My Story

by Rachel Sawden
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It’s been a long and random road to the launching of my blog...

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Growing up, I had big plans on becoming a Victoria’s Secret supermodel, but my dreams were dashed when I stopped growing at 5’2”. I had to think of an alternate plan and ended up studying Psychology and English Cultural Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

It was in those lecture halls that I decided I wanted to spend my life traveling and seeing the world. Upon graduating and moving home, one of my friends began talking about her plans to go backpacking around the world for several months. I wanted in. The Universe had manifested me a buddy with travel planning skills, all I needed was the money to cover the trip. I had always known that the 9-5 office life was not for me, and that was confirmed when I got a 9-5 office job.

In September 2008, I was placed at a tiny start-up law firm for three days, and on day two I was offered a full-time position as receptionist, office errand girl and assistant office manager. “I will leave this job within the next two years, just to give you a heads up,” I told my boss. I told him of my plans to travel the world, and luckily, he was fine with it.

While the office life isn’t for me, I networked and learned valuable skills such as how to write professional emails, legal work, and navigating office politics while saving the money needed for my big trip. In December 2009, I finished my job, and left the office life behind me.

The trip that started it all...

On January 4th, 2010, I left home for my big trip around the world. Our travel team had now expanded to four fearless females. For five months we traveled India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Australia New Zealand and Fiji. Before we left, we were given a fancy DSLR camera and tiny travel laptop to document the trip and create content for a Bermuda-based photo-sharing website. I am ashamed to say that it was only last year that I realized I have been a content creator for a very long time!

In mid-May, we returned to London, the start and finish point of our around-the-world plane tickets. However, I was not ready to go home. There were more countries to see, adventures to have and I had money to burn. I continued on traveling Europe for two and a half months, visiting friends around the continent and blowing my life savings.

It was worth every penny.

Exhausted and broke, I finally returned home to Bermuda. I had hoped to have an epiphany on what to do with my life on my travels, but that eureka moment never came. I just knew that I wanted to get back out into the world again. Refusing to return to the office life, I took a part-time gig at a dive shop hauling tanks and scrubbing boats through the late summer. I was obsessed with my travels and could not shut up about riding camels in the Indian desert, diving with sharks on the Great Barrier Reef and skydiving over New Zealand. It didn’t take long for all of my friends and family to get sick of my stories.

Those stories never stopped playing in my head...

Fall brought bad weather and my days at the dive shop became fewer and fewer. Bored, I issued myself a challenge to cross a particular item off my bucket list – write a book. I didn’t know where to begin or whether it would be fiction or non-fiction, but I heeded the advice, write what you know, so I began writing about my trip. If for no other reason, I had the stories for myself.

When I began writing, however, I found my stories to be rather dull, and wanted to inject some excitement into them. I ordered a bunch of books from Amazon and started studying the craft of fiction. My new goal was to create characters and let them loose in the world I had just come from.

It was also around this time that another idea took hold...

I had told my parents about the incredible markets of Asia, having brought back a personal collection of jewelry and gifts. If I had the money, I could buy inventory and sell at a very high mark-up. One night I couldn’t sleep, and an off-handed comment by my dad that he would be willing to extend a small business loan finally registered. I shot up in bed and wrote out an entire business plan along with a launch calendar to hold a shopping night in the middle of the Christmas rush. This night was early November.

Two weeks later, my mother and I were on a plane to Thailand for my first buying trip. In December 2010, Wanderlust Boutique was launched, and my shopping night was a success.

I kept writing my novel and toyed with the idea of turning Wanderlust Boutique into a real shop. In my mind, between being a best-selling author living off royalties and selling jewelry and wares from around the world would be how I would travel the world and pay for it.

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However, 2011 had some interesting plans in store for me...

In January I received a call from a temp agency. A couple of businessmen were looking for someone to run a small Ecommerce business. I had no idea what I was doing, but they gave me the job and I became the face of BermyDeals, Bermuda’s version of Groupon. I could work remotely and so I loved the flexibility, but it came with a steep learning curve.

In the fall, I received a local TechAward and gave a very excitable speech after drinking a few glasses of wine to calm my nerves. Unbeknownst to me, someone in the audience knew that the local news was looking for a new weather presenter, and for some reason thought I would be perfect. I hit the airwaves as one of Bermuda’s TV News presenters in December 2011.

And the years rolled on...

For the next few years I wrote my novel, reported the local weather and international stock markets,  modeled for local stores, starred in local commercials, held one more shopping night for Wanderlust Boutique and ran BermyDeals, which provided me with amazing networking skills, along with experience in Ecommerce, websites, and social media.

