Episode Transcript

Overcoming Solo Travel Stereotypes with Jessica Korteman

EPISODE 01

[INTRODUCTION]

[00:00:08] BS: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Love Your Enthusiasm, a podcast that is all about inspiring you to follow your greatest passion and get what you want out of life. I’m Britt Skrabanek, and today’s guest is Jessica Korteman, a travel writer who offers up a distinctly different way to look at solo travel. In this episode, Jessica discusses stereotypes she has witnessed firsthand while traveling solo as both a married woman and a new mom, and how she championed solo travel for women through her blog, Travel Solo Anyway. Hope you get a lot out of this conversation. Here’s Jessica.

[INTERVIEW]

[00:00:46] BS: Jess, welcome to the show.

[00:00:48] JK: Thanks, Britt. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:50] BS: I am so excited to talk to you. I always say that you are kind of like a long-time pen pal of mine in the blogging world.

[00:00:59] JK: Oh, for sure. I feel the same way.

[00:01:01] JK: Yeah, we’ve known each other for I don’t know how long now. It’s been many, many years and we’ve –

[00:01:06] JK: It’s been years, hasn’t it?

[00:01:06] BS: Yeah, I just don’t even know. I think it’s like six years, seven years. I don’t know.

[00:01:11] JK: It must be. Yeah. And you were one of the first people who started reading my blog in the very beginning. So I feel like we know each other just from reading each other’s blogs from way back when.

[00:01:24] BS: Yep, we know each other even though we’ve never met and have hardly talked to each other. I think this is the second time we’ve ever heard each other’s voices.

[00:01:29] JK: I know. It’s crazy.

[00:01:34] BS: It is. Well, I am so interested in talking to you today because you are such a long time travel blogger and the two of us are sitting in our homes right now in lockdown. You’re in Australia and I am in the U.S., and it’s just a really crazy time.

[00:01:53] JK: It is. It is a really weird time, isn’t it?

[00:01:55] BS: It is. It’s such an interesting time for human observation, and as a writer, I’m sure you can really relate to this. And one thing I observed in you is that you seem to be one of the people that was really balanced with acting, with doing something different and creating and sharing information, but also being careful about saying, “Hey, we’re not in some sort of highly creative mode right now.” This is a very difficult time. And you shared an interesting article that I’d love for you to talk a little bit about, and it was called – Well, the title anyways was You’re Not Working From Home, Distance Learning or Anything Else Right Now.

[00:02:38] JK: Yeah, and I thought that was really important to share because I think there’s a lot of pressure right now to use this quarantine time to be very productive or there’s a lot of stuff about learning a new hobby or learning something new. And I think it’s just important to recognize that everything we’re doing right now we’re doing at a reduced capacity. This is a freaking global pandemic, guys, and many of us are physically isolating and we’re unable to engage in many of the activities we’d usually be able to do. Kids might be home from school. There’s fear and concern for our own health and the health of people we care about and the population at large. There’s so much going on and it’s just important to remember that it’s not business as usual. We’re not just at home and able to transfer all of the things that we usually be doing into a new environment.

There’s a company called El Salvio who’ve come out with these principles called the COVID-19 principles that they’re using to guide their workforce during the pandemic, and it’s something that I really love and really changed my perspective and something that I mentioned in the article. And in that, they say the number one principle they have is that you are not working from home. You are at home during a crisis trying to work. And I think that that’s such an important way to look at it and just to take stock of the situation that we’re in and understand that this is hard and we might not be able to do all of the things that we would usually be doing. We’re running at reduced capacity.

So I think it’s really important just to be kind to ourselves and others by understanding that it’s not business as usual. We can’t expect the same rules to apply that did before to apply now. We have to think differently and we have to really safeguard our physical and mental health right now, and that should be top of mind.

[00:04:28] BS: I wholeheartedly agree. I of course moved across the country during the pandemic, which was insane, and we had this planned months ago and then the timing. We thought it was going to be great timing when we picked the end of March. We were like, “You know what? That’s a great time to move.” Surprise!

[00:04:48] JK: Yeah, I know.

[00:04:50] BS: It was a little nuts and I won’t get into it too much. But we run a business, Superneat Marketing, and all of that was still going pretty hot and heavy. And we moved. And when I got settled in Milwaukee, moved here from Portland, I was still doing a bunch of work and it was so difficult, because I completely uprooted my life. Moved back to a place I lived before, but still, it was like trading one box for another and having to get settled.

