Listen to that voice. It’s the one that tells you what you really desire in life, be it travel, a partner, family, a pet and whatever else. But when you’re a city dweller or someone who thrives in the chores and busy nature of life, there’s a chance we may overlook what our intuition is telling us. That’s when a moment in silence helps retrace our steps back to our voice. In my own process of discovering my path, the voice was the instrumental tool in arriving at the direction I wish to take from here on – the life of a mountain nomad who runs her trekking/adventure travel social enterprise. The process takes time as opposed to the romantic notion that passion strikes you overnight. Once you discover your passion, creativity becomes the key to get you there. Our feature today exemplifies both notions – allowing your passion to find you and relying on your creativity to get you there.
I’m very excited about our feature for Freedompreneurs series. Danielle has the exceptional ability to maintain authenticity towards her passion amidst the chaos in this rather noisy world that we live in. Danielle shifted from a typical work life, trying to make ends meet with two or more jobs to a life of instability “in her own terms.” The good news is the shift turns out to be much easier than she has anticipated and as it stands Danielle found “stability” and a way to sustain her long-term travel through freelance writing – a rather happy outcome of her journey.
Danielle Bricker of WorldSmith
Danielle Bricker is from Charlottesville, VA. She is currently traveling in Southeast Asia and working as a freelance writer. She also writes via her travel site, WorldSmith.
Before I dive into questions regarding your online business/project, tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up? How was your childhood like?
I lived my entire life in Charlottesville, Virginia – a small-ish liberal college town where 20 minutes driving in any direction will land you in the middle of nowhere. More than that – my mother has lived her entire life there and her mother before her and so on past the point of our recorded family history. This is actually pretty unusual. Being a college town, Charlottesville attracts a lot of students and academics who form a very transient population. I, on the other hand, had very deep roots I couldn’t wait to break free of. While one side of my family had known no life outside Virginia, my dad’s side was the polar opposite. He grew up as an army brat, moving from base to base every few years, even spending three years in Bangkok. Even after the active duty days, my paternal grandparents continued traveling frequently, so I (quite luckily) grew up knowing that places like Peru and Egypt and China were places people actually visited.
What are your interests and passion in life?
1) Travel. 2) Writing. 3) Travel writing.
A lot of people moan and groan about ‘How do I find my passion in life?’ which is ridiculous. Passion finds you. If you don’t know what you’re passionate about, then you’re not listening to yourself. I always listened. I listened when I was in first grade and knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I listened when I was a freshman in college and wanted to declare my major in English, despite the snorts of derision that I would be majoring in unemployment. I listened when I interned at a travel guidebook publisher and realized I could unite my two greatest loves in a career. Following your passion may not always be easy, but finding it should be.
Are you still working a 9 to 5 job? If not, when did you quit? What kind of a job was it?
Since I graduated into one of the worst economic downturns in American history, I technically only had a 9-to-5 job for a grand total of 10 months. After I got laid off, the only way for me to stay in my field (writing, editing, and publishing) was to take unpaid internships or super minimal part-time work and cobble together a living from whatever odd jobs I could get. I’ve done everything from pouring wine at a vineyard tasting room to redesigning the website of a public sculpture program (and a whole lot of less sexy things, too, but who wants to read about bookkeeping?). Somewhere along the way, I also started freelance writing on my own, whenever I had the time for a personal project. I cut ties to my last desk job in June 2016 and committed myself to freelancing as my only source of income, so I could embark on a year-long round-the-world trip.
How was the process like to quit something so stable?
I didn’t have much stability to begin with. When nobody will hire you full-time, it’s not that hard to say ‘Bye Felicia!’ There were points where working two jobs to make ends meet would have been a break for me. I sometimes had three or even four part-time commitments on my plate at once. I finally got fed up and decided that since I couldn’t have a stable job, then the lack of stability would be on my terms.
What are your current plans?
