Three Years of Traveling Savage

by Keith Savage · 23 comments


A sign found outside a field in the hills above Dunkeld

A little over three years ago, I decided to leave the beaten path and delve into the dark, scary woods of the unknown. I would switch from a corporate life of technical and sales writing to being my own master as I traveled and wrote. It took me another year of saving before I could actually quit my job and embark on the adventure I’d set before me.

But I was not alone.

My wife, Sarah, brainstormed with me and scrimped every step of the way. Not only was Traveling Savage one of her ideas, but the whole venture wouldn’t have been possible without the financial stability provided by her job. By the time I finally made the jump, I had been stuck in the doldrums at work for several years. I didn’t have a business plan for Traveling Savage, but I had enough ideas to push through my pragmatic disposition and make such a risky decision into a feasible escape.

And that was the real challenge I was trying to overcome in late 2010: escaping the golden handcuffs of a job I didn’t enjoy while not knowing what to do next.

I quit and rode that buzz directly into a five-week journey across Argentina. It was to be the first trip in a series of eight that would take me to countries around the world. Argentina was a life experience I needed. It was challenging, clarifying, and calibrating. Looking back at the trip two years later, it feels like I lived the lost month of another person’s life.

It was a relief to return home, a feeling I found troubling. For what I’d given up to pursue this path of travel, I needed to enjoy the journey. Traveling solo was hard; I missed Sarah, who continued to work back home. In early 2011 I scrapped my castles-in-the-sky plan and reengineered Traveling Savage to be a niche travel blog focused on Scotland. I still didn’t have a business plan, not that there were many travel blogs that could or would share how they provided a living. I figured if I just kept plugging away with the experience and the writing as my focus then good things would come.

Scotland saw me on three separate occasions in 2011. I cobbled together itineraries for my visits, set up appointments at places of interest, and thoroughly dove into being a Scotland travel blogger. With each trip I came to understand more why Scotland is so important to me. It embodies a heroic, adventurous ideal that I hold in romantic reverence. And there’s a bittersweet nostalgia there, too, that our modern world has little room for such conceits other than in the pages of fantasy novels.

The solo travel was still difficult. I’ve come to realize that I don’t love travel for travel’s sake. Rather, I love the teleporting effect on the mind of being in new places. The change in perception and thought. But even in a place I love more than any other on earth – Scotland – I still wasn’t totally comfortable traveling alone. Even the most beautiful hotel room or majestic landscape can be tainted by the ache of loneliness.

As 2011 moved into 2012, several ideas for novels percolated in my head. Then, in the throes of a month-long obsession with Skyrim, a fully-fleshed, rounded story appeared in my consciousness. I started developing the story and the world over the first third of 2012 before returning to Scotland in late spring to explore new parts of the realm and dig up more ideas for the blog. Upon my return home, I split my time between writing on Traveling Savage and writing this novel (which I’ve documented here in bits and pieces through various State of the Savage posts).

Traveling Savage has been (and will continue to be) an awesome project that has made money but nothing close to a livable income. Along the way I learned how other bloggers turned their sites into financial machines that support them, but most have offloaded things like mortgages and car payments and/or moved toward building an empire of content farms and link selling. While I could probably shoehorn Traveling Savage into this model and make a lot more money with it, I refuse to compromise the integrity of my vision. Besides, that path would be doing work I dislike for a fraction of what I used to make doing work I disliked.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that in 2013 I will look to new horizons to earn a living. Namely, authorship. It’s not an easier road than travel blogging, but it’s certainly more defined, and it brings together many of the strands of interest I’ve discovered on this journey: writing, adventure, the wonder of travel, storytelling. Can I weave? Well, that is my new task. I am planning to lock myself away in my in-laws’ cabin in snowy, northern Wisconsin for a week later this month to continue work on my novel.

Traveling Savage is not going away. I have more to write, more to share about Scotland, more to say. But the hope for return on investment of these trips has been overshadowed by their cost. At this point, I don’t know when I will return, and my belief that “good things” would happen if I just kept at it feels more like hopeless naïveté than bankable optimism.

These three years have been an evolution to an as-yet-unknown end state. I’m still in the forest. There has been elation and despair, excitement and fear, and a perpetual teetering on the brink of an abyss. Sometimes I wonder why I’ve put myself through this. I could just pack it all in and sit at my 9-to-5 desk, collecting paychecks and watching the sun rise and fall. Financially and mentally, it would be a lot more comfortable.

And then I remember. Our best selves, our higher angels, never lie at the end of the shortcut or upon the easy road. You have to go into the woods to find them.


Michael HodsonNo Gravatar January 2, 2013 at 11:50 AM

Best of luck, mate! Am sure you’ll be a success in any incarnation you go for in 2013.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 2, 2013 at 9:30 PM

Appreciate the good will, Michael. Thanks!

