I remember when I was younger, I kept stumbling across phrases like “once you’re in your late twenties, you’ll be less insecure” all over the place. I don’t like clichés like that, but these days I feel like it’s actually true: With age comes confidence.
A few years ago, I was constantly thinking about what other people thought of me. I’ve always loved wearing black clothes for example, but I couldn’t stand the comments about my appearance and questions like “has someone died or why are you wearing dark clothes all the time?”. I spent weeks feeling uncomfortable in bright and colorful clothes instead. I’ve had so many arguments while shopping with girlfriends, roommates, and my mom about trying on something green “because you’re a fall type and earthy colors look so nice on you”.
But you know what: I’ve realized that I like wearing black and I don’t need to justify it. Also, I’m a professional medievalist now, so black clothes are basically my work uniform anyways.
All black on summer days in Paris…
…and on winter days in Lower Saxony.
From comparably shallow things like clothing to life-defining things like relationships — I’ve slowly but steadily learned to not care about what people think of me throughout the last years. I’m nowhere near a level of confidence yet where I can admit that I like everything about myself, but I’ve learned that saying mean things about myself won’t help either, and I’m constantly working on being (at least a little bit) more content.
It’s easy to be content during golden hour in Florence
And if you’re wondering why I’m writing about all this: Because I had a similar learning experience when it comes to blogging.
I was overwhelmed with the many ways you can write a (travel) blog and present yourself on social media, so I tried to copy what other successful bloggers did. Albeit always staying true to my corset of moral beliefs, I experimented with many things — from blog post styles to Instagram filters — to learn what would help me become a big-league-blogger. I wanted other bloggers to accept me, I wanted readers and followers to think that I know what I’m doing, I wanted to create a likeable online image of a travel-addicted geek.
Until I realized that I don’t want to become big. Because I refuse to pay the prize for it — and it took me a long time to understand that it is just this simple.
I chose quality over “becoming big” — and was (still) invited to Jordan on a press trip!
Other bloggers became successful by writing about devastating break-ups or sexy summer flings. I however, want to keep certain parts of my private life private. I won’t do tours of my bedroom, I won’t write a photo essay about my family’s Christmas dinner, and I won’t share hilarious what-went-wrong-on-my-Tinder-blind-date-stories. Partly because it’s not interesting (meaning: I’m not on Tinder), partly because some parts of my life just don’t belong online.
I rather share pretty photos from Turkey than too many private insights
I want to be authentic, but I refuse to put every little thing my life is about online — although being brutally real is what often gets bloggers the most attention. But in a time where using a whole lot of four-letter words will get you the reputation of being an honest writer, the only level of honesty I can and will provide is photographing the toilets in Jordan to comfort other toiletophobics that traveling there is totally manageable.
I prefer pretty coffee photos over four-letter words
After three years of blogging, I can finally stop trying to fit in. I have never been a typical travel blogger anyways and I’ll (probably) never become a digital nomad. My traffic doesn’t really go up anymore, because I don’t write the generic “5 best things to do in Paris”-list posts that do well on Pinterest, StumbleUpon, you name it. And who even would trust packing advice from someone who always forgets something crucial? (I forgot my passport on the way to Turkey a few weeks ago!)
I love that I have loyal readers who know that they probably won’t find proper travel advice on Sateless Suitcase, but maybe a little inspiration every now and then that is 100% (hand-crafted by) me instead. I will still do very selected collaborations with companies and tourism boards I truly support, but I’ve given up on ever monetizing this blog.
I realized that making money and becoming an A-list blogger was never what I built this blog for.
It only took me three years of blogging to finally be confident about all these decisions.
