Ladies We Love is a monthly interview series with women from around the world that provide us with inspiration through their travels and personal stories. This week we got to know travel writer Michelle Halpern of Live Like It’s The Weekend.
1) For our readers who may not know you yet, please tell us a little about yourself, where are you from and where are you in the world right now?
Of course! My name is Michelle Halpern, but people online would probably know me better as @Livelikeitsthewknd on Instagram or the writer behind Livelikeitstheweekend.com, a global women’s travel site. I grew up in Maine, the most Northern state on the East Coast of the US, but have most recently lived in Los Angeles before I started traveling full time. As I write this, I’m currently at a cafe in the most adorable little surf town in Portugal called Ericeira! I never want to leave.
2) When did you begin travel blogging and how did you get started?
I launched my site in July of 2016, so just a little over 2 years ago! I had been planning on doing a year of travel to take time off from the corporate world I hated and was about 3 months into the trip when I officially launched, although I had been planning the site for awhile before then. You can launch a blog much more bare bones than I did, but I worked with a developer to make some customizations to my site and hired a graphic designer friend to work on the logo. I’m a perfectionist which can really work against me sometimes, but I wanted to have the site looking just how I wanted it before I launched it, since the design was a big focus.
3) Tell us a little about your blog, what types of articles and travel advice can readers expect to find when they visit LiveLikeItsTheWeekend.com?
The whole concept behind the name Live Like it’s the Weekend is about living life on your terms and following your passion, no matter what day of the week. As an American especially I find that the culture breeds one where people go to their jobs during the week and count down the hours to the weekend when they can finally do the things they choose to pursue for themselves. I wanted to encourage women to take control of their lives and figure out how they can make the most out of life every day by inspiring them through my own travels. I try to post articles that are really informative and provide helpful location based information on the places I’ve been as well as some inspirational content to help fuel people’s motivation to follow their bliss. When I travel, I’m constantly inspired by photography, architecture, interior design and other creative modes of expression, so I tend to gravitate towards places that excite that creativity within me — and my recommendations are typically in this same vein.
4) You recently left a career in fashion to travel the world full time, how did you prepare for this step? Did you save up an amount of money to sustain you through your travels, or did you just take the leap and plan to earn an income whilst on the road?!
From the outside looking in, it probably seems like the leap was more spontaneous, but I actually was planning for it for about 1 ½ years! I was making a nice salary at my old fashion job, so through working full time and picking up a freelance social media consulting gig on the side, along with other strategies to save money like quitting drinking for awhile and scaling back on shopping, I was able to save up about $30,000 before I put in my notice. I still had the freelance job on the side when I left, so I knew if I traveled to pretty inexpensive countries at the beginning of my trip like Indonesia, Vietnam and The Philippines, my money would last me a lot longer. I’m also a pretty savvy travel hacker, so I had built up quite a few points with travel credit cards that helped me get a ton of flights for free in that first year and I still get a lot of free flights to this day!
Honestly this is something that I still struggle with constantly. I’m not going to lie — being a travel blogger and managing your time is VERY challenging. You can’t be out experiencing the destinations you visit and creating content for your audience while sitting at your laptop simultaneously, but you have to make ample room for both if you want to have a thriving business that is sustainable and grows.
I am trying to be more intentional in the coming months with the trips that I book and making sure there is enough downtime in between each to catch up on the admin side of my business and foster growth, but it’s something I’m still working to get better at.
I do consider myself a digital nomad, although I technically check in at my family’s home in Virginia in between trips (so far that’s only been about 50 days so far this year)! I can’t recommend focusing on slow travel enough if you really want to put in the time necessary to grow your business, whether that’s a blog or some other online endeavor. It takes time to find places to work from, find a community of fellow entrepreneurs/digital nomads and get into a routine, so hopping from one place the next will most definitely leave you feeling burnt out, unproductive and never having enough hours in the day! I’ve learned this the hard way!
6) What advice would you give to aspiring travel bloggers?
Focus on community and authenticity first before monetizing. I would say the best thing I ever did was to get a side freelance gig totally separate from my blog while I was traveling and building my site. This allowed me to still make money while not feeling desperate for brand sponsorships or promoting products to my community from the get go.
There’s nothing wrong with monetizing a blog and of course you have to eventually to make it a business, but I think if you can focus on building your community and content from the beginning rather than concentrating on making money from it, you’ll be much better off in the long run. This way you’ll be able to be picky with the opportunities you say yes to and make sure that they’re authentically the right fit for you and your audience. People are so savvy these days with social media advertising, and you’ll turn a lot of people off if you’re hawking products you don’t truly care about to make a quick dime.
7) Do you have a great travel hack or travel tip that our readers would benefit from knowing about?
I build all of my itineraries on Google Maps before a trip by saving all of the sites, restaurants, shops, etc that I want to visit so that I can visually see where places are in relation to one another. This allows me to easily plan my days around a particular neighborhood or area so that I don’t get stuck wasting time in transit from one side of the city to the next. It’s the best!
8) Do you have any tips on how our readers can travel more responsibly and consciously?
There are so many different ways to think about responsible travel, but for me I just try to leave a place the way that I left it without making any sort of negative impact. This means not leaving trash behind, not feeding or touching animals that are in the wild and meant to not have human contact and just not disturbing the peace in general of the locals. Supporting local companies and brands over big chains is also important, whether that’s a restaurant, coffee shop, or boutique hotel. I would prefer my money to go back to the people who live there.
9) What’s your favourite place that you have visited in the world and why?
That’s such a hard question for me to answer, but probably the most frequent one I get! I have too many favorites and I’m not sure I’ve found one that stands out above all the rest but I really love Australia and would love to live there some day. It’s so naturally beautiful, has some of the best beaches in the world and I find Australians to have such a friendly demeanor and great sense of humor. It’s just a lovely place to visit!
I recently visited the Eastern side of Bali, which is much less touristy than areas like Ubud, Uluwatu and Canggu. I definitely felt like it was a bit more of an authentic experience, seeing how the Balinese people live in a place that isn’t overrun by tourism.
This is a tough one because I know there’s so much pressure these days to get the perfect shot, to stay connected, to always be sharing our experiences. I think it comes down to choosing to be more intentional with how you travel and show up in the moment. It’s up to you to decide if you’ll look back on a trip and remember how you were attached to your phone the entire time or really appreciating the place you’re in and taking time to have gratitude for the little things.
It can be difficult especially with my job to disconnect, but a few things that help:
- I try to only shoot locations that I’m already visiting, rather than going to places only because I want a picture of them for social media.
- I try not to over complicate my shots with props and things that need to be set up because I know that takes a lot more time to source and prop style and I’d rather spend that time in the moment enjoying the place that I’m shooting rather than getting “the perfect instagram shot.”
- For travelers who love documenting everything on social media, make sure you’re making time to put your phone away after you’ve captured the content and just sit and enjoy the place without seeing it through the lens of Instagram or your camera.
- Set aside specific periods of time that are social media free where you leave your phone behind to explore a place completely disconnected.
At the end of the day though, it just comes down to making a choice to be more present. If you have awareness of your actions then that’s the first step in the right direction!