In 2016, I got married, quit my job, and skipped away with my new husband to take a year-long honeymoon. How the heck was 2017 supposed to top THAT?!
Last year’s year-in-review post was a round-up of 16 travel fails in 2016. At the time, our bad luck sort of seemed like weird coincidence, a funny anecdote. Early 2017 us was like “boy, we sure do have a LOT of travel related screw-ups, ha ha ha! I’m sure when we get better at this travelling thing, that will stop and we’ll evolve into the perfect, majestic Travel Couple we always dreamt of. We’ll also probably have like, travel abs from carrying around our heavy backpacks and hiking and become the sort of people who wake up before sunrise.”
We were so naive.
In 2017, all of that changed. We did evolve, but we evolved differently than we expected. We grew to embrace our status as complete disaster magnets – we now fully expect the worst and are completely unsurprised when, in classic fashion, we find ourselves totally f**ing screwed thanks to one of our own idiotic mistakes. We also gave up on our dreams of being an Instagram famous Travel Couple despite our best efforts – PS, follow us – and grudgingly accepted that we were the only backpackers in the history of time to actually gain weight during our travels. We also stopped fighting our inexplicable need to sleep in until 10am no matter what time zone or country we found ourselves in, and spent a huge amount of our honeymoon just like … sleeping. Which was great, tbh. I love sleeping!
But at the same time as we were swallowing the bitter truth of our own flawed-ness and sadly waving goodbye to our dreams of being Instagram Famous, something amazing happened: we realized that that was kinda like, our Thing. We were the exact antithesis of the Perfect Travel Couple, and that wasn’t going to change. And that was … not just OK, but like, kinda perfect, in its own way. It was exactly, unabashedly us.
It wasn’t like one day we woke up at 10am, wiped the drool from our faces and pronounced, “Hey, you know what? We’re kinda hot messes, but in like, a fun way. Let’s just go with that.” But by the end of 2017, we weren’t just reluctantly accepting our own limitations, we were full on embracing them.
We were sharing our stupid mistakes on our blog, writing about our most ridiculous and embarrassing travel fails – like when we drove a BMW into a medieval castle in France and got stuck. We even started using our nemesis, Instagram, to show the side of us that isn’t exactly Instagram-palatable. Like when we were unpacking our belongings after settling back down in our new apartment and were horrified to see that past Lia & Jeremy had inexplicably felt it necessary to carefully pack idiotic things like unmatched jar lids, broken sunglasses, and a plastic baggy full of half of a 25 cent ramen noodle packet, and then PAID to ship those idiotic things across the country. TWICE. Like, really? REALLY!? There’s frugality and then there’s just plain stupidity, and we straight up crossed the line and then kept going for a while. We’re the f***king worst.
But 2017 was the year that we embraced who we really are. So we just laughed, and shared it with our followers on our Instagram Story so they could laugh too (with/at us).
But self-acceptance wasn’t our only achievement this year. We also made a HUGE decision that we’re pretty terrified sure will come to affect the course of our lives. 2017 was the year that everything changed.
Settle in and grab a coffee – this is a long post (I mean – have you read the blog before? They’re all long, let’s just be honest: I’m really, really wordy).
Estimated reading time: 25 minutes
How Everything Changed
At the beginning of 2017 we were still on our year-long honeymoon, which now feels both like it was years ago and just yesterday (time is weird). A lot happened – like, we had to leave Europe early due to a family emergency, which started out being really serious and ended with my 93-year old grandfather faking his own death in the most ridiculous way possible – but we’ve already written about the entire saga of our year-long honeymoon in this post and if you’re curious about what we did (and how much money we spent doing it), you should head over and read that post.
In this post, I’m going to focus on the 2nd half of 2017. In July, after the end of our year-long honeymoon, we road tripped across the country back to San Francisco, where we’d left exactly one year earlier.