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KenNo Gravatar January 2, 2013 at 7:59 PM

Best wishes for 2013, Keith. I certainly enjoy your posts and can feel the love of Scotland in them. It takes courage to give up the easy way for something undefined and risky. Your writing draws me in and I’m sure that your book will be a good one. Happiness and success for you and Sarah in the coming year.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 2, 2013 at 9:35 PM

Thanks Dad.

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WanderNWayneNo Gravatar January 2, 2013 at 9:56 PM

Through you I’ve learned wonderful things about Scotland, “pictured” many scenes of your travels, and enjoyed the finer taste of whisky (what spellcheck doesn’t even know), and waiting for all of this to come together in your novel.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 2, 2013 at 11:14 PM

Thanks for reading, Wayne. Slainté!

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SimonNo Gravatar January 3, 2013 at 8:21 AM

If anyone has the writing chops to make a proper go of it, it’s you. Can’t wait to read it. Good luck!

Any plans on starting a separate, more general blog about your writing?

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 3, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Thanks Simon. I have considered a separate blog that just reflects the process and my thoughts, but it’s already hard to get in the flow of novel writing while sticking to a blogging schedule here. I’m pretty sure juggling two blogs would hurt the book writing process.

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KristinNo Gravatar January 3, 2013 at 10:49 AM

“Well, that is my new task. I am planning to lock myself away in my in-laws’ cabin in snowy, northern Wisconsin for a week later this month to continue work on my novel.”

Yaaaay!!!!

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GrayNo Gravatar January 3, 2013 at 4:52 PM

It’s been so interesting to watch your journey, Keith, as you quit your job to write full time. I believe you’ve always been more of a writer than a blogger–and by that, I mean, there are bloggers who clearly have more of a “make money so I can travel” approach to blogging, and then there are the bloggers who write or photograph or whatever for the love of the creativity of it, because they need that creativity like they need oxygen. You’ve always struck me as being in the latter category. My favorite posts of yours, as you know, have always been the literary/poetic ones where you get to really stretch your creative writing muscles. And this: “Besides, that path would be doing work I dislike for a fraction of what I used to make doing work I disliked” says it all, and boy, can I relate. I applaud your new direction and can’t wait to buy your finished book. :-)

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 3, 2013 at 8:05 PM

Hi Gray, I appreciate your point of view and all the support. You’ve been one of my most consistent readers here for the entire three years – thank you!

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JennaNo Gravatar January 4, 2013 at 10:05 AM

I enjoy coming here once in a while to see what’s new with you, and I am excited to see that you will be pursuing your writing more this year. It is hard to balance the reality of financial necessities with the desire to do what we love and the constant platform that blogging gives us (for better or worse). You seemed to have found a good balance–your blog is still excellent but you can now focus on your novel.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 4, 2013 at 2:24 PM

Hi Jenna,

Always good to see you here. Thanks for the note of support. I’m hoping this balance will work.

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AlwynneNo Gravatar January 9, 2013 at 5:06 AM

Hi Keith – we met back at the Spirit of Speyside whisky festival. Just wanted to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this post and was happy to discover your site last year. Congrats on hitting the three year mark and for following your dreams, no matter how tough they may be – long may it all continue for you!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 9, 2013 at 10:26 AM

Hi Alwynne – Spirit of Speyside was a blast and I had a great time at the opening dinner with you and the others. Thanks for the comment and well wishes – and for reading.

Keep up the stellar work covering the world of whisky!

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Odessa V. JarvisNo Gravatar January 9, 2013 at 11:44 PM

You just need to stay longer in a country, a month really is not that long. Everywhere I have been and nested within the last three years of traveling I always met people that speak english who I become friends with.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 10, 2013 at 9:34 AM

Even a month is a long time to leave my wife back home working and taking care of our house and all the chores and responsibilities that go along with it.

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NicoNo Gravatar January 19, 2013 at 2:08 PM

Best of luck, Keith. Will definitely be rooting for you. It’s been said many times, not all great journeys go to distant lands – the best ones are those that explore what’s inside you. Etcetera.

Watch out for rampaging wildlife up there!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 20, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Thanks Nico, appreciate the sentiment.

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NickNo Gravatar March 10, 2013 at 4:04 PM

Have you considered some of the less “ugly” methods of monitizing your blog? Traveling-Savage seems like a really good property… excellent content, that’s authentic (and honest)… there’s got to be a way to motize this a bit more effectivey than content farms. The book is a good idea, and you have a built-in audience that will buy it. But you’ve already got all of this content that people use to plan their trip… their $10k +, sometimes “trip of a lifetime”. There’s got to be some opportunity hidden here. Have you read “The $100 startup” by Chris Guillebeau?

