We didn’t go to Tegal Wangi beach unprepared. With two backpacks full of camera’s, tripods, filters and whatnot, my friend and I were ready for the perfect sunset shot on that hidden beach in Bali. There was nobody, except for a couple having their wedding pictures taken, and we’d had to walk for over an hour and even face some angry cows to get there. It didn’t take long before I was looking for the perfect angle and trying to find an original title for the blog post. Checking the lighting and thinking about the best hashtags for Instagram.
“Let’s sit down for a couple of minutes, we’re too early anyway…”
Two hours of non-stop chatting later I realized it was dark. I’d hardly even seen the sunset, let alone taken a picture of it. No article, no perfect Instagram shot, nothing to show to my followers on Facebook and Twitter about what I’d been doing that day.
Then I realized I didn’t give a fuck…
1st October 2015, the official launch of Lili’s Travel Plans.
Wanna know a secret? I had no idea what I was doing. Not. A. Clue. Before starting my own I hardly ever read blogs and I didn’t know any other bloggers. I knew I wanted to share my stories and maybe meet some like-minded people but I think I didn’t even suspect half of what I was in for…
So it started as a new hobby, but one I was passionate about. One that I wanted to be good at. In order to learn as fast as possible, I threw myself at it. Literally. Every free second was spend on the blog. Whether it was writing, networking, promoting on social media or keeping up with how everybody else did it, I was always busy.
The first three months, that’s what I did. And my blog sucked. Honestly. It wasn’t good.
Then I decided to STOP keeping up with how everybody else did it.
To start writing what I wanted to write about – my stories, my adventures, my journey – and use my own voice. To drop the filters and focus on the reality of travel and how it makes me feel. To stop informing people and start inspiring them instead. To figure out for myself which social media strategy worked best for me and which of my 475 Facebook groups for bloggers were most beneficial rather than follow some crap article about ‘how to gain 400k followers overnight and get rich by blogging just 10 minutes a day Monday to Thursday’.
And it worked. In the next 4 months I multiplied my blog traffic by 5 and my social media followers by 3. I was also counting followers every two days and in the morning before even opening my eyes I was already checking my stats to see how many people had visited my site overnight…
In the third month I had a complete burnout and had to stop working but simply didn’t know how to actually stop and stand still. I HAD to keep busy, I HAD to have goals, I HAD to make myself and everybody else proud. Because that’s what I’d been doing for the last 10 years. Because I simply had no idea how not to… Because I knew reality was gonna hit me like a bomb as soon as I would stop and I had no idea how to handle it. Blogging became my new focus, it was the perfect distraction.
By the end of month 4 I think it’s safe to say I’d become a blogging nut job!
Skyscanner – everywhere, part 2.
I was 2 months into my sick leave, it had been a few weeks since my first solo trip to Cinque Terre and I needed another one, a longer one this time. In my search for one of those I-can’t-believe-how-cheap-this-is tickets to somewhere in Europe, suddenly there it was… the I-can’t-believe-how-cheap-this-is ticket to Jakarta. Everybody knows Jakarta is in Europe, right? Right? Guys?! A few clicks later I had booked it, and 2 weeks later I was off on my first real solo adventure in Indonesia.
I’d made plans, and I even had a list of things I definitely didn’t want to miss. It got shorter with every step I took… I was exhausted. From the 40 hours’ journey to get there (you can have cheap or short, but rarely both at the same time…) followed by a 10 hours’ train ride in a third class train, and what I think was my first jetlag ever – I tried to sleep for days after my arrival but I just couldn’t.
But even more so from stuff… From checking my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blog stats every morning before my eyes were even fully open and from planning my trip around my online presence. From not knowing what to do next and the feeling of turning in circles. From telling myself I needed at least some kind of life plan and putting way too much pressure on myself. From trying to always stay busy, aiming to do it all and not even having time to breath anymore. From constantly searching for the perfect shot and the most inspiring story instead of enjoying the moment. From missing out. On fun, on friends, on laughter and tears, … on life…
I realized what I needed wasn’t to travel or to add as many things as possible to my been-there-done-that-list. It wasn’t 20.000 extra social media followers or blog readers. What I needed right then was to slow down and take time off. From everything. There was no way around it anymore…
I spent days doing NOTHING. It was the best feeling I’d had in a long time.
Reality didn’t scare me anymore and I was finally ready to make some decisions. Shortly after coming home I ended my relationship of 8,5 years and put my house up for sale. It was time for a new start and this was the only way that was possible.
“A burnout? But then how come you’re laughing?”
