How a year became a business for Emmy winner Lisa Lubin
April 6, 2017
Entrepreneur Snapshot
  • Founder: Lisa Lubin
  • Company: LL World Tour, LL Media
  • From: New Jersey
  • Lives in: Chicago
  • Nomadic for: 4 years straight, 50+ countries.
  • Recommended reading: One Year Off by David Elliot Cohen, Practical Nomad by Edward Hasbrouck

Key takeway This is your life. You’re not coming back, so live your life to the fullest.

Read the full interview

Jess Ainlay: You’re from New Jersey, you live in Chicago. How did you come to travel in the first place, and how long ago was that?

Lisa Lubin: I left to travel ten years ago now, in 2006, but the truth is, I had no idea that I had been planning that moment for decades. When I look back now at folders and emails I wrote and kept from others, I had clearly been sort of planning this without realizing it. I had magazine clippings about traveling and buying real estate abroad. A friend of mine quit to travel eight years before I did and had an email newsletter she sent out to tell her travel stories. I followed those emails. Think that planted a tiny, but really important seed in my mind.

I was a producer for ABC 7 Chicago for 10 years, doing restaurant and travel segments for the most part. I loved the job, but five years before I ended up leaving, I had actually asked for a sabbatical. I knew it was a ‘no.’ Television doesn’t work like that. But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking about how to live abroad or work abroad in a safe, responsible way.

And five years later, I ended up doing it.

Jess Ainlay: What was the moment you decided to go?

Lisa Lubin: I know how this is going to sound, but my cat died. I also was in the middle of breaking up with my boyfriend, and I was honestly bored at work. I had been at ABC 7 for a decade, I had won three Emmys, and I enjoyed the work, but I wasn’t going to grow there. I’m a huge animal lover and I was never going to leave my cat behind. Suddenly, I was pet-free and single.

Jess Ainlay: Had you been saving to go off traveling? How did you afford a year?

Lisa Lubin: I sold my condo, which gave me a financial security blanket. I had the confidence that I could afford a year off, which became four years, in the end.

The first country of many…Costa Rica

Jess Ainlay: Where did you go first?

Lisa Lubin: I started in Costa Rica, which I thought would feel easy, like a warm up.

Jess Ainlay: How was that initial feeling of freedom?

Lisa Lubin: I absolutely thrived in the new openness I had with time and space. I could go anywhere I wanted, and spend as much time as I wanted in each place. I also knew I wanted structure right away, so I made sure to sign up to live with a family, and I did a Spanish immersion program.

But my first few days in Costa Rica were hard. I certainly felt fear of the unknown, and a lot of loneliness. That definitely subsided soon when I became used to my new life. It’s not like every day was amazing rainbows and joyful hikes. It was real life. I wasn’t on vacation, I was living, and it took time to get used to being alone.

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Jess Ainlay: How long did it take you to get used to being a solo traveler?

Lisa Lubin: That’s hard to say, but I just had to get used to the rhythm. Over time, I learned that in every new country, I needed a few transition days to get over the last country and the relationships I made there. The first few days were always going to feel uncomfortable - sometimes the next hostel felt dustier and dirtier than the last - but two days later it felt fine and I got used to it and realized it was sometimes better.

Jess Ainlay: What were some of your typical days like as a traveler?

Lisa Lubin: It’s hard to talk about what’s typical, since it was very different in each country. What I learned is to say yes a lot to feel much more open. I was a barista in Australia, taught English in Istanbul, I even “acted” in a documentary. Before, I would have been embarrassed I think to be seen working at a Starbucks, but abroad, living life there, who cares! It was stress-free, easier and I was immersed in local life. That’s what was important to me in each country - to immerse myself with locals.

I always tried to live like a local, in a regular neighborhood. I love the vibe of local stores, real people outside the tourist center. I did, stayed in hostels, some hotels, and then I would also housesit or stay in apartments to save money.

The country that impacted Lisa the most

Jess Ainlay: What country impacted you the most?

Lisa Lubin: Turkey, specifically Istanbul, made a huge impact on me. I had been traveling for six months when I got to Turkey, and had been hearing from fellow travelers and friends that Turkey had been their favorite. One of my first days, I’m eating alone at a restaurant and I’m chatting with the host a bit about how I might teach English here. My now friend Yusuf said, “Let me introduce you to Steve. He’s from New York, he’s been teaching here for 7 years.” Half an hour later I was having a beer with Steve.

