How I went from being a bored academic to a fun and free blogger



Not long after coming back from Uruguay after one of my many trips to Latin America, last April, I started catching up with the usual horror stories of the Italian job market. One of them was particularly touching to me, as I could relate to it. It was published by the very well known Italian magazine, L’Espresso. The article soon went viral. It was a piece by an Italian researcher who just reported his story, and pointed out the total lack of merit in Italian academia (but the same would go for the rest of the job market) – a story that happens only too often in Italy, something we talk about on a regular basis but for which we seem unable to fight.

Then, I read another piece, this time on The Guardian, where the author pointed out that mental health issues of PhD students and academics are becoming increasingly accepted in British universities, where staff is pushed to perform beyond their limits.

I fully enjoyed travelling alone in Uruguay

I fully enjoyed travelling alone in Uruguay

Once upon a time, I used to work in academia – and I thought it was cool

Two job environments that should be similar – despite in different countries – in reality could not be more different: in one, researchers struggle to work and have their work recognised; in the other, they are put under so much pressure to perform and gain better results that they eventually face extreme stress and even depression. I have studied and worked in both and, quite frankly, I find the issues faced by academics in the UK are almost laughable compared to the ones faced in Italy. Sure, when I worked at the University of Essex or at University College London I used to be snowed in with work. I had lectures, seminars, meetings, administrative work, conferences, workshops, office hours, papers to mark, exam questions to write (and have approved). All of that, besides having to write my PhD dissertation. But at least I was rewarded. At least my work was acknowledged. And I was part of the staff – from the highest ranking professor to the newly arrived admin worker, we all knew each other, we all respected each other, and we knew that we could count on each other. It was homey.

I should have stayed in England and I should have kept working there. I should have done many things, I suppose. But I didn’t. Because I am from Sardinia, and as pretty much anybody from Sardinia, I have a visceral connection with my land and for as much as I (we) can live away for even decades at times (I spent more than 10 years overseas), I (we) all want to go back home eventually. So, when after more than 10 years away from Sardinia, I got a fellowship to work at my old university, I did not think about it twice: I quitted my job, I packed my belongings and I boarded a plane that would take me home, finally.

La pelosa, Sardinia

I couldn’t help wanting to go back to Sardinia

Do I regret coming back?

I don’t regret giving up my academic career in England, because through a long and difficult path it brought me where I am now.

Working at my old university in Sardinia, the place where I was educated and that ultimately molded me into being the awesome human being that I am, should have been rewarding. But it wasn’t. In fact, it was the closest I could imagine to being in hell. It should have been homey (more homey than the University of Essex, I would have guessed) but I felt like I was walking in foreign territory and I should watch my back at all times.

For as much as I worked, as much as I achieved (publications in international leading journals, books, conferences and what not), I felt that the university I wanted to give back to so much did not want me and in fact did its best to push me away. I realised soon enough that I was seen as a threat: I was highly specialised, I was a hard worker, and if only I was involved in a research project or participated in a conference, I would easily put the most of the others in the corner. Like the time I happened to attend a book presentation and a professor kept calling the Roma “gypsies” – he did not like it when, at question time, I pointed out that “gypsy” was a derogatory term hardly used by people in the field nowadays. Or like the time another professor said that a specific international treaty hardly had any relevance as not many states had ratified it, when in fact – as I told her – 90% of the UN members had done so.

In my years at my home university, I faced increasing obstracism. The course I taught on discrimination was cancelled on demands of another researcher who – incidentally – was married to a professor. I was first asked to teach at a summer school in human rights, and then found out that someone else was called to do it – and that very someone did not have the expertise to teach the subject, so she demanded that I passed her my notes rather than backing off and pointing out to the director that I should teach the course instead.

The isolation I faced in Italy, the less than cooperative approach to research, the lack of any real connection and the unfriendly environment where I worked slowly brought me to hate academia. What kept me going were the conferences I attended, when I met other international academics and we exchanged ideas, views, projects. But then, that was not enough anymore. The frustration I felt made me forget what I had loved about academia and research. My hey-days in England, when I felt like the world was my oyster, and it was just waiting for me to blossom, were over.

Then I started travelling

Then I started travelling

…Then I started travelling, and that is way cooler than academia

Was it all so bad? I’d say most of it was. The good thing about being forced out of teaching and only having to do my research meant that I had no real commitments and thus I could travel whenever I wanted. So I did. Multiple short trips across Europe, then longer ones on the other side of the Atlantic. Peru first, then Mexico, Argentina, and finally Cuba in February 2013.

