Boston native Lillie Marshall took some time off from her position as a high school English teacher to travel the world. The experience changed everything for Lillie – it was the beginning of her writing career. She joins us this week to talk about her experiences, the websites that resulted from her travels, and her goals for the future.
I understand you taught for several years before you decided to take some time off to travel the world and write about your experiences. Tell us how that all came about.
At the age of 21, I started teaching English to high school seniors in a challenging public school in Boston. I was absolutely terrible at first, but with five years of practice, I began to get the hang of urban teaching. After half a decade, however, I realized that if I was going to see the world and become any type of writer (many English teachers like me are secretly aspiring writers), that moment was my chance. I was single, had saved a bunch of money thanks to frugal living, and had earned tenure so I could take a year off and return to my job afterwards. Once I bought my around the world plane tickets, everything fell into place. I had an incredible nine months exploring Asia, Africa, and Europe. I chose to travel for nine months because many of my high school students had become pregnant – and I wanted to propose another manner of spending that time.
At the start of my around the world journey in 2009, I launched www.AroundTheWorldL.com to chronicle my own travels. I also launched www.TeachingTraveling.com to share the stories of other Teacher-Travelers. Little did I know then how much joy and fulfillment these sites would give me over the next several years, nor how popular they would become through my obsessive hard work! Now I’m back to teaching full-time in Boston and continue to travel and run my sites which get about 1,500 readers per day.
As a traveling teacher, you’ve established a unique brand with your two websites. Can you share some tips for establishing and building a brand that will connect a writer to his or her readers?
The main advice I give to aspiring bloggers is to just start. Write about what you care about and post consistently and often. With time and persistence, a niche and audience will develop. I’ve never been one to want to pick just one thing, so while my overall niche might be “a traveling teacher,” the other niches I belong to have changed. I’ve moved from solo budget travel to luxury family travel… with some food, art, and humor in the mix. I’m glad I’ve diversified like this, because you never know what will really connect with readers and SEO. My most consistently popular articles of the 700 on AroundTheWorldL.com are actually the two articles I have on funny pregnancy symptoms — not what you’d expect to “win” on a site supposedly about teacher travel.
One word of caution regarding my “just start writing” advice: Don’t pick brand names, blog titles, or social media handles with obvious expiration dates. For example, you don’t want to pick a blog title like “I’m 25 and love it!” or “I have a 3 year old!” because, well… that’s not going to last. Think long term.
You have no doubt had many inspiring experiences in your travels. Please share with us a few of your most memorable.
The first turning point in my travels was volunteer teaching in Ghana for three months. I loved that country. It changed my life because the students and teachers I worked with were so awesome that they convinced me not to quit teaching altogether as I’d been secretly planning to do at the end of my travels. I also really enjoyed Ghanaian food and custom-made dresses. In fact, I wrote so much about how much I loved Ghanaian food that, unbeknownst to me until quite recently, a random restaurant in Ghana put me on a billboard advertising local food!
A second traveling turning point has been transitioning from solo travel to learning how to travel with a mischievous toddler. My husband has been a brilliant partner in successful family travel to Puerto Rico, Ireland, Quebec, and beyond, and it’s been really fun to see the world through the eyes of my new traveling clan. That said, I passionately encourage married people with kids not to totally discard solo travel. When I was five months pregnant with our second child, I traveled alone to Dubai for nine days, and it was a deeply exhilarating and rejuvenating experience.
Now that you are a mom, how are you balancing your teaching, traveling, your online empire, and family time?
Have you heard of “productive procrastination?” Basically, if you’re not making headway on one thing on your to do list, procrastinate on it by doing another thing on your to do list! This principle is why balancing teaching, traveling, blogging, and family is actually easier and more energizing for me than if I only had one thing to focus on.
What are your goals for your websites over the next 5 years?
I work obsessively on my sites, and as a result they have seen very steady, positive growth. I would like to continue that consistent growth in order to reach a larger audience of people I can actively inspire or assist. Also, I’ve had a lifelong goal of being featured in the New York Times – the publication I most adore! Someday…
What advice do you have for other teachers who may want to follow in your footsteps?
I actually encourage people to “keep your day job.” I love the combination of teaching, traveling, and blogging. I think it causes unnecessary stress to try to quit your job and live off a blog. First, because it is much more difficult than people realize to make money blogging, and second, because I actually adore teaching, and think it’s important to balance out solo writing time with in-person contribution to society. Do what works for you, but for me, variety is the key.
For teachers looking to track down the many opportunities for free educator travel, I’d recommend starting with one of my most popular TeachingTraveling.com interviews: “24 Teacher Travel Opportunities for Free or Super Cheap” which has been read over 10,000 times.
Whether you travel through frugal living, grants, or through some other ingenious way, the bottom line is that if you want to see the world, you can make it happen!
Lillie Marshall is back home in her beloved Boston teaching in the public schools and taking care of her family. But her blog and adventures will continue for many years to come as she still voyages constantly. Since returning to teaching she has traveled to China with a group of 42 Boston students, taken a nine day teacher tour of Greece, and has added a honeymoon and traveling with baby to the mix. Beyond teaching and blogging, Lillie enjoys running social media trainings, providing website consulting, freelance writing, and public speaking. Lillie is active on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram as @WorldLillie