How I Quit My Job To Travel The World

The Unemployment Plan1. Quit Job2. Travel the world

Let’s not lie. Anyone who knows me, or anyone who has been reading this blog for the past 5 years, will know that it has always been my lifelong dream to travel the world and get paid for it. In fact, over the past decade, I have done every job under the sun to make a life abroad a reality. From au-pairing in Australia, teaching English in South Korea, doing NGO work in India, interning in Canada, volunteering in east and southern Africa and studying abroad in Europe, I have spent years trying out new jobs in an effort to keep travelling and to hopefully find the perfect fit. The problem is was, no job that allocates a mere 20 vacation days a year was every going to suit me and my endless wanderlust.

Why I quit my job to travel the world?

Time to practice what I preach

This is where the ‘why’ part comes in. As a strong advocate (to anyone who will listen) of living your dreams and never settling, I decided in August of this year that it was time to practice what I preach. I handed in my one month’s notice for my PR manager job, (despite getting paid more than I had ever been paid in the past, loving my colleagues and having recently got a promotion!) and decided it was time to go solo. Sitting in an office for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week was never my idea of ‘living my dreams’ and 20 measly vacation days was never, and I mean NEVER, going to be enough.

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High cost of living in Ireland

The problem was (and is for many others I believe) that despite decent pay, I was really struggling to enjoy life back home in Ireland. I felt I was simply earning money each month so that I could afford to live in Dublin and pay for transport to get to work. Almost half my pay check each month was going towards rent and transport costs, and the remainder going on food, bills and the odd bit of budget travel. I was working so hard to make a living, that I was no longer actually living my life.

Inspired by other professional bloggers

When your lifelong dream is to travel the world and get paid, following in the footpaths of those that have taken that path before you is always a good place to start! Over the past 12 months, as my dream of becoming a full time travel blogger started to take shape and I slowly but surely started to build up the courage to quit by job, I started to follow all my favourite (and most successful) travel bloggers and online entrepreneurs a little more closely. Super successful Irish bloggers such as Carlo and Florence from Next Stop Who Knows were probably my biggest inspiration over the past few months and their encouragement and kind words did not go unnoticed. The fact that they hit their first 5 figure income (after 2 years of full time travel!) in August was a real turning point for me. If they can do it, I can do it! Most professional travel bloggers I know started making money by signing up to a Travel Blog Success course, so if you’re looking to follow in my footsteps, that might me a good start.

The time was just right

I decided that if I was ever going to become a full time travel blogger (my lifelong goal!!) and a budding entrepreneur, now was the time. Not next year, not in two years, but right now. I had some money saved to keep me going in case my plan totally failed. I knew I would not find it too difficult to find another job as the offers had actually being flowing in on LinkedIn, and I could always head abroad to find a teaching job if everything in Ireland didn’t work out. My travel blog was also really starting to take off. I was shortlisted (and later a finalist) for Best Travel Blog in Ireland and Cosmopolitan Travel Blogger of the Year. I had started working with very big travel brands and PR agencies, and offers of paid press trips were starting to trickle through my inbox. Just before I finished up, one of my articles got published on National Geographic while another was picked up by Matador Network and had gone somewhat viral with over 40,000 Facebook shares. The time was most definitely right.

How I quit my job to travel the world

Step 1: The Unemployment Plan

I actually sat down one evening, when I had less than 1 week of work left, and wrote something I like to call ‘The Unemployment Plan’. While it was mainly to satisfy my parents growing worries about how on earth I was going to finance myself without a full-time job, it was also to satisfy my own worries and to work out how hard I would need to work to make enough money to survive. I tried not to be over ambitious and told myself that if I could earn 1,000 euro from my travel blog and freelance writing assignments in my first month of unemployment that would be an excellent start. I then made a chart to plan how much I needed to increase this by each month in order to be 100% financially secure by January 1st 2016, four months into my unemployment plan. And by 100% financially secure, I mean have enough money to fly to new travel destinations such as Thailand or South America and enough guaranteed income coming in each month to sustain life as a digital nomad anywhere in the world. Well…anywhere that isn’t ridiculously overpriced like Ireland anyway!

The Unemployment Plan1. Quit Job2. Travel the world

Step 2: Monetize your travel blog

The second step in my long and winding path to becoming a full time travel blogger was to start monetizing my blog. By the beginning of September I was getting up to 50,000 hits a month on this blog which is pretty good for a travel blog. It’s nowhere near the big hitters like Nomadic Matt, Adventurous Kate or The Planet D, but it was growing steadily and was certainly enough to start attracting attention.

