Game of Thrones Dragonstone Filming Location
Dragonstone (Game of Thrones) filming location in Basque Country, Spain

A look back at a travel blogger’s rookie season

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I made the life-changing decision to resign from the corporate life as a communications manager (after 25+ years) to take a travel gap year and try this thing called travel and lifestyle blogging.April 2020 marked the one-year anniversary of when I officially launched my travel and lifestyle blog website, Here’s how this travel blogger spent her midlife travel gap year.

There’s been a lot of highs and a lot of lows as a rookie travel blogger and some pretty incredible experiences and discoveries. Discoveries I’ve made in the world as well as about myself. And I’ve been blessed with making so many new friends in the travel tribe community (my sanity-saving network of adventurers). Come join us on our Facebook group page: Globetrotters Travel Tribe.

This post contains links to products and services. While you will not accrue any additional costs to support my blog, I may – as a marketing affiliate – receive compensation if you link to or purchase products and services from places such as Amazon, Bluehost, Constant Contact, It’s a Lovely Life, HotelsCombined, etc. All images are taken by kmf and available for digital download.

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Full disclosure: That ad right above? I’m a marketing affiliate with them (and it’s a pretty cool search engine from; it searches several different sites to find the best rates for hotels, air and cars). You may hear stories of bloggers making huge incomes from advertising partners. Don’t expect this to happen overnight. I’m still trying to figure out this whole marketing affiliate thing and am just now starting to gain some traction. You definitely have to research and see what resonates with your audience. And, for me personally, I like to only advertise partners that I recommend and use or would try myself.


A look inside a travel blogger’s first year

Don’t let this post fool you into thinking it was a life of leisure and glamour. I spent more time on my phone and laptop in my home than I did traveling around the world. I honestly worked more hours than I did in my previous role as a corporate communications manager (and I worked long hours then).

As a blogger or probably everyone who owns their own business, you really do feel like you’re working 24/7. It’s mentally and emotionally draining at times.  

But I have no regrets and excited to see what happens next as I start another new chapter. And that new chapter is likely a return to corporate America. One surprising discovery is that I miss working with a team – collaborating on a common goal. I had already planned to start looking for a more traditional position after my travel gap year was up. So grateful I was able to explore as much as I could especially in light of what’s happening in our world today with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

I will, however, continue to blog part-time about travel and staycation destinations, book reviews, movie reviews, Thai cooking lessons, and my quest for the best mac and cheese. And will also continue researching and documenting the life of my husband’s grandfather, a concentration camp survivor.

Until I discover my what’s next (I’m available for freelance/contract writing projects), here’s a look back on how I spent my travel gap year as a travel blogger.

How I spent my first year as a travel and lifestyle blogger

North Carolina – road trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains

I met my friend Sue in Atlanta, Georgia, and we took a road trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains to eclectic Asheville, N.C. – home of Biltmore Estate and more.

3-day travel guide to discover Biltmore Estate and more in Asheville, NC during Bloom Season
Top things to do in Asheville, N. C. – Biltmore Estate and more

Note: I’m not only a customer of Bluehost, I’m also an affiliate. If you happen to purchase their services, I may receive a small commission at no expense to you. I only recommend products/services I use or would try myself.

Mexico – all you need to know before you go

Mexico is my go-to when I need to reflect and recharge. And with 27 trips south of the border, I can share a few travel tips about Mexico and assure you it is a safe place to visit.

Is Mexico safe? A seasoned traveler shares top safety tips when visiting Mexico

Things to do in Mexico on spring break
Is Mexico safe? Hear from a seasoned traveler who has visited 27 times.

How to get to Isla Mujeres, Mexico from the Cancun airport

How to get to Isla Mujeres, Mexico from the Cancun airport.

Interested in starting your own blog? Constant Contact is a great resource to generate an email subscription list, create email newsletters and more! Try Constant Contact for free for 60 days! (It’s what I use and I love it – super easy!) Note: I am an an affiliate with Constant Contact. If you purchase their services, I may receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use or would try.

Minnesota staycation – discovering my own backyard

I’m going on my 27th year living in Minnesota and was surprised by how little I knew about my home state. Here are just a few of the fun adventures I experienced in Minnesota last year during my staycation.

Top 10 walking tours in the Twin Cities – Minneapolis and St. Paul

Minnesota Historical Society Walking Tour
Grateful the Minnesota Historical Society hosted me on 10 walking tours in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

20 facts about Lake Minnetonka that may surprise you

20 facts about Lake Minnetonka that may surprise you
Special thank you to my friend Dan and his wife who gave my son and me a personal tour of Lake Minnetonka – the largest lake in the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area

The best Minnesota lakes in the Land of 10,000+ lakes

Best lakes in Minnesota
In the land of 11,842 lakes, here are eight of my favorite lakes in Minnesota.

Top things to do in Minnesota: a local’s guide

Things to do in Minnesota
A local’s guide to the top things to do in Minnesota

Top things to do in Minnesota: Mall of America

Things to do in winter Visit Mall of America
The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. is less than 20 miles from my house. See what my hockey mom friends and I did during a visit this past winter (as guests of the Mall of America).


