Origin Story: My Inspiration To Leave The 9-5 And Follow My Passion

The other day I was participating in a Twitter chat of all things when I shared part of a story about my trip to the Galapagos that happened 6 years ago this month. I realized then that I have never fully shared the details of that trip; an adventure that led not only to the creation of my website but also to the most dramatic change I’ve ever made in my life. People seemed interested, so I thought I’d share the strange story here not to brag or gush, but to share how an average guy can transform his life into the image of his choosing. (Me, in case you weren’t following)

The Trip

I used to enter a lot of sweepstakes. I’m not sure exactly why looking back at it, except to say that I loved the thrill of winning. And I certainly won my fair share; in a single year I had amassed tens of thousands of dollars worth of prizes and money, including trips. On second thought, it may have been the trips that spurred me on more than anything else, and that’s how I ultimately found myself on a luxury cruise around the Galapagos with Alex Trebek.

Let me back up a second. I entered a sweepstakes in celebration of the 25th anniversary of “Jeopardy!” – yes, the game show. Twenty-five lucky winners were chosen to receive a trip for two down to the Galapagos for a remarkable week of sailing onboard the Lindblad/National Geographic ship Endeavour with Alex Trebek and most of the “Jeopardy!” family. I was one of those lucky winners. It still boggles my mind really; out of the millions of entries mine was pulled from the electronic hat in an act that can only have been fate working its magic. I say that because more than being just a great adventure, it literally changed the course of my life.

The week in the Galapagos was of course amazing. I’m a conservationist at heart and the opportunity to see some of the most rare animals in the world, all in the wild, was a joy almost beyond words. There’s nothing quite like walking with a guide through the bush when just a few feet away are Blue-Footed Boobies, or marine iguana or the most famous resident of the archipelago – the Giant Tortoise. Permanently separated from man, these endemic species have no fear of us, which means wildlife spotting on a level that simply doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world.

Hanging out with Alex and the rest of the “Jeopardy!” team was pretty amazing as well, naturally. Having breakfast with Mr. and Mrs. Trebek, chatting with the producers and crew, it all was an experience like none other and I walked away happy and with a soul full of memories. I’m not the first to say that visiting the Galapagos is a transformative experience, but for me that transformation happened in ways I never expected.

Galapagos Ecuador

The Transformation

When I returned back to normal life I felt unsettled. I wanted to share so desperately everything I had seen while cruising around the Galapagos, I wanted everyone to go and experience the same things I did. I had been on Twitter for a few months and was slowly but surely getting the hang of it. Given my natural love of travel, I followed all of the big travel accounts and gradually learned more about travel bloggers and what they seemed to do for a living. It seemed, and still does, strange to me but I was intrigued. The final spark came though when, during the planning stages of a future trip, a friend of mine absentmindedly said that she wished she had the same travel budget I seemed to have. I was shocked. From what I knew we made about the same salary, when it suddenly dawned on me. I thought about travel differently from other people. Normal people don’t plan their next trip while still on the current one. They didn’t do everything in their power to get even a few more frequent flier miles or hotel points. They didn’t line item their budget with travel in mind. Then and there it all came together; my experiences in the Galapagos, the realization that I see travel a little differently and my own love of travel meant that on a long and rainy weekend in March, I somehow learned enough to hit the on-switch for a new web site.

Keep in mind, I didn’t really even understand what a blogger was – not exactly. While I like technology, I’m never an early adopter and so the vast world of digital writing was unknown to me. And I’m certainly no techie, so how I managed to cobble together a functioning web site from bubble gum and string is equally befuddling to me. But I’ve always been a quick study and so that’s exactly what I did, I studied. Watching and learning from the major players in the community, I gradually honed my site and style until I came up with a niche that seemed to suit me. It was like coming out of a long sleep, or seeing the light for the first time. I’ve always been infatuated with all things international; I even have two degrees in international relations just so I could turn my love of travel into a career. But something happened along the way and at age 34 I found myself in a job and career I never meant to be in, one that I didn’t particularly enjoy.

It’s amazing the effect that unhappiness in one area of your life can have on all other areas. I had gained weight, I drank too much and was as grumpy as ever. I needed a change and I saw the site as my way to the life I had always meant to live. One that didn’t just involve travel for me, but which also inspired others to do the same. Such a huge shift doesn’t happen overnight, particularly for someone in my position. Unlike so many other folks, I had a complicated life with a house and three dogs. I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) say goodbye to all of that, strap on a backpack and move to Thailand. I liked my house, my suburban lifestyle and I didn’t want that to change. So I had to find a way to either replicate or exceed my salary in order to make the transition from 9-5 cubicle dweller to full time travel blogger.

There’s never a good time to do anything, so when I was nudged out of my job more than three years ago I did the unthinkable. Rather than go out and find another paycheck, I decided that this was fate once again calling to me, pushing me into the right direction. With lots of support I decided to go for it and while it certainly wasn’t easy, within 6 months I had reached my goal and now, three years later, I’m a professional travel blogger who doesn’t just make a living wage, but who desperately loves his job.

There aren’t many of us who have been able to make this transition, but we’re all similar in certain respects, most notably our entrepreneurial mindset. If I’m awake, I’m working and I never stop. I’ve never worked harder, but I’ve never been happier doing it and that has made all the difference. Instead of working to help make someone else’s dream come true, I’m working to make my own dream a reality and if that’s not the ultimate in job satisfaction, then I don’t know what is.