Travel-Blog-Success

Google ads

I bought my own domain name (for the past 4 years this blog used to be called janetnewenham.wordpress.com and it’s still my biggest regret that I did not buy my domain name earlier!), went from being hosted on WordPress.com to being self-hosted on WordPress.org then decided to set up Google adsense to see if I could cash in on those 50,000 monthly visitors. Guys, I’m going to be 100% honest here….I make peanuts from these adverts! Sometimes I wonder if they’re even worth it but if your site sees a big spike in traffic….so does your bank balance so I’m leaving them there for now.

Social Media posts

While bloggers can make money from social media, I find that having a big presence on social media with a large number of engaged followers will help you with all other elements of monetizing your blog. A large Facebook following will guarantee you steady traffic to your blog, and will also get you noticed by big travel companies and PR agencies. I have encountered many digital media agencies over the past few months who all seem to care more about how big my social media following is than how many hits my actual blog gets. Social is everything. Look at people like Scott Eddy (one of the world’s top travel tweeters) for inspiration. His Facebook posts are enough to make even the most well-traveled blogger green with envy, and he is a great example of how people can make a big income from social media. Gloria from The Blog Abroad is also kicking ass in the travel blogging world at the moment, especially on both Instagram and Snapchat.

 Sponsored posts While my very high target with Google ads was a complete disaster, I feel my very low target for sponsored posts has been surpassed. Every now and then I get contacted by a company who would like to write a guest post for my site, or would like me to write about them. At the beginning, and with travel startups in particular, I did this for free and always got lots of good feedback. In the last two months however, I did up a rate card and now charge people for these posts. I only ever accept sponsored posts which I feel fit in with the overall theme and tone of my blog, and only work with companies that I would use myself. I now earn about 4-600 euro a month from these posts which is a nice start!

Step 3: Write for other travel sites

Guest Blogging This is one of my favourite ways to make money and was not originally in ‘The Unemployment Plan’! Many big travel companies hire bloggers to write guest posts on their site. They know the content will be good, that the blogger already has a big social media following that the blog post can be shared with and that the travel blogger brings with them their own brand or personality and with it credibility. I am currently the resident blogger with a few Irish travel companies as well as a few well known travel brands further a field. 

Freelance writing As most of my monthly income comes from freelance writing gigs this is considered the real money maker! If you plan on following in my footsteps and quitting your job, this will be key to your survival (unless of course you have other wicked skills like Michelle-Fleur from DashesnDutch). As Skyscanner has always been one of my favourite travel tools and I always liked to write about them, I contacted their UK Editor and was delighted to find out she was looking for Irish writers for the Skyscanner blog. I absolutely love writing for them as I get to think up new ideas each month and pitch them, which always keeps me on my toes! 

Today’s office…. A photo posted by Janet Newenham (@janetnewenham) on

 

  Step 4: Stop paying for travel

Press and fam trips  For most people starting out in the travel blogging world, press trips and fam trips are their ultimate goal. Nothing beats travelling the world for free . Press trips are invitations from PR agencies or Tourism organizations involve a group of travel journalists and bloggers going to a set destination. The schedule is usually pretty jam packed with activities and you will be absolutely shattered at the end of it. You will be expected to constantly update your social media with photos and posts and to be actively engaged with he people you meet everywhere you go. These trips can often be paid trips, but if they’re not you’ll still have all your travel expenses covered. I really enjoy going on press trips and love meeting other bloggers, but I have to be careful not to sign up for too many because each day spent on one of these is lost income for me. 

Paid trips

While I have only been on a few of these, they are definitely one of the best perks of being a travel blogger. These paid trips are usually organized by tourism boards or large travel companies and involve either a group of travel bloggers or you on your own going to a place with the sole purpose of promoting it on social media and writing up a detailed review of your stay. This review can either be on your own travel blog or on the companies blog. How much you get paid for these trips depends on how much you can bring to the table and how much of a good of a negotiator you are. In my case in might just be a few hundred euro to cover my time, while all expenses will also (obviously) be covered. I was recently offered $1,000 for a 2 week tour of Indonesia but sadly was unable to go.

Hotel and airline reviews

One way to save money is to start reviewing everywhere you stay. Hotels, airlines and tour companies love getting feedback on their services so if you can provide them with a detailed and honest review on your site, which they know will be read by your thousands of followers, they will be very open to offering you a free nights stay, an upgrade, a free day tour or whatever else you are looking for. I find that the work I put in when working with hotels and airlines far surpasses the value of what they are giving me, and I would not have it any other way. I will post funny selfies with pilots, take more pictures on board (or in the hotel) than I ever thought possible and be 100% sure that they are happy with the effort I am putting in and the coverage they are getting. Travel bloggers should never take these perks for granted!