We’d decided to return to San Francisco during our trip because it seemed to make the most sense for our careers post-honeymoon. Mid- trip, Jeremy applied to a Masters of Education program at NYU and got accepted. Which was amazing! But then we ran the numbers and were like “lol that would double our student loan debt, never mind” so we decided moving back to San Francisco, where his former employer would put him through a teaching credential program for much cheaper, made better financial sense for us. I’m sure our USA readers can understand the hesitation to pursue higher education due to student loan debt. Like, sure, we love education, but we also love not having several hundred thousand dollars of debt weighing down every decision we make, so.
We figured I could step back into my former career as a business systems analyst in the fashion industry easily enough – there are plenty of fashion companies in San Francisco. So back to San Francisco we went. Jeremy jumped right back into teaching at his old school. And I ….well, I dragged my feet. I was not eager to get a job again.
Sure, I applied to a couple of jobs. I updated my LinkedIn. I got in touch with some industry contacts. But mostly, I blogged and focused on trying to get our lives straightened out.
See, one doesn’t just move to San Francisco. The process of getting an apartment is sort of like The Hunger Games: you hop on Craiglist and find a drafty old apartment the size of a shoebox, covered in lead paint and questionably stained carpet, which costs roughly ½ of your annual income. Then, you rush to the open house that was posted on Craigslist 10 minutes before it starts. At the open house you battle it out with 20 other young couples who all probably have more money and more Instagram followers than you do and try to bribe/charm the landlord, because even though legally they have to accept the “first qualified tenant,” the word “qualified” is pretty much entirely up to each landlord. So you elbow your way to the front of the bribery line to throw binders full of credit reports, old paychecks, letters from former landlords, letters from employers, letters from your friends, and letters from your friend’s parents all swearing that you’re like, a REALLY reliable tenant who will pay the rent promptly each month and who would never DREAM of owning a pet and who NEVER ask for anything, ever.
On average, the whole process is exhausting, miserable, and takes forever.
It took us a couple of months to find a place to live. In the meantime, we moved from place to place, in a succession of pricey AirBnBs that would have been on the market if not for being AirBnBs (part of the reason why there’s such a big housing shortage in San Francisco, but I digress), house sitting gigs, and sublets. Over the course of the month and all of our living situations we shared our living quarters with 4 roomates, a giant dog, and a tiny dog. We tried to sleep through the noise of a house party that was raging just outside our door. We cooked on countertop stoves and in dirty kitchens with literal dog sh** on the floor. We lived out of suitcases and packed up and moved every couple of weeks to somewhere new. And even though we were Back, we still felt like we were traveling. Things did not feel permanent.
At the end of our first month, we were exhausted, tired of constantly moving from place to place within the same city, and nearly broke from paying for AirBnBs and parking (there are 2 options for having a car in San Francisco if you don’t actually have a home address: pay to park it and drive it to work every day, or move it every 2 hours. We tried moving it every 2 hours and went insane – parking in San Francisco is a nightmare, and having to do it every 2 hours is a special kind of torture. So Jeremy drove it to work every day, which cost $17 in parking and tolls. Every. Day. FML).
So when we finally got accepted to rent an apartment in our old neighborhood, we jumped on the opportunity. The only downside? The rent was insane. Like, insane. It was WELL over twice what we used to pay. Like, it costs the amount that you might pay for a mansion in most parts of the country/world. It costs nearly 3x what we spent in Colombia for the both of us for a whole month. Oh, and there’s no washer/dryer/dishwasher, of course. I mean, what do you expect? Luxury?!
F*** it. We were desperate. We took it.
We moved into our new place, bought an air mattress and a used couch on Craigslist, and sort of squatted for another month while we waited for our belongings to show up – we’d stashed them across the country at my mom’s house in Kentucky. While we waited, we bought some kitchen utensils at a thrift store and played house in our empty apartment. We were just happy to have a COUCH again, and a place to call “home” … even if it didn’t feel like home just yet.
Now that we were settled, it was time for me to stop dragging my feet. I’d successfully delayed the inevitable for 2 months while we house-hunted, but now we had rent to pay (SO MUCH RENT) and it was time to Get A Job.