And then I was working and I had to be productive, and it was the most difficult thing I think I’ve ever done in my life, was trying to be productive after that move during the coronavirus. And I had to be, because it’s my business, and I have to keep things going. And then simultaneously there is this creative urge that started to come over me because I’m on social media and everybody’s doing. All of a sudden other people were like, “I’m bored and I have all this time for creative projects.” Then I got jealous. I went through this jealousy phase and I’m like, “What’s wrong with me?” And I was like, “I want to be bored. I want to create.” And it was the highs and lows were just indescribable and that’s what I loved about your article. I wish I would have had this in my hands like a month ago. But I love that it said use this time to do what you can as a headline. And I was like, “Ugh! Yes, that’s what we can do.”

[00:06:17] JK: Yeah, and I think that that’s really served me well over the past couple of weeks just to not think about the things that I’m not doing. That has freed up my mind so much to just do the things that I can do. And I’m feeling really good about it. So I think it’s important just to flip that around and not dwell on all these things that we potentially could be doing and just concentrate on the here and now. Concentrate on getting through things day-by-day. And now when I look at my to-do list, I pick out a few things. If I get those things done, then I’m really happy. And it’s just really changed my perspective on everything. And that’s actually made me more productive because I don’t have 10 million things going on in my mind thinking I should be doing this, I could be doing this. I’m just doing the things that I can, and therefore I’m actually pushing through my to-do list even faster than I think I would have if I continued to think about all those other things.

[00:07:08] BS: And one of the things that you decided to do, and I believe it was during this time, but correct me if I wrong. You started the Solidarity Facebook group.

[00:07:15] JK: Yeah. No. It definitely was during this time, because I think now a sense of community is really important, and people are looking for that sense of connection. And starting a Facebook group is something that I’ve thought about for a while. I guess my inspiration for that group was stemming from my blog called Travel Solo Anyway, in which I talk about traveling solo as a married woman. And I found that that particular topic is something that is quite personal and one that not everyone wants to talk about on a public page, for example. And I’ve always felt that having a closed private group to discuss these things would be a really great idea. And now with everyone spending a lot of time physically in their homes, a lot of people are spending more time online and looking for that sense of connection, I thought now is the perfect time to just go ahead and start it and see where it goes.

[00:08:06] BS: Well, I’ve really enjoyed the group. I don’t usually participate in groups, but of course, because it was your group I was like, “I’m going to check this out.” And that was actually how I saw the article. Even though I’m subscribed to your blog, that was how it came to my attention.

[00:08:20] JK: Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s a great way to just really connect one-on-one. As we know with social media these days, there’s a lot of stuff that gets posted. There’re a million algorithms that mean that we don’t pick up on a lot of stuff that we might actually want to read or see. So having a private group where people can come and interact on a more daily basis or a regular basis and to share work there as well with people who might benefit from it, that’s been a great way for me to share some of my ideas there and also just to collaborate with a whole bunch of amazing women and just to share our experiences during this time and also going forward. I think it’s just a fantastic way to get together and pull all of our different expertise and ways of thinking and we can pick things from that that hopefully will help us get through this and going forward as well.

[00:09:09] BS: Well, one happy day, everything will open back up again and we will be able to travel again.

[00:09:15] JK: We will.

[00:09:16] BS: And I would love to talk to you about why we’re here today, which is to talk about overcoming travel stereotypes, which is something you’re very passionate about. So to start, why are you on a mission to overcome travel stereotypes?

[00:09:31] JK: Yeah. Well, I think it’s really about representation and inclusion. I think it’s so important that content is available that reflects the full spectrum of human and travel experience and for the travel space to be as diverse as everyone in it. So, for me personally, I’ve long felt that there were these three quite divisive camps especially for female travel bloggers, and it was often based on marital and family status, and that was that you were either a solo female travel blogger or a couple blogger or a family travel blogger. But what happens when those lines are blurred as they so often are?

And as a married travel blogger, I wanted to show that you can be married and take trips with your spouse as well as take trips on your own. And it’s possible to enjoy these different kinds of trips equally or for the different travel experiences, they give you and be in a happy marriage. These things are not mutually exclusive. So I really wanted to show people that you don’t have to be so divisive in our thinking. That solo travel doesn’t mean singles travel. That there are many kinds of travel and it has nothing to do with whether or not there is a ring on your finger.

[00:10:44] BS: A couple of years ago that totally reminds me of when I went to Costa Rica by myself for a yoga teacher retreat. And I can’t tell you how many people reached out to me wondering if there was trouble in paradise. And FAQ, my husband and I were having trouble, and I was like, “What is wrong with you? Why are you asking me this? He’s not a yoga teacher. I’m going to a yoga teacher retreat.”