Quebrada de Humahuaca, Argentina

I had a blast in Argentina

Cuba changed my life. I did not know it back then, but looking back, two years after visiting, I can see that it did. It isn’t just that the place was so special and that I found myself there. Sure, it was and I finally came to terms with the fact that I love it. But it was a series of factors that, coming together, had a real impact on my life.

Mojito time

I left from Cuba with a huge smile on my face – I wanted that to last

Factor number one was the extreme frustration I felt during my first 10 days there. I’d lie if I said I did not hate it. I really did. Travelling in Cuba, for an organisation freak like I am, was frustrating. Try as I might, there was no way I could get things my way in Cuba. It was like the entire country had plotted to boycott my travel plans. It took me a while to get to appreciate and embrace spontaneity as a way of travelling. So, when I got home, with my zero knowledge of the blogging industry, I decided that I wanted to create my own blog, in English, to tell the truth about Cuba and warn anybody who may go there. I knew so little about blogging that I had no idea about how I could even get readers. I just thought that, since it was online, people would eventually find it. In fact, some actually did find me and started following me. In other words, I started a blog to vent about Cuba and say whatever I wanted without being censored. Cuba eventually grew on me – but that is a different story.

Machu Picchu, Peru

I want to feel as amazed as I was when I visited Machu Picchu

Factor number two was meeting Guiselaine on an eventful ride from Santiago to Baracoa. As the tire of the bus exploded, the driver asked all passengers to get off so that he could change it. So, we all started wandering about, taking pictures, and laughing at what had happened (and secretly thanking God that we were all fine). I had spotted Guiselaine at the bus station, and she sat behind me on the bus. We started talking when we were waiting for the tire to be fixed, and we agreed to meet later in Baracoa to have dinner. We did the same for every night we spent in Baracoa and eventually went separate ways, but we kept in touch since.

Where to go in Cuba: Playa Maguana, Cuba

Relaxing in Playa Maguana I realised I never wanted to work in academia again

Starting a blog and meeting Guiselaine may seem two separate things. But they weren’t. In fact, talking to Guiselaine we realised we had many things in common, which included a desire to travel the world for longer periods of time than the usual 3 weeks vacations, and the increased frustration with the traditional job market. I was increasingly frustrated with my job in academia – aside from the obstracism I faced on a regular basis, I found no purpose and no thrill in writing on the same topic over and over, in attending conferences which were auto-celebratory more than anything else, in talking about human rights issues without really taking action towards change. But while Guiselaine decided to take a step towards happiness and establish herself as a digital nomad, I wasn’t ready to go as far.

Then, my fellowship expired, there were no funds in sight to keep me working at my home university, and I did not fight to find any more. I started looking for other jobs in academia, but my heart wasn’t in it. I refused any temporary job I was offered by other universities around Italy, as I saw it as slave labour and the money wasn’t even going to cover my basic expenses for having to move to another region.

Speaking to Guiselaine, she gave me the final push to follow my dream: it was then that I decided that it was finally time to go on that backpacking trip across Latin America that had been on my mind for years. I set to leave at the end of November 2013, first stop Guatemala. Destiny can be tough at times, and with my luck, a few days before travelling, I got a permanent job offer from a university in England, but the negotiations for the starting date did not go as I had hoped – they were not willing to wait for me to get back from my travels. And although that was a good job, that would take me back to British academia, I was not ready to give up my dream when I was so close to fulfilling it.

Yaxha

I want to see the world, have fun, explore!

So I left. I just wanted to explore that part of the world and I thought that, once back, I could still look for a job in my old field. My family encouraged me to travel. My father was enthusiastic to know I’d be visiting so many places. But what is even more interesting is that my mother and sister insisted that I figured out a way to blog about my trip and make this my new career. However, blogging was only a past-time to me, something I’d do (less than seriously) while I travelled.

Finally blogging, for real!

I guess I only realised how right my mother and sister were when I got back and, after a surgery to remove my tonsils, I spent a few weeks of total misery, feeling completely lost and unsure about what to do with my life. The thing is, I did not have the guts to go back to a job in academia. I was so done with it, that the thought of writing yet one more academic paper, or preparing one more lecture, made me sick. My family encouraged me to do what I loved the most and what made me happy. And I could only think of travelling. I knew I had to give it a try, at least.