He helped me line up a bunch of interviews, one of which was with a British guy who runs a Business English school. That guy didn’t have any work, but he knew an expat about to go to Uzbekistan for three months, and he arranged for me to housesit there for free. All of a sudden, I lived in Istanbul and had two cats, Oscar and Wilde. Eventually I taught English and made Turkish friends, too.

Jess Ainlay: How did you know you could trust all those people to help make that happen for you?

Lisa Lubin: I think I have a friendly, warm vibe, and the more I traveled, the more open-hearted I became. Travel got me out of my shell, but I also have a pretty good BS detector myself. Most expats and travelers have this, too. The Irish expat didn’t even really want any credentials from me or anything. She just said, “I can tell you’re a good one,” and I had keys to her apartment.

Becoming a blogger

Jess Ainlay: How did you become a blogger? Did you intend to monetize your blog right away?

Lisa Lubin: Before I left, I started my blog. I’ve always been a journalist and a storyteller. I was a writer, a photographer, a producer, so it felt obvious to me to have a blog and tell my travel stories. Blogging itself was a real learning curve, though.

I didn’t intend to monetize my blog, exactly. I traveled for a long time, and then I started pitching print magazines when I got back from the first round of 15 months abroad and had a second to breathe. I followed that same pace again, traveling abroad for a long time, and then bouncing around the US staying with friends. After that first stint, I already had all this material - stories, photographs. And that’s how I started freelance writing for the Chicago Tribune, American Airlines inflight magazine, things like that.

When I got to Los Angeles, I was a cat-sitter and signed up to be an extra in TV shows. I did whatever could help me break even and keep going longer. When I ended up getting my apartment back in Chicago again, I needed a more stable income, of course.

I founded LLMedia and realized that I had video skills and a broad audience wanting to do video. I didn’t want to compete with my friends at production companies, instead I wanted to use my expertise and help people. I wanted to teach people how to do video better.

Jess Ainlay: Who are some of your clients?

Lisa Lubin: Right now, one of my biggest clients is a food museum, called Foodseum. I’m their Executive Producer, overseeing Foodseum Films. We create video profiles of chefs around Chicago.

Jess Ainlay: What other work do you do through LLMedia?

Lisa Lubin: I’m a speaker, a writer, a photographer, a project manager.

Travel taught me to slow down, examine my life, to read more, to learn to listen and talk to people.

Jess Ainlay: You also run BlogHouse, working with bloggers. Can you talk about the idea behind that?

Lisa Lubin: BlogHouse brings together bloggers who want to get to the next level professionally. We teach how to deal with PR people, how to work with vendors and clients, overall professionalism and share our experience running your blog as a business.

Jess Ainlay: Is it true that blogging is dead?

Lisa Lubin: Blogging is far from dead, but it is changing. You go where your audience is. If your audience loves your Instagram, then you focus on becoming a top Instagrammer. It’s all evolving so quickly, but you have to find the platforms that fit for you. I could care less about Snapchat, but my audience isn’t there.

Live slow, live clean, live balanced

Jess Ainlay:How did travel change you?

Lisa Lubin: Travel taught me to slow down, examine my life, to read more, to learn to listen and talk to people.

My outlook on life has shifted. I take on customs from other cultures and countries and want to do my part to care for our planet. I am proud that I really don’t use my dryer anymore, which I learned from my experience in Europe. I now compost, I recycle, I take my compost to a local school and put my compost in their garden. I eat hardly any meat now. And it feels so good, I’m thrilled.

I also realize that I can keep the pace of my life slower than most Americans do. I live slower now as a freelancer because I’m okay making less money if that gives me more time to relax, think, read, do some gardening. Building a better work-life balance like they have in other countries is so much more important to me now after having experienced it abroad.

The other thing I learned is that what may have seemed crazy to you becomes so normal once you go do it. I would never have thought I’d live in and love Turkey. And then I did that and it seems normal, not crazy, and now it’s a part of my life. Your life changes and you change with it. In the end, you’re so much better for it.

Someone once shared something their grandmother told them. She said, “I’ve never met anyone who has come back. You’re not coming back, so live your life to the fullest.” I try to do that with my life now.

Look, I’m not going to go climb mountains tonight. I’m going to make a salad and sit on my couch. Life is real, and it’s not always these big, adventurous moments. But nowadays I love those everyday moments mixed in just as much. I don’t want to live one note and then die. I want all these chapters.

Jess Ainlay: Thanks so much for the interview Lisa!

You can find Lisa at Her blog:
Her company: LL Media
Twitter: @llworldtour
Facebook: LL World Tour
Instagram: @llworldtour

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