At the beginning of 2019, a Facebook memory popped up that caught my eye. It was from 10 years prior, February 2009, and in the way that Facebook used to make you write about yourself in the third person, it said Ali Garland “wishes there was a good way to make a job out of traveling.” Obviously this isn’t something I remembered writing 10 years ago, but I was happy to look back and remember that time.
I shared the memory and wrote, “Dear Ali of 10 years ago: you’ll figure out a way to do it.”
And how amazing is that? And wouldn’t it be great if I could somehow go back in time to that Ali and reassure her that it was possible?
Where I was 10 years ago
When I wrote that FB post almost 11 years ago, I had just gotten back from an amazing trip to Antarctica. My friend Amanda and I spent a few days in Santiago, Chile before the cruise left from Valparaiso. And then after the cruise, we spent a few days in Buenos Aires and a few days at Iguazu Falls, Argentina. I had a day on my own in Buenos Aires before my flight home and the inevitable return to work.
I was lucky at the time that my boss let me take 3 weeks off from work all together like that. It left me with 4 vacation days for the rest of the year, only because I had rolled over a few days from the year before.
In that year, I still managed more travel. I went to Seattle for a long weekend to visit friends. I used those remaining 4 vacation days to fly to Malta for a friend’s wedding followed by 24 hours in Dubrovnik. And I spent Christmas weekend in Florida.
In 2009 when I wrote how I wished I could make a job out of traveling, I knew the aviation insurance career I was in was not the right path for me. But I had no idea how to get out of it. I knew I loved to travel, and I felt so invigorated by that Antarctica trip.
Lots of false starts
Revamping my career wasn’t something that happened overnight. I was never one of those people who knew what their calling in life was. I never dreamed about following a specific career path, and so I often found myself fumbling through things and just sticking with it because I didn’t know what to do instead.
In the time between posting that Facebook status and quitting my insurance job, I did tons of things in an effort to get out of my job without really knowing what I was doing:
- Ten years ago, in December 2009, I took a weekend travel writing workshop through the Travel Channel. It was lots of fun, it felt amazing to be around so many people who loved travel so much, and it’s the thing that got me to start a travel blog. Sadly, the Travel Channel only ran the program two or three times.
- I applied and got accepted to a local university to get a second degree. I quickly realized spending thousands of dollars on college when I still felt so directionless wasn’t necessarily the best idea, so I never even started the program.
- I took Spanish classes through a local company, hoping that improving my Spanish might lead to a different career without the price tag of a second round of college.
- I researched and briefly considered teaching English as a second language in another country. Man, I would’ve hated that!
- I tried “working”, for no pay, with a website that was trying to launch, sort of as a learning experience, until the guy gave me my first assignment which basically amounted to spamming Facebook pages. I told him no thanks and kept looking for other options.
- I was also offered a transfer to Seattle by my insurance job, which I had once wanted to do, but by then I knew a new city wasn’t the change I needed. Plus I knew my new boss wouldn’t let me take more than a week off at a time, which was a big deal breaker for me.
So I was wide open to the idea of change by the time I met Andy, about a year and a half after that Facebook status.
Moving to Germany
I sometimes wish the catalyst for actual change in my life wasn’t a guy. Don’t get me wrong, I love Andy, and he is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I wouldn’t exchange meeting him for anything in the universe.
But it sometimes feels a bit un-feminist, a bit un-strong-independent-woman, to say that I quit my soul-crushing job and moved across an ocean to be with a guy, no matter how wonderful that guy is.
But maybe that’s just how it had to happen for me. Change is hard and scary. And change as big as ditching the career I’ve had for 9 years, intentionally foreclosing on my condo (yep, totally did that…it was 2011, the housing market was still crashing, and it was my only way out), getting married and moving overseas, all within the span of a few months…well, that’s enough to give anyone panic-induced hives in the week leading up to that flight across the Atlantic. (Yes, that totally happened too.)
I’m not sure I ever would’ve found the courage to take the leap (several leaps really) without having Andy as the best reason to do it all.