In the summer of 2014 the news station folded, and BermyDeals ran out of steam. I had spent the prior several months in a deep depression.  Wanderlust Boutique no longer sparked joy, and I made peace with the realization that retail is not for me. Simply writing a book was no longer the goal, being a published author was. In December 2014 I had finished Runaways and began to query agents. I wanted to keep writing, doing production work (hosting a travel show was the goal) and traveling. 

South America specifically had been calling to me since 2011.

In February 2015, the Universe manifested my trip. A friend from my original travels would be in Peru, then another friend would be in Cuba right after, and another friend had booked a surf-camp in Costa Rica shortly after that. In February I took off with the intention to get inspiration for my next novel and become a travel vlogger and Instagrammer. I bought a camera, GoPro and all sorts of gear ready to become a star. However, a few problems arose…

Within the first week my laptop stopped working. I decided to just gather content and put it together later. Three weeks later, disaster struck again. On my first day in Cuba, I broke my camera lens. I soldiered on taking photos with an iPhone. What I realized in hindsight was that I actually didn’t have a plan or strategy in place for my goals. I didn’t know how Instagram worked, or how to edit videos, or create a cohesive aesthetic for Instagram. I had just planned to wing it. While I took some cool photos, and they’re still deep in my feed, I wish I had spent time really understanding how the platforms worked, and the best practices for creating unforgettable content.

While I failed at achieving my goal of becoming a travel vlogger/Instagrammer, I not only got the story inspiration for my next novel, I realized that Runaways needed to be gutted and rewritten. A dream agent was interested in a rewrite, so I returned home in the spring and spent every waking hour revising Runaways. At the end of the summer I pitched the new and much improved manuscript to her and it was, unfortunately a pass. It was disappointing, but Runaways was miles better than it was before, and I sent out more query letters.

Then I got a phone call with a dream offer...

It was also at this time that I received a call with an offer to host a TV show on for an international television network. Bermuda had been selected as the home of the sailing race The America’s Cup in 2017 (it has nothing to do with the country, the Cup is named after a boat called The America). Some of the teams had already moved to Bermuda and a TV network, Nautical Channel, wanted to produce a show highlighting Bermuda and its role as the home of the America’s Cup. We started filming in the fall of 2015 and I thought this would be my big break.

I was in a deep funk and in dire need of a creative outlet.

I had stopped writing. I had a hand-written draft of my latest story, but my motivation to keep writing it came to a grinding halt. I needed to focus my attention elsewhere for a while. Through 2016, I had upped my Instagram posting a touch, perhaps once every week or so, but still didn’t have an aesthetic, nor did I hold any belief that I could grow my following. 

And that is when I met The Wondering Dreamer...

Near the end of 2016 I had roughly one thousand followers on Instagram. One day, I checked who liked my latest photo and an account called The Wondering Dreamer had liked and commented on my photos. I looked at her profile. She was Bermuda-based, had a beautiful pastel hued gallery of Bermuda’s photogenic spots, and she had twelve-thousand followers. She was not a celebrity, and this was mind-blowing to me.

We had coffee shortly after and bonded over some personal similarities, and she taught me the formula of how to grow in Instagram. The formula consists of regular posting of quality content in a particular niche and engaging with other users on the platform. I had been a model for about ten years and in my earlier days I loved the process of creating photographs. Finding inspiration, shooting, directing the editing. Having a concept and executing it. At that point I didn’t care about growing, I just wanted to have a new hobby. I decided I was finally going to be one of those traveling Instagram girls.

I started researching hashtags, Instagram strategy and thinking about my aesthetic and started a Pinterest board of photo-inspiration. Images of the ocean, waterfalls, and tropical settings called to me. Which would be easy to get in Bermuda once things warmed up in the spring.

Winter 2016-2017 brought some well-timed travels...

In the meantime, I had a family trip to Jamaica planned for my grandmother’s 100th birthday in December. Luckily for me, my brother is a photographer and took some beautiful photos of me on the beach in Ocho Rios, and at Dunn’s River Waterfall. It was with these photographs that I began curating my feed.

A girl’s trip to Sri Lanka in February allowed me to gain further content for my tropical travel feed. And after that, spring in Bermuda was in full bloom. I reached out to photographer friends and we went on content missions around the island. I carried my camera with me everywhere I went and got shots on days at the beach and out on the boat with friends.

A new passion was born..

I was posting 3 times a week, and really fell in love with the process of shooting, editing and posting.

