Solo Travelers Make Better Bloggers….or Do They?

by Nora Dunn on August 4, 2014

 

The grass is always greener on the other side. I think.

I thought this one day last year while frustrated with my inability to happily balance my work and my relationship. (I’m not in that relationship any more, and I’m honestly not sure how much my struggle to achieve work-life balance affected the ultimate outcome).

We were house-sitting at the time, and my partner (who didn’t have a location independent business) was at loose ends. I had two choices, as usual: stay behind and work while he went out and had a good time, or close my computer and sacrifice work in order to spend some time exploring the world beyond our (very foreign) doorstep. Somewhat begrudgingly on this day, I chose the latter.

 

At first I thanked my partner for getting me out of the house and away from work, so I could embrace my penchant for exploration…which is the reason I travel full-time to begin with.

And then, I cursed him. Having discovered all kinds of lovely things and taken many pictures on our day’s adventure, now I had even more work to do, and even less time to do it.

I should have counted myself lucky to be doing such lovely couple things. And yet, there I was, cursing my partner, wanting to spend time with my computer instead.

 

The Location Independent Conundrum: It Doesn’t Look Like Work…

 

Location Independent careers aren’t easily understood, when it comes to the brass tacks of getting work done. Even I still don’t entirely get it; I type words on my computer, send them off in emails, and numbers show up in my bank account. Throw in various (unrelenting) social media requirements, and it’s hard for somebody to watch me sit in front of my laptop and actually believe that it’s work.

But trust me – it’s work. Pure, hard, unadulterated, unending work.

I’m no longer a particular fan of hospitality exchanges, because people I stay with don’t understand my need to work. They think I may need to tap away on my computer for an hour, and then I can explore their home town (since I’m on vacation, right??), and enjoy their company and hospitality.

But I need more than an hour; more like five hours each day. After years of returning to my hometown in Canada to visit, I believe I’ve finally “trained” my family and friends to understand that I’m not “on vacation”. In fact, I’ve only just come to realize for myself that my lifestyle is an eerie combination of work and vacation, all wrapped into one confusing little package.

 

In the case of traveling with a partner who doesn’t have a similar career, it can actually lead to jealousy. You got it – my computer is like “the other woman”. I feel guilty every time I turn it on, and I feel guilty for saying “just one more hour of work…please”.

 

Location Independent Couples

There are of course exceptions, such as super-blogger-couples. The secret recipe here is that both partners have a location independent form of income – either separate businesses, or even the same one.

In these cases there is much more understanding between partners about the necessity to work and the ability to balance work and life and travel.

 

 

You Have to be Offline to Explore

The flip side to all this is that, in order to have something to write about, a travel blogger has to be out there experiencing it. I can thank all my (non-location-independent) previous partners for forcing me to get off the computer and out of the house; and having somebody to experience the world at large with – and to reflect on those experiences with – in turn creates invaluable prose. I would never have seen the lesser-known side of Panama if I wasn’t with a partner who had a knack for blending in with various cultures, and who helped me to do the same.

 

Then Again, Couple-Time Takes Time

At the same time, being a couple doesn’t mean you’re always intrepid explorers (even if you’re both traveling – another lesson I learned from a previous partner). Some couples like to hibernate and do couple-things; I remember traveling in Spain with a friend and a couple; the couple regularly disappeared to go back to their hotel at 5pm, leaving us bewildered as to why they’d leave the party before it even began. Couple-things are nice, but it doesn’t do much for blogging.

 

 

Solo Travelers Make Better Bloggers…or Do They?

All this waffling merely fuels the debate: do solo travelers make better bloggers?

 

When left to my own devices as a solo traveler, I don’t always see as much of the world beyond my doorstep as I could (or should). But I have much more time to integrate the experiences I do have, thus (maybe) writing better articles out of it. It’s also easier as a solo travel blogger to go at the pace that suits me best (for example taking time to get the best pictures), and it’s generally easier to meet people on the road as a solo traveler.

 

But.

 

Blogging – and all things online – is crack for the addictive personality. When left to my own devices with a fast internet connection, I don’t actually get more work done; more than once I’ve closed my laptop after eight eye-crossing hours with little to actually show for it.

I learned this (in spades) while living in Peru and afflicting a few digital detoxes on myself in the form of multi-day Andean treks, full-day plant medicine ceremonies, and week-long retreats. My online world didn’t crash down around me while I was gone, and with some focused attention, I got through what I needed to in order to catch up.

