The HONEST TRUTH on how I became a Full-time Travel Blogger

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A day seldom goes by without someone asking me how the heck I am able to constantly travel and earn a living. Honestly, before I entered into the elusive world of travel blogging, I would be asking the same question (raised eyebrows and all). Growing up, the idea of making money from travel felt like an unobtainable dream. Yet by some miracle, here I am today, at the age of 22, traversing the globe, calling myself a ‘full-time’ travel blogger and photographer.

Just to pre-warn you, I’m not writing this article to provide a step-by-step guide on how to get paid to travel the world- I’m sure you’ll find enough articles out there that do that. For me, getting to the point of making money from travelling has been far from straightforward, and is certainly not something that happened overnight. There is SO much more to the story than picture-perfect Instagram photos and an idyllic-looking lifestyle of travelling. So instead, here is the long-winded, raw, uncensored truth of how I got to where I am today. Not just as a travel blogger, but as a person.

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I’ll start at the beginning of the it all. I graduated high school in Brisbane in 2011, not knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life. Since the age of fifteen, I had become obsessed with photography, and deep down, I knew I wanted to pursue a career as a photographer. Yet upon graduation, I felt the imminent pressure to go to university and study something ‘academic’. I spent days flipping aimlessly through university catalogues and feeling so blank about my future. I had received the grades in school to pursue whatever I pleased, yet no sensible career choice excited me in the slightest. After all my time spent searching, the only course that caught my eye was a Bachelor of Photography. This seemed like a solid compromise- I would be pleasing my parents and teachers by actually going to university, and I would be getting to study something I enjoyed.

University started off well, but after a year, I started questioning what I was going to gain by completing a degree in photography. If I am to be honest, I was learning more from the photography work I was doing out in the real world, and if anything, studying was slowly killing my passion for the art. On top of that, I was SO ready to escape Brisbane and go traveling. The travel bug had been ignited in me from a rather young age. I had my first overseas trip to Cambodia when I was 15 (which I will tell you about a little later on), a school trip to Hong Kong when I was 16 and a trip to Europe with my family when I was 17. I was now 19, and was absolutely desperate to take my first solo trip.

2012 came around, and I decided to take the ‘year’ off university. I spent the first half of the year working like crazy. I started a wedding/ commercial photography business and also worked in a camera store in order to save every penny for my first big overseas adventure. Finally, the day came around. The day I set off on a plane to Europe was the day my life changed forever.

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Four months travelling around Europe and I had the absolute time of my life. I fell in love with meandering through the streets of unknown cities, uncovering the secrets of each new culture I encountered and opening myself up to new experiences. I felt like I was seeing the world through a new set of eyes. It was official- I was utterly addicted to travelling.

Part of my trip was a whirlwind Topdeck tour across Western Europe, and again, I had no idea how much this tour was going to affect the course of my life. After plastering photos of my time on the tour over social media, I NEVER expected to be approached by Topdeck and asked if they could use some of my Europe snaps for their next brochure. This was the beginning of an ongoing relationship with the tour company. I never dreamed that over the course of the next three years, I would photograph my way through sixteen different countries, seeing my photos on the front cover of Topdeck brochures, in the windows of travel agencies and even on billboards across the country. But, I am skipping ahead a little, as it took some time before all this came to pass.

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Once my year of working and travelling came to a close, I returned to Brisbane to find out that my family was moving to New Zealand. I had a big decision to make- stay in Brisbane and resume the life I had before my travels, or move over to New Zealand and start anew.  Before travelling, I never would have dreamed of leaving the place and the friends I’d grown up with. Yet travelling had changed something inside of me. I no longer craved consistency. Instead, I yearned for new adventures and experiences. Hence, after a lot of deliberation, I came to the decision that I would leave Brisbane and start a whole new chapter.

I had my heart set on doing something more meaningful with my year, and that turned out to be a long-term mission trip. At the start of 2014, I moved over to New Zealand with my parents so I could save up for this next trip. The first six months in New Zealand weren’t easy. I knew no one, and all my energy was spent working two jobs and trying to restart my photography business in New Zealand in order to save up every penny for my trip.

