I’ve come up with a lot of stupid ideas in my life.
Like that time I thought driving a motorcycle at a car show with fake nails was a good idea. (It was my last time on a motorcycle and the one and only time I ever had fake fingernails.)
Or like that time I wanted to become a chemist.
Or that time I wanted to become a sniper.
Or that time my biggest life goal was to become the second Celine Dion.
Or that time I started to write a novel about a girl who owned a horse.
And that time I started a cultural travel blog fits very well into this list. Except is doesn’t. Because it’s been two years last week and here I am, still blogging.
It has hit me several times that this blog was a ridiculous idea. I mean really — writing a travel blog as an unadventurous geek who hasn’t even owned a passport in years? I could as well have become a chemist/sniper/horse novel author then.
But somehow, I stuck with it. And somehow, some people out there seem to care.
And I love what this blog has become. I love the little community that has developed around it and the communication that has been made possible through this.
Sateless Suitcase and I have come a long way. But also we stood still many times: I still have not turned this blog into a business (yet?). Instead I kept it as a time-consuming but fun side-project. When I came back from BlogHouse last year, shortly after the first blogiversary, I was motivated to change a lot of things, but I also had a lot of doubts whether I really wanted to become a business person about my blog.
I learned so much about blogging in this castle room in rural Ireland
Today, a year later, I know that I feel good about the decisions I made, or rather, the decisions I haven’t made. Throughout the last two years I changed very little about how I travel, how I write and how I present myself online, and I’m content with little change for now. If you want to know how Sateless Suitcase and I evolved (or not evolved) in detail and from behind the scenes though, read on:
Since starting this blog I traveled to seven new European countries. I know this does not classify me as a hard-core traveler, but considering I’ve been studying and working during this whole time that number is not too bad. Plus, I returned to a few places and thus couldn’t count them as ‘new’: I traveled to Paris twice and I’m trying to figure out how to go back this years as well, because I really want to make a trip to Paris an annual tradition. I’ve learned to travel solo and then realized that it’s not my preferred way of travel. I have traveled to places that never really were on my priority list, but that I ended up loving.
I made some of my biggest travel dreams come true: A visit to the Prado Museum in Madrid, to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and to the Long Room in the Trinity Collage Library.
Bruegel-gazing in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna
Delicious old book smell in Dublin’s Trinity College Library
I’ve seen beautiful sunsets and I’ve strolled through quaint parks in the rain. I’ve tasted more delicious new foods I can count, because I finally learned to sample the local cuisines abroad.
In Berlin, I ate Vietnamese food for the very first time — so many new flavors!
Still, the list of cities, museums, and churches I need to see in the future is seemingly endless: I’m dreaming of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the cathedrals of Santiago de Compostela, Reims, and Canterbury, the colorful squares in Krakow, the sleek modern architecture of Helsinki, and of climbing Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. I’ve still only seen the tiniest part of Europe and I want, need to see more. I also wish to revisit the places I fell in love with and that I can’t get enough of like London, Paris, and my beautiful Portugal.
I can’t get enough of you, Paris!
I’m trying to find a balance between having a somewhat fixed life, going back to old favorites, and exploring new countries and cities. I still haven’t found the perfect way to even it all out, but I’m working on it, because I really want to be a traveler, but also someone who looks forward to coming home again. It’s a work in progress, but I’m convinced I’ll figure it out eventually.
I started Sateless Suitcase to distract myself from writing my Master’s Thesis. I was in the middle of a dissertation writer’s block and a depression about my unsecured future. I was living with my parents in the middle of nowhere to focus on writing and finally finishing that Master’s degree. I had no idea where I was headed, neither personally nor professionally. My life was a bit of a mess and the only thing I could motivate myself to was creating blog posts.
I did it!
During the last two years however, I finished writing that dissertation, graduated from grad school with my Master’s in art history and medieval studies, and started working as a medievalist. What seemed like an impossible task was overcome, but at the same time proceeded by many more challenges. But I like what I do on a daily basis now even though I never thought I’d end up where I am today. Things turned out pretty great and although I can’t tell if this is a long-term thing or not, it’s exactly what I want right now.
I never really thought that blogging was an actual career choice for me. Of course, I love the idea of getting paid to travel the world, but really, I’m the world’s laziest person. I’d make a really crappy freelancer. I know myself well enough by now: I need someone to kick my butt otherwise I’ll get nothing done. And I’m really great at procrastinating (hence the blog, remember?), but really bad at kicking my own butt. So, I don’t think a freelance career as a blogger will happen anytime soon.
On the train somewhere in Belgium (without any blogging perks)
Still, I’ve thought about investing half my time into the blog to make it a more lucrative side-project. But honestly, it doesn’t work like that. Building a really good blog is a full-time job. And currently, I like my work as a medievalist way too much to sacrifice it for the uncertainty of a blogging career. This is one of the reasons I’ve backed out of most of the travel-blogger-y things.
