Through a happy accident and twist of fate, I found myself with a few months of freedom this summer. Now, I’m not one of those people who doesn’t know what to do with their free time. You know the ones who say “Even if I won the lottery, I’d still go to work. I just wouldn’t know what to do.” Yeah, that’s not me. I always have a couple of ideas or passion projects to noodle on so I decided to use the time to investigate whether I could turn my passion projects of food blogging, cooking, and travel writing into my livelihood. Could my side hustle be my hustle hustle?
Firstly, virtually no one is making a lucrative living solely on being an influencer or travel writer. I had the pleasure of interviewing career travel writers, food and travel PR firm owners, London- based food and travel Instagram influencers, a professional cooking teacher, bespoke trip planners, travel app founders, and Michelin-star restauranteurs. Not a single one, other than the restauranteur, was making enough money to be able to live in London without additional financial support. Some had partners that were the breadwinners, some had self-funded by saving from previous careers, and some choose to live simply or have long commutes from less expensive parts but everyone has some other way to pay the bills.
It was also fascinating to learn how the writing, influencer, and trip planning industries work. They are all 99% legwork and pitching ideas with the hope that you eventually get paid for your work. Plus, a lot of what is attractive to the average traveler isn’t particularly compelling to a seasoned traveler. “Top 10 places to go for…” lists are the industry standard which the career travel writer that I interviewed referred to as “soul crushing”. I’m included to believe him! Even travel influencers who are getting sponsorships for their travel do not get much choice of where they travel. Profoundly aspirational in nature, it’s all swanky resorts, sandy beaches, and bikini shots in front of filtered sunsets. I mean, that’s good for some…I suppose. However, is that traveling or just vacation? or modeling?
I have incredible respect for the people that I interviewed. They all have serious hustle. Looking behind the scenes, the content creation process in the food and travel scene takes a tremendous amount of planning and production time. I estimate that a travel writer invests three weeks of planning, traveling, and writing to get the research for a single article. That yields 1-2 articles a month which probably equals to approximately £500 each article once published. If the article never runs then he never gets the commission! In my experience, I could easily spend each day producing one piece of content per content platform like my website, youtube, Instagram, etc. Sadly, at 370 Instagram followers and 20 website subscribers, I don’t think anyone is going to be paying me for the full-time job of producing my original content anytime soon!
Which bring me to my last bit of learning about the industry. It took everyone 3- 5 years of consistency and diligence to organically gain a critical mass of followers, readers, or clients to be able to shift their focus from their main career. I found this incredibly comforting! No one is an overnight success if they want to do it authentically or organically. You have to keep at it because you love it and be smart about how you do it.
Keeping that in mind, I’ve realized that some of my passion projects are just that – interests that are a little too niche or I’m not qualified enough to make it my job. As they say in business “Just because there is a gap in the market, doesn’t mean that there is a market for the gap.” I love the intersection of food, travel, and anthropology. I find tracing the history of destinations that are new to me through their cuisine is the most exciting and accessible means of exploration possible! I love food history but it may always just be a passion that feeds my inner food geek. Also, after meeting some food historians, I may not be geeky enough to hang with that crowd! However, that story is a whole other blog post…
Naturally, I learned a lot about myself over the course of the summer. I got lonely working at home every day. I need regular accountability, feedback, and encouragement. I didn’t enjoy travel writing as much I as I expected but I do enjoy blogging! I learned that Instagram could either be a chasm of comparison or a source of inspiration to be used sparingly. I learned that, often, I’d prefer to enjoy myself in the moment then get the perfect Instapic. I affirmed that you don’t need much money to explore but I also missed the freedom to fund my own epic journey. I discovered that I suffer from major imposter syndrome that has me paralyzed but am happy to be bold in other areas!
I am grateful to have the opportunity to explore the hamlets and towns of the UK and get to know my country of residence better. I have enjoyed interviewing people for the American, A Broad series that I’m putting together more than I could have predicted(coming 2019!) I’m grateful to be available to meet friends at the last minute and tend to my garden – both physically and metaphorically. I have thoroughly enjoyed testing and writing my recipes. I’ve mastered new cooking techniques, smartened up my plating skills, and have a new list of methods to try to master this fall. I learned that people consume my content and find it useful and, really, what more could I want?
As I head back to the “normal” work world, I can confidently say that, even if it doesn’t look like much has changed in the last three months, it certainly has for me. I have more clarity of how and where I should invest my time in my passions as my free time becomes more precious. Over the next two years, I’ll be investing in more cooking certification, comedy writing, and idea pitching to help alleviate my imposter syndrome. I’ll keep networking with food historian and travel writers in the hopes that I can glean knowledge through osmosis. I’ll keep honing my cooking skills starting with meat pies, potatoes, and pastry – the pillars of British cooking!
Like the baby rose bush that my colleague gifted me as I left my consulting role to explore new adventures, I will continue to set roots, reach for the sun, and do my best to bloom brightly. So the Instagram posts may be less frequent, as will the blog posts which may be more sporadic(if that’s even possible), but I will continue to hustle to see how much my passion grows.