As an India expert, Mariellen Ward, author and founder of BreatheDreamGo, has spent more than a year altogether moving throughout evocative destinations in India that transport the soul. That said, I was surprised to meet this travel and culture guru on the Megabus stop in Buffalo, New York.
She was traveling from her home base in Toronto to a travel blogging conference in New York City. I was traveling from Buffalo to NYC for a conference, as well–a nutrition conference, a pursuit that felt right to me at the time, but I kept thinking about ditching it be surround myself with those travel writers.
Mariellen fascinated me. Something drew me to the seat next to her. Maybe it was her pastel-colored scarf that subtly sparkled? Perhaps it was her lap-sized, white netbook that captured all of her frequent tweets from the wifi-enabled bus?
In reality, I believe, us travelers both chose the front-row seats on the second level of the double-decker Megabus to see what the state of New York looked like outside of skyscrapers. Finding those coveted seats in front of the biggest stretch of the window was like entering a hotel room and throwing open the curtains before setting down your bag. That’s how you know exploration is in you–or, in my case, that you are sitting next to a fellow traveler.
According to the itinerary, it would take nine hours to get from the Buffalo stop to the rush-hour grid lock of New York City. Before the bus pulled away, we broke the ice. Our conversation glided nicely alongside the surprising-to-find sloping hills and vast farm lands of New York state.
In between our awe-struck statements of beautiful scenery, we dove into discussing what made Eat,Pray, Love such a main-stream success, Mariellen’s upcoming book, hidden travel gems of India and why we travel. Her ease of conversation and sage advice to me felt comparable to a personal meditation session–she was the guru who made me more aware of the present moment while triggering my sense of wonder and place in the world.
Long after our budget bus trip, I have followed Mariellen’s blog, BreatheDreamGo. It’s been incredible to see everything she has accomplished since we met. I’m convinced she never stops doing or dreaming, so I had to catch up with her on her dream progress.
Last time I saw you, which was also the first time, we were taking the MegaBus through New York state to NYC. That was summer 2010. You were on your way to a travel blogging conference. What has changed significantly in your life since then?
It was great meeting you on the MegaBus! I was so happily surprised to meet a like-minded soul. That was a year-and-a-half-ago. In some ways, not much has changed. I was at the start of taking my travel blogging career seriously, and that process has continued to evolve. I was at the start of taking my writing career seriously and that, likewise, has evolved. I’ve published many blogs, articles and even a book since then — though it’s only slim, self-published volume of collected travel features about India. But still, to me it is significant.
I think the biggest thing that’s changed is that I have achieved many of my dreams — I’ve published a book, several feature length magazine articles and loads of blogs. But I have not achieved the dream of becoming financially independent, and able to pursue my writing career full-time.
Back to the bus. That was also when you introduced me to your blog, BreatheDreamGo. How have you grown your site since then?
Breathedreamgo has had a complete makeover since then! It transformed from a casual blog into what you might call a blog site. It’s much more sophisticated, much richer in terms of functionality. I could not have done this without the invaluable help of my WordPress goddess Jennifer Johannesen of lowtheground.ca.
I cannot overestimate her importance in this process. The site has also grown tremendously in terms of traffic, and the “brand name” Breathedreamgo has become much more well-known due to my obsessive use of social media.
What sparked the original idea of BreatheDreamGo?
Going way back, I originally traveled to India in 2005/6 for six months. That’s a long story! But I was trying to recover from a depression brought on by the sudden death of my mother. I loved traveling in India, it was the most exciting thing I have ever done, and I also blogged as I traveled, very casually. It was several years later before I got the idea for Breathedreamgo.
I was at a writers and publishers conference in June of 2009, and the feeling at the conference was doom-and-gloom. It was awful. Markets were shrinking, fees were dropping and writers were being squeezed. I was very upset by the negative “vibes” and cried myself to sleep. I didn’t want to go back to the conference, I didn’t want to see my dreams of being a writer die. But I dragged myself in the shower, and while under the spray of water I got the idea of creating an online site, and being my own publisher, and my own brand.
The name came to me in a flash, an epiphany. I honestly did not think of it. It just landed in my mind! And then I turned it over and realized it was perfect. Breathe represented yoga, dream represented going after my dreams, and go represented travel.
It all started on that life-changing trip to India in 2005/6. But, I have ALWAYS wanted to be a writer, probably since the time I read Jane Eyre when I was about 11 years old. Or maybe earlier, when I was obsessed with the 1,001 Tales of the Arabian Nights, and imagined myself as Scheherezade.
