How I live the dream… but it isn’t always dreamy

One morning, I’m waking up in the giant king-sized bed of a 600-pounds-a-night hotel room in London, with arguably the most optimum view over the city and a ridiculously excessive breakfast spread in front of me.

The next morning, I’m waking up on the lumpy mattress of my 10-pound-a-night hostel, in a stuffy room which I’m sharing with 16 other bodies.

My life is FULL of contrasts.

When people scroll through my Instagram feed or find out that I travel the world for a living, I often get a similar response.

“WOW! You are living the dream!”

The VERY last thing I want to do is sound conceited. But from the outside looking in, I guess I can see why people make this remark. Yet, something about this comment makes me uneasy.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a full-time travel blogger IS a dream come true for me. I feel so blessed to get to wake up every morning and do what I am passionate about. But I want to let you in on a little secret…

“Living the dream” isn’t always dreamy.

There, I said it. To me, the expression “living the dream” implies a constant state of happiness. The reality is that NONE of us can live on a continual high. That is why I feel the need to tell you that beyond the photos of me lying on a beach with a cocktail in my hand or picnicking beneath the Eiffel tower, there is a lot more to the story that isn’t being told.

Social media is a trap- it creates a game of comparison that we all find ourselves caught up in at one time or another. We stumble upon someone’s picture-perfect Instagram feed and believe that they live a glamorous, exciting life, ALL OF THE TIME. This causes us to think of our lives as less and downplay our own journey, even though we are comparing ourselves to a non-existent reality.

Instagram is the ultimate tool for meticulously curating a version of our lives- the version that we want the world to see. Our IG feeds do NOT paint the whole picture of our lives, or even a tiny slither of the picture for that matter. We forget that behind every photo, there is a normal human being- a human being who has just as many insecurities, and who goes through just as much pain and just as many bad days as the rest of us.

Somehow, I’ve managed to experience this phenomenon on both ends of the spectrum. On one hand, I’ve been caught up in the comparison game, where I’ve wasted my energy on social media, coveting the lives of other people, thinking if I had that person’s body, wardrobe, job or relationship that I would be happy.


On the other hand, I now find myself in the very strange position where people play the comparison game with me. Many people seem to have the perception that because I travel the world for a living, that I am “living the dream” and consequently, am always happy.

I can’t blame people for having this perception. If anything, I am the one to blame, for painting a seemingly picture-perfect life on Instagram. Of course, the reality behind the images is FAR from picture-perfect. Travelling, and life in general, is an unpredictable rollercoaster ride full of dramatic highs and lows. It is all too easy to forget this basic concept of life as we become engrossed in the world of social media where everyone’s lives appear sugar-coated.

Let me take a quick moment to highlight some of the moments of my life that aren’t as dreamy as they look through the Instagram filters:

  • The loneliness that hits when I don’t get to see my family or friends for months on end or get to hang out in a community
  • The reality of running my own business which is a 24/7 task, meaning I am never able to fully switch off and disconnect from work (even when everyone thinks I am on a constant “holiday”)
  • Getting sick whilst travelling and having to navigate foreign doctors’ surgeries and hospitals when I just want to be in my own bed
  • The difficulty of not having any sort of routine, making things like exercise and eating healthily a real struggle
  • The time I spend every single day unpacking and repacking my beast of a suitcase and lugging it from place to place

Just to be clear- my aim of writing this post is not to whine about the not-so-glamorous parts of my job or to be ungrateful for the amazing journey that I’m blessed to be on. What I want to highlight is the fact that travelling full-time is NOT the key to happiness. Nor is having the seemingly “perfect” body, relationship, job or Instagram feed.

So, if it isn’t these things that bring us contentedness, then what ARE the keys to happiness? Of course for everyone it is going to look different, but let me share with you a few of my own.

My Five Keys to Happiness

  1. Quitting the comparison game- I’ve had to teach myself to stop yearning after the things I don’t have. Now, I try my hardest to focus on what I have been blessed with- Taking MY strengths, gifts and passions and working towards MY OWN goals.
  2. Focusing on the important- I now try to invest my energy on the things that I know will bring about LASTING contentment. Instead of getting caught up in the pursuit of money, fame or looks, I try to focus on the things that are not fleeting, such as meaningful relationships and experiences.
  3. Surrounding myself with great people- After so many years of travelling and not being in one place, I’ve really had to learn how to build solid friendships that stand the test of time and distance. I now surround myself with amazing people who inspire me, encourage me and help me thrive, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  4. Be PRESENT in the moment– With the appendage of a smart phone at the tip of my fingers and the constant noise of social media in my ears, it so easy to get caught up in the online world and remove myself from the beauty of the moment in front of me. I now try to put my phone away during these moments, for example when I am hanging out with friends or watching an incredible sunset, and allow myself to be fully present.
  5. Living for something bigger than myself- For me, this is my faith. Having a relationship with God brings  a greater sense of meaning to my life. I am able to live with the knowledge that there is more to my life than just travelling and taking pretty photos, and that my value doesn’t come from my likes or followers, but comes from God.