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Finally, the time came around to embark on a mission trip with the organization YWAM, where I was given the opportunity to volunteer in seven different countries over the course of five months. It was a life-changing trip in so many ways. Everywhere we went, we would volunteer with local organizations and ministries. The most incredible part was getting to know so many locals, hear their stories and help out in their communities.  Over these five months, I fell more deeply in love with travelling and I began to see just how meaningful travel could be.

It was actually during this time that I started my blog and named it Polkadot Passport, inspired by the polka dotted passport holder my mum had gifted me for the trip. I intended to use the blog to document my travels and let my family and friends know what I was up to on my mission trip. Also, it was the perfect way to stop spamming everyone’s facebook newsfeed with all my photos. I honestly had no clue what Polkadot Passport would evolve into or where my humble little travel blog was going to take me.Guatemala (271)

Once my five months with YWAM came to a close, I expected to come home with a zeal for life and a clear direction for the future. Yet quite the opposite happened. The reality of being back to everyday life caused me to fall flat, and I had no idea what to do next. After two years spent travelling, I started to feel the societal pressure to settle down and “get my life together”. At the beginning of 2015, I made the decision to move to Sydney, go back to studying at University, and attempt to live a normal, settled life. At the time, I was in a long-distance relationship with a guy from Sydney, so this inevitably had a big influence on the decisions I was making. I really convinced myself that I would be happy if I had a settled life. As much as I knew deep-down that I wanted to make a full-time career of travelling and photography, the idea still didn’t seem to line up with reality, as much as I wanted it to.

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When I was living in Sydney, I randomly attended a seminar on how to become a full-time blogger. It was the first time that it actually dawned on me that blogging could be an actual career path. One of the speakers on the panel was a full-time travel blogger, and this seriously inspired me. At the time, I had a VERY small following on Polkadot Passport, but I was suddenly motivated to try and grow my blog and see where it could get me. Annoyingly, I had just starting studying again, and suddenly my workload was massive. Every free moment I had was devoted to my blog, but there just didn’t seem to be enough hours in a day to put my full efforts into my studies and my blog.

After being out of contact with Topdeck for quite some time and starting to feel like that window of opportunity had been shut, I received an email asking if I wanted to go on a trip to take photos for their upcoming USA and Europe brochures. I could hardly believe it- I was actually going to be paid to travel and take photos! It was a dream come true, and just about the only thing that kept me sane through my first semester of studying in Sydney.

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As soon as the university break had begun, I set off on my first all-expenses paid work trip to go on Topdeck tours and take photos in the USA, Turkey and Croatia. I felt so alive- everything I had been dreaming about was finally turned into reality.  This time, I didn’t want the dream to end. I didn’t want to go back and face the reality of life in Sydney. The more I traveled, the more Polkadot Passport grew, and although I was far from monetizing the blog, I was excited by what my travel blog and Instagram were turning into.

I reached the point where I had to make a massive decision. I was scheduled to catch a flight home to Sydney just in time to start semester two classes. Everything was lined up. But I decided not to catch that flight to Sydney. Instead, I decided to keep travelling for longer, and made the call that I would focus all my time, money and attention on pursuing Polkadot Passport with everything I had.

I eventually flew back to my family in Auckland and decided to re-establish my home base there. I couldn’t afford the extortionate Sydney rental prices if I was going to go all-in and travel as much as I wanted to.  Once I got back, I started working tirelessly from home. For the next few months, I lived and breathed Polkadot Passport. I’d wake up and start work at 8am and wouldn’t switch off my computer or my phone till 12am. I checked my emails at least 100 times a day and Instagram probably even more. I was reading every blogging how-to guide, reaching out to as many companies as I could and doing everything I could to build up my readership and social media following. After the first month of running Polkadot Passport “full-time”, I had barely made $100. But I was determined, and after a few months, my efforts finally started paying off. At last, I found myself being pursued by companies wanting to work with me, I started receiving press trip invitations and a following that was building by the day!

