Expat Living, Travel

Five Years of Blogging and Inevitable Change

August 15, 2015
Cheryl Howard Thinking About Change

Five Years of Blogging and Inevitable Change. Believe it or not, cherylhoward.com has been on the Internet for just over five years now!

This Blog Was Once A Lot About Nothing

Cheryl Howard Travel Blogger

As my blog had no point, neither did this shameless selfie I took long ago.

It started as a blog filled with random posts about my disastrous cooking adventures (including a very unfortunate experience when I attempted to peel an avocado), a video clip from a time when the CBC featured me as a Toronto commuter, and journal notes from a big trip to Brazil and Argentina.

I’m also very ashamed to admit that I once blogged about my Klout perks (like a free Virgin flight to San Francisco), wrote about attending sponsored events like scotch tastings, and even completed an article for a couple of pairs of Cougar boots. In other words, I used to be everything I now intensely dislike about blogging (more on that later).

What many don’t actually know is that when I first launched this site, all the posts had been imported from my old Blogger blog, aptly named A Lot About Nothing.

Yes, I once had a blog that had absolutely no focus and was filled with very unfortunate content. 

Tragedy and Then Travel

Just a month before I launched my blog, I was laid off from a pretty cushy job. Fortunately, I had received a generous severance package, had just sold my house at a profit, and was in an enviable economic position for the very first time in my life.

In the five years leading up to this, I went through a messy divorce, the untimely death of my father, the chore of settling his estate (coupled with a lot of family squabbles), the death of my grandmother, and the demise of another long-term relationship. The litany of tragedies seemed unending. I wished I could stop time, breathe for a while, toss aside all of my responsibilities, and escape the pain. When I was ready to move forward, I’d press the play button and life would be as it was but with a happier and more stable version of myself.

As tough as things were during that time, I certainly gave little indication to others that I felt like my life was crumbling around me. I flourished in my career, played sports, went out to fun parties, indulged in frequent shopping trips, and started travelling. As I wrote in my first post about why I moved to Berlin, from the outside looking in, my life appeared great.

Reflecting back now, I can see that my effort to conceal my pain from others was simply a way to avoid accepting the enormity of everything that had happened. It’s also why I went all “Type A” on life and constantly had a busy schedule. I recall a family member commenting on how cold I was because I didn’t cry at my father’s funeral. Everyone grieves differently, and I certainly didn’t need to cry on demand to prove my love. The grief came out over time in other ways, through panic attacks, an inability to sleep, frequent tears (because, yes, they eventually came and didn’t stop for years), and a lack of enthusiasm for life in general. It took years to get past everything and it is still something I struggle to deal with, even today.

What helped more than anything was travelling. My explorations around the world provided me with happiness, an emotion I’d never really felt for more than a brief moment.

Let There Be a Travel Blog

Cheryl Howard Photographer

I started travelling and taking pictures … of myself, for some reason.

So, there I was, freshly unemployed. I thought I’d just take the summer off, become a champion lady of leisure, and travel while still being based in Toronto. My planned time off of three months turned into nine months. I went to LA, San Francisco, New York, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Austria. It was during my trips to Europe that I fell in love (not with a guy but with the continent in general) and knew that, someday, I’d move there. I wasn’t sure when, but I knew it would happen.

During those nine months, I wrote more and more about my travels, mostly just for fun. Sometimes, I’d write about places that I wanted to visit, even though I’d never been there, like the Blue Lagoon in Iceland (years later, I finally made it there!).

I’m quite sure that no one read my blog other than my friends, my mom, and maybe my cat, but I kept up with the writing.

I’d inadvertently stumbled into the world of travel blogging without even knowing it was an actual “thing.” I just knew that it was something that I liked doing and that I wanted to grow my blog into something bigger, even if I didn’t know what bigger would look like.

A friend advised me to sign up for a travel writing course at a local college, which I eventually did. Once I started working again, I finally enrolled and went to a night class once a week. Many nights, after a long day at the job, I’d go home and write blog posts (as you d0).

I also found an entire community of travel bloggers on Twitter and was excited to know I was not alone. I had other friends who’d made fun of my blogging passion and told me that it seemed like a far departure from my long-time career as an IT project manager, so I was all the more comforted to know that there were others out there doing the same thing.

I got involved in the Toronto Travel Massive chapter and began attending their monthly meetups. It was exciting to meet people who were just as fuelled by wanderlust as me, and it was inspiring to know that some of them had even made a career out of it.

Nine months after being laid off from that job and finding myself back at work, again hacking through that 9–to–5 grind, I once more found myself terribly unhappy and dreaming about a move to Europe.

As travel was still a priority, I went on another trip, this time to Cuba using my now meagre amount of vacation time that came with the job. The plan was to backpack around the island for 10 days and be all Internet-free, reputedly easy on the island where dial-up was still considered a luxury for the average Cuban. Yet, while driving to a remote mountain village, my phone suddenly received a signal and rang. It was my landlord informing me he was putting my rental apartment on the market, when I hadn’t even been living there for a year (I ‘d started renting after I sold my house the year before). He told me prospective buyers would be coming in for a viewing the next day.

