Quit your job, travel the world? The harsh realities of life as a travel blogger

The world of travel blogging isn’t always as glamorous as people believe. Source: nelen/Shutterstock

ALMOST every travel-lover on the planet has thought at least once in their lifetime about quitting their day job and setting off on a never-ending travel adventure.

The draw of the unknown, the discovery of new cultures and the unfettered potential for exploration can be a powerful pull. In that moment, the thought of being a travel blogger will no doubt have crossed many people’s minds.

While the opportunities that could present themselves when not restricted by your 9-to-5 seem enticing, the reality of travel blogging is rarely the glamorous undertaking many think it is.

To understand the pitfalls and high points of life as a working travel blogger, we spoke to someone who has been there, done that.

Shivya Nath quit her job at the Singapore Tourism Board back in 2011 with little more than a drive to see the world. At the age of 23, she was branching out into the unknown and had given little thought to how she was going to support herself once the savings ran out.

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Now she is the voice behind leading travel blog The Shooting Star. She has been published in notable publications – including BBC Travel, National Geographic, Conde Nast India, and The Huffington Post – and is routinely ranked among the best travel bloggers in Asia.

Shivya reckons the biggest misconception that people have about her current life is that everyone can do it.

“A lot of people like the idea of long term-travel and writing and photography, but doing it as a job is very different from doing it as a hobby,” she told Travel Wire Asia.

“As a travel blogger, you are your own editor, marketing agency, PR contact, salesperson, web designer, SEO manager, social media strategist and more – it is several jobs rolled into one!”

In other words, it’s bloody hard work and only suited to those with an unadulterated passion for what they’re doing.

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While the idea of a new destination may be reward enough in a spiritual sense, it’s not in a financial sense. It’s not unusual for potential employers to try and pass the experience off as being enough, asking you to work for free or barter a deal on the cheap, Shivya said.

While she now makes the bulk of her money through her blog, that wasn’t always the case.

“I took any and all freelance work that I could find, and worked hard to build my travel writing portfolio,” Shivya told us. She picked up any random odd jobs that came her way, from translating documents, helping with university awareness programs, and conducting phone surveys.

The uncertainty of where your next pay check is coming from is, unsurprisingly, one of the central concerns of those thinking of branching out and trying this for themselves. Building a name for yourself doesn’t happen overnight and the financial strain in the interim can prove too much for many to bear.

When asked if she had considered giving up at any point, “Many times!” was Shivya’s response.

“When my bank account was down to double digits; when big brands asked me to work for free; when my friends got big bonuses at work and I was struggling to find paid work.”

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But it’s not only money worries that can prove problematic when on the road. As a solo traveler, and a female one at that, the open road can throw up some unwanted challenges – some of which are just downright scary.

Shivya lists among some of her most unsettling experiences being stalked while in Ethiopia, during which a man followed her back to her hotel.

She has also been left stranded at a remote bus stop in Costa Rica with no cell phone, no friends, and nowhere to stay for the night. And she recounts feeling isolated and alone as she went through severe altitude sickness by herself in the Himalayas.

Unwanted attention from men has also inevitably featured in her travels. A local guide in the Valle Nuevo National Park in the Dominican Republic started with harmless flirting and escalated to explicit and lewd remarks. Stuck in the middle of a wholly unfamiliar forest, Shivya had no choice but to steal her resolve and stick it out until morning when he would lead her back to civilisation.

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As a solo traveler, you need to be prepared that all scrapes, sicknesses, scares and sadness are handled by me, myself and I.

But, while there are inevitably down times, the highs make it worth the hassle.

“The feeling of waking up to a different horizon every now and then kept me going,” Shivya says.

“The dream of exploring faraway places kept me going. Emails from my readers, on how my journey had inspired a part of theirs, kept me going.”

And of course, she has packed in some incredible once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences along the way.

In 2017 alone, Shivya ranks among her best moments spotting a humpback whale in the Maldives; canyoning in the Austrian Alps; and a solo trek to Jhandi – Uttarakhand’s highest peak in the lesser Himalayas. Not to mention being keynote speaker at the SoDelhi Confluence.

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Taking the step to quit the comfort of a monthly paycheck can be daunting, and it’s not one to be taken lightly, especially given the challenges that come as part and parcel of the travel blogging lifestyle. But if you just can’t seem to shake off that nagging feeling that the open road is where you belong, here is Shivya’s top piece of advice for any aspiring bloggers:

“Don’t do it to make money or score free travel. Do it because of your thirst to explore the world meaningfully, and inspire others to do the same.

“Ask yourself: would you still be a travel blogger if no one was reading your blog or collaborating with you? If the answer is yes, then do it. Otherwise, there are far easier ways to make money and travel!”