I was 21 and in my third year of a journalism degree in London. I was moving house (shoebox) every couple of weeks, did a 30-hour job on “the side” and in between, I sent out emails, applications and pitches like my life depended on them and it sort of did. Usually, I wouldn’t get an answer, but if I did, it’d be something like, Thanks for getting in touch but we don’t accept any submissions at this point, but let’s keep in touch, ciao bella. I was an absolute nobody, trying to get into an industry everyone wanted to get into and desperately trying to find that “spark” that made me “stand out from the rest.” I was almost certain I didn’t have it.

Seven years later, I manage what my tutors said very few ever would: I live off journalism. In some months, I can’t believe writing pays for my rent, other times I still doubt my entire bloody existence. And all of this lovely chaos started with Travelettes.

Over the last couple of years, I produced a photo series about roadtripping Portugal’s coast and then landed on the magazine’s cover (still haven’t recovered from that shock), I sipped cocktails on an island near Venice where I had my own loft and of course there was a private pool, I explored Tokyo in a whirlwind of a week with the most hilarious crew, I went to South Tyrol for an intense self-care trip (yes, this was before everyone was obsessed with self-care), I did a sun salutation on a surfing board in the middle of a lake in Brandenburg, I sipped cocktails in Curacao in December, and this isn’t even everything. I wouldn’t have had any of these opportunities had it not been for Travelettes and I’m absurdly grateful for the opportunity to get to combine the two things I love most in life: traveling and writing. Here is why I’m still leaving the team.

When worlds collide at luxury resorts

Ever since moving to Berlin after graduating, I spent most of my time working in newsrooms, covering what someone recently called people’s worst days. Days and lives that were battered by war, economic inequality and catastrophes. I was trying to make sense of two extreme realitites.

There was one time when I had just finished a series of interviews with twenty-somethings who grew up in war zones; two days later I stood in front of a gigantic breakfast menu with five types of smoked salmon in Spain. Both worlds are both real, painfully so, their co-existence is a horrendous injustice that most of us can do little to change. My privilege is disgusting.

It became harder and then impossible to come back from beautiful press trips where everyone went the extra mile to make sure I’d have a blast – and they would get good coverage of course.

Making money off travel writing

But speaking of good coverage. If you want to make some money from travel writing, you have to play by the rules and the rules include attending hotel openings, accepting press invites by tourism boards (although they tend to be the nicer ones) and brand events. That’s where the cash is.

Now more than ever, commercial travel blogging is about finding the picturesque spots everyone then wants to go to, it’s curating a selection of restaurants that don’t just serve great food but also Instagrammable backdrops, it’s squeezing complex issues into snackable lists (briefly debated calling this post “12 things I learned from six years of travel blogging” instead of using a cheap Joan Didion reference). This hurts me to write but blogs in general seem to become more of an add-on that most people stopped bothering with as they social following increased. I keep seeing the same cafés, the same boutique shops with locally sourced goods and the same hotels, be it in Berlin, Bali or Boston.

But then real travel writing has always been a luxury that doesn’t sustain itself. Whenever I wrote a travel piece for a magazine, they would/could never pay for the actual trip, just for the page it filled. My idealist way of looking at travel writing – going somewhere, diving into the “local life” for a few days, meeting people and then writing a really “authentic” piece – has proven an illusion. It’s also profoundly unfair towards other people’s “real lives”, because how would you truly grasp that in a few days or weeks.

Other things have changed, too. I no longer find it acceptable to go on long-haul flights for press trips that last four days and involve me checking out a new fancy hotel just because their marketing budget is huge. That’s a no-brainer. I take fewer flights than I used to but my CO2 budget is still widely overdrawn.

But something else also changed: I did

Traveling to me isn’t (just) looking at nice places, it’s trying to understand the world around me and myself better and then realising that all I do is get more confused. It’s running around through Paris being so broke, we need a new word for broke (speaking of that CO2 budget), it’s getting into strangers’ cars in the middle of the desert because they seem okay, and most of the time, they will be, it’s having meltdowns in a 10-bed hostel room because I never felt more alone.

But traveling to me has also always been about running away, literally. I was getting nervous when there was no trip lined up for a month, no #wanderlust in disguise, it was real anxiety. I tried to fill that giant hole with plane tickets and adventures and then realised that holes can travel, too.

Looking back, traveling always brought me to the one place where I absolutely didn’t want to end up: my own demons. The road has been the most expensive therapy I’ve ever done. The thing is, I no longer have a life I want to run away from. Sometimes those itchy feet come back, not because I’m unhappy with where I’m at, they come for a much healthier reason: Sun, writing, friends, you name it. So wild, I know.

When going places in 2019, I always looked forward to coming home because for the first time there is one. The same way that writing sorts my mind out and makes me see connections where I just see a load of crap, traveling brings me to the rawest and wildest places I ever went: My hopes and dreams, my grief, my failures, my broken heart, my burning questions and everything else I’m busy neglecting. Often times, writing and traveling suck equally and I woudn’t have it any other way.

I have so much love for that young, idealist and naive girl sitting in London. I’m so grateful for getting a response from Katja where she approved my pitch for a series of stories from Beirut. Travelettes forever shaped my solo travelling balls (you should see them, they are HUGE) and I hope some of my writing perhaps inspired you to take an adventure on your own, because what would life be like without them.

Thank you for the ride, it was the best I had. With love xxx

(Also, if you want to stay in touch, I’m still on Insta and I will keep making questionable decisions on the road and elsewhere)