[00:11:08] JK: Right. Exactly. The reaction is quite astounding, isn’t it? I get the same kind of reaction from people, or one of the lines that I often get is, “Your husband allows you to travel alone?” “Well, he doesn’t allow me to do anything, because I’m my own person. He’s his own person.” It’s amazing that in 2020 we’re still in this place where women, especially traveling on their own, is still seen as there’s trouble in paradise. You’re on the rocks or something like that. It’s like, “No. You can be doing both of these different things and be very happy in what you’re doing.” And I just think we don’t need to – It’s very traditional old-style thinking. I think we really need to move forward and realize that relationships have changed. The travel industry has changed. Work has changed. And that women are involved in all of these phases. And so why can’t we go forth and engage in those phases just like anyone else?

[00:12:02] BS: And the other thing is, and I remember you writing an article about this topic, is finding yourself. That’s usually what we’re doing when we’re doing solo travel. Is this the fault of eat, pray, love? I can’t figure that one out.

[00:12:17] JK: I think it is.

[00:12:19] BS: You must be finding yourself.

[00:12:19] JK: [inaudible 00:12:19]. Yeah. I mean of course, a lot of people go out on their own to do things too. You feel more connected with who they are. To work through different things with themselves or this is a completely valid thing to do. So I think to say that every woman who is stepping outside of her backyard is doing so to find herself. That’s completely inaccurate. We’re doing things for so many different reasons just like anyone else would. We might be going for work or other passions. There is so many reasons why we might be taking a trip and it’s not only to do with finding some inner sense of peace or something like that. It’s really important to recognize that.

[00:13:01] JK: Definitely. I couldn’t agree more. I do want to talk about the writing aspect of what you do because you are a prolific content creator. And I say that as a fellow content creator that I respect what you do and I know you create a ton of content and it’s all really amazing. But I do wonder if you procrastinate at all. And if you do, what is a weird thing you do when you’re procrastinating that also magically helps you get back to your task list?

[00:13:34] JK: Yeah. I mean, of course, I procrastinate. Everyone does, right?

[00:13:38] BS: That’s what I thought. I met someone recently that didn’t procrastinate and I was like, “Tell me everything.”

[00:13:43] JK: Really? What is this magic? I don’t know. But I mean I wouldn’t say that what I do to stop procrastinating is weird, but perhaps it’s counter-intuitive. And that’s to actually do nothing. But I have to name it and put boundaries around it. So rather than just continuing to procrastinate while telling myself, I’m still working when I’m not. I just tell myself, “Okay, this is the time to do whatever else you want or need to do and I’m going to come back to this work later.” Because I’m never as unproductive as when I’m not focused on the task at hand when I have 100 tabs open, which I so often do. For me, it’s basically about creating blocks of time and then just focusing on one or a small handful of things during that time and being careful not to blur those lines. If I’m not being productive, okay, I just tell myself, “Okay, this is not working time. This is my time to do whatever else I want.” If I want to scroll social media or whatever else, I’m just going to do that and just name it as this is not work time. And I think that that’s a good tip for those who are suddenly working or studying at home right now too, is just to create that structure for yourself where you can kind of clock-in and clock-out so to speak so that your downtime doesn’t become consumed by work time and vice versa.

[00:15:00] BS: Yes. That is extremely easy to do. I speak from experience with running a business from home for the last three years. But lines can get blurred very easily and then you end up working all the time. Or if you’re a creative person, you can end up just letting that consume you as well. And it’s really important to have some downtime for yourself.

[00:15:21] JK: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. And when the creative urge strikes or something comes to mind when I’m in that not work mode, maybe it’s late at night and I need to get rest. Simply just make a note of it. I have my phone next to me basically most of the time. So just making a note there, “Okay, this is an idea that I had,” and then get back to it in the morning. Get back to it the next day and have a think about it. So I guess trying not to blur those lines as I said and giving yourself that time to have that downtime and have those focused blocks of time to do the work that you need to do. It’s not always easy, but that’s the way that I approach it. That works for me.

[00:16:01] BS: Jess, can you talk about something you learned that caused you to think about travel in a completely different way?

[00:16:08] JK: Yeah. I mean I think it’s really stemmed from traveling with my husband. Traveling with my husband has really taught me a lot about white privilege. And my husband is Asian-Australian, and even though he’s been an Australian citizen since he was a toddler. He grew up here. He has an Australian passport. It’s quite astonishing to see how differently he is treated going through immigration and customs both overseas and here in Australia. Or as so often has happened with us, for example, when we’re applying for accommodation like an Airbnb, when we apply under his name, it gets rejected. And then when we apply undermine, it magically gets accepted.

