“To travel for the sole sake of travel” isn’t the sole purpose of our existence.
This was a piece of advice I gave in 2015 during a keynote speech on transitions in our lives.
There isn’t a single person I know right now that hasn’t been hit by the pandemic in one way or another. People of all ages are fighting to stay alive in ICUs around the world. Others are quarantined away from their families in other countries. Thousands have lost loved ones.
We’re collectively battling a virus with no known cure at the moment.
On the flipside, businesses such as Netflix and Amazon are currently thriving beyond their wildest dreams and are trying to cope with demand and supply. Digital products such as books, podcasts and videos are in more demand than ever.
Many of us are oscillating between varying emotions – fear and faith, hope and humor, tears and terror. Oftentimes within the very same hour. And truly, there is no right or wrong way to feel and process what is currently going on, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else.
It’s also very glaring that one of the most impacted industries during this pandemic is the travel industry.
Airlines, hotels, destinations, tour companies, guides, and every single branch within the travel industry are struggling so badly that many have already shut down their businesses forever and laid off loyal employees indefinitely.
Travel media – bloggers, journalists, influencers – are among the hardest hit. After all, we create visual stories, stoke wanderlust, and encourage everyone else to leave their couches and explore not only their own backyards, but faraway lands.
So, what happens now?
While thinking through all this, I flipped through my WITS keynote speech I gave in Riga, Latvia, last November. During that talk, I shared this rather controversial slide, considering I was speaking at a travel conference.
Then I posed this question to the room of fellow travel industry colleagues:
What would you still love to do that you can bring both on your travels or do at home?
I shared examples of my friends and colleagues Mickela Mallozzi of Bare Feet who explores dance through travel, Candace Rose Rardon who explores sketch art through travel, and Kellee Edwards who challenges stereotypes through travel.
For these ladies and myself, travel is the avenue we’ve actively chosen to explore our passions. Mickela could have been a dancer with a dance company, Candace could have been an illustrator with a marketing agency, and Kellee could have been a broadcaster.
Each of us has chosen travel as our preferred avenue to express and explore our passions.
So, I flipped to the slide where I described my own passion which is to explore differences.
For me, this means getting beneath culture, understanding differences, and creating bridges between similarities.
This is the subconscious that drives my work. I also dug deeper into understanding where this underlying passion came from.
And it was this:
I grew up in Nigeria… a country with over 500 languages and dialects across over 250 different tribes.
Trying to understand culture, and all its nuances and shades, means a lot to me. Not only understanding, but connecting on similarities so we can live and learn side-by-side with respect and tolerance.
If you follow my work, you can clearly see this thread in all I do – from the books I write, the photos I take, and all the projects I’ve been working on, including my latest fiction book series based on Black women in Sweden as well.
Or, why I help destinations share their own stories of what makes them different, while still appealing to our similarities.
Cultural understanding is at the core of my work.
And the quickest way for me to explore this was to choose travel as my avenue.
But now, I can no longer fully use travel as that avenue at this moment.
My industry is hurting and we don’t know when it will fully heal. Many of my friends and colleagues have lost their fulltime jobs. Many independent platform owners have seen their income streams essentially dry up overnight.
And I am not immune as well.
Most of my travel-related work has either been postponed until 2021 or this fall, or cancelled completely.
As a storyteller, what this crisis has highlighted to me specifically, is that I should constantly remind myself not to confuse the avenue I’ve chosen with the passion itself.
For many people, now isn’t the time to start pivoting away from what we’ve spent decades building. But now is the time to start reassessing current business models.
This was my latest income chart I publicly shared in 2018 after signing off 10 years of sharing my pitching charts. I had already started pivoting away from freelancing years prior, bringing it down to 17%.
Even though I am grateful to have diversified as best as I can and have an anchor client, a significant chunk of my income still comes from the travel industry.
I know this is all temporary.
Our industry will rebound soon. Maybe not as quickly as we imagine or wish, but it will slowly simmer back to life and regain its strength.
People will start exploring again, eating out again and standing in awe of natural wonders again.
My advice during these times, while we all feel rudderless and are trying to pivot in smart ways without losing all those precious years of investments, is to consider this:
- How do we pivot sustainably while waiting for the industry to roar back to life?
- Once it’s back on steady feet, how do we navigate it in sustainable ways in case of another hit?
- What would you still love to do that you can bring both on your travels or do at home?
While the answers for each one of us within the travel industry will be vastly different, my personal answer as a storyteller is to remember why I chose travel as my avenue in the first place and to remain true to that underlying passion.
Then I can continue to tell stories through words and multimedia that continue to honor what drives my soul, regardless of industry.