And really, it was still a gigantic decision to uproot my life like that and start new, guy or no guy. Many people would not have taken the chance on a guy who lived 4,000 miles away. But it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Change doesn’t happen overnight
So there I was in a new country with a new husband trying to learn a new language. And trying to figure out why the grocery store ran out of cheddar and didn’t restock it for several weeks. And I was supposed to find a new career during all of this? Sorry, not happening.
And again, I fumbled my way through things not really knowing where I was going. For almost 3 years, I didn’t earn a penny. I blogged, pretty much without a clue as to what I was doing, and I never learned German well enough to get a reasonable job.
And then one day someone just happened to see that I had been to Hamburg. The company she worked for needed a few pieces written about the city, and thus began my short-lived career as a freelance writer.
This was followed by being a virtual assistant for a big travel blog, and then two others. I thought for sure the few hundred bucks a month my own site was earning was as far as it would ever go for me. I actually enjoyed being a VA, much more than I enjoyed freelance writing, and I still thought my blog would never earn enough to sustain me.
But slowly things started to change. The Google gods looked fondly upon my site, Travel Made Simple, and traffic picked up. It gave me the motivation to put ads on the site, test different methods of affiliate marketing, write blog posts more purposefully, and keep trying new things.
And it worked.
Without ever being sure of what I was doing, I managed to teach myself how to make money from a blog and turned that site into my full time job. I couldn’t always see where I was going, but I figured it out anyway, one step at a time, and I now earn more than I did at my last insurance job in Atlanta.
I guess my point is, most people don’t have it all figured out. Most people don’t follow a clear-cut path or know what all the next steps are to get them to where they want to go. They might not even know where they want to go.
10 years of travel
I’ve done a lot of travel in the past 10 years. Since I started blogging, I’ve traveled to 45 new countries, plus many return trips to countries I had been to before the blog existed. In the early days of my blog, I traveled to Hong Kong and Australia, crossing off my last two continents a few months before my 30th birthday.
My travel style has changed a lot in that time. I’ve gone from being a person who crams as many sights and cities into a trip as possible, to a person who simply wants to be in another place. These days the sights are less important to me, and I’d rather relax, soak up the vibe, take a food tour, and wander. I still get the urge to add too many stops to a trip, but I can usually talk myself out of actually doing it.
I was going to try to whittle down 10 years of travel into a handful of my favorite trips, in photos, but there are too many favorites. Uganda, the southwest US road trip, almost any trip to Poland, Thailand, either trip to Central America, Spain over and over and over again, Cyprus, New Zealand…
Life keeps evolving
Andy and I are also constantly reevaluating how we live our lives. We spent the first few years of our marriage living in Freiburg before almost spontaneously moving to Berlin. Now we’re just a few months shy of 5 years in Berlin, which is the longest I’ve lived anywhere as an adult. (Well, it’s the longest I’ve ever lived in the same apartment as an adult.)
Since I can’t handle German winters, we are once again skipping town in January. But this time we’re trying being more stable about it all. We’ll be in Malaga, Spain for about a month and Lisbon, Portugal for about a month, with a little travel around the edges. In total, we’ll be gone for 3 months. We’ll be able to work while enjoying milder temperatures, slightly longer days, and a little more sunshine.
And hopefully being away from Berlin during its worst weather will be the key to enjoying the other 9 months here a lot more. Berlin is a wonderful city, but sometimes it feels hard to fully commit to it when the winters make me so incredibly miserable. But when I try to think of where else I might want to try living, nowhere else even compares to here.
I think life has to keep evolving. There’s no way I could’ve predicted that I’d end up here, in every sense of the word “here”, when I started blogging 10 years ago while living in Atlanta at a job that made me miserable. Even 3 years ago, I would not have believed that Travel Made Simple would grow into what it is today.
Who knows where life might lead us in the next few years. But I hope blogging continues to do well for me, because I can’t imagine having to figure out another career again!
You might also enjoy:
- On Living a Non-Traditional Life
- Solo Travel Sucks. Do It Anyway.
- Be Proud of Your Accomplishments
- The Reverse Bucket List – Looking Back at Some Awesome Accomplishments