In the industry that I’m in, knowing so many people who travel. I have so many friends and blogging colleagues that come from countries that have less powerful passports who can’t travel to many places simply because it’s difficult to get a visa and there’s so much time and energy and money that goes into that. And so I guess it’s just made me acutely aware of the privilege. I’ve had to simply be able to travel to many places. No questions asked.

So now when I travel and when I think and I write about travel, I’m really mindful about how I talk about it, because I know it’s not as simple as just saving money from not buying your daily latte and then just going somewhere. There are a lot of hurdles that many people encounter because of their ethnic background or their nationality. So it’s just something that has really made me think about travel in a really different way and very appreciative and grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had and just realizing the privileged position I’m in to be able to travel and work in the way that I do.

[00:17:45] BS: Well, that was an eye-opening story, the Airbnb thing. I had never even heard of that or knew that that was happening.

[00:17:53] JK: Yeah, it’s a huge thing. And after that happened to us quite a few times, I actually saw Airbnb came out with a statement about equality and making their hosts sign a pledge saying that they wouldn’t –

[00:18:05] BS: Discriminate. I remember that.

[00:18:06] JK: Yeah, discriminate. Yeah, exactly. That was really timely because we were having such a huge problem with that. Same with applying for house sits as well during that time. We were on a longer trip at that time, and we were using house sitting as a way to extend our trip and also just to have a place to base ourselves, because as you know, like as a creative person and running a business, it’s very difficult to be doing that on the go. And we wanted to spend longer periods of time in one place. And it was amazing the amount of times that he would get rejected and then I would just put my name down and suddenly that opportunity would be available so it’s something that really just struck me and I realized the sort of obstacles that many people are facing just simply because of a name that shows you have a particular cultural background or ethnic background. It’s just something that really, really struck me and something that stayed with me ever since. And I think it’s made me become a better writer. Because of it, I’m more empathetic. I now understand that things are not that simple for a lot of people. Because I think in the travel blogging industry, because we love travel, we enjoy travel, it’s very easy to go down that route where we say, “Just go.” But it’s not as simple as that for a lot of people. And I think it’s just important to keep that in mind.

[00:19:21] BS: Definitely. I remember getting that email from Airbnb, and I forget when that was. I want to say a year, maybe two years ago. But I remember being confused by it, because I had never experienced that and now all of that makes a lot more sense. And I was curious, did you guys noticed any sort of improvements if you traveled after that email went out?

[00:19:48] JK: Not really. I mean it’s one of those things where it’s like do you continue to try to push things by continuing to apply under that name or do you simply switch to applying under my name, for example, because we needed to get accommodation quickly? We didn’t have time to be rejected again and again and again and again.

And so I mean we haven’t been traveling long term or traveling much at all recently. And of course, now we’re not traveling for the foreseeable future. So we haven’t really had many recent experiences of needing to book accommodation. So I can’t really speak for what it is right now. But certainly, I think it’s one of those things that will take a really, really long time to change. Is the people who were not discriminating were people who already understood the importance of not doing that who appreciated people from a wide range of different backgrounds already. So changing the attitudes, I guess, of people who were not already at that level of thinking is going to take a really long time. So I am hopeful that things will be changing. I think we are moving in the right direction, but it’s certainly something that we still need to be aware of and be trying to move past.

[00:20:57] BS: It will be interesting to see what happens when you’re able to travel again after all of this has happened with COVID, and whether or not that makes a difference, and how people are choosing guests to come stay with them. I mean I hope that that changes and maybe that’ll fast track those changes.

[00:21:17] JK: Yeah, definitely. I think that we’re moving into a time where travel businesses are going to be meeting customers and guests as our economies are opening back up again. And they likely will be accepting applications from people wherever they can get them. While I wish that it didn’t take this for people to understand that it’s important not to discriminate, maybe it will fast-track this process because I think once people meet someone face-to-face, they meet people from different countries and different cultures, they understand that this is all unfounded. There are good people all around the world. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what your ethnic background is. And so I think it’s just getting to that point where people can meet you face to face and it’s the same when people meet my husband too. They instantly feel at ease because they can see that he’s a good person and there’s nothing to fear. There’s nothing to worry about. And I think that people need more of these interactions in order to really just understand that we live in this multicultural world. And we can’t avoid people from different ethnic backgrounds or cultures. We’re all from different parts of the world, and we all have our own backgrounds, and it’s just important I think for a lot of people to have that face-to-face interaction to really understand that.

[00:22:33] BS: Jess, I’d love to know a little bit about what you do when you’re struggling with inspiration, and now might be one of those times. But what is something that always triggers the love you have for redefining travel?

