Something has been nagging at my conscience lately. In the last couple of months, I’ve begun to feel a little bit adrift. It’s a case of uncertain identity, I guess you could say.
Despite how it may sometimes appear, I am not traveling the world for a living.
The places I go have little-to-no bearing on the work that I do. I write about the places I travel to, sure, but no one is paying me to do so. My flights are all paid for out of pocket (and with the help of travel rewards), and no one pays me a day rate to hoof it through a new city while documenting the experience.
The things that actually earn me a living are not directly related to my travels, and I prefer it that way.
In fact, I want to make it perfectly clear here that I am NOT complaining. I never wanted travel to be my job.
If I’m being really honest, that was one of my biggest fears about becoming a ‘travel blogger’ in the first place–that travel, the thing I loved so much, would eventually feel like work.
And this is where the feelings of ambiguous identity come into play.
Am I really a travel blogger? Do I even want to be one?
Maybe I just want to travel and drink wine. Yeah, that sounds about right.
In the scenario above, where a blogger not only earns money through a blog where they happen to write about travel but also gets paid to do the traveling on top of that, I’m describing a ‘professional travel blogger.’ The kind of person who might earn some passive income through their site, but earns the really big bucks by doing the actual traveling and subsequently producing loads of content from those trips.
They are the ‘travel personalities’ that inundate your social feeds; they are seemingly everywhere all the time, producing videos for YouTube, stories for Snapchat, and doing ‘takeovers’ for big travel brands on Instagram. They may still do plenty of traveling on their own dime (most of them do) but they make enough money from sponsored trips and sponsored content to sustain themselves.
I know plenty of these people, both personally and professionally. Most of them took many years to reach the level of success they now enjoy.
And while I admire these people with every fiber of my being, I do not envy them one bit.
Press trips–and I use the term loosely here, but I’m referring to the kind of travel where your expenses are covered, your schedule is decided by your host, and you are responsible for documenting and reporting the experience in a journalistic fashion–are a necessary evil if you want to make it as a professional travel blogger.
I feel comfortable phrasing it this way because there isn’t a single travel blogger I’ve spoken to who hasn’t acknowledged that there are two sides to the coin.
On the one hand, sponsored trips offer incredible opportunities to go places and do things that we might not have a chance to do otherwise. They take bloggers to the far reaches of the earth to see and experience the best of the best, feast on the most decadent meals, and luxuriate in the most lavish lodgings available.
Even if you’re not getting paid a day rate to be there, going on a trip with all expenses paid isn’t exactly a bad deal. We travel bloggers love to travel, after all, so who are we to turn down such an experience?
On a 6-day press trip last year in Catalonia, Spain. This was my birthday. #notmad
On the other hand, a press trip comes with a lot of pressure. A press trip is WORK from the moment you wake up in the morning until the moment you fall asleep face down on your laptop, still tipsy from whatever local spirit they loaded you up with before, during, and after dinner. A press trip means having a packed schedule from morning until dusk, often with little time to rest between activities, and all the while you are expected to produce content in real-time to share with your audience.
Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like the ninth circle of hell?
In my short blogging career, I have only been on a handful of such trips, but that was enough for me to realize they just weren’t my cup of tea–or at the very least, that I didn’t want them to form a cornerstone of my blogging strategy. Press trips in no way represent my preferred travel style (SLOW), and the benefit of traveling on someone else’s dime never outweighed the immense pressure I felt.
Reviewing beautiful accommodations or one-off experiences is a different story; this much I am usually more than happy to do in exchange for blog content and social media posts. But, you will likely never find me on another week-long blogging campaign, busting my hump to produce photos and videos and stories ’round the clock, no matter how cool of an experience I’m being offered.
This may be the holy grail of travel blogging for the majority of people entering the profession, but it just ain’t me.
I’d much rather enjoy a destination on my own terms, at my own pace, and on my own dime. That usually means homestays instead of 5-star hotels and cheap pastries for breakfast instead of fancy buffets, but it also means experiencing a place more like a local and less like an outsider which, for me, is kind of the whole point.
My slow and steady transition to a blog focused on location independence rather than solely travel is a reflection of this. What I’m really after is simply the freedom to travel where I want, when I want, and for as long as I want. To mesh with the unique fabric of each new city and learn what really makes its inhabitants tick.
These are the things location independence affords me, and it’s what I want to help other people achieve.
Do you have to be a travel blogger to do this? Absolutely not.
A location independent business can be anything you want it to be. Perhaps this is why I’ve felt a disconnect with the travel blogging community recently–my goal is NOT to travel the world forever; at least, not in the capacity that I’m traveling now. I don’t want to be paid in the currency of new experiences; these days, I’d much rather be rewarded with financial stability.
I’ve said this a lot in the last year or so, but the truth is, I’m tired. Physically, emotionally, mentally.
I try not to show it most of the time, but I’m really f*cking tired. Five years with no home base will do that to you.
I’ve found renewed physical energy by staying in fewer places for longer periods of time, but I still haven’t gotten it quite right.
I’ve found renewed creative energy among bloggers and entrepreneurs in a wide variety of niches, from content marketing to fashion to mommy blogging. Some of the most valuable (and unexpected) lessons I’ve learned recently have come from brick-and-mortar business owners. Who would have guessed?
At the end of the day, I truly don’t want to travel the world for a living. I just want to make a living while still having the ability to travel the world…but slowly.
I’ve never really loved the title of ‘digital nomad.’ I don’t particularly identify as a ‘travel blogger’ anymore. I still feel like an imposter calling myself an ‘entrepreneur.’ And yet, I learn the most by interacting with all of these groups rather than limiting myself to just one.
Maybe we should just do away with the labels altogether…
What do you think? Is a strong sense of identity important? Does it help us or just make us feel boxed in? Would you ever want to travel the world for a living?
Featured image by Sullivan & Sullivan Photography.