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Since this time, Polkadot Passport has continued to grow. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunities that I’ve received, and every day, I have to remind myself to not take any of it for granted. Today, by the world’s standards, I am very much “living the dream”. But I don’t want to end the story here.

What I have learnt throughout this journey is there is so much more to life that just myself. In the world of travel blogging, it’s an ongoing challenge not to be self-focused. You are working by yourself, for yourself, and everything you do is about your own experiences.  It’s so easy to get caught up in a cycle of wanting to gain more followers, be invited on more press trips, work with more companies, earn more money. The problem is, chasing after such things never makes you content because you are always wanting more. It’s a vicious cycle. Travelling for yourself is one thing. I can admit that I’ve done a whole lot of it. You go to places as a tourist, see the highlights of the destination, take your selfies and leave. But when you start travelling for others, you unlock something far deeper and more meaningful.

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This brings me back to my first overseas adventure at the age of fifteen, which was a mission trip to Cambodia. This trip was essential to what sparked my love of travel and my curiosity to see and learn about the world. It wasn’t an easy trip by any means. I was confronted with the atrocious history of the Khmer Rouge as we visited the genocide museum and Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, where my fifteen year-old eyes gazed upon towers full of human skulls and bones.  I witnessed what true poverty looked like as we went to hand food packages out at a massive garbage dump in the city, home to thousands of families, many of whom were forced to scavenge for food amongst the rubbish. I had my heart shattered into pieces as we visited a rescue home for girls who had been victims of sex trafficking.  It was here that I met girls my age and younger that had been sold into sex slavery as children.

Whilst I had been living in a bubble of western privilege, wealth and safety, these young girls had been abused, devalued and dehumanized. As a fifteen-year-old, I had been raised in a safe, sheltered bubble of Western comfort, and I was suddenly being confronted by massive, real-world issues. The trip completely shook up my world, and I vowed that I never wanted to simply exist in the sheltered bubble of my adolescence. I wanted to learn more about the world and I wanted to make some kind of impact in it. I didn’t want to live a small life then and I don’t want to live a small life now.

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Don’t get me wrong, running a travel blog has enabled me to visit some mind-blowing places and do some mind-blowing things. Yet staying in a luxurious five-star hotel, going on a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon or picnicking under the Eiffel tower has never given me quite the same sense of satisfaction as when I have been able to travel with a bigger meaning and purpose in mind.

Why am I telling you all this?

Firstly, as a challenge to myself, to do more than just travel for my own gain. I want to make this public declaration to no longer remain complacent and comfortable. Instead, I want to be more meaningful with my travels and with this platform that I have been given. Moving forward, I would like to use Polkadot Passport to build a community of like-minded, world-changing travelers. I’m still figuring out what this looks like, and I have a long way to go in terms of evolving my blog into a platform of change. But I do hope you’ll come along for the journey, wherever it may lead.

Secondly, I wanted to put this out as a challenge for everyone out there who travels or aspires to make a career out of travelling. How can you play your part so you can travel for more than just yourself? Right now, we are living in a crazy world. There are hundreds and thousands of children out there starving to death, innocent families fleeing their war-torn countries, young girls shackled to sex slavery. These problems are overwhelmingly massive, but we can’t let ourselves get dwarfed by these issues. If each of us play our part, we CAN make a difference. We are designed for more than just ourselves, and if we all start living for each other, change will be inevitable.

Seriously, lets band together and start a travel revolution!

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A massive thank you to every single person who has followed along this crazy journey with me so far and I hope you’ll stick around to see what is next for Polkadot Passport!

Love Nicola x

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PS. If any of this resonates with you, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear your ideas, dreams or any upcoming projects around meaningful travel!

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42 Comments

  • Reply
    girlintriguedby
    August 31, 2016 at 8:54 am

    Hi Nicola!
    Grear post! Thanks for answering the questions I’m sure everyone has been asking for a long time!

    P.S your posts are so genuine ! Absolutely love it. And makes us love readig your blog even more! Best of luck with your travels :)

  • Reply
    Ellen Rose
    August 31, 2016 at 10:59 am

    This is an awesome idea! It would be so great to see more travel bloggers use their platform to make the world a better place.