[00:22:50] JK: Yeah, I mean I think my audience. I know that there are other people like me and like my family out there. So one thing that always brings me back to my why for doing it all is to read comments from readers who have connected with the content I’ve written. And that’s always really motivating to know that what you’ve spent time and effort creating has served some purpose for someone out there.

What can be even more motivating is also knowing that there’s still so much work to do. So when I keep seeing the same kinds of comments coming up on blogs and social media, or as you said, there are so many people who commented to you about your trip to Costa Rica or there are people struggling with their relationships and how travel fits into that and people questioning whether it’s okay to be married, but travel on their own some of the time. Or maybe someone’s partner doesn’t like to travel at all, but it’s something that they feel called to do. When I see these things, I want to make sure that there is someone in the solo travel space who is representing the married solo travelers or the parent solo travelers so that they have a space to come and be heard and get information on the topic that not many people talk about openly because it goes against some pretty strong societal norms. I just love going back and reading the feedback I’ve gotten from other people, and that inspires me to know that I’m serving someone greater than myself by putting this out there. So that’s what I always come back to.

[00:24:22] BS: I feel the same way. I love reading blog comments. It’s one of my favorite things. And I guess we’ve been blogging about the same amount of time. I started mine in 2012. Is that when you started yours?

[00:24:34] JK: Yeah, 2011. Yes. So basically the same time. Yeah, more or less.

[00:24:38] BS: Yeah, in comments, I went away from so many different types of blogs, and obviously business blogs that all came into existence. Most of them do not have comments because they don’t want to keep up with it. But I love them. I will never get rid of comments on my blogs because I love talking to people. It’s so special to me.

[00:24:55] JK: Yeah, same here. I see a lot of bloggers. They get rid of the comment section for many different reasons, and that’s fine. But for me personally, I love to just have that open there so that people have this way to comment if they want to.

Some of the best feedback I’ve gotten has been through the comments section and just having that open for anyone to write something there. And I think the way we connected was through comments too in the very beginning. And so I think it’s an amazing way just to be able to speak directly to the author of the article and open up that relationship. Whenever I’m feeling like things are hard or I’m not sure where to go next, just going back to those comments and seeing that positive feedback really inspires me to keep going.

[00:25:36] BS: Definitely. And you never know, you might leave a comment for a blogger and become friends with them and still talk to each other eight years later like us.

[00:25:43] JK: Yes, exactly. And be talking to each other on a podcast.

[00:25:46] BS: Yes, for all to hear.

[00:25:48] JK: Exactly.

[00:25:50] BS: Well, there’s obviously a lot of content out there, and I think about when we were blogging in 2012 compared to now, and it’s crazy just how many people have blogs and how many businesses have blogs. I always say everybody and their dog has a blog now. So I know that, like me and like most people, you probably do a fair amount of self-educating online. So there’s also a lot of misinformation out there. And especially in the travel industry, I feel like there’s just so much of this aspirational content and it’s just exhausted. So where do you find solid information when you’re self-educating?

[00:26:34] JK: Yeah, that’s a hard one.

[00:26:35] BS: I know.

[00:26:36] JK: That’s a really hard question. In terms of the travel blogging industry, it’s interesting, because we see a lot of people putting themselves out there as experts on a whole lot of different topics. And it’s really hard to know whether someone is really an expert or not, but it’s something I think is interesting in the travel blogging industry is that people really want raw accounts from someone who has been to a destination. So I think it’s slightly different than other industries, because we’re not necessarily looking for an expert. We’re looking for someone who’s been to a place. We want to see that place through the lens of a fellow traveler who’s just going to a place. Maybe they don’t have the background experience of that particular destination. They want to know what it’s like to go there as someone who doesn’t speak the language or has never encountered that culture before. But what I think we really need to be cautious about is placing context around that experience.

When I’m looking at blogs, when I’m looking at different travel sources, I really look for how are they describing that experience. So, for example, I personally have no problem with someone writing about the 48 hours they spent in Tokyo as long as they make it clear that they spent 48 hours there. Everyone’s experience is valid regardless of whether it may have been short or not. But when I see people writing very definitively about a destination or a culture as fact with limited exposure to that destinational culture, it really calls into question for me the trustworthiness of that information and anything else that they write. So, for me, I’m always looking for whether there’s all this sweeping language. All or every person, or ultimate guides that are not necessarily based on knowledge, for example, that are not necessarily based on having spent a considerable amount of time in that place. They’re presenting something as a complete picture when it’s not. So it’s okay not to have the complete picture because we rarely ever have a complete picture of a place. But we just need to be careful about how we are conveying that information and understanding how to separate opinion from fact.

