In this month's Industry Interview we chat to Alexis Grant, a journalist and travel author who's the founder of the popular blog The Traveling Writer. Alexis launched the blog to chronicle her experience writing her first book, Please Send Pants, about backpacking solo through Africa. She is now a frequent guest-writer for other popular sites on achieving career/life balance and following one's dreams. You can also connect with Alexis on Twitter.
You describe yourself as a solopreneur. What is it and what does it mean to you to be a solopreneur?
A solopreneur is an entrepreneur who works on her own. I'm already deviating from this definition because I have a small team who helps me (no full-time employees though), but I like it because I do think of myself as an entrepreneur, but not the kind that's trying to build a huge company and make a ton of money. I'm a lifestyle entrepreneur, building my own business because it allows me to do work I love and have a flexible schedule.
I also sometimes call myself a "slasher" -- because I'm a journalist/social media strategist/entrepreneur. Most of my income comes from helping small businesses with blogging and social media, and I also create and sell digital guides and courses, which is the part of my biz I'm super excited about right now. For anyone interested in transitioning away from working for an employer to working for yourself, I offer a weekly newsletter called Solopreneur Secrets that shares what I'm learning.
What inspired you to backpack through Africa and what are your must-do recommendations?
I really wanted to challenge myself and explore a part of the world that was different from my home. I traveled overland through a handful of countries in West Africa, then to Cameroon, South Africa and finally, Madagascar.
That last country, Madagascar, is my must-do recommendation. What an experience! I spent two months there, so I was able to see a lot of the country. It has an African-Asian feel that's different from West Africa, and the island boasts so many species of plants and animals that don't exist anywhere else in the world, including the lemur. Accommodations are lovely compared with other parts of Africa, and traveling there is super affordable -- once you've bought the plane ticket, that is. Go! You won't regret it.
What made you decide to write your travel memoir?
I'd always thought about someday writing a book, but I didn't decide to do it until the very end of my trip. I was writing down all the people I'd met during those six months of backpacking, just for my own benefit, so I wouldn't forget them. And I realized just how many stories I had to tell. I also think Africa's not written about as much as it should be, so by writing this book, I'd help fill that gap. Now I just need a publisher to buy it!
You travelled solo for six months - do you have any suggestions for coping with long-term travel?
Lots! The biggest one is -- no surprise -- pack light. Carrying around all your belongings gets old real fast, but it's certainly easier if you have less to carry. Look for opportunities to swap books with other travelers, so you always have something to read. This has changed now that ereaders are out, but if you're traveling in places that don't have electricity, old-school books are still your best bet. Bring a pocket knife, plastic bowl and spoon. I wasn't doing anything fancy with the pocket knife, but it allowed me to carve up a pineapple for a snack or cut up a cucumber when I was craving veggies. Oh, and here's a tip I heard only after I returned home from this trip: bring a doorstop. You can use it to prop closed a door from the inside, for safety purposes, when your hostels have shoddy locks.
As for coping with loneliness, two tips: 1. You get used to it, and even start to enjoy it. Now that I'm back in the States, I crave alone time and quiet more than I used to. 2. Even if you travel solo, you're not alone most of the time. In many places around the globe, it's easy to befriend locals or other travelers if you're willing to put the effort in. I hooked up with several long-haul travelers who also wanted company -- and made some great friends!
Where will you go next?
I'm thinking about a trip to Nicaragua in March. It'd be for three weeks or so, a lot shorter than six months! But I have an added challenge this time because I now run my own business that I can't leave behind for weeks at a time. This will be my first shot at traveling while working, and I'm a little nervous about finding the right balance (and Internet connection).
You successfully combined your journalism skills with your dream to travel. What advice would you give to someone contemplating working on the road?
Go for it! There are lots of obstacles, of course, but the best way to work through them is to just do it. That also forces you to figure out which skills you're lacking to be successful, and learn them. I do think it's easier to build a business at home, where you can depend on your Internet connection and ask for help when you need it, so I'd recommend getting your freelance biz or whatever you're going to use to bring in income off the ground before you go. Then, while traveling, you can focus on maintaining and maybe growing, but hopefully the framework is already in place. Even better, save enough money so you can leave the workforce for a year or so; then you can really focus on your passions while traveling -- and use that experience to get an even better job when you return home.
Check out our other posts in the Industry Interview series: