Escape Artist Q&A: Christine Gilbert of Almost Fearless Blog

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Escape Artist Q&A: Christine Gilbert of <i>Almost Fearless</i> Blog

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, the online entrepreneurs, and the lifestyle trendsetters who decided it was time to say to hell with the humdrum and grab life by the roots.

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Traveler and writer

Christine Gilbert runs Almost Fearless, a lifestyle blog that focuses on family travel. Christine and husband Drew, along with children Cole and Stella, were selected as the 2014 National Geographic Travelers of the Year. In 2016, Gilbert is expecting another baby and writing a new book. Her most recent, Mother Tongue: My Family’s Globe-trotting Quest to Dream in Mandarin, Laugh in Arabic and Sing in Spanish, hit shelves in May.

Paste Travel The “escape the 9-to-5” mentality is becoming more popular. What are your impressions?

Christine Gilbert It’s still really new. The whole concept of being able to work from home or online is less than a decade old for most of us, but over time it will normalize. I definitely thrived outside of the corporate structure and in the beginning tried to convert everyone. But over the years, I’ve come to appreciate how everyone has different needs. I’m introverted. I’m a writer. Being on my laptop at home all day is bliss. For extroverted, people-centered types, that’s going to be a disaster. We still haven’t quite figured out how to negotiate all this new technology and the human element. It’s causing a lot of people to experiment and try new things, but we’re still in the early stages of figuring this out.

PT What was the “aha” moment that sparked ongoing travel for you?

CG I got promoted. It killed it for me. I was a project manager in software and I moved up to department manager, which meant I spent most of my days filling out billing reports and creating presentations for clients and upper management. It was basically the opposite of everything I loved about software. I could either demote myself or figure out something new. It was the first time I examined my life and said, “If absolutely anything was possible, what would make you the happiest?”

PT What inspired you to start blogging, and how did you first build a following?

CG I started blogging to get in the habit of writing. I decided to quit my job, become a writer and travel the world, but I had never really traveled or written professionally before. I started documenting the process of leaving the corporate world, and the rest fell into place.

PT Why did you decide to focus on “Almost Fearless” as a brand?

CG I’m relentlessly honest, so I could never present myself as an intrepid explorer. I did the safe thing all through my 20s. Now I was 30 years old, starting my life over again, finally trying to be brave and take risks, but completely petrified that I was throwing away my education, career and good standing in the world. It wasn’t a strategy so much as “this is who I am.”

PT What was it like to be selected as National Geographic Travelers of the Year — and then to do that travel?

CG It was surreal. It’s a great honor, of course, but that’s an awfully big pair of shoes to fill. I remember being introduced at a party in Barcelona to a large group of people and watching everyone quickly assess me, like, “Really, her?” I think I had on yoga pants, flip-flops and my hair in a messy bun — basically the 30-something new mom look. I love that we’re a regular couple with two normal all-American kids who happen to travel the world.

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PT How does your life now compare to before as a corporate manager?

CG Most people don’t realize how little it costs to travel if you’re not on vacation. It might cost $200/night for a week in Cancun, but I can get a beachside apartment in Mexico for $400/month. It’s not that corporate life is horrible or that my life is perfect. It’s just that money, freedom and time are all tied together. My lifestyle is much more flexible — and that has allowed me to do a hybrid stay-at-home-mom thing and still work on my career.

PT The “dream job” and “travel blogging” mentality is becoming more popular. Does the market seem saturated, and how do you stay connected with your followers? 

CG Anyone can have a dream job. Maybe that’s starting your own artisanal pickle company and selling jars at the local farmer’s market in your neighborhood. But I don’t think pickle-crafting or travel blogging are a good fit for everyone. As far as travel blogs go, I think there’s a formula that has become over-saturated. I don’t think that formula will work well for a new blogger, but there’s always room for another blog with real stories and interesting photos. 

As far as staying connected to your audience, I think bloggers everywhere are reckoning with the fact that the driving need for a blog is going away. It’s like forums of the days of yore. There’s so much content on social media, you don’t really need to sign up and follow a site to get updates. Blogs will always be important hubs, but we all have to shift our storytelling to where our users want us to be. I just signed up for Snapchat. Adapt or perish.

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PT What’s one tip you have for readers who want to live a life like yours?

CG Save money. The best thing I did for myself was sock away everything I could before I quit, more than enough to travel for two years. That freedom to figure it out as I went was huge. I think that’s what made me successful in the long term because I never got on the low-paying writing work treadmill. I was always able to afford to invest my time in projects that took months or years to pay off. Anyone who is trying something new is going to stumble around in the wilderness for a while, so it’s a huge relief to have some room to do that.

PT What are you most excited to focus on in 2016?

CG Of course, there is the new baby coming in September. Plus, I am focusing on the next book, which is about creativity and the way our generation is reshaping what it means to be a working creative. In 2017, we’re planning on sailing the Sea of Cortez.

Carolyn Crist is a freelance journalist based in Georgia. She writes about travel, health and business for regional and national publications.