  • Reply
    Soph
    August 31, 2016 at 11:16 am

    I absolutely love following your journey. Hands down my favourite travel blogger! Keep up the brilliant work xo

  • Reply
    Meen Hall
    August 31, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Love this topic! Great post. Would love to see more of this!

  • Reply
    Jojo
    August 31, 2016 at 12:36 pm

    Thank you for this post! I loved every bit of what you wrote. I’ve been following you for the last few months and started to get really interested in being a travel blogger/photographer, and last week, I’ve declared myself to be it! So naturally you are a huge inspiration to me! And I love what you’ve also declared for yourself and I’d love to be part of the community you’re creating, however it looks like!

  • Reply
    Courtney
    August 31, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    I loved reading this post and learning about your journey to where you are now. It’s wonderful that you want to use what you have to make an impact–I think we should all strive to do something bigger than ourselves.

  • Reply
    Sandra Shakespeare
    August 31, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Hi Nicola, I absolutely adore your blog and am so inspired that someone at such a young age has such drive and determination to do her own thing in her own way! You go, girl! Your photography is stunning and I love reading your travel tales. I actually met with with a member of your family (Kris McIntyre) not so long ago to get a bit of advice on my own blog and writing – what an awesome lady she is! Reading this post made me think of two of my friends who are also travel bloggers and are doing what inspires you – making a difference with travel. Most recently they have created a travel kids club, educating kids on travel and other cultures. Just thought you might like to have a look for some inspiration. Their website is http://www.fivepointfive.org. Can’t wait to see where your journey takes you. Sandra xx

  • Reply
    Chalsie
    August 31, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Fantastic post Nicola! I’ve had a very similar realisation lately when I was looking into volunteer work. I came to realise that it’s actually difficult to find ethical volunteer organisations – shocking, I know! Since then, I started questioning how travel is ethical and sustainable.
    So Nicola, count me in on your travel revolution!
    Chalsie x

  • Reply
    csaradar
    August 31, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Nicola I enjoyed reading this post and discovering you have a calling to do humanitarian work. I love that you are trying to build something do meaningful and would love to work with you somehow. I recently volunteered in Greece at a two refugee camps and it was life changing. I have similar goals as you…I want my blog to bring attention to these issues yet also help fund me working with refugees. At age 42 I’m a tad late to the travel blogging game but I’m still working at it. I think you would love volunteering where I did and you have such a wonderful platform to help these poor people. If you’re interested in more info feel free to contact me☺

  • Reply
    cheahnam
    August 31, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    Thank you for being so honest and writing a post about it – some people certainly don’t realise how hard it is to get started and to pursue your dream :) well done!

  • Reply
    Mel
    August 31, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    Hey Nicola,
    first of all: Thank you for these honest words you found to explain your feelings about traveling.
    This is such an amazing, inspiring post and I am very happy that I had the possibility to read it!
    You are on an amazing journey and I hope that we can learn from it even more in the future.
    Very well done!

  • Reply
    kowalkowskiallison
    September 1, 2016 at 3:34 am

    I will definitely be following along as you transition this space a little more towards meaningful, world changing travel! That is the direction I want to take my blog too, but I agree.. There’s a lot of figuring out to get to that point. I have always been a huge fan of your blog and I’m even more excited to see what’s to come. Here’s to a #travelrevolution and accepting the challenge or traveling for more than just yourself :) thank you for sharing your stories, photos, and perspectives!

  • Reply
    Victoria
    September 1, 2016 at 4:23 am

    I too think about this all the time, especially how to make a different without following the “voluntourism” trend… xx

  • Reply
    Kimberly Oyler
    September 1, 2016 at 11:55 am

    i have absolutely no idea how you ended up in my blog roll, but i’m so glad you did and i’m EXTRA glad i clicked on this post today. i love love love photography and traveling but i’m always wondering how that will be incorporated into my life. i did YWAM last january in Kona, HI and actually leave on monday to go back and staff for two years. so fun to find a like minded person like you!

