The TravelBreak Story
How a Latina travel blogger re-defined the American Dream to work for her.
If my parents could accomplish so much without many resources, how much more could I do with so many opportunities? I could take on the world! So I tried.
Hi, my name is Stephanie Be and I’m first-generation American. The world is my office! I’m a blogger — a creative director and small-business owner — and I attribute my entrepreneurial spirit to my family’s relentless drive.
The number one question I get is on how I got into this. By “this” they mean getting paid to travel the world. People aren’t just fascinated on the places I go to, but on how I’ve managed to make a career out of doing something I love.
It’s a not a simple answer. Many people and experiences gave me the courage to start my own business.
So I’ll start from the beginning…
A Walking Billboard of the American Dream
“We didn’t have birthday parties because we couldn’t afford to feed guests,” my mom reminded me as she now hosted the monthly “Food Frenzy” banquet.
While I’ve been off traveling, my parents started welcoming groups of study abroad and out–of-state students for lunch in our home.
The irony in this conversation, like so many others we’ve had: we’ve come a long way.
The “American Dream” is the idea that anyone can work hard and achieve anything. My parents are examples of what love, dedication and faith can create.
Born to Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles, CA.
I was born four days after my mom’s sixteenth birthday in East Los Angeles. My dad being an orphan raised in a village outside of Guadalajara moved to the U.S. to pursue better opportunities. He built his business from the ground up in Southern California while putting my mom through night school. We moved around a lot as my parents overcame obstacles. Our first place was renting a single bedroom in someone else’s house; by the time I was in high school, my dad was flipping houses and my mom was working in healthcare for one America’s best private entities.
My mom explained to me as a kid that I could do things bigger than myself. My parents’ motivation is the root to my ambitions.
“In life, everyone is on a path. Some people carry more baggage than others. Sometimes baggage comes as consequences to our choices. Other times, we are burdened irrespective of our actions. Baggage can slow you down or make you work harder than others, but it doesn’t have to stop you. Despite the weight and pain, you can still make your way down that path.” – My mom.
With this simple analogy, she taught me that we had unique obstacles — and that we had particular privileges. It wasn’t until I grew into adulthood and traveled to the wealthiest and poorest parts of the world that I truly understood how this transcends across nationality, race, socio-economics, gender and religion.
Pictured with my parents as my brother also graduates from UCLA.
Making Dreams into Goals
Sometimes, I feel corny when I write lines of “inspiration.” But I want people to know my story and the substance behind the cliche quotes. As my online audience grows, so does my responsibility to have meaningful conversations. If people are going to be following me on the internet, I don’t just want it to be because I do fun things. It’s because I’ve dedicated myself to problem-solving and working in a way to create the type of lifestyle that I wanted to live. I challenged what society told me to do, taking risks and making sacrifices to make it happen.
I’ve traveled to 184 places in 40 countries.
Since creating the TravelBreak Blog, I’ve traveled to 105 destinations (I’d traveled to 80 places before starting the blog). This includes unreal experiences such as playing the drums with Wyclef Jean in the Bahamas, rock climbing in the Dolomites, flying my best friends around the world as my guests and staying at a seven star hotel.
You can read my Top 25 World Highlights at 25 (Photos) and my Top 25 USA/ Mexico Highlights at 25 (Photos) to get a sense of my adventures and lifestyle.
Dressing up for Junkanoo Festival in the Bahamas
Sunrise in the Dolomites
The Wave, Arizona with Kevin Lu @SweatEngine
I’ll never forget sailing Croatia with Yacht Life; road-tripping from LA to Vancouver through California, Utah, Arizona, Oregon and Washington while meeting people through social media; crater repelling in Israel, or hiking volcanos in Guatemala.
The Blog Growth Goes Beyond Travel
I’ve picked up a dozen new skills including photography and website building. I won an international blogging competition and have ongoing press features, not to mention interviewed rockstars at the Billboard Music Awards. I’ve had the honor of speaking at NYU Stern School of Business and UCLA on Digital Marketing. I’ve also managed to grow my company into a team, sent my parents to Bali and worked with businesses such as Facebook, Royal Caribbean and Hilton Hotels.
10% of proceeds go to university tuition for students in need.
I’ve been busy, but at least I’m doing something I love.
As a Latina blogger, I’m the first non-celebrity on the cover of Hola Latinos – a bilingual luxury magazine.
Challenging the Glorification of Busy
In the U.S., we are often pigeon-holed into a demanding work culture.
As high-school valedictorian and a community servant with over 400 volunteered hours, I entered UCLA pre-law. I took on work and internships including accounting, law, and corporate entertainment at AEG, Live Nation and ICM. Much of my time was invested in non-profit organizations including Dance Marathon for Pediatric AIDS, Project Literacy and Latinas Guiding Latinas. I showcased as a Latin Ballroom Dancer with 18x world champion Liz Lira. I integrated into the Los Angeles startup community, fascinated by the tech industry.
As I grew older, I started to understand that there is more to life than work. You can enjoy lifestyle responsibly. I no longer felt guilty doing things that are fun just because they’re fun. We’re allowed to do things that make us happy.
It wasn’t rare to find me road tripping off to Santa Barbara, cheering on the Lakers, dancing in Hollywood and at Coachella, or indulging in karaoke after sushi. As much as I loved Los Angeles — there was always something that could tear me away: travel.
Partying at the Playboy Mansion.
I studied abroad in Barcelona and then again in Rio de Janeiro. I negotiated with my parents to drop out of my sorority and use the dues to finance a solo trip to Japan. By the time I was graduating from university with a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Global Studies, I already knew that culture, community and travel made me happy.
I love people and trying new things. I believe travel makes us more open-minded and more compassionate. I wasn’t looking forward to succumbing myself to the corporate ladder. I didn’t mind how much work goes into our careers in America, but I hated the lack of work-life balance that comes along with working for U.S. companies. Two weeks vacation per year? When would I see the rest of the earth?! I decided to take a gap year to travel the world before committing to the cubicle.
Buying a One-Way Ticket to Sydney, Australia
Given I’d met so many Australians while traveling; it’s an English-speaking country with practical visitation laws (oh hey, I can take a gap year there, even though they can’t here), and the weather is as great as Los Angeles, I bought a one-way ticket to Sydney.
The next nine months really transformed my life. For starters, I had never worked in the service industry and had to adapt to a new set of challenges as a bar-tender. Furthermore, I was very well received by Australians and expats. Los Angeles can be very transactional — very “who are you” and “who do you know.” In Sydney, everyone treated me with kindness. I really needed people, and complete strangers were willing to be there for me. I never felt like I had to prove myself.
In context, this has to do with being a young American woman — and often the first Latina Australians had met — and the luck of the draw that I just happened to meet incredible people. I’m not saying every single immigrant in Australia is as lucky as I was; this is a worldwide phenomena.
I am still passionate about international immigration issues. I have a U.S. passport and can travel the world. Not everyone boasts this luxury.
One of my best mates from Australia visits me in California.
Re-uniting with my Aussie flat-mates in Yosemite.
I sought an alternative to bar-tending, so I took on free-lancing. If it hadn’t been so difficult to get a corporate job on a work and holiday visa, and if I hadn’t worked for a devil-of-a-boss in the restaurant industry, I probably wouldn’t have considered free-lancing. It was a rough time, but I’ll always remember how it drove me into a better direction.
“You’re Not Failing, You’re Pivoting”
Leaving Sydney was heart-breaking. I adored Australian culture, but I desperately missed my friends and family at home (and every single guy I’ve ever dated that’s not from Southern California will throw this in my face because it’s true — I can live anywhere temporarily, but in the long term, I want to live close to my family). I then took a world trip, traveling the Australian East Coast, South East Asia, Central and Eastern Europe. Sometimes I stayed in 5 star hotels in Thailand and other times I Couch Surfed in Amsterdam. Whatever worked, I’d figure it out. I financed this not as a blogger, but while working remotely for Aussie clients in marketing.
Halong Bay, Vietnam before travel blogging.
Dubrovnik, Croatia before travel blogging.
When I came home from my world trip, I was already accustomed to free-lancing and working while traveling. I wanted to start my own business, so that I could continue to work remotely, make my own hours and encourage people to travel too. I tried twice. First, I learned about tour operators, then pursued creating an app.
Aside from a new nonprofit I was running that offered free English classes, I put all of my energy and money into my start up. I developed social media accounts and started writing for online magazines in hopes of establishing credibility with investors.
My startup wasn’t going to workout. I’d never really failed, and the experience destroyed my self-esteem. I had sold my car, given up an apartment, invested all of my finances and worked until four am 6-7 days a week — and had lost everything. A lot of my friends didn’t stick around during this transition. I didn’t feel worthy of being loved, but my family and a few of my friends continued to love my unconditionally.
At this time, I just happened to have about 18,000 or so followers on Twitter. In 2014, there weren’t as many social media “influencers” and I was being offered work. I had nothing left to lose (literally, I had nothing), so I decided to try blogging for a year to see where it would take me.