I only use photos taken by me on the blog,
but sometimes the boyfriend takes fun sneaky shots of me (taking photos like here in Berlin)
Last year’s blogiversary post was a list of what happened in certain areas of my life in which I reflected on how I still struggled with money and monetaziation of the blog, but also on my travel dreams and coffee favorites. Because I enjoyed writing (and also still enjoy re-reading) that post, I started doing monthly round-ups with similar categories. While I love sharing my monthly highlights and lowlights like that, I had to come up with a new way of writing my annual blogiversary post though, because I didn’t want to be redundant.
As this blog post’s lengthy introduction already implied, I learned a lot about myself as well as about life and travel last in my third year of blogging and I wanted to share these lessons — most of them can be applied to blogging and traveling, others not so much. But given this blog is full of geeky randomness, this list might just be perfectly suitable for a three years of blogging round-up.
Maybe average is not that bad.
Our generation is so obsessed with being special. Most parents of millennials have spent years telling their kids that they are oh-so unique and they can be anything they want. But if a entire generation of young people thinks they are more special than their peers, society actually ends up just being a assembly of egocentric, lonely people.
A not so special girl gazing over very special gardening skills in Hannover
I’ve always struggled with not being good enough — I can sing a little, draw a little, dance a little, have decent language skills in my second but not my third/fourth languages, I’m semi-creative and semi-smart. I was never good enough for a scholarship or to stand out in any way, though.
But I’ve come to realize that it’s probably more practical to have some basic skills in several fields.
I‘m not special, but watching this sunset in Turkey was definitely special for me
Of course, I’m a hypocrite telling you I’m accepting to be average while writing a blog post for a website that is entirely about myself. But you know what? Even this blog is average — when it comes to monthly readers, social media interaction, amount of posts published, quality of photography — compared to the thousands and thousands of blogs out there, it’s absolutely average.
An average photo of a not-so-average-city on an average blog
I can’t deny that I’ve imagined what my life would be like if I was more successful, but as I said above — there are prices that are not worth paying in my opinion. So I’m not thriving to be special anymore. I just want to be more content.
I finally got to see the Natural History Museum in London — a good reason to be content
The secret to vegetarian food is fresh herbs and dried tomatoes.
I’ve been eating bland vegetarian food since I was 14 years old — and it took me years to understand that especially in vegetarian food, it all comes down to the spices and herbs. I spent years putting cheese and ridiculous amounts of salt on everything to give it at least a little flavor. Then I switched salt for veggie broth, but every dish I cooked tasted identical and it again took me forever to overcome that phase.
Veggie pasta on a summer night in Paris
Fresh herbs and dried tomatoes (in oil) have been such an enlightenment recentenly though, seriously. Put died tomatoes on your sandwiches and in your salads and your life will never be the same! Oh, and Turkey just taught me that sesame is great on everything as well! I know I’m late to the party, but I’m finally over eating bland veggie food. (Also, I now get anxious whenever I have to leave my beloved basil for more than a few days — herbs need so much water!)
Breakfast in Turkey — black sesame on feta cheese is genius!
Pick your labels carefully.
Sometimes I wonder how I ended up becoming “the art historian”. In my professional and in my blogging life, people always consider me as the art historian, although I don’t always see myself as that person. Whereas I did major in art history, my first major was English literature. My Master’s degree could be roughly described as historical cultural studies, in which I actually attend just few art history lectures.
An art historian in Florence?
I hope you don’t think I’m a fraud, because I really do love art and architecture — but I’ve met a lot of old-fashioned art historians lately who really intimidated me, since I really can’t keep up with their knowledge and methods. Just last week I attended an art history conference where it became very clear that I’m actually way more into medieval cultural studies than “just” art.
Art historian or not, Petra is amazing for anyone with any cultural interest!
Today, I probably wouldn’t introduce myself as an art historian anymore, as I work as a medievalist now and even my cultural travel blog now focuses more on photography and coffee than museums. (FYI: Blogging about museums is hard!) I certainly don’t regret picking this niche for my blog and I don’t regret having the “you’re good with art”-reputation at work, because I feel like I ended up where I needed to be. But it’s interesting to see how labels you once were so sure of can change over time.
