The Story Behind Tripper

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I’m absent-minded. No pose. Messy hair, head in the clouds, always writing a story in my head or humming a tune. That’s me in a nutshell, perfectly captured by @dhanishgajjar. I hardly make myself the center of the story but as I’m rewriting the “about” section of Tripper that will change. At least on that page. Although as an observer and a writer I’m never completely out of the story. My perspective is there. My voice is there. My (strange) sense of humor (okay, fine, veiled sarcasm) is there. Five years ago when I started the blog, I didn’t think it was important to explain the name Tripper. It’s a synonym for traveler is it not? Yes, that too. But there’s another story behind it. Oh and newsletter subscribers will know it first 🤪🤪🤪 . . . . . #travelbloggerspt #travelbloggersptoficial #culturaltourism #travelblogger #travelwriter #travelwritersofinstagram #travelbloggersofinstagram

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In a nutshell, I was born in 1978 (generation-wise, I’m a “xennial” they say) on S. Miguel Island and a few days later flew back to my home island, Flores. My birth certificate shows S. Miguel as my island of birth, but the truth is Flores is my island of origin. It’s where I grew up and where I lived until I was 17. But when people ask me where I’m from originally (the red hair and almost-American accent when I speak English typically rules me out as Portuguese), I tend to answer “I’m from the Azores” because it’s easier for me to sum it up like that.

Between 2004 (when I finished College) and 2013, I worked a series of odd jobs which led me to a somewhat comfortable position in a multinational company (from 2007 to 2013). Although I don’t like to mix the blog with my corporate past, one only exists because of the other.

I always wrote. I don’t think it’s easy or an anyone-can-do-it skill. To me writing is visceral, and it has been like that since my very amateur short stories at age 10. During that short-lived corporate career, a trainer once asked my group during a training session what would we be doing if we could choose another job. Without thinking I replied, travel writing.

That was in 2011, and to this day I have no idea why that came out. I wasn’t traveling that much or yearning to. I wasn’t reading any travel-related books. I was definitely not aware of the new era of travel blogging.

Let’s just say that a series of disappointments at work led me to acknowledge I was at the wrong place and that “hating to be told what to do” was probably more than a personality trait.

“You should write” was said to me by more than one person, including my two strongest supporters, my husband Dhanish and my best friend, Sónia.

In the spring of 2013, I was determined to leave the company but had no clue where to go from there. Buying a domain and a theme seemed like an affordable investment to get started. Picking up on that (apparent) urge to become a travel writer, a travel blog seemed like the obvious next step. Yes, I know how this sounds. The entry bar is so low that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can do it, right? True. But most of those fail six months after going live. Some hang on for almost a year. That is fine. Just because something is easy to start, it doesn’t mean it’s less valuable or easy to maintain.

I’m re-writing this page in December 2018 so hopefully in a near future, or by the time you’re reading this, people will stop labeling all online entrepreneurs as scammers or fakes or whatever-the-name-you-want-to-call-us-is-now. Like in any industry, there is good, and there is bad.

But back to the story behind the blog and my decision to take the leap of faith into travel blogging.

My husband suggested the name Tripper: it’s a synonym for traveler and is also an adjective for myself, as I trip a lot. I tend to get distracted and shuffle my feet when walking. Or maybe my mind is always rushing, and my feet have trouble keeping up. Whatever the physical reason, my father would often tell me “Sandra, lift your feet” throughout my life since I learned to walk on my own.

Tripper is me, and I am Tripper (corny, right?). Tripper started as my online writing portfolio (and it still is) and grew to become my independent creative outlet. I write in English because my English personality suits the online environment better (perks or curses of being bilingual) and because I believed I’d reach more people this way. I also have loads more fun writing about travel in English than I do in Portuguese.