  • Reply
    takemetheretraveller
    September 1, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    Loved reading this and love your blog!!

  • Reply
    Eric Lin
    September 1, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Keep changing the world homie. We all have your back :)

  • Reply
    Rachel Long
    September 1, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    Ever since returning from a university art tour in Europe a few years ago, I’ve had the urge to continue travelling the world. While I’ve not yet jumped on an aircraft or boat and gone anywhere yet, I have begun research on how to make the most out of my experiences while also considering sustainability and ethics. I am so thankful for role models like yourself who prove that women can make bold decisions and follow their dreams. I look forward to seeing where the future takes you. Keep being awesome, Nicola! :)

  • Reply
    Amy Woodward
    September 1, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    Hey Nicola thanks so much the amazing writing! It was such an amazing read. I myself am 21 years old with a camera always in my hand wanting to explore the world with it. I did a top deck trip through Europe and couldn’t get enough. My only issue holding me back is ‘money’. I would love any tips you have on making it work. I even took a full time job at flight centre to get me into this industry and I plan on staying in it for a lifetime! Would love to chat to you one day about it all. Any advice would be incredible!
    Thanks heaps x amy woodward

  • Reply
    Leah Davis
    September 1, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    I love hearing other bloggers’ stories, and yours is certainly a fascinating one! Your photos are gorgeous, it’s easy to see why Topdeck wanted you. And I’m really touched by you wanting to do bigger things through travel than just traveling for your own pleasure. It’s something we all need to do more of. Thanks for sharing. x

  • Reply
    Yazzi Williams
    September 2, 2016 at 12:18 am

    Nicola, this is so awesome! I’ll message you over the next few days hey. Just reading this brought more clarity to something that has been on my heart for a while & I’ve really had a lot spoken into it over the last few months :) So keen to share with you!! <3

  • Reply
    Sara
    September 2, 2016 at 3:52 am

    Qué hermoso blog! You are one of my favorites bloggers..

  • Reply
    Lia Levina
    September 2, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    Nicola this is so inspiring! I didn’t remember how I discovered your blog, but I’m glad I did! Travel blogs like yours is what inspire me to become a full time traveler, and while I’m still far away from being one, I’ll keep pushing to make it happen. It’s my ultimate dream :) Thank you for sharing this!

  • Reply
    blondemoments
    September 3, 2016 at 1:54 am

    thank you so much for sharing this. it is so inspiring and really helpful! go girl :)

  • Reply
    Bhavna
    September 3, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    I actually heard about you and a little bit of your journey from one of your girlfriends who went to Bali with you last year. She came to get her lashes tinted from me and when I heard your story on how you had ended up with that trip, I found out your account name and followed you on Instagram immediately.
    Such an incredible story and so very inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing something so personal x

  • Reply
    andelec
    September 4, 2016 at 12:21 am

    So inspiring! Thank you for sharing your passion with the rest of us! Traveling for yourself is a beautiful thing, traveling for the pursuit of helping others is something all together more beautiful…and it can keep on giving beauty even after your gone☺️

  • Reply
    andelec
    September 4, 2016 at 12:35 am

    *you’re

  • Reply
    Renee Hahnel
    September 4, 2016 at 8:45 am

    You are a big inspiration of mine Nicola! I love your positive, caring and adventurous attitude and that you have the confidence to pursue your dreams. Keep inspiring :)

  • Reply
    Mary
    September 4, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    What a life of adventure. Keep doing what you’re doing, you’re such an inspiration to all of us! Your photos make me so happy! :) x

  • Reply
    Elona
    September 5, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Thank you so much for this post! I am beyond motivated to work harder than ever on my travel blog. Like you, I’m also 22 and I run a charity for underprivileged kids with cancer & I travel full time while working in a corporate finance position. You are such an inspiration girl :) keep it up ! Can’t wait to read more of your stories.

