I’m sitting in a sauna in the Philippines, muscles loose from a massage, but I can’t relax. There’s a 20-something woman seated to my left, and I’m finding it hard to sit in such a small space with a fellow traveler in silence. I’m torn between feeling like I should say something and not wanting to interrupt her peace.
It only takes a couple of minutes before I crack. I’m too curious. I want to know where she’s from and what brought her to this sauna in Makati, the cultural hub of metro Manila, Philippines — other than spa services that cost a fraction of what they would in many other major cities.
I soon find out that she’s Mollie Bylett, the person behind the website Where's Mollie?, and she has what is possibly the most envied and romanticized job in the world: travel blogger (#livingthedream).
As we chat, a spa attendant brings Bylett an ice water and me a pot of black tea, and I sit on my hot wooden bench, trying to balance my curiosity with my desire not to be rude. I’ve never met a travel blogger before, but like anyone who has experienced wanderlust, I’ve had a fantasy or two about being paid to journey around the world. My questions are scrolling through my head like post-game scores on ESPN. How do you make money from this? What does your work actually entail? Is it really as glamorous as it seems?
The answer to that last question probably seems like a resounding “duh” — I’m talking to her in a spa, after all. Yet like most things, the answer is not as straightforward as one might think. This sauna trip isn’t part of Bylett’s daily schedule. In fact, she’s been on the go for four-plus months, and it’s a much-needed break from the energy — and yes, work — that goes into her job. This is a woman who actually skipped a flight to Palawan (aka the world’s best island, according to Travel + Leisure) earlier in the day because she was itching to head home to the London area instead.
Bylett is used to people wondering what she “actually” does, not to mention the misconception that she just jets around the world taking one beautiful photo after another for her website, Where’s Mollie?, and social media — probably in between Mai Tais. What people don’t realize, though, is how much work it took to get her to the point where she could make travel blogging her full-time job. The three-and-a-half-year process was “hard work, and at times soul destroying,” she tells Bustle in an email after getting home. Until six months ago, she labored over her blog while running an eyelash extension business that she had set up.
I never really had a day off and ... I would burn out a lot and not have the bank balance to show for it.
“I never really had a day off, and whilst I didn’t mind because I was passionate about everything I was doing, I would burn out a lot and not have the bank balance to show for it,” she says. “But the strength in that frustration has definitely led me to where I am now.”
That strength has been paying off. Bylett has been to 36 countries so far, amassed nearly 50,000 Instagram followers at the time of this writing, and attracted sponsors like GoPro. Still, travel blogging continues to take real work. Her days might not be spent in an office, but her hours are busy. Separating work and personal time is an ongoing struggle.
“As with anyone who is self-employed, it’s really hard to switch off because there’s always something that you can be doing to better your business,” she says, adding that she “definitely [works] beyond the hours of a 9-5.” There’s a lot to be done, including writing posts for her website, shooting and editing photos and videos, working with sponsors, and engaging with her audience, among other tasks.
What makes finding that balance especially tough in Bylett’s case is that she loves everything she does. That might not sound like a problem, but it definitely can be.
“It’s challenging to enforce that discipline, but I’ve learnt the hard way a couple of times by getting pretty ill,” she says.
Bylett recognizes how privileged she is to be doing what she does, though. She says the best parts of her job are the people she gets to meet and the countries she has the chance to explore. Plus, she would be documenting her trips no matter what.
“I travel and create content because it’s a personal passion,” she says. “I think I would need to vacation to a cardboard box to not get my camera out!”
Wherever the destination, Bylett makes a conscious effort to be open about the realities of her job, like the fact that she got lonely at times during her recent 18-week solo trip, or that sometimes she gets sick on the road.
“I’m honest about everything,” she says. “I don’t cover up the bad times, and I use things like my Instagram stories as a way to share the behind-the-scenes details to avoid jealousy and keep it real!”
Bylett even wrote an entire post on her blog in 2016 about the “downsides to a life filled with travel.” Fabulous as it sounds in theory, all that adventure takes a toll, whether it be detracting from personal relationships or making it harder to find satisfaction in the normal grind. Plus, when travel is your job, it changes your definition of a getaway.
“A vacation for me is actually time at home, the opposite to what one would think!” Bylett says.
Even with its downsides, travel blogging is still clearly the dream for her. But don’t let the stunning photos fool you: Living the dream is work, too.