This column, “Escape Artist,” is a series about folks who have escaped. More importantly, this biweekly column is for those thinking about trading in their 9-to-5, leg-shackled-to-the-desk existences in order to grab life at the roots and forge their own way. The brave outliers featured in these collection of interviews are the digital nomads, the online entrepreneurs, and the lifestyle trendsetters, who decided it was time to say to hell with the humdrum and go elbow deep to grab life by the roots.
Marketing and branding expert
Stephanie Be runs Travel Break, a travel blog that covers the digital nomad lifestyle, entrepreneurism and business branding. Since 2012, Be has visited more than 40 countries, built a community of 250,000 followers and won the 2015 International Blogger Competition. In 2016, Be is looking forward to training others how to use Wordpress and search engine optimization to create their own successful websites.
The “escape the 9-to-5” mentality seems to be exploding. What are you seeing?
Stephanie Be I’ve seen a boom. I largely attribute it to the growth of Instagram and trending posts about people who live my type of lifestyle. Outlets such as Daily Mail, Huffington Post and Elite Daily are talking about what we’re doing now, and more people are aspiring to be social media influencers. More people are chasing this dream.
What was the “aha” moment that sparked ongoing travel for you in 2012?
SB I wanted to take a gap year after graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles because I didn’t think I’d be able to travel once I took a job in a competitive industry. There really isn’t enough conversation about corporate careers that allow you to travel. I thought I would have fun and then come back and do the “white picket fence” life. I began freelancing while traveling, and that’s where my journey as a digital nomad began. I decided to offer my services in digital marketing and branding, and it went really well. I could meet with my clients through Skype and travel around the world at the same time. Why not build a site for myself and see if people were interested in what I have to say?
Why did you decide to create a lifestyle blog and use the name “Travel Break”?
SB At first, I didn’t really know the direction I wanted the site to go, which is one of the challenges of developing a new business or personal brand. I wanted the site to be the voice of Millennial travel and “spring break all year long around the world” with information about cool parties, restaurants and bars. As I traveled more and understood who I am and what I want the site to be, it’s become more about culture, storytelling and ethical marketing campaigns. It’s less about spring break and more about finding work-life balance, taking risks in your personal life and learning about yourself.
The “dream job” and “travel blogging” mentality also seems to be booming. How have you stuck out from the noise?
SB There isn’t enough information and training about the business side of blogging, which is my focus. Many bloggers who offer programs choose to keep their courses ambiguous. Running a travel blog isn’t all about writing and shooting photos. It requires knowledge of SEO, plugins, design, branding and marketing, and I don’t think people understand the challenges of what it really takes to run your own business, whether online or not. They don’t think of a blog as a business. I’ve created a relationship with my followers by telling stories, and not all of them are sponsored. Many brands are doing it incorrectly — they have great content but can’t get exposure. Others know how to get attention but don’t have great content. You have to create purposeful content that is shareable.
What is one tip you have for readers who want to live a life like yours?
SB If you’re seeking to be a digital nomad, look at the sacrifices required and figure out what you’re willing to give up. It’s a cost-benefit equation. It’s a business decision. How much can you earn each month? How will you have health insurance? Remember that most businesses aren’t profitable in the first three years, so start the blog while you still have a job or find ways to work while you travel. Speak to professionals and learn from people who have already done it so you’re not wasting your time. You don’t know what you don’t know until it becomes a problem. Do your research, and then make a decision.
Do you have a favorite travel spot you’d like to share with Paste readers?
SB I’ve played jet plane laser tag in Las Vegas, taken a helicopter ride in Guatemala, held an anaconda in the Amazon, run with the bulls in Spain, spent a week on a yacht in Croatia, and they’ve all been incredible experiences. Travel isn’t about destinations but the person you become when you travel. That might sound cheesy, but it’s true. You also really start to value culture and the people you have back home. My parents have been supportive of me traveling around the world and coming home once a month. That’s why my favorite place will always be “home” — Southern California.
What are you most excited to focus on in 2016?
SB I want to focus on the education between large businesses and personal brands such as fitness and food bloggers in a way that creates mutually beneficial partnerships. I want to provide training programs for people who want to follow my lifestyle. I’m also looking forward to finding some work-life balance. People forget how important that is in this industry because what I do looks fun and exciting. It can be physically and emotionally demanding when you visit seven cities in one weekend, and I’d like the freedom to travel for myself once a month. I want to be a leader in the digital nomad industry who creates that kind of lifestyle and makes a path for others to do it, too.
Carolyn Crist is a freelance journalist based in Georgia. She writes about travel, health and business for regional and national publications.