Ugh. But I really didn’t want to.
I hemmed and hawed and dragged my feet. I visited my old boss and asked if I could like, work part time, maybe? I interviewed for some jobs I really wasn’t qualified for, and a couple that I was REALLY overqualified for.
But my heart just wasn’t in it. I didn’t want to go back to working a 9-5 office job again. I wanted to be a *~*~*~*~TRAVEL BLOGGER*~*~*~*~*!
Is Being a Travel Blogger a Job, Though?
Here’s the thing about blogging: it’s not totally clear whether it’s like a job, or a hobby, or a stepping stone on your way to an actual career, or what.
Sure, there are influencers who turn social media into full-time careers – just look at the Kardashian clan for a master class in turning yourself into a brand and a product. But I’m not really the type to be a social media influencer. Nobody is looking at me and thinking “hnnngh she’s so gorgeous I bet her life is perfect and I just want to be her, I’m going to buy this lipstick and maybe I’ll be famous too.” Nor would I want them to. I’m not in the market of selling unrealistic expectations.
My whole thing is practicality: down-to-earthness, authenticity. NOT floaty, out-of-reach inspiration. I want to show people what travelling ACTUALLY looks like, flaws and difficulties and all. I want to laugh with my followers and readers over their travel fails and share my own with them, because I’m not a Perfect Travel Goddess, I’m a klutz who manages to make tons of mistakes and lose stuff and get lost all the time despite my best intentions. I want to show that it’s OK to not be perfect: to have a double chin in all of your photos, to travel at 230 lbs (yes y’all, I gained 30 pounds on this trip, hold your applause please), to try to hike to Machu Picchu and have to turn around cuz you’re too damn slow (read all about that fiasco here).
I want to show that you don’t have to be perfect or look perfect or do perfect things to be worthy of love or adventure. I want to show that even though Jeremy and I have an amazing relationship, it isn’t perfect, because NOTHING about us is perfect. And that’s not just OK, it’s awesome: that’s our Thing.
I came to this realization over the course of a few months, while I spent long hours working at coffee shops, in between house hunting and scouting for used furniture on Facebook Marketplace and Craiglist and half-heartedly applying to jobs.
It was time to admit what my heart was telling me: I wanted to do this full time. This travel blogging thing. Writing, being authentic, being funny, inspiring others to be confident in their own imperfections and embrace themselves for who they are, to stop holding themselves back and say f*** it, I’m going on an adventure!
This dream was calling to me. But so was the rent. So I accepted a temporary contract position at a local fashion company in San Francisco – a company that I respect and admire for their social stewardship and environmentalism. It was a position that I was incredibly overqualified for, but it paid pretty well and besides, it was only a 3 month contract, which meant 3 months to delay my decision making process and figure out whether blogging was a job that I could actually DO full-time. Plus, having that income meant we could start to slowly re-fill the savings account that we’d depleted … and buy plane tickets to Europe for Christmas, of course. Priorities, etc.
Rent temporarily accounted for, I mulled over the logistics of my full-time travel blogging dream. Can you make enough money blogging to pay the rent living in San Francisco? And would it be it worth it to leave behind a career that I spent 5 years building – a career that I really enjoyed, that I’d wanted to since college when I first dreamed of changing the fashion industry to be more ethical and sustainable?
I wasn’t sure, but I had 3 months to figure it out.
Travel Blogging vs. Working 9-5
It was really weird to go back to work in a corporate environment after over a year away. First of all, I had forgotten how to dress myself like a normal person. Secondly, I was WELL behind on fashion trends, and what’s more, I didn’t care to follow them anymore. I didn’t have any interest in buying new clothes (that would mean less money for travel). Not caring about fashion or having any interest in buying clothes is a weird thing to feel when you’re working in the fashion industry and the whole point of your job is, ultimately, to sell people clothes.
I used to feel like fashion was the best way to express myself creatively; now I had another creative outlet, blogging, and clothing had lost its appeal.