It helped me (re)learn one of the primary rules of time management, which is to focus your efforts on the things that matter, with the limited time that you have.

 

 

Conclusion (or Lack Thereof)

I’ve been writing this post on and off for over eight months. The headline and tag line (about the grass being greener on the other side) was written in haste while angry at my partner and frustrated with the perils of work-life balance. But now that I’ve seen the grass on both sides of the fence, I still haven’t decided if solo travelers actually make better bloggers.

 

Although solo travelers have more time to spend online (for lack of having a partner to please), it doesn’t necessarily mean that their time online is spent productively, nor is the time offline necessarily enriching.

But nor does having a partner make for a better blogger. It depends on the relationship, shared passion for travel, respective careers, and ability to integrate the plethora of information and discoveries that await beyond your doorstep.

 

What do you think?

 

 

 

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank August 4, 2014 at 10:30 am

Interesting post Nora. I think the answer may be more about why you are travelling/what you are doing than whether you are solo or in a couple.
Spanky and I left Canada a month ago for long-term travel. We knew it would be an adjustment, her ‘bringing’ her job with her while I do my own thing (a bit of consulting work, but mostly working on the blog). Its actually been great and I think this is because we knew beforehand that we would have to work ‘regular’ hours. The plus is that we are location-independent and when not working we are constantly discovering things around the city (Prague right now) or taking trips on weekends. But It takes understanding: her work comes first and I agreed to that. But her part of the agreement is that we keep active when we are not working; taking walks in the morning, visiting a museum or hiking up a tower. And no relaxing in front of the tv on weekends. We left our lives behind because we wanted to explore new things and be active.
I think it is the best of all worlds right now.

So I think the answer is that if you are travelling with a partner you have to come to an understanding beforehand of what your future life will be like.

Frank (bbqboy)

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Nora Dunn August 4, 2014 at 11:59 am

Thanks for sharing, Frank!
You bring up some good points; in one relationship my partner had a “day job” outside of the house we were staying in – so when he got home all he wanted was to relax and watch tv (he’d been out all day after all), meanwhile I’d been cooped up in the house all day working and I was ready to go out!
In another relationship where my partner didn’t work at all while we were on the road, I had to face either staying behind and working while he went out and had a good time, or sacrificing work to go out and have a good time with him.
In both cases there wasn’t a good balance, but also maybe not an awareness for either of us of what a balanced arrangement might look like.

Either way, it’s an ever-evolving thing.

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Rob August 4, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Work is work, everybody needs to eat & we all seem to have different ways of accomplishing that. I suspect you will always be a far better blogger than I no matter where you’re working from! :-)
I also suspect that when you find someone who is a ‘fit’ for your chosen lifestyle (whatever it is then) all these questions will be forgotten and life will look ‘right’.

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Nora Dunn August 4, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Hi Rob,
I think you may be right! (At least I hope you are). ;-)
In the meantime, I’m not minding being solo on the road again and blogging (or not) to my heart’s content without answering to anybody.

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Amy August 4, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Ah, Nora, this post really resonated with me. Since beginning my first solo trip in Peru, my mom and a friend have visited me. They were very kind and understanding, but I always felt guilty for opening up my laptop to “finish one more assignment” in my bedroom while they waited around for me in one of the most happening tourist destinations! I kept thinking how different it would be if I had to get dressed and go into an office for a desk job. People are just less understanding when your work is online. It is very, very difficult to balance work and life when your work can literally be with you anywhere you go.

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Nora Dunn August 4, 2014 at 8:46 pm

Hi Amy,
I’m sorry for your similar struggles, but also secretly pleased that we can suffer in solidarity! Ha ha. These are ultimately nice problems to have, I think, but that doesn’t make it any easier when friends/family/partners are breathing down our necks to get off the computer. Or conversely, we are left feeling like we’re missing out while our friends/family/partners go out and have a great time without us.

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Ali August 5, 2014 at 2:38 am

I’m not sure how I would deal with being in a relationship with someone who didn’t understand blogging and working remotely. Andy earns his income from contract work as a web developer, but he’s been blogging for years like me, and so he understands the need to work as we travel. We just spent a week in Budapest, and he had to work 20 hours on his contract plus put time in on his own projects. Meanwhile I wrote freelance articles, blog posts and worked on an ebook. We made time around all of that to actually see some of Budapest, though we definitely learned a week isn’t long enough. For us finding that balance between work and vacation means making sure we have enough time to explore while traveling but still have time for work. I don’t think solo travelers make better bloggers (or worse ones) but I think it helps to have a schedule and a plan of attack whether you’re solo or with someone else.

