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.
Joe Baur runs Without a Path, a travel site that focuses on travel stories and advice to get off the beaten tourist track. Joe started in Costa Rica and was inspired by a week in El Salvador, which he’s used to explain his travel worldview to followers. In 2017, he’s also co-host of the trivago podcast, where he talks about the latest travel and hotel trends.
The “escape the 9-to-5” mentality seems to be popular now. What are your impressions?
Joe Baur Absolutely. I don’t think most people truly like a 9-to-5. At best, they like the comfort that a 9-to-5 job can provide, namely financial security and health insurance. I suspect that people would be more than willing to change the 9-to-5 paradigm if they could still have the security it offers. I think that paradigm is changing, though. More companies are giving their employees flexibility to come in when they want and leave when their work is done. More people are working remotely and building their own schedules. France just passed a law forbidding employers from expecting you to check your work email after business hours. That’s the way it ought to be.
What inspired you to start blogging, and how did you first build a following?
JB I got started doing a satirical show on YouTube called Mildly Relevant News. It was, as the name indicates, mildly successful. After doing it for several years, I stumbled into travel writing. I went on an assignment for Matador Network to northern Ontario to cover a voyageur canoe trip, and that’s when things really started happening in my travel career. “Without A Path” came up when I was looking to name my podcast, and I’ve morphed that and joebaur.com into basically one in the same over the past year.
My inspiration at first was simply that I enjoyed travel and writing. I’ve always loved writing. “Without A Path” was inspired by living in Costa Rica, but more specifically, my week in El Salvador. The growth has been slow and steady over the years. It’s difficult to grow organically these days thanks to those notorious Facebook algorithms, but I’ve found that much of the battle is staying consistent with creating solid content.
How does life now compare to before you started the site?
JB I became more observant when I moved overseas for the first time. Some of that came with growing as a writer, reading travel literature from a variety of authors, and living different experiences. When you live in a foreign country, you start to notice the differences in the small things, such as how you do your laundry, what people say when they get on the bus, what the air smells like before a storm, and how people dress to run a small errand.
Something else I’ve noticed is that I’m never short on material when I live abroad. When I lived in Cleveland, I’d feel stymied in the travel department because U.S. infrastructure doesn’t allow for weekend train trips to nearby cities, and highway culture all but obliterated those charming small towns and cities where everyone knew the butcher and the brewer. Ohio is one of the most urbanized states in the country, but anti-urban, pro-sprawl policies gutted everything. I rode my bike from Cleveland to Lorain once and it was just dead. Empty storefronts and not a pedestrian in sight. I’m sure the same could be said of many similarly-sized cities in the States. Europeans or Asians who study abroad in the U.S. always comment on how shockingly empty old cities and towns are. It’s really tragic.
Do you have a favorite travel spot you’d like to share with Paste readers?
JB My favorite travel spots are the places where the average traveler either doesn’t think to visit or is afraid to visit. Two moments that come to mind are in El Salvador and Jordan, which I talk about in my book.
This past May, I traveled to Jordan, and some people thought I was foolish for going, asking, “Aren’t you worried about ISIS?” But I had a phenomenal experience, and Jordanians were as hospitable as their reputation. Unfortunately, they also felt the need to clarify time and time again that they are not terrorists. The only people who should ever have to say that upfront are people who actually have committed acts of terrorism and have since reformed themselves. It was heartbreaking to listen to Jordanian stories of justifying their religion and the impact Islamaphobia has had on tourism. As one of my dining companions put it, tourism is Jordan’s oil.
The “travel blogging” mentality is becoming more popular as well. Does the market seem saturated?
JB It’s incredibly saturated, but I don’t think it’s saturated with good content. So much travel blogging is riddled with glaring errors, typos, grammatical mistakes, awkward wording, exclamation marks, and boring writing. Everything is breathtaking, amazing, incredible and awesome. I know this because I used to make these mistakes and probably still do sometimes.
Travel blogging is also saturated with the same viewpoint. Do we really need another couple travel blog who “ditched the 9-to-5 grind” and are inviting people to join their adventure? I appreciate people who can do the 9-to-5 grind. We need people like that for the world to keep spinning. I don’t think we need to shame them and rub their inability to travel in their faces as if ditching the 9-to-5 is some easy, flippant thing the average person can do.
What’s one tip you have for readers who want to live a life like yours?
JB Create work that you enjoy, and then be a harsh critic of yourself. Edit yourself. Also, look for interesting stories. Travel at its core is about learning and challenging pre-conceived notions. We don’t need more stories about a weekend trip to Chicago or Vegas. We already know it’s “awesome.” Instead, find the stories that people aren’t telling. Go where the average traveler isn’t going.
What are you most excited to do in 2017?
JB A mixture of getting more eyes on Talking Tico and finding out what my next big book project will be. I love doing the editorials, freelance articles, podcasts, photography, and Off The Tourist Trek Travel Guides, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than the travelogue format. The problem is, I’ve been struggling to find that next project. I’ve badly wanted to spend a couple of weeks traveling in Iran, but that all went out the window when Iran banned Americans in response to Trump’s ban. I’ve had some other ideas, but to those who are reading this — I’m open to suggestions.
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.