Thirteen years – I’m astonished. It all started in September of 2006. I had been working in my corporate IT career for 14 years. My 20’s and half of my thirties were all about climbing the ladder, running projects, setting up Point of Sale Systems, learning about the world of ecommerce, and so many meetings. And then I left all of that because I desperately needed a break. I wanted to travel and see more of the world. I decided to combine the two things and take a career break.
It was just supposed to be a little pause – I was planning on coming back in a year. It’s been 13 years now and it’s clear – I’m never going back to that old life. And I’m not going back because I make more money now – in reality I make hardly a fraction of what I used to make in my corporate career. Instead, I’m not going back because I love what I do now; and I love being my own boss.
Ottsworld is 13 Years Old
Not only have I been traveling 13 years, but my blog also turns 13 this month! I still remember the pregnancy – trying to choose a website journal where I could record my travels and put my pictures so my family and friends knew I was safe. It was a hard, laborious decision, but I found one I liked and just started writing – bringing Ottsworld to life.
Enter to win Ottsworld’s Blogiversary Giveaway!
I’ve been traveling and blogging for 13 years and I’m celebrating by giving away 13 travel and photography prizes for the next month! I’ve secured 13 awesome prizes (worth $1,200) from companies I love and use personally – some of them I have been utilizing since I left to travel in 2006! The Blogiversary contest runs for a month and I’ll be drawing winners every few days. All you have to do is sign up to be entered for a chance to win! And if you share the contest with friends – you’ll get more entries. Go check out the prizes and sign up now!
My Little Baby is a Teenager Now!
When I set up this little website in 2006 to capture my thoughts and feelings on my career break, I knew nothing about travel, and nothing about blogging. “Blog” wasn’t even in our vocabulary then. I used to call it my travel journal or travel website. Other stuff that wasn’t in our vocabulary in 2006 – smart phones, Airbnb, Uber, Kindle, or mirrorless cameras.
I didn’t even know how to give my website a name; a consultant who used to work for me came up with the name Ottsworld and set it up as my url! I was like a new mother – fumbling along trying to just keep my head above water, yet so in love with my baby that I would forgo sleep just to write more and share the wonderful world of travel with people who would listen.
I used my little website to simply communicate with family and friends about my travels. I sent out annoying mass emails, and I spent a fair amount of time detailing every thought and feeling in Internet cafes around the world. And yes – it was horrible writing – see for yourself.
From Blogging Hobby to Career
I still remember my first comment from a stranger – a person asking me about my cat’s name. I remember wondering how in the world the person found my little website if they didn’t know me. I honestly knew very little about how the internet worked even though I worked in IT! I knew nothing about search engines, but sometimes ignorance is bliss. I just went on enjoying my career break travels and kept writing.
At some point though no longer was ignorance bliss – and I had to learn more about SEO (Search engine optimization – aka how you show up in Google search results) and blogging if I was going to keep Ottsworld alive. I learned that I was late to switch my mindset from passion to business focus and that likely hurt my ability to make money in this the blogging field. I feel like I’m playing a game of catch up now when it comes to monetizing my blog, as I watch those who started around the same time as me be much more successful financially.
However, I am once again reminded and delighted that financial success is not the end all be all in life for me. If that was what was important to me then I would’ve stayed in my corporate career. I may not be that financially successful, but I am successful at building relationships and utilizing those relationships to travel all over the world. These relationships, hard work, and follow-thru have taken me to the far corners of the globe and has kept me traveling and working as a blogger for 13 years – and I’m immensely proud of that.
The Lure of Being Unpredictable
A year on the road, a year living in Vietnam teaching, a few years of running Meet Plan Go and other odd jobs, a few years of crazy adventures, and before I knew it, I had spent 11 years homeless wandering the globe and working from anywhere I wanted. Now I sit in my little studio apartment in Denver and bask in the unpredictability of life.
In one of my first blog posts – I shared my favorite quote…and it still holds true today
I’m still addicted to uncertainty – I love the surprise of not knowing. And even more so, I’m still obsessed with finding the ‘new’ in life; unique places and stories that people haven’t heard before. I think that’s what has kept me in this travel blogging business for so long when I have no background in writing at all; subject matter is just as important as grammar rules. Every time I go somewhere, I’m always looking for the unusual angles, even if I’m somewhere usual.
