On June 13 this past summer, I should’ve been receiving a high school diploma as part of the graduating class of 2019 in my hometown of San Diego, surrounded by peers, close friends and extended family.
But I didn’t. Instead, I woke up in the beautiful ski town of Girdwood, Alaska, in a renovated 30-foot RV that I’ve been living in for the past four years. I’m not surrounded by hundreds of people, just the six most important ones in my life ― my two parents and my four siblings.
Although I didn’t graduate from high school in June, I was already running a profitable online blog and brand with my business partner, my mom. I can’t say that I finished high school at the top of my class or got accepted into Yale, Harvard or Stanford. What I can say is that by the time my peers graduated, I had co-created a business that I love with all my heart, that provides me with income and amazing sponsorship opportunities, and that lets me spend every day exploring new adventures around the world with my family.
Through a series of sharp life turns, my path has strayed pretty far from the typical 18-year-old’s, and it all started with one wild decision nearly five years ago.
Other than being homeschooled my whole life, I had an extremely normal childhood. My parents had achieved “the dream” or rather were part of “the rat race.” We had a big house with a pool in the backyard and my parents owned a successful gymnastics and personal training facility in San Diego. I was a competitive gymnast and played club soccer.
I was an overachiever as a kid, but I wasn’t this talented prodigy hustling to become a teen entrepreneur. I was talented only in the way that you can still fit in. It was by the book. But my life completely changed when I was 13 and my parents decided to move to a beach town to be closer to the business. That set me on the path to where I am right now.
When I was 14 and riding my bike to go surf most mornings, my parents asked my siblings and me what we thought about moving into our RV so we could travel more that summer.
Some kids might’ve instantly rejected the idea because how could you live in only 200 square feet with your whole family for three months. My mom’s dream was to travel with her five kids ― at the time, ages 4, 6, 11, 14 and 16 ― before we grew up. We all enthusiastically agreed and none of us has ever looked back. We sold almost everything we owned (surfboards, mountain bikes and climbing gear excluded), ditched conformity, and began traveling in our RV.
If you’d told me that I would spend the next four years of my life ― the years my peers were attending high school ― traveling the world and that I would become a professional travel blogger, there is no way I would’ve believed you. I was just living in the moment, stoked about the summer of adventure ahead.
The first road trip took us through Colorado and the second up the coast to Vancouver Island, Canada. On both trips, we were constantly on the move and we lived in the great outdoors. We spent no more than a day or two in each town and each destination was based around a hike we wanted to do, a climbing area we wanted to explore or a beach we wanted to surf. Some nights were spent in full-scale campgrounds and some nights were spent free camping on National Forest land or even on the side of the road.
After that first summer of adventure, everyone was happier than ever before so we wondered, “Why quit?” What started as a five-month escape from the rat race became a nearly-five-year journey (and counting) of full-time travel across 26 different countries with the six most incredible people I know, my family. Sure, there were times when some of us got tired of not having quiet space and annoyed with our small wardrobes. Don’t even get me started on what it’s like sharing one tiny bathroom with six other people. But all this taught us the importance of communication and respecting each other’s emotional space.
All many teens really care about is having friends and fitting in, and I was no different. Living so unconventionally, I learned a lot about self-worth, self-love and owning who you are and that gave me the confidence to pursue my passions rather than to seek approval from my peers and follow the crowd.
I didn’t start my blogging career until I was 15 and we embarked on a six-month European camping trip. We slept in a tent in Norway, Germany and Ireland for two months before upgrading to a whopping 22-foot camper that we toured other parts of Western Europe in. My mom wanted to start sharing tips and inspiration from our travels so she started the blog and we called it Nomads With A Purpose.
Even prior to our nomadic living, my siblings and I had been homeschooled and since I’m only a year younger than my older brother, it was easier for my mom to teach us the same curriculum as we traveled. We never took off summers from school ― by 15, I had finished pre-calculus ― so we didn’t have to worry about lessons by the time we took our camping trip through Europe.
Somewhere during that six-month trip, something changed in me ― well really, I just got bored. My mom had been doing a lot of research on starting a blog and talked to me about all the related career possibilities. As travel continued to broaden my perspective, I began to feel more distant from my peers and I no longer felt that I would, of course, be going to high school. I was curious about alternatives to the somewhat expected life of high school, college and then working for somebody else.