I stalled them, cut my trip short, and came back to Toronto. It was a moment that changed everything.

Making That Berlin Dream Come True

Cheryl Howard in Berlin

This is where the story becomes familiar. I soon quit my job, sold everything I owned and moved to Berlin, never having been there, not knowing the language, and being unemployed and alone.

Once in Berlin, I completely immersed myself in the travel blogging community. I hooked up with the Berlin Travel Massive chapter and even starting contributing articles to another Berlin-based travel blog, Travelettes. I went to travel blogging conferences and soon found myself going on press trips all around Europe and, finally, getting paid for my content. I even scored a brief gig writing articles for the Sofitel Berlin blog.

Of course, as I was living in Berlin, I began writing about my expat living experiences, be it how to find a job in Berlin or how to make friends in Berlin.

Unfortunately, my Berlin dream ended when I moved back to Canada for two years, but I kept up the blogging and, of course, the travelling.

Dreams Come True, Times Two

In November 2014, I finally moved back to Berlin. I’d missed it so much while I was away that I just had to return! It was the best decision I’ve ever made, and I’m so happy to be back. As I’ve said countless times over the past nine months, I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon …

On Being Popular

Throughout the years of having this site, I started putting out better content, and people started to take an interest in my personal story, be it the travels or the move(s) to Berlin. The blog has really taken off since I moved back, and my traffic has more than doubled! My social media following also came alive, reaching numbers around 32,000 at the moment.

To be honest, I still can’t believe that anyone actually wants to reads my blog. Yet you do, and I can’t thank everyone enough. Your desire to follow along with my adventures warms my heart and brings a smile to my face daily. I put all of myself into each and every blog post and spend more hours than you can imagine to write and research articles, edit photos, and promote the site. It feels good to know my efforts are appreciated.

Travel Blogging Made Me a “Grumpy Bear”

Cheryl Howard A Big Drinker

Travel blogging is driving me to drink a lot.

While I do love blogging about my adventures, these days, if I’m being perfectly honest with you, I find myself tired and grumpy. I’m bored with the travel blogging portion of my blog. It doesn’t having the meaning for me that it once did. My travel-related posts aren’t my top-rated content, and it makes me question why I’m working so hard to produce that type of content in the first place. I’m also tired of other bloggers telling everyone how to travel the world for free when it’s not always possible, buying followers to get better deals with brands, and producing generic, stale content that lacks any personality. I’ve even had some bloggers scrape content from my site and attempt to pass it off as their own!

I have a lot of friends who are travel bloggers, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for them. Some have built successful businesses, write incredible stories, and are genuinely nice people.

But for me, personally, I’ve found myself looking to do something much more meaningful. This has led me to the decision to quit travel blogging all together. With the exception of some sponsored posts I still need to publish, you’ll rarely see travel-related content here anymore.

Writing About Berlin Has All of Us Excited

My most popular posts are anything to do with Berlin. It seems that I’m not the only one who is head over heels in love with this city. These posts rank the best on Google, generate the most comments, and result in email requests daily.

While the surge in popularity has been great, it’s actually gotten to the point of being completely overwhelming. Recently, I started to find my calendar filled with appointments with strangers instead of my friends. Some readers started doing things like calling me (ahem, fuck you, Facebook, for making my number public), asking if they could stay at my home, and even if I would accompany them naked to the German sauna.

Despite some of the invasive inquiries I’ve received, as mentioned above, one of the pleasures of having this blog is hearing from readers and meeting others just starting out here in Berlin. I was there once and know what it feels like to be alone in a new a city. I want to help answer questions, be a friend, etc. Yet, at the same time, I have to establish some boundaries in order to maintain sanity and keep some aspects of my life private.

So the expat-living content of my blog will continue. I’ll keep writing guides about how to make the best of life in the Hauptstadt. I’ll keep writing personal updates about the ups and downs of living as a foreigner in Germany.

I do want to keep meeting readers as it’s so much fun, but unfortunately I can no longer continue the one-on-ones. But no fear, my friend Adam and I started hosting regular events, so not only can we meet our readers, but you can also meet other expats and travellers as well. We’ve held two events so far and both were really fun!

So, if you’re interested in meeting us, watch our event page and subscribe to updates so you know when the next event is happening. We always choose cool locations like my friend’s wine bar in Kreuzberg or classic biergartens like Prater. We may even have some special surprises in the coming months, so stay tuned!

Berlin Refugees

Cheryl Howard Thinking About Change

Thinking about change.

If you’ve been reading the news, you’ll know that Europe is seeing record numbers of asylum seekers coming from the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. As Germany is such an economic stronghold and is known to generally treat refugees much better than other countries, a large amount of them end up here.

Their experience in Berlin is a stark contrast when compared to the many of us who come here as an expat. Berlin lures us all with cheap rents, free love, a booming start-up scene, endless parties, good beer, and a generally relaxed vibe. We arrive with affluence and, generally, can succeed at building a life for ourselves here.

But life for refugees could not be more different.