Other things had changed, too. I’d lost my ability to speak in fluent corporate speak – both because I didn’t really have to at my old job, and because corporate speak isn’t really a language because 99% of the words don’t actually MEAN THINGS. Being able to string together entire sentences out of fluff words and phrases without actually saying anything at all is a talent that I no longer had. But that’s asterisky – let’s parking lot it and circle back to refill the kitty once we’ve had a chance to really stare down some of the low hanging fruit. ← actual corporate speak sentence, kill me
I also realized that I had absolutely no desire to make small talk, or to dull down to fit the corporate cookie cutter for acceptable at-work conversation. At offices, you’re supposed to gloss over your weekend as if it was really boring (“oh, nothing much, you?”), or you’re supposed to always be “doing fine, thanks,” and the most exciting topics of conversation are safe things like sports and pop culture, or perhaps the sales reports from the last week.
But I had lost all desire to smile and nod and pretend that my life was fine and boring and all I wanted to do was talk about work. People at offices don’t quite know how to respond when they ask me an innocent getting-to-know-you question and I respond with something out of left field like “oh, I spent the last year backpacking and now I’m trying to decide whether I want to go back to my old career or be a full-time travel blogger, which is why I’ve accepted this temporary contract position. So, what do YOU want out of life?” Maybe I sounded like a weirdo – or maybe I sounded a bit stuck up – but that was the truth. And I didn’t bother to lie. So, I got a lot of polite responses like “oh, how fun!” or “I could NEVER do that,” but at the end of the day I was just a temporary contract worker with a weird proclivity for uncomfortable bluntness and an irritating habit of starting sentences with “when I was in ….”
As you can imagine, I was VERY popular.
It didn’t feel good not fitting in each day. It felt alienating and weird. It felt like when I was at my old job before I quit, smiling and nodding while was keeping the secret of my upcoming trip, trying to fit myself into the corporate mold. But now, even though I was being true to myself and presenting my story honestly, even though I wasn’t trying to fit the corporate mold, I still felt inauthentic.
I was doing my job, and I was earning enough to pay the rent and then some, but I was miserable.
A few weeks into my corporate contract gig, I realized that I couldn’t balance both blogging and working full-time. Some people do; I couldn’t. I couldn’t commit myself fully to either role, and it was exhausting trying to manage both. I was waking up at 6am to work on my blog for an hour, heading in to the office from 9-5, and then heading home to work until 10pm. I was working on weekends. I was working at the houses of my friends, who I hadn’t seen in a year, instead of actually spending time with them.
I was working so much that even though we had moved back to the Bay Area partially because we had missed our community, I had no time to see the same friends we returned for.
The pressure was building, and things began to slip through the cracks. In addition to being a bad friend and an awkwardly unsociable and distracted employee, I wasn’t fulfilling my obligations to my business partner – the amazing Christina from Happy to Wander – on the social media resource site we launched together in August, Slaying Social. When we founded Slaying Social together we agreed to split everything 50/50: both the work AND the profits, which we were still in the process of figuring out how to earn.
But I dropped the ball. And in the process, I let down someone who trusted me.
It felt terrible letting down everyone I cared about. But also, I was exhausted. I was stressed. I was miserable. I was working constantly. The stress was taking a toll on my health, and I started bursting into tears when doing simple things like grocery shopping (the number of full-on spiraling melt-downs I had in grocery stores trying to evaluate things like whether to splurge on cage-free eggs or not is, frankly, embarrassing).
It couldn’t continue. I had to make a choice: fold the blog and close this chapter of my life? Or quit my job (again) and leave my entire career behind to chase a crazy dream that may or may not be sustainable over the long term?
The question I needed to answer, I realized, wasn’t just “how do I pay my insanely high rent.” It was much larger than that. It was “what do I want out of life?” It was “which is more important, financial freedom or creative freedom?” It was “do I want a job that’s stable, or a job that’s emotionally fulfilling?” It was “do I value more time to travel, or money?”
