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)
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.
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.