Living the dream

So, living “the dream” may not always be dreamy. But when you pursue a life that is filled with adventure, great people and a meaningful purpose, it’s still going to be a dream that you’ll never want to wake up from.



To conclude, my video by the lovely Petra from Restless Child really sums it all up:

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  • Reply
    March 16, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    I totally agree. I might be not a well-known travel blogger myself, but I can understand what you are saying about not being superhappy all the time. No one is happy every moment of the day. Sometimes you simply wake up on the wrong side of the bed and there you have it.

    Still, in my opinion, traveling gives positive energy a chance to dawn on you and puts at ease your mind a little. Again, that’s different for everyone…

  • Reply
    March 16, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    It’s refreshing to see another, honest side of travel blogging/photography. It’s true how easy it is to get lost in social and the perfectly painted picture! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    March 16, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    I really like that you’re talking/writing about this. It’s so important. Unfortunately, most IG ‘influencers’ decide to go with super dreamy style (no offense but you included). Perhaps because that’s what the audience likes to see so that’s the fastest way to ‘success’. People like to escape the reality and look at other ‘perfect lives’ even though it’s making them feel miserable about their own lives. I think it’s every Instagram user’s who has a large number of followers responsibility to either constantly talk about this and remind everyone that perfect pictures are made up reality or simply not go the dreamy path (assuming they care about these issues). I think this is especially important for younger boys and girls who might be living in agony wishing to have that amazing life they see on IG. Just a ton of random thoughts. Hope you don’t mind. That’s for writing this again!

  • Reply
    Renee Hahnel
    March 17, 2017 at 3:20 am

    Such a great article Nicola! I totally feel you and often tell people that it’s not all that glamorous being a freelance photographer & blogger. It’s hard work! But I wouldn’t have it any other way…at least for now :)

  • Reply
    March 17, 2017 at 7:14 am

    Nicola, you are such an inspiration! I love that you are being completely real and honest!

    When I was on many trips in one particular year, I realised the important things are family/friends and a great foundation is one of the key to happiness! However, travel made me appreciate the amazing opportunities here in Australia!

    I LOVE that you address being in the moment and putting down your phone, it’s something that everyone really needs to work on, and the memory will be far better than any photo!

    I love reading your blog btw!

    xxxxxxx SAMMY!!!!!!!

  • Reply
    Madison Goeser
    March 17, 2017 at 9:17 am

    As a teenage girl obsessed with traveling from a young age, it was so so enlightening for me to hear what you had to say and what Petra had to say! I was getting so much information from the media that was telling me that “to travel is to live” and “travel is the ultimate source of happiness” and I fully believed all of it! Reading this and watching that video, I could FEEL my mindset change. I became aware of all of these messages that society had been putting out, all of these messages that I had been faithfully believing, and not just that…I WORSHIPPED them. I truly believed that to be happy I would have to travel and to me travel was a competition and also a way to see if I could find happiness. I am so glad that I have been led to this article, to this point in my life so that I could realize before it is too late what travel is really about and what it is really like. Now I know that I shouldn’t change my life so that I can be some instagram star, but instagram a tiny bit and focus on creating some awesome moments and relationships. I am so fortunate to know this before I start dedicating my life to a dream I never knew I didn’t need. Thank you Nicola and thank you Petra!

  • Reply
    March 17, 2017 at 10:11 am

    10 pounds a night sounds expensive for a shared room. Way better is available, you should check out the accommodation at the Bird’s Nest Bar in Kampot, Cambodia. $3US a night for a hammock and mosquito net under the stars with an open air shower thrown in for free…

  • Reply
    Samantha Elisabeth
    March 17, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Oh my gosh yes to all of this. I remember when I first started to really get into the business of blogging, I’d read these posts or stories about becoming a full-time traveler, and it sounded exhausting. I infinitely prefer having a proper home base where I can just starfish onto the floor when I’m tired. ALSO the first six months of me really trying to delve into the analytics, marketing, etc side of blogging, I swear I put on at least 20lbs, ate pure crap courtesy of my nearby convenience store, and developed a bit of a stomach pooch from all the hunching over my desk.