A non-press trip glimpse of Bratislava from the castle
While attending two conferences in Rotterdam and Dublin last year, I watched myself and learned that I don’t really make an effort to introduce myself to PR companies and hotel chains. Not only because I’m shy (trust me, I am), but also because I don’t see the point for me and my blog right now. I’m writing this blog keep in touch with people, to organize my thoughts, and to build an inspiring, reciprocal community of culturally interested travelers. I don’t want to become a blogging super star and I don’t want to do videos just because “you have to, really, it’s the next big thing”.
On the plane to a pitch-free time in Vienna
When I attended ITB in Berlin in March 2014, I was horribly unprepared: I had no ticket, no appointments, and no business cards. It was an unprofessional appearance, but still one that I felt comfortable with. I had a chance to meet up with many of the great people I had met at other conferences and I used the trade fair for a little travel inspiration just like every other “normal” visitor. It was relaxed, pressure-free and thus didn’t feel like work at all. And I think that’s how I like me to be a part of the blogging world: I’m just not a fan of comparing myself to other bloggers, their stats and their number of successful tourism board collaborations all the time.
Traveling like everybody else in Vienna: No wifi, no tour guides.
And this is also one of the reasons I won’t be at TBEX in Athens this year. I would love to see all my favorite bloggers there and obviously, I really, really, really, want to see the Acropolis again — but TBEX is probably not the right place for me.
Of course, money is no topic that is fun to write about, but it’s an important part of figuring out life and travel in our twenties. I still live frugally, I own very little cloths and pretty much no furniture, and right now I have 508 Euros left on my bank account and that’s literary all I got — no savings account, no safety net. I always try to save up for as many trips as possible, but life sometimes life just gets in the way.
Mornings in Croatia
— I could only afford this trip because I traveled during off-season and with my family
And even though other bloggers might think I’m stupid for missing out on this opportunity: But I have still not made a single cent from this blog. Until today, this blog is absolutely free of ads, free of sponsored posts, and free of affiliate links. I don’t judge other bloggers for this, but personally, I like this blog to be a non-commercial, upright, and honest little corner of the internet, which sadly exist less and less. But I just like it better like this for now.
Granted, I’ve worked with a few companies and tourism boards along the way, but I’ve only taken part in activities I would have paid for anyways and I’ve only used complimentary accommodation when I would and could have paid for it by myself. It’s only a handful of companies I’ve worked with, but I’ve always used disclaimers to point out when I got something for free. It’s the thing I would want to know as a reader, and I want to keep it real.
Actually, it’s not too hard to get free stuff as an established blogger, but for most of my trips I don’t even pitch at all — I like to have my freedom when I travel and I only want to write about the things I feel inspired to write about.
One reason I loved our GowithOh apartment in Madrid: This map and mirror combo!
I know I probably won’t make any money by not putting myself out there as a blogger more offensively. I might change my mind about freelancing and a creative career some day in the future, but for now I’m fine with having a non-commercial, honest blog and travel experiences that I save up for — just like everyone else.
I have a bit of a hate/love relationship with social media, but it’s really interesting to see how far I’ve come ever since I first started out. I still don’t have the big numbers that get you invited to press trips yet, but I don’t mind that I don’t, because quite a lot of the bigger Facebook pages bought their followers. Personally, I rather have 400 truly interested followers than 14,000 followers that are mostly 16-year-old kids from Pakistan and Egypt.
I also refuse to invite my personal Facebook friends to like my page because I find it spammy and annoying myself. To be honest, most of my casual Facebook friends still don’t even know I have a blog and I like it better that way. And I also refuse to post stock (or Pinterest) photos and ask questions like “do you LIKE sunsets at the beach too?” or “window seat or aisle seat, which do you prefer when flying?”. Sorry, I think it’s obnoxious and I usually unfollow pages that try to keep their engagement numbers up with such methods. I try to be real on the blog, and I try to be real on Facebook, even if this is not the best method to reach as many people as possible.
“Click LIKE if you would love to watch the sun set in Rome”
— you won’t read this on my Facebook page
Many of you know that I’m obsessed with Instagram and I’m always really excited when a photo of mine does well on there. Instagram is sadly more and more losing its original idea: A mobile photo you took in the INSTAnt you were somewhere. I only post photos I took on my phone (except for a #ThrowbackThursday every now and then) and I only post photos I’ve taken in the last 24 hours. Of course, I can’t reach as many people with my phone photos as people who use professionally edited dSLR photos and add about a hundred hashtags, but again, I like staying faithful to the original purpose of Instagram, because it’s more fun this way.
I know I’m not doing everything I should be doing to be more successful on social media, but I also believe that not curry favoring with my followers will eventually pay off in the long run. Maybe this goes hand in hand with not becoming a super blogger — I know what I should to be more successful on social media, but I refuse to do anything that I’d find annoying as a reader myself, so increasing my following is something that happens slowly.
