My Mental Health as a Travel Blogger
Being a professional travel blogger is weird. It’s this odd juxtaposition of personality types expected to roll into one. Most of us are creative people who started our blogs as an experimental outlet, of some sort. And then more people started to read, and then social media got big and video got bigger and then we started working with brands and then we went freelance — not necessarily in that order — and all of a sudden it became essential to be good at an infinite multitude of skills if we were going to survive.
Not only wide reaching creative skills in writing, editing, social media management, videography and photography, but in marketing, web design, html, camera tech, business, negotiation, finance, project management, logistics, analytics — skills that people go to university for years to master. Or to at least have some knowledge and experience in.
To be honest it’s totally overwhelming.
My Mental Health as a Travel Blogger
I’m not speaking for every professional travel blogger here, I never could. These are my experiences as someone who’s had a travel blog for five years and lived off it for 2 and a half, travelling all the time with no fixed address.
“Quit Your Job, Be a Travel Blogger, YOLO!”
There’s so much hyperbolic propaganda out there about how ‘amazing‘ it is to be a travel blogger and how you should totally give up your day job to do it. There are so many courses, ‘inspirational’ articles and instructional posts describing in just 800 words how you too can get paid to travel the world. And you can, I agree, I’ve written some of the posts myself, but as with anything in life, the harsh reality can be very different to the projected dream.
Look, I’ve had the most incredible 2 and a half years. I know I’m lucky. I know some people would do bad things just to have half the experiences I’ve had. I’ve been to more places I could ever have imagined, but living the life of a digital nomad, and largely by myself, has definitely had an effect on my mental health as a travel blogger.
For anyone thinking of becoming a travel blogger in the way that I’ve done it — blog as the main source of income, moving country every two-ish weeks, travelling solo — I just want to be realistic, and to show you how it can affect your life and wellbeing. And for me, I wanted to write down my feelings and thoughts at this stage of my travel blogging life, seeing as I’m swiftly moving into the next.
I’m not moaning, I’m not spoilt, or over privileged, I’m just telling it like it is.
Travel blogger burnout
Any travel blogger who’s been working at it for a few years and travelling will have had some experience with burnout, I bet you. Running a business on the road is tough and the thing with travel blogging is that there’s always something more to do. Generally the harder you work on your blog, the better it’ll look and read, the more people will like it and the prouder you’ll be. Travel blogging becomes an addictive loop that’s hard to step away from.
This is a really good post on travel blogger burnout by theroadforks.com, she cites loads of American bloggers who’ve travelled for a few years and then stopped from burnout. And below, I’ve included a few examples from some of the top travel bloggers out there, just to prove what I’m saying.
“The ugly truth, the part that is hidden from most of the world, is that full-time work on top of full-time travel has made me stressed out, irritable, antisocial, and it has adversely affected my health.”
– AdventurousKate, Full-Time Travel, Full-Time Work — Is It Even Possible?
“We say that we want to inspire people, show people how easy it is to travel the world, teach people how to save money or find affordable luxury or just show people how to be brave enough to go for it. It seems noble enough, but then so many bloggers are doing little more than posing for selfies in front of beautiful landscapes. Styling their outfits to match a famous landmark. Going on influencer trips and drinking cocktails on the beach and posting photos of it. I am one of these people, and sometimes, I hate myself for it.”
– Emily Luxton, Am I Done With Travel Blogging?
From the comments you can see how many travel bloggers agree with her points.
“I’ve really struggled with how to write this post, because the last thing I want to do is come off ungrateful for my life or unaware of how privileged I’ve been to lead it. But every lifestyle involves sacrifices. And this one, for all it gives me, does lack in some things I’ve grown to feel the absence of — the comforts of a routine, the depth of long term friendships and relationships, the stability of regular employment, a place to call home, a sense of balance. The truth is, for me, much of 2014 was spent on the brink of burnout.
– The Anatomy of a Burnout, Alex in Wanderland
Just a little bit more on that point, Alex links to this article in the New York Times: When Blogging Becomes a Slog
“… the Internet never sleeps, readers want fresh content daily and new social media platforms must be mastered and added to the already demanding workload. Add to that the economic challenges of blogging full time.”