I am six months into my year-long RTW trip. I will be in Southeast Asia for the next two months, and will then move on to South and Central America for four months. After that, I will return home, but am not sure whether it will be for a short visit, a long visit, or permanently. When I left the U.S. in July, I thought my freelancing would help me get through the year, but I’d have to return to the 9-to-5 world after that. Through a lot of luck and a lot of hard work, I’m at a point where I can meet my expenses and even turn a profit in Southeast Asia. So I’m now looking into what it would take to make full-time freelancing a permanent career change.
I’m curious to know more about your site, WorldSmith. What led you to start your travel website?
While I long had the vision of WorldSmith becoming a celebration of creativity and travel down the road, I actually launched the blog as part of Bootsnall’s Indie Travel Challenge. I had been planning my RTW trip for two years and it still seemed so far away. I needed to blog about that planning process as a motivational tool, to keep me from giving up. It worked. Blogging held me accountable to the point that I left a year earlier than I thought I’d be able to.
When did you launch your site?
November 2015 – a date reflected in my social media handle @worldsmith2015
What is your website’s mission?
Live creatively. Travel more.
I think everyone is creative in some form. Maybe it’s writing or drawing or music. Or maybe it’s not as easily recognizable. Maybe you create your lifestyle. You find clever ways to budget your money. You forsake the status quo and find ways to generate income outside the 9-to-5 bubble.
WorldSmith is very much a work in progress. But I’d like to see it become a resource and inspiration for creative professionals, digital nomads, and traveling artists.
What hurdles have you faced thus far with this project?
I am my biggest obstacle. All that pesky training in journalism has made me a bit of a snob regarding the ways blogs can monetize. I just can’t bring myself to enter the realm of sponsored posts. I think the whole ‘advertorial’ setup, no matter how honest you are, no matter how many disclaimers you publish, ultimately skews the presentation. It seems to be feeding a culture of ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,’ which isn’t always useful to readers. And I also wouldn’t feel right telling readers to spend their money on something I got for free. I prefer to have some skin in the game when I make a recommendation.
Because my self-righteousness has eliminated a major stream of monetization, however, I don’t make money off my website and therefore have next to no time to spend developing it. I have to focus on the freelance projects that grant me income, and if I have time leftover, then I can maybe get a post published.
How did you overcome these hurdles?
I’m sure a lot of people would tell me to just get over myself. Instead, I’ve accepted that my blog is just going to be a long labor of love. It will probably take years to become what I want it to be. But that’s okay. I started it because I believe in its principles, not because it’ll make me rich and famous.
Who or what helped you along the way to make your website or your travel lifestyle a success?
I don’t think I can call WorldSmith a success. Not even close. So I’ll pivot a bit and talk about how I’ve made my freelancing career a (moderate) success.
I rely on the Upwork platform to get freelance work. It has a lot of haters and many of their complaints are valid. There are a ton of clients who want to pay peanuts for top-quality work and it’s easy to get discouraged amid all that. The platform takes a big percentage of your earnings at first, which can make it seem not worth the effort. Personally, the security Upwork provides me is worth the fees. I don’t have to worry about a client refusing to pay me for my work. If there’s a problem between me and a client, I have mediation resources at my fingertips.
What’s really made me successful on Upwork has been finding ongoing projects. I can work with the same three clients every month and have a steady income flow. Developing those long-term relationships means I don’t have to go back to the drawing board (and that pool of poorly paying clients) every few days. I can settle in and know I’ll have work for months at a time.
Tell us more about your traveling life.
I currently travel full-time. I’ve been doing so for six months, and plan to travel continuously for six months more. Before learning about long-term travel, I would take one big international trip every year or two. After learning about long-term travel, I went without a vacation for two years to save for a year-long RTW trip.
Tell us about the travel component of your website.
I write about my experiences on the road, detail my exact budgets, and draw from my experience to compile a Creative Professionals’ Guide to artsy cities around the world.
Danielle shares her favorite travel moments below.
Jeez. I’ve always been terrible at the favorites game. I don’t even have a favorite book or movie, let alone a favorite travel memory.
Three moments from the start of my RTW trip I often reminisce about – particularly on hard days – are as follows.
