Standing on the banks of the Charente River in southwestern France on a drizzly May 2012 afternoon, I tried to concentrate as my tour guide explained the architectural marvels of the Rochefort-Martrou Transporter Bridge that loomed high above my head. But I was barely listening. All I could think about was the phone call I’d just received.
Five minutes earlier, my boss had told me he thought I was on the wrong track in life; that being a Washington DC lobbyist probably wasn’t the best use of my skills. Standing there, as a light mist fell from French skies, I agreed to resign from my job. Still numb, I made some excuse to leave the tour group, sat in my rental car and sobbed. What had just happened?
It shouldn’t have been a surprise. I had long hated my job but was too scared to take the next step. I’ve always had a love affair with all things foreign and mysterious, and after studying international affairs at university and graduate school, I had intended to live out this passion for travel through my career.
But then I moved to Washington DC without a job or a place to live, and took the first opportunity that came along – as a lobbyist. I worked for non-profit associations, representing their needs before Congress in a kinder, gentler version of House of Cards. Even though I hated domestic politics, I needed a paycheck.
That fateful decision determined my life path for the next 12 years. I rose through the ranks, becoming a director at 30. I had everything in life that was supposed to make me happy: a significant other, a big house in the suburbs, nice cars and three dogs. I had enough money to travel to luxurious destinations around the world, from Bangkok to the Galapagos and everywhere in between. But I was unhappy – deeply unhappy – and I couldn’t figure out why.
I eventually realised that the problem was my job. Being a lobbyist was about black and white, right and wrong, and I needed a way to exercise the creative tendencies I’d long abandoned. More than five years ago now, on a rainy Saturday morning in March 2010, I decided to start my blog, LandLopers.com, I didn’t really even know what a blog was back then, and in 2010 I wasn’t alone. What I did know was that I needed a change in my life or my spirit would atrophy. For the first time, I saw that my life didn’t have to chug along on a single track.
My website grew quickly; I’d clearly struck a nerve. At the time I was one of just a few travel bloggers who had not sold their house, left their partner and strapped on a backpack to see the world. No, I was a working professional, and like the majority of other travellers out there, I had limited time to explore the planet. It’s still an angle I keep today; my trips are always a manageable length and I try to keep real world concerns in mind wherever I go. The average person can’t take a month off to cruise around Africa, but they can spend a couple of weeks exploring South Africa.
My goal was to somehow transition from being a lobbyist to blogging full time – but there was one problem: I couldn’t figure out how to earn a living. Since I didn’t want to sacrifice my happy suburban life, I had to find a way to make the same – if not more – money as I did as a DC lobbyist. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and it hasn’t been.
When I got that fateful call in France three years ago, I decided to split my time between travel and working. Conscious that I have a partner at home, I try to limit my on-the-road time to about 30% of the year, spread out so that I’m not gone for too long at once. When I’m in DC, I work on a number of different projects: I’m the editor for a couple of corporate blogs; I put together digital destination marketing campaigns for companies; I work as a spokesman on behalf of other companies and destinations; and I also do some work as a travel writer and photographer. I realised that being a travel blogger doesn’t have to be all or nothing – that I could create my own niche to suit my unique talents.
The best part? I make more money now than I did as a smarmy lobbyist. It’s not the blog itself that generates the bulk of my income, rather it’s the skills I learned creating it that have the most value. I am an entrepreneur in every sense of the word: if I’m awake, then I’m usually working. I’ve never toiled harder for something in all of my life, but I’ve also never been happier than I am now.
Since making the leap I’ve hung out with penguins on Antarctica, gone diving along the Great Barrier Reef and watched the Northern Lights from a frozen lake in Norway. Through sheer force of will I have created a life I never thought possible, one that a few years ago I was too afraid to even contemplate. I now know that while it may sound corny, anything in life is possible, all we need is the creativity and the willpower to make it happen.