Step 5: Be your own PR manager

If companies can pay big chunks of money to be their PR managers then it only makes sense that I should use my own skills to promote myself and my blog. Admittedly, this can be one of the toughest parts of being a professional travel blogger for most people. Have you ever tried to write a press release about yourself, writing all about how wonderful and talented you are in the third person?! It’s horrible and makes you feel such a big-headed ass. If you want to get places, and win awards, and get featured and be interviewed and make all those top travel blogger lists, then it needs to be done. I have worked so hard for over 5 years to grow my own personal brand. I have stayed up late night after night writing blog posts and doing research and I have spent days on social media trying to grow my brand and get my name out there. Thanks to a brilliant PR Manager and agent (ahem, that’s me!) I have been featured in both local and national newspapers and magazines, have had my work republished in The Huffington Post, have been interviewed by top Irish media sites. I also spoke at my first conference this year, the Digital Tourism conference in the Titanic Belfast. It was such an incredible experience and I hope to speak at many more next year. article-cork-evening-echo

Like I said at the start, I am very new to this and have only been doing it full time for just over four months! I am so excited to see what 2016 brings and have big plans on how to make this blog much bigger, better and more useful for all! I am hoping to try out some affiliate programmes, write an e-book about everything I have learned from 10 years of solo travel (and 5 years of travel blogging!) and maybe even secure some speaking engagements! If you have any tips I don’t know about, or any useful advice, I would love to hear about them! Janet x

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How To Get Published on The Huffington Post

Ready-To-Get-Published

Ever wondered how to get published on The Huffington Post, and online news site that gets over one million hits every months? Here 7 accomplished writers, bloggers and photographers give some tips on how to get published on The Huffington Post.

how to get published on huffington post

Bloggers love to blog. We love it, of course we do. But, as much as we love blogging just ‘for the sake of it’, what we really love is getting more readers. We love getting more hits. We love getting more followers. It means so much to bloggers when our posts get read, commented on and even better…shared. As much as we love blogging on our own sites, the opportunity to blog on external sites is very appealing. So many bloggers are creating the most incredible content every day and sadly no one is seeing all these wonderful posts.

Enter The Huffington Post. If you haven’t heard of The Huffington Post, you must be living under a rock. With an Alexa ranking of 93 (meaning it is the 93rd most visited site in the world!), over 1 BILLION unique page views a month and tens of millions of visitors, it really is in a world of its own.If you are looking to share your writing with the world, and you really would be sharing it with the whole world, then The Huffington Post is a site you should be aiming to get published on. Aim hugh, as they say.

So the question is, how on earth does a blogger/writer/rambler like me get published on a site like that? Fear not, for I have done the hard work for you for! I have talked to some incredible bloggers from around the world and they have all kindly offered to share their Huffington Post experiences. Find out how to get published, and what incredible things it will do for you and your blog. 

Amanda Walkins – Blogger at AWalk on the Run

amanda walkins

How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post?
I initially got published on The Huffington Post after reaching out to their new section “The Third Metric” via email. They had a post on their main page for that section seeking new contributors, so I emailed that address directly, rather than a general inbox. I linked to my blog and told them briefly about where I live and what I write about, and told them how my lifestyle was in line with that section’s main concepts. Within about an hour I had access to the backend of the blog to post whenever and whatever I wanted.

How has it helped your blog? 

While I’ve written a few articles for HuffPost, two have gone viral and drawn a ton of attention to my blog. My average article will bring in a handful of new Twitter followers, blog followers, and Facebook adds, but the two that went viral boosted my numbers in a huge way. After the most recent one, I gained more than 50 blog followers within 4 days – which is big for a newer niche blog like mine! I’ve also had a lot of HuffPost readers reach out to me directly with in-depth questions on moving abroad, so it’s prompted me to cover other topics on the blog that I hadn’t thought of before.
It’s been a great experience, and a great way to build my portfolio as a freelance writer as well. I can write about topics on HuffPost that are completely unrelated to my blog’s central theme, which opens up new doors to me. Basically, I love writing for HuffPost in case you couldn’t tell. Except for some of the comments…people can be harsh! Keep that in mind if you write anything that could be at all controversial (or just completely misunderstood in my case). 

Cliff Hsia Blogger/Owner of LiveFamilyTravel

ckiff hsia huff post

How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post?

I initially got published after I came back from my half-year cultural sabbatical of world travel. I pitched the editors of the Travel section with a simple message and a link to my blog post, titled “What I Learned From Five Months of Travel”. They liked it and it got published the next week. With a bit of beginner’s luck, the article was featured prominently on the Travel section for almost a whole week and has been one of my most well received articles on HuffPost to date.
I think the key to success is to pitch with one really good post that fits the content style of HuffPost. Good timing, persistence, and bit of luck helps too.

