In 2011, I embarked on an adventure that would eventually change my life’s course. I had dreamed of studying abroad in London since I was in high school, and JMU’s renowned study abroad program was one of the primary reasons I selected this incredible school. By the time I was a senior at JMU, I had saved enough money (working as a waitress at the delicious Vito’s Italian Kitchen) to make this dream a reality. In the fall of my senior year I, along with 26 fellow Dukes, traveled across the Atlantic to what would become our home for the next three months. I was simultaneously excited and nervous to be so far away from everything and everyone I knew, but the experience of living in England and exploring a new continent proved to be more meaningful than I had imagined.
To record this exciting time in my life I decided to begin a blog. I started a free website on WordPress which I used to document my travels. I made lifelong friends, explored six new countries, and made countless memories during those three months. After returning to JMU and graduating in the spring of 2012, I felt a change. I had a new perspective on the world, and although I was determined to get a full-time job using the skills I had gained with my SMAD (School of Media Arts & Design) major, I had developed an insatiable desire to see the world.
I worked for a handful of different companies from graduation until early 2015 in the recruiting and marketing fields. Although I enjoyed the work, I never felt truly inspired or satisfied. I realized how much I missed writing and traveling, so in February of 2015 I revamped my former blog to create Wonderlost. I branded the blog, began writing again, started researching the travel blogging industry, and eventually added contributors. In March I traveled to Ireland and later that year my friends and I returned to Europe for a reunion in London, Prague, and Iceland. Most recently, I had the incredible opportunity to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and it is an experience I will never forget. My cousin and I booked a four-day trek to hike through steep mountains and rocky terrain to arrive to Machu Picchu. We were physically, mentally, and emotionally challenged, but came out so much stronger than we were before. We made lifelong friends on the trail, learned about the incredible Incan history, and experienced the colorful Peruvian culture.
Wonderlost has been expanding ever since its inception in 2015 and has grown to a readership of people from 93 countries around the globe (and counting). My SMAD major and Writing minor gave me the tools I needed to set up my website and pursue work in the travel blogging industry. These programs encouraged creativity, individuality, and professionalism. My experience with JMU’s study abroad program helped me grow as a person, opened my mind to other cultures and ways of life, and inspired me to see the world. The birth of Wonderlost is directly linked to the skills I gained through my major/minor at JMU and the life-changing experience of participating in their study abroad program. Had I not started a blog while in London, I am not sure Wonderlost would have come to existence. I will always hold a special place in my heart for JMU and the lessons I learned at this inspiring university.
Travel blogging has begun opening the door to new opportunities. I recently had an interview with a travel company called Go Blue Ridge Travel where we solely discussed Wonderlost, and it led to a job! I was hired as their Digital Content Marketing Coordinator and contribute to their various websites by writing articles, managing their social media channels, in addition to designing and setting up a new website for them. As I move forward in my own career and future, I want to build a life that supports what I love and inspires others to achieve their own potential. I truly believe our generation has the ability to live anywhere, travel the world, and work full-time. Your dreams don’t necessarily need to go on hold – begin the process of pursuing them now!
My advice to you:
If you are interested in starting your own blog, whether that be travel-related or something else, I encourage you to do so. I have helped many friends set up their own websites and I enjoy following their blogging journeys. My favorite blogging platform to use is WordPress, which is free to get started and very user-friendly. It grows with you as your blog develops and has great customization options. If you are considering starting a blog, be sure to determine a focus. Decide what you want your blog to be about and begin writing quality content. After you develop a “voice” and writing style, begin growing your audience by engaging with other bloggers in your field, joining blogger support groups on Facebook, and utilizing social media to promote your content. But most of all, make sure you enjoy doing it—passion is what leads to success!
I encourage you to regularly evaluate what is important to you. Begin doing what you love, even if it is for free at first. Don’t wait for the perfect job to come to you, because that is unlikely to happen. Start doing the job you ultimately want and opportunities will follow. You can begin doing that by looking for mentors in your field to help guide you along the way and taking advantage of the abundant resources JMU provides its students and alumni. And finally, I urge you to see the world. Travel helps to remove prejudice, discrimination, and preconceived notions. When traveling, we suddenly find ourselves in a new environment without knowing the language, customs, or food. We become reliant on strangers for our basic needs. We turn on the news these days and see a scary world full of terror and strife. But our world is not scary, it is beautiful. It is made up of all sorts of individuals who are yearning to be understood, not stereotyped. We are so fortunate to have been given such a beautiful planet to call home, and I urge you to see as much of it as you possibly can. Receiving an education is more than sitting at a desk; it should be about experiencing the whole world. Open your eyes and mind to other cultures and new experiences and allow yourself the opportunity to be “lost in wonder.”
To check out my travel blog, please visit www.wonderlosttravels.com.
Erin Scherer is a graduate of James Madison University (’12). She founded the Wonderlost Travel blog in February of 2015 after her experience of studying abroad in Europe through JMU’s study abroad program. Erin has had the opportunity to travel throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, South America and most recently to Japan. She enjoys writing about and photographing her travel experiences in order to inspire others to get out and follow their travel dreams. She has collaborated with tourism departments, restaurants, and other travel bloggers to share reviews and travel advice with readers in over 90 countries. Erin has a passion for traveling the world to experience other cultures and explore nature!