Imagine batting away mosquitos and the stifling summer heat in a tiny internet café in the mountains of Bulgaria. You’ve been staring at an assignment on your computer screen for so long, you don’t even notice that someone you know from a different corner of the world has been sitting opposite your table for the last hour. This is the life of professional travel blogger and freelance writer Kate McCulley. At the age of 26, “Adventurous Kate” quit her day job in order to spend six months traveling across Southeast Asia. Those six months have since turned into four years—a life that spans almost 50 countries. What started as a study abroad opportunity has morphed into a career. Kate has written articles for AOL Travel, HostelWorld.com, and Cheapflights.com, and even won Best Adventure Blog from the 2012 Destinology Travel Blog Awards. She’s a top ranked travel blogger. But is her blog an accurate portrayal of the overseas experience?
Adventurous Kate’s Solo Female Travel Blog is easy to navigate, and an incredibly fun read. Her posts’ titles range from “How to Celebrate a Special Occasion in Dubai” to “Should You Pay Off Your Student Loans Before Traveling” to “Why I Could Never Be a Secret Agent.” If a reader is interested in a specific country, they can easily search for posts about that country. Her editorial voice is as fresh as her blog’s layout. She illustrates each post with beautiful photos of even the most mundane-seeming of places—there’s even one of her sitting fully clothed in a gold-lined bathtub in the “second-best suite” (which is still the 12th most expensive hotel suite in the world) in the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. There are plenty of ads, but they aren’t the gaudy, over-the-top ads so prevalent on most popular blogs today. They make up only a small section of space on the bottom left sideboard of each page. In fact, Kate mentions that she’s even traded ad space for hotel rooms in places she’s visited.
In addition to entertaining stories about misadventures in random countries, AventurousKate.com contains practical advice about traveling abroad, such as always do the research on places you’ll be visiting (advice I certainly could have used the last time I went overseas). She tells her audience of an experience in Rimini, Italy, when Google Maps sent her in the wrong direction when she was trying to find the train station. She only just managed to board the train before the doors closed, which led to her frantically trying to explain to the conductor—in broken Italian—why she didn’t have a train ticket. She tells of the fear she had visiting Dubai for the first time because Dubai is a place that, while thrilling, doesn’t have the best track record for human rights, and has a fairly Draconian system of laws. Despite everything she didn’t like about the way Dubai runs itself, she found herself experiencing a side of Dubai that defied many of its stereotypes. What she found was a sprawling, expensive city full of culture. If she had let her preconceived notions define how she spent her week there, she would have missed it all.
She romanticizes the Lost Generation—that community of expatriate artists and writers living in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, in the brief window between world wars. Names like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald belong to this “lost” generation, a moniker which originated with a mechanic who serviced Stein’s car and used it to describe the soldiers returning from service in WWI. Kate suggests that there are still remnants of that Lost Generation, even in 2013. She talks about spending an entire day in Paris with a group of these people, picnicking in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. They “mused on the beauty of life, lamented the precarious state of digital nomadry, and threw (their) heads back in laughter”. She paints Paris as a place of pleasure, filled with young, beautiful people with zero obligations. I immediately procured a copy of The Sun Also Rises, and after reading it, I can understand her fascination with this group of people. Her speculation makes a lot of sense. “Lost Generation” is a term now being used to describe Millennials—of which a vast number are unemployed due to economic conditions created by the Great Recession of 2009. Could the Lost Generation indeed be alive and well in Paris today? Could this be history repeating itself?
McCulley often fields questions from her readers about what they can do to become as successful a travel blogger as she. She repeats time and again that new travel bloggers often won’t be blogging in a year’s time. Why? Because blogging in itself is often tedious, and in a lot of places around the world, the Wi-Fi situation is tenuous at best (although she claims the BEST free Wi-Fi in the world is in South Korea—a fact its government is proud of). She recommends starting by blogging about the place you know best—home. Not only does it help to establish the routine of writing, you accumulate expertise on the place you’re writing about. Before she even left the United States, Kate was already fielding offers from AOL Travel for articles about Boston, her hometown. Her freelance work is what enables her to keep a full itinerary. Because of the mobility of her lifestyle, she has to rely on the internet to be paid for these freelance articles. The payments can often be delayed, which is an inconvenience if she’s been waiting specifically for the money to arrive. This is something she cautions new travel writers to be prepared for.
Though she loves travel, she reiterates that her lifestyle is not an easy one. While she constantly makes new friends, she is away from her friends and family at home for more than ten or eleven months out of the year. She may have found pocket communities of new friends in almost every region of the world, but she mentions that the global life is lonely, and she misses basic life moments like showing off her engagement ring to a large group of girlfriends. While she encourages her readers to follow their dreams, she does caution them that it takes hard work and real dedication to do what she does. Even though she travels for a living, she hasn’t had a real vacation in over a year.
This blog is a window into the life of a world traveler. The writer gives us an accurate account of what it’s like to travel the world by oneself. It might be intimidating to shed one’s responsibilities for the sake of travel, but I imagine it’s just as freeing. She shows us that travel writing is difficult, yet fulfilling work. You have to be willing to think of yourself not as a journalist, but as a brand, and you must be willing to spend the time and the effort to build that brand. A good travel writer will make you want to visit the places they write about. A great travel writer, like Adventurous Kate, makes you feel like you’re already there.