6 years of travel writing and blogging

The moment it hit me I was in India: mosque at Qutab Minar complex, Delhi

The moment it hit me I was in India: mosque at Qutab Minar complex, Delhi 2005

Reflections on 6 years of travel writing

On how I became a travel writer and blogger by throwing myself off the cliff of reason

It was six years ago today, December 6, 2005, that I landed in Delhi, India for the first time. It was Day One of my six-month odyssey; the start of my trip-of-a-lifetime; and the beginning of a new chapter in life, I hoped.

On my first morning in India, I stepped out into the warm December sunshine of my friends’ big, white, marble terrace in South Delhi and felt I had landed in heaven. It was warm, I was surrounded by a loving family and I was finally in India — a place I had dreamed of since childhood, but never thought I would ever see. I felt an immediate affinity with India; it was like going “home.” But I had absolutely no idea where the next six months would lead, what would happen, or what I would get out of the experience.

I wasn’t thinking ahead at all. (Read my first blog ever, dated Dec. 6, 2005, Delhi.) Nevertheless, I’ve gained so much from that one decision, the decision to go to India. Most importantly, I recovered from the entrenched grief depression that sent me to India in the first place. The trip also set me back on the path I believe I was meant to be on — before a life-long series of losses, traumas, distractions and emotional challenges got in my way.

Sunset from the terrace in Delhi, 2005

Sunset from the terrace in Delhi, 2005

A travel writing dream is born

It took a few years for that first trip to change my life and career; and for the first blog I wrote — on the Travelblog.org site —  to evolve into Breathedreamgo. But when I did decide, about three years ago, to really “go for it,” I threw myself completely into pursuing my dreams of travel and writing, with no thought to whether it was practical or economically feasible. I just knew I had to do it. I had lost both my parents and felt: if not now, when?

I’ve never worked so hard in my life and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I’ve connected with childhood dreams, and manifested them. I’ve learned how to write from the heart. I’ve allowed myself to open up to a completely new culture, and learn from it. I’ve grown, and changed, and expanded my horizons. I’ve built a blog and following; published feature articles and my book, Song of India; traveled for 14 months in India; made lots of friends and connections; co-founded Toronto Travel Massive; and raised awareness and funds for a number of worthwhile projects and organizations, such as UNICEF, World Literacy of Canada, Project Tiger and the Intrepid Foundation / Deepalaya.

The positive comments from readers are perhaps my proudest accomplishment. I don’t write for readers’ approval — I write from the heart — but I am very proud that my writing appeals to both foreigners and Indians; and that I have achieved enough understanding and insight about Indian culture as to write with sensitivity and (I hope) a lack of ethnocentric judgment. The last thing I would want is to engage in any kind of cultural imperialism, and I hope I always avoid this all-too-comon pitfall.

The first photo taken of me in India, Siri Fort, South Delhi, 2005

The first photo taken of me in India, Siri Fort, South Delhi, 2005

It’s been a great ride

I had no idea that all of this would happen when I got on that plane at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on December 5, 2005. I knew I had to change my life, and begin to live my dreams or I would regret it forever. But I did not know what I was unleashing. And this is why you have to take action. You have to GO even if you do not know where your dreams are leading you.

Like now. I’m not sure where to go from here. Recently I was interviewed by Desi News, a Toronto-based South Asian publication, about my India journeys over the past six years. The editor asked me “What was the lowest point?” I answered, “Now, today.”

After six years of traveling to India; and about two-three years of working hard to try and change my career from corporate writer / editor to travel writer, blogger and journalist, I feel I am at a crossroads. I’ve accomplished a lot, but have not found this career to be financially sustainable. Freelance writing rates are dropping, blogs are not yet fully recognized — or rewarded — for the value they provide and I haven’t been able to land a book contract or a regular writing job with a media outlet.

Mariellen Ward in Kerala IndiaThe road less traveled

I often encourage people to go after their dreams, and I’m glad I have. I have no regrets. But I’ve discovered that pursuing your dreams is not easy. There’s a reason it’s the road less traveled. I am regularly assailed by self-doubt, and worried about where the next cheque is coming from. Some days, it feels like I’m moving further away from my goals, rather than toward; and I wonder whether I am just repeating some deep-seated negative patterns in my life, rather than actually moving forward.

When I was getting ready to go to India the first time, six years ago, one of my yoga teachers remarked that the journey begins when you come home. I had no idea what she meant back then, but I sure do now.

My dreams have exceeded my grasp. And I’m not sure what to do. This is what I want to do, I want the opportunity to write features like this: Breaking caste. Or books like this: Empire of the Soul. I want to travel in India. And bring my blog up this standard: Uncornered Market. But I feel I have hit a wall. I don’t see any real opportunities, and I’m completely out of resources.