So I used your blog, and your input to help plan my “once in a lifetime” trip to Scotland where I spent a boat-load of money and a couple of awasome weeks. To preapre for it? I bought some travel guides, which mostly sucked… and frankly relied on your advice for a good portion of my trip. Here’s the thing… planning this kind of trip is a royal pain in the neck. I mean, I love it… (and I would have loved knowing bout the Bu in Orkney when I booked at a hotel ;)… but it’s time consuming and expensive. Even combing through your blog for advice on hiking up to Arthur’s Seat (and STILL manging to take the long way up) takes a ton of time. Do you know what your detailed advice, combined in a booklet or template would have been worth to me? Well, it’s a heck of a lot more than the $40 I paid for the stupid travel guides I bought. For a $10-$15k trip… I would have spent a few hundred (easily) for an infoproduct “kit” that helped me plan the trip. Heck, I would have savd more than $300 in my time planing, and would have been valued at a multiple of $300 for the time I didn’t have to waste once in country. I think the “no brainer” is an EBook, that would be little more than a compilation of your blog posts into something I can consume on my Kindle. I think a kit for a few hudnred would be easy to assemble. And for a hour of your time on the phone or via skype, etc., plus the kit… $500 isn’t unreasonable.

So I realize you weren’t asking for advice, but I read this post a while back, and I really just think you’re missing the boat on this property, and that you’re leaving money on the table. Remember, just because YOU wouldn’t buy the product, doesn’t mean there’s not a market for it. I think you can really sell on “value”. Heck, my wife and I still read this blog… even though we aren’t going back to Scotland for the foreseeable future. I’m not sure why we do… but it’s edu-taining. I like learning about the whisky’s I dont know about, and I like learning and making notes about the things I missed on my last trip.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 10, 2013 at 6:22 PM

Hey Nick-

And how did your trip turn out?

This is really a priceless comment. I have considered putting together an ebook in the past, but the way you present the idea with info about how you would’ve used it is very compelling. So compelling, in fact, that I may just get to work on something like after I finish the rough draft of my novel.

I have not read Guillebeau’s $100 startup, though I did read The Art of Non-Conformity, and I do agree with you that I’m leaving “money on the table,” if we’re talking business. My problem has been that I don’t have a great, creative business mind. Sometimes I get locked into my own point of view.

I’m glad you found this site useful in your planning, and just as happy that you posted this testimonial here (and gave me some damn good, free advice). Thank you, and thank you for your continuing readership.

Best,
Keith

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NickNo Gravatar March 12, 2013 at 8:47 AM

My trip? It was Awesome – of course.

I haven’t read The Art of Non-Conformity – but thanks for the recommendation.

If you’re open to viewing the traveling-savage as a business, then I think things like EBooks, The Traveling Savage Scotland Kit, “Exclusive Traveling Savage 1-on-1″ are pretty easy things (in my opinion, anyway) that you could adapt your existing content to. Heck, you’re already doing the 1-on-1 stuff via email for folks – why not get paid for it? Remember, these folks … the ones booking $10-$15k travel experiences… they aren’t poor. I mean, they might frugal, or cheap, but they’re not definitely not poor. And even if the trip is a stretch for them… in fact, especially if the trip is a stretch, a few hundred more is what they’re going to spend on eating out one weekend. I guarantee that a $40 Ebook by you – or a $300 kit … would create more value for them/me than it costs them. Remember… these people… the ones reading your blog… they already trust you. You’ve already given them WAY more than they can find in any Scotland travel guide. That trust is valuable, and if you’re creating value (which you are), it’s perfectly fine to capitalize on that trust. Were not socialists ;) . Even if you did nothing with the EBook aside from consolidate and organize your posts, I think you’d be creating value for part of your audience (like me… but I would love to see a bit of additional content). If you added options like, “Exclusive” content in the Kit, or the 1-on-1 (perhaps drawn from your yet unpublished content), I think you’d have viable products – products that would involve little more labor than your currently doing to maintain them, and once “published” would produce small (but on-going) streams of revenue.

While we’re on the topic of free advice… ;) … have you dug into the various travel forums? I recall (don’t have the links in front of me), a bunch of UK, and European travel forums. There are tons of posts in there of the… “How do I do XYZ” type, that you could answer, in the process contribute to a community that you may enjoy, but at the same time – link back to your relevant posts…. have them sign up for a newsletter, and maybe after a few emails from you, they’ll buy some of your products. By the way, the Newsletter would be a great way to offer some “exclusive” free content, instead of just notifications. Or branch-out and do some interesting related content… whiskey reviews, etc. Or just sell your blog to me, and I’ll do it. ;).

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 12, 2013 at 9:27 AM

Hi Nick, thanks for extrapolating on your early comment. It’s interesting timing as it was just this past fall that I was brainstorming a slate of consulting options/products for Traveling Savage. Many of the ideas mesh with what you’re suggesting, and, while I’ve put it on the backburner while I focus on finishing my novel, I think I’ll dig into this down the road.

Thanks again, and glad to hear your trip was awesome.

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