How has it helped your blog?

My blog has two distinct periods: before HuffPost and after HuffPost. With the large readership of HuffPost, my articles have been read by a lot of new readers, which results in a big increase in traffic to Live Family Travel. HuffPost has been the single biggest contributor to my early stage blog growth. Moreover, since most HuffPost articles are picked up by Flipboard, a considerable amount of new readers come from there as well. 

Lizzie Davey  Blogger at WanderfulWorld 

lizzie davey

How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post?

I’d just got back from Romania and was looking for places to pitch articles ideas from my trip, so I sent them a draft of a post I’d written highlighting my personal experiences in Bucharest and how I thought the city was changing rapidly. I initially reached out just to have that post published, but they gave me my own login details and the freedom to write posts and publish them whenever I wanted. 

How has it helped your blog? 

Whenever I publish a blog on the HuffPo I notice a surge in social media followers, subscribers, and views. My destination specific articles on there are the most popular, drawing in lots of visitors from those regions who have strong opinions. I’ve also had a number of brands approach me through my blogs on the HuffPo with press trip opportunities, and it always piques clients’ interest when I mention it in a pitch for new work. 

Aimee ChanEditor of Suitcases and Strollers

aimee chan

How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post?  

I received an email from Arianna Huffington inviting me to submit some posts and hooking me up with the editorial team. I think the key was to ensure that I pitched a story idea that was unique and had a clear point of view. I wrote it in a way so as to ensure that the editors would know exactly what kind of story they would be getting from me.
 

How has it helped your blog?

In the world of online I expected the response in traffic to be instantaneous and direction-changing and it wasn’t at all. At first I was disappointed. But after a couple of months and a lot of diligent plugging away, I have found that now there is definitely a correlation between my website’s traffic and what I publish on Huffington Post. The readers I get from Huffington Post are more interactive and loyal too — they email me personally and want to develop a relationship with me and my website. However, it is not always the stories that you think will be popular that are. The one that has been the most successful for me was the one that had nothing to do with my website at all, so you never can tell what is going to work. 

Ellen Frankel Author at AuthorEllenFrankel

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How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post? 

I was first published on The Huffington Post in December 2012. The blog was called: Five Lessons of Hanukkah to Unwrap. I had been working with a publicist for one of my books that was being released that spring (Revolution of Jewish Spirit) and had written this short piece, which she sent out to various outlets. I did not know that she was planning on sending it to The Huffington Post, but she did, and they published it and then invited me to become a blogger. Since then, I have enjoyed blogging for them and have published 10 posts.

How has it helped your blog?

I used to blog on my website but have done much less blogging since I went back to work (I am a bereavement counselor at a non-profit hospice in the Boston area). I do have 7 books published (actually, the 7th will be out this spring) and hopefully the blogs help book sales or at least get the word out about my books. I have had great feedback from many posts, especially my blog called: The Edge of Grief: A Summer Reflection, which seemed to resonate with a lot of people.

Tom Gill Photographer at TomGillPhotography

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How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post?

A few years back, some of my frozen lighthouse photos were featured in a regional US magazine including the cover.  Shortly after, my images were discovered on my flickr.com photo sharing account by a news publisher in Australia.  The news syndicate ran a feature on the images and included a link to my personal blog.  A few days later, the Huffington Post contacted me and licensed the images for an article and feature on Huffington Post. Many other publishers and sites followed.  The Huffington Post followed up last December and ran a new set of frozen lighthouse images, and at that time, the photo editor asked me to become a photo blogger for Huffington Post.  I agreed to the terms, and they set up an account for me.  Now I can blog about what I wish, when I wish.  So while most of my posts so far have been in the Travel vertical, I’m really not a travel blogger, I’m a photo blogger, and will blog about my experiences where ever they take me.  But they do seem to fit well in travel.

How has it helped your blog?

The exposure from the initial features in Huffington Post (and other media outlets such as the Weather Channel) have increased traffic to my blog, and my photo sharing site.  In fact, after publication my page views on Flickr increased from an average of 3,000 a day, to over 80,000 a day.  Of course, this spikes, then falls a few days later, but it has not gone back as low as 3,000 in many months it averages around 10,000 a day.  My blog traffic also increased, but the numbers aren’t as dramatic, but percentage wise, it has increased 300%.

I don’t actively market my photography as many others do, I’m rather passive, so I rely on publications linking back to my work for additional work and photo sales. In addition to The Huffington Post, and the Weather Channel, my photos have been featured in books, magazines, calendars, news outlets, and countless web pages. I’m hoping to build a following on The Huffington Post.  My first entries received about 30 Facebook likes, but my post about shelf ice received over 10,000 Facebook likes, and hundreds of shares.  It could be the subject, or how it engaged the readers, I really can’t tell.