I look for things like experiences. Saying this is my experience. This is what I learned during this time in the destination. This is what happened to me. This is how I enjoyed something or didn’t enjoy something. And I can usually tell from the type of blogger themselves especially if I’ve been following them for a long time if we tend to like the same kinds of things if they are interested in particular destinations or ways of traveling and I feel an affinity with that and I see that they’re being very open and honest with how they’re conveying their content and not trying to make it seem like this is a definitive guide to everything. Then I tend to really trust that information going forward.

[00:29:23] BS: Yeah. It’s a little crazy how often the words ultimate and definitive have been used for content.

[00:29:29] JK: Yeah.

[00:29:30] BS: Just in the title.

[00:29:31] JK: I know. It’s a lot. I think I’ve written two such guides in my life and they were both about japan and they were not something that I felt even remotely in a position to do until I was there for maybe six or seven years. And that was with a lot of research gone into it. And I try to avoid that term now because I think it’s quite overdone. And we just need to be really clear about what our expertise is in an area. And as I said, all experiences are valid. I love reading some of the stories about people coming to Japan and for a short time and what they thought because it really brings me back also to understanding where people are at the beginning of their trip. And it reminds me of what it was like for me too, the very first time I went to Japan, especially Tokyo. It’s a very overwhelming city. There’re lots to see and do and the culture is so different. And there’s a kind of magic in that not understanding. I love that people can come to Japan, for example, and have that really different experience. So there’s nothing wrong with having those experiences at all. We just need to be careful about how we’re framing it and exactly where we’re coming from with that content.

[00:30:39] BS: Absolutely, and that is one of the reasons why I love your blog and why I have loved other smaller and more personal travel blogs. And I used to follow some of the bigger publications. I’ve also written for travel publications as well. It’s a pretty mixed bag out there and it’s a little crazy. I’m not going to mention any names, but I do know for a fact that there are travel publications that hire writers that have not been to places before and have them write about those places. And it’s just baffling to me. And I have seen some of those assignments firsthand. And if I haven’t been somewhere, I can’t write about it. I can’t write about it truthfully. I can’t give someone advice and I can’t tell anyone about an experience that I never had.

[00:31:27] JK: Exactly. Exactly. It’s really important to think about that. And I think it sort of shines through, especially if you’ve been to that destination yourself. But if you haven’t, it’s really hard to sort of navigate that, isn’t it? We’re kind of putting our trust in the author or that publication that this information is accurate. With so much information out there these days, it’s very hard to spend a lot of time delving into researching publications, researching authors, researching sponsors to see what kind of bias they might have or why they might be putting this kind of content out. It’s something that I think we as content creators also have to be vocal about and to make it clear to the industry that we want to put forward information that is accurate, that is experiential, that we can really stand behind. Saying no to those opportunities is sometimes the best thing that we can do and just waiting for that time when we can go there ourselves and we can write something from a more experienced place.

When I read things about Japan, it’s very clear to me often when I see the work of someone who hasn’t been to the place. And especially in a country like Japan where a lot of the research that would normally go into a piece like that is not in English. A lot of the content, the websites, they talk about the history or all of the information that you might need often are mostly in Japanese. So if you haven’t had that experience or you don’t have access to that kind of information because of your language background, you’re getting a very superficial understanding of the place that’s coming from people who might have just dropped into Japan for a week or two. And it’s very hard to get that deeper picture. As much as we love to have these opportunities, it’s important to say no to the ones where we don’t have the experience to write about them.

[00:33:14] BS: Yeah. It’s partly your reputation as a writer if you’re putting your name on something. I mean that’s important. But it’s also about your values. And if you’re a writer, especially a travel blogger, a travel writer, you’re trying to help other people who are going to read this and go to that place. So you definitely want to represent those destinations as honestly and accurately as possible. You just can’t do that if you haven’t been somewhere. And like you said, I mean you have to say no sometimes if something doesn’t feel right.

[00:33:46] JK: Yeah. I think it will end up coming back to you anyway, I think, in the long run, if you continue to write content that you haven’t experienced yourself that people will – Especially if you have a larger audience, people will go to that destination on your advice and they will try out the recommendations that you have in your blog post. And if it’s not something that is what you say it is, that will eventually come back to you. So I think it’s really important to just take the right kinds of opportunities. Think about it’s your reputation. It’s the values that you have and how you’re serving your audience. You can’t serve your audience well if you don’t have the knowledge to write those particular pieces of content.