When they first get here, they must register at the foreigners office to get papers. With the city currently bathed in an intense heatwave, they are left to stand in line for hours (even days) in the hot sun without shade, food, water, and other important necessities. I shudder to think how things will be come winter.

And that’s only the beginning. Until their asylum status is granted, they are forced to get by on meagre government subsidies and live in shared accommodations. Their movement is limited, and they are not permitted to work. While the majority of locals are welcoming, the refugees also face blatant racism and live in fear.

For people who’ve abandoned their countries, leaving behind absolute poverty, fleeing war and oppressive regimes, their new life here is not much better. While the government is doing what it can to improve the situation, there is so much more that needs to be done.

Why all this talk about refugees? Well, I started volunteering at an emergency shelter, working in the kitchen, and started thinking about what I could do to help. I’ve long been passionate about the cause and used to work with a refugee organization in Toronto every Christmas, raising money to buy food, toys for the kids, and other necessities. I remember some of the incredible people I met, and even then, I yearned to do more.

I came up with the idea to write a book to tell the personal stories of refugees who’ve come to live in Berlin. The plan is to take all of the proceeds from the eventual book sales and donate them to a local charity (and trust me, they can use all the help they can get). I also hope that the book will help raise awareness of the refugee plight and, perhaps, even change the hearts and minds of some of those racist individuals.

You can read all about the project on my new blog, Berlin Refugees.

So, this is where my focus will be for quite some time. As I have a full-time job, it will be my work, after work! I’ve also never written a book before, so I have a long journey ahead of me, which I’m sure will be full of ups and downs. Yet, it’s exciting to be doing something that is bigger than just me and will hopefully make a small but meaningful difference for the refugee cause.

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16 Comments

  • Reply Jenna August 16, 2015 at 10:34 am

    Your new project is so exciting. You’re doing something really meaningful and important for your community and the refugees. I’m sure you’ll make lots of friends through interviewing them, too. Best of luck! I’ll still be following along 🙂

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 16, 2015 at 2:08 pm

      Hi Jenna,

      Thank you. I hope it’s going to be successful and that it will help a bit. And yay, thanks for continuing to follow along as well. 🙂

      Cheryl

  • Reply Laurel August 16, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Congrats on doing what is right for you! Love your new Berlin refugee project! Wishing you nothing bit happiness and success as you shift directions!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 16, 2015 at 2:07 pm

      Hi Laurel – Thank you so much! Lots of work ahead and I’m super excited. 🙂

  • Reply Henry | @fotoeins August 17, 2015 at 4:38 am

    I love what you wrote, Cheryl, and I have some empathy and understanding to similarities, given the last couple of years after my year around the world. I support what you’re going to do next, because quite simply, it’s important to you. Along with many other fine Berlin blogs, I’ll keep coming here to learn from people like you about life in the Hauptstadt. Cheers!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 17, 2015 at 4:47 am

      Thanks Henry! Yeah, there were some tough years there but I’m happy where I am at now. Also, I think this refugee topic is so important and I really want to get their stories out there!

  • Reply Rebecca August 24, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Great article, it’s really nice to read such an honest post! Best of luck with your book and your goals, sounds like a very good cause.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 24, 2015 at 10:05 am

      Hey Rebecca – thanks for reading and the kind wishes. 🙂

      Cheryl

  • Reply Shing August 25, 2015 at 3:07 am

    When you started to write about refugees my heart began to sing. It’s an amazing thing that you’re doing, you should be really proud of yourself. Your idea of compiling stories to give a voice to a largely misunderstood group of people is wonderful in so many ways.

    I worked for a while in a London homeless shelter and the stories they shared with me where both inspiring and often harrowing. Some of the most intelligent and courage people were there for all kinds of reasons and usually by circumstance through no fault of their own. And yet we live in a society that criminalises homelessness, so that’s why a book like yours will be so important. Congratulations and the best of luck x

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 25, 2015 at 8:40 am

      Hi Shing!

      Aww, that’s so nice to hear. 🙂

      Tally hope to give them a voice as it’s really *so* important right now. It hurts to see what they are going through. Only hope the EU will come together for a solution.

      Cheryl

  • Reply Kemkem August 25, 2015 at 8:55 am

    What an awesome post! I can understand how you feel after blogging about travel for so long. Seeing behind the curtain of the travel blogger groups has been a real shock to me :-). I read so few of them, and for that, l am glad. I will for sure buy your book. It’s an amazing and selfless thing to do. Best of luck with it all, and l will keep reading.. :-).

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 25, 2015 at 9:28 am

      Thanks Kemkem. So nice of you to say! And great, stay tuned for the book. 🙂

  • Reply Ali August 25, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Cheryl, I really love your refugee book idea! It’s so sad what they have to deal with when they’re really just trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. I’m looking forward to seeing how things progress with this project!

    Congrats on 5 years of blogging and all of its transformations!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard August 25, 2015 at 10:15 am

      Thank you Ali! I’m pretty excited to see where it will all lead too. 🙂

  • Reply Cristina August 26, 2015 at 1:43 am

    So happy for you Cheryl. You’re such a beautiful person inside and out. So inspiring!

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