The last couple years have flown by at warp speed for me. I spent 2014 living in Seoul, South Korea. 2015 was a year of traveling. It was the year I visited 15 countries and really started to get serious with turning my blog into my career. And 2016 - wellllll - 2016 has taught me to fail spectacularly.
Ever wonder how a
struggling professional blogger pays for the travel lifestyle when they first go pro? Well -the short answer is - we don’t pay for other shit.
In 2015 Lindsay and I spent a year living in a shitty one bedroom apartment in Harrisburg, PA. We both worked 60 hour work weeks and slept on a mattress on the floor. We ate meals made of mostly carbs on a card table in the corner of our living room.
All of our money was being funneled into building independence, this blog and maintaining my travel schedule in 2015.
When we run out of money or had a big expense coming up, I’d pick up a quick freelance gig or serving job to help keep us afloat.
In that same year, I was gifted a car from a media company [No I didn’t get to keep it] and stayed in luxury hotels around the world. The difference between my every day and the opportunities blogging had afforded me was astounding. My blog was big enough to find interested advertisers but I wasn’t big enough to support both of us on the blog alone.
It was embarrassing because in order to pay for my dream I had to sacrifice the basics that most people would never dream of going without.
For about 6 months I was blogging and freelancing by day and serving at a restaurant at night. I worked 80 hours a week and tucked away money to move to a bigger city, where I believed we’d have more opportunities.
For me, in 2015 the work was worth it, I sacrificed and I got to see the world. For Lindsay, well - she had a full-time job in a field that has no respect for work/life balance. She couldn’t travel with me. So ultimately, she sacrificed to see me grow.
I’ve learned to see her sacrifice as love in the truest form.
Eventually, I burned out. I hated being away from Lindsay so much and I began to dream of the goals I had before travel blogging.
At the end of 2015, Lindsay and I developed goals for 2016. The weird part? We accomplished them all by April. We rented a stunning apartment in Washington DC, she got a new job, and I went to work full time and started blogging part-time. We visited Miami and started planning our wedding in Ecuador.
I made the commitment to Lindsay that she would benefit more from our mutual hard work. I put the blog on the back burner and only took press trips when we could both travel.
Eight months later we both realized what a big mistake we’d made.
I had failed at being stationary. I failed at working for someone else. And I failed at attempting to return to an older version of myself who valued the trappings of an urban young professional’s life.
That just isn’t me anymore.
There was a time in my life that I honestly believed that my job titled correlated to my value. In the beginning of my pro blogging days, I tried to apply that same logic and I realized that collecting followers didn’t make me happy. Those days are over. Becoming a travel blogger has killed my American Dream. I don’t need the validation of a title on a business card or to break records of followers for me to see my own ambitions as worthy and valid.
I lost 600 followers on Instagram this year. Not because I didn’t care or because I wasn’t working hard, but because I was busy trying to figure out what makes me happy and fulfilled.
When you’re on the road, working for yourself, with few friends in your timezone and you don’t speak the local language - well- you develop a level of independence and time management unparalleled to other situations in life. I’ve come to realize that I am destined to build my own empire rather than spending 40 hours a week making someone else’s dreams come true.
Travel blogging has forced me into rapid self-reflection and personal growth over a very short period of time. I learned to shift gears and the importance of a clutch while merging my motorcycle through 5 lanes of traffic in Vietnam. I’ve questioned my personal ethics while watching stick thin children and animals in a Thai indigenous community. I committed my love and loyalty to my wife on the side of a volcanic plane in Ecuador. I walked through the Killing Fields in Cambodia where the skulls of genocide victim’s line Buddhist pagodas. Experiences like these have forced me to grapple with difficult questions and to challenge myself. It’s killed my acceptance of monotony and forced me to see freedom in a completely new light.
Freedom in Practice Rather Than Theory
There’s nothing quite like traveler’s diarrhea on a long haul bus ride to force you to evaluate your choices and how you’ve come to be where you are in life.
I leave you to ponder the details of that one, but even when I epically fuck up my traveling adventures I realize that I wouldn’t change a thing. NOPE not even after the time I missed my flight in London and spent an outrageous amount of time sleeping on the airport floor.
Blogging, travel, and the queer community are passions of mine that run so deep they set my soul on fire.
Blogging has taught me that there’s more to life than a constant loop of work/home/sleep. I refuse to believe that my life is meant to be a never ending cycle of obligations that I dread. I’m just not allowing that to happen.
I’ve failed at the loop of respectability politics.
I love being able to help my community experience the world. I love teaching through my writing and experiences. Blogging has afforded me the ability to choose what I write about, how I schedule my day, where I’m able to travel and what projects I work on.
In 2016 I learned more than ever that my value is independence over all things. Travel blogging will never make me rich or famous, but it does give me enough space to live comfortably and own my own terms. I am more than willing to sacrifice in order to have that flexibility. The most important thing I learned this year was that independence, adventures, and experiences will always trump fancy apartments and stuff.
Growth Means Outgrowing
I moved away from New York four years ago. Everything back home has moved forward in time but has stayed the same. I’ve changed. I’m unrecognizable in some ways.
I used to wear a knee length dress and heels almost every day. These days my style is more oversized sweatshirts and jeans. But it’s not just being a fashionista that I’ve failed at - it’s my core. I’m in the process of developing a capsule wardrobe and limiting my clothing to 30 pieces total. Stuff - no matter how beautiful does not make me happy. It’s a distraction from that which truly matters. That’s not to say I’m going to sell everything I own or that I judge those who do like things. I’m making this choice to grow in new ways.
I’ve also failed in my relationships.
I used to be a social butterfly. In New York I couldn’t go to a queer bar or party without running into at least a dozen people I communicated with regularly.
My former best friend turned 30 a few weeks ago. Her and two other close friends went on a trip to celebrate.
Not being invited stung. It really stung. To the point that I had to unfollow and hide some of the photos on social media. I cried myself to sleep the night I realized that she didn’t value our relationship in the same way anymore. It’s not her fault. I still care about her. We just grew apart.
I can’t relate to some of her hopes and dreams. I prioritized seeing the world and she prioritized her goals. 2016 has shown me that people who were main fixtures in my life may not be supportive of my current goals and may not be as important anymore. That’s not to say my dreams are better or worse than theirs are because they’re not. Our priorities have changed.
2016 has taught me that I need to learn to love people around me without expectations that they’ll change or value the same things that I do. This is one I’m still struggling with because If I’m being very honest - it hurts to fail people.
Spoiler; I’m never going to get rich traveling the world for a living. Running out of money keeps me humble. Shit happens. Unexpected expenses pop up and business investments will fall into my lap. It makes Lindsay want to stab me, but it keeps my head from getting too big.
I’m the happiest when I’m adventuring with Lindsay, so that’s what we’ll do. Some may say it’s self-indulgent and irresponsible, but to be honest, I’m done living based on other people’s expectations.
That doesn’t mean I won’t be working. Being my own boss is harder than any job I’ve ever had. This life means self-discipline, work/life balance, and always having a contingency plan.
In 2017 we’re going to focus on adventures and building a life we can sustain on our own terms. In 2017 we’ll be taking a family member on a dream trip. We’ll be moving out of the over priced apartment. We’ll be helping another family member find her own dreams and we’ll be setting up a life with mobility and experiences at the very core.
So maybe I wasn’t a complete failure this year. Where I lack in blind obedience to authority I gain in entrepreneurial fire and unwavering determination.
Here’s to more adventures in 2017.
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