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I will forever have my heart split between these two islands in the #Azores. It took me a while to make peace with the fact that I was an islander (and will always be, no matter where I am in the world). Starting to write on the blog about them has also saved time answering strange questions about life and tourism on the islands. Here's a travel tip for you: all nine islands are inhabited, which means they all have schools, hospitals or clinics, airports, and supermarkets. I'm honestly baffled at some people's idea of remoteness.
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 that 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.
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After reading countless articles of journalists and fellow bloggers trashing "influencers" let me break it to you gently: although not all Instagram shots are staged, they are all planned, thought of, built in our minds before we shoot and post. I'm not a professional photographer, but this attitude is quite common in photography and (surprise!) in non-fiction writing. I took a long look at my Instagram feed and made the hard decision to start from scratch. I don't see myself as an "influencer" (in the way that the general public sees them now), but I wanted consistency. I write about (and am an advocate for) sustainable cultural tourism, and I wanted my account (an extension of the blog) to showcase that. Most of the times, there will be people in my photos. People going about their lives in their hometowns. I believe it's important to remind the world that, while we're being tourists, other people are going about their lives. As a travel writer, the more I communicate this, the better. (Photo taken in #London – Fall of 2015) #sustainableculturaltourism #sustainabletourism #travelmassive #supportlocalbusiness #thisislondon #ig_london #londonstreets #visitlondon #prettycitylondon
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.
Professionally, I changed my title from travel blogger to freelance web content writer and travel journalist. 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 I’m traveling to):
- Minimizing your negative impact on tourism destinations
- Supporting small, local businesses
- Discovering local culture
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This is probably the most Instagrammed street in #Lisbon. Recently, a reader commented on my blog post of things to skip in Lisbon that Pink Street should be included in the list because it's just a dirty street, not as pink as pictured, and with nothing to see. Well, yes, all of those things are true. Except that Pink Street is not a landmark, or a monument, or a tourist attraction. It's just a street, painted pink, with bars and restaurants that mostly open at night. This photo is a lucky shot: I couldn't anticipate that I would find a woman mopping the street who also happened to wear pink! I took this picture in late 2015, in an unusually warm fall morning. Someone mopping the street (a street!) hours after the bars close sounds surreal, and yet here we are. Unscripted.