See, travel blogger burnout is a thing.
And while I’d say I’m not burnt out quite yet, I could see it on the horizon.
The pressure to perform creatively every day is so difficult but when you commit to making travel blogging your career, and life, it’s something you have to get used to.
The criticism, from other bloggers
– me before I was VickyFlipFlop!
As I said, bloggers are creatives. Many of them aren’t even out there with the goal to make loads of money or have loads of Instagram followers. They just want to put out stories about their lives or the lives they see around them. For many bloggers I know, their blogs are their babies and they’re happy with what they’ve got out of them.
For other bloggers, this is a cut throat business.
Travel blogging is a small world, particularly professional travel blogging. It’s getting smaller while more people are trying to come in. I think it’s because of this that I’ve noticed jealousy and competitiveness at conferences where it’d never been before.
I went to a travel bloggers conference in Porto in September 2012 — never heard a bad or bitchy word about anyone. We all just had a lovely time. Same again in Dublin in October 2013. Everyone was friends and I have so many memories that still make me smile to think about.
Fast forward to one I attended in Stockholm in July 2016 and the amount of bitching against other travel bloggers I heard was shocking, especially when they were meant to be friends. It made me worry about what was being said about me behind my back, as if I was at school again. It was the same again at a conference in November in London, among people who have some power in the industry and should know better. Even worse, what they were saying was totally unfounded.
Bloggers gossiping negatively about other bloggers can be incredibly damaging to someone’s reputation in this small world, especially when it’s total slander and the blogger doesn’t have a chance to defend themselves. Incidents like these make me very distrusting and anxious.
The criticism, from others
People who don’t worry what other people think must have a really lovely life. I’m comfortable with strangers reading my blog, it’s when people who know you read your work. That’s when the paranoia steps in.
To be honest, no one I know has really ever criticised it, they mock it, sure. And sometimes, depending on what mood I’m in, that’s what I find quite hard to take.
It’s also difficult when you don’t know who exactly is reading. Like this post for example, I wanted to write it for aspiring travel bloggers, to show the other side of travel blogging, but I know when some people read it they’re going to think I’m some anxiety-ridden, paranoid person, and worst of all, ungrateful.
I know for some bloggers it can be immobilising; the fear that someone you know, or that someone, will read your work. Even worse sometimes, than no one reading it. What will they think of me?
The criticism, from me
I’m my harshest critic I know, and I’m getting worse. I took over a travel company’s social accounts last week and nearly lost it from the pressure and paranoia that what I did for them wasn’t going to be right. I look now and the pictures were perfectly fine, but when that little voice of doubt comes through your airwaves and tells you you’re not good enough, despite what anyone else says, it can be really hard to recover.
Generally the criticism I give myself goes along the lines of the fact that my design is rubbish, I’m not a photographer, my videos are shit, I don’t have as many Instagram fans as my peers, too wrinkly and ugly for YouTube, voice too annoying for Podcasts, my readers think I do too many press trips, there’s too much advertising … you know… the usual.
The paranoia and anxiety
Anyone who puts themselves out in the world personally in any way knows how hard it is. For some people it’s so hard that they don’t ever publish their work. I get newbie bloggers who are all shy about starting a blog wanting to know how to have the confidence to just hit ‘publish’.
I didn’t tell anyone about my blog for ages. In fact, it was only at Parklife Festival in 2013 after talking about it to my friends Chloe and Kellie, and they told me to stop holding back, that I went for it.
You’ve just got to do it, I know that. But still, the paranoia at every move is there…
- Who’ll see it?
- What will they think of me?
- Will I offend?
- What will the activists think?
- What do they mean by that comment?
- Have I put too much of myself in that comment? Not enough?
- Should I be on Snapchat?
- Oh gawd that client put a kiss, do I need to put one back?
- Do I have enough likes?