Carol E Wyer – Writer at Facing 50 With Humour

carol e wyer

How did you initially get published on The Huffington Post?

I was very lucky as The Huffington Post approached me to write for them. I had just finished How Not to Murder Your Grumpy and The Huffington Post requested a copy to read and review from my publishers. After reading it they invited me to write for their Huff50 section and wanted the initial couple of posts to be written in a similar vein to that book.

How has it helped with book sales or your blog?

I can’t really say if writing for The Huffington Post has lifted sales as I have also been involved in a lot of media work and appearances on television and radio also affect sales. However, one post I wrote had a link to my blog and a post I had written about If Men Were More Like Women. The day the Huffington Post article went live, my blog got 850 hits, substantially more than normal. I also saw an increase in number of followers on Twitter and Facebook and was invited by other websites to write for them on the back of posts written for The Huffington Post.

Writing for The Huffington Post has given me opportunities and assisted me hugely as a writer. It tests my writing skills and is very enjoyable.

So what are you waiting for?!  Get pitching those articles now! 

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New Year’s Resolution: Stop Giving Up!

happy new year 2015.young man jumping and drawing 2015

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

– Albert Einstein –

Every year I make a list of new year’s resolutions, and at the end of every year I find myself looking back on that list and realising how little I accomplished. Not that I accomplished very little in general, I just failed to stick to and complete the list. I doubt I’m the only one who looks back at their list, sigh and then writes the same list again. So why are we still writing the same resolutions, when we already know the outcome? Isn’t it about time we all changed our thinking when it comes to new years resolutions?

We all vow to stop drinking, to stop being so lazy, to stop eating unhealthily, to stop using facebook, to stop smoking or to stop spending so much. Why do we always have to STOP doing things? Why do always vow to stop doing the same things at the beginning of each year? Maybe, just maybe, if we vowed to take on more things we wouldn’t have to feel bad about all those guilty pleasures.

This year I am not giving anything up. I am not quitting. I am not vowing to lose weight, to get fit or to stop drinking. If any of those things happen along this journey, happy days, but they will not be my new year’s goals.

So, what are my new year’s resolutions? What are YOUR new year’s resolutions? Maybe we cans share a few…

1. Make some new friends

This may seem like a strange one, as I’m sure most of us already have a pretty amazing circle of friends. However, I believe one can never have too many friends and if we don’t stay open to new friendships there are so many incredible people out there who we may never meet. Say YES to more nights out, to more road trips, to more last-minute flights. Talk to that person sitting next to you on the bus…you never know who they could turn out to be.

2. Ask more questions.

In order to expand your mind, it’s important to never stop asking questions. We need to stop asking google and start asking each other. Ask your parents, your best friend, your 94-year-old granny. There’s so much we don’t know yet thanks to the internet we now feel we are experts at everything. I feel in recent years I have lost my voice in a way, caring too much about what others think or if I’m asking a ‘stupid question’. Honestly, I think the internet has made  us more boring rather than more interesting.

3. Read more.

In a way, I think we could all do with reading more, and I’m not talking about scanning over your newsfeed on facebook or scrolling through endless, mindless buzzfeed pages. Put down your phone, your tablet, your laptop, and actually spend an hour each night in your own little digital detox. I think it will do wonders for the mind. (I stole this idea from Mark Zuckerberg, who has vowed to read a book every second week for the entire year. If one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs can make time to read, then so can I!)

4. Learn something new.

Be it a language, a musical instrument or a new sport…or maybe one of each. For years now I keep catching myself, and many others, saying ‘Oh I wish I knew another language,’ or ‘I wish I had learned how to play the guitar when I as younger but now I guess it’s too late.’ Too late?? I know we will be hitting the big 30 soon, but we’re hardly old aged pensioners. It’s never too late to make that leap. It’s never too late to learn something new. It could also be a great way for you to make new friends!

5. Eat a breakfast fit for a King.

If, like me, you really are disastrous at eating 3 healthy meals a day and snack on a ridiculous amount of junk food then this could be the way forward. Eating breakfast really sets you up for the day and helps you to start in on a positive note, Make TIME for breakfast. Stop hitting the snooze button, treat yourself to fresh fruit and yogurt or porridge or whatever takes your fancy really. You’ll start each and every day on a high note, have more energy and the bonus is it’s a great start to a healthier lifestyle.

6. Do things that make you happy.

For me, nothing puts a smile on my face like finding cheap flights…and then booking them. I don’t known if it’s an obsession or an addiction. Either way, it makes me happy and thus it’s something I will continue to do! For other people it’s going for a run in the morning, or going to the cinema or buying new shoes. Maybe it’s taking photographs, maybe it’s spending time with younger cousins or nieces and nephews. This year, try to find that one thing that makes you happier than anything else then spend as much time as you can doing that thing. It’s your life, it makes sense to make it a great one!

