#TBT: True Beauty Is…Taking Risks

Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are today.

I’m Eileen Vanessa, a New York-based, Canadian born, travel, fashion and lifestyle blogger from @lighttravelsfaster. To date, I’ve traveled to almost sixty countries, and have lived in five different nations, accumulating a boatload of experiences along the way. I’m also a Wall Street lawyer and a professional dancer in a New York-based dance company, the Tropicana Queens NY. I seek out luxurious and adventurous locales in destinations known and unknown and convey inspirational travel content that combines artistry and creativity with elegance and professionalism.

From traditional office setting to on-the-go blogger, what inspired you to create your own blog? Where did the courage to write come from?

The inspiration to create Lighttravelsfaster fell into my lap by chance. Blogging was an industry I knew very little about until one day, at a party in New York, I met a girl who was a blogger. I was fascinated by the idea that someone could actually blog for a living, so I asked her for coffee to find out more. She invited me to an influencer event where I met some travel influencers and thought to myself, “hey, I can do this,” and that was that. I researched how to start a social media platform, read dozens of articles on what to do and what to avoid, and dove in.

As a corporate lawyer, I read and write for a living. But I’m also a classical musician and have danced my whole life. Today I help manage and dance in a professional dance company here in New York, so blogging provides me an additional artistic outlet to balance my job as a corporate lawyer. Writing, photography, and videography come naturally to me after a lifetime of creating for and performing on stages big and small. But performance is also just that – a performance. In blogging, there is no set presentation, no performance to hide behind, so it took courage to put myself out there. Some bloggers create a persona they use in social media, a filtered version of themselves. I wanted to be true and authentic. So, like many artistic endeavors, it really involved opening my chest and showing my heart to my readers.

How did you find the time to have a full-time career as a lawyer and then write? How does your 9-5 help you and what are the challenges to balancing these two careers?

It’s truly a balancing act. I spend several hours each day working on my content and keeping up with my collaborations. That’s in addition to an average of 10 hours each day at the law firm. It’s like having a second business, and like any entrepreneur, this means that it cuts into my free time, so I’ve had to eliminate anything extraneous from my life and really prioritize what matters most. Each day I set aside certain amounts of time for my blogging and influencing activities and I try to stick to that schedule as much as possible. Of course, it’s not always possible and as Lighttravelsfaster continues to grow, I get less and less sleep.

But time constraints aside, the knowledge I’ve gained in a traditional corporate career has been instrumental in the success of Lighttravelsfaster. The corporate world is still very much ‘dog-eat-dog,’ so you need to have a thick skin. For instance, when I decided to transition from practicing as a lawyer in Canada to New York, I must have cold-called over 300 people asking for a chance to meet. I suffered a lot of rejection, but over time you learn not to take things personally and to just knock on another door instead. This same mentality helps in my influencer activities, as I reach out to companies to inquire about collaborations, without fear of rejection. I find that many bloggers are so afraid of rejection, or so disappointed when they are rejected, that they don’t even try to form collaborations or simply give up. But I always say, ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get.’

A second manner in which my corporate career has helped my blogging is that I treat Lighttravelsfaster as a business. I research ways to improve it and read articles on how to structure my social media. I network with other bloggers and attend social media conferences. I follow up on leads, respond promptly and professionally to any inquiries or messages, and try to be kind to everyone I encounter (which of course is a great principle to live by on a general basis!) because you never know who could end up a potential client someday. I’m building a brand and that brand is me, which means that if I don’t have time to post quality work that is true to myself and my values, I don’t do so at all. This can be frustrating and harks back to the difficulties of balancing a traditional career and a blog at the same time, but it’s really about quality over quantity when it comes to posting.

What would draw someone to your blog/content? What is your goal for each post?

I blog about exciting and adventurous destinations around the world, some far-flung and others well known, and the lifestyle that goes with it. I would say readers are drawn to my content for an escape from the every day, to learn of adventurous new locales, and to inspire their own future journeys, all while looking stylish, being prepared with the right products, and armed with knowledge of the destination. I’m also an eternal optimist, and readers are attracted to the positivity that appears in my posts.

The name Lighttravelsfaster came from the physics law that ‘light travels faster than sound.’ Photos capture light, I blog about travel, and so the name was born. My posts convey a similar theme. In each, I try to inspire and provide a glimpse of something out of the ordinary, an escape from the mundane with a philosophical quote, and then provide some actual information about the destination being described. So my goal is for my readers to leave inspired by a beautiful photo of a dreamy destination and a thoughtful quote, and having learned something new about the place. I tend to simply write from the heart and this authenticity comes through in my writing. Of course, it takes courage to express myself in that manner, but I think my readers appreciate my candidness.

In each post, I also try to think about what people want to see and hear, while still staying true to my overall vision. What would I want to see of another blogger? What would interest me? What might I want to learn? While my family and friends might enjoy seeing my personal vacation photos, a stranger might not, so I try to think of it from the perspective of adding value to my readers.

What did it take to grow your account to almost 13k followers? How long of a process and what are the main challenges?

I opened Lighttravelsfaster last May but didn’t fully commit until November 2017. At that point, I decided there was no sense in blogging at all if I wasn’t going all in. Before that, I wasn’t an avid social media user, although I had been traveling extensively since I was 18 years old. Every day I spend several hours each day engaging with my followers, planning subsequent posts, preparing new content and keeping up with my collaborations. It’s like being a lawyer and an entrepreneur at the same time, and like any entrepreneurial endeavor, running a business cuts into my other free time. I certainly get less and less sleep the more Lighttravelsfaster grows, but my happiness has also increased as you feel a real sense of pride in producing something entirely on your own.

