Time to roll out the mat for this digital nomad yogi master…
I chat with everyday entrepreneur, yogi master, wine connoisseur and travel blogger Flo Shih of Yoga, Wine & Travel to find out what it took her to her ditch her demanding corporate law life in Hong Kong to favour a life full of zen (poses included) as a travel blogger and roaming yogi master.
Hong Kong is a concrete jungle, and you were living within its corporate world. What made you decide it was the time to break free and do your own thing?
I was living the dream in Hong Kong, or at least I thought I was! Hong Kong is notorious for a “work hard, play hard” lifestyle, and the intensity finally broke me after a few years. I was climbing the corporate ladder and working on incredible projects and deals, but everything in my personal life fell by the wayside. My health was deteriorating, and I had to have an endoscopy to check for stomach ulcers, my hair was falling out, and I was balding, I didn’t have time for friends and family, and I turned into a version of myself that I never want to go back to again. Work consumed me, and after the devastating loss of a close friend, I found myself spiralling.
I think I always knew that something had to give, but it wasn’t until I was in the doldrums that I realised that I had to take action. So I took steps to hand over my work at my job, and quit without a concrete plan for next steps – all I wanted to do was get better and catch up on some much-needed rest.
What was the hardest part about going from one extreme (corporate life) to the next (yogi master and digital nomad)?
For the first few weeks, after I left my job, I got really ill and slept. A lot. It’s almost as if everything was catching up with me. Though I never had a clear plan for the next steps, I always assumed that I’d go back to work at some point. I actually ended up travelling for a few months before moving to San Francisco for a job at a PR agency, but it quickly dawned on me that I wasn’t going to be content in that role and that I wanted (needed?) to be closer to my friends and family.
Once I made the decision to move back to Hong Kong, I was faced with the fact that I was “throwing away” what I had worked for over the years – more senior titles, a steady paycheck, the opportunity to work on big announcements and deals – but surprisingly, it wasn’t actually that tough to get past all of that. Honestly, my biggest fear at the time was that I was letting my family down and that my mum would be disappointed in my decision. Although she never pressured me into any particular career while I was growing up, I know that she was proud of my career growth and wanted me to succeed. Thankfully, my family has been incredibly supportive – partly because I made sure I left my company on good terms and didn’t burn any bridges, and because I had saved up a decent nest egg to support myself financially.
When did you realise that you could turn your travel blog into a full-time gig?
Yoga, Wine & Travel started as a way of sharing travel photos and recommendations, and I’m so thrilled that my readers a) take the time to read what I write, and b) actually find the content useful in helping them plan their travels and embark on their own Yoga journey. Though I probably spend between 40-50 hours on it a week and it could be considered a full-time gig, there is no way I could live off of it, at least not right now.
If I had to pinpoint a turning point, it would be when my website traffic started to grow organically (before I started learning more about SEO), people started booking hotels that I recommended, and readers began e-mailing me to say that they took my advice and that it paid off. I realised that I had quality content to offer and that I already possessed a valuable PR skill set that I could leverage to help brands and tourism boards promote their destinations in an authentic and relatable way – so why not do it?
There is a lot of same old, same old out there in the travel blogging sphere and the reason why I dig your content is that I feel like I know you and you are keeping true to your authentic self. How important is it for you to be your own voice and to show some personality?
This will sound cliche but the older I get, the less I give two hoots about what people might think if I say this or do that. What’s the point of doing all of this if it isn’t fun and you can’t be yourself? I learned from teaching Yoga that not everyone would enjoy your class for a multitude of reasons – maybe they’re only in town for a day, maybe they had a bad day at work, maybe they’re tired, maybe they already have a regular teacher whose classes they love, maybe your style of teaching doesn’t resonate with them – and guess what? It says nothing about your character and worth as a human being.
In the same way with travel blogging and social media, if people like what you have to offer, they will stick around. And if they don’t, then that’s okay too – you can’t please everyone! Your online presence is exactly that – yours. You have a say in what you share about yourself (and how much you share), and the worst thing you can do is fall into a certain “aesthetic” or put on a persona. What for? This also goes for ownership of your presence on social media and the website – I don’t put up with trolling, perverts or negativity and it results in an instant block. That function is there for a reason!
A lot of the blogging space is about trial and error – and lots of tears too! What tools and techniques worked best for you?
I wish I could show you version 1.0 of Yoga, Wine & Travel – I bought the WordPress theme off Etsy, and while I loved it at the time, it was extremely basic and resembled a personal journal more than anything. But at the end of the day, content is king. My biggest tip to anyone looking to start a blog is to focus on the content first and foremost and write detailed, long-form posts before even thinking about monetization.