That summer of 2016, my mom and I began casually blogging about adventure travel and outdoor destinations but we had little thought for where we wanted to go with the project. We didn’t have any idea of the brand we were trying to create, the value of SEO (search engine optimization), how crucial a social media strategy is, the time investment that was required or the vision we lacked. It wasn’t until January 2018 that my mom and I took a long hard look at what we’d created so far and realized we needed to do so much more.
I was 17 when I started becoming a serious blogger. It was also when relatives and family friends often asked me, “So are you going to college?” And I would tell them the truth: I wasn’t really thinking about college. Instead, I was focused on building our travel blog and monetizing it. Nobody seemed to believe me or take me seriously, and most of my relatives thought I wasn’t being smart dreaming of making money from a blog.
Dedicated to building a business at that age, I became further alienated from my peers. It was hard enough to keep a close connection with friends from back home when our lives were so different and I was often away for months at a time, but many of them didn’t seem to believe in my dreams. In fact, many of my peers seemed to be mad at me ― perhaps because if I actually succeeded, they thought that would be unfair. Unfair because why couldn’t they have what I had. The truth is they could. We all have a choice, and the more people believed I couldn’t do it, the more motivated I was to succeed.
While my peers were taking classes on history and biology, I was learning history in the ancient castles of Germany and England, picking up languages while trying to order bread each morning in France, and experiencing culture in a village in Indonesia where the sound of prayers woke us at 5 a.m. That kind of education is priceless.
Of course, a part of me felt like I was constantly missing out on what it’s like to be a typical American teenager. Yes, I didn’t go to homecoming and prom and parties, but everything in life is a choice and the benefits of traveling for me have outweighed the benefits of staying in a comfortable suburban home.
While our family adventures have been fun, there have been so many moments of growth and challenge, too. There were endless days when I really wanted to give up on blogging. Days when none of my work seemed to be appreciated. But I refused to give up.
Today, my mom and I have nearly 30,000 people who visit our site each month, and we make a sizable income through ad revenue, affiliate marketing and sponsorships. We continue to go on dozens of epic trips in the U.S. and abroad but we also sometimes stay put in our favorite RV park in San Diego where we can surf every morning and climb at our local climbing gym.
As of this year, one of my sisters began working as an assistant on our blog and even started writing a few articles. Although I don’t think she intends to become a professional blogger, the digital skills she’s learning will definitely help with her desire to become a freelancer. My older brother, on the other hand, is the only sibling who dreams of a “stable” life. He’s a passionate fiction writer and has already written three books, but for his day job, he now apprentices with my dad as a personal trainer in San Diego.
Meanwhile, I have big goals for where I’d like to see the branding of Nomads With A Purpose go.
You can easily choose to credit my success to my upbringing and my time-rich nomadic lifestyle. She’s lucky. She’s entitled. She did it with her mom. She has time because she doesn’t even go to school. The truth is, those were all factors but they’re not the whole story. My mom taught me that I didn’t have to follow the script. I could create something more for myself if I worked hard enough and wanted it badly enough. I’m happy to say that my dreams are coming to fruition.
Am I ready to “leave the nest,” if you will? Unlike many 18-year-olds who want to shake off the constraints of family life, I like my own too much to jump ship. My actual high school credentials are still up in the air, given that my education was obtained outside of a school system. And for now, I’m OK with that. Over the next year, I’ll be taking some of my own trips and the whole family will be traveling to places like Austria and Patagonia.
The blog my mom and I have built together is more than just a successful business. We called it Nomads With a Purpose for a reason. We want to inspire others to chase their dreams and live a life of purpose.
So to those who dream of creating something, here’s my advice: Yes, people will judge you. A whole lot of love, fear and jealousy will come out in the relationships closest to you. There will be haters and there will also be people who are inspired by you. Most importantly, none of that matters. Not a single one of their thoughts or opinions about you should change your decision to follow your passion.
Have a compelling first-person story or experience you want to share? Send your story description to email@example.com.
Also on HuffPost
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.