So I technically missed the exact date. The anniversary of LandLopers was actually last week, but I was busy and before I realized it the day had come and gone. That won’t prevent me though from once again looking back and taking stock, the 7th time I’ve done so here on the site. It was a drizzly and typically gloomy Saturday morning in March when I first started tinkering around with WordPress. I didn’t actually know what a blog was per se, but I had been active on Twitter the months leading up to the big reveal and followed many of the bloggers who were active. The travel blogosphere was a different place in 2010, there weren’t nearly as many of us, the Millennials hadn’t yet decided en masse to quit their jobs and travel the world so in large part, with some notable exceptions, it was left up to the Gen-Xers to lead the way. Again. It’s a common refrain in the history of the last 20 years, but it was a task we were well prepared to handle. At first I had no expectations from the site. Sure, I had wild fantasies of finding a way to leave my full time job and make travel a career, but it didn’t seem remotely possible. I had (and have) a house, car, dogs, and responsibilities. I live in one of the most expensive suburban areas in the U.S. and it didn’t seem possible that I’d be able to replicate or exceed the salary and benefits I received from my traditional job. Until I did, that is. It’s been nearly five years since I made the transition from hobby blogger to professional blogger and I’ve learned a lot along the way; mostly through making incredible and at times terrible mistakes. But that’s life and this is the new chapter I’ve written for myself so please indulge me, yet again, as I offer up some observations from seven years as a travel blogger.
Looking back at the posts from Year 1, I cringe but resist the urge to “improve them.” The site, I believe, has a story arc and to remove the first few chapters would be to destroy the overall narrative. Still, it amazes me how far I’ve come. My photos were abysmal and the prose choppy at best. I kept trying new things in an attempt to hit on something different and in the process created a lot of duds. But still, people came and read. Comments flew and the discussion was at times intense. For the first couple of years I maintained a dizzying publishing schedule while still working a full time job. In essence, I was doing two jobs at once, one with pay and the other without. But it wasn’t before long when the blog took over completely. It was a slow growth, but growth all the same and there came a point when it was clear to everyone which fork in the road I should take. Since that epic decision, the site has only improved. Through a number of redesigns and tweaks, the site isn’t perfect but I like it. It’s more than a companion, it’s my digital home. It’s my happy place, it’s a place I know better than any other. I’ve hit the publish button more than 5,000 times and that exhilaration of unleashing upon the world something new and hopefully different never gets old. Yes, I love travel dearly otherwise I wouldn’t be in this profession, but it’s that sharing of information, the give and take that occurs, that’s the real motivation. That’s what is ultimately the most fun aspect of this strange job.
And it is very much a job, a fact many people still don’t understand. I haven’t punched a metaphorical time-card in five years and yet here I am, still living in that overpriced suburb and doing just fine. I work harder than I ever have in my life and believe me, I’ve always worked hard. There are good days and some profoundly bad days, but overall the ride has been an absolute joy. We all have different dreams and aspirations in life but this is mine. This is what I enjoy doing more than anything else and to have the rare opportunity to make it my life’s work is a privilege like none other.
More than improving my photos and writing, LandLopers has been an instrument of incredible personal growth. I’ve written about it a million times, but my life before the blog was not the one I wanted. I was deeply unhappy, except that I didn’t realize it at the time. That unhappiness had become so normal and commonplace that I just accepted it as life. It wasn’t until things in my life started to improve that I fully realized just how miserable I was. I was unmotivated, overweight, my relationships with friends and family suffered – nothing was going right. That’s because I had successfully ignored my true calling in life for more than a decade, but my subconscious was fighting back. My entire life I’ve been fascinated by all things international and foreign. I have two degrees in International Relations and fully intended to enter the Foreign Service for a life overseas. But then I decided not to, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here, and instead took a job doing something I didn’t like, but which paid the bills. It’s so easy in life to keep doing things because they’re easy. We as humans always choose the easiest route, it’s just in our nature. When entering a building, people will always enter through a door already open rather than take the millisecond to open a new one. But it’s opening that new door which is so important, so transformative and that’s ultimately what I did 7 years ago. It would have been far too easy to keep going with the flow, but instead I didn’t just open a new door, I created it out of the ether. I created this job for myself out of pure willpower and perseverance and because of that it’s so much more than an occupation. This career and website have become important aspects of who I am as a person. It’s how I now define myself, how I present myself to the world. If you stop to think about it, that’s a tremendous amount of change and personal growth in just a few short years. It can take people decades to realize their goals in life, if they ever do, and while I’m far from perfecting anything (believe me) I’m on the right track. More than the trips or other perks the true reward of this site has been in becoming a better man. It’s an entirely selfish pursuit, but one that I needed to undertake. I needed to be shocked and scared, I needed to work and scrape. I needed to create this out of nothing in order to truly appreciate everything it has done for me.
Station Stop and Not a Terminal
Forgive me the train lingo, but I think it’s apt. It always annoys me when people call Grand Central in New York a station. It’s not, it’s a terminal, meaning that it’s the final stop on the route. A station however is but one of many stops on the journey, and that’s where I see myself right now. Over the last four decades my life has taken any number of unexpected turns, both positive and negative. I’m not unique in that, that’s life for all of us. But one thing that age has given me is perspective. While at one time I thought that each new change was it, the end, that was my life, I now realize that all of those changes were but stations on the route. They’re pass-throughs and I kind of see LandLopers in the same way. This blog is not how I will spend the rest of my days, I know that. No, don’t worry, I’m not giving up on travel blogging anytime soon but I also know that this site will in turn lead to something else, which will lead to something else and so on. No, rather than try to find my terminus (Sounds depressing doesn’t it?) what I believe is more important is to make sure that I’m on the right track in the first place. For a long time I wasn’t, and that proverbial train was taking me into some very dark (and incredibly boring) stops. I flipped the switch though and rerouted the train into new stations. Stations full of life and energy, stations where I’m happy. I’m not ignorant enough to think that I will spend however much time I have left on this planet as a travel blogger. But whatever I do next will be on this same path. It will follow along with my passions and dreams and that, more than anything else, is what is so very important. It’s not key that you find whatever it is you think you’ll do for the rest of your life, that almost never works out. No, what’s important is that you’re on the right track in the first place. If you are, then no matter how many starts and stops there are, you will eventually end up in the place where you were meant to be.