Before They Were Famous: Renee Blodgett
At a time when everyone seems to be a blogger, it’s pretty darn cool to meet one of the first bloggers ever. That’d be Renee Blodgett. Although her love for travel began with writing to pen pals at the age of seven, she quickly ditched the pen for a computer and has since become one of Forbes top social media influencers. This travel blogger, photographer and media maven is an inspiration to anyone who seeks a life of adventure. From working in an Israeli glue factory to waiting tables in Austria, to selling Tupperware, she’s worked her way around the world sharing her passion for storytelling with us all. Her way with words and insights on the world make this a must-read. Here’s the backstory on Renee Blodgett.
Name: Renee Blodgett
Website: We Blog the World | Down The Avenue | Magic Sauce Media
What’s new: We re-launched We Blog the World and have added a newsletter!
I grew up in upstate New York, half the time in a small Richard Russo-like town and half the time on a lake in the Adirondack Mountains. In other words, it wasn’t all that urban. Not only did our lakeside cabin not have Internet, but it only had a rotary phone because the phone was simply too cool to replace.
We lived for part of my childhood in southern Florida, Arizona (on the Mexican border) and the San Diego area. Drive-ins, roller-skating, swimming and Mexican food were the orders of the day back then. We traveled quite a bit, whether it was to neighboring towns, down the eastern coast or to California. While I went to traditional schools for most of my childhood, I was also homeschooled for a short stint from the bowels of a camper van we called home for awhile in the Nevada dessert.
As a teenager…
I made my first trek across the Atlantic to Europe and decided at that pivotal moment I was never going to stop exploring the world. I was an adventurous tomboy and I would join every ‘boys’ game that was being played – from kick-the-can and catch in the streets to late night card games and mountain biking. Playing with girls wasn’t as interesting to me since the things they wanted to do often didn’t involve an outside activity. Over time, I recruited a few other tomboys into my circle and aside from creating our own “insider clubs,” we spent a lot of time “inventing” things in someone’s basement. (spaceships, potions, rockets, boats and a time machine to name a few).
When I wasn’t playing sports late into the evening or attending club meetings, I was either writing a short story or selling something. There was never a time I can remember when I wasn’t selling something from about the age of 10. I ran an Avon business out of the back of my car and made delivery rounds as a teenager.
In high school…
I was part of nearly every club that had people I could learn something from, so yes, yes and yes. French Club, Tennis Team, Field Hockey team, 4-H, Choir, a Skating Team, a woman’s group, a journalism club, an international organization that cross promoted cultures, and AFS. We hosted AFS and Rotary students from a variety of countries and I became an exchange student to South Africa in my final year.
While the cheerleaders hung out with cheerleaders, the athletes hung out with athletes, the nerds hung out with other nerds and druggies hung out with druggies, I hung out with all of them. I guess the same holds true today which has its ups and downs. Some “tribes” won’t fully embrace you unless you’re “all in” but when you travel as much as I do, and run a business, it’s hard to be dedicated to just one tribe, one city, or one country.
My earliest memory of being intrigued by travel…
Likely it was in my mother’s womb. When I was 7, I had my first pen pal. No computers, no cell phones, I wrote handwritten letters and postcards to my new Finnish friend every week. Then I added two more from Japan and Germany. Then Sweden. When I was around 8, I was on a swing next to a blonde girl somewhere in Florida as my grandparents watched from nearby. As soon as my grandfather heard the Swede’s accent, he walked over and suggested we become pen pals, before I even had a chance to get to know her or ask her myself.
I wasn’t shy so didn’t have a problem asking, but he encouraged my addiction and it organically grew to about 150 pen pals from around the world. I wrote handwritten letters on a weekly basis to people from as far away as northern Africa and South America to Iceland and Hong Kong. Every time I heard a foreign accent, I couldn’t wait to communicate and connect. It didn’t really matter where…as long as I could learn something about the world outside my small town bubble, I was thrilled.
By the time I was 10, I knew I’d study in a foreign country and perhaps live outside the states for awhile. When my grandparents took trips to the Caribbean and Central America, they would bring back exotic art and I remember thinking, I’ll collect art from there one day and hmmm, yes…from every continent in the world.
My first apartment was…
Pretty bohemian, full of beaded walkways, candles, incense holders, glass jars and bottles and colored lights. It also had a “pillow” room, a quiet reflective place where I’d read or think, although rarely write.
The worst job I ever had was…
I’ve never really had a ‘bad’ job to be honest since I feel that I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve worked with along the way. While I’ve probably worked in a hundred pubs and bars in my early twenties, I worked in a British pub once for a drunken owner and manager. His belligerent behavior outgrew the novelty factor and one day I threw a wet towel at him and walked out. It was a fairly empowering thing to do at 21.