They say it’s darkest before the dawn. I hope that’s what I’m experiencing. I hope I will be able to break out of my negative patterns and fulfill my potential. I guess we all do. But does it require luck or skill? Is it destiny or free will? Why do some people succeed and not others?

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22 Responses to 6 years of travel writing and blogging

  1. Brett December 6, 2011 at 9:13 am #

    Hi Mariellen,

    I stumbled upon your blog today through twitter and I’m really glad I did. You have inspired me to follow my dream of writing about my travels. I do already dabble, and I get some positive feedback, but I can never seem to make that next step. Until today.

    I thought it was interesting that you concluded with the thought “Why do some people succeed and not others?”. I can tell you that in my eyes you have succeeded and that’s because you made the leap and followed it through. You have 6 years worth of experiences to prove it!

    I don’t think you’ve “hit the wall” at all. I just think you’re about to take another leap 🙂

    Best regards and I look forward to reading more about your future adventures.

    Safe travels,
    Brett.

  2. Suzanne Boles December 6, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Well said. From the heart. It’s great to hear you looking back and analyzing what has happened and where you were vs. where you are now; not to mention your always beautiful writing that instantly connects with readers. Safe travels as you continue your journey.

  3. helen December 6, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    Mariellen!

    Thank you for your honest and thoughtful post – remember that there are many, many people out there feeling the same things. I’m impressed that you’ve had the courage to put a voice to it. You’ve inspired me, and although this may be a low point for you, I hope you keep your courage and conviction: you’re amazing!

    And just remember, we’re all in this together, so don’t forget to ask for help and support along the way.

    kind thoughts,
    Helen

  4. Mariellen December 6, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Thanks Brett and Suzanne. One of the best things about writing online is connecting with others. It really helps when you are feeling low. I appreciate the supportive comments!

  5. Scott December 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    “Success” . . . Hmmm . . . a tricky one, in that we both have to define it AND then answer it for ourselves. When you’re “There” you’ll know it, it’ll be a voice that tells you . . . and the voice will be yours.

  6. Stephen Cook December 6, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    Hey Mariellen,

    Just seen your repost from Sir Ken, my wife and I are heading off in 2013 to do the same. My wife is amazing travel photographer http://www.lauracookphotography.net.

    Interestingly, my decision to persue happinesseany leaving full time teaching and was inspired by Sir Ken’s educational philosophies. So currently I’m self-employed, playing in my band a whole load and planning to leave UK in August 2013, as I turn 40. I’ve started blogging http://www.stephendcook.blogspot.com to include the decisions, difficulties and challenges of selling it all and the build up of excitement. Life’s too short. Good on you, loved reading it!

    Steve

  7. Mariellen December 6, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

    Hi Scott, thanks for commenting. Yes, it’s true, we each probably have a feeling — if not well-developed cogent thought — about what success means to us. For me, success will be about achieving my potential; I’m not there yet, I don;t feel it. My question really is about getting the support I need to achieve my potential. I don’t have a history of being well-supported — can I change that? That’s what I’m wondering.

  8. Mariellen December 6, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    Hi Steve,

    I was THRILLED that Sir Ken retweeted me! What an a man. I will never forget seeing that TED video about the importance of creativity and passion in education. I wish my education had been run on that model. I was a “gifted” student at a small school with no sophistication, and they had no idea what to do with me. They skipped me twice and I ended up too young and immature for high school — but I was tall for my age so no one noticed. I had a terrible time. Oh, I wish I had had Sir Ken on my side back then! Instead, re retweeted me today, which was great. Perhaps I can make up for all that lost time after all…

    I wish you all the best in your journeys to achieve YOUR potential. Start a travel blog and join the global travel blogging community. It’s fun!

  9. Bret @ Green Global Travel December 6, 2011 at 11:28 pm #

    Wow, sounds like you’ve been on an amazing journey. I’ve been a professional writer for 18 years, but only started GGT a year ago, and it’s definitely become a passionate labor of love. India is huge must-seem for me: I’ve been writing about its music and cuisine for may years, but beyond that my knowledge is pretty limited. I’ll be reading your site in search of tips!

  10. Spencer Spellman December 7, 2011 at 1:35 am #

    Such passion Mariellen. I love it. I can relate to this in a lot of ways. I was at the bottom of the barrel when I went into freelance travel writing/blogging. I was kicked out of my house and facing a divorce and in heaps of debt when I decided to take on travel writing and that decision mixed with a decision to travel for 9 months is the best thing I’ve ever done. Life changing. However, I’ve found myself at crossroads recently like you are. I considered even hanging it up and just working for a travel company. I was starting to get some offers. But then I saw some of the talents I have and resources I have to offer companies and decided I’d rather start my own business, while maintaining travel writing/blogging, which I’m just not sure I can ever let go of.

    Look forward to seeing how your journey continues to evolve. Do what you love.

  11. Goa Travel December 7, 2011 at 6:37 am #

    reflection is too energetic to that one can said it only through heart. I have no words to describe this such feelings and thoughts that the post already said. wondering post the author.

  12. Mariellen December 7, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    Thanks for your comment Spencer, and for sharing so much of yourself. I knew I connected to you for a reason! People who’ve been through something in their lives, something really difficult, and turn it around — using it for something positive — are really doing something special and should be applauded and supported. I wish you all success and will support you in any way I can.

  13. mariam December 8, 2011 at 10:27 am #

    i heard lots of time that if u want to be successful then be a traveler but i never ever could understand but your words really inspired me and told me in awesome words same thing which really heart touching

  14. Satu December 10, 2011 at 3:50 am #

    I could have written parts of this post (maybe not so eloquently:)

    It’s very hard to make a living from writing right now. Back in the days when I worked for print and radio, you got paid a decent wage for your work. Now, everyone wants to “become a writer” and there is so much competition and so many people willing to work for a few dollars. I think it’s possible to sustain yourself from online writing and blogging if you live in Asia or other cheaper parts of the world, or if you are constantly on the road and travel on a small budget. But back in the West…

    I’ve been through a similar situation after returning from India to Europe. I don’t know what the solution is. Writing is my profession and my passion and my life, but so many professional writers are having such a hard time now. And it’s difficult to defend your choices to your nearest and dearest when it’s becoming so hard to make a living from your work and people keep asking when you’re going to get a “real job”.

    I’m thinking maybe 2012 will be better for all of us… (yeah,I don’t believe the world will end 2012!) I’m off to buy your book now from Smashwords!

  15. India Budget Travel February 2, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    I like your blog it’s look nice and attractive. I visited many places in India and always remember that trips which i had traveled and photos are memories of it in my album and heart touching photos are always with me. I always keep in touch with your blog and going to bookmark also.
    Thanks

  16. Mariellen February 2, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    Thanks so much Satu, I appreciate your words of encouragement and also sympathy! It is tough being a writer these days!

    Thanks India Budget Travel. You have traveled in India so you know it has a special magic …

  17. Taj Mahal Trip February 18, 2012 at 4:59 am #

    Interesting Stuff of your blog it’s really nice.
    Thanks

  18. Saumik Ghosh July 17, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    hey..!! just came across wid ur Blog dis evening n liked it very much..thnx a ton.. 🙂

  19. Tiina July 23, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    Dear Mariellen

    I have been reading your blog over the last couple of nights and I ordered your book today, I am so inspired…. I am a burnt out nurse and a widow, aged 50. It isn’t as bad as it sounds; I have a comfortable life, great friends and a lovely family.

    However, your accounts of you travels in India are as I always imagined India to be. I have travelled in the past, but never in India or alone. You have inspired me as well as given a mental picture of a country and culture that I would dearly like to experience for my self, as well as learn from and be challenged. My greatest fear with regards to travelling alone is loneliness, there are many things that are best experienced alone, but equally there are moments that require company.

    Once I have mustered the courage to leave my present secure life, my plan is to travel to Australia and stay with family (sister) and study, but I would love to stop of in India for 3-6 months and be excited about living and giving again. Your writings have given me pause for thought and provided invaluable information on things to do and places to visit. Can’t wait to read the book.

    Please don’t, give up your dream. I am sure with time you will achieve your goal, who said anything in life came easy? Don’t forget you are very good at what you do, you obviously love the people and the culture, keep at it.

    Many thanks

    Tiina

  20. Mariellen Ward July 24, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Thanks for your comment Tina, I really appreciate it. I hope you find the courage you need! btw, I have never been lonely travelling. I am much more lonely here at home!
    Mariellen Ward recently posted..A Fashion Show and Royal GalaMy Profile

  21. Gerd November 26, 2012 at 7:47 am #

    What an amazing blog! Having traveled a lot in India myself (for work) I can recognise so much of what you say. And even if I have seen, experienced or hated the same things, it still is refreshing to read about your adventures. I will go back soon, in the mean time will read some more of your stuff!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Interview with Ken Robinson and write / blog about travel in India BreatheDreamGo - January 13, 2012

    […] of 2011, I marked the six-year anniversary of landing in India for the first time by publishing Six years of travel writing and blogging.  A while later, I was on Twitter and saw a Tweet from @SirKenRobinson, which said he was writing […]

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