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Nora Dunn August 5, 2014 at 10:03 am

Hi Ali,
Great point about needing longer than a week in Budapest – maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of slow travel; it gives me time to work as well as explore. With an ongoing location independent career and that tenuous balance between work and vacation/travel, you simply need more time in a place to cover off what a “normal person” could see in much less time.

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Sean August 5, 2014 at 8:06 am

Nora, great post. As a traveling couple, we obviously have to coordinate our plans much more than a solo traveler, and that includes scheduling specific “work” days/times. But I don’t think being digital nomads really affects this part too much — we made sure to do the same when we had a home base and working on projects, and we both “get” it. We really struggle explaining it to people with “normal” lives though — from family members who think we spend too much time on the laptops when staying with them (all right, we probably do….) to clients who apologize for calling me during our “vacation”…grrrr

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Nora Dunn August 5, 2014 at 10:09 am

Sean – I’m glad I’m not the only one wondering why so many people just don’t seem to “get it”! Location independent careers are tough to understand…but like you, I probably spend more time on my computer than I absolutely need to. Guilty as charged! (See? Crack for the addictive personality).

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Ryan August 5, 2014 at 9:15 am

Anyone who’s been blogging for any time at all will definitely resonate with this piece, Nora! Work-life-balance is by far the most difficult aspect of blogging, and the stress from it can really strain relationships. You’re totally right: to an outsider, sitting in front of a computer clacking away the keyboard doesn’t exactly look like hard work (although throw the scene into an office instead of a patio overlooking the ocean or hotel lobby in Europe, and suddenly it might—it’s one of those weird illusions we have to deal with I suppose).

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Nora Dunn August 5, 2014 at 10:18 am

Ryan – Yes, I guess “set” and “setting” is more important for the perception of “work” than I thought! All things considered, we certainly could have worse settings for our offices. ;-)

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Tiffany August 5, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Nora, what a great article! So many thought provoking statements in here. I often wonder about this. This question of solo/ couple bloggers always seems to be a grass is greener scenario. When we both agree and it’s raining and easy to decide to stay inside and do work, it’s easy. When it’s nice and Chris is way ready to go and I’m like, no, wait, I need another hour, then it takes the extra work. I guess that’s the bottom line, whether your solo or together, it’s work. And work is work (albeit great work us location independent folks love) – but it still takes commitment and sacrifice to the work, another person and even yourself as an individual to achieve those goals. Great post.

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Nora Dunn August 6, 2014 at 6:19 am

Thank you, Tiffany! Does Chris has a location independent job? Sounds like he doesn’t. And you’re totally right – regardless of the scenario, relationships take work. And work takes work. I guess the only thing we can affect is how we view that work. Happy travels…er….work! ;-)

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rebecca August 5, 2014 at 10:37 pm

This is a great post! I’m really glad I read it as this week I have been thinking about my life choices of wanting to travel and work and what this might mean being single vs in a relationship – also if it makes it harder to be in a relationship.

Whilst me and my positive thoughts think “it’s fine, when I meant the right guy, this lifestyle will work with him, otherwise his just not the right guy” But then I have negative opinions from friends and family telling me I’m just not open to compromise and will never find a partner this way. Personally this has annoyed me all week until I read your article.

The grass is never greener and making any relationship work is hard but certainly its got to be harder when travel is such a priority and a lifestyle that just isn’t for everyone. I want to be location independent but its not like that’s a choice that might suit everyone.

I’m sticking to my positive thoughts, of the work/travel thing will just work if I meet the right person and refuse to give up my goals for the wrong person – could you imagine how I feel when the relationship doesn’t work and I gave up my goals

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Nora Dunn August 6, 2014 at 6:22 am

Hi Rebecca,
There ARE people out there who will share your travel and location independent work goals…it will just take patience to find them. So in a way you’re right: when you meet the right guy, the lifestyle will work for both of you.
But life doesn’t always take us on an easy route to that destination – as I’ve learned a few times now!
Stay positive, and true to your goals though, and you’ll get there.

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Gregory Hubbs August 5, 2014 at 11:14 pm

Excellent, honest post Nora. I guess the minimal or shorter work week may be a bit mythical for even the solo traveler who is location-independent, despite promises made by many quarters. On the contrary, while clearly one can always “work smarter” and more efficiently, life is just not that simple even for the ingenious, and technology and the demands related seem to have increased the time most people work or are online (I am always amazed to see people sending out what appear to be non-automated tweets and posts at all hours of the day, 7 days a week).