So I always say to people, if they really want to put something up on their blog but they don’t have the necessary expertise, find someone who does. Maybe they’re willing to write a guest post for you, for example, and they can come from a completely different background and set of experiences and inform your readers from that angle. So think about it in that way as well. You don’t necessarily have to write every single piece of content yourself on your blog. You can always get in someone who knows more about that topic than you do to add value to your site.

[00:34:56] BS: Speaking of creating content and writing, I want to talk about burnout, because through it, you’ve been through it probably more than once. I know I have and I’m sure listeners can relate. So can you talk about how you overcame the absolute worst case of burnout?

[00:35:16] JK: Oh yeah. I mean I think my absolute worst case of burnout was around the world trip that my husband and I took around 2013, 2014. And I really went into that trip thinking about all of this content I could create. I’d started the blog, had been around for a few years by then. I really wanted to diversify the content on the blog. And what better way to produce more travel content than obviously to travel? Because like you, I don’t write about destinations that I haven’t been to myself. And so in order to be able to write about these destinations that I wanted to write about, I needed to go there and experience them for myself. It became very obvious to me very early on in that trip that traveling for travel’s sake and traveling and trying to run a business are two different things entirely. I found myself not being able to be fully present in the experience or in the moment, because when I was out traveling, I felt guilty about not being back at the accommodation and working. And when I was working, I felt guilty about not taking advantage of my current location and going out and seeing everything that I wanted to see. And we were constantly moving from place to place every few days. So it just felt like every single time we arrived at a place, we were already having to think about booking accommodation for the next place and the next place. And I was just exhausted.

We kind of came to this point where it’s like, “Okay, we think we need to stop traveling and base ourselves somewhere again.” And since Japan had already stolen our hearts, we went straight back to Japan. And it took me a really long time to pull myself out of that, honestly. I needed to spend a while to a certain extent doing nothing on the blog. Just letting it be there for a little bit. And then as I crawled my way back to it, I really needed to get back to basics, because I realized that the reason I was so overwhelmed and almost like paralyzed into inaction was that I was thinking about so many different things at the one time and I wasn’t looking at necessarily always the most important things. Like I would spend a lot of time thinking about the tech side of the blog, for example, and I would do that to the detriment of not actually producing more content.

And for the audience, they probably don’t notice that half a second or whatever else that I was thinking about when I was thinking about user experience and things. These things are important having a speedy website and having a good user experience is very important, but I also need to make sure that I have new content for people to read, otherwise there’s nothing there for people to do when they come to the website, right? So I really kind of lost my way there I think for a little while where I was concentrating a lot on trying to improve different things on the website, but they’re not actually producing the content that is what people come to the website for.

So for me it was really about I had to really get back to basics. I had to remember my why again and stop contaminating my time by trying to do so many things at once. So it’s kind of like going back to when we talked about procrastinating, creating blocks of time where I’m working on this one thing. I’m working on this one article and I’m going to get it done and I’m going to get it out and not distracting myself with all these other things. I’m not going to worry about the tech side of the website. I’m not going to worry about anything else. I’m just going to do this one thing.

So I kind of crawled myself back to it by just really getting back to that why of why I’m doing it, that inspiration. Again, reading comments from people. Getting some of that feedback and understanding that it’s important that I concentrate on the audience and getting that content out rather than concentrating on a lot of things that people aren’t really noticing. So it’s important just to keep that presence and come back to why I’m doing it in the first place. Because if you lose sight of why you’re doing it in the first place, then it’s really hard to keep motivated. So yeah, I think that was my worst case of burnout.

[00:39:17] JK: I always like to say do it for the love, and that’s your why.

[00:39:20] JK: Yeah, absolutely. Exactly.

[00:39:22] BS: I mean if exactly if you lose sight of that, it becomes really, really tough and it can be hard to crawl back.

[00:39:31] JK: At the end of the day if someone said your travel blog is no longer a business, you can never make any money from this ever again. I would still write on it. I would still do it, because it’s just so much a part of me. It’s something that I feel really called to do. It’s something that I want to do. So I think it’s just really important to remember that and get back to that why.

[00:39:53] BS: Jess, what is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and why was it worth taking?

[00:40:00] JK: I think I’d have to say packing up everything and moving to Japan. We had no idea how things would turn out when we moved there, which was like six months after we got married. And at that time we thought, “Okay, we’ll go for maybe a year, perhaps two. But as you know, Britt, we ended up calling Tokyo home for 10 years. And we only came back in mid-2019.

Without a doubt, it was a risk worth taking, without a doubt. I always say to people just keep enough money for a ticket back home so if all else fails you can always go back. But I never would have considered it a failure even if it was a short stay because I always think of these things as being an experience. Something added to my life that I wouldn’t have had before. That time is spent in another country. It’s spent growing and learning new things. So from that perspective, I don’t think it was really risky. But it was a leap that could have gone either way.

