Why I’ll never be a travel blogger and other lessons from failure

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When I looked at my bank account this week I felt a pang of despair.

After successfully paying all my bills, my new car payment and stashing the amount Mint.com says I need to put away each month to meet my savings and travel fund goals, there wasn’t much leftover to have fun with.

It made me realize that the traveling and adventures I’ve had over the last year won’t be continuing on the same scale.

My story about putting all my financial resources into this blog and ending up with a broken down car was featured on The Financial Diet last week, one of my favorite websites for financial advice. While I was honored that my story gained traction, it was an embarrassing omission—but it was the truth.

I’ve done a lot of thinking over the last few weeks about what the hell I’m trying to do as a writer. And I know one thing:

I will never be a travel blogger.

Not because I tried and failed but because it doesn’t fall in line with the work I want to create in the long term. Being a travel blogger seemed like a viable option for someone like me with decent writing skills and a hunger to explore the world, but in some ways it feels like a shortcut that would veer me off the path of becoming a respected writer. At the end of the day I couldn’t figure out how to monetize my blog without subjecting readers to diluted content created by affiliate marketing, sponsorship campaigns and advertisers.

This new realization has me switching gears here at Parachute Journalist. My goal is to write first-person journalistic narratives from my own life experiences—and I want these stories to have a shelf live beyond the deluge of web content most of us passively scan through while multitasking with a hundred browser tabs open.

And if this doesn’t become the thing that supports me financially, I’m OK with that. Because for me, having a creative outlet to express myself is what keeps me sane and gives me purpose in this life.

In the midst of my new financial reality, I’m learning how to continue living an adventurous life closer to home. I’m spending more time on my bike—seeing local places in a new way and stumbling across the unexpected. These, I have learned are the moments I feel most alive and the core reason why I travel in the first place.

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These unexpected moments include encountering an abundant orange grove during a bike ride in Edgewater, Florida, with no one else in sight.  Or when I stumbled into the Cummer Art Museum in Jacksonville before a bike ride and found out the museum offers free admission on the first Saturday of each month.

It was at the Cummer Museum’s gardens where I discovered a 200-year-old oak tree that made me feel small and in awe of the beauty of things that flourish when given the time, space and nurturing they need to grow.

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Not one for Baroque art, I almost passed up the gallery’s permanent collection on my way out—but was drawn to a particular still life called “Vanitas,” by Jacques de Claeuw. This painting is over 300 years old but the lighting and details of a half covered globe, wilted flowers, hour glass and other objects are so realistic I wanted to reach out and grab them. The term “Vanitas” is Latin for emptiness and the objects all represent the brevity of life or the emptiness of frivolous concerns.

My favorite object, the half-covered globe, represents man’s inability to predict the future. This painting would later be looted by the Nazis from a Jewish art dealer who died while fleeing the Netherlands for his safety in 1940. The museum later purchased it from a New York art gallery in 1962 before the painting’s history was uncovered.

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The idea that a painting could have such a poignant impact more than 300 years after it was made, struck me and moved me to tears. Three centuries later, in a high-tech world so very different from the one that Claeuw lived in, this painting is still relevant and spoke to me in a profound way.

I couldn’t help but think, what will we create that will move museum goers to tears 300 years from now?

I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong reaction to a painting, but it stuck with me. I spent the rest of the afternoon biking 30 miles on Jacksonville’s Baldwin Rail Trail, and thinking about all the things I want to create and promising myself that no matter how burdensome life gets, I’ll always make space in my life to discover new things.

13 Replies to “Why I’ll never be a travel blogger and other lessons from failure”

  1. I’ve always wondered why more journalists, why their terrific writing skills didn’t leave their mothership to just own and write on their own platform.

    It’s hard work being the CEO, CFO, CMO, writer, editor, etc I guess. But, I think it can be done! I didn’t make money from FinancialSamurai.com for the first 1 year. But after that, the money slowly started trickling in until I finally took the leap of faith 3 years later in 2012.

    Three years is a long time to stick with something for little money, but it can be done!

    You’ve got a good balance between the two. I’d keep it up.

    Sam

    1. Thanks Sam! I really like your site! My next move is to use the blog as a platform to launch a few e-books that will combine my travel narratives with guidebooks/resources for planning a trip. I cut my teeth on long-form narratives as a journalist and sadly that outlet is drying up–so my thought is that I need to create that outlet for myself. I’m just over chasing traffic and thinking the only way I can grow my audience is through listicles and click bait headlines.