  • Reply
    Style
    September 5, 2016 at 10:01 am

    This is so beautiful and super inspiring! x

  • Reply
    Kseniya
    September 6, 2016 at 3:56 am

    That’s really great! Very inspiring) Made me want to work on my blog more and don’t hesitate to travel solo)

  • Reply
    jenellewitty
    September 7, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    This is one of the best posts I have read in a long time. I was glued to the screen! Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. I wasn’t aware of how it had all unfolded for you or how you had made your path to what it is now. This is so inspiring, thank you!
    xx Jenelle
    http://www.inspiringwit.com/

  • Reply
    travel4lifeblog
    September 11, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    Nicola, Thank you for sharing a genuine and honest post with us! We can feel that you wrote it with your heart. We believe that with passion and hard work anything is possible and your post reinforced our idea! Thank you for sharing a true and genuine story! Good on you for following your heart! Keep up the great work.
    Patrick and Cécile :)

  • Reply
    Louise Brady
    September 28, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    Nicola, I have been following your posts for a long time and have always viewed you as an inspiration. This post has not only encouraged me to continue to peruse my passions but has ignited a fire to DO something meaningful. I have been reflecting on this a lot lately and as someone who is very passionate about early childhood development, I have been longing to use my passion/gifts for a greater good. I really feel like this one post has given me the push i needed. Thank you for your honest and heart felt words. All the best, Louise

  • Reply
    Tiffany Tran
    October 6, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Nicola, thank you so much for writing this. You are so real. From a travel blogger’s perspective, it’s so easy for us to desire ‘more’ and slip ourselves into a position where we might even forget why we’re doing this in the first place. We need to constantly give ourselves reality checks! From a traveller’s/reader’s perspective, it’s so great that you’re raising awareness of travelling for something more meaningful. I’m such a big believer of inspiring travellers to see the bigger picture. As a blogger who writes about mindful travel, I really do think having more meaningful experiences starts at first in being more conscious. This is why I wrote ‘How To Be A Conscious Traveller’. http://talesofardour.com/how-to-be-a-conscious-traveller/, which I think you can totally resonate with. :) Love your work. – Tiff

  • Reply
    Bart De Sloover
    October 8, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    Verry good article.
    Greatings from 4 travelfanaticals ( 2 children and parents)
    http://www.reisfanaten.be

  • Reply
    Tiago
    October 13, 2016 at 8:37 pm

    Great perspective of the world. I like your atitude.
    Real nice pictures

  • Reply
    gracesays
    October 18, 2016 at 9:16 am

    I started my blog when I began my outreach with my family last December. I couldn’t bring my camera along because we were traveling with a team of twenty-one people and someone had a camera already, but I regret not bringing it! I wanted to document so many things with my camera, and though my phone did the job, it wasn’t a great quality photo. I just wanted to say that even though I’ve only found your blog today, I am so inspired by your experiences. It’s even more welcoming to read about another blogger’s experiences through DTS and learn from them as well! I’m a teenager now, but when I graduate, I plan on returning to Kona where I did my Foundation school to enroll in a DTS school:)

    love from Grace Says

  • Reply
    Celia Voivodich
    November 23, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    I love your heart Nicola! It is so similar to me. And as someone who has been travelling since a child, and solo since 2010, I am really wanting to make this into a career. Not only for myself but to change the lives of others around me. I am just learning the technical side, which is proving to be just as overwhelming as I imagined. I am on the way though, and would love as much help and inspiration from like-minded people as possible. If you have time to answer any questions please respond to me! Would be much appreciated. So much love xxx Celia

  • Reply
    Carly Nogawski
    November 24, 2016 at 9:12 am

    I love this post so much!! So inspirational. Every travel blogger should read this <3

  • Reply
    Travel Writing Full-Time: Joke or Jackpot? – TravelWritingTricks
    November 27, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    […] browsing the web I also came across an article titled “The Honest Truth on How I Became a Full-Time Travel Blogger” written by a young lady named Nicola Easterby (Polkadot Passport) who’s travel blog recently […]

  • Reply
    The.Restless.Worker
    January 11, 2017 at 3:48 am

    This post is so inspirational! Thank you for sharing Nicola. It’s definitely a dream of mine to be able to be a full-time blogger. Who knows, maybe one day it’ll happen. Reading posts like this give me inspiration for more.

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