So, what do you do?

So, what do you do?

September 8, 2016

In North America, we can’t deny that we are defined by our occupation. It is often the first thing we tell people about ourselves, and it is usually one of the first questions asked when meeting someone new.

Outside of North America, it’s less important. In Germany, hobbies are often the first topic of conversation; in Latin America, it’s all about the family. But this summer, considering that we’ve spent more time in North America than we have away from it, we’ve been faced with this question routinely.

Answering it is not so simple. And to be honest, depends largely on our mood. Let me explain.

For one, there are a number of options we can give, and none of them are so easy to sum up in just a few words or sentences. And so depending on the situation, who’s asking, and how much we feel like sharing, we have said a number of different things in response. They are all true, just slightly distinct, and the choice usually depends on how many follow-up questions that we want to endure.

Never mind that we actually have two career trajectories moving simultaneously: this blog and then this. One is crucial to the other in a way, but they are still both completely different.

Answer #1: Blogger

This response is probably is used the least, usually because it elicits one of three reactions:

(1) A completely blank stare because the questioner doesn’t know what a blog is;

(2) A scoff, because really, that is a joke of a career, right?; or

(3) “Huh. Well, what I’ve always wondered is, how do you make money?”

Pete and I were once told by some random man who insisted on giving us completely unsolicited advice that we should say that we have an online magazine and not a blog, because of the negative connotation that can accompany the latter. I’ve never done that, nor would I. Sure, there are plenty of bloggers giving this pursuit a bad name, but given the very personal nature of how we write, we are the exact definition of a blog. I hesitate to even say “travel blog” because so I often I believe we are about the personal first, travel second.

Never mind that to say blogger is also correct because it encompasses so much more than words and photos. Anyone who knows about blogging knows that it can mean all of this: writer, photographer, editor, videographer, social media fiend, graphic designer, marketer, contract negotiator, and more and more.

The problem though, even though it is the most accurate (for this part of our business), it almost always sends off a wave of additional questions, starting with number three. Which to me is borderline rude, and crazy personal coming from a random stranger. And never mind that it again requires another complicated response because there is no single way to make money from blogging. In fact, I don’t know of any two bloggers who do it exactly the same way, and most of us have multiple income streams we could list. As such this conversation could potentially become even longer.

See why we try to avoid this one?

Answer #2: Writer

I have used this often at border crossings as it elicits no real response, and is so much more comprehensible than blogger. But outside of the customs area, I don’t really like to use it because:

(1) I don’t really consider myself to be a writer. Yes, I type words that people read, but as I don’t aim to write for other publications like most writers do, then I exclude myself from this group.

(2) Because then I hear: “Oh, who do you write for?” Which them results in:
(a) Cue the blank stare when I say myself.
(b) Or, further questions that lead to the blogger explanation above.

Two things to note here:

– I am careful NOT to say this at particular border crossings that are known for their harsh treatment of journalists, should there be any confusion as to what I actually do.

– When I say this, Pete always follows with “photographer”. He typically gets zero follow-up questions, and I have no clue why that is.

Answer #3: New Media Consultant

This is becoming our quick go-to response, and is probably the most accurate if we are to consider where the main source of our income comes from. And, it elicits the least amount of questions. For our particularly introverted days, this is a quick fix. And unless someone wants to talk to me about influencer management or Snapchat vs. Instagram Stories (unlikely), then we can go back to talking about the cool destination we are in.


A few years ago we met a New Yorker who owned a resort in Belize. He was traveling back and forth so frequently and was tired of answering all the questions about the resort at customs. So instead, he started telling the customs officers that he was in insurance. Why? Because it was the most boring thing he could think of, and apparently, so did the people asking. Zero follow-up questions.

That is NOT a bad strategy.

I’m curious to hear from any other frequent travellers who find themselves in a similar quagmire. Or, if anyone has any more creative (and FUN) responses we can give, I’m open to that too.


P.S. Want to read more “Behind the Scenes” posts? Go here.


  1. Haha, I hear you. It’s definitely a tough one to describe. It’s funny, I never realized how obnoxious it is to first ask what people do for a living… until I got laid off, and became a mom. Does that make me a stay at home mom? Though not by choice. Does that make me less than for not having work at the moment when thousands of other skilled people don’t either? This experience has made me much less likely to ask others what their job is up front. The person does not only equal their profession.

    1. I was at a party over Christmas and was talking to someone for about 10 minutes until I asked them what they did for a living. She was so pleasant, but responded such that I wondered if she thought I was rude for not asking earlier! It’s bizarre, really, but you are so right that the person does not equal their profession. Not everyone in North America believes that though I think.

  2. The Minimalists have written an essay that’s very similar to this: You’re absolutely right about North American society. It’s strange how people judge and base their impressions of you on how you answer the “what do you do?” question.

    I now tell people that I’m a full-time RVer which usually gets an interesting look but I’m always happy to explain how our lives have been enriched by our current choice of lifestyle. Most people still don’t get it because society has hammered into them how you’re supposed to live life.

    Good points about border crossings. I had never thought about that. Do you find you have any issues when crossing into the US?

    1. Ooh, thanks for that link. A much more poignant post than mine, and also delightfully a bit more swear-y.

      I’d say about half the time I am happy to engage in the conversation, but I think that as you guys keep doing this for awhile, you’ll find yourself a bit tired of it too. 😉

      We haven’t had any issues with coming into the US, unless we are housesitting – we have to be much more careful about what we say as I have heard others who have had issues.

  3. I wrote something similar in my most recent newsletter (well, about the annoying “how do you make money?” question). It definitely annoys me when people probe and ask really personal stuff about what I do, but I also understand where the curiosity comes from.

    As for putting a name to what I do, it’s a fun game I play when filling out customs forms for certain destinations. I’m headed back to the UK next week and have already started brainstorming what I’ll put on my customs form. Lately I’ve gone with “digital media production,” but Elliot suggested “content manager” as shorter and still accurate.

  4. You are right, when you tell customs that you sell insurance you can see their eyes glaze over. That does not mean however that it is boring. No nine to five, in my case, more like noon till 9! My whole career was really a lot of fun. So now I tell them: retired insurance guy.
    Still has the same response.

  5. As you might remember my “real” job is connected with railways and trains schedule – that is so confusing for most of the people, at the customs and not only as no one really gets it. Yet somehow trains have to run, people just forget there has to be someone behind it who manages everything. I think this is even more confusing than being a blogger 😉

  6. I totally love the “Insurance” response. Who’s to argue, I am “insuring” people don’t have boring lives…right?

    I also go with writer on any board crossing or airline form. And in person, I go with travel writer.

    And when they ask me how I make money, I say, “give me $5 and I will tell you”.

  7. Hi Dalene, just found your wonderful site from a link on I totally understand what you are saying here and you are right, its hard that people in NA so strongly identify with what they do for work.
    But I do think that part of it is that people also can’t imagine NOT working for a company, making a wage with all the “security” that accompanies that. I have had stints at freelancing (photographer and/or graphic designer) and also did the whole corporate salaried job thing. I know people who simply WOULD NOT consider even freelancing, forget being a multiple-income-stream-blogger-with-no-home! LOL
    I think people probably simultaneously don’t believe you, and wish they had the courage (or think you’re secretly very wealthy and won’t admit it). 🙂

    I’m back to freelancing (for good, this time I hope –, my wife and I are doing the blogging thing in starts and stops and we are hoping to start having a more flexible lifestyle soon (which is why I’m reading blogs like your’s).

    Peace, Greg

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