One of my favorite experiences during my travel gap year was my solo trip to Madrid and Basque Country, Spain.

Highlight reel of my solo trip to Madrid Spain and the filming location of Dragonstone

My travel gap year: top things to do in Madrid, Spain – including a day trip to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the filming location of Dragonstone (Game of Thrones)

Our Lady of Almudena Cemetery: top things to do in Madrid, Spain

Our Lady of Almudena Cemetery
Top things to do in Madrid: Our Lady of Almudena Cemetery

Best day trip from Madrid: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe – filming location for Game of Thrones’ Dragonstone

Dragonstone Filming Location in Spain, Game of Thrones
All you need to know from a travel blogger: Day trip from Madrid to the filming location of Dragonstone in San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Spain

Top things to do at Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, Missouri

Here’s a perfect one-day itinerary when visiting the Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, Missouri (special thanks to the Gateway Arch National Park for hosting me).

Gateway Arch National Park
Perfect one-day travel itinerary for Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis.

Top things to do in Iowa

I was born and raised in Iowa so I have a few favorites – here are just two of my top things to do in Iowa.

Top things to do in Iowa: Buddy Holly crash site memorial and Buddy Holly Museum in Clear Lake

Buddy Holly Crash Site
Top things to do in Iowa: Buddy Holly crash site memorial and Buddy Holly Museum in Clear Lake

Top things to do in Iowa: The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption

Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption
Top things to do in Iowa: The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption

And more top travel tips during my travel gap year

These are just a few highlights from my travel gap year. I would love for you to join me as I enter my second year as a travel and lifestyle blogger. Please subscribe to my monthly newsletter where I’ll share travel tips, travel destination inspiration and itineraries, book and movie reviews, updates on my quest to find the best mac and cheese and more.

Thank you for coming along on my journey during my travel gap year.

How you can support a travel blogger during a pandemic travel ban

The easiest way to support a travel blogger that doesn’t cost you anything is to subscribe to my blog newsletter and follow me on social media and share my blog and social posts. Oh, and read my blog posts. Thank you!

Thank you! I appreciate all your support of

Here’s how to start your own blog

For those who know me, know I am not technical. I’m pretty sure the IT Help Desk at my former company screened all my calls and sent me to voicemail because I called so frequently.

While building a travel and lifestyle blog website was exciting, it was a little scary and definitely out of my comfort zone. However, I was fortunate to sign up with some pretty cool resources to make it super easy.

Seriously, if I can build a website and monetize a blog, anyone can. My recommended go-to resources all offer great opportunities for networking and/or answering technical questions in simple terms that I can answer. And I asked a lot of questions.

And they did not send me to voicemail.

So if you’ve been thinking about starting your own small business and/or blog, here are my recommended resources to get you started.

Learn everything you need to know to start a blog by signing up with It’s a Lovely Life online training courses

I’ve taken several courses with It’s a Lovely Life and am always learning something new. I recommend signing up first with Start a Blogging Business 5-day Crash Course. It’s free!

While there is no obligation, I soon followed-up with It’s a Lovely Life’s Blogging Blastoff 2.0. Founders Pete and Heather Reese will guide you through a 30-day step-by-step plan for building the blog of your dreams.

And this is where you’ll connect with other like-minded and rookie bloggers. I’ve made so many great friends online by networking through their social groups. And believe me, you’ll need their support to maintain your sanity as blogging does come with some lows along with the highs. But it’s worth it!

It’s a Lovely Life is not a one-and-done. They truly want to see you succeed and are always available to answer questions quickly and provide new training content (for example, I just took their SEO boot camp, which was worth the price of admission). Please note that I am an affiliate with It’s a Lovely Life. If you choose to purchase their courses, I may receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use or would try.

The best blog hosting service goes to Bluehost

As I mentioned, I am not technical. I expect everything to work if I push a button. And I’m not a patient person when technical things don’t work (because I don’t understand it).

However, the Bluehost team is amazing. They will help you navigate through all your technical questions and troubleshoot why something that worked just yesterday isn’t working today. Or if you hit the wrong thing, they can fix it without you losing your content. I can’t recommend Bluehost high enough.

You can try Bluehost risk-free for 30 days. So if you’re serious about starting your own small business or website, sign up with Bluehost today! Please note that I am an affiliate with Bluehost. If you choose to purchase their courses, I may receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use or would try.

How to start a blog: Try Constant Contact’s award-winning and easy-to-use email marketing for free

Help grow your blog with Constant Contact email marketing

Constant Contact is amazing – they offer everything you need for a successful email marketing campaign, email newsletter templates, sign-up forms and more. Constant Contact is super easy-to-use and offers great technical support. Sign up for a 60-day free trial with Constant Contact! Please note that I am an affiliate with Constant Contact. If you choose to purchase their courses, I may receive compensation at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use or would try.

Blogging tip: Do not overlook or underestimate the power of email marketing. While it’s important to ensure your site is optimized with SEO and to promote your new posts on social, it’s just as important to create and grow your blog through email marketing. Constant Contact offers everything you need to know to start and improve your email marketing program to reach loyal subscribers.

