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.