Nail polish compensates “travel outfits” really well.
Confession time: I only do my nails before I go on a trip — mainly because I know I might have to hold a pastry into my camera and want to take pretty photos. But I recently noticed that I feel better about my appearance in stylish European capitals when my nails look nice. I know, it sounds stupid and shallow, but when you’re wearing crumpled cheap clothes that have been stuck in your tiny backpack for a long night bus ride, nail polish can actually really make a difference. And I really like how I ended up giving each place I visited this year its own nail polish color:
Blue nails in London in May!
Red nails in Berlin in March!
Dark purple nails in Luxembourg City in May!
Black nails in Paris in August!
Pink nails in Florence in March!
Cheap wine and cheap olive oil are not even worth it.
When you’re born in the Southern German region of Swabia like me, stinginess is basically in your DNA. (Ask any German, it’s true!). I’ve made travel partners and roommates go insane with my money-saving obsession, but I’ve eased up a little lately as I learned that spending money on things of great quality is absolutely worth it — especially when it comes to wine and olive oil. I never even really liked olive oil and red wine before, but that’s because I never had the good stuff.
Good olive oil might have been the best thing about hummus in Jordan
But as my travels in this year led me to Italy, Jordan, France and Turkey — countries famed for their great olives oils and wines — I finally understood that there are some thing in life that are worth spending money on, especially when it comes to great food and great wine!
It’s okay to miss out.
I’m certainly not immune to FOMO (aka Fear Of Missing Out): I obsessively stalk people from school whom I haven’t talked to in years, because they travel to cool places, live in vibrant cities, and seem to have the perfect wardrobes and relationships.
I certainly couldn’t miss out on Florence though!
I’m trying very hard to not be jealous (it has helped to ban the word “jealous” from my vocab two years ago), but FOMO has a way of catching up. I’m afraid I’m missing out on the Work & Travel experience in Australia, because I signed a work contract valid until after my 31st birthday; I’m afraid I’m missing out on internships at stylish magazines because I chose a different career; I’m afraid I’m missing out on all the festival experiences just because I’m afraid of gross bathrooms.
Before I die… seen in Bremen.
But whenever a wave of FOMO hits me, I try to remind myself that the grass is always greener on the other side. I know, it’s such a cliché to say this — but honestly, we have to accept that we will never have it all. We choose what we want and we can change our minds a couple of times, but there will always be another option that looks better from afar. Sometimes it’s just time to make up our minds and live with missing out on a few things — because we all are missing out on something eventually. And speaking of which:
Everything becomes easier once you’ve made up your mind.
Making up your mind is always easier said than done. This anxiety that being forced to make your mind causes is petrifying sometimes. The most annoying thing about decisions being constantly in-between options, changing your mind every few moments. Seriously, a waiter’s “are you ready to order?” could already give me a panic attack sometimes — but once I uttered my order the anxiety is gone, because I can’t change anything about it anymore.
It took me forever to make up my mind about going to Paris this summer — I’m so glad I ultimately decided to go!
The more options you have, the tougher making up your mind is. “Is it possible that we’ve gotten so spoiled by choices that we’ve become unable to make one?”, asked Carrie on Sex and the City once. I’m constantly overwhlemed with the decisions I have to make in regarding life, love, and career, but once I’ve said them out loud, it all becomes easier, because I can act and plan according to my decisions.
Feet issues are no fun.
Ever since last year’s blogiversary, I’ve done a lot of stupid things to my feet and spent a lot of time limping. I’ve been suffering from a nasty heel spur for a greater part of 2014 and 2015, and all the walking I do on my city getaways didn’t make it better for over a year.