Because of social media and press, I could pivot my business into a different direction. I wasn’t ready to give up.
Go Hard or Go Homeless: One Year Mark of Blogging
“You’re like the bougiest homeless person I’ve ever met” he joked as we caught the sunset over the infinity pool of a multi-million dollar home in the City of Angels.
Caught off guard, I giggled, but … he was right. Holy crap, he was right — “fully-nomadic” was a glorified phrase for homeless. At twenty-five years old, I flew first class, stayed at a seven star hotel with a butler, played laser tag in private jet planes and experienced the world’s best chefs and sommeliers. I’d flown my parents to Bali, and my best friend to Cabo; staying in presidential suites and reaping the perks of chauffeurs, body-guards, helicopters, and all-things glamorous. I traded bar-hopping for country-hopping, and boasted 164 destinations (1 year mark); at times, taking seven flights per week.
Traveling solo and meeting people through social media. Captured by @PauloDelValle
Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi
Doesn’t it sound great on paper? I should just brush my shoulders off now. So while I’d *cheers* to the validation of being featured by press for free travel, I was swallowing my pride with every sip of that champagne.
Behind all the glamour, I was fully nomadic — I was homeless. I wanted to flip a profitable business quickly — and that means cutting expenses. Rent is expensive. Cars are expensive. Stability is expensive. It was in the peak of my lifestyle perks that I was forced to stay at my baby brother’s filthy fraternity house (please *cringe* for me), and crawled back to my parents’ place for a hug, home-cooked meal, and a room where I actually knew how to use the shower head.
I was getting offered a lot of free travel, but I was still learning how to use blogging for business. There was hope. The blog and Instagram community, who in some ways competes with each other, but whom are mostly dependent on each other, were receptive. It was my “competition” that saw me drowning, threw me a floatie, sunscreen and pina colada.
We all are different, but we have so much in common. We’re on the same team.
I was terrified to continue, but I had enough people at home and in the industry believing in me to believe in myself. *Thank you.*
Flying one of my best friends from college to Europe.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Viral
I never wanted to be popular online. If you don’t do it right, having a bunch of Twitter followers or hundreds of double-taps on your snap snap, is the equivalent of being rich in monopoly money* (variation of unknown quote).
It means nothing.
Aside from my cynical love-hate relationship with mobile and desktop addictions, one thing is clear: social media is a real, comprehensive means to connect and engage with people.
Why run an online business?
What if I could get away with seeing the world while young and single, simultaneously securing a business which allows me the flexibility to make my own hours? What if my small business grew just enough, so that when I start baby-making, I could be at every game, every award show, and every milestone for the people I love? What if my posts inspired people to travel and be better people? What if I could stimulate the global economy by promoting tourism?
The best part of luxury travel is how it provides jobs from the building of the hotel to the farmer the restaurant makes its purchases from. Your vacation contributes to jobs in hospitality and lifestyle.
Slowly, that blog, social media, and free-lance consulting life became Ryan Gosling attractive. In the post-Google era, we have so many more opportunities than our parents and fore-fathers. I’m not the only one who believes travel is the new Mercedes. We want to make an impact. We want to see the world. We want to start our own businesses for purposeful, meaningful careers.
I never thought of myself as “talent” or an “entertainer.” Until the eighteen month mark, I didn’t even consider myself a “creative.” But I quickly learned the agency, the voice and the leverage I could have with a media presence — something that the marginalized community I was born into would never have given me.
Take for example when Sophia Vergara announced on Ellen her newest sales gizmo, a Ninja Coffee Bar. Vergara has probably taken on a few coffee binges herself to celebrate four years in a row as television’s highest paid actress (Forbes). The Colombian model accredits her fortune not just to a hyper- sexualized role on Modern Family, but through partnerships with K-Mart, Head & Shoulders, and Covergirl. Not to mention, she co-founded Latin World Entertainment, the top hispanic corporation in talent management and entertainment marketing.
And so my mind wanders to Andre Young, also known as Dr. Dre, coming from Straight Outta Compton. Dre became hip-hop’s wealthiest man not just because he could narrate the love of chronic and hate for the police — but because he sold a branded headset to Apple for 3 billion dollars.
Ashton Kutcher, beyond acting deals and endorsements founded Punk’d — is said to have tripled his earning when he invested in Skype.
The notorious Kardashian-Jenners built an multi-million dollar empire — pretty much on being themselves.
So I’ve embraced it. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but it’s here. Law made me unhappy, tech wasn’t the right fit.
I am who I am: a creative, an entertainer and a business person. A person who is so much more than her career.