  2. I’ve thought about giving up my blog many, many times. I haven’t yet, and I don’t plan to.

    But I also don’t plan to ever make any money from it.

    Like you, I absolutely refuse to…how did you put it? “Subject[ing] readers to diluted content created by affiliate marketing, sponsorship campaigns and advertisers.” I just won’t do it. And I hate it when other bloggers do it (and they ALL do it. Because they HAVE TO. To pay their bills.) So I will keep my blog-which-I-love. And I will find other ways to make money.

    There’s a lot thrown around in the blogger world–and in the travel blog world especially–about not being a ‘real’ blogger, not being a ‘professional’ blogger if you don’t make some or ideally all of your income from your blog. I’ve had my site for almost seven years now, and I can assure you I’m a real blogger. I’m also a real freelance writer and a real professional development consultant–both of which allow/require me to travel.

    It’s all about building a life that works for you.

    Best of luck to you!

    1. ohhh well said! I’m so glad we connected through the blogosphere. Your blog has some fantastic content–very different from the typical travel blogger out there. I like the idea of having a donation model like you do–how has it worked for you?

  3. First, my apologies for any typos as I am speaking on an iPhone microphone while waiting on a doctors appointment. I was writing for magazines in print and online before I ever thought of blogging. I started a Facebook page, and later a website, never thinking I would become a blogger. It was really a space for me to put the content from the stories that I had written, so they could be viewed by a different audience (with magazine permission). I included recipes from my family, and those new that I created as I love to cook. With that, I began getting solicitations from large companies to create recipes for payment. In this crazy digital age and with so many writers and bloggers now, I found the pay scale was beginning to decline for print magazine content, so I was thankful for the solicitations. I was then solicited by cities to be a travel blogger, visiting with all expenses paid. Before visiting an area, I would often reach out to one of my publishers to see if they were interested in a travel story so that I could also be paid. It has been a win-win. I am now a proud to be a food and travel blogger, though I do sometimes think about quitting, only because of my personal stamina stemming from a car accident long ago, and wanting to spend more time with my children. I do wish you all the best, and hope you can snag that great seat again at Bud & Alley’s the next time you visit Seaside in South Walton! Susan #30AEats

    1. Thanks for the feedback Susan! Your site is beautiful and has some great writing! I think everyone has to find an approach that works for them and it seems like you were able to find that balance.

      I think what I set out to do was journalism from a first-person point of view, following the same principles that would have gotten me fired as a newspaper reporter if I ever accepted anything for free. But at some point I started presenting myself more as a travel blogger because it seemed like it was the only viable way to target an audience. I think this is where I went wrong. While I LOVE to travel, it’s the things that i learn while traveling that I enjoy investigating and sharing. There’s also so many stories and lessons learned from my daily life that I’d like to incorporate here. So from here I hope to create more of a lifestyle site. We’ll see how it goes 🙂

  4. This is something I’m grappling with too. I find blogs with ads distracting and sponsorships make me question authenticity, but I completely understand why bloggers succumb. It’s a lot of time and work, and I’m not sure where it will lead. Wherever it takes you, I’m happy to read along.

    1. Thanks Danielle! It’s cool to know others share the same hurdles. Sometimes I wish I had started making candles or just any actual product for a business that wasn’t content based. But I also believe that GOOD, thought-provoking stories are so needed and in my experiences as a journalist, have the ability to make REAL change. I plan to keep at it, just with a new, more realistic approach.

  5. Thanks, finding humor and crtiousiuy in the world certainly helps with keeping enthusiastic.I had a new manager yesterday tell me he is tired of the drama. I told him leadership is a stage, with a cast of characters, all in forever changing costumes, its time to sit back and observe the show, cast people in their right roles and try to gain an applause generating performance. Happy to hear from you, visit us again.

  6. “At the end of the day I couldn’t figure out how to monetize my blog without subjecting readers to diluted content created by affiliate marketing, sponsorship campaigns and advertisers.” <<< THIS!!! I feel like I'm in a very similar place with my travel blog as you are, Lacey; I've been blogging for 3 1/2 years now, churning out quality pieces twice a week (ish), and have only gotten a single food tour comped in return for a blog post–everything else has been ad-free. I personally feel like I would be "selling out" and doing my readers a dis-service by blanketing my blog with ads & sponsored content, so I've decided against that…for now. Great post; I feel exactly the same!

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