How Doing What You Love Becomes What You Do

Almost three years ago, I had just graduated college and entered a vacuum of what-if’s. When a writing opportunity got forwarded to my university list-serve, a few words got my attention. Those words were “travel” and “writing.”

Lena Panama

I wasn’t a writer in college. I studied anthropology and plowed through my papers like a horse through mud, neighing and hoping someone would reward me with a carrot. I studied my science courses for medical school, struggling to balance the mantras, “you can sleep when you’re dead” and “don’t blow it.”

When I graduated, medical school was no longer a safe and reassuring career path. It felt miles away; the testing, the additional coursework – it felt like I was drifting on a current away from the dream I’d had since I was a little kid.

I signed on to be a writer for Jetset Times on July 16th, 2012. I had blog posts from my travels to Peru the previous summer to remind myself of the thrill, and wrote from notes and memories the first few months.

Writing about the past made me think about the present. It was summer after college, when Chicago had record-breaking 100-degree days. I was restless. I decided it was now or never, and booked a trip to explore Eastern Europe, the countries my mother’s family descended from.

September came, and I traveled to Europe on what was the hardest trip of my life. No money, no travel-buddy, just me and a me-sized backpack.

But I wrote on that trip. Every day I scribbled notes about the shitty kabobs I could afford and the beers I savored until they got flat. Wandering until by boots wore sores into my heels and then hanging my wool socks from the hostel windows.

Writing turned the worst days into the best days. Writing helped me find the beauty in having nothing, in having no plans and no money for museums and bars. What I had was my notebook, some markers, and the help of a few important people along the way (a home to stay in Berlin, two dorm rooms in Cambridge, a homestay in Amsterdam, a flat in London, a home in Manchester, an apartment in Dublin).

Writing changed the way I saw everything – the way I saw myself, the way I saw others, and the way I saw my life.

Writing became something I had to do; the key to translating the experiences I collected into a narrative that felt mine.

Over the years, writing has remained my most comforting and fulfilling love. I turn to writing when I’m drowning in snot-bubbles after a break-up, and when merely counting the minutes to board a train. When I’m 3 AM drunk after a night out dancing, or at 8 AM on an espresso-buzzed Sunday.

It changes you. Re-reading my past articles and journal entries, I see the evolution of not just an amateur writer, but also a young person. I played with styles, experimented with profanity and raunchy material, balanced personal articles with numerical how-tos. Every article helped me piece together my style as a writer, and consequently, my self as an adult.

Travel writing and writing in general may not be “your thing,” but my story isn’t necessarily about writing. It’s about taking opportunities in life because you like seeing yourself doing it. Because it isn’t sensible or on your “career track.”

I didn’t think writing for Jetset Times would lead me anywhere important, but ironically, it led me all over the place. I wrote and worked for Jetset Times for three wonderful years – road tripping the California coast, hiking the gorges of Taiwan, nearly dying in the mountains of Panama, and tasting fresh sushi in Japan.

Jetset Times came to ground me, and forced me to be honest about what I love and who I am.

I will forever love and admire Wendy as a mentor and inspirer – she lives and breathes her passion not just for travel, but for helping others find their place in the world.

Thank you for reading my articles, and growing with me the last three years. I hope you too find something that makes you wake up in the morning burning to create, and keeps you awake long after your third whiskey.

Yours in travel,


Lena Kazer

Lena is a Chicago native, her travel style consists of red cowboy boots that make her feel like she can take over the world. She adores Peru and can't travel without her journal to draw or write in.

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