To take it to the next level invest in a good smartphone or camera to amplify your written content with visuals! There are tons of great guides out there on how to improve your travel photography without having to invest your life savings into fancy programs and equipment. I’ve also dedicated more time into Pinterest (look into using Canva and Tailwind) and SEO (I use Keysearch) to grow traffic to the website and make sure I’m not talking to an empty room.
Though this might not be a popular opinion, I think your most valuable asset is your owned properties (website and mailing list), and not Instagram. You can easily spend hours upon hours on Instagram every day, interacting with accounts, uploading new photos, sharing Stories, but at the end of the day Instagram is one of the worst traffic sources for me, and it could easily all go away if Instagram were to shut down my account tomorrow. As a blogger, you have to diversify your audience reach and make sure you aren’t relying on any one channel. That being said, don’t overlook Instagram entirely as it’s a great place to share visual content and to engage with people, just don’t dedicate all of your time and resources to it.
You travel a lot, so routine is very much out the window. How does yoga help with that constant stress of travel and no routine?
Though I may not practice asana (the physical poses) every day when I am on the road, Yoga philosophy is always there, and I tap into it to keep myself sane. It also guides a lot of my travel decision making when it comes to making sustainable, ethical and responsible choices. In general, I’m a fairly tightly wound, glass-half-empty person and can be very anxious, and over the years Yoga has helped to mellow me out a little so that I no longer throw my phone into walls.
Yoga helps me to slow down and see things more clearly – little issues no longer seem like the end of the world, and I focus a lot more on being content instead of thinking about the negatives. We are so fortunate to be able to travel, to begin with – being physically and mentally able to, having a passport that allows you to cross borders, being able to financially afford travel – there are so many obstacles, and Yoga reminds me to never take it for granted.
You have hosted some yoga retreats previously in some very exotic locations – jealous! How did that come about?
I currently split my time between Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and on the road, and Sri Lanka is one of the best places to participate in a Yoga retreat. It is stunning, uncrowded, has excellent Yoga shalas and facilities, healthy food and there’s a ton of things to see and do around the island. A few years ago, tourism numbers were still low, and Sri Lanka was not on everybody’s travel radar, so a friend and I decided to host a retreat to bring more people to our neck of the woods (nay, jungle!). We planned to host another one this year, but the dates and pricing didn’t work out, so hopefully, we’ll be able to put another one together for 2019.
Let’s have a bit of fun here if you had to choose one, what would it be? Yoga, wine or travel?
I plead the fifth! But I’d probably choose Yoga. And when I say Yoga, I don’t simply mean the physical practice.
You seem to be between Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Italy and Perth a lot – a very nice mix you got there! Can you tell me what has been your best travel discovery in each?
If everything goes to plan in the next decade, I’ll be able to split my time between those four places. They’re all so incredibly different and have things that I wouldn’t want to give up.
Hong Kong is and always will be my home, and most people don’t realise that it is not a concrete jungle – it’s more like a jungle with some skyscrapers. My best tip for anyone visiting Hong Kong is to venture out of the CBD and to take in nature and beaches that Hong Kong has to offer – my favourite is Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung, and it’s dog-friendly too!
Sri Lanka’s south coast is beautiful, so you absolutely have to go beach hopping and surfing in warm water waves, but my favourite thing about Sri Lanka is the wildlife. The government has done such a fantastic job of preserving national parks, and you can spot dozens of wild Asian elephants if you visit one of the national parks.
For Italy, I could easily see myself living in the Amalfi Coast for three months of the year – it can get crowded, but if you visit during the shoulder or off-peak seasons the crowds are very manageable. The landscape is breathtaking, food is stunning, and you can easily venture to Pompeii, Naples, Capri, Sorrento or Ischia and Procida for day trips.
I may be biased, but the Margaret River region is a must-visit place if you are headed to Perth. The beaches are pristine, and there are so many quality wineries, you could easily spend a week there and only visit less than a quarter of all the vineyards. If I’m allowed one more “travel discovery” for Perth, Rottnest Island really captured my heart. Quokkas rule.
Do you have a favourite co-working space that you have visited in your travels?
I don’t have one, haha! Even at university I never enjoyed studying or working in the library and much preferred being alone. My ideal working space is at home in Hong Kong on the sofa with my dogs, or at home in Sri Lanka with my cat. You’ll almost never find me at a coffee shop or co-working office.
You develop some fine content for Yoga, Wine & Travel but what are some books that really give you that extra bit of inspiration?
The Penguin Book of Classical Myths. I adore Greek and Roman mythology and the tales are timeless.
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