How have I evolved through 13 years of Travel Blogging
Have I changed and evolved? Hell yes! But in some ways, I also remain the same. I’ll always be an overachiever, a perfectionist, a planner…but I digress.
Travel Expertise Evolution
I’ve mainly evolved from being a complete travel novice (I got my passport when I was 30), to being a travel authority/expert. But hey – 13 years of constant travel will do that! If there was a masters or PhD in travel – I would have an honorary degree!
I’ve been on so many different kinds of tours to all continents and corners of the world that if I ever gave up blogging (which won’t happen), I would run a consulting agency for tour companies about how to find their unique story and evolve into today’s digital market. Nothing annoys me more than going on a tour that is simply a lecture of history and facts. Granted – I need that for writing, but it’s the old way of thinking of travel. People remember stories and experiences, and that’s where the world of travel and business it moving. I’ll never forget going to yet another distillery tour (I’ve had more than I can count) and meeting Sébastien from Distillery Fils Du Roy and being blown away by his story telling in everything he did from his tour, to how he named beers, and how he marketed whiskey and gin.
Meet a Few of my Favorite Story Based Travel Companies
My expertise doesn’t just come from my first hand travel experiences, but I also attend travel-oriented conferences and meetings more than ever now. I am firmly rooted in the travel industry and conferences are a great way for me to learn more about trends, and most importantly – network. This year alone I’m attending the Adventure Travel World Summit, TravelCon Travel blogging conference, Family Travel Conference, Colorado Travel Conference, Outdoor Retailer conference, and I have also agreed to be a part of the Colorado Travel Massive leadership team.
I can say with confidence – I am a travel expert.
Travel Style Changes
My quest to constantly find the new and different has changed my travel style through the years. I’m after that ‘giddy high’ you get when you discover something new; it really is an addiction like any other. Remote, untouched, unknown; that’s what I want now. I am looking for that WOW…and it sends me further and further to the corners of the world. Luckily, I’ve been able to go to places like remote Lake Clark National Park, Inuvik, Wrangel Island, The Ross Sea, Nunavut, and Greenland. And even places like Saba, the little-known island in the Caribbean. I still get excited every time someone looks at me with that puzzled look because they have no idea where Saba is. I even get a little giddy high off of that exchange in a weird way.
My travel style has certainly changed from the beginning. Hell – I remember being terrified to ask for a discount as a writer back in 2007 and 12 years later I open my email and read, “we’d love to send you to South Africa on a press trip”. How in the world do you make that leap from a 10% discount to being hosted on a trip to South Africa or Antarctica? That’s the beginnings of a book in my future I believe!
I started traveling independently occasionally throwing in a small group Intrepid tour here and there for countries that intimidated me. But most of the time I was an independent traveler. Now I take many small group tours or more commercial travel than I ever used to. I actually like both ways of travel – independent and tours. Though I seldom have the time any longer to plan independent travel, so the tours are a big help to me as I bounce from one trip to the next often not even looking at the itinerary until 2 days before when I have to pack.
How Has Having a Home Again Changed Me
There have been a lot of perks about having a home again that I’ve realized the last few years, and there have also been some hardships. I find myself flying more than I ever have before. I’m constantly flying in and out of Denver and that is ridiculously draining. In fact, on my last trip I was in tears at an airport as I found out yet another flight was canceled. I was on the phone with a United agent trying to figure out my options and she asked which of the (all bad) options I wanted to take. All I could answer was “I just want to go home” in a really whiney voice. Needless to say, she was pretty annoyed with me. To top it off, I fly about 100,000 miles a year and can’t get status on any airline. Why? Well, that’s a long story about the downsides of being a travel writer that I’ll get into at another time.
I’ve enjoyed getting used to closets again. However, if you were to open one of my closets you would see it packed to the brim with suitcases, backpacks, and travel gear. One great thing about having a home now is that I have been able to branch out into a whole new direction on my blog – I’ve started writing about travel gear! When I was nomadic companies/brands would offer to send me things to try and review and I always told them no because I had nowhere to put the stuff. Hell, I didn’t even have an address for them to mail it to! But now I happily have been taking on more and more gear to test out and write about. It has been a really fun addition to my blog writing!
