me an opportunity to push the boundaries of my fear and see where I ended up (often with concussion, to be frank).

On my forth or fifth trip to Colombia, sitting in the departure lounge in Brisbane, I had second thoughts about whether or not I should go. What am I doing? Is this too much of a risk? (A financial risk, not a physical risk. Because, duh, the only risk in Colombia is wanting to stay. Am I right?)

I’d wonder things like: Gee, wouldn’t life have been more straight forward if I had a passion for dentistry or accounting? Because making a living from being a travel writer is hard work (like anything!), but being a travel writer can be so unpredictable, that it sometimes leads me to think that what I’m doing is frivolous and irresponsible.

The truth about being a travel blogger

I take travel blogging very seriously, as you can see.

Towards the middle of last year I was left feeling completely frazzled. I found myself sobbing in the bedroom one afternoon feeling like an utter failure. My partner found me sitting on the side of the bed with my head in my hands. 30 years old and almost no savings, no stability, no plan, no idea of what I was doing or what to do next. Lucky for me, my partner just listened without trying to “fix” the problem. But still, I just felt overwhelmed.

For the last 10 years I’ve been working as a writer, first with magazines and newspapers, then for online publications and blogs, and several times I have abandoned it. I’ve put down the pen, walked away from the computer and decided that writing just wasn’t for me.

“Maybe you should reconsider being a writer,” my editor once said to me one morning after inviting me into his office. “See Nathanial?” he said, peering out of his office window. “Nathanial is good. You? You’re just taking too long to get anywhere near good,” he said after reading my week’s food profiles and wedding stories.

As a 23-year-old I took it as a personal attack and decided that maybe he was right. Maybe I was supposed to be a musician or a yoga teacher or a dentist instead. Or perhaps a combination of all these things. Maybe I was more suited to becoming a one-woman band who practices yoga and is obsessed with oral health.

Travelling to Colombia rekindled my love of writing and blogging, which I am eternally grateful for, but it has been a challenge. And since I offer online courses about how to create a blog, I feel it is my duty to tell the truth about how I got here, what is involved, how I earn an income and whether it really is worth it. (Spoiler alert: It is totally worth it.)

But it isn’t all work trips, published stories and relationships with tourism companies. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to move into my parents’ place because I just couldn’t afford to pay rent. At one point a few years ago I was making $500 per month. When friends would invite me out for lunch, I’d make up an excuse and catch up for coffee instead. When I went shopping for groceries, I’d hand over my card at the counter and cross my fingers in my pocket that I had enough for whatever I’d bought that week (and it wasn’t caviar and crackers, that’s for sure).

I’ve spent savings to fund experiences in hopes of getting published. I’ve spent hours alone at my desk writing emails to publications, then follow-up emails, then follow-up emails to the follow-up emails, hoping an editor is ready to commission my work. I remember lying about living with my parents, I’d just tell people that I lived in a share house with a lovely couple, which wasn’t a complete lie, really.

I’m not telling you all of this because I want you to feel sorry for the fact that cup-o-noodles were my go-to meal for a while there, because I’m not, I’m telling you that despite the challenge, despite feeling like nothing was going right, I kept on going. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I kept on going because it wasn’t the outcome that was so important after all, it was the act of writing that had become the real reward.

Now I would like to share a warning, because the trend in blogging, it seems, is to quit your job in order to pursue a dream (Uh, hello, my eBook is called How to Quit Your Job to Travel the World, so I have definitely followed this trend) but you don’t have to quit your job to live your dream at all, heck you can if you want to, but it’s not completely necessary. Your creativity doesn’t need to be burdened by that kind of pressure.

I often hear from fellow bloggers who ask things like: How do you keep going? Why is this not working for me? Why aren’t I making any money? And I would have to say, blog and write as if the journey is the reward.

Because, here’s the truth, at some point you might move back in with your parents or sleep on a friend’s couch for a significant amount of time. You’ll probably, at least once (a week), cry about the lack of work/publicity/opportunities you are getting. You will constantly grapple with doubts about whether or not you have any talent. I can almost guarantee that the working at home alone to travel ratio will be around 12:1. You might even get a dog to keep you company. You most certainly will begin talking to said dog as if he will talk back. Eventually you’ll think you can communicate with the dog telepathically (of course you can, you two are tight). At some point you might even want to give up. And if it no longer inspires you or brings joy to your life, then quit. Go on. But if you quit and you find nothing else gives you joy like writing a blog does, then get straight back into it.

Where I’m at now

Now things are looking pretty good. I have a few publications that commission my work regularly, I have an amazing community of readers (hello, that’s you!) who support my work, and I truly, truly love what I do – heck, I wouldn’t still be doing it if I didn’t!

If you’re wondering about how to become a travel blogger or a travel writer yourself, then just know that there are sacrifices, and you will probably be locked up at your desk more than you think, but if there is a passion inside you that is only ignited by travelling and writing, then it can be such a rewarding and fulfilling adventure.

“Can you actually make a living doing what you do?” my friend asks as she scoops the bottom of her chai-stained cup, licking the froth from her spoon. “You absolutely can,” I say. “With hard work, some grit and a lot of love, you absolutely can.”

If this post hasn’t swayed you from your dream of becoming a travel blogger, then good for you! You might want to sign up to my course all about creating your very own blog. Click here to find out all about it.

Have you come across hurdles trying to follow your passion (who hasn’t?!)? I’d love to hear all about how you managed to keep on keeping on. Share your experiences with us all in the comment section below.

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The truth about being a travel blogger