My mom used to say to me, “I can see your name on the book cover, just MARIELLEN!” When I was in my 20s, I got a BA in Journalism, but I wanted to be a storyteller, not a news journalist. However, I did not find my voice until I found my muse, my subject matter — traveling in India when I was in my mid-40s.
What motivates you to keep traveling and writing?
I can’t do anything else! Ha! Seriously, I’ve put everything I’ve got into this career. I’m going for broke. I never went after my dreams before. I compromised from the get-go. And I didn’t have the confidence when I was younger. If I don’t do it now, when am I going to do it? No matter what happens, I will always know I tried. I will not have the bitter regret of never trying to be the writer I always wanted to be.
You focus specifically on traveling to India. What are the advantages for your services, writing and travels being narrowly focused? Â Would you advise other travel bloggers and business owners to find a niche?
My number one tip for writing and blogging — and ESPECIALLY for blogging — is to have a niche. And it cannot be too narrow. Butterflies of the Yucatan peninsula will do. You have to have a niche to carve out a name for yourself. Everyone in the travel blogging world knows I am “Miss India.” Having a niche creates opportunities, not the other way around. Do you have any idea how many 20-something, backpacking travel bloggers there are?!
You also authored a book about India, Song of India. How long did that process take from idealization to publishing? What did you learn from the process?
Well, the truth is, I got the idea on a Thursday or Friday and the book was ready on Monday. It was really fast. But then, it took two-three months to self-publish because I had a lot to learn and I was depending on a friend to help me with the graphic design, layout and formatting. She was working full-time, and I was not paying her very much, so that slowed things down. I have done everything remarkably inexpensively because I have amazingly talented and generous friends.
Describe a day in your life as the travel, writer, and BreatheDreamGo owner that you are.
My days are quite chaotic because I am making everything up as I go along. Also, social media takes up a lot of time. I try and divide things up between writing, social media, and looking for paying work or doing paying work — such as freelance writing or editing. I think up ideas and then either chase them, or let them sit. It’s not the ideal way to work; I really should be more organized. These days, I am adding “monetize my blog” to the mix, so I just created a media kit, and I am contacting potential sponsors. I think I’m going to spending a LOT of time on LinkedIn ….
What do you think holds people, especially women, back from following their dreams?
Fear. If you read my blog recently, you would see I posted an interview with the film director Deepa Mehta. She talked about how scary it is to take risks; to not depend on a paycheque; and to go through the creative process. It’s very scary. I read a quote that said most people don’t have the courage to find out where their talent takes them.
I will tell you honestly, I have many highs and many lows. It’s an emotional roller-coaster to live the way I do, and it’s probably aging me. But also keeping me young. I’m like the Baron Munchhausen: I grow young when I’m having adventures.
Going after your dreams is not for everyone. It’s like love and marriage — it’s not what the Hallmark cards will have you believe. It’s not a bed of roses. Well, actually it is, because there are a lot of thorns. Just to give you an example, I used to be much more fit and agile when I was working, and teaching yoga on the side. Now I spend 14-16 hours a day at the computer. My back aches most of the time. And I am not making money yet, which is the scariest thing.
Would you share the best travel or life advice you ever received?
“Follow your bliss,” Joseph Campbell. “Be yourself,” my mom.
I want to thank Mariellen for taking the time to share her life with me and 8 Women Dream. I also want to leave you with the main message from her blog.
Travel that changes you. Inspiring experiences. Taking the leap to pursue your dreams. The beauty of India and the power of yoga.BreatheÂ deeply in, let yourselfÂ dreamÂ and thenÂ go!Â
Just go.Â To me, that’s what Mariellen has done with her travels and her professional aspirations. It’s something I admire. Something I haven’t conquered, but something we can all strive for. Because when we learn to follow BreatheDreamGo‘s mantra, we become limitless in our pursuits.
Mariellen Ward is a Toronto-based freelance writer with a BA in Journalism, a certificate in yoga teacher training and a passion for sharing the beauty of India’s culture and wisdom. She has traveled for more than a year altogether in India, writes for magazines, newspapers and many online travel sites, and publishes an India travel blog, Breathedreamgo.com. Mariellen recently published her first book, Song of India: Tales of Travel and Transformation, which is available for purchase on Breathedreamgo.com