    I think the trickery is in how we consume Instagram. If I ask my regular, non-blogging, non social media friends, they’d say they use it to share random snapshots, follow their friends, and follow the occasional celebrity or account with drool worthy photos. As someone who loves studying photography and photo editing, I love the styled, dreamy photos, but I can recognize they’re about 1 second in an otherwise diverse day. I imagine most don’t.

    AND AMEN ON #4. Even before I got into blogging and IG, I’d get so frustrated with my friends who insisted on keeping their phones on and running while we hung out. I make a conscious effort of getting my shots within 15-20 minutes and then just enjoying the moment.

  • Reply
    March 17, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    Great article! Is a lot of hard work but totally worth it! I really like your pics by the way :)

  • Reply
    March 17, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    I loveeee that you said quitting the comparison game. I’ve kind of turned a blinder to social media this week so I could disconnect and find out what really matters to ME, without influence. Thanks for sharing <3
    The Fernweh Wolf / Travel & Lifestyle Blog

  • Reply
    March 17, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Such a great article! Nicola, you were my inspiration to look for more adventure in my travels, and I travelled Europe for one month in January with that idea in mind. It was such a great experience, but yes, I did find out that it can also be very difficult, scary and/or lonely sometimes, so I can only start to imagine what it would be like to travel all year round. Thank you for inspiring us anyway, I can’t wait to read about your next adventure!

  • Reply
    March 17, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    I love that you incorporate your faith into your travels!

  • Reply
    March 17, 2017 at 6:52 pm

    Thank you for writing this, Nicola. I’m only travelling part time, but I know it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. After all, we still live our every day life when on the road. There are still things that need to be done. I admire you highly for being able to run a blog regularly while away. I tried that last year and it’s incredibly difficult! So hard to find a balance…I really respect professional bloggers, so many people have no idea how much effort is put into that.
    Ursa from The Cheerful Wanderer

  • Reply
    Aga | worldering around
    March 17, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    Thanks for that post, Nicola, I think it would be useful for many people! And even for the ones, who are aware of that, it might still be a good reminder, to stop and think about what is important in life.

    But I just wanted to add, that those are just not the problems of a full time travel blogger. You would face those challenges on any travels – regardless on how long or short they are. And it’s even harder when you run a travel blog on the side of your full time job, and still try to have a life and maintain good balance between work/blog/relationships and travel in the meantime. I am in position like this now and I often find myself cutting on sleep and trying to stretch hours of a day way too much than it’s possible. At least when you are a full travel blogger, you have more time to actually focus on the blog, even though that maybe not 100% of things that you need to do are the most enjoyable ones – but this is life, with its ups and downs, and we need to be grateful for what we have and work towards better goals :) Travel is not the answer for happiness, but nothing really is. You just need to find it yourself by focusing on what’s important to you.

    Happy travels,
    Aga |

  • Reply
    March 18, 2017 at 7:18 am

    I think this blog post is so, so important. From the perspective of a new travel blogger, seeing all the perfect photos on instagram doesn’t just set unrealistic expectations in life, but also unrealistic blogging expectations for someone just starting out. It’s always reassuring — and motivating — to know that appearances aren’t all that they seem and that so much tremendous hard work goes on behind the scenes. Thank you for this reminder!

  • Reply
    March 18, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks for this article,for sharing this.
    It’s absolutely true!
    Bisous depuis La France

  • Reply
    Lisa // Fjords & Beaches
    March 18, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    YES, Nicola! I loved reading this, and couldn’t agree with you more! I am definitely guilty of comparing myself to others on social media, even though I know better! Thank you for sharing :)

  • Reply
    March 19, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    I discovered your amazing photo with the flowers and thought how wonderful, then read your comment and thought this is a real woman!
    It’s so. I e to hear the ‘reality’ being spoken about as people sadly buy into the version that they want to believe or is often displayed in front of them. Even when people know that it’s not real they fall into the trap and try to chase someone else’s dream, happiness or life.
    We all need to proceed with caution to be honest as if we don’t keep level headed we could drive ourselves mad.
    Your post is spot on and once again thanks for sharing and being real! Happiness lives within and we must find it. The process is exciting too! That’s the key!
    Happy and safe travels!

  • Reply
    March 20, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing – such a great article, well written and so true! I experience it quite often that people only tend to see the good, not thinking about a 20 hours bus journey, a missing flight, the snoring roommate or the moments of loneliness or being fed up with traveling, something happening to your loved ones, a break up, or the missing of stability .. the list goes on. To travel is to live. And just because some of choose the life on the road, doesn’t mean that life runs past them. It is still the same life. I get carried away, but thanks again for sharing – loved it!

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