Walking onto Dritvik Beach in Iceland. I planned part of my RTW trip around touring the Golden Circle in Iceland. Once I was in the country, however, I impulsively decided to first tour Snaefellsnes, the country’s western peninsula, which I knew absolutely nothing about. We had several stops over a 12-hour day, but Dritvik was the most spectacular in my eyes. You wind through these towering craggy formations before the beach opens up before you, a huge swath of lava turned to perfectly round, smooth pebbles where the fiery flow met the ocean. It was the first moment of my RTW trip (probably the first moment in a very long time) I felt completely happy and I broke a cardinal rule of responsible travel. I slipped a pebble in my pocket as a keepsake. It’s been my good luck charm through 15 countries and counting.
A surprise encounter on Barceloneta beach. The second stop on my RTW trip was Barcelona, and my two weeks there were rough. My week in Iceland was just like taking a vacation. When I moved on to a new destination instead of going home, it finally sunk in just what ‘year-long RTW trip’ really meant. I wrestled with a major life change and some crippling anxiety issues. The turning point came about halfway through my second week. Back home, I’m a swing dancer. I ran my college club and the swing dance group in Charlottesville is how I met my boyfriend of two and a half years. So I was completely surprised to walk down the boardwalk at Barceloneta beach and find a large group of people swing dancing in the street. I impulsively walked up to a man between songs and asked to join. My lindy hop was rusty, but it was still great fun. Having that kind of spontaneous connection completely lifted my spirits and I started to get more comfortable with traveling alone.
A luxurious dinner in Paris. Even after my night dancing on the boardwalk in Barcelona, I struggled with dining alone. I think many people really fear eating alone and at the start of my trip, I was no exception. It’s just not something you do in the United States. It is something you do in Paris, however. I looked up in advance a couple recommendations of restaurants for solo diners. In Paris, that’s actually most restaurants. It’s not unusual for Parisians to treat themselves to a nice meal, and I found that ‘treat yo self’ attitude to be the best way of overcoming the solo dining hurdle. Starting with my glass of Bordeaux and duck confit at Au Pied de Fouet, narcissistic as this is, I started approaching dinner as a solo date. I could be interested in myself, as I would be another person. I wanted to do something nice for myself, as I would for other people. Damn it, I could even love myself, as I do my friends and family. I could go out, enjoy a nice meal, and enjoy my own company.
How do you define success in your case?
I think I’ll feel successful if and when I meet someone who has already heard of WorldSmith before meeting me. I feel semi-successful as a freelance writer in my ability to earn enough to cover my expenses in Southeast Asia. I’ll feel completely successful as a freelance writer if and when I can earn enough to live in the U.S. or Europe.
What have you discovered about yourself as part of this process?
In the years of part-time jobs outside my field, I realized I have a tendency to over-invest. Whatever my job is, I throw myself in mind, body, and soul. I actually developed high blood pressure at one job, I cared so much. I don’t know if I’m better at letting go yet, but I am better at choosing where my energy goes. By moving into freelancing full time, I insure that only the projects I sign on for get my investment.
How do you manage to afford traveling?
I spent two to three years saving for my RTW trip. I relied on my savings for the first six months of travel, and now rely on my freelance income.
Do you have other future projects in mind?
In January, I’m launching a new series of monthly profiles on WorldSmith. I never wanted the site to be ‘me, me, me.’ So I’m fulfilling another piece of the vision and featuring others’ work. Each month, I’ll tell the story of another traveling artist or creative professional. I want to celebrate creativity in all its forms, and provide readers with a fuller picture of how you can pursue art and travel.
What advise do you have to those who are thinking of pursing their passion?
A lot of people will tell you to ‘Just do it.’ I think this is overly simplistic, and sometimes just plain wrong. If you know what your passion is, great. But if you’re guessing, it’s a recipe for disaster. Take your time. Read everything you can. Talk to people who have gone before you. Plan. Save. Read some more. Know without a doubt that this is your calling. It could take years, but that’s all part of the journey. I don’t regret for a minute that it took me nearly three years to go from the pipe dream of long-term travel to the reality. I needed that time. You might need the time too.