7. Love who you are.

This is a difficult one. We spend so much time comparing our lives to others, as if life is one big competition. We compare looks, we compare jobs, success, income, friend circles. We compare boyfriends and girlfriends and cars and handbags. We forget that everyone, and I mean everyone, has their own personal demons. We all have problems, issues, difficulties. The problem is no one ever shares the negativity and no one ever talks about it. Make 2015 the year that you really love yourself. Love your body, love your job, love your family and your friends. I know it might sound clichéd, but we really need to start seeing ourselves in a more positive light because at the end of the day, we’re all pretty darn awesome in our own ways.

8. Learn a party trick.

So many of my friends have very cool party tricks. I have none. I even know the party trick I wish to learn, I just need to make some time and find someone to help me learn how to do it. I am making a promise to myself that another year shall not pass until I have mastered a decent party trick. You should all give it a go too, I mean mastering a new skill – no matter how pointless – can increase your self-esteem, as well as earning you some serious social kudos next time you reveal it in public.

9. Learn how to live without your phone.

I’m not talking about a  365 day detox or throwing your new iphone out the window, I’m talking about learning to be a normal, responsive member of the human race for a few hours each day. When I was travelling in South East Asia this summer, I survived 2 months without a phone. It was only then that I realised how glued we are to our phones. Every bar, every restaurant, every beautiful beach side café was filled with young tanned backpackers updating their facebook statuses instead of actually enjoying the ‘paradise’ they were writing about. This year I vow to be more mindful when using my phone, especially in the company of others.

10. Make space for a mid year resolution

It’s a bit silly to plan a whole year during the first week of January, we need to leave some space for spontaneity!

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2014 – Looking Back At The Highs And Lows

I think it’s always good to take some time to think about the year that has passed. There will be good memories, and there will of course be bad memories, but as they say time is one of the biggest gifts in life and we need to appreciate and be thankful for every last moment we are given. Sometime the days, the weeks, the months fly by so fast we don’t have time to reflect on what we have done, what we are doing or what we hope to do in the future.

As one of my New Year’s resolutions is to blog more, it makes senses that I should write this post on January 1st. I must not put off ’til tomorrow what can very easily be done today. There’s another resolution for you!

So, before I sit down and make out a list of the things I would like to accomplish this year (and we all know that’s going to be quite the list!!) let me take a look back to see what weird and wonderful things I managed to achieve in 2014.

Personal achievements

first 10km group pic

I started the year on a real health buzz, committed to going to the gym 5 days a week, started running 10km races in Korea with friends and even accomplished a big goal of mine which was to run my first half marathon!

For the first time in about a decade, I succeeded in giving up alcohol for lent…a total period of 46 days. I even managed to survive St Patrick’s Day sober. Miracles do happen!

It may sound like a weird thing to call an “achievement” but some of the friends I made in 2014, the same friends I had to sadly say goodbye to in July, were some of the closest, most meaningful friendships I have ever been lucky enough to have. As my friend Shruti put it, “We’ll be friends for generations!” Great friends don’t come along that often, so when you find them you need to keep them close and really treasure them. You know who you are! :-)

At the beginning of the year I succeeded in losing 10kg over a 3 month period and for the first time in years I felt perfectly confident in my own body. Bikinis on the beach were no longer an issue…at least for a while as sadly while it’s hard to lose weight it’s even more difficult to maintain said ideal weight.

This lovely little blog, which I sort of neglected last year, got nominated for an Irish Blog Award for the first time ever. I did not win any prizes (sad face) but sure that’s something to aim for this year.

Writing for The Irish Times has been a really exciting part of 2014 for me. My first article was published while in South Korea, and detailed what it was like to spend Paddy’s Day abroad. Then, once I returned to Ireland I have been working as a a freelance business and technology journalist for the last few months which has been a huge confidence boost when it comes to my writing.

Failures? My pathetic attempt to give up facebook for lent lasted a grand total of 3 days. We rely so much on our online social networks for keeping in touch and organizing events I fear the only way to escape them is to become a hermit for a month. Tempting.

Travel memories

mermaids boracay

Starting the new year in Cambodia with some of my closest friends from Korea. Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat temple at the beginning of 2014 was a pretty special memory, especially as it was with such an amazing group of friends.

Fun in the Philippines – heading back to Boracay for my birthday with my running buddy Lauren was brilliant. Despite bad weather for the entire time we were there, we still managed to have lots of fun dressing up like mermaids and posing on the beach for loads of confused bystanders!

