I never set out to become a travel blogger. It’s not like I sat down with my guidance counsellor, Mr Buckley, way back in 2004 and told him that I wanted to travel the world and get paid for it. Mainly because I know he would have laughed in my face, but also because my dream job didn’t even exist 12 years ago!
While my guidance counsellor told me, pretty vaguely, following some sort of aptitude test, that I would in fact make a great fisherman, my sights were set a little higher. From a very young age I was obsessed with fossils. I used to scour the beach every day after school and collect all my precious rocks in a used washing tablets box. I would beg my mum to take me to various museums so the experts could study them and tell me how old they were. That’s right everyone, from the tender age of 7 I wanted to be a Geologist!
Fast forward a few years and my dreams quickly changed. I had found my creative side and was obsessed with writing short stories, making up poems, acting in plays and setting up my own businesses. So what if I was only 15? There’s was always money to be made at school and luckily my favourite teacher, Mr Collins, encouraged me 100%. My entrepreneurial side won over when it came to choosing what I wanted to study in University, with my top 10 choices involving either Business Studies or Economics.
It wasn’t until I actually got to college, following a year working as a Business and Economics teacher in South Africa at the ripe old age of 18, that I discovered I hated maths, accounting and virtually all other elements of the course I was supposed to love. It was also during this first year of college where I dived head first into extra-curricular activities and was on more club and society committees that anyone could keep track of. I believe at one stage I was on 6 committees, was acting class rep, was elected as Equality Officer on the Students Union and wrote for both the college newspaper and weekly Students Union magazine. And it was there that my love of writing really began.
Following a summer back teaching in Kenya (English, this time) I remember sitting in an internet cafe in Kampala, Uganda and reading an email that told me I had been accepted into the Bachelor of Journalism course. One of the happiest days of my life. I continued to write for the college newspaper, sharing my tales of adventure in Africa from hitchhiking to Sudan with Moldovan truck drivers to getting stranded next to a crocodile-infested lake in Northern Kenya.
Upon graduating University in November 2009, I set up a travel blog with the intention of sharing all my crazy travel stories from the past 4 years. Besides my year in South Africa, I returned to Africa 3 times throughout college backpacking and causing mischief in as many countries as possible. My love of travel was well and truly alive and I knew once I graduated there would be no stopping me.
Following a failed attempt to live in Canada (where I did no blogging) and a wild year backpacking in Australia (I probably blogged three times in the entire year!), I finally settled down for a year in South Korea as an English teacher and it was here that my travel blog really started to take shape. It was, at this stage, still just a hobby of mine, and I never thought in a million years that I would one day actually get paid to do what I love and share my wacky adventures with others. A lot of people were reading my blog though and I simply loved writing!
By the time I got to Korea, I had travelled to over 30 countries and all my friends knew I was totally addicted. While I loved my life in Korea, the friends I had made and the adorable kids i wa teaching, I felt my job was not challenging enough. My friends back home were all climbing the career ladder, and I started to worry that I might need to re-join the real world. Instead of spending the thousands of euro I had saved in Korea on a few months backpacking, I headed back to Ireland, applied to do a Masters in Humanitarian Action, and paid for my course up front….in cash. It was the only way to stop myself from booking a flight out of there!
The course was the best thing that ever happened to me and opened my eyes a lot wider to the world we live in. My blog was put on hold for two years, as I put all my energy into learning how to set up a refugee camp, how to prevent malaria, disaster management techniques and how to do a full comprehensive security analysis. I even returned to Kenya for a month to do field research for my final year thesis, spent a few weeks in Tbilisi, Georgia learning about the situation there with IDPs and refugees, and graduated with a full-time job offer and aspirations for a successful career in the humanitarian field.
I was one of the only people to get a full-time job offer straight out of college, and was excited to represent a great NGO based in Ireland that works with street children in Calcutta, India. I loved visiting the projects on the ground but soon discovered that an office job simply wasn’t for me no matter how good the cause was. My feet are meant to roam!
Fast forward 12 months, that magic number in the life of Janet when wanderlust and itchy feet syndrome set in, and I was on the hunt for a new adventure. I had decided to go back to Korea for another year when I was all of a sudden headhunted by Google to join some new outreach team they were putting together.