I thus applied for a course in travel design to become a specialised travel consultant. And all my years of travelling across Latin America (and spending all my savings on it) paid off when I was hired to work as a tour leader in Mexico and Central America. Finally, I decided it was time to give it a try and become a real blogger, and bought my own domain, started studying SEO manuals, social media communication techniques, and working hard on it.

I am not even close to making money yet. I work an average of 10 hours per day, every day. But I wake up with a smile on my face each morning. I like what I am doing and I am happy. I keep being interested in human rights issues and wherever I travel I can’t help observing the world through the lenses of a former human rights lawyer.

Will I succeed? I may, or I may not. But, sure enough, I will keep on trying. The years of suffering, isolation, frustration and humiliation at work were not in vain, as they brought me to a much better place. I have left academia, and I am never looking back.

I still have dreams

I still have dreams

What is your story? Did you also have a career change?


 

 

 

 

You may also like

58 Comments

  • Tami
    22 July 2015 at 8:14

    You really have to decide what is best for you. I have learned so much from my travels – there is no other way to learn those things!

  • Maya
    23 July 2015 at 21:49

    I admire your steps leading into traveling the world. You sure deserve it. Enjoy the ride!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 12:39

      thank you!

  • Tim
    23 July 2015 at 23:09

    Sometimes the push to do what we love comes from unexpected places; even a stranger in an out of the way place like Baracoa.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 12:40

      Exactly!

  • Milosz Zak
    24 July 2015 at 17:14

    As a member of a family where everyone is an educator at the graduate level, I have to say I understand where you are coming from. There are a lot of downsides to university work, but the upsides – like sabbaticals, are well worth it.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 12:47

      I did not even have a right to a sabbatical as I never was on a permanent contract!

  • Casey O'Connell
    25 July 2015 at 9:43

    LOVE THIS STORY!!! Props to you for following your heart and doing what you love! I too have found that I don’t love being stressed out and working hard all the time, which is what society expects from all of us. Teaching in Thailand has really taught me how to live a more balanced life. Sounds like you have found that too! Can’t wait to see where your blogging takes you!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 12:54

      I can’t wait to see that either!

  • Henry | @fotoeins
    25 July 2015 at 10:38

    Claudia, I do not miss the academic (mind-) game, although I miss some of the people whom I met and with w whom I worked along the way. The thing about blogging is that there’s a certain exertion of “control” over one’s own effort and work, although the jury is somewhat undecided about what it takes to be “found” or “discovered”. We all know the entry-level barrier to travel blogging is somewhat different by comparison. Thanks for writing about your experience.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 12:58

      To me it already is great not to have to deal with those horrible people I met in the Italian academia!

  • Elliott
    25 July 2015 at 11:07

    Good for you! I’m always inspired when I see someone like you following a dream and doing what they want! Another teammate! 😀

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:01

      YAY!

  • Fiona @ London-Unattached
    25 July 2015 at 11:20

    Your change of lifestyle looks as if it is really suiting you. As for how to be discovered – I think it is more important to be doing what you want!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:01

      Which I am 🙂

  • Bethany Dickey
    25 July 2015 at 11:36

    I feel the same about the opposite side of academia – I’m so much happier when I’m travelling than when I’m stuck in university learning things that have no relevance for what I want to do!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:04

      But it will soon be over!

  • zof
    25 July 2015 at 11:58

    Once upon a time I dreamt of a job in academia. I wanted to research and I couldn’t imagine myself in any other career. Today I often joke I developed an allergic reaction to the very same environment I used to dream about. Where I come from academia is very narrow minded, closed to new ideas, never willing to let the young in with their energy…I decided to become a freelance translator and a blogger instead and I never looked back…the situation in England in Italy is different, the academia in every country and field is very specific, but I really feel you, I understand you, and I’m happy you’ve found your very own path.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:05

      Zof, the situation you describe seems like Italy!

  • Will
    25 July 2015 at 12:25

    Really inspiring story. We all have doubts and second guess what we want to do versus what the world might think of us. The most important thing is to follow your dreams and keep trying to succeed at everything you may attempt. Failing and learning is growing. Keep travelling and all the best ! Will 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:06

      Thanks!