It’s not just the paranoia of ‘publish’, on all social media and blog posts, but for me it’s also the paranoia when I’m networking and on press trips. Going to events and not knowing anyone, going to events and forgetting I know someone, them forgetting me…
I’ve also heard about people losing passports and missing their flights for press trips and that scares me too. I know the PR has put so much work in and if I do something wrong, they’ll hate me (I never have, but there’s time). I’m a conscientious and caring person and when I work with a brand I want them to be happy and to see the value in what I’ve done. Often this means I’ll go totally over and above board, meaning it’s exhausting and time consuming. And usually I didn’t need to.
See what travel blogging has done to me?
The ever present comparison
There’s a huge mental health problem around the world right now, we know that, and I’m totally in the camp that says it’s down to comparison. Comparison that has been made all the more easier and prevalent because of social media.
I’m very aware of this. I know I’m one of the annoying people posting photos of what is an unachievable life for some.
I follow a lot of my fellow travel bloggers and colleagues and even when I’m perfectly happy it’s hard to not feel a pang of jealousy over what they’re doing and where they are. I’m a travel obsessive and I want to be good at my job, and sometimes the only validation you can have for this is when brands want to work with you or people Like your stuff.
Zoe London isn’t a travel blogger, but I love her honesty and openness on her lifestyle blog, Here she is summing up what I’m saying…
“I’m having a bit of a rough patch work wise at the minute, i’m worrying about getting older, my hair looking crap, my skin wrinkling up and generally not being as cool as I once was. I’m the wrong side of nearly-30 and i’m stressing that the youthful spark I once had in my blog is gone, and i’ve been replaced all over the internet with other teenagers with bright vibrant hair and that refreshed look on the world.”
– Zoe London, Why Must I Consistently Compare Myself?
The lack of control
The lack of control over my time is one of the main reasons I’ve decided to have a home base. Living from job to job and not knowing whether the next trip was actually going ahead, and what I’d be doing on it, sometimes until I was at the airport was literally driving me crazy. At one point I was going on trip after trip, potentially, but if one of the press trip dominoes fell, they all would. I was so on edge and checking my emails every hour just to see if there was an update.
I felt like I couldn’t pressure a company who was sending me on an awesome adventure, especially when they’re probably waiting on someone else, but I needed to know because I’d need to sort somewhere to live in between. It was a very last minute way to live, and put me permanently on edge.
All the skills
Being a travel blogger is not easy. Not any more. As well as the multitude of skills I’ve already listed about 2000 words ago, any travel blogger has to get used to being away from friends and family for weeks or sometimes for months at a time, they have to be excellent navigators, stay cool in a crisis, meet new people every day, be technologically savvy, miss family events, be prepared to work all hours, be able to promote themselves and to stay strong, among other personal attributes.
Keeping up with all ‘social media’ is insane — why do they keep bringing out new things?! — which is why a lot of the big bloggers have staff to help them cope.
You feel like you work the hardest but there’s no science to doing ‘travel blogging’ well. You could’ve been trying something for years not getting anywhere and someone else swans in and it works like magic. You could buy all the courses in the world, but they’re only written by people with a maximum of five years more experience than me, and often the reason they’re successful is because they got in early and so now all the algorithms favour them.
There’s no science to travel blogging and no way to get yourself to the top of the blogging pile — to be one of those lucky hard working, opportunist few who make a living out of it — no matter how many skills you gain.
Trying to get paid
God this is annoying, and one of the biggest threats to my mental health as a travel blogger. Some companies feel they can treat freelancers with no respect because we obviously don’t have a big company behind us. There’s always someone that doesn’t want to pay for the work you’ve done, and seeing as it’s creative you can’t take the work and time taken to do it back, so you need to keep pressuring until that cash hits your account. So far, I’ve always got it — although that’s looking to change with one selfish and disrespectful client right now — but sometimes it’s taken months, and hours of back and forth emails.
Going to work at a set time every day and getting paid on time at the end of the month is totally underrated — there’s absolutely no guarantee I’ll earn any money next month. I’m doing alright, y’know. This isn’t a plea for bread and tea bags. I can pay for my Dorset cereals and almond milk, but that worry is always there.
It costs money to be a travel blogger. I’d say 70% of my travels have been entirely funded by me, and I only get to go on the other 30% because I’ve proved myself on the 70%. Getting to be a professional travel blogger has been a huge investment and now I need it to start paying off. So for every person who tries to get something for free from me (happens every day) they’re insulting me and totally wasting my time.