The weirdest thing I’ve ever done to pay the bills was…
Hmm, there’s been a lot of them, so am not sure how to pick the weirdest one. I’ve picked greengages on a New Zealand farm, worked in both a glue and foam factory on an Israel kibbutz, done the olive thing in France, waited on tables in Austria, Holland, Greece and South Africa, taught English in Kenya, sold carpets in Turkey, worked in pubs in England, sold art door-to-door in London, danced and crashed plates at a Greek island restaurant as part of an evening dinner performance, made milkshakes in an Australian “milkbar”, painted houses in Boston, monitored nutrition for the LA Dodgers in Florida, walked through shit to milk cows at 5 am every morning, played music at a piano bar and managed events for an international sports company. I’ve sold jewelry, Avon, Tupperware, clothes and shoes and I’ve taught canoeing and led hikes at a summer camp.
You decide. Which one do you think is the oddest of the lot?
If I were not professional roamer, I’d be…
I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a professional roamer although that’s an interesting phrase for someone I’d refer to as a born traveler. When travel is in your blood, you realize that it didn’t slowly get into your blood, it had always been there; a DNA you were born with, a DNA that defined who you and always were. I see traveling as a ‘calling’ for in that global journey, your gift is to share that DNA in a way that helps and transforms others along their path.
That said, alongside traveling, another life passion is photography, but doesn’t that go hand in hand with travel? Not having a camera attached to me on the road would be like not wearing a hat or gloves on a snowy day in Alaska. You get the idea.
Did you study abroad in college?
I studied in both London England and Innsbruck Austria. I also spent a year abroad in Johannesburg and Durban South Africa. Initially, I discovered how many people disliked American politics and our out-of-the-country behavior. I also ran into a lot of Americans who really didn’t like the local food, or least that was my impression. It’s no accident that McDonalds and Starbucks are thriving in foreign cities and it’s no accident that you often find Yanks hanging out in chain stores and restaurants.
I realized that if I were to go deep within a culture’s walls, I had to immerse myself, and so I did. I think it was an important phase because immersion allows you to ignore distractions and be present. When I re-emerged, I began to discover countries and cities in a more profound way. Along the way, I met others who had similar observations and conclusions, mostly serial travelers I spent time with from the UK, the states, Canada, Scandinavia, Germany, Holland and Australia.
Since our early days of travel are so much about self-discovery, it was great to meet kindred spirits who faced similar challenges on their journey.
I also discovered over time that it wasn’t just us, that plenty of other cultures made their own blunders and embarrassing faux pas abroad. Even when people are in for an adventure, they also like and seek out the familiarity of their own culture. The solo exploration away from my own countrymen was a necessary one and led to countless experiences I likely wouldn’t have had if I was traveling with someone else, especially someone from my own culture.
The first blog post I ever wrote was…
I’ve been blogging for about 15 years and was writing under a ‘code’ name at the time. I’m not sure I still have a copy of it since it was so long ago and that blog was dissolved many years ago. One blog post that had meaning to me (at the time) was a post I wrote called My Mother’s Kitchen in 2004. Re-reading it many years later, I realize it needs a lot of work. It also made me realize how rarely I incorporated photos into my posts back then.
Who pushed you to follow your dream of becoming a professional roamer?
My grandfather, who raised me, always used to say “The world is your oyster kid. There’s nothing here for you – go out and explore the world.” While many parents want to keep their kids close to home, he was the opposite. Coming from a small town, he realized that I’d never grow into who I was destined to be and tap into my fullest potential if I stayed local. My grandmother felt the same way and before she died, insisted that I travel and follow my dreams before I got married. Even though they both loved the region where we lived, they also understood the limited opportunities would hold me back.
My grandfather was very much a rags-to-riches kind of guy with ‘old world’ thinking, where he believed in running your own business rather than giving your hard sweat and tears to someone else’s profits. He worked his ass off so his kids and grandkids could have a better life than he had. He also encouraged me to get myself to the moon before I died and this was at a time, when men born in the early 1900s only encouraged boys to seek out such adventures.
I’ve been to nearly 80 countries and I still think the Adirondacks in upstate New York is one of the most beautiful places in the world. There’s no place on the earth that will replace the familiarity of the smells, tastes and visual memories you had as a child. That said, as much as I feel more at peace there than where I currently live, there are few professional opportunities and little if no culture, so I rarely get back for visits.
During my freshman year in college, we spent a semester in Russia and Eastern Europe, which included driving a van through Scandinavia into the then Iron Curtain. After a couple of months of my American cohorts complaining about the food and yearning for fast food chains from home, I completed my “final” paper in less than half the time, handed it to my professor and took off. He was inspiring and supportive when I told him why; I received an A and later transferred to a university in London. The rest is history.