“If you don’t work towards building your own dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs.”
A friend said that to me in 2013, while I was working 12-hour days for 4 weeks straight on a mining project in remote Western Australia, and it shook me to my core.
I had never really put much thought into the future. No big aspirations for a career or stability, but I did know deep down that I wanted something different out of life.
My love for travelling the world had made up the bulk of the previous 6 years, and while I didn’t know how, I understood that I wanted to keep pursuing this impossible dream.
But when I heard that quote, it hit me at a time when I was at a crossroads in life.
I was working on the mines for one reason only – to pay off my debts and save for the next trip, backpacking from Thailand to South Africa without flying.
Yet as the months rolled on I started to become comfortable with the routine. I didn’t mind the hard work, the money was good, and my bosses were hinting at future projects and promotions.
I shared my ambitious goals with a few work colleagues, and most of them told me I was crazy to be willing to give up the job to go travelling.
And started to I believe them.
Any reasonable person would have kept playing the game of life. Opportunities won’t always come your way, and at some point you have to grow up, right?
But right when I was starting to doubt my dreams of exploring the world again, my friend nonchalantly said those words to me, and it immediately energised my original perspective.
I spoke to Alesha that night, who herself was was working 3 jobs, and we both agreed to fully commit to our goals, despite how daunting it seemed.
We weren’t happy working in our current situation, and we longed to find a path that was uniquely our own. Something that allowed us to make a living while travelling.
We had our own dreams to build, and we weren’t going to give them up so easily.
Alesha and I handed our resignations in a few weeks later, sold our campervan, bought a point-and-shoot camera, started a travel blog, and hit the road.
We had enough money to keep us on the road for almost two years, as long as we kept a very tight budget.
That gave us two years to try and build a future that we both wanted, but neither of us knew how to attain.
On January 23rd, 2014 we jumped on one-way ticket to Thailand, ready to tackle the world.
We were filled with uncertainty, but excited to be working towards building our dreams.
The Competition That Changed Our Lives
A few months later I was sitting in a hammock in northern Thailand, staring at the page for the 2014 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship.
A buddy had sent me the competition link and suggested I submit an entry.
We had been working hard on our blog, becoming passionate about documenting our travel experiences but still completely clueless as to how to monetise them.
I read through the details and started to see a window of opportunity opening up in front of me.
The winners of the scholarship would be flown to Europe and mentored by one of the world’s most prominent travel writers, Alex Leviton, kickstarting a new and exciting career in the lucrative field of travel journalism.
I had originally laughed it off. After all, I wasn’t a travel writer. I had barely graduated from high school, and besides creating amateur blog posts for our website, I didn’t know the first thing about being a travel journalist.
Yet there I was, staring at the submission page, watching as the deadline counted down. It was closing in less than an hour.
“If you don’t work towards building your own dreams…” was running through my head, and with some final words of encouragement from Alesha, I punched out a short story about Latoya, our campervan in Canada, and hit the submit button with just 15 minutes to go.
I then promptly forgot about the competition, positive that I didn’t have the ability to make the cut.
A month later we were riding motorbikes across Laos, having the time of our lives but burning through our money, when an email landed in my inbox.
“Your piece has been chosen as a winning entry in our 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship.”
I sat there in disbelief, reading the text over and over. I thought it was a prank, but a late-night phone call with World Nomads confirmed it to be true.
The short story that I almost didn’t submit due to self-doubt had suddenly changed the course of my life forever.
What’s Happened Since Then
I flew to Europe and did a 3-day intensive training course with Alex Leviton, who not only taught me how to improve my skills as a travel writer, but also shared secrets on how to break into the industry.
Afterwards I travelled around Belgium, Portugal and Spain, on an all-expenses paid trip, creating content for World Nomads.
When the trip was over I flew back to Southeast Asia to continue my travels. But this time I was armed with the tools and knowledge to turn my experiences into opportunities.
I used the scholarship accolades to start pitching paid stories to travel publications.
It worked, and soon the list of bylines built up. Starting with smaller outlets like Matador Network and Thought Catalog, my resume soon grew to include some of the largest media in the world, including CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider and Yahoo!.
Just a few months after attending the scholarship, I was now being paid to document my travels. I was now a professional travel writer.
This not only helped keep the savings account topped up, it also led to the growth and future success of this travel blog.
Every time a new article would be published, we’d get new readers and followers come over to NOMADasaurus. Those bylines also boosted our credibility, and we used that to leverage partnerships and new income streams in our own business.
Today NOMADasaurus is a successful company in its own right, with a team of 8 people working with us behind the scenes.
We get paid to travel, take photos and post about it online. A world away from operating heavy machinery in the Pilbara, which never satisfied my own personal aspirations.
We worked towards building our own dreams and have never been happier.
I’m often asked what was the turning point for us to go from amateur travel bloggers to professionals. And I can confidently say that it all started that one evening in Pai, by putting together an entry for the World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship.
The 2020 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship
The World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship honestly changed my life, and I’m so thrilled to see that it is still running and better than ever in 2020.
This is one of the biggest opportunities around to break into the travel journalism industry, and you really have nothing to lose by entering.
I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out in the World Nomads headquarters the past few months as being interviewed on some of their podcasts, and after chatting to the team I know that they host this scholarship purely for the love of travel and storytelling, and trying to create the next wave of professional travel writers.
This year there will be 3 winners, with some incredible prizes up for grabs.
The scholarship is based around a 14-day trip to the Caribbean, where you will be coached by legendary New York Times travel writer Tim Neville on the ins and outs of the industry.
You’ll then be sent out to explore the crystal clear waters and tropical beaches of the Caribbean with Bamaba Travel, writing about your experiences for the official World Nomads blog.
All international flights and on-ground expenses are covered, and in addition to the travels, the winners will also receive support from Selina Co-Working Spaces, travel clothing from Toad&Co, travel insurance, and even an end-of-assignment portfolio review by National Geographic editor-at-large, Norie Quintos.
If this sounds like something you’re interested in, don’t let self-doubt stop you from entering. I’m living proof that anybody can win this, and that the rewards are immense.
If you’ve ever wanted to try something new and make a living out of travel writing, this is the perfect opportunity.
How to Enter
Here is everything you need to know to enter the 2020 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship.
1. Choose Your Theme
These are the three themes that your story must draw inspiration from this year.
- ‘A leap into the unknown’
- ‘Making a local connection’
- ‘I didn’t expect to find’
Pick one that jumps out to you and create your story from there.
For example, the theme I chose in 2014 was ‘The first time I saw…‘ and I wrote about the first time I saw our campervan in Canada and the adventures that she would eventually lead us on.
2. Write Your Story
This is obviously the most challenging part, but here is where you get your chance to shine!
Write the travel essay in 700 words or less. This will force you to keep the piece concise and detailed, which in itself is a wonderful skill to have.
3. Fill Out The Application Form
Add your contact details and a short bio to the application form so you can be contacted in case you win.
Applications are open now, and they close on March 11th! The winners will be announced on April 30th.
The 4-day workshop begins on September 13th, and your 10-day trip around the Caribbean starts straight after that. Make sure you are available for these dates if you are selected.
Keep Following Your Dreams
No matter what happens, by simply entering the 2020 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship you have already taken a leap into the unknown and taken a chance at changing your life forever.
If you have a love of exploring the world, being a travel journalist is one of the most exciting careers imaginable.
Even if you don’t win this year’s scholarship, don’t give up on following your dreams. Opportunities are waiting around every corner. You just need to take them when they appear.
Good luck, and I hope to see you on the road one day.