I’ve heard it about 700 times, ever since day one. Apparently you need to actually look miserable for people to believe you’re not doing that great… Apparently, as soon as you’ve had 2 good nights of sleep, you’re considered good to go again.
Let me tell you MY version…
I have a burnout. I’m not ill and I don’t suffer from depression or any other mental or physical condition. Yes, I’m still able to smile. Yes, I still think life is worth living. No, I’m not crying all day every day. I’m not ready to jump in front of a train as soon as you turn your back and I don’t spend my days in bed, hiding. For sure, I’ve waited too long to admit certain situations in my life simply didn’t work for me anymore, but now that I did, I also just want to feel better. How am I supposed to do that if I have to spend my days acting miserable?
A burnout doesn’t end where fun starts again. It isn’t over as soon as you manage to sleep again or simply don’t feel bad 100% of the time anymore. Being able to have a laugh from time to time doesn’t mean that you’ve got your whole life figured out. Realizing there can be another focus than the one you’ve imposed on yourself for so long is only the start. It’s only the beginning of learning to live your life differently and seeing the amazing effects it has on you.
So in the Balkans I smiled. Hell I even laughed my ass off. And I realized I hadn’t had fun like that in a long time. It made me happy and sad at the same time, but it was enough to convince me I had made the right choice.
In those 3,5 months between May and mid-August I have to admit I did NOTHING for my blog. I published a grand total of 3 blog posts in 3 months, buffered up some tweets and pins when I felt like it and that was basically it.
And you know what? My blog traffic DIDN’T suddenly drop to zero. My social media channels kept on growing at almost the same speed as before. Sure, I lost a few monthly visitors, but I definitely realized that all those hours of work put into social media might just have been unnecessary… I realized it was perfectly doable with a lot less effort and stress. My cut-the-crap blogging and social media schedule was born.
A few days later my desire to write came back.
In September my blog traffic went up with 42% again. With not even half the effort I did before… And I was able to just relax about it again. To actually enjoy it. Once the pressure was gone, blogging had become fun again.
Honestly? I’m still figuring it out. Besides the personal part, there’s a part concerning my work that I won’t be discussing here and for which I don’t have all the answers. All I know is that from now on I’ll be focusing on living the best life possible. On using happiness as a starting point, not what I ‘need’ to do or what society’s expecting. On experiences and adventures, not belongings and job promotions.
So for the personal part and the part considering the blog, I know where I’m headed. All it took was time, dear friends and a couple of trips. And suddenly it came back. The ability to forget about everything, be careless and just feel happy. The inspiration to write and the urge to capture all that beauty. The energy to share my stories and not seeing it as a burden or an obligation anymore. So of course I’m continuing this blog! But maybe a bit differently. I won’t be stressing over page views and follower numbers anymore, I probably won’t be posting twice or three times a week, and I definitely won’t be writing just because ‘I have to’. I’ll write when I have a story to tell. I’ll take pictures when something moves me. And I’ll put my pen and camera away whenever I feel like just enjoying the moment…
Don’t get me wrong, this is not an article about ‘if you want to enjoy the moment, you can’t take a single photo of it’. It’s not about ‘how blogging has ruined travel for me’. It’s not and it hasn’t. They’ve both helped me to see things differently. To appreciate things more. To see new angles and to not only look at the main subject but also notice and fully take in its surroundings and all those tiny details I wouldn’t even have noticed before. Most of the time I don’t need to think for hours about how I’m going to turn an experience into a story, I just need to open my eyes and wait for the story to write itself.
But there’s moments I need to forget about sharing my whole life with the world and just think about me. There’s stories that I just want to keep to myself… I think we’re all entitled to having those little moments – or even more, I think we NEED to have those little moments for ourselves – but in times where things seem to never have really happened unless we post them on some kind of social media for the world to follow along, we tend to forget about that a bit too often…
We tend to forget that sometimes, we are allowed to just have a moment – or a whole week or month or even 3 or 4 – to ourselves without telling everybody everything about it. That sometimes we are allowed to take a break in order to have fun and get our lives sorted out when we need to. That no job or hobby should take up 100% of our time, leaving us no space for ourselves anymore.
Sometimes perfect sunsets on hidden Balinese beaches aren’t made for taking hundreds of pictures of them… sometimes they’re just made for great fun and long talks with dear friends…
Here’s to new beginnings and happiness! I’m excited to see what year 2 of Lili’s travel plans has to bring. It’s been a hell of a ride so far and I’m sure it’s only gonna get better!
To all you guys who read my blog, thanks for sticking around while I took my little break from blogging, and for your lovely messages over the past couple of months. To my dearest friends and family – you know who you are – THANK YOU! I don’t know what I would have done without you…