When I decided
to quit my job to travel, I did the opposite of what I would recommend: I took
the "just go!" quotes literally, read inspirational gobbledygook about
how we only live once – and told myself that if I took even an hour to think
things through, I'd never end up travelling at all.
I was in my
late twenties, fresh from a brutal divorce that had left me empty and confused.
The moment I chose to take off, I was doing yoga on a rooftop in southern San
Francisco. It was near dawn; the sun was forcing the rolling fog off the Santa
Cruz Mountains. I was in the middle of a low lunge when the decision came to
me: I would leave the US and travel until I could travel no more.
I had no
savings (and only pennies in my checking account), plus more than $10,000 in
debt, including a bill from my divorce lawyer that still needed paying. I had
been abroad exactly four times, including just once as an adult. I had a
comfortable income as a wedding photographer, complete with a three-storey
house with two cars; I’d never stayed in a hostel or travelled alone. I didn’t
even own a traveller’s backpack.
What I did
have were two assignments as a travel photographer under my belt – and with
that alone, I thought, it would be easy. I could take those connections and
travel around the world, going from assignment to assignment via press junkets.
My first experience
was a road trip from Toronto to Las Vegas, paid for by a car delivery service.
Other sponsored trips followed and I started a travel blog. It was intended to
be my calling card for assignment travel photography.
Yet even with
my blog and past experience, email after email I sent to publications, trying
to get work, went unanswered. When they did get in touch, editors told me that
I had no chance of making a career with travel photography; my only chance was
to also provide the writing. While I struggled to get on the path that I wanted,
and as I expanded my blog to help get me there, I found myself wearing the hat
of a full-time blogger.
Luckily, I got
in at the right time. It was 2010, and the travel industry was just starting to
turn its attention to bloggers. As I never could have predicted, my blogging –
not my for-assignment photography – did take me around the world. I never had a
corporate sponsor, like some other travel bloggers, but I was able to link one
press junket to the next, where all of my travel was paid for by destinations
or brands. Over the next four years, I visited every continent but Antarctica.
One good strategy
I had early on was to become active on social media, concentrating on Twitter
and Instagram. At first, it was for personal reasons: I was desperately trying
to find a community to replace those that had evaporated from my life given my
divorce and move. I realized later that it was also free marketing for my
blogging and photography. Within two years, I was being asked to speak at travel
blogging conferences. Today, I have developed a name for myself in the niches
of mobile photography and technology – an effort that has helped me both make connections
within the industry and nurture a network of friends around the world.
The longer I
was nomadic, the more cultures I experienced. The more years I put between
myself and my divorce, the more I healed. My problems didn't go away, of course
– problems only become our baggage, carried with us as we roam – but I began to
see how I'd created my own problems, and saw how I could avoid them in the
Even more inspiring, however, was when I saw that my travels were also helping
other people. My blog and social media followers saw that I chased my dreams,
even when the odds were stacked against me – and told me over and over again
how they needed that kind of example, which was absent in their lives
I still don’t feel I’ve “made it”. I do know, however,
that I’ve come a long way in realising my dreams. And that was by just going
for it. I never did make a plan. Once on the road, with the narrow margins of
profit versus costs in travel, I never saved money. Making money while travelling
is an exception, not a rule. Even so, in my mid-thirties now, I have only a few
regrets. Chief among them is the people who have been negatively affected by
my lack of plan or savings. I’ve overextended my stay on friends' and relatives' couches,
for example, when breaks between press junkets lasted longer than I thought
they would. I’ve had moments where I couldn’t afford a plane ticket home. But I don’t regret the nights spent sleeping in bus
stations or the days without food to save money. I don’t even regret taking a
photo of some men in Istanbul that – because I had misunderstood whether they
gave me permission – led to an assault that left me with bruises. It hasn’t
always been easy, but I wouldn’t change the decision I made, those four years
ago, to leave everything and travel.
I would advise others considering a similar decision
not to listen to those who do not support your dream. But do not shame them for
doubting, either. We are all different in our levels of courage – and in the
way we view how life should be lived. As for me? In the words of motivational
author Mary Anne Radmacher, “I am not the same having seen the moon shine on
the other side of the world.” Maybe not such gobbledygook, after all.