And I’m just so thankful that we took that leap because Japan changed our lives in so many ways. It’s a place that’s very close to our hearts. And it’s really where I started all of the blogging and creative process and this creative journey that I’m on now. So I have so much to be thankful for. And I think it was the reason why I really got into blogging was the fact that I was in a place that was so different from where I grew up from what I knew. And Japan is one of those places where people are really intrigued by it because it is so different to a lot of places around the world. It was so interesting to me to be able to lift the veil, so to speak, on a lot of different aspects of life in Japan and the culture. So I think had I not been in Japan, I might not be on this journey right now. I probably wouldn’t be. So it was definitely a risk worth taking.

[00:41:42] BS: The risky part to me is that you guys were in your first year of marriage when you did all of this. And they say that “the first year of marriage is the hardest”. And I was curious, if you don’t mind talking about the relationship side, of moving to another country a little bit. What that was like? You guys left your family and your friends and went somewhere new and you were newlyweds.

[00:42:08] JK: Yeah. I think what really helped in that is that we had traveled together before quite extensively. I think it might be quite different if you’re in a situation where you are traveling together for the very first time. In our case, it wasn’t like that, and we were both really eager to go to Japan. It’s not to say that things are always easy. Obviously negotiating a lot of different things, as you said, you’re newlyweds, you’re navigating married life. And then we were suddenly navigating a completely new culture and new country where everything we knew was just so different. But I think it actually made us stronger and brought us closer together, because outside of our bubble together we didn’t know anything or anyone basically. We were hearing this language every day that we didn’t understand. There was this culture that we still knew very little about really. And so our sort of safe space was our relationship and us together in our little Tokyo apartment bubbles. So it actually really helped us to become very close very quickly I think and actually strengthened our relationship a lot. So we talk a lot about travel upending relationships in many ways, but I think it can also bring you a lot closer together as well.

[00:43:23] BS: Jess, if you met someone who was considering solo travel, so someone you’ve never met, and they were totally unsure about it. What would you say to them?

[00:43:34] JK: I would say that being unsure is totally normal and that you may not like solo travel at first. On the blog, I talk about the fact that you might really hate it. And people are surprised by this because I advocate for solo travel. But I think it’s important to be realistic about anything new that we try.

Naturally, when we try something for the first time, things are generally going to feel quite hard. And especially if you’ve only traveled with others before, keep in mind that travel is a skill and it takes time to get good at it and to feel comfortable with it. There are very few people who can just head off on a trip going solo for the first time without any sense of apprehension about it. I myself was very apprehensive. I would say petrified on my first solo trip. So I really understand that feeling. But it’s like anything else. We need to put in time and effort to practice the skill. It’s about not being discouraged, I think, as you’re working things out and finding your groove in solo travel because once you get to that point where you have practiced it, you are starting to feel a sense of how things work and how you are in the world out on your own and doing things on your own. That’s when you start feeling that sense of independence. You start developing that confidence, those life experiences, those life skills that you can develop through solo travel that absolutely make it worth it. But you’ve just got to I guess put a little bit of time into that and just understanding that it takes practice. It’s not going to be this sort of grand adventure from the very beginning in which you feel completely comfortable. It’s going to take you out of your comfort zone and just know that that’s completely normal and just keep going at it.

[00:45:12] BS: Thank you so much, Jess. Before we part ways today, can you let the listeners know how they can stay in touch and find more info about all the great things we talked about today?

[00:45:23] JK: Yeah, I’d love to. So I have a couple of different blogs. The main travel blog is called Notes of Nomads, which you can just find at notesofnomads.com. And I have my solo travel website, which is called Travel Solo Anyway. And, again, that’s travelsoloanyway.com. And as you mentioned earlier, I also have the new Facebook group called Solidarity. So if you are a woman and you want to discuss solo travel regardless of relationship status, I welcome you to come over there and join the community.

[00:45:54] BS: Awesome, Jess. Thank you so much. I had a great time catching up with you today.

[00:45:58] JK: Me too. Thank you so much for having me. It’s always great to chat.

[OUTRO]

[00:46:03] BS: Thank you for tuning in to Love Your Enthusiasm. Any links and resources you might want to grab from the show can be found on the individual episode pages on the website, loveyourenthusiasm.com. While you’re there, subscribe to get the latest episodes delivered straight to your inbox. You can also hit subscribe right here on your favorite listening channel and leave ratings and reviews, which are greatly, greatly appreciated by yours truly.

Take care, and I look forward to hanging out with you next time.

[END]

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