Crater Repelling in Israel | Photo Collab @CrazyInTheRain
Just Because I Love My Job Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Work
The #1 question I get as a travel blogger is “how do you pay for travel?”
I currently work and travel. That’s how I pay for travel… I work.
There are so many ways to fund traveling. Consider when I was a student abroad embracing my scholarships, or when I moved across the globe and worked various jobs to stick around. I’m not saying quit your job to travel the world, or chase the blogging dream. I’m sharing my testimony of what’s worked for me and how I ended up in this crazy, unconventional life. I am incredibly grateful for the difficult experiences that pointed me in this direction.
If you’re turned off by the idea of the digital marketing industry, I’m sorry that you don’t understand that entertainment and running a business is still work. As people, we feel so entitled to people’s pictures, music, movies and stories. We don’t want to pay dancers, photographers and writers irrespective of the energy, courage and costs that go into creating it.
I monetize in three ways: affiliate sales, sponsored partnerships and as a content creator.
To give you an overhead of the work I do, please consider the services I manage for my own small business:
- Technical (SEO) & Creative Content Writing
- Photography, Videography, Cinemagraphs
- Public Speaking
- Video Hosting
- Management, Strategy and Negotiations
- Internal Operations
- Community Engagement (because the cool peeps that show the love deserve the love most!)
- Public Relations
- Digital Marketing
- Personal Branding and Web Design
- Web Development and Hosting (yes, I built my own website)
- Travel Planning
- HR/ Scouting Teams/ Partnerships
If it sounds like a lot of work to be a blogger, it is. It’s work and I’ve learned to love every piece of it.
What I’ve Learned as a Traveler, Artist and Entrepreneur
- There are people who not only have never left their country, but who have never truly gotten to know a person of another culture, religion, community and/or economic society. These people’s understanding of “self” and “other” is often shaped by the media.
- Words are powerful. Hate speech and bullying are a narrative for both institutional and every day violence. If you don’t think words are powerful, why do you think I get paid to write?
- We need to change the American system that only allows for highly skilled or grossly talented people to live decently. It’s nearly impossible to fulfill a healthy standard of living without an education, yet over-educated, in-debt millennials struggle to shape their careers.
- Some people will try to take advantage of you as an artist, but more frequently as a person. Keep giving. So many more people will be there for you when you most need them.
- There is no such thing as “self-made,” we are dependent on each other. Some will push us down, but someone else will pull us up.
- Failure doesn’t have to be your last chapter.
- Live your life. That means doing the things that are important to you in or outside of your career. You are not defined by your career.
- Some people’s presence in our lives were only meant to be temporary. Others will always hold a place in our heart; they’re just a flight away.
Two Year Mark: What’s Next for TravelBreak?
The possibilities are endless. I’m going to write a book, grow my team, launch a few special video projects, send more people to travel on my behalf, and ultimately focus more on my “self” outside of TravelBreak. I’ll be doing a lot more consulting and public speaking. I’m introducing more partnerships with lifestyle brands — so that I can still travel, but don’t have to travel 24/7. I seek a year long partnership which would enable me to spend less time negotiating and more time story-telling.
Above all, I want to have more conversations on hate speech; racial, religious and gender equality; fair compensation for the art community; online bullying; and education for small-business growth.
After four years of traveling, I’m moving back to Los Angeles (but still traveling!). I’ve been actively making time to be physically present for the people I love. Hopefully, I can start dating again soon too. In the far future, I’d like to have family and be a professor in Digital Marketing or work closely in consulting with businesses to connect people and artists in ethical and productive ways.
Hi I’m Stephanie. I am American.
I have two last names because I’m Latina too. I love culture and have traveled to 167…
Posted by Travelbreak on Saturday, February 27, 2016
If there is anything that you take away from my testimony, it can be summarized as follows.
- When I write generic listicles or long, vague social posts, they link to a deeper, greater part of my identity and experiences. I share these in hope of inspiring you.
- I still work very hard, not out of greed, but because I was raised in a community where we had no alternative. I find pride in providing for myself and the people I love.
- I refuse to sell you some fake dream that I’m just laying on a yacht and never work. If you want to start your own business or pursue paths in entertainment, you should know that they demand skills, resources and risks.
- If I’m working with partners and sponsors, it’s not to trick you into buying something, but a thought out partnership. This allows me to share the products, companies and places I love — despite the work and costs that go into it.
- I am a business person. I am a creative. I am so much more than my career. It took me ten years to figure that out, but that’s why now I’m living my life for a living.
Thank you for being a part of my journey as a traveler, artist and entrepreneur. I promise, I don’t take it for granted.