Sarah Von Bargen: World Traveler, Blogger, Internet BFF

Sarah Von Bargen believes yes is more fun than no. It’s the guiding philosophy behind her hugely successful blog, the aptly named Yes and Yes, and every aspect of her exciting, colorful, inspiring life, which has included 32 countries (so far), a nontraditional career path, and an emotional Richard Simmons workout class. Whether you want practical advice on throwing a rad dinner party, paying off your student loans, or quitting your job to move to New Zealand (or maybe all three?), Sarah is the wise Internet friend you need.

We caught up with Sarah to get the scoop on using blogging as a launchpad for a new career, turning big goals into reality, and why every woman should travel alone at least once in her life.

Do you remember when you first caught the travel bug? How did you realize you wanted to make travel a priority in your life?

My parents were both public school teachers, so I was fortunate enough to spend every summer, ages 4-14, road tripping around the US with my family. My parents were both pretty seasoned travelers, so wanderlust what just part of our ‘family culture.’ My dad would regale his Social Studies class with tales from his years spent living in Europe, and my mom told me about the desserts she ate while backpacking around Italy with her cousin.

From a young age, traveling was a fun, normal part of my life. Pretty lucky, right?

Tell us about your decision to start a blog. What was your original vision for Yes and Yes? Did you ever imagine your blog would become such a lasting success and open so many doors for you?

I’d been reading blogs for a few years, and there was a very specific type of blog I was looking for and couldn’t find. I wanted one single site that covered a variety of topics — travel, food, career, fashion, advice, feminism — and I wanted it to be funny and smart, helpful, and silly. 

I wanted essays about choosing to be child-free and I wanted pictures of animals in outfits.

When I couldn’t find a site like that, I decided to start one of my own. Apparently, I discovered a hole in the market, because now it’s my full time job and I have about 12,000 daily readers (I assure you, this surprises me as much as it surprises you).

Of course, I fantasized about making writing my full-time job, but when I started blogging, I wasn’t really sure how I’d make that happen. So many of the opportunities that have come my way I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams! I mean, who expects one of the editors of Vogue India to let you crash on her sofa when you’re in Mumbai?

In 2010, you left your job as an ESL teacher to become a full-time writer/blogger/consultant. What was that transition like?

I think the transition would have been pretty challenging had I stayed in Minnesota. I think it would have felt weird to go from being a teacher on Friday to being a full-time blogger on Monday.

But I actually lumped my career change in with a 10-month trip around Asia and the Antipodes. You can’t get too hung up on your job when you’re working in a refugee camp in Nepal. I also gave myself permission to view this as an ‘experiment’ — if it didn’t work out, I could always return to teaching when I got home. That made the whole thing less overwhelming.

These days, many people start blogging with the goal of turning it into a full-time career. Do you have any words of wisdom for bloggers who are just starting out?

Know that it’s very, very, very hard to make a living exclusively off your blog. 99% of the ‘full-time’ bloggers you know are supplementing the income from their blog with freelancing gigs and client work. I say this not to discourage you but to lovingly manage your expectations! 

Before you leave your day job, think about how you can supplement that blogging income, because it’s unlikely that you’re going to make $55,000 a year just from your blog.

You write a lot about practical ways to turn big, overwhelming life goals (a 10-month tour of Asia, for example) into reality. What would you like to tell people who read about your experiences and think, "I wish I could do that"?

Dude, you can. I am not any smarter, braver, or more special than you. I do not have a trust fund, I’m not even bi-lingual! I’m a medium-sized blonde woman who’s afraid of snakes. If I can do it, you can totally do it.

Pep talk aside, break your goals down into teeny, tiny steps and work backwards. If you want to leave on a huge trip in a year, what needs to be ready in nine months? What needs to be ready in six months? Don’t overwhelm yourself. Just take one tiny step at a time: check out a Lonely Planet from your public library and Google “Do I need a visa for Thailand?”

Another of your favorite topics: solo travel for women. In fact, you just returned from a solo six-week road trip! Many women are intimidated by the idea of traveling alone. Why is it important to get over that fear and give it a try, at least once?

