By Nikki Vargas
Two years ago, I was living on the Upper East Side and working at a global advertising firm as I slowly climbed my way up the corporate ladder. I had all the trappings of a seemingly successful adult life: a good job, a promising career, a ring on my finger, and a wedding on the horizon. But then I did the unthinkable and left everything behind to chase my dream of travel writing.
My gamble paid off, now that I’m running my own site, The Pin the Map Project, while also juggling a freelance career of writing for publications such as VICE, Matador Network, and more. But it was certainly a difficult journey to get here.
When I moved to New York in the summer of 2011, I was directionless. I had spent the months since graduation living in Europe—until I ran out of money and had to come back to the States. My dream was to put my journalism degree to good use and break into the editorial world in New York, but I ended up stumbling into the field of advertising instead.
My foray into advertising soon started to resemble a speed date: I would stick around an agency long enough to realize I was unhappy, and then inevitably leave for another opportunity that seemed to hold all the promise of a “dream job.” After four stints at various companies in public relations, marketing, and advertising, I figured if I couldn’t find my dream job, I could create it instead.
Starting The Pin the Map Project was like playing with a jigsaw puzzle and then finally stepping back and seeing the bigger picture. All the pieces of my puzzle had been there—the journalism degree, the attempts at creating other blogs, the handful of freelance travel writing assignments, the daydreams—I just needed to pull them together. At first, I tended to the blog in between meetings and during lunch breaks at work, or whenever I could catch an hour or two to myself in the office. But soon enough, the push-pull between my travel writing and my advertising career became too difficult to maintain.
In my personal life, my travel writing ambitions began to weigh heavily on my relationship with my fiancé. I imagined our future as a kaleidoscope of adventures—the two of us with backpacks, exploring the far corners of Southeast Asia or South America. In contrast, he envisioned us settling down and buying a comfortable home to start a family in.
The realization that I wanted wings and he wanted roots created palpable strains on our relationship. It was perhaps the hardest realization I’ve had, that the life I had meticulously built was not the life I actually wanted. It took physically escaping on a solo trip to Argentina to ask myself the questions I had been avoiding and face the answers I had been dreading. I didn’t want to get married and I didn’t want this career; I was at one of those dramatic crossroads in life where I could either continue forward and ignore my new realizations, or make some changes and create the life I wanted.
Today, The Pin the Map Project has grown into an online destination with a talented team of writers, brand partnerships, and a soon-to-launch print magazine. My travel writing career and my blog have blossomed, taking me around the world, from Mexico to Morocco. I made the choice to flip my life upside down, tearing down in a day what had taken years to build, all in the name of restructuring my world to better resemble who I am. I left my relationship, called off my wedding, left my apartment, and left my job. Hearts were broken, people were disappointed, friends were lost, and lives were forever changed, but today—with the dust from that decision long since settled—my life finally looks like me.
Nikki Vargas is an NYC-based travel journalist with published work in VICE, Food & Wine, Roads & Kingdoms, Matador Network, and more. She is the founder and editor of The Pin the Map Project—an online destination as part of Mode Media—where she oversees a team of writers and writes frequently on the topic of travel. Nikki was also a speaker at the New York Travel Fest 2015 and the Women’s Travel Fest 2016, sharing candid details about how she broke into the world of travel writing; and has recently launched Pin the Map magazine. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Top Photo: Cantimplora Travel