Getting Into (and Out Of) Travel Writing and Full-Time Travel, With Leif Pettersen

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I met Leif Pettersen at a travel blogging conference in the relative infancy of such conferences. We were both early adopters of full-time travel and travel writing in that sphere, and as such it served us both very well. But things shifted, and Leif eventually returned home and got out of travel writing. 

In this interview, we discuss being ahead of our time (he also filmed a travel tv show that flopped but 10 years later would have been a sensation), his nomadic travel writing career, how the industry shifted (taking him out with it), what it’s like to return home after years on the road, and more. 

Jump right into my Awesome Interview Series videos on YouTube here – and please give it a thumbs up, leave comments and subscribe!

Other Interviews You’ll Surely Dig:
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Getting out of Blogging and into Podcasting, with Gary Arndt

Leif Pettersen was a travel writer and full-time traveler for 4.5 years before returning home to “normal life”. Here's what that was like. #travelwriter #travelwriting #full-timetravel #nomadictravel #LeifPettersen #TheProfessionalHobo

Introducing: Leif Pettersen

Leif Pettersen is a freelance writer, author, humorist, world traveler and award-winning travel & tourism marketing professional from Minneapolis, Minn. He has traveled through 57 countries and lived in Spain, Romania and Italy. His latest book, The First (Failed) Travel Food Show, is available on Amazon along with Throwing Up: Notes From 35 Years of Juggling, and his travel memoir Backpacking With Dracula. And you can find his various musings on the site Killing Batteries.

Pettersen was a silver medalist at the 2014 International Jugglers’ Association championships, loves chocolate, hates pickles, types with exactly four fingers, and can escape from a straitjacket. He has not vomited since 1993, making him a consummate travel journalist and excellent party guest.

This is the introduction I read out at the start of our video interview, and the conversation continued to cover an equally eclectic variety of topics. Below are a few. 

Watch My Interview With Leif Pettersen Here

Click here to watch our lively discussion, or watch below. Please leave a comment and give it a thumbs up if you enjoy it – this is imperative in giving my series exposure to other people on YouTube who would be interested. Thank you!

The First Failed Travel Food Show

I’ve had a chance to film a few different travel tv shows in my years on the road, and had a variety of memorable experiences in so doing. So too, has Leif. We chat about: 

  • How a random encounter with a stranger led to filming a TV show pilot in Morocco. 
  • How the tv show flopped, but 10 years later it was a whole genre (travel food shows). 
  • What travel was like in 1993 versus now. 
  • What it’s like to travel with a tv crew, for better and worse. 

Developing a Career as a Travel Writer and Travel Blogger

Spoiler alert: the tv show never aired. But the experience ultimately informed Leif’s decision 10 years later to become a nomadic traveler, start a travel blog, and develop a freelance travel writing career. We discuss: 

  • Developing a career as a travel writer and blogger, back in “the Bronze Age” of travel blogging.
  • Building a travel writing portfolio and freelance travel writing career in 2003 (and how different it is to now). 
  • Why Leif (along with just about everybody else at the time) started a travel blog in 2003. 
  • How Leif’s blog led to paid travel writing gigs. 
  • How he got his big break from Minnesota unicyclists in Norway.
 Leif Pettersen in a hammock, traveling full-time and travel writing

Why He Quit Travel Writing 

While being an early adopter in the travel writing and travel blogging game served Leif Pettersen well in that it was easier to get noticed “back in the day”, it was also a factor in why he ended up quitting. We talk about: 

  • Why Leif left travel writing as a career. 
  • How being an “old dog” in a sea of new and hungry influencers set him back. 
  • How (and why) freelance writing rates plummeted during the 12 years he was in the business. 
  • The incessant and exhausting hustle involved with being a freelancer. 

What it’s Like to Return Home After Traveling Full-Time

Leif did it. I did it. Other people I’ve interviewed for this series did it, like Sherry Ott and Gary Arndt. At some point, most full-time travelers set up a home base, some in their home towns. Here’s what it was like for Leif: 

  • Why he returned home after four and a half years of full-time travel. 
  • How he traveled the world only to discover how awesome home was. (Win!)
  • Reverse culture shock, and buying bacon. 
  • Some of the differences between the U.S., Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe. 
  • The irony of buying things when you have a home base. 
Leif Pettersen on a travel writing assignment in Tuscany for Lonely Planet

Advice for Aspiring Long-Term Travelers

When I ask people what their biggest obstacles are to traveling long-term, a common reply is that they are afraid they’ll quit a good job and never be able to get a comparable job again when they return home. This is not an unfounded worry! Whether – or when – to take the leap depends on your skill set and finances. Leif and I talk about: 

  • Advice for aspiring long-term travelers who are nervous to quit their jobs. 
  • The pull of travel now versus later in life, even if it feels counterintuitive from a career perspective. 
  • Why an emergency fund is crucial to taking the leap. See also: Managing Your Money – a Guide to Financial Planning for Travelers
  • Why said emergency fund should have more money in it now than perhaps in previous years. 
  • How the pandemic has affected financial planning for travel. 
  • How far your money goes with full-time travel (and how you may be surprised). See also: My Annual Income and Expense Reports While Traveling Full-Time
  • Why you should do something when you feel a strong call to do it. 

Lastly, we talk about how our respective travel blogs are like personal time capsules, even if the early writing is a bit cringe-worthy. 

Also, just in case you tried to Google Leif as I did, I assure you Leif Pettersen – at least the one I interviewed – is not a dead football player. Just saying. 

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