One of the main challenges for any entrepreneur is staying true to your vision and not being sidetracked by new opportunities that present themselves but which are outside the scope of your vision. Frequently, I’m offered products I would happily promote, but which don’t fit my personal brand, so I have to refuse. Each time I’m offered a collaboration, I ask myself, is this product something I already use or would use? Does it match the standard content of Lighttravelsfaster and the personal brand I am presenting? And is it something my readers would expect to see and would find useful if presented? This can be difficult for people who are just starting out and who are, understandably, excited to receive new products or collaborations. But readers return to you for consistency and the image you’ve developed over time so if, as a luxury blogger, you begin promoting a budget product, or vice versa, this deteriorates your brand and alienates your readers.

What do you wish you knew going into this? What would be your advice to someone who is working a traditional career and also wants to blog?

It takes a tremendous amount of time to do it right. Your personal reputation is your brand’s goodwill, so you have to take care in what you post. It’s no longer your employer’s name associated with your work product, but your own. The risks are heightened when you have a traditional career that could be impacted by your blogging activities. You need to be prepared to invest a lot of time if you want to produce a good quality product in the end, and such a commitment is simply not compatible with everyone. I think some people become impatient when initial progress on their blog is slow, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, just as a traditional career does not come to fruition at the outset. It’s also important to connect with your followers in multiple formats which is why I will be launching my YouTube channel later this month. At the end of the day, you want to create something you can be proud of, which makes you happy and which adds value to readers, but you must evaluate the personal costs and benefits of so doing.

Where do you find inspiration to continue writing? How do you pick your next destination?

Writing is a release from my everyday life, and as a blogger, I have artistic license to choose my own content, so staying inspired is fairly easy for me. I simply write, or in the case of my videos, speak, about whatever is inspiring or motivating me at that time. If I’m writing about a particular journey of mine, I try to recall and convey exactly how I felt in those moments so my readers can feel the same. I do, however, ensure that whenever I have an idea or inspiration throughout the day, I take out my phone and jot it down in my notes. Sometimes I go back and draw upon those thoughts later on and other times, new inspiration flows instead.

While I’m certainly a sucker for a stroll in Rome or a day in South Beach, I’m most inspired by up and coming destinations that are off the beaten track. Interacting with local cultures and experiencing a different way of life in an authentic way are among the things I love most about traveling. And there’s nothing more inspiring than conversing with locals who are just as curious about you as you are about them. I find that most often, the best way to accomplish these goals is to go where other tourists are not, so I keep an eye out for destinations that have only recently opened to tourism. To do this, I subscribe to three different travel magazines (and I’m sure this places me squarely in the minority of millennials). But, there’s nothing I love more than heading to a nearby cafe and pouring over my latest issue while dreaming of lands far away. It’s also a great way to find inspiration and stay abreast of what’s hot in the travel scene!

What was your favorite place and why? Have you made many friends along the way?

I’m fortunate to have visited so many incredible places, that I usually narrow it down to three when asked this question: (1) Sri Lanka, which boasts an embarrassment of natural beauty juxtaposed against a spiritual backdrop; (2) the trek to the Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City in the Colombian jungle, in which avid hikers sleep in hammocks under the stars, bathe in tropical waterfalls and pass tribes that seemingly exist only in the pages of National Geographic; and (3) Paris, the city of light, which never fails to amuse and enthrall me as I stroll through Le Marais, while away hours in the Jardin du Luxembourg, or gaze at the grand dame of French gothic architecture, Notre Dame de Paris.

Absolutely! The more you travel the more you realize that it’s less about the places you see and more about the people you encounter and the experiences you sustain. Travel has an amazing way of wiping away social barriers that may otherwise exist between people. Without the stresses of everyday life, people can simply be themselves. They open up more easily and before long you find yourselves interacting like old friends. Many of the people I’ve met abroad remain my closest friends to this day. We’re all like-minded, globally oriented people, despite having grown up in opposite corners of the globe. We travel often, so we end up meeting somewhere in the world at least once or twice each year. Of course, modern technology like FaceTime and WhatsApp also help tremendously, making it even easier to remain friends when your journey is complete.

Alive or deceased, who would you pick to join you on your next adventure?

My father passed away suddenly when I was 15. He was truly ahead of his time, having gone off to Europe, viola in hand, to audition for symphony orchestras. In an era with no internet and costly long distance calls, this was no easy feat! He made his way into a symphony in Germany and later, to the London Symphony Orchestra before returning home to Canada. He was a dreamer, with a courageous and adventurous soul that no doubt inspired my own, so he would be my top pick for my next global adventure.

What is the one thing (beauty product) you would never leave for a trip without?

Whether out in the Big Apple or off in some exotic locale, I never leave home without two matte lipsticks: one in bright red and the other in fuchsia. Between the two of them, I can match every color scheme, add a pop of color in my photos and dress up any outfit. I even swipe a little on my checks to form a cream blush if I’m really in a bind. Simply applying one of these bright colors in post-flight exhaustion mode makes me look and feel like a million bucks. And there’s not much more a girl can ask for than that!

By Eileen Rhein @lighttravelsfaster



Writer and expert