  • The Educational Tourist
    25 July 2015 at 15:00

    What a great story! The things that come hard earned are the best. Good luck to you on this part of your adventure!
    Natalie, The Educational Tourist

  • Travelwith2ofus
    25 July 2015 at 20:36

    You will make it because you are doing something you are passionate about. Of course you have to work hard, but it is something that you love, and it will eventually pay off. We recently celebrated six months of having our website and we are extremely happy.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:07

      Congratulations then!

  • Carey Leo
    25 July 2015 at 21:33

    Amazing article Claudia and thank you for your openness. Sometimes our path isn’t always clear to us, but the talent is in recognizing your own passions, and taking the steps to design your own life – which you did in spades! Great stuff!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:08

      It took me a while!

  • Michele TravelwithMrsT
    25 July 2015 at 23:30

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is so difficult when something you thought was going to be just what you dreamed of, turns out to be just the opposite. I was a teacher for 25 years, before moving temporarily due to my husband’s job overseas. I started blogging, and I am loving it! When I return to the U.S., I hope to go into administration at the elementary school level, but will definitely keep blogging about my travels. I have learned so much from other bloggers, though Facebook groups, and online challenges. Best wishes in your endeavors!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:23

      Thank you. I have also learned a lot!

  • Natalie Deduck
    26 July 2015 at 8:12

    Congrats for having the guts to follow your dreams!
    We share a similar story. My husband and I used to have a good job in Brazil, a brand new house, a good car, we got married and… And what?? Something was missing, we have everything that we needed but our souls were getting empty. So instead of having a baby (what all our family was expecting) we decided to sell all your belongings, from car to furniture, socks and shoes…. We earned some money and started a new Life Project: Love and Road. It has been 15 months as a digital nomad. As you said, it´s not that easy, 10 hours working everyday, we don´t have a monthly paycheck… but we are happy and we are living our dream! That is what life is about!
    Wish you all the success, happiness, many travels and tons of friends!!!
    Nat 😀

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:40

      Love and Road is a GREAT blog 🙂 I am one of your followers hehehe

  • Emma Hart
    26 July 2015 at 11:42

    I love, love, love this post. You go girl! So inspiring that people are following their dreams to enter the amazing world of travel blogging! It sure beats being miserable in a job you’re no longer passionate about! Here’s to the rest of your adventures!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:40

      I owe you a drink 🙂

  • Valeria
    26 July 2015 at 13:31

    Reading your story, as an Italian, felt like a stab to my heart. I’ve been away for several years now, and though I dream of going back and building a family, I am so scared that I will hate it and that repatriation depression will hit me really hard. Anyways, back to your story. Travelling is great and putting together travels for other people as a job – well, even better. I work in the same field and enjoy it very much. I wish you the very best in your blogging and consulting career and hope to meet you in Sardegna one day 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:41

      You know what academia is like in Italy. Living here is GREAT, and I would never change that. But working here is a different story. That is why we have to find new ways to do that. I think you can also do it if you want!

  • Andrew and Emily
    27 July 2015 at 5:42

    So lovely to read and know more about you Claudia. We both totally admire and support your decision (and it’s nice to read about other leaving respected jobs to pursue their travel dreams). We’ll follow the journey and wish you every success along the way!

    p.s. does the water really look like that in Sardinia!? Wow!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:42

      It does look like that. I don’t know how to use photoshop or any photoediting programmes so all my pictures are unedited!! 🙂

  • Francesca @onegrloneworld
    27 July 2015 at 10:37

    I really enjoyed reading your story! It echoed mine, actually. Thankfully I never encountered drama with colleagues, but I do know what it’s like to loose passion for a job and be underpaid. I recently decided to pursue travel writing full time as well! Even if it doesn’t make you rich, it sure is great to be happy and passionate about something, isn’t it? 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 July 2015 at 13:42

      YOU BET!!

  • GiGi Eats
    28 July 2015 at 16:45

    Waking up with a smile on your face every day is far more important than making loads of money! It’s all about the baby-steps, and if you can do it happily, then you’re on the right track!!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      26 August 2015 at 22:05

      I must have missed this comment Gigi! Thanks for it 🙂 you surely got the point!

  • Victoria@ The British Berliner
    29 July 2015 at 9:43

    I really enjoyed reading your story and look forward to hearing more about Central America. Well done!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      26 August 2015 at 22:05

      I hope soon enough!