Weekends away in South Korea – camping on a deserted island, hiring a Korean tall ship for a weekend with 40 mad but amazing expats, ski trips which included amazing outdoor scented hot tubs in the snow and chilled out weekends on the beach with the besties. Every weekend in Korea was essentially a travel memory not to be forgotten.

In May, I got to go to a city I had always dreamed of going to..Hong Kong. And boy was it worth it. I still think I would move there in a heart beat if I could find the right job. Even better, I got to go there with friends from Ireland and relive childhood dreams by spending a day in DisneyLand!

The summer involved 2 months backpacking around Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. I still have not blogged about any of those adventures but hope to get around to it within the next 2 weeks. While most of my memories of this trip are positive, thanks mainly to Rebecca, Shruti, Morne, Johann and all the awesome people I met while on the road, it was certainly a period of mixed emotion at times.

My last trip of the year was a long weekend in Paris visiting old friends, checking out the Christmas markets, taking part in SantaCon and just enjoying all that belle Paris has to offer. A perfect destination to end a great year.

Failures? I wanted to travel home overland on the trans siberian. Sadly, for a combination of reasons including visa issues, lack of a travel buddy, finances and my desire to spend a ridiculous amount of time lunging on the beach in Thailand, this did not happen. I also wanted to go to many more*new* countries and instead found myself returning to countries I had already visited. Not bothered about that too much though…some countries are so beautiful you need to visit many, many times to truely appreciate all that they have to offer.

The “Job” front

travayl mobile travel app

I finished up my contract in South Korea and decided it was finally time to but that chapter of my life behind me. I wanted to move back to Ireland and try to “settle”, which in my world means trying to stay in one country and one job for longer than a year. Time to reconnect with old friends, rebuild friendships and start building a career.

The first few weeks home were tough. In fact, in a way, I’m still finding it tough. It;s always hard to know for sure if you have made the right decision to move home after living the expat life for so long. Committing to stay in Ireland can be very daunting and I feel like I have been on an emotional roller-coaster the last few months.

I spent my first 3 months home working for a travel start-up called Travayl, which helps bloggers like me to monetize their travel photos. I learned so much about the tech and star-up community here in Dublin and decided it’s an area I want to become more involved in. It’s a really exciting sector and one which motivates me to no end.

I had to make a really tough job decision in December which involved me turning down a dream job with the United Nations in favour of a job here in Ireland.It troubled me a lot and a lot of lists were made weighing up the pros and cons. In the end, I truly believe I made the right decision and am very excited to get started in my new role later this month. *watch this space*

I’m excited to see what sort of obstacles, hoops and adventures the next 364 days will throw at me.

BRING IT ON.

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My first South Korean Half Marathon

peace marathon

When I signed up to run my first ever South Korean Half Marathon, I never imagined I would find myself limping along a motorway, having ran consistently for 18km, suddenly being shouted at my some strange Korean man telling me to get into his car. No, that was definitely not how I imagined my first half marathon would go.

Many of you reading this blog will probably get a good laugh out of this post. Many of you know me pretty well, and know I’m not *exactly* the athletic type. While I’m ashamed to admit it, the type of marathons I’m associated with involve either sitting on the couch and watching 10 episodes of ‘Criminal Minds’ back-to-back or heading out with friends for a marathon drinking session. Like I said, this is not something I’m proud of but it is the truth!

For Lent this year, despite not being in the slightest bit religious, I decided it was about time I followed in the footsteps of my Dad and gave up alcohol. How hard could it be to not drink for 40 days and 40 nights?! Actually, considering I included all the Sundays, it was actually a 46 days…and while the first few weeks were killer it really wasn’t AS hard as I thought it would be overall. Just don’t EVER make me do another Paddy’s Day sober!

In order to keep myself on track, I signed up to run a Half Marathon in Seoul on March 30th. I’m not entirely sure if I decided to give up alcohol so that I could get fit enough to run the Half Marathon or if I signed up to the Half Marathon to ensure I stayed off alcohol! Either way, the plan worked!

first 10km group pic

With Aiden, Lauren and Tammy having ran our first 10km race of the year!

After months of training in the gym, and completing a few 10km races with some friends, March 30th was fast approaching  and I was slightly terrified. I originally thought the cut off time was 3 hours (and while I know that seems like an awful lot of time to established runners, to me it just about made the race seem ‘doable’!) but the week before I was notified that you must finish in under 2 hours and 30 minutes or you will be thrown off the course. I wasn’t quite sure how they would ‘throw people off the course’ but this scared me even none-the-less! In the lead up to the race, another hurdle was thrown at me when my training  buddy dropped out as she felt she was unable to complete the race in time.