The decision sounded easy considering how miserable I was at my temp job. But then … I got a call from my Dream Company. They wanted to interview me for my Dream Job.
Travel Blogging vs. Working 9-5 at my DREAM JOB?!
Travel blogging? That’s a dream job. But this? This was ALSO a dream job. It was exactly what I was doing in my last role, but with “senior” in the title – meaning a promotion AND a raise. At an amazing company that I LOVED and respected and which fit my travel/adventure mindset. It was an incredible opportunity.
I didn’t get to where I am today by not pursuing opportunities that present themselves to me. So I interviewed for the dream job. I figured they wouldn’t want me – I was a year out of practice, and the job was in a different state.
But they liked me – and then they liked me again. By the time they were buying me a plane ticket to fly me out for an interview, I realized I needed to get my head straight and make some decisions. Would I take the job if they offered it to me?
I brought Jeremy with for my interview. We walked the streets of Seattle and imagined living there. We drove into the Cascades to visit Leavenworth, a tiny Bavarian themed Christmas town. We looked up apartment listings to see how much it might cost versus our current situation (turns out that the amount we spend on our 1 bedroom in San Francisco will get us a baller 2 bedroom with a dishwasher AND washer and dryer in Seattle).
Finally, we had to admit it: we were torn. We could see ourselves moving to Seattle, although Jeremy would need to enroll in a Master’s of Education program to get his teaching credential – paid for by my “senior” salary. Or, we could stay in the Bay Area, and I could take the plunge to be a full-time blogger and part-time Betty Homemaker clipping coupons and pinching pennies.
Or … we could jet off on another grown-up gap year. Leave our problems behind. Jeremy could take online classes, and we could live somewhere cheap and filled with digital nomads, like Bali or Chiang Mai, networking and blogging and taking fabulous pictures in front of temples and on beaches.
We felt incredibly fortunate to have so many wonderful opportunities to choose from. But feeling #blessed did not make our decision any easier. We now had 3 dreams, and each of them offered glittery promises … and, if we’re being realistic, plenty of downsides too.
It was a 3-way tie. So we did the only thing we could think of to help decide: we made a spreadsheet.
The Life Decision Spreadsheet
We started out by making sections for each of our 3 potential life paths, one column for Jeremy and one for me. Then, we listed out everything that mattered to us. Things that we valued in our lives. Things that we felt fulfilled us, that we yearned for each day.
We searched our souls and dug deep: what do we want out of life? What do we NEED to feel happy and fulfilled? And what does the life we want really look like?
We laid out our estimated net income and cost of living, and then a long list of intangible values. This was our list:
- Financial Stability
- Free Time
- Taking Weekend Trips
- Going Out to Eat (ie being able to afford our foodie habit)
- Eating Healthy… Frugally
- Being Physically Active
- Friends/Potential Community
- Enjoyment at Work
- Mental Energy (what you feel when you’re excited, happy, and recharged by your daily tasks)
- Creative Outlet
- Feeling of Contribution (versus feeling like a freeloader/mooch)
- Feeling of Fulfillment/Satisfaction
- Working Towards Long Term Goals
- Job Security
- Enjoying Where We Live (for us, this means things like being able to take walks around our neighborhood and having “our spots” nearby or within walking distance)
- Self-Care Routines
- YOLO-Ing (am I living each day to the fullest? Or am I just waiting for the next chapter of life to begin?)
After we had defined each item and talked about what it looked like and what it meant to each of us, we assigned a numerical value for each item in each scenario. For many of them, our numbers were the same. But for some, they were REALLY different.
For example, Jeremy didn’t think he’d feel like he was contributing to our livelihoods taking online classes in Bali – he’d be floundering and just waiting for the next chapter of his life to begin while I was thriving and YOLO-ing. But we both felt that moving to Seattle would provide us with financial stability and tons of opportunities for amazing weekend trips.
