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.
Howard Blount and Jerry Woods run Backroad Planet, a road trip and fly-drive travel site that focuses on scenic routes, offbeat sites and roadside attractions. Run by two men from Central Florida, the blog features destination guides to plan trips, as well as inside tips to travel their home state.
The “escape the 9-to-5” mentality seems to be popular now. What are your impressions?
Howard Blount It’s gaining popularity from increased exposure to the work of travel bloggers and their interactions on social media. Before I retired last year, I was always planning my next getaway. As a public school teacher, due to summer vacations and school holidays, I had more opportunities to travel than the average American worker. But it was never enough, and I was rapidly tiring of the educational “deforms” that tied my hands as a teacher at every turn. The stress was killing me, and I knew my days were numbered. So, I bit the bullet and retired! But let’s be perfectly clear. Jerry and I will never become digital nomads. As much as we love to travel, we still need a place to call home.
What was the “aha” moment that sparked travel and the Backroad Planet site for you guys?
Howard: Backroad Planet came about as a plan to supplement my pension after retirement. I had published several educational books with major houses in the 1990s, so it only made sense to merge my two loves of travel and writing. Even though the anticipated date was still two years away, we launched the web site in September 2013.
Why did you decide to focus on the backroads and scenic routes?
Jerry: Soon after we met, we started taking day trips to local destinations I had discovered while riding my Harley around Central Florida. Howard was a bit disenchanted with Florida after spending time at his property in North Georgia. I wanted to remind him that the “real” Florida had some beautiful scenic drives and cool off-the-beaten-path destinations. Some of our earliest drives were to Solomon’s Castle in Ona, the ghost town of Brewster, and Cherry Pockets fish camp in Lake Wales.
Why is it important to you guys to focus on road trips in particular?
Howard: We enjoy air and rail travel, and we really love small ship cruises. But there is nothing better than packing a cooler, throwing it in the back of the Mountaineer, and hitting the road. We feature road travel at Backroad Planet because that is our favorite mode of travel, hands down. On a road trip you can take the roads-less-traveled, stop whenever you like, and you never know what adventures await around the bend.
The “dream job” and “travel blogging” mentality is also becoming more popular. Does the market seem saturated?
Howard: The travel blogging market is definitely saturated, but there is always room for people who love to travel and write, especially within specialized niches. We have colleagues who specialize in certain countries, specific styles of travel, and communities such as LGBT, solo travelers, or Boomers.
What’s one tip you have for readers who want to live a life like yours?
Howard: Many people think travel blogging is a way to score “free” trips. Sponsored travel opportunities are never free. They are always in exchange for articles, social media promotion, and other deliverables to our targeted audiences. I work longer hours now than I did when I was a classroom teacher. But I’m not complaining. I love what I do. If you enjoy travel, have excellent writing skills, and are willing to invest time in the many diverse aspects of travel blogging, go for it.
What are you most excited to focus on in 2017?
Howard: One thing I love about being a full-time travel blogger is the anticipation of the next day. You never know what opportunities will present themselves by way of your inbox, social media, or an unexpected phone call. In September, for example, I booked an impact cruise to the Dominican Republic. Impact cruising is a new category of tourism, where passengers do onboard training during days at sea in preparation to work with social and environmental organizations at the destination. I believe this is a great way to invest in our planet, and I look forward to doing more of it.
Carolyn Crist is a freelance journalist based in Georgia. She writes about travel, health and business for regional and national publications.