Twenty years ago, if you’d told me I would be jumping out of planes and climbing active volcanoes as a full-time travel blogger today, I would have laughed.
In fact, the old me was far from an adventurer. Never mind being a travel blogger.
You see, I grew up a shy and timid girl in Singapore, where creativity and social skills were always secondary to academic excellence. I did well in school, but not in sports or other recreational activities. To make things worse, I was a big girl (I still struggle with weight issues these days) — which means my self-esteem was crushed to non-existence.
In my teenage years, I slowly picked myself up from the dumps, and eventually found myself more active. I had also found a close circle of friends. My family was always supportive but they cocooned me in a protective shell — one that kept me spoiled by creature comforts and urban life. Growing up in cosmopolitan Singapore meant I never knew mountains, valleys, gorges, or even nature for that matter, existed.
Even then, I had an insatiable curiosity for the world. This was largely from having heard intriguing travel tales from my father and sister. I’d traveled with my family before and even backpacked in Australia with my friends at the age of 18, but I knew I wanted more. I wanted to see the world myself, on my own pace.
A Turning Point
My world as I knew it changed when I signed up for a study abroad program in Miami – connecting with people from around the world and exposing myself to a culture that was completely different from my own. I was amazed by the way people learned in school, partied on weekends, and led their lives in general.
I made life-long friends there, people who are still my closest friends today. But most importantly, I met Alberto, my present-day husband and business partner. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities.
From then on, everything changed. I became more confident and open to trying new things. Most of all, I had faith in myself. I believed I was capable of big things.
Travel also became a big part of me. Even though I was still in school, I took short trips to Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia, packing in as many sights as I could and returning with a desire to do more. I saved every cent of the expenses my father gave me.
Instead of going out to party, I stayed home and hung out with my family; I would not allow myself to go shopping nor eat out; and I watched every penny I spent. With the extra money I made from an internship, I even made it to Spain and Italy to visit Alberto for the summer. It was my first trip to Europe, but I knew it wouldn’t be my last.
Alberto and I made it through a year of being apart and we both graduated from Engineering school with an urge to pack our bags and leave. We soon moved to London to find work, and during those days, we explored the city like curious vultures and took vacations just like you did. We started off with weekend jaunts to Greece and cultural immersions in Morocco, but we wanted to go deeper and further.
Within a year or so, we left our jobs to spend a few months volunteering in Tanzania with our dreams and hopes of making a difference. The volunteering stint gave us some of the most memorable times of our lives and gave us a peek into what travel could teach us: we both spent all of our time with our students and we got to know them as well as their families rather well.
Staying with a host family in the village also helped us to truly understand their way of life, their culture and food. The experience left us feeling really privileged, to have had the chance to live with these villagers as one.
A New Life
Adventure eventually became the theme that linked our travels. We found ourselves connecting with the great outdoors. Cities no longer appealed to us; we were happier surrounded by wide open spaces — whether in the mountains, desert, or sea.
In the intervening years, we set off on extended trips (which often involved leaving our jobs to travel) around the world: backpacking Latin America from Argentina to Mexico, spending a few months in Southeast Asia, overlanding from Egypt to Jordan, and hiking through the Balkans.
But something was still missing. The tipping point came when I found myself dreaming about travel the day we returned home from a trip. Alberto and I were back at work in Singapore and I was miserable with my banking job. It was my fourth job in the past four years and just like the previous work I did, it did not offer me any form of fulfillment nor satisfaction. But I couldn’t care less about the job, all I could think about was travel.
There and then, I decided I did not want to lead a normal life anymore. I needed to build a living around travel.
I went back home and wrote a blog post about it. I’d started travel blogging almost five years prior to that, but I never took it seriously. A friend left a comment, praising me for my writing skills. He wrote, “Perhaps you should consider becoming a writer.”
I was doubtful of myself but I wanted to try. I needed to try. It would be my ticket to freedom.
The Start of My Travel Blogging Career
Over the following months, I worked hard to build this blog into a successful writing channel. I was desperate to try being an adventure travel blogger. I spent every minute of my free time learning the fundamentals of writing, the technical side of web management, and tools that I needed to build a following.
I read up everything I could to learn about blogging and writing — and within half a year, I had my first writing gig for a travel magazine. Eventually, I found myself receiving well-paid commissions from magazines and newspapers around the world. This blog had somehow grown into a popular resource and inspiration for travelers.
That was in 2008. I have successfully achieved my goal and now I’m lucky enough to get paid to travel. I work more hours now than I have ever done in my past life, and it wasn’t easy to get where I am today, but I’m extremely thankful to be doing what I love most in life.
Thanks to my incarnation as a travel blogger and writer, I continue to travel to places far and beyond: from the Arctic to Antarctica, South Africa to North Korea, Madagascar to the Galapagos. Travel has completely changed who I am, and my attitude towards life. Now I know that if I set my mind to it, I can do anything in the world.
I often look back at the old me and imagine how life would be like if I had not taken that first trip to Miami. I definitely won’t be who I am today.
What about you? Have you taken that first step to discovering who you are? Is being a travel blogger also on your career horizon?