“I have this insanely vivid memory where I’m sitting in my fifth grade classroom, looking at the bulletin board with the world map on it, and thinking, ‘One day I will travel the world.’ I think I’ve been unconsciously obsessed with it ever since,” admits Tara Higgins, the 22-year-old mastermind behind Read To Travel, a budding blog that documents Higgins’ life as an expat traveling across New Zealand—but we’ll get to that later.
While Higgins was growing up in a working household in suburban Connecticut with her two brothers, her parents made the decision that experiencing new people and places would be a priority in their young children’s lives. Summer adventures across eastern cities and to Cape Cod became a tradition for the family, but it wasn’t until age 14 when Higgins first felt that itch to go farther. One evening, Higgins found herself and her dad sat in a local pizza shop crafting a wild scheme to take a three-week road trip across the US. “I just remember we were wide-eyed with excitement because it was clear that we both really wanted it to be more than just an idea,” recalls Higgins. “A few weeks later, mom was convinced and that was it!”
The trio, along with Higgins’ best friend, packed up the car and headed out to make this plan a reality. They saw Mount Rushmore, the turquoise pueblos of Santa Fe, and the vastness of America’s Great Plains, among other sites. “I’m thankful I saw the Grand Canyon at an age when I would be able to remember how breathtaking it is. Even after visiting multiple foreign countries as an adult, this trip still burns brightly in my memory,” she explains. “I recognize how fortunate I am to have parents who worked incredibly hard to show me our country at a young age. They were my motivation to save every penny I earned to travel the world, to forgo mindless spending to make my dreams come true on my own dollar.”
Which is exactly what she did when she packed up her life last January, hopped on a plane, and chased those dreams across the world all by herself. So, how does one find the courage to go after this type of lifestyle? For Higgins, it all started with feeling like a bit of a fraud. “College career fairs taught me that I didn’t want any of the office jobs described by the company representatives. I’d just feel like a phony wearing a suit,” she says. “Halfway through college, I switched my major from Economics, the business-like path I thought I should take, to English Literature, the study of which I loved unconditionally.”
As college started to wind down, Higgins found herself both inspired by all of the books she had suddenly been exposed to, but also terrified because what she secretly found herself pining after wasn’t what one may consider the ‘normal’ next step. “During my final year, the ever-present weight of the unknown pushed me down into a state of anxiety,” Higgins admits. “I wanted a change of scenery. For months, I secretly contemplated moving away after school ended. I spent weeks at a time researching Seattle, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Ireland, and New Zealand, and the possibility of relocating to my life. I shared my ideas with no one because, when I was ready, I wanted people to see a confident plan rather than a half-baked idea.” This was about the time that Read To Travel was conceived. It’s a graduation baby.
She continues, “I eventually applied for a visa to New Zealand, which only two people knew about, and when it was accepted, I was stunned. I didn’t even tell my family for two days. Honestly, I sent a group text message to my parents and brothers so I wouldn’t have to deal with the face-to-face possibility of negative reactions. Actually, it’s quite funny looking back at this after knowing about how supportive my family has been throughout my journey, but I’m really protective of my dreams.” Thrilled with the surprising support of her friends and family, Higgins said goodbye to the life she’d always known and accepted her year-long visa across the world.
After doing the tourist thing for a couple weeks across Auckland, Higgins found Waiheke Island, a 12-mile strip of land with 8,000 people and an abundance of happiness. “On Waiheke Island, I finally found a place in the world where I felt confident in being utterly and completely Tara,” she admits. “I smiled constantly. I could count the number of times I cried in my four months living there on one hand, something I could only do within one or two weeks at home in Connecticut. Everything I did was met with positivity and encouragement to the point where I felt so much self-confidence. Quirky things I did, said, and wore were met with excitement as opposed to the negativity I would have received at home. I have never felt life’s vibrancy shine as brightly as it did while there.”
Although the travel bug bit early for Higgins, it took a while for her to become the open person her readers have come to know through her blog. She traces that back to when she was 13 and her friend encouraged her to start her first blog about her life. “I consider myself to be a very private person,” says Higgins. “I love meeting new people and I’m very social, but very few people know what’s actually going on inside my head. To be able to write down my intimate thoughts and publish them to the Internet, even for just my best friend’s eyes, was a very big jump for me. It was the first time I wrote down my thoughts and actually felt their importance.”
That first taste of emotional liberation stuck with Higgins as she continued growing up, revealing this was not her only toe in the pool of blogging before Read To Travel, but none felt so much as her space as this latest venture. “In the beginning, the most challenging part of starting my blog was figuring out what I wanted my identity as a blogger to be,” she explains. “Everything I read told me I needed to have a niche. I didn’t want to be the Internet’s one-millionth travel blog, but I have so many interests and goals that choosing my mission statement was incredibly difficult. But, realizing how I wanted to spend my life led me in the direction of how I wanted to shape my creative little corner of the Internet.”
Over the past six months, Read To Travel has transformed into a beautiful space of gorgeous scenery, relatable and honest thoughts, and a catalogue of excellent book recommendations. Once the blog was off the ground, the challenge shifted to confidence. “It’s not that I don’t feel confident in my photography or my writing ability; I can share my blog with strangers on the Internet all night long, but talking to a person, one-on-one, and telling him or her about my work is scary. It feels like my emotions and feelings are on display,” she says. Although being vulnerable can be terrifying at times, the experience has proved to be one of the most rewarding of her life, which is evident if you vicariously live through her as many of her followers do.
Still, she’s clear that not everything in the nomad life is as picturesque and glamorous as her, and many other bloggers’, online presence can make it out to seem. “Traveling is hard,” she says. “Don’t let Instagram fool you into thinking that there’s constantly a photographer standing twenty feet behind me to capture me looking thoughtfully into the distance. Sometimes it’s scary, sometimes I run out of money, and sometimes I feel completely alone. I eat a lot of meals by myself; I meet new people who question me about American politics, a topic I hate. I have eaten the same sandwich twice a day for a week in order to save money on food and worn three pairs of socks sleeping in a car in the cold to save money on accommodation.”
“But, to me, all of these challenges are part of what makes my lifestyle sweet,” she continues. “I don’t want an easy life in which I never face adversity or have to challenge myself. I choose to live my life the way I want to. The world I live in is very much real just like the world you live in. I work to fund my traveling lifestyle and I live this lifestyle because this is how I want to spend my moments, my days, and my youth.”
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