Did quitting the 9 to 5 kind of career and working for yourself turn out the way you envisioned it to be?
Since I freelanced on the side before taking the leap into full-time freelancing, I had a very clear picture of what it would be like. I even surpassed my own expectations. I thought my freelance income would help me get through a year of travel, and I’d have to go back to a desk job afterward. Now there’s a chance I might be able to sustain it as a permanent career change.
Are you living a life with more freedom now than before?
Abso-fricking-lutely! Though there are days when having to work while I travel feels burdensome, I am really in complete control of my life. I feel like I can wake up in the morning and more or less decide what I want to do that day. There are consequences. I don’t get paid until I finish my work. But I’m not tied to an hourly schedule or to a particular workspace the way I often was back home.
Finally, any unique travel advise you can give women out there?
Traveling as a woman is different. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for that fact. We have different health concerns. (Accept that your menstrual cycle will be affected.) We have different safety concerns. (Trust your instincts and take solace in female-only spaces when you need to.) We also get to connect with other women, which in more conservative countries male travelers may not be able to do. We cook and weave together. We protect each other. I feel so much more sisterhood as a traveler. Enjoy those moments.
To wrap up, I asked Danielle the following questions:
How many countries have you been to?
23 – United States, France, Monaco, United Kingdom, Italy, Vatican City, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, Iceland, Spain, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Greece, India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos.
What other countries are on your list?
I have concrete plans to go to Vietnam in January, Indonesia in February, and Peru in May. I have plans in the works to visit Cambodia in January, Japan in March, Argentina in April, Chile in May, and Costa Rica and Mexico in June. Beyond the plans of my RTW trip, I won’t waste your time. I’m one of those people who wants to go everywhere.
Name one thing you miss the most when on the road?
I miss having a set reliable group of friends I can call on and spend time with at any given moment. I have plenty of contact with my boyfriend, my family, and my close friends. But when I want someone to have dinner or just hang out with, I have to rely on new acquaintances. I’m pretty introverted, so this constant flux of a support network can get very tiring.
Which do you prefer, mountains or city life?
I love getting into the mountains as a break from ‘regular’ life, but I spend most of my time in cities. It’s just more practical for the purposes of working on the road. And coming from a smaller town, large cities have an undeniable allure for me.
Name 3 qualities that you think are the most important in accomplishing one’s dreams.
Conviction. Perseverance. Flexibility.
You need to believe in your dream 100%. It can’t be something you adopt from anyone else because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do. Traveling full-time isn’t for everybody, and that’s okay! But as someone who could never stand to live in the same place for more than a couple years, I knew always having something new on the horizon would be perfect for me.
You have to always keep going. It’s so easy to get discouraged, especially in the early days of figuring out what it will take to make your dream a reality. Find ways to motivate yourself and hold yourself accountable. For me, blogging was broadcasting to the world that I was going to travel – I would have been so embarrassed to just give up after that.
Finally, at the end of the day, you have to know when it’s time to compromise. Nobody’s perfect and neither is any dream. I would have liked to have enough in savings to cover my entire year-long trip, so anything I made freelancing would be extra. But I reached a point where it was leave now or never, so I let go of that piece of the vision in order to hold on to its core.
How can we continue to follow you and your work/project?
I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram as @worldsmith2015. Instagram is probably the most accurate and up-to-date reflection of where I am and what I’m doing at any given moment. You can also subscribe to a monthly newsletter at WorldSmith and never miss a beat.
Danielle notes that we don’t look for our passion but rather passion finds you. I couldn’t agree more. In her world, traveling spoke to her. Danielle trusted her instinct and went for it. Every freedompreneur can appreciate the courage that it takes to take that plunge. In the end, no matter where the path leads you, we’re destined to come out of the experience with more wisdom.
Thanks, Danielle for sharing your freedompreneur life with us. We wish you the best as you continue to create your own unique journey.
If you know of someone who you think should be featured on FREEDOMPRENEURS SERIES (yourself included), you can find out more here.