Friendships, fun and the opportunity to travel won this mental battle (it always does in my eyes), and I declined the well-paid position with the world’s number one search engine and headed back to South Korea following 3 months backpacking around South East Asia. While I enjoyed my job and loved my life in Korea, it was this year (2013-2014) that I decided to put every spare minute into my blog. I became obsessed with taking photos and increasing traffic. I still had no Facebook page or Instagram profile (I believed back then it was just for selfies and cat pictures) and to me SEO were just three random letters with no meaning!
Miraculously, however, my traffic really started to grow and my blog started to do quite well. I stuck out the 12 months and was keen to get back on the road. Following another 3 months backpacking in South East Asia, I headed home with one mission, and one mission only, I needed to get a job in the travel sector. I needed to get a job that would allow me to travel. Travel, travel, travel.
That was September 2014. Within a month I had landed myself two part-time jobs; one as a freelance writer for The Irish Times and one as a Community Manager for a new travel startup. Along came December and another difficult career decision had been thrown in my direction.
I was offered a job as Communications Officer with the United Nations in Mozambique at the exact same time that a startup in Dublin reached out to me and offered me a permanent job. What should have been a no-brainer ended up being one of the most difficult career decisions I ever made. I would message my friends every second day saying I had FINALLY made my decision, but would again change my mind the very next day.
The tech scene was really taking off in Dublin, startup was the hottest new buzzword, and I decided I wanted a slice of this exciting new world. I said “thanks, but no thanks” to the UN (who even does that?!) and settled into my new position in Dublin. I was out of Ireland, for either work or pleasure, up to twice a month for the next 8 months and was the happiest I had been in a long time. I set up my own little adventure travel club called The Adventure Pack and spent every spare minute organising trips, promoting trips or going on trips both within Ireland or abroad.
My blog was also back up and running and I was now aware that there was money to be made and free travel opportunities to be secured from blogging. The penny had finally dropped! By April, my travel articles had been republished by The Huffington Post and Matador Network and in August I had my first ever article published in National Geographic.
That was the beginning of the end. The wheels were in motion and I knew then, deep down, it was now or never. I went home from work one evening, sat down, and spent the evening coming up with ‘The Unemployment Plan’. A 6 month plan on how to turn my blog into a business, how to find freelance writing contracts and how to fund a life of non-stop travel. I handed in my notice the next day and two weeks later I was on a plane to Iceland, courtesy of Wow Air.
It’s been a whirlwind of travel, writing, business plans and deadlines ever since. It’s been the most rewarding, fun and in many ways most stressful time of my life. All the hard work and second guessing, however, has paid off ten fold and I had a weird moment in the capital of Macedonia a few weeks ago that confirmed I was most definitely doing something right.
We joined a local bar crawl in Skopje (there were only about 8 of us) and when the organiser (who is from Macedonia) found out I was a blogger she asked the name of my blog. I told her “Journalist On The Run” and she suddenly had this look of recognition on her face and said she had actually been reading a post on my blog about solo travel this week. Then the Italian guy chimes in, asking if it was the one about “9 Things That Only Happen When You Travel Solo” saying he also read it after it popped up on his FB feed recently. THEN the guy from Slovakia was like, “Wait I’ve read that too but it was on The Huffington Post, any chance you write for them too?” YUP, still my article!! 3 people from 3 countries who had never met and had nothing in common except for this blog post. That was a great night.
It’s now been just over a year since that fateful day that I quit my job. I wanted to wait until it was OVER a year so that I could officially state that this is the longest period of time I’ve ever stayed in one job. That inevitable 12 month itch is nowhere in sight, and how could it be when I’ve “worked” from 29 countries on 3 continents in the past 12 months. An office on the road with no end in sight.
One of the things I love the most is that this job has allowed me to share so much of my life with my readers, with you guys. You commiserated with me when I lost my new GoPro and rejoiced with me when I got it back. You cheered me on as I attempted to run my first half marathon in South Korea, worried for my safety the I cracked my head open in Thailand and laughed out loud at my embarrassing travel confession. And now you are, in a way, on this epic adventure with me as I travel overland from Cork to Cape Town.
Like I said, I never set out to become a travel blogger. I was supposed to be a geologist, or a fisherman if my guidance councillor had had his way. And yet here I am, writing this post on an overnight bus to Athens, in the middle of an epic overland adventure. Here I am getting paid to travel the world and write about it. To write about this.
People keep telling me I’m “living the dream” and I’m starting to think they might be right. I certainly didn’t plan this life, but I’m grateful each day that it’s the life that I’m living.