When I launched Tripper in 2014 (officially), I struggled to write an “About” page. I wanted the blog to have my voice, but I didn’t want to be the center of the story. The problem with that was that in June 2014 I hadn’t yet found my voice, nor my blogging style, nor the topics I was passionate about. I had no technical skills and my previous experience in blogging had been some amateur endeavors on Blogspot, LiveJournal, and WordPress — free templates, endless rants, blurry photos of day-to-day life. You know? Those years when Facebook and Instagram weren’t around yet?

Between 2014 and 2016, I must have changed my bio a hundred times. Was I a travel blogger? A travel writer? A travel influencer? No. I was none of those things and maybe I was all of those things.

The blogging community was prolific in throwing advice at newbies like me, with one or two affiliate links thrown in for good measure. And I thought I had to be all of those things. Eventually, I felt every day I failed at all of them greatly.

Let me assure you that failure tastes bitter. What if the leap I took at the end of 2013 from a steady corporate job I hated into freelance writing was a mistake? Gosh, I didn’t want to be another one of those “quit your job to travel” people because quite frankly in the end of 2015 I wasn’t traveling that much (outside of Portugal at least). I felt like a fraud by travel blogging standards.

On the other hand, I was starting to get some work as a freelance ghostwriter (sometimes it was travel-related, sometimes it was not) and in mid-2016 I was invited to freelance for Lonely Planet as a Lisbon Local.

Other cool clients and publications followed, and I felt I had finally broken through into freelance travel writing. And, yet, I looked at my blog, and I was nowhere near the success I was (allegedly) supposed to have achieved by then.

What was the reason for “failing miserably” as a travel blogger? I was following everyone else’s path instead of my own. Quite obvious right? Well, from the outside it is. At one point I thought Tripper was a couple’s travel blog, which it wasn’t because my husband Dhanish wasn’t actively involved in the blog (apart from some code fixes here and there, at my pleading requests). Then I wanted to stand so much out of the crowd that I called Tripper a blog on “cultural tourism to offbeat destinations.”

Now, this was a little closer to my heart and my style of traveling (if there is such a thing), but the content didn’t quite reflect it — places like Barcelona, Dubai, and Bangkok weren’t exactly offbeat. I struggled to make my past, and future content fit that tagline. Again, if you’re struggling, if it doesn’t come naturally to you, then you’re on the wrong path again.

What followed could have been a case of being at the right place at the right time, but I see it as simply grabbing an opportunity.

My two homes, Lisbon and the Azores, began to rise in popularity as tourist destinations in 2016. There was very little content about them, apart from institutional websites such as tourism boards, and the little content there was out there about them was one-sided (and, short-sighted too, most of the times).

Tired of seeing typos like “Barrio Alto” instead of Bairro Alto or reading other bloggers talk about “hidden gems” in popular neighborhoods like Chiado, I tackled Lisbon first. Writing as a local for visitors gave me leverage: I got to show them a Lisbon they didn’t know existed while preserving the privacy of residents (who were already feeling the first effects of overtourism in Lisbon).

Writing about the Azores came naturally, and I used the content to close a gap in information that’s not new: articles about S. Miguel (one island) pretending to be the whole of the Azores (one archipelago).

But, I didn’t want to be *that* blog that writes about specific locations, partly because blogging is not my primary source of income and so I didn’t want to be stuck with something that would be time-consuming.

2017 was the year for sustainable tourism. I watched dozens of bloggers change their taglines to include “sustainable” or begin to write SEO-based posts (for non-bloggers, that’s a blog post written around search results on Google) on the topic, even if they had no authority or expertise in the matter.

I, too, had changed my tagline at the end of 2016 and Tripper had become “the sustainable cultural tourism blog”, but not because of a fad. People who worked in the sustainable tourism industry welcomed that tagline with awe and affection, but I knew I was limiting my audience to a tiny niche.

Business-wise, it might have been a bad call for a full-time blogger. The writer in me, though, was thrilled. There it was: my voice, the topics I was passionate about, all of my creative energy.

