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 to forge their own way. The brave outliers featured in this collection of interviews are the digital nomads, online entrepreneurs and lifestyle trendsetters who decided it was time to say to hell with the humdrum and grab life by the roots.
Rachel Jones runs Hippie in Heels, a glamour travel blog that focuses on off-the-beaten-path trips, especially in India. Originally from Ohio, she left a nursing job to travel and tell others how to do the same.
The “escape the 9-to-5” mentality seems to be popular now. What are your impressions?
Rachel Jones Yes, I recently read a Forbes article that said 15 percent of millennials see themselves as “digital nomads.” I was really surprised by that! Travel is so popular right now, and it’s a priority for a lot of people my age. I think people are looking for another way of life than working in an office all day. Part of that is because life seems so unaffordable. You go into debt for college then feel the need to go to graduate school, buy a house, buy a car, and add in all the nice things, too. However, no one can save money. Our parents’ generation had great jobs without going to college. So things have changed, and the mentality of the 9-to-5 was bound to change as well.
What was the “aha” moment that sparked this idea of travel for you?
RJ I went to nursing school at Ohio State University. It was a difficult program. I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I just wanted a “good job.” After a year of nursing, I wasn’t happy. I knew I should at least try to do something else. I keep all of my nursing paperwork up-to-date but have now been blogging full-time for three years.
What inspired you to start blogging, and how did you first build a following?
RJ I moved to Goa, India, and needed a job. I looked at blogging about India as a new career option to makes ends meet while I did Thai massage and sold candles at various stores (which I made in my kitchen after sourcing supplies online). After a year, I had a great following and focused on my blog alone. I wrote about things I wanted to know as a backpacker in India, which I realized other people were googling. It happened naturally.
Why did you decide to focus on the “Hippie in Heels” idea and brand?
RJ I didn’t want to be tied to a niche — like “backpacker Rachel” — and I wanted a name that would let my blog grow and change over the years. I like girly and boutique travel. My boyfriend joked I was like a hippie in India but like a Barbie back in the U.S. He was only kidding, but it sparked this idea that I’m a contradiction and my blog shows many sides of travel for people who aren’t just “one” way.
Do you have a favorite travel spot (or anecdote) you’d like to share with Paste readers?
RJ Right now, I’m into Israel. There is a town called Akko, which you would not picture being in Israel if you didn’t know much about the country. It’s on the Mediterranean Sea, with all these artists doing murals on the walls and inside people’s homes. It’s mostly Muslim, not Jewish, and the call to prayer is so beautiful and unique because you look across the water and feel like you are in Italy or Croatia.
The “dream job” and “travel blogging” mentality is becoming more popular as well. Does the market seem saturated?
RJ Yes, it does seem saturated. There are new blogs every minute. Travel bloggers also make commission by selling the idea of travel blogging with courses. It’s something that I have promised myself I won’t do. It makes travel blogging look easy and attainable, when it’s actually a ton of work. I wrote six blog posts a week during my first year and only made $10,000, and I wasn’t going on press trips or getting free travel. It’s important to be realistic about what it takes to finally earn an income you can live on. Only now at three years of blogging am I earning as much as I did as a nurse. Of course, the perks of free trips are added on top of that, so it’s possible but takes time.
What’s one tip you have for readers who want to live a life like yours?
RJ Start now! There’s no reason why you can’t have a popular travel blog, but you have to put a lot of work into it. You also need to have something you are really known for. For me, it was India. Think hard about your brand before you buy a domain name.
What are you most excited to focus on in 2017?
RJ My best friend in Goa is a designer, and I wear her clothes while I travel. We are going to make a Hippie in Heels collection that I help design and share on my site, starting around March. I love fashion, so it’s fun to mix it up. I also want to go somewhere new in Asia. I don’t know how long I’ll live in India, so I need to take time to see what is around here while I can.
Carolyn Crist is a freelance journalist based in Georgia. She writes about travel, health, science and business for regional and national publications.