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“Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.” – Alan Keightley
This month marks the 2-year anniversary of Paper Planes – which feels strange to say since, depending on the day, it either seems like I’ve been doing this forever or just started last week. In some ways I feel like blogging and starting my own site has given me a ton of opportunities while, on the other, I feel like I’ve barely accomplished anything. I guess that’s how it goes with most things though.
What I’m sure of, however, is that blogging has certainly changed the way I travel and my perspective of mixing travel with work, living abroad and “settling down”. So, how exactly has it changed?
Whenever I go anywhere – whether it’s a new restaurant or a new country – I’m always thinking about if and how I could write about the experience for my site or other freelance projects. Always. While this gives my trips a bit more focus and purpose than when I was aimlessly backpacking around SE Asia by myself with no plan or schedule, it also takes away some of the freedom and serendipity that comes with traveling just for your own interest and enjoyment…which really is is the main reason people like to travel. There have been times where I don’t feel like writing about a place and then feel guilty that I didn’t ‘make the most’ of my time there by doing more research and finding a story. That’s no good.
Freelancing is a strange, strange thing. You feel like you have all the time in the world and aren’t tied down to a strict schedule…yet because you can work whenever, wherever…you do. And feel lazy if you don’t. Right now I have the incredible luxury of traveling and staying in different places whenever I want. However, since I’m working for myself and several different clients at the same time, I can’t really ask for “time off” so am keeping up with all my regular work, responsibilities and deadlines whenever I’m on the road. This means I wake up early or stay up late to get things done, spend entire days tied to my computer to make up for days when I was in transit or actually out exploring, and stay in working instead of going out and fully experiencing where I am. Of course, I’d much prefer this than being limited to the United States’ measly 10 vacation days a year (if you’re lucky, there actually is no guaranteed paid vacation in the U.S.), but as with anything there is still a trade off. I can travel more because I can work while I travel, yet I can’t see or do as much when I’m traveling because I’m working.
If a location doesn’t have strong WiFi, it’s really difficult for me to go. I need it to work which is a blessing and a curse – I can work from anywhere…as long as I can get on the internet.
I love finding special items that remind me of a place and have started to collect goods I think others would enjoy as well. Currently I have items from Thailand that can be found in my online shop or, on special occasions, at markets in Seattle. Though I’m still starting small, I’m looking at products with new eyes when I visit different places. (Also – new items are coming soon…if you want to be the first to know, sign up for my mailing lists here!)
There’s no way I could travel like I used to, spending 2-3 days max in a place before moving on, and keep up my site or work. I once crisscrossed the entire country of India – no small feat considering its 1.29 million square miles/3.28 million square kilometers – visiting 12 different areas in four weeks. Not that I would recommend anyone do that ever (it was exhausting!), but I definitely could not do it now. Instead, I need to stay in a place longer or alternate between quick trips and even longer periods of time in one spot and, even then, I still don’t cram in and see as much as I used to do in a couple days. During my recent trip to Greece I spent a full week in Athens and, between days spent working and at a conference, only made it to the Acropolis – a 15-minute walk from where I was staying – on my last day there.
I’ve been able to go to different areas, stay in a wider range of places and experience things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. One of the supposed draws of travel blogging is that you can get things for free. While this is true, it’s not really “free” considering the time you spend on your site, work, making connections, creating coverage, sharing information on your social media accounts (that you also spend time building) and sacrificing your time and freedom to do as you please. While I’ll certainly work with more companies and destinations that are a good fit for me in the future, experiencing places and tours that I probably wouldn’t have on my own has helped me form a better idea of how I really want to travel. Do I want to get out of hostel dorms? Yes. Do I really enjoy staying in 4-star hotels? No, not usually.
There was a time when after months of backpacking and traveling solo I stayed in an old wooden house in Luang Prabang, Laos. As I went to bed I realized there were plastic bags twisted up and shoved into the wall blocking a hole that looked directly into the next room. Not really caring, I poked the bag back in wall and went to sleep. That’s how low my standards were. Now traveling with my computer and other gear, and having to work most nights, I feel more comfortable spending more for a secure, private room. This is where, for me, it is really nice working with places that I want to stay. I wouldn’t have stayed at this boutique hotel in Bangkok or the coolest place ever in Bali’s central highlands if I wasn’t blogging – partially because I had more $$ to do it and partially because I wouldn’t have even known about them. I now seek out places and plan ahead more than I did before when I would show up in a new town and try to find the cheapest room possible.
It used to be that whenever I traveled, whether it was a family road trip growing up or traveling solo for the first time in Europe, I would always turn to journaling and reading. Being out of my everyday element made me want to capture and write down new experiences and the time spent waiting in airports or on long bus rides was used to go through as many books as I could. Now those times are used for writing blog posts or working for clients and the last thing I want to do after writing thousands of words is sit down to write in my personal journal or read more words.
While I’ve always taken a lot of photos, I take even more now and of things I wouldn’t have in the past. Instead of just getting a few pretty pictures to remind me of places I’ve been, I have to keep in mind what photos I may need for future posts and other projects. I need different angles of the same shot and lots of images to choose from to have different photos for the site and social media channels, especially Instagram. I also need to take stock photo-style pictures to use for other companies.
(Or at least I’d like to think so…) Because photography is such an integral part of blogging, and I’m taking so many pictures, my photo skills are getting better and I’m noticing different aspects of places that I didn’t before. I used to love my early photos of India and SE Asia. Now, while I still have sentimental attachment to them, I wish I could go back and do it all over again.
Between living abroad, meeting other bloggers and connecting with readers I know more people around the world that I can go to for advice, travel tips and even a place to crash than ever before. It’s pretty cool. I have friends who I always see in a different country, who understand that I don’t really have a set home base and say things like, “I’m not traveling much the rest of the year, just staying in London then Ireland for a weekend then Nicaragua…”. NBD…
Ultimately, blogging has changed the way I travel because it has completely fused work and play, ‘real life’ and traveling. It’s all blurred together now and I’m still figuring it out…good thing there are plenty more places I want to see…