I feel I’m very organised with work, as in, I have spreadsheets, I know what I need to do. There’s some sort of system going on there. I just need to do it. I was totally one of those teenagers who spent longer decorating my homework diary than actually doing what was listed in it.
I’ve travelled to over 30 countries in the past 3 years. Every day I was seeing new things. Some days everything would be new; from food, to drink, to roads, to people, to beds. I stayed in 114 different beds last year. Not like that. That kind of life is fun for a while but then it becomes exhausting. The amount of time I’d spend planning my life was taken out of actually living it. Even just booking a hotel for a night could take me an hour or more because I’d need to check the Wi-Fi, the location, etc, and when you’re moving every few days that’s a lot of time spent on organisational admin.
Keeping up with a home life
Obviously relationships comes into this. Friends my age and even younger are married, babies, second babies. People always want to know about my love life — from the students at the talk I gave at my university last week to the taxi driver in Barbados to the lady running the cooking class in Vietnam.
Just lately I’ve noticed the interest turning to pity though, as if I hadn’t chosen this life. I can only assume I must be looking older. Instead of ‘creative entrepreneur travelling the world as I please’, to them I’m more ‘ageing spinster who needs a husband’.
“The worse thing with time though is sometimes feeling like as a traveller you’re losing track of ‘real life’ — people get married, buy houses, have kids…as a traveller you’re on a completely different scale of time where milestones are numbers of countries, visa runs and road trips.”
The True Cost of Travelling — Chris from Backpacker Banter
Alone time vs friends
Spending so much time alone as I have would drive some people crazy, I know that but I’ve enjoyed it. In fact I find it kind of exhausting to be with people. I never used to feel like that though. I think it’s because when I’m with people when I’m travelling I’m getting to know them over and over again, with the same routine, rather than actually knowing someone and just hanging out.
It wasn’t until recently, when I was saying goodbye to another group of new awesome friends after my Vietnam trip that one of them said, “oh you must be used to this?”. And I realised that yeah, I am, I am used to saying goodbye and never really forming any kind of attachment… and I don’t want to be. Probably 90% of the new people I’ve met in the last two and a half years I’ve never seen again after we’ve gone our separate ways. That’s sad isn’t it?
I need friends that I’ve known longer than a week.
Just being honest
I listen to people complain about work all the time, but if I say anything — about the way I travel the world and write about it for a living — I know I sound ridiculous. But the truth is this is a job, it’s a job with an awesome office.
As blogger Alex in Wanderland said above, I’d never want to appear ‘ungrateful’, but I do want to be honest. So here it is, all 4000 words of it, my authenticity.
The truth for me is that I need a break from the way I’ve been travelling and working. I could probably have done with it a few months ago, but at the same time I’m totally addicted to travel and find it hard to say no to amazing opportunities. So I’ve grabbed them, one after the other, whether it’s good for my mental health or not.
My friends see how hard I work, the toll of being everywhere at all times and making the most of every moment, and in the words of my friend Fiona the other week, who I’ve probably seen every time I’ve been back in England over the years; “I don’t know how you can be bothered”.
GOD I FEEL BETTER FOR WRITING THAT
I love travel blogging, I love my life, you know I do. But I hope this post has given you a bit of an insight of what five years of blogging and 2 and a half of doing it as a digital nomad can do to you, and how being on the move all the time and trying to make money can affect your mental health as a travel blogger.
I think it takes a certain type of person to be able to live the travel blogger life in the kind of fast paced way as I have. It’s been great, but for the sake of my healthy mind, it’s time to calm down.
How I plan to change
So I think from that we can surmise that I’m an over anxious, paranoid, jealous control freak on the edge of burnout OR that I’m an honest realist and I want you to know what it’s really like to be a professional travel blogger living as a digital nomad. Take it as you will.
I know that there are different ways to be a travel blogger — step back from conferences, have a rich life away from travel blogging, don’t travel so much, have some routine, have a home to go back to — which is exactly what I’m planning on doing now.
And you can read about my plans for the next few weeks here: OH MY GOD, COMMITMENT.