When I told the advisor in charge of managing my college tuition (the existence of which is little more than sheer dumb luck, and for which I am grateful every day), that I wanted to study abroad for a semester, he literally laughed in my face.
Why on god’s green earth would I want to spend money on something as worthless to my future career as an overseas English program, when I could continue investing that money with him and maybe someday put a down payment on a big house in the suburbs?
Michael wasn’t a bad guy, and he didn’t phrase his disapproval in those exact words, but he was one of many people in the world who tended to assess things by their material value, more than their intrinsic or emotional value.
There wasn’t anything he could have said that would have convinced me to forgo my study abroad plans, and turns out, it was completely worthwhile. Hands down, the best experience of my life.
Over the course of that four months, I helped Footprint’s staff launch their first line of Focus guides – guidebooks that were cheaper, more portable, and e-reader friendly. The massive Brazil handbook became thinner volumes on Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Recife, while the guide to Cambodia was reduced to information about Angkor Wat. I did most of the menial production and layout work, ensuring that the right chapters were carried over to new files, that no maps were too small to read on a Kindle, and the index referred to all the correct pages.
I’d known without a doubt I wanted to be a writer since the age of six, but Footprint was where things finally all clicked into place. Travel writing was the perfect intersection of the two things I care about most, and travel publishing was a way to combine those two passions into a more practical career than your average starving artist freelance gig.
And yet nearly five years later, that starving artist freelance gig is exactly what I’m craving.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few jobs in the publishing industry or at least be able to incorporate writing into my daily job duties. But I haven’t felt that “eureka” moment at a desk since my internship at Footprint ended. In fact, given my current work circumstances, “eureka” couldn’t seem further away.
I may not have enough money to travel on yet, and I’m placing a lot of faith in the idea that “eureka” is on the other side of my RTW plans.
But sometimes things do manage to work themselves out for the best. That financial advisor has since taken his own brief career break to walk across Spain with his son, and I’m willing to bet it was an invaluable experience. And in the past few months, I’ve earned hundreds of dollars for stories and photos from that allegedly worthless study abroad program.
So I’ll trust that this latest bump in the road will work itself out too, and even though 18 months of saving and planning is a long game to play, it’ll get me back to Eureka eventually.
What I give up in stability, I’ll get back in freedom and possibility. That’s what nobody tells you about the starving artist freelance gig.