After we tallied up all of the intangible variables as well as our potential net income, we were shocked: there was a clear winner. It was plain as day, actually.
The Decision & What’s Next For Us
We thought that our net income and cost of living in Seattle would tip the scales in the direction of my Dream Job. But because Jeremy wouldn’t be earning a salary until he got a teaching credential and Master’s degree, and I’d be paying for him to attend graduate school, our net income was actually very similar to our net income in the Bay Area. I ran the numbers and lo and behold – it turns out that a teacher + a blogger CAN actually earn enough to live in the Bay Area – just barely!
Our Gap Year idea, we realized, was a total wash. It was running away from our problems, not setting a foundation for a sustainable future. Jeremy would be miserable while I’d be happy, and we’d be relying solely on my blogging salary, so we’d be broke, too. Also, sweaty.
We scratched that dream off the list. No digital nomad life for us.
But there was one option that scored highly for both of us: staying in the Bay Area. I was stunned. I’d been feeling priced out of the Bay Area – we couldn’t afford the things we used to enjoy, like going out to eat and taking regular weekend trips and buying cage-free organic eggs without having emotional meltdowns. But the happiness and fulfillment I’d feel being able to work on the blog full time outweighed the financial instability. Sure, we’d probably have to move to a cheaper place the minute our lease was up, and we’d have to stick to a strict budget like our lives depended on it. But we’d be happier – both of us.
We had made a choice: we were choosing creative freedom over financial stability. We’re staying in the Bay Area, and I’m going to be a full-time blogger.
Holy f***ing sh**. I’m terrified! But I’m SO excited. And terrified!
For the first time in our lives together, Jeremy will be the breadwinner, not me (unless I can out-earn him next year, which is totally one of my secret goals). I’ll be devoting myself 100% to growing Practical Wanderlust and Slaying Social, and whatever other amazing opportunities might present themselves. I’m SO excited/scared/excited/terrified!
It feels REALLY weird to leave behind my career. I’ve spent 5 years building that career. I really enjoyed it. And I’m keeping myself open to the idea that, if the blog thing doesn’t pan out, maybe I can go back. My contract job recently asked to extend my contract, and I negotiated a part-time arrangement that will provide me with back-up income for a few months while I grow the blog (which makes me breathe a lot easier – having that safety net of savings gives me peace of mind).
As for my dream job? Sadly, they never got back to me after my in-person interview. So I guess we’ll never know what might have been. But that’s OK. I’ve made my decision. And I’m going for it.
For the 2nd year in a row, I’m diverging from the path of practicality to do something … kind of nuts. I’ve got my 2018 financial plan written up, of course (more on that soon – I’m going to share the dirty details about my blogging income and how much I think I can earn next year). But even though I’m taking this leap mindfully, I feel so … free.
I can finally sit down and concentrate on growing Practical Wanderlust, and I’ve got LOTS of plans. For starters, in January we’ll be debuting a whole new look for the blog. New year, new me, new blog layout, etc. I’ll also be making a conscious effort to write more about sustainable & ethical travel – something that’s incredibly important to us and sorely underrepresented on the blog.
We’re also going to be really focusing on connecting with our followers by sharing funny moments from our daily lives & travels on Instagram, especially in our daily Instagram Stories – so be sure to follow us! We’ll also be working on creating videos to share to our Facebook Page – so be sure to follow that, too – and we mayyyyyyyyyy be working on a Podcast … but I can’t say much about that just yet 😉
As for travel, there will be LOTS of that in 2018. We’re currently on the tail end of an amazing European Christmas trip. In January we’re spending a weekend in Lake Tahoe. In February, we’re heading back to Colombia, because we’re obsessed. In May, Colorado. In June, back to Europe. And that’s just what’s already planned!
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2017 was the year that everything changed. And 2018? It’s the year I’ll be taking my first baby steps into a brand new career. And I can’t wait to see how it goes.
Have you ever taken a leap that completely changed your life? Was making the decision to change difficult? Was it worth it? Tell me about it in the comments below!
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