Last September, I also broke my little toe at my parents’ house, because I walked into a packing case. In Jordan this spring, I cut my toe open in a five star hotel spa while climbing out of a Jacuzzi, causing a very embarrassing bloodbath. In Hamburg in July, I walked myself the giant blister from hell turning me into a whining mess that had to sit down every couple of minutes. In August, I twisted my ankle by falling on pavement (I was walking home from work, in broad daylight, on even ground, perfectly sober, not texting). In Turkey, I feel up the stairs next to the pool and hurt my big toe to I couldn’t step on it for days. A few hours later, I pushed my deck chair into that exact painful spot.
My feet in Jordan (pre-Jacuzzi incident)
People make fun of me, because I always seem to have some kind of issue with my feet. And when your feet hurt, you start noticing how crucial functioning feet are! I learned my lesson: Invest in good shoes (I’m pretty sure that heel spur derived from cheap H&M flats!), wear insoles and watch your step.
You make the rules.
It’s such an easy lesson, but it’s so, so true. You know, I should probably care more about grown-up hairstyles, but I’m so used to my ponytail. I should write more blog posts a month, but sometimes life gets in the way and I’m not it the mood for it. I should probably read more, but trashy TV is so much more relaxing sometimes. I should probably really stop eating pizza once a week, but it’s the best food mankind ever invented. I shouldn’t drink so much coffee, but I can’t imagine my life without it. I should probably become a proper adult and learn how to make a phone call and how to do my taxes, but I’m just not ready for real life yet. I should probably only write 600 word blog posts, but I can express myself so much better in 3,000+ words. I should probably change a few things about my lifestyle, but I’m just too lazy for all the healthy habits. I should probably finally figure out how to use keywords for SEO, but computer stuff just bores me so much.
I probably should have visited more museums while in London, but I loved strolling too much!
It takes a while to understand that you’re the only person who makes the rules you have to live by. As long as you can look in the mirror (literally and metaphorically) and are happy with what you see, you’re doing everything right and just don’t need to justify anything.
Even a tiny blog can have a big impact
— but life is still bigger than blogging sometimes.
Three years ago, I started a blog on the verge of a depression. I was procrastinating, I was living in a writer’s exile in the middle of nowhere with zero social life, I was unsure what to do with my life, and on top of all: I was so lonely it almost broke me.
Three years later, I know what I’ll be doing the next years at least and I’m happy with that. I still struggle with loneliness from time to time, but through this blog I’ve found friends from all around the world. I didn’t know it at the time, but I started the blog, because I was longing to get in touch with other people.
Everything about this photo (The Dead Sea! Those girls!) was only possible because of this blog!
And not only have I digitally met so many inspiring people who feel like friends to me although I never talked to them in real life, but I also got know amazing travel buddies I share so many wonderful memories and inside jokes with. I’ve met strangers I only knew from Twitter or Instagram in Paris, Madrid, Berlin, Rotterdam, Cologne, and Vienna — and always traveled back home with new real-life friends.
Never ever would I have guessed that my life would be so enriched by the people I met by coming up with the random idea of writing a cultural travel blog. Fancy free hotel stays and sponsored text links could never even compare to how wonderful it is that the world literally feels like a friendlier place to me now.
Blogging girls who became friends online and created the best real-life memories together in Jordan
And even if I decide to let blogging slip in the long run so can concentrate more on my PhD, I will forever be thankful for the connections I made through this blog. Even if the blog will at some point will drown in an internet abyss, I know there will be international friendships that don’t need the existence of a blog to last. Even if I sometimes might regret that I didn’t put more effort in this blog to make it a more important part of my career, I’m sure it helped me learn so much about myself as well as the world and its people.
The past three years of blogging (and life in general) have been rollercoaster of wonderful travel moments and countless (sometimes frustrating) lessons about living a creative, culture-inspired life. But I’m glad I made it this far. And I couldn’t be more thankful for all of you! Every comment, every email, every tweet, every repin, every like means so much to me, and never would have lasted this long if it weren’t for you!
Thank you so, so much!
What kind of life, love, travel, blogging, or food lessons did you learn recently?