Work/life balance is harder and harder to achieve at home and abroad, and the addictive nature of new technologies is obvious in the behavior of even the most balanced and intelligent children worldwide who have such options to young people to the middle-aged. If the “boob-tube” captured the attention of Americans 7 hours a day, the cyber world gobbles even more as an interactive extension. Is not technology both a tease and a way to potentially enslave humans? Is there not a huge risk of an epidemic of Attention Deficit Disorder?

Taking it slow, what I like to call “Slow Immersion Travel,” in the case of travel and living abroad, seems to be one counter. Living in accordance to a spiritual, aesthetic, ritualistic, or other approach to the world of real humans and culture seems the only option to me to counter the inevitable gobbling up of elusive time by binary-based communication tools.

“01011100101100001…” is how we are communicating online behind the words.

As Laurie Anderson said in one of the performance art/concerts I attended, “everybody wants to be a ‘1’ but no one wants to be a ‘0’.”

Of course the possibilities for relative freedom are incredible now for those who manage to handle the sacrifices–though few last long-term as you have, and which I commend. In the end, your personality is your destiny and you likely have no choice but to travel once you have the bug else you will likely suffer from withdrawal. Travel can be experienced as a series of epiphanies and as Pandora’s box. and I commend you for embracing the paradoxes.

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Nora Dunn August 6, 2014 at 6:30 am

Thank you so much for your thoughtful insight and kind words, Greg!
I love this: “Is not technology both a tease and a way to potentially enslave humans? Is there not a huge risk of an epidemic of Attention Deficit Disorder?” YES!!!

And like you say, it’s both a ticket to freedom and a risk of enslavement, if we don’t know how to harness it to our needs. And nobody is infallible; it requires constant work and attention.

You pinned it when you said slow travel is the answer. I only recently realized part of the reason I adore slow travel is because it allows me a better balance between work and sight-seeing. Not to mention the massive benefits of a deeper cultural immersion.

“Embracing the paradoxes”….I like it. I’m going to use that some time! :-)

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Turner August 8, 2014 at 12:18 am
Nora Dunn August 8, 2014 at 6:52 am

Hey Turner,
Excellent article. I wonder how much time and how many experiences I’ve sacrificed in favour of chronicling other experiences and doing online work.
For me however, I also find the act of writing about my travel experiences helps me to understand and integrate that experience. For us full-time travelers, if we have these amazing experiences every day but don’t integrate them into the context of our life (either by writing about it, talking about it, or just simply meditating on it), it can become overwhelming and almost…meaningless. (At least for me).
Thus I don’t mind sacrificing an amazing travel experience or two to write about other experiences I’ve already had. That’s why slow travel works for me….after I’m finished work, there’s still time to discover my current doorstep.

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Tim August 10, 2014 at 7:06 pm

For me, the battle is against distraction, especially when your family is happy to have you home and wants to engage you in conversation every 20 minutes while you try to get stuff done. I’ve just resigned myself to rolling with the punches and making sure I get the mission critical stuff as a minimum . After all, my costs for the next week and a half are effectively zero, so it doesn’t take much to be in profit everyday!

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Nora Dunn August 11, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Hi Tim,
Good point about family and friend distractions. And those distractions go two ways too, since it’s nice to visit with people. I generally move to ‘mission critical only’ work status when visiting people as well, but this also means it’s not sustainable in the long run.

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Christiane September 14, 2014 at 11:34 am

Thank you, Nora, for this great article spelling out the couple-trouble in a humorous way. Though I am not a Blogger, I am translating a book right now while living and travelling in a Caravan with my partner for about 6 months. You won’t believe it but just now as I am typing this my partner asked me: “Are you working? You should relax! You were so tired” (we are changing locations right now).

You are probably right, it does have something to do with jealousy because when my partner works on projects there is no problem.
Otherwise it is really nice to experience the breathtaking views, the hardship and the relaxed stays together.

I am still trying to establish some sort of rhythm with my work but it is really hard.

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Nora Dunn September 14, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Hi Christiane,
I totally understand! Now that I’ve been working/travelling/living solo for a while though, the work-life balance is still a challenge, just in different ways.
I think you pinned it in saying it’s a matter of establishing a rhythm….which can be tricky while traveling….hang in there, and good luck with the book translation!

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