As a traveler, I don’t have the illusion that you can see a destination as it’s supposed to be seen. Even I’ve stepped into many tourist traps in the past, thinking I was experiencing something unique and typical. Travel is an experience. Period. You affect your destination and it affects you.

Tripper might have been born at the end of 2013 in a hotel in Bangkok, but it came full circle in those first weeks of 2017. For the first time, my content calendar made sense, I had ideas faster than I could write about them, I actually felt happy about traveling again because I’d find a story to tell anywhere I went.

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After stumbling upon two must-sees (this is one of them), I stopped looking at the map. Helsinki wasn’t there on my Google map indications of where to turn and which way is the fastest to go from point A to point B. So I walked around the church, past a what-looked-like a street food market, and up a flight of stairs that led me to the Kamppi metro station. There, the decision to turn left or right, where bland office buildings weren’t much help. I went right. Call it a gut feeling. A few meters down the street, the smell of spices makes me stop. It smells of homemade food and coffee. Somehow I have the urge of coffee. Inside, a lady in a great mood welcomes me in English (I obviously don’t look Finnish) with “honey” this and “dear” that. As she gives me the coffee I ask her if she’s Italian, noticing the accent (although the food and spices told a different story). “No. I’m from Lebanon!” When I ask her which country she prefers, if any, she tells me she’s from wherever she wants to be. “I always say I’m a Lebanese child but a Finnish woman!” And just like that the city showed me a side I wasn’t expecting to see. I didn’t photograph the cafe, I don’t know the name, but I’ll always remember how to get there. . . . . . #TravelMassive #TravelBloggersPT #ROAMtravels #YourShotPhotographer #ShotWithHalide #ForbesTravelGuide #Letsgoeverywhere #beintrepid #TLPicks #cnntravel #IAmATraveler #bbctravel #lovetheworld #travelenjoyrespect #trvl #fugadoviajante #traveldeeper #lonelyplanet #passionpassport #shotoniphone8plus #SUITCASEtravels #helsinki #myhelsinki #visithelsinki #helsinkisecret

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Professionally, I changed my title from travel blogger to freelance web content writer and travel blogger. I am both.

Tripper, the sustainable cultural tourism blog, is my creative outlet and where you can come for content on the three things I’m passionate about when traveling (regardless of where you’re traveling to):

  • Minimizing your negative impact on tourism destinations
  • Supporting small businesses
  • Discovering local culture
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I’m not quite sure how it happened, but it happened. When I begin to try to draw a timeline, I think it probably started with a blog post called “The Impact of Overtourism in Lisbon” that only “blamed” tourism as part of the problem.⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣ But then there was that collab post for @green_global_travel on what mass tourism did to our favorite destinations (Lisbon included). ⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣ Then there was the (long) conversation about the topic of overtourism in Lisbon with @skiftnews and (another long) conversation with a student who’s working on a project to find a solution (or a reaction is more likely) to the overtourism problem, as part of her Masters’ degree. ⁣⁣⁣⁣ And then there was this at the Lisbon Tourism Summit: an invitation by @beta_i to moderate a panel discussion on conscious travel with inspiring panelists from @iamsterdam, @impactrip, and @camara_municipal_lisboa⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣⁣ ⁣I might not know ⁣when it happened but I know why it happened. I didn’t write on the topic because it was trending. I wrote on the topic because it was needed. Focusing on the solutions was needed (and we have begun to focus on the solutions, together). ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ In the same way I didn’t start writing about #Lisbon and the #Azores because they were popular but because I felt the urge (and the responsibility) to pass along information that was accurate and factual. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ So, does the “why” matter? Yes. Always.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ ⁣#cantskipportugal #lisbontourismsummit #lisbontourismsummit18 #lisbontourismsummit2018 #conscioustravel #sustainabletourism #sustainabletravel #startwithwhy #travelmassive #travelbloggerspt

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