Guys, I’m feeling a little starstruck today. For this week’s The “Lucky” Ones interview series, one of my favorite bloggers agreed to talk travel, blogging success, and being self-employed. Sarah Von Bargen of Yes and Yes just so happens to be an expert on such topics. I respect Sarah a whole heck-of-a-lot and am psyched she had the time to answer some questions amidst her travels. Read on to see what she’s all about!
Sarah Von Bargen, of Yes and Yes fame, knows a thing or two about life, traveling, and writing about life and traveling. She’s taught ESL to children in Taiwan and to refugees from Southeast Asia in St. Paul, Minnesota and has visited countless countries in between. Most recently, Sarah spent six weeks traveling through Ireland, Sweden, Poland, and Iceland before landing in NYC. (Also, she basically wrote the book on traveling solo.)
When she’s not off seeing the world or managing her blog’s jam-packed editorial schedule, Sarah earns a living doing content marketing, or, as she likes to put it, “making you awesome on the Internet.” With several e-books and e-courses under her belt, she’s made a name for herself the-fashioned way: over the Internet.
Without further ado, Sarah Von Bargen!
How has saying “yes” opened you up to new possibilities? What power lies in that word?
For me, saying “yes” is about calculated risk taking and being honest with yourself about the type of life that works for you. I’ve said yes to lots of things that probably seem crazy—staying with people I’ve never met before while I travel, leaving huge portions of my trips unplanned, taking on clients I know to be “high maintenance” and taking breaks to travel right when work is going well. But because of all that yes-saying, I’ve had amazing adventures, made lifelong friends, and carved out a life that’s a perfect fit for me. Maybe not a perfect fit for everybody, but a perfect fit for me.
How do you stand out in the blogging world where just about everyone has something to say about everything?
Will you throw up in your mouth if I tell you that you just need to be yourself and write in your own voice? I’m sure there are things that interest you that aren’t being addressed by other bloggers. Two of my most popular blog series (True Story and New Things) were born not from any desire to create “viral content” but because I’m interested in everybody’s story and because I like to try new things and make lists. And very few blogs that I read did serious, thought-provoking interviews and most of the life-lists I saw on blogs were aimed at big, sweeping accomplishments. And I wanted to try more doable new things.
I guess my point is I wasn’t making an effort to “stand out” with these series. I was just being myself and creating the type of content I, myself, would like to read. And it turns out lots of other people want to read that stuff, too!
Running your own business is likely both challenging and rewarding. What are the best (and… not best) aspects of your job?
Best aspects: Helping companies and individuals I believe in connect with clients and customers who need them. Brainstorming new ideas I can implement or write about that day. Realizing that the weather is great and I can go outside and enjoy it. Knowing that working hard + implementing good ideas = more money/freedom for me (not more money/freedom for my employer). When a reader emails me and tells me that a True Story interview really touched them or that they’ve had the guts to travel on their own because they read about my travel adventures.
Not best aspects: When your biggest client is also your most annoying client. Unscheduled client phone calls on weekends or at night (which I very rarely answer). Chasing down the occasional overdue invoice.
In all your traveling, you’ve had some incredible experiences. But what were some of the not-so-wonderful experiences? Have there been any downright frustrating, terrifying, give up-worthy moments?
Of course! I get motion sickness quite easily so I’ve thrown up a million times on a million different types of transportation. I’ve inadvertently eaten congealed duck blood (I’m vegetarian), I’ve had lots of strangers take pictures of me without asking, I’ve screwed up my departure times/dates on at least five occasions, I’ve lost too much weight because I hate the food, I’ve washed my clothes in buckets for months at a time.
The only times I really felt unsafe or uncomfortable were on two occasions when I was doing homestays and my hosts dads came on to me. But I told them point blank that their behavior was inappropriate and if they tried anything again, I’d tell their wives. They left me alone after that.
Without giving too much away from your Wanderlust Workbook, what are some of the necessary steps to taking the leap and traveling the world?
It mostly just comes down to planning and saving money! You don’t really even have to plan the actual travel part that much—it’s more about subletting your apartment, dealing with work, getting visas and vaccinations, etc. I assembled a one-year outline of all the things you should do to prepare for long-term travel.
Have you dealt with naysayers along the way (whether other people or your own mind)? How do you keep them from affecting or discouraging you?
I have been extremely, extremely fortunate in that I’ve had virtually no nay-sayers in my life. When I do encounter them, it’s usually more a “concerned” sort of nay-saying. Like, they’re worried I won’t “meet a nice guy and settle down.”
I realize that they’re just viewing my life through their own lenses—which is something we all do. They’re happy being married with kids and a house and a 9-5 job and they’re worried that I can’t actually be happy without those things. So I know that their concern is really just their way of showing they care about me and my well-being.
Were you always an adventurous spirit? Describe your childhood and how it shaped who you are today.
Sort of! I grew up in the countryside and both my parents are elementary school teachers so they had summers off. They’d both traveled a lot before they had me and my dad lived in Europe for a few years so travel was totally “normal” to them. We’d roadtrip for big portions of each summer and hosted a foreign exchange student. So when I was 18 and wanted to go on an exchange program to Germany, they didn’t bat an eyelash.
How does one look as adorably stylish and put together as you do while still packing minimally? You must have secrets.
You flatterer! The basics are: pack things that don’t wrinkle, can be worn in layers, and match. Add a few colorful accessories and you’re good to go! You can read my definitive “What/How To Pack” post here.
What does time management look like to you? How do you avoid burnout with a packed editorial schedule on top of business and pleasure?
I have three really basic tricks.
1) Every morning I write my daily to-do list using a fine tip Sharpie in a beautiful journal. I have to write it out by hand on beautiful paper. For some reason to-do apps and lists on the back of envelopes don’t work for me. I don’t take them seriously!
2) I turn on Leechblock from 8-12:00 and 12:30-5:00 every day and block myself from Facebook and Twitter. It’s not an exaggeration to say this is life changing.
3) I use the Pomodoro technique. It’s so easy and incredibly helpful!
Also, I try not to work on any one project for more than three hours a day or after 7 pm. The quality of my work very, very noticeably decreases after that point!
What town, city, or country do you long to visit over and over? What about it makes it feel like home away from home?
My two favorite cities are Berlin and Stockholm—probably because my ethnic background is German and Scandinavian. Both cities are gorgeous and filled with culture, great food, good nightlife and lovely, helpful, kind people. And great public transportation!
People are pretty much all the same. No matter where you go, you’ll encounter type-A overachievers, charming playboys, sweet, helpful mom-types, slightly curmudgeonly dads. Also, at the risk of waxing nauseating, when you expect the best from people they usually deliver. I’ve had so, so, so many strangers watch my bags, offer me advice, point me in the right direction, and generally help me out. In Taiwan, a man drove 40 minutes to return my wallet I dropped in the central train station and a taxi driver hunted me down to return my passport.
What I learned about myself? You can change. Big, real aspects of your personality can change. After all this travel, I am exponentially more laid back than I used to be. Exponentially. People who’ve known me for 20 years comment on it!
Finally, can you name a book (or many books!) that you’d recommend to anyone dreaming of pursuing a lifestyle similar to your own?
Hmmmm, I don’t really read many travel or business books, but my favorite book about writing is Bird By Bird (don’t we all wish that Anne Lamott was our BFF?) and for money management I love Your Money Or Your Life.
Thanks so much for being part of The “Lucky” Ones series, Sarah! You seem like the kind of gal I’d enjoy trying weird foods with. Love this interview? Let Sarah know in the comments!