Living nomadically for 11 years did take its toll on me. One of the main reasons I got a home base in Denver is because aging on the road is not easy. I have learned that as I get physically older, it’s important to have access to a regular doctor, insurance, and medical help. Since living in Denver I had a successful knee surgery – but of course my physical woes didn’t stop there. Travel is hard on your body – especially when you carry a lot of camera equipment and gear as I do. My back is the back of a 70 year old, apparently I have arthritis in my lower back which explains why I wake up every morning hunched over in pain.
Mental Changes and Challenges
I recently saw a photographer I follow on Instagram talking about teetering between wowza moments and nihilism…and I totally agree. In some ways I believe there is also sort of a curse to getting to go everywhere you want to go. On the nihilistic side I teeter between what is left for me to do in this world if I get to do everything I want to do? I travel to places people dream of their whole life and I’m 49 and feel like I’ve been everywhere. It gets harder and harder to find the wowza moments.
But what’s the alternative – sit still? I have no idea any longer how to be ok sitting still and how to not be doing something incredible. When you are used to doing incredible things all the time, I’m not sure where you go from there.
Maybe there is such a thing as too much travel? I hope the answer to that is no – but I’m honestly still exploring it.
What Will My Teen Years Look Like?
I hope my teen blogging years are better than my actual teen years…less pimples would be a nice start.
As my blog and I enter our teen years in the travel industry, I have a few ideas forming on the horizon. (I really dislike the idea of goals …so we’ll just call them ideas) .
Investing in my Blog
Everyone knows – teenagers are expensive, and I’m trying to make a few investments in my blog that will help me in the future. I’ve been very slow to treat my blog as a business through the years, as I still see it as my passion project in a way. I guess there’s a part of me that still believes in the fairy tale of travel to cool places, write interesting stories, be a good person, and people will just discover you, your blog will grow, and people will hire you. That’s not entirely false, but I do know that you need to do a bit to help that fairy tale along.
Sometimes Fairy Tales do Come True Though!
I was recently named one of the influencers to follow in OprahMag.com! I have no idea how they found me, but I’m really thrilled that they did. It’s so nice to be recognized out of the blue…and especially by Oprah!
But I’ve been slow to adapt and that has probably put me as a disadvantage with a slower growth model. I want to try to change that as I go forward. I am focusing on blog growth next year and that means investing in resources that can help me with that.
Sharing My Expertise
I obviously love to share on my blog and social media. However, one thing I’m always on the lookout for is more opportunities to speak and share my travel expertise. One of my best moments in the history of my blog was when I did my 2 week speaking/teaching gig at Iolani School in Hawaii . I adore speaking at schools about what I do.
This year I was over the moon when my college alumni association contacted me to come speak at their women’s leadership conference at University of Nebraska. I’m so excited to go back there and share my career evolution and lessons I have learned!
I’m also trying to take any opportunities I can to speak about travel to travelers. I don’t always enjoy speaking about blogging, but I love speaking about traveling!
That Elusive Book
I’m also trying to focus on swatting off that devil on my shoulder that continues to tell me that I can’t write a book – it’s too hard, I don’t have the skills, and no one will read it. I continue to have ideas, but I also continue to not make time to do it. I keep thinking that I will simply know when the time is right. That’s how I decided to leave my job and start traveling. I knew I wanted to do it – but I didn’t take the leap until the fear of staying where I was became greater than the fear of changing. I suspect that will be the case for my future book too. I do feel myself getting closer though.
13 Years of Blogging
Every time I sit down and write one of these “This is me at….” blog posts, I take the time to read through all of the prior ones. I am amazed at how much though I have grown, evolved and changed. I am no longer that young New Yorker living a ‘Sex in the City Lifestyle’, but I’m also no longer that carefree nomadic traveler either. I’m somewhere in between I guess. I have simplified, but I have not slowed down at all. In fact – I might have sped up.
I can only hope that my teen years of blogging is as exciting as my infant years! It’s fun to think of all of the possibilities ahead of me. This is why I love being in this emerging industry – there’s always something new happening that I get to explore and learn how to deal with. It keeps me young, engaged, and happy. And before I know it – I’ll likely be celebrating my Sweet 16 with another one of these “This is me….” Posts!