If you’re wondering what I did for money for all of those months, I bartended at events, and I managed to secure a gig hosting a web-series for the local news covering the lifestyle side of the America’s Cup which lasted all of June 2017. That gig was was an unforgettable experience that gave me an indispensable presenting showreel.

Later in the summer, I decided to see what would happen if I did the engagement side of the formula. So, for one weekend, I engaged with random people I found through my most used hashtags and ended up with an extra two hundred followers by the end of the weekend. Realizing that growing was easier than I thought, I kept engaging every day.

Looking ahead, however, wasn't inspiring...

Bermuda’s companies had blown their budgets on the America’s Cup related sponsorship and marketing, and for late summer and into the fall finding part-time gigs was difficult. I had to figure something out as I was looking ahead to a very boring winter with little opportunity.

I had set Runaways aside as I had lost hope of ever gaining a publisher or agent. Then, an idea hit. If I had a platform or following of my own I could either hook an agent with that, or self-publish with the aim to market to that platform. Runaways was about a girl traveling the world taking photographs, so if I could grow a following of people interested in traveling (and taking photographs.), I had a perfect niche audience.

The Universe delivered again...

A friend had decided to quit her job to travel Asia, and I wanted to join her. I sat down, looked at my savings, and knew I could swing another trip. Then two more friends decided they wanted in on the fun.

In December 2017, I set off on a one-way ticket to South East Asia with 4,500 followers and a strategy to post every day, engage every day, and I would not come home with less than 10,000 followers.

For was supposed to be a couple of months, turned into six of my most favourite months of my life, I explored and created content through Singapore, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Dubai. I was blessed to have some very patient and supportive friends help me take my photographs. My three months based in Bali were formative for me as a creator. If you don’t know, Bali is the mecca for Instagrammers. I found a community of like-minded people who wanted to explore, talk shop and take photos. My content missions took me to amazing and remote places I probably would never have otherwise seen or been bothered to go to.

It was also in Bali, in the first days of April 2018 that I hit 10,000 followers and was growing consistently every day. I sent out two more query letters to literary agents, and when they responded with rejection letters weeks later, I smiled and said, “I don’t need you.” I had my following, I was empowered by my ability to complete anything I set my mind to, so I started researching self-publishing with the goal to publish Runaways later that year.

In June 2018, after six wonderful months of traveling, I returned home...

 I was now, by Bermuda standards, a leading influencer. Through the summer I kept creating content, odd jobbing, and taking new opportunities that my following afforded me. I was invited to all sorts of fun events and became a contributor for a leading lifestyle magazine on the island. I also worked on getting my manuscript ready for publishing along with all of the other materials I needed.

In late summer I was offered a gig managing a beautiful property as a vacation rental villa and events space, Sandymount. I took it as it afforded me money, flexibility, and a stunning location to shoot content.

Then, a dream came true...

On November 9th, 2018, I published Runaways. To sit at a table signing my book for people who wanted to buy and read it was a dream come true. I felt that no matter how my book does sales-wise, the accomplishment of writing and published that book all on my own was success enough for me. I was officially an author, and no one can ever take that away from me.

Kept hustling through 2019...

Through 2019 I managed Sandymount, invested in marketing Runaways, and kept creating content. Through the year, Runaways won three independent publishing awards. By the end of 2019 and start of 2020, I decided to step things up a bit. My vision would include a blog (something that had never really interested me until now), a non-fiction book about self-publishing, and keep working on my second novel that was now being written as a screenplay.

2020 was looking bright...

In February 2020 I spent the month traveling Guatemala, taking photos and making notes for blog posts. On February 29th I returned home, with the plan to build the blog, write the book, and take some more trips through the year for blog content.

But coronavirus had other plans...

Before I left, the whole corona virus situation seemed like much media ado about nothing like SARS. But in the two weeks after I returned home, the reality of the novel corona virus set in. The situation escalated really rapidly. Devastating footage and stories from Italy emerged, countries started shutting borders, and death rates were rising.

Global tourism collapsed, and as cancellations rolled in, my job became very quiet. As Bermuda was ordered to shelter in place, I had no excuses to not accomplish the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. If I have learned anything from the past ten years of plot twists, it’s to pivot and adapt.

So finally, here is my blog. I will write about travel and lifestyle themes, Bermuda life, photography and Instagram content creation along with self-publishing guides. I want to help others publish their books with the knowledge I’ve gained and wish I had, I want to inspire people to travel, and help them to create the photographic content that they want. I’ve finally accepted my fate as a writer and my role as a storyteller, so here we go.

Where will this new venture take me?

Please subscribe and keep following to find out.

xoxo

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