I feel like hope my writing improved throughout the last years. Sometimes I get goose bumps when I accidentally read an old post and still find SO many typos and weird expressions in them. I’m still nowhere near writing perfectly today, and I’m not sure I’ll ever really get there as a non-native speaker of English, but I really enjoy writing.
To be honest, despite a few whiny dairy entries when I was 16 and the horrible first chapter of that horse novel I mentioned above, I’ve never really written (at least non-academically) before I started blogging. Thus I’ve never considered myself a writer for even a second. And I didn’t get into blogging for the writing — I just wanted some, any kind of creative outlet.
Tea and girl talk inspire me to write sometimes
But I’ve learned that writing has soothing, therapeutic powers and that it is incredibly helpful for me to find words for things I struggle with. When I wrote about how I struggle with finding balance in-between my wanderlust and my desire for a steady life for example, I helped me so much to get a hold of my own thoughts and to get so much supportive feedback from you.
One thing I still haven’t figured out yet with when it comes to writing though, is finding my style, my writing persona. I feel like I sound like a different person in every one of my blog posts: Sometimes I’m an emotional wreck, fighting against self-doubt and quarter-life-crisis-confusion. Sometimes I try to be really funny (also see this post’s intro). Sometimes I try to provide decent travel advice. Sometimes I’m just a little girly art historian who cries whenever she enters a Gothic cathedral. I know my life has just as many sides as my writing has, but I’m not sure if I should aim for more coherence, because it might be difficult to follow along as a reader. But even if I fail to be coherent in my writing style, you can be sure that all these different facades of my writing truthfully depict the mess that is my head.
I’m happy to report that I was able to nurture my coffee addiction just fine throughout out the last two years. And I learned many new things regarding coffee: In Paris, the French let their espresso burn on purpose, but if you still really want good coffee there are tons of Australian coffee shops and their creations are outstanding. In Rome, I learned to drink coffee like an Italian with the help of Walks of Italy. I was quite pleased to learn that it is actually okay to drink a cappuccino after 10 am, because it’s a breakfast coffee — if you get up really late and have an afternoon breakfast, cappuccino is a perfectly fine drink to order. Good news for lovers of lattes! (Italians only flinch if tourists order a milky coffee after dinner.)
Espresso in Rome — isn’t it pretty?
Moreover, I learned that I am obsessed with flat whites. I had first one in Berlin this spring and I’m a little sad that flat whites are still pretty hard to come by outside of Europe’s capitals. Berlin however has fabulous coffee shops and I gladly wait 10 minutes for my coffee to be ready, when the baristas are working a machine that only exists three times on the entire continent!
Best flat white in Berlin (accompanied by a chocolate croissant, obviously)
Plus, coffee is still just my absolute favorite thing to photograph and I’m looking forward to my annual coffee travels round up post all year. Really, the around the world in coffee series might just be the best thing I’ve created on this blog so far.
I loved this coffee moment in Rotterdam so much
My camera and I also have come a long way in the last two years. But I more I learn, the more I understand how much I still have to learn. Some photography rules finally really clicked with me and I finally understand a larger part of what’s going on behind the lens though. And I only shoot on manual now, take all my photos in RAW, and I’m addicted to prime lenses.
Golden Hour in Vienna
A summer storm in Hamburg
— I’m glad I shot this on manual, otherwise I could have never captured the sky like this
Tricky, but beautiful morning light in Vienna
How I try to improve my photography on a daily basis: Taking pictures of my breakfast
I still don’t have the right equipment though: I have a baby beginner’s dSLR and some basic lenses. And I still haven’t had the money to buy a proper laptop, so I’m editing all my photos on a super-slow, tiny net-book on which Lightroom or Photoshop don’t work. It’s still all very improvised and unprofessional, but when I see that more and more of my personal Facebook friends have profile photos taken by me, there might be a slight hope to become a good photographer one day (and maybe build a second career out of it).
From a little photo shoot I did with my friend Caro
When I started this blog I wanted to travel, but I also wanted to run from responsibilities. I fled into describing my life and my travel dreams online, because I could invent a new version of myself. In many ways, Sateless Suitcase is a story about a journey of escapism, a journey of daydreaming, and a journey of a girl who is still looking for her place in this world.
Landing in Austria at sunset
But ever since I started writing this blog, I learned that life can be full of challenges, of lost-in-translation-moments, of new flavors and experiences even if you’re not constantly on the road — but I still think about traveling all the time, I still plan trips to procrastinate, I still travel a lot more than my working peers, because I’ll always rather invest in a train ticket than second pair of jeans. The journey is still not over yet. It’s been two years, and a lot has happened. My and the blog’s journey will continue.
And the most important thing:
Thank you so much for following along!
Thank you for commenting, for sharing, for giving advice. Every comment, every tip, every like, and every retweet means more to me than I could ever express!
Is there anything else you’d want me to share?
Any other behind-the-scenes-confession you would like to hear?