Wrapping this up

So there you go, my so-called origin story. How I emerged from the world of cubicles and office birthday parties to leading the life I was always meant to have. The best part of it for me is how it all started, with a travel experience. Travel changes all of us no matter if we spend a week on the beach in Mexico or go voluntouring in Thailand. We always come home smarter and more confident than when we left but sometimes trips go beyond that. Sometimes, just sometimes, trips become IMPORTANT, they become transformational. It’s a term that I think may be slightly overused, but when it’s appropriate it’s appropriate. That’s what the Galapagos was for me and it’s for that reason that both Lindblad and Alex Trebek will always have a very special place in my heart.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

22 thoughts on “Origin Story: My Inspiration To Leave The 9-5 And Follow My Passion”

  1. I am sure you are simply having fun because you gave up 9 to 5. I am sure there are so many people who want to do that. People need a leap of faith to do this and it’s not for everyone but for some who dares to adventure. I am doing it for 5 years now because I simply love to travel and I have no excuses for 9 to 5. It’s not simply a question why I don’t do it. I simply love traveling with my family and it’s almost 5 years now.

    1. Many people I know who have done this, quit the 9-5 routine, have said they wished they had done it sooner. So, my response to those considering it, is, why wait? I know there are what seems like compelling reasons for the ideal or perfect time but if you wait for that, it’s much more unlikely to happen. Happy trails!

  2. Thanks for sharing and showing others that you can jump off the life script. Great work and great blog, you’re an inspiration for us as new bloggers with a similar vision but without that spark. Like you, we don’t really know what a blogger is but we wanted to share our experience and thoughts with others to inspire them.

  3. Sitting in a hotel in Quito to start a multi-day adventure trip that cumulates with the Galapagos. So excited. Transformative trip- Camino de Santiago Portugueses. Started this adventure at a conference where I received a 25 yr award for owning and operating seasonal franchises. ‘Haven’t been doing it quite like everyone else’ for years. There are many ways to make it happen. First step putting travel as a priority. Second step take opportunities when they are presented.

  4. Love hearing your stories like this Matt, thank you for sharing.

    “If I’m awake, I’m working,” yep, this. And also that travel is transformational–even the little quickie trips. I’ve been obsessed for as long as I can remember and can’t imagine life without it. I am grateful to be a traveler.

  5. Matt – I agree – “If I’m awake, I’m working”The question has always been for who and to what end and after being downsized yet again I am needing your inspiration so thank you for writing this “can do” story.


  6. Matt, you’re spot on! I was nodding in agreement to everything you said. Travel is transformational, and like you, I felt unsettled after a trip to New Zealand many years ago. I found comfort in writing about my travel adventures on my blog, and although I’m far from living off of my blog, your post is the inspiration I need to get in gear. Although now we have a baby in tow, my goal is to focus more on family travel. So thank you for this awesome post!

  7. It’s always great to hear about people’s journey’s to where they are today.
    I’ve already won my free trip to the Galapagos for May, does that mean everything else will fall into place now? ;)
    Thanks for this post!

  8. Follow your passion and money will follow. Yours is a beautiful example. I did something similar 20 years ago. It took a lot of courage but I’ve never looked back. A mentor once told me the best time to make a move is the day before you’re ready to make a move. Happy travels!

  9. This is so inspiring. The part about not being an early adopter is so me. Based on our age, my husband and I should’ve been right in the thick of the internet/tech boom as we were just coming to age when it started. I blogged for a bit after my first kid, but after 2 more, I just lost track. Now, eight years later, while I’m a busy homeschooling mom, I want to write again. I want to teach again. I want to share the excitement I feel when planning and exploring a new place, but the blogging world and social media super highway is overwhelming. I’ve been devouring podcasts and reading and following marketing strategies while trying to piece together a website. I’ve rebranded 2 times already in 30 days. Ugh!! And things now compared to 2009 are just so much more professional. Still, my husband is encouraging me (or at least he is enjoying buying new tech toys we can play with haha) so we are giving it a shot. Thanks for sharing your story. It is so inspiring. By the way, my mother in law was a contest junkie too. She even won a house one time and she entered us and we won a trip for 4 to Jamaica in 2002!

  10. Matt, I found your website when, like you, I was entering the Jeopardy! Galapagos Sweepstakes. Also, like you, I walk around telling everyone, “travel is the best education of all”. My father was a mechanic on the oil rigs, and back in the 70s and 80s, oil companies would move their employee’s family to the rig location, rather than fly the employee long distances every other month. This allowed me to grow up in Iran (1974-1976), Scotland (1976-1977), Greece (1977-1979) and Italy (1980-1984). Returning to my native land of Canada, I ended up winning the European Council of International School’s medal for International Understanding. It was a reward for being able to understand, adapt and assimilate into these various cultures with little or no help. Now living in Florida, my soul and cells yearn to travel again. I feel like my body’s magnetic alignment calls for me to be in places that have been civilly inhabited for thousands of years. However this happens, I strive to continue to share the joys of learning new and wonderful things about our world and it’s people. Thank you for sharing, and for your work, and any suggestions you might have!

  11. I wish I could do what you do! I can count on one hand how many times I’ve gone on vacation in my life, and now I fear that being poor and middle-aged is going to kill my dreams of travel. You are an inspiration, though! Do you think the world needs a neurotic, picky, needy, adrenaline-seeking, 6 foot tall redhead travel blogger? If so, I’M IN! ha

  12. Hello,
    I loved your story. I finally started a blog and I should have been doing all along. I have 30 years of travel experience and its time to admit its the only thing I know how to really do.

  13. Your story and website are great. I found myself on a similiar path recently and I’m aspiring to full fill all my travel needs. I hope my website will hold me accountable for all that I want to do. Looking forward to following your adventures. And hopefully see you out and about someday.

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