Traveling alone is The Actual Best! You can skip all the boring stuff your parents/sister/partner/friend wants to do and devote yourself to having the exact travel experience you want. Traveling alone makes you feel capable, brave, interesting, and confident. You’ll have experiences you could never have imagined!

Also, it’s really not that scary or hard. REALLY. Get your feet wet with a little two-day road trip and see how you like it!

What tips do you have for women traveling alone?

1. Be sensible and trust your intuition

This is the best and most important safety-related advice you’ll ever get. Don’t wander around a dicey neighborhood at night by yourself. If a place or person gives you bad vibes, leave — even if it’s awkward. Don’t let your gas tank get too low, don’t drive when you’re tired, and pay attention to your surroundings.

2. Be prepared
Here’s what I’ve got in my proverbial and literal ‘not scared box’:

  •  A Garmin for those moments when my phone is out of range
  •  Real actual maps (you can usually get them for free at visitor centers)
  •  A USB phone charger (one for your car and one that’s portable)
  •  This self-defense key chain
  •  A gallon of water
  •  A shared Google calendar with my itinerary and phone numbers of the friends I’ll be visiting
  •  A road kit with ‘fix a flat’ and road flares
  •  A list of important phone numbers if I ruin/lose my phone (which has happened before)
  •  A tracker app so a few people can see where I am

3. Read the ‘for women travelers’ section of the guide book
Any good guidebook will tell you how to dress in a culturally appropriate way, if tampons are widely available, how your host country navigates gender norms, etc. Knowing that you ‘shouldn’t’ be wearing a spaghetti strap tank top can save you from a lot of street harassment!

4. Make pretend (or real) phone calls from the back of your taxi
If you’re riding in a taxi and feeling a bit unsafe, call a friend and loudly say “Hi, I’m heading home now in a cab. The driver’s name is XXX and the license is XXX. See you in 15 minutes!” If you don’t have a local SIM card or a phone, just tuck your camera into your hand and talk into it. Speak loudly enough so the driver can hear you and knows someone is waiting for you.

What's the best solo trip you've ever taken?

My time in Greece was amazing. I’d been wanting to see Greece since fifth grade and it really, truly lived up to my expectations. I spent a month volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center on a tiny island. I rented a scooter and I’d poke around the island, exploring beaches and eating cheese every afternoon. It was magical.

What does a "typical" work day look like for you?

When I’m on top of my game (read: not faffing around on social media) I’m up around 7:30. I eat breakfast on the porch and make my daily to-do list. I try to start my day with writing rather than email or social media. 

I usually write 'til noon or so and then break for lunch, which is something salad-y that I eat in the backyard. I spend the afternoon returning emails, responding to social media, and planning future content. I try to finish work by 4 p.m. and mentally close out the work day by taking the dog for a walk or maybe doing the ‘legs up the wall’ yoga pose. I really need to remind my body that we’re transitioning into a different part of the day and OMG, just leave the laptop alone!

What's your favorite part about the nontraditional life/career you've created for yourself? What's the greatest challenge?

I love that I can spend my time the way I want. Realistically, I still work close to 40 hours a week, but I choose which 40 hours. If I want to catch a Tuesday matinee, I can. If I have a 3:30 appointment, I don’t need anyone’s approval.

The greatest challenge, hands down, is turning off the work. My job expands to fill the space I give it. I could always do more. It’s hard to know when to say, “This is good enough. You’ve done enough for today.”

Let's finish things off with a few "Favorite" questions:

Favorite place in the world? Wellington, New Zealand (I lived there for a year and a half and I’d love to return for another few years).

Favorite way to travel (car, plane, train, boat, etc)? Train! Fun, relaxing, thrillingly old-fashioned.

Favorite social media platform? Instagram.

Favorite blog post you've ever written? Life has big plans for you.

Favorite piece of life advice? If it’s important, you’ll find a way; if it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.

Thanks so much, Sarah! For more travel tips, life advice, inspiration, and funny cat videos, follow Sarah on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And of course, bookmark Yes and Yes to add to your daily reads. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did.

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