I started to get cold feet. “Nobody would know I didn’t run it”, I thought. “Nobody would really care”. However, at the end of the day, I knew I had put the hard work in, had trained (relatively) hard, and had been sober for over  a month. If this was ever going to happen, NOW was the time!

My friend Lauren and I stayed in a jimjilbang the night before the race, which meant we ended up getting only a few hours sleep on the hard floor of a sauna which was packed with Korean families, old men who snored all night long, and the annoying buzzing of a Korean TV channel  showing the news on repeat.

We woke up early, but not exactly fresh-faced, and headed to the Kintex Stadium in Ilsan where the race was being held. Nerves really started to set in on the walk to the stadium, as we saw all the Koreans kitted out in professional running gear. Not only were we the only foreigners, but it seemed we were also the only women! We had a sudden moment of panic that maybe it was an all-mens marathon but worry soon drifted away once we saw an assortment of middle-aged Korean women stretching and preparing for the race. Besides a scattering of Korean soldiers running as a group, I feel we may have been the youngest runners there. Not that this made me feel much better, in fact if anything it made me feel worse. People twice my age were going to be running past me and laughing, and there was nothing I could do about it.

peace marathon

The day the race pack arrived…it even had my name on it. There was no turning back now!

For the first 6 or 7km of the race, I stuck with a group of people who were aiming to finish the Marathon in 2 hours and 15 minutes. There was a man with a big balloon attached to his backpack with the time written on it, so presumably if you stuck at his pace for the entire race you would finish around the 2.15 mark. Turns out that was over-ambitious on my part and my the 8th kilometer I was running with the 3.30 group, a group that may well have been first-timers.

We were the group at the back, and behind us there was maybe 10-15 stragglers. Behind them was something that scared us all. Each time I glanced back, it seemed to be gaining speed. It kept getting closer, hovering over us like some sort of evil villain. It was of course ‘The Timer Bus’. This wicked bus followed the race and if anyone, anyone at all, falls to the back of the pack and behind the bus…BOOM you get thrown on the bus and are disqualified from the race. At various stages throughout the race, I came dangerously close to this bus, and every time it crept up behind me I wanted to cry. There was no way I had run this far to drop out and spend the last hour following the rest of the runners on a bus!

I reached the 10km mark in about 1 hour and 5 minutes, and was delighted with this time as it was my fastest 10km to date. I also had a renewed source of energy at the 11km mark, as it meant I was on the home straight. There were 2-3 water stops along the way (not enough in my opinion!!) and 1 food/snack stop. I was so far behind the majority of the runners, however, that by the time I reached the ‘snack stop’ just before the 15km mark, all the food was gone. All that remained was empty cereal bar wrappers and banana peels scattered across the road. DEVASTATED.

At this stage the creepy bus was coming really close to me, and few of the people I had been running with early on had already been forced off the course and onto the dream-wrecker of a bus. I tried to push myself, and fasten the pace, but my energy levels were falling rapidly. The internet on my phone had stopped working and the only song that was loaded was The Proclaimers ‘500 Miles’…so that’s pretty much what I listened to on repeat for the last 6 kilometers of the race. Could have been worse, I guess. 

lauren and i

Lauren and I before the race

By the 18th kilometer I was really struggling, and the bus was ramming right up my behind. At the speed I was going (a slow jog) I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete the race in the alloted time. In fairness, the longest run I had ever done before this was 10km, so to get this far was an achievement in itself. No matter what, I told myself, even if I have to walk or crawl the last 3km, I will NOT give up! By muscles ached, my stomach rumbled, my face was the colour of a lobster and my ears started to hurt from listening to the same upbeat song on repeat for the past hour!!

And that is the precise moment that some stranger pulled up beside me and started trying to get me into his car! I was towards the back of the group, all us stragglers sticking together, and this guy starts shouting at me in Korean. He was kind of swerving in front of me, determined to get me to stop. I just pretended not to see him, looked dead straight ahead, and kept pushing my body to run. He would not go away though and soon he started shouting at me in broken English saying, ‘Time’s up. You cannot finish. Get into this car. Get in’. Ehhhh not a chance in hell was I getting in that car. I did not run 18km to give up now. He was super persistent though and drove along side me for the next kilometer shouting intermittently in Korean and English. He finally got the hint that nothing he could say or do would get me into his car and eventually drove off to pester some other runners.

I’m happy to say, despite a wickedly steep hill towards the end, and almost losing my motivation in the final Kilometer, I successfully finished my first Half Marathon in just over 2 hours and 35 minutes and have the medal, certificate and photos to prove it.

half marathon seoul

Tired but happy – first ever Half Marathon completed!

Lesson Learned: Never let anyone stop you from achieving your goals…you have nobody’s expectations to live up to but your own! 

 

 

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