  • Gabby | The Globe Wanderers
    6 August 2015 at 15:12

    Love this post Claudia – SO inspirational. I think at the moment we are where you were a few years back. We’ve done a lot of travelling over the years but are now based in the UK, working 9-5 and desperately saving for our next adventure. I work for a charity and I love it… but it’s not where my heart is. My heart is in travel and I’m determined to make that our way of life. One day soon I hope we’ll be able to write a post like this about how we took the leap :). Huge congratulations for following your heart… waking up with a smile on your face every day is the perfect reward.

    Gabby

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      26 August 2015 at 22:09

      Thank you so much for this lovely comment! I am sure you will know when the time is right for you too. It took me a long long time to understand it!

  • Kerstin Pilz
    28 November 2015 at 3:51

    Ciao Claudia,
    lovely to have stumbled across your blog. I can totally relate to your story. I call myself a recovering academic. My colleagues find it hard to comprehend how I could have walked away from a University job as Head of Italian Studies and all the perks that came with it (nice salary, yearly research trips back to Italy, tons of soulless administrative work and lots of pressure to publish or perish) for a life of uncertainty. As you say, as bloggers we work just as many hours as we did before and we are not even close to making any money from it, but at least I now write stuff people actually like to read and I am free from an organisation that was eating me up. Do I have regrets? Yes, I should have done it way earlier! Good luck with your travels and your blog! Kerstin

    PS: mio marito era sardo, la Sardegna e’ bellissima!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      28 November 2015 at 10:31

      Thank you! Yes, I should have done it way sooner. I just had no idea how to, and it came quite naturally in the end. The important thing is that we have both survived academia!

  • Loose Translations
    31 December 2015 at 8:24

    I had read your post before and I was reading it again. As a researcher I find it hard at times to have someone sharing the same line of thought we both apparently shared. Thank you for sharing your story and inspiring others. It certainly motivates me 😉

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      31 December 2015 at 10:15

      I have to remember to also motivare myself at times. Thanks for reminding me about this!! 🙂

  • Randy
    2 January 2016 at 23:12

    Wow! Great story. Linked here from another travel blog so your site is getting exposure. Certain to return as I prepare to abandon the traditional work force for the road as well. You guys inspire me.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      3 January 2016 at 11:27

      Thank you Randy! The key here is trying to inspire myself. It isn’t always easy, and it takes a lot of work and effort. But I try to keep optimistic 🙂

  • Maria
    18 January 2016 at 16:47

    Ok this is great but here’s a question no one who travels long term can ever answer for me . How then do you make money ? How do you keep traveling if you are not working ? I’m curious as I would also like to . Thx

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      18 January 2016 at 17:42

      You are just reading my source of income 🙂

      • Maria
        18 January 2016 at 18:31

        Honey for real ? This is interesting . I need some tips ! This is my dream and I have no idea how to do it .

        • Claudia Tavani
          Claudia Tavani
          18 January 2016 at 18:38

          If you do some basic search online you will find plenty of resources. All I can say is that it takes a lot of work and effort, and time too!

  • Conor
    23 January 2016 at 1:24

    Such an inspiring story Claudia, you’re living every travellers dream 🙂 I just wish I had the same amount of energy and time to invest in such a wonderful life!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      23 January 2016 at 11:06

      It is easier said than done, to be honest. But I can’t think of any better way to spend my life 🙂

  • cloudio
    3 March 2016 at 22:50

    I can relate a lot with your story, not only because my name is Claudio and my father is from Sardinia, but especially the work envirnoment in Italy. I embraced the nomadic lifestyle a long long time ago and it is getting more and more difficult, but it’s refreshing to see your enthusiasm. deus t’aggiutete 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      15 March 2016 at 10:49

      Thank you Claudio! Yes, I still have a lot of enthusiasm. I hope to get to meet up somewhere in the world, one day!

LEAVE A COMMENT

Who is Claudia?

Hello, nice to meet you!

Hello, nice to meet you!

Hi, my name is Claudia. One day I packed my life and started travelling... except I packed too much. Follow me as I fill my life with dreams, drop the weight and inspire you to live your dreams. Learn more about me here...

NEVER MISS ONE OF MY POSTS!

Destination Guides

Destination Guides

Follow Me

Need help planning your trip?

MEMBER OF

MEMBER OF

Facebook Fanpage

Travel Coach

Travel Coach