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.
Jacob Fu and Ester JuLee run Local Adventurer, a travel lifestyle blog that focuses on enjoying travel in your backyard. The couple moves to a new city each year to find hidden gems. They moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles in 2013 and regretted not exploring more of their hometown. Since L.A., they’ve lived in Las Vegas, San Diego and Portland.
The “escape the 9-to-5” mentality seems to be popular now. What are your impressions?
Jacob Fu It’s amazing to see how many different ways you can make a living now. About 10 years ago, what we are doing now would have been nearly impossible, but thanks to the Internet and social media, you can carve your own path. The one catch is that I feel like the grass is always greener on the other side. Although we no longer have a 9-to-5 and can dictate our own schedule, it doesn’t mean we’re always on vacation or playing. I’ve never worked longer hours in my life. The difference is that we’re working on something we’re building together and something we’re passionate about.
What inspired you to start blogging, and how did you first build a following?
JF When Esther started the blog four years ago, it was a way to share our photos with family and friends. But after she grew a following outside of that, she realized there were other bloggers doing this for a living. As photographers, we had a ton of images on our site, but we realized other sites didn’t always have complete information. Esther’s scientific side came out, and we coupled beautiful imagery with thorough information. We began treating the blog like a business, and we’ve been learning how to do this daily.
Why did you decide to focus on the “Local Adventurer” as an idea and brand?
JF When we moved from Atlanta to L.A., we realized there was so much to explore in Atlanta that we never did. We always made excuses about doing it later and got comfortable in our routine. We took it for granted and decided not to do that again. With Local Adventurer, we want to encourage people to use their 52 weekends every year, even if they can’t go far. There’s always something new to discover nearby. And when you do travel far away, do it like a local. Get to know the back alleys, local restaurants and hidden gems.
How does life now compare to before you left Atlanta?
JF It’s definitely different. Since we only commit to living in each city for a year, we make it a point to explore as much as we can. We start by creating a 101 bucket list for each city, and the list evolves as we learn about new places or decide what we don’t like about a city.
Do you have a favorite travel anecdote you’d like to share with Paste readers?
JF One of our most memorable travel experiences happened this past year. My extended family is from Indonesia, so we visit Jakarta quite often. We finally got a chance to explore outside of the city this past year and made it to the Derawan Islands. This felt like traveling locally since our guides spoke no English and locals visit the area more often. We snorkeled with whale sharks and in a jellyfish lake. Even though we were nervous, we pushed past our fears and hopped in the water for one of the most memorable experiences.
The “travel blogging” mentality is becoming more popular as well. Does the market seem saturated?
JF Yes and no. There are a ton of travel influencers out there, but they aren’t willing to go the extra mile. We love what we do, but we always try to reiterate that it takes a lot of work to get the business off the ground. Most people think we’re traveling all the time and living the life. Although we dictate our own schedule and get a chance to travel, we spend a lot of time in front of the computer. We’re constantly editing and writing, not to mention everything else that comes with running a small business like managing deals, accounting and the other boring parts related to paying the bills.
What’s one tip you have for readers who want to live a life like yours?
JF If you’re interested in doing it, try it! You’ll always read stories about people who drop everything to travel the world, but that is far from realistic. Our growth was gradual, and we did it responsibly. Start a blog on the side and get a feel for what it’s like. If you want to step it up, give yourself a schedule (1-2 posts a week), and do everything you can to meet that goal. As I mentioned before, it’s a serious job and you need to love it to do it, so get a taste of it before making the leap.
What are you most excited to focus on in 2017?
JF We’re excited to explore the Pacific Northwest. We’ve loved the little taste we’ve gotten and can’t wait to go on more hikes. On the business side, we’re excited to expand our team. We’ve brought on a couple of great writers and can’t wait to create more amazing content.
Carolyn Crist is a freelance health and science journalist for regional and national publications. She writes the Escape Artist column for Paste Travel, On the Mind column for Paste Science and Stress Test column for Paste Health.