So these are the steps I recommend to start your blog. If you have any questions, simply contact me.


Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller


  1. This is an awesome post! I also work in communications and recently scaled back quite a bit after almost 20 years in the field. Now that my kids are home from school because of the pandemic, I am *seriously* considering the thought of spending a year traveling with our family in the future (the kids are still young).

    1. Thank you so much! I have no regrets as taking this travel gap year allowed me to reset and recharge. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly encourage it.

    2. You’ve perfectly describe the joys and pains of being a newbie blogger. I’m just starting and thought I could do this on the side. But no, I’m starting to realize this is not a walk in the park.
      Travel bloggers’ group is a great support system (I joined your FB tribe).

      Congratulations on your first year! Great places you’ve been to and I look forward to your future posts (especially on the mac & cheese and holocaust survivor feature)

      1. Thank you so much…and welcome to the world of blogging. it’s definitely a lot more work that it appears. You think publishing a blog will be quick, but takes an entire day at a minimum. I agree that our travel blogger network is an amazing support system.

  2. WOW!! You did a lot in that one year! Well done. You are living the dream of so many. Obviously there was LOTS of work involved as well, but I bet there’s nothing like living life on your terms! Congratulations! And I joined the FB travel group too! Blessings.

    1. Thank you and so happy your joined our new FB travel group – we just launched it and have more than 800 members so far.

  3. What a fun look back at all the places you visited in the last year! It was definitely a full year of travel and adventure – good for you!

      1. The year of travel looks amazing! I do love reading about your adventures, and look forward to seeing more. Good luck in your next venture.

  4. Congratulations on taking a gap year. It looks like you had an amazing year! I have been to some of these places but not all of them. I have added a few to my list of places to go!

  5. My husband and I are just in the midst of this now. We both quit our jobs at the end of February to travel and focus on this blog… and then coronavirus happened. So now we have a 90 day road trip around the Western US, a Hawaii cruise, a Disney World vacation, and a Williamsburg/DC long weekend just up in the air until we’re able to travel again. At least now we have the time to put a lot of work into our blog.

    1. That would be so tough especially when just starting out. But it may be a blessing to invest this time into developing your blog and communication strategy. Even a year later, there is so much more that I would like to do. Good luck!

    1. I’m so happy we became friends also…I’ve learned so much from you. And it’s great to have a community where we all understand what goes into blogging.

    1. Thank you! Greatly appreciate all your support this past year (and will definitely be coming to you when I do finally explore Utah)!

  6. How wonderful it must have been to be able to devote a year to traveling. Your photo of Dragonstone is gorgeous! We will be in Northern Spain next summer so I’m putting that on our list of places to see.

    1. Oh, you will love it! I would love to return and tour the entire northern coast of Spain. Beautiful beyond words. I have a couple of other blog posts dedicated to that experience so you can learn how and what to expect when visiting the filming location of Dragonstone.

  7. Blogging is a lot harder than what it looks but you made it look easy. You have a wonderful talent and love how you try new things! No matter what you decide, I hope you will continue to write and take those gorgeous photos

  8. Wow! I would love to take a year and just travel. We are hoping to shift our family lifestyle towards being full-time travelers. We still have a ways to go before we will be able to do this, but hopefully, we’ll be able to do it before too long. Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. This is amazing! You’ve done what I’ve always dreamed of and that’s such an amazing thing! I’m gonna come back to this whenever I start losing sight of that.

  10. This was an awesome post to read! You really did a lot during your last year – good for you! I look forward to your many adventures to come…oh, and finding the very best mac n’ cheese!

  11. Happy one-year anniversary! This is a great overview of your first year as a full-time blogger. I appreciated hearing your reflections on how much work it has been but also about which aspects you miss from your previous career. I look forward to seeing what comes next for you!

  12. Wow Karen! Congratulations on your one year anniversary! I’ll say you’ve definitely worked hard on your blog in the past year!! It looked like you also had some fun along the way too 😄

  13. Wow! You were very blessed to experience some amazing places last year. My favorite has to be your highlighting of places in your own backyard. I can’t wait to see where you are off to next!

  14. It’s so interesting to see the behind-the-scenes of a travel blog. Congrats on this 1st year and all the best for all the years to come!

  15. Top notch round up of all the different aspects of your year. Wish I’d read your tips on starting a blog before I walked blind into it 2 years ago. Think I only really started to figure it a year ago.
    I didn’t even know you took the year out. It’s definitely a great way to tackle the gargantuan task of getting a blog going. Seems I’m always looking to squeeze time to do the essential tasks.

    A top piece of writing for advice.

    1. Thank you so much, John! Greatly appreciate it! I’m not sure I would have ever launched my blog while working full-time. I admire those who do and have. I did, however, do some freelance writing/marketing communications for a few clients. I’m still figuring things out as my site is still pretty slow and SEO seems like a never-ending task.

  16. What an awesome first